By 2013, As I Lay Dying had long since transcended metalcore and had positioned themselves as a real force in heavy music. But the San Diegan outfit was dealt a fatal blow when frontman Tim Lambesis was arrested and subsequent convicted – for attempting to hire a hitman to murder his wife.
However, his former bandmates regrouped under the name Wovenwar, and with vocalist Shane Blay, of Oh, Sleeper fame, on board, unleashed their stunning debut this month. Richard Holmes caught up with guitarist Phil Sgrosso to talk life post-AILD, and how quitting music was never an option…
RUSHONROCK: Why did you decide to form a new band, rather than replace Tim Lambesis?
Phil Sgrosso: After all that went down, the name As I Lay Dying just seemed to put a band taste in everyone’s mouths. There would always be this tie to such a negative occurrence and I wouldn’t want that hanging over my head going into the future.
RUSHONROCK: What gave you the inspiration to keep going as a unit and form Wovenwar?
PS: We all believe that the collective is stronger than the individual. We’ve been a solid musical unit for so long and just didn’t think it would be fair to ourselves to stop what we love doing because of someone else’s poor choices.
RUSHONROCK: After so much success with As I Lay Dying, do you feel like you are starting out again, or is this just a new chapter?
PS: It feels like both. With any new band or entity, you have to work from the ground up. It would be great to become super successful quickly but I think you have to build your fan-base gradually and show that you’re more than just a trend that’s really big for a quick moment. We have a three album deal with Metal Blade so we plan on sticking around and making this band priority number one in all of our lives. It’ll take a lot of work but hopefully our previous experience enables us to make the best decisions to grow.
RUSHONROCK: Did you ever feel like withdrawing from music after all of the turmoil involving Tim?
PS: I don’t think withdrawing from music could ever be an option. It’s something we’ve all done since we were little kids and sort of defines who we are. It’s always sad to see dudes quit music and stop touring but I guess they lost passion along the way. I don’t see that happening with us – ever.
RUSHONROCK: Do you feel still feel a sense of loss over what happened with As I Lay Dying, given the band meant so much to so many people?
PS: I do not. We did a lot of great things that I’m proud of but there seemed to always be an element in the band that sucked all the joy out of everything. Although we’re still in a pretty early phase with Wovenwar, I already feel way more content with how this band operates and everyone is just so enthusiastic to share this experience together.
RUSHONROCK: What was it about Shane Blay that made you choose him as Wovenwar’s vocalist?
PS: We’ve all been familiar with Shane as a guitar player. His band Evelynn, with Nick (Hipa, AILD/Wovenwar guitarist), definitely showed he was a very technically minded musician. That got him into playing with Between The Buried and Me years later – a band that deserves every metalhead’s respect. Oh, Sleeper’s sound was a combination of the chaos from those bands but would then open itself to melodic vocals. That’s when I first asked myself, ‘Shane’s a singer now? And a good one?’. Then I’d hear little covers he’d done online acoustically and you can sense the passion in his voice. This guy means every word he sings. So when Nick reached out to Shane, and he was onboard because Oh, Sleeper were looking to become inactive for a while, it was just a no-brainer that he’d make it work. All Rise was the first song he tracked demo vocals on and I instantly knew this was our guy… and I can’t think of a better match.
RUSHONROCK: Shane has an incredible voice – have his vocal skills enabled you to try out new ideas?
PS: Absolutely. I think that shows on the album. I remember when I wrote the song Prophets, Shane was like, ‘I love the acoustic part, let’s make this into two songs!’.I was like ‘nah, that’s what helps build the song!’. He’s into the heavy parts, of course, but he gets really amped on the more stripped-down musical parts so that the vocals can really shine more. Same with the song Father/Son, which he wrote. Could you imagine screaming over parts like that? It would be lame. We all had this conscious effort to write songs that would open themselves up to melodic vocals.
RUSHONROCK: How much impact did he have on the writing process?
PS: I think Shane was the glue that brought everything together once we finally heard him sing. I think we all really discovered the potential for what this band can sound like and become. That enabled us to write musical parts that lent themselves to being more anthemic vocally. He and I also have an interest in programming more orchestral stuff like our intro and outro, so it’s pretty cool to collaborate with him on the more epic and score-sounding stuff.
RUSHONROCK: Wovenwar is substantially more melodic than As I Lay Dying. How do you think AILD fans will react to Wovenwar?
PS: I think some will hate it, some will love it, and it will just have to grow on some people. I just hope As I Lay Dying fans give it a chance and realise this is an entirely new band with a new sound for a reason. People can be so impulsive with their opinions these days, hopefully there are some patient ones who give it a chance and don’t immediately write it off because ‘metal should have screaming’. They maybe need a lesson in how the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal started back in the late 70s and early 80s with bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden – melodic guitars and melodic vocals co-existing.
RUSHONROCK: What themes and experiences have influenced Wovenwar’s lyrics?
PS: Some pretty negative relationships are the general influence. But from every bad experience or situation, your outlook on it is the deciding factor in which you can learn from those mistakes and choose to persevere through the hard times or dwell in the negative. I think the line from our song, The Mason, is a strong line that defines the album lyrically: ‘We bend, we break, we’re forced to heal’.
RUSHONROCK: You’ve worked with producer Bill Stevenson (NOFX, Rise Against) again, who worked with you on As I Lay Dying’s last album, Awakened – why did you choose him as a producer for Wovenwar?
PS: After Awakened, the band and Bill had a very strong understanding of each other and felt that we were a pretty good match. Because of that chemistry we shared, Bill was our main option from the get go. He has a knack for flowing song structure, as well as being a great communicator in the studio for how ideas are played out.
RUSHONROCK: How do you see Wovenwar progressing? Are you working on any new material?
PS: Hah, new material! So far, we’ve been learning and properly executing the album to play live. Aside from the intro/outro, we have 13 songs to learn and perform well. We’re mainly focusing on just playing tighter. Shane plays guitar live so there are a lot of guitar parts. Josh (Gilbert, bass) sings almost non-stop with harmonies so there’s a lot of vocals. Another interest that we’re working on is doing acoustic versions of several songs. It’s pretty cool that we can have opportunities like that now.
RUSHONROCK: How do you feel about hitting the road with Wovenwar – what can fans expect from the shows?
PS: We’re all just anxious to play as much as possible. We had over a year to recharge our batteries so we’re ready to go. Hopefully we’ll start with more support tours then work on into doing more headliners. We need to let the fans get reacquainted with these new songs. I think fans can expect us to put everything we got into the shows. We’re excited with the songs and want them to come off as powerful as they can be.
Wovenwar’s self titled debut album is out now on Metal Blade.