And after celebrating their 10th anniversary with compilation/covers album Decas last year, the boys are back in action with a new full-length, Awakened, set to be unleashed this month.
Richard Holmes caught up with bassist/vocalist Josh Gilbert to chat about the quintet’s forthcoming release, their October tour with Trivium… and sharing the studio with a true American punk legend.
rushonrock: How do you think Awakened, your sixth full length, stands up to your previous records?
Josh Gilbert: I think Awakened was the next logical step for us. With (2010’s) The Powerless Rise, we pushed ourselves in a heavier direction. For Awakened, we really concentrated on blending the melodic side of our sound with the heavier elements, in a seamless way. I think the result is a record that stays fast and aggressive, but never loses the melody.
rushonrock: Bill Stevenson, drummer with legendary US punks The Descendents and producer for the likes of NOFX and Rise Against, worked with you on Awakened. What do you feel he brought to the record?
JG: When we found out Adam Dutkiewicz (Killswitch Engage guitarist and producer on The Powerless Rise and 2007’s An Ocean Between Us) was definitely out of the picture for producing, we had to go back to the drawing board. Selfishly, I was really pushing for a meeting with Bill specifically for his bass tone! After talking with a few other producers, we had a conference call with Bill. We were all blown away by how detailed his commentary on our previous records was and at his overall excitement for the project. Though Bill is not necessarily regarded as a ‘metal’ producer, his background in performing and recording aggressive styles is what ultimately convinced us. As a punk producer, Bill was less interested in having the most complex riffs possible and placed more importance on song flow.
rushonrock: What effect did his punk background have on the album?
JG: I think in a world where computers are utilized for recording music, it’s easy to get lazy and let things slide. As far as my personal experience on the record goes, Bill’s 30 years of recording experience had taught him that getting good takes first is the most important thing. I did at least five times more singing during the recording of this record due to the sheer amount of takes Bill wanted. The strain on my voice throughout the session, though uncomfortable at times, contributed to a slightly ‘harsher’ sounding quality for my vocals that I think sounds cool.
rushonrock: Lyrically you’ve hinted at darker, more introspective themes with Awakened – why have you taken this approach?
JG: I think Tim (Lambesis, lead vocals) had a lot to say on Awakened. For the Powerless Rise, the lyrics were centred around social issues, so it’s somewhat of a change. I think in order for Tim to be able to scream his lungs out all year on stage, he needs to feel passionate about those words, and at the time of writing the record, it must have been what was on his mind.
rushonrock: Awakened was recorded in a short timeframe compared with much of your other work – how did that affect the album?
JG: I think the rushed timeframe really forced us to be more impulsive – in a good way. The past two records were done in six and seven weeks, this one in three and a half. We had to make quick calls and trust our gut feeling. I think sometimes having too much time can be a bad thing when you begin to over-think. On Awakened, we were pulling 12 hour recording days at TWO studios at once, and barely had time to think, much less over-think!
rushonrock: You’ve built up a fearsome reputation as a live act – do you feel the tracks on Awakened will enhance that further?
JG: Hopefully! It’s always nerve wracking playing new songs live, but I think the aggression and excitement in these songs will translate. Whether we’d admit it or not, we’re always thinking of how a certain song would feel playing at a show.
rushonrock: Are there any tracks you’re particularly looking forward to playing live?
JG: I’m excited to play all of them, but there’s a song on the new record called Wasted Words that turned out really amazing and has one of the heaviest grooves we’ve ever recorded.
rushonrock: You’re coming to the UK in October supporting Trivium, what can fans expect?
JG: They can expect to see us fully recharged! By then, we’ll have been off tour for seven weeks, so we’ll be itching to get out there and destroy! The whole line-up is great, too.
rushonrock: How have you found the UK audiences have responded to you over the years?
JG: The UK has always been great to us. It seems like the past couple of years have been getting better and better for us!
rushonrock: Finally, some people still label As I Lay Dying as a metalcore band, how do you feel about that tag nowadays? Have you always been just a straight-up metal band in your own eyes?
JG: I think the negative stigma with the word ‘metalcore’ stemmed from the mid-2000s explosion of copycat metalcore acts. Now that trends have changed, it seems that the bands from the genre that have survived are those who distinguished themselves from all of that. We definitely see the hardcore influence in our music, but I’d say that As I Lay Dying in 2012 is more ‘metal’ than ‘core’.
* Awakened is out on September 26 on Metal Blade.