As I Lay Dying bassist Josh Gilbert. Photo: Megan Kennedy
It’s over a decade into their career, and As I Lay Dying is still charging the front lines of the metal scene with no sign of slowing. Rising in the early ’00s, their perfected melodic metalcore sound has inspired throngs of new bands, and helped them reach insane levels of success where most acts of the same period have seen only a flash-bang of promise followed by failure. With this new decade—and new chapter—in their careers on the horizon, they ready the release of new album Awakened with fresh eyes, inspiration from new sources, and the undying passion for metal that has kept them fighting all these years. Napalm Flesh was granted a surprise interview with drummer Jordan Mancino and bassist/vocalist Josh Gilbert backstage during their first stint on the Rockstar Energy Mayhem Fest tour to get the details on this badass group of true believers.
SLUG: How’s your first time on Mayhem Fest treating you so far?
Mancino: Been great! Perfect tour for us. A lot of the bands and crews we know just from touring and festivals, so we see a lot of familiar faces.
SLUG: Tell me about this new album coming out. How was your writing process on this? Did it differ from past albums?
Gilbert: The writing process is pretty similar in that we all personally demo around by ourselves and then bring it to the band and jam it in person after that. We did it with a different producer, Bill Stevenson [of The Descendents/Black Flag], who is from more of a punk and hardcore background, so it was cool to have that perspective. It’s called Awakened, and it’s coming out September 25.
SLUG: You guys have been playing the new track “Cauterize” here at Mayhem. How is it being received?
Gilbert: Awesome. It’s been surprisingly good, actually, with the timing of the release of the lyric video right before the tour. It usually takes a little longer for a crowd to warm up to a song, and I feel like within the first two days of the tour, I could look out and if people weren’t singing along, they at least knew the rhythms of the song already.
Mancino: It’s one of those songs, I think, that has a lot of elements that you probably wouldn’t hear on previous records, so it’s a cool transition into some of the newer AILD sounds.
SLUG: What’s been the biggest change for you guys in terms of your musical inspiration in your decade-long career?
Mancino: Being on tour—that experience alone changes who you are. You develop different good and bad characteristics. Touring and playing with so many awesome bands is inspiring—listening to new and old music, staying excited about what you’re doing—it’s important.
Gilbert: The biggest difference I can think of is once you’re writing music a lot, you kind of look at the bands you’re listening to and listen to the bands they were inspired by. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve gone back to hear what the bands I liked in the ’90s listened to when they were writing. You’re listening to Iron Maiden and Thin Lizzy for guitar inspiration, for example, because there’s been a hundred thousand bands that have ripped them off.
SLUG: Are you guys drawing any inspiration from any of the younger or newer bands that have come after you?
Gilbert: I wouldn’t say there there’s a specific band we consciously try to keep up with, or any trend we keep up with. We draw from either older records or different genres of metal. We don’t listen to many of our peers that play the same genre of metal for inspiration—we listen to other kinds of stuff that would add a little different flavor to our sound.
Mancino: There’s still a lot of bands we would consider peers that we really love, like In Flames, bands that we’ve toured with a lot are a huge inspiration to us.
SLUG: You guys were one of the bands that began the rise of the metalcore sound, and are one of the few remaining acts to survive so long from that period. To what do you attribute this longevity when so many others have fallen?
Mancino: Kind of hard to say. Luck, timing—the general approach to the business, maybe. I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re “smarter,” but we’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by people who love the music we make, the genre we’re in, and helped direct our career in a positive way. There’s always things you wish you did differently, but I think we’ve been fortunate to have good people around us. Obviously, we’re all still very passionate about what we do; we started this band because we love metal and wanted to tour. We didn’t expect things to get to this level—we just did what we did and we’re honest about it. It was a very slow, steady build [where we] just kept doing what we’re doing. Plus, it goes without saying that we have awesome fans.
SLUG: Your music video for “Anodyne Sea” was an unusual and, in my opinion, brave direction to take the representation of this song—not to mention the new technology you guys used to film it. What inspired you guys to go that direction with it?
Gilbert: It was a situation where Tim wrote the lyrics and he had a very specific message in mind. So, we were talking to possible directors for it [and] we didn’t actually have the layout for it yet. It was the brainchild of Nick (Hipa, lead guitar) and director Ian McFarland—they cooperatively wrote the script. The way we did it, maybe some people didn’t understand exactly what we were going for, but as far as being brave, I think we just wanted to make a dramatic video. I think Ian did a great job with it.
Mancino: Some people didn’t receive it as it was intended, and some people did, and the people that did loved it. It’s obviously very intense, so it’s going to create some controversy, but we were stoked. It was the first time the band was able to act in a video. It was pretty sweet for me, actually, because I had about two scenes to shoot, and then I got to go home and go to bed [laughs]. It was payback! Because any video we’ve done, I have to be in every shot while everyone else is taking breaks, because my kit and I are always in the background.
SLUG: How do you feel about the current state of metal?
Mancino: I think it’s exciting. There’s a lot of newer bands keeping things fresh, keeping younger audiences coming back, keeping their attention. Then these younger fans are brought to these types of festivals and exposing them to the older bands is great for everybody. It’s a really cool give-and-take. The scene’s still growing—it’s only getting stronger. I think it’s an important part of a scene, the new bands, to keep it alive. You gotta bring the younger fans in, because then they’re going to find the older bands that inspired us. I think it’s cool for us, especially on this tour, because we kind of fall in the middle. We’re not a younger band, since we’ve been out for 10 years, but we’re not a Slayer or Motorhead.
SLUG: Your album art both on the single for “Cauterize” and for Awakened is a much different direction than your past albums. What inspired that change?
Gilbert: I think we definitely went with the ten-years-in mindset, we wanted to make more of a statement with the record and the artwork. People expect a certain look from us, so changing it up makes a statement. Kind of starting a new chapter in our story.
Mancino: There’s a lot of new things that will be in our music that we haven’t done before, but we’ve also been able to recapture some of that emotion and aggressiveness that we had early on. What was cool with working with Bill is he was able to pull in these new elements we hadn’t really tapped into yet, as well as our older elements, which was really cool.
Gilbert: There was a lot more spontaneity. Bill is a very impulsive dude, which is his trademark, but his impulses always seem to be the right one. We’d love to work with him again.