Interview: As I Lay Dying

interview by Bushman


San Diego is known for a lot of things. Hardcore isn’t one of them. There is no urban decay that sprawls across the landscape. It’s a different plague of strip malls and ant-like housing developments. Legions of shiny office complexes glint in the always on sunshine. Our graffiti is localized and artistic. Not a legitimate part of the view like in the cities most people associate with hardcore. Boston. New York. Philly. Most any city in New Jersey. Somehow this vacation destination has bred a hardcore band liquefying itself with a metal mentality that calls itself As I Lay Dying. It’s got the brutal breakdowns of hardcore, and the speed and technical approach of speedy thrash metal. A recent signing to Metal Blade Records and well-received release called “Frail Words Collapse” is proving something mean and meaningful can erupt from this California Eden.

I met vocalist Tim Lambesis for a burger at The Classic Malt Shop on Midway in San Diego. I had a tasty burger. Some random girl came up to Tim and wanted to see his tats. Chicks are stupid sometimes. Someone else I know got a sleeve recently, and girls are attracted to that shit like a moth to one of those electric zappers. All wide-eyed and smiley, “Oooh, you jammed needles into your skin repeatedly… you are so hot!” Don’t believe me? Ask anyone you know with a decent sleeve. I need more tattoos. Guys are stupid too..

Before the interview even began, Tim blew my mind by telling me that Hum played at the east coast music festival “Furnace Fest”. Apparently they played an unofficial reunion show. Tim didn’t seem quite as impressed as I was, but said they got a good reaction. He was more impressed with Andrew WK. But he’s biased because Andrew WK made Tim a personal voice mail, so when you call his phone it goes: “Hey, this is Andrew WK, Tim can’t come to the phone cause we are partying hard”. Andrew is cool like that. I was still reeling from the whole “Hum played a show” but that Andrew thing is cool too.

Switching gears to his own band, he easily summarizes the source of their sound originating with the hardcore music they all grew up listening to, but assault it with the generally metal approach they currently apply. Growing up in San Diego, I wondered if their definition of “hardcore” was different than what defined the genre in my own midwestern youth.
The San Diego scene, from where we came from, is more of a old school hardcore scene of punk influence and stuff. When we started playing what we are playing now, we didn’t think it was hardcore at all. But I because of the transition of the hardcore in the last five years. That metalcore genre has kind of taken over. We are definitely playing metal music, but we are still a hardcore band. I hate to struggle with labels, but when somebody hasn’t heard the music, you have to. But I think the hardcore bands tend to have more breakdowns, and the true metal head guys just like to play fast.

Most people generally associate the hardcore scene with a sense of anger. But this is San Diego. It’s got its problems, but c’mon… it’s like… 72 Degrees in your head… All the time. Why is As I Lay Dying so upset?
There is not really a whole lot I write that has the intention of being pissed. But when you are passionate about something and you write about it, and it comes across in the music, sometimes it comes across fairly dramatic. I think our music is about real personal issues in life. So if anything, it’s the passion that comes across with that sort of intensity.

Tim understood the general associations most people have with a hardcore tag. Some things just come with the territory. The band seems to understand this and successfully sidesteps the meathead mentality a lot of hardcore bands limit themselves to as well as ignoring the fashion requirements to look tough.
We are not necessarily street kids like a lot of hardcore bands. A lot of hardcore bands have been like real dirty tough street kids. There is the tough guy crowds that come out to our shows and still really enjoy the music. But I think we are going for something a little deeper than just a tough, brutal band. We have a definite aggressive sound. There is a lot of fashion and all that kind of stuff that has watered down the scene now. We don’t want to be on either side. We don’t want to be tough guys. We don’t want to be the fashion kids. We just want to be passionate about music. I think if we are able to draw from both ends, we might be able to possibly change a little bit on both ends as well.

Looking at the bands success, are they laying a blueprint for a hardcore scene in San Diego? Should other hardcore bands move to California to “make it”? Just like anywhere else, a local band is just a local band.
We actually made it out of town before we made it here. We spent a lot of time touring the Midwest. That’s all we really had the money to do. We didn’t make it out to the East Coast. There were different towns and cities where we were accepted right away and started to build a following. Every time we’d come back, there would be 50 more kids. In San Diego, there are small bands and big bands and nothing in between. We were playing shows here and there were 75 people coming out. Two months later, we play a show and there were 600 people there. There was nothing in between.

What was the catalyst? Was it the Metal Blade infamous signing in Feb 2003?
I think it got a lot of people curious. It got a lot of people interested. And started hearing stuff. We had some stuff on, two songs up there that really took off. I think we were No.1 for like three months in the downloads for the metal. Which was above a lot of bands we grew up listening to, and Mudvayne and all the major label heavy bands. We were above them for a really long time. Actually I think we are still up there like No.2 or something. Limp Bizkit is above us right now actually. But that got a lot of people to just hear the music. I think we got a little under 300,000 downloads from there right now.

A quarter of a million people listen to someone’s music for free. Now that’s some exposure. You whiny big labels take note. You are fighting a losing battle. Embrace the technology and work with it or get buried by it. But that’s my rant. Even with the incredible amount of exposure As I Lay Dying received with their MP3’s, Tim still sees where the line has to be drawn.
A lot of people debate whether or not all the downloads have helped or hurt the music industry. I think from a record label standpoint, it definitely hurt the industry when people are downloading the entire albums. But for the option of downloading one or two songs so people know what a bands sounds like, it’s really helped bands like us. If people are honest and download a couple of songs and like the band and buy the record, then it actually helps the industry. Unfortunately, most of the time, people download the entire record and they won’t support the band. If they enjoy the record, they actually won’t still buy it.

You think it’s actually hurt sales?
I think that it does. Statistically, I don’t know exactly what’s going on.

I believe they probably lose a certain degree of sales, say 10-20% from people who burn it. But I also believe because of the sheer, almost unfathomably larger number of people who get exposed to music that would otherwise never have checked out, if the music is worthy, it will sell much more than percentage they are losing in people pirating. Not to mention increased ticket sales and merch sales. Which are both a higher payoff for the artist as far as percentage of that money they see. You are on a bigger label now, what’s Metal Blade’s opinion on your high download rate?
I think we have a similar approach. We think it’s good for about three of our songs to really get out there. But people downloading entire albums, I think that’s where it can become bad. I think it’s done a lot of things for us. It’s free promotion for most of those bands, just getting it out there. I think the bands that get hurt are the bands that already have the national exposure. Like Britney Spears who you see advertisements for every ten feet when you are walking around. People are going to download the singles because the rest of her album is crap. So they get the two songs, and they think those are the only two songs they need. Why buy the rest of the record?

The problem with the majors is their business model for producing a successful record is outdated. It’s over promoted. They spend so much money on promotion, it forces the bands to sell so many units before they get their gears moving as a band. Yeah, MTV will move a certain amount of units no matter what. Where the independent label model, they don’t drop so much on promotion, so the bands don’t have to sell as many albums before the label and band sees a return on their investment.
Yeah, with a label like Metal Blade, it makes bands work harder because they have to prove they are worth that extra money. When we first finished recording our album, nobody knew what it was going to sell. It was pretty much a debut release. We didn’t plan on shooting a video or anything like that. But then as the album began to sell and catch a lot of people’s attention, so it was like, let’s shoot a video now. Where the majors will shoot a video months before the CD even comes out.

So the band is on a bigger label and moving units. Can a hardcore band make a living at this?
We are at the point now where between tours we don’t have to work. We could definitely work to pay off some extra money to pay off bills. Actually, September is the first quarter and we’ll actually see our first check. I think just being on the road, we come home with enough money, we can write when we are home and we don’t have to go straight into working a construction job. It’s hard to find a job that will let you tour. But I think the indie labels cause the bands to work harder. We agreed to spend the majority of this year on the road. We’ll probably be on the road for about 8 months.

Is touring comfortable for you now at this level?
Yeah, because we don’t have to worry so much about, “Is there going to be kids at the shows”. We’ve finally paid off our van. We don’t have to worry about traveling expenses so much. Its just gas. We have like a 15 passenger van. It has a queen size bed in back and a little entertainment center. That makes a 6 hour drive seem like the length of a movie. We don’t really have a lot of money for hotels. On the last 3 month tour, we stayed in hotels maybe 10 tens. A lot of time we are sleeping on people’s floors and crashing wherever we can. A band like us, it reminds us we have to love what we are doing. Not sleeping in your own bed every night, can get old after three months. But we love what we are doing so it doesn’t even bother us.

“Song 10” is almost an indie rock song, swaying with melody. Such a different song, you didn’t even come up with a title, just calling it “Song 10”?
We had a hard time coming up with a title that really fit. The song was written with the intention of giving the album a listenable finish from start to finish. A lot of heavy albums, sounds like the same songs for 12 tracks. So we really wanted to break up the CD. We wrote song “Song 10” as, “Ok, the 10th song, we want to have a different feel”. We wrote it with that intention. So we thought the best name for it was “Song 10”. I think we wanted to demonstrate the diversity of the band. All of us listen to such different music. Our guitar player Evan actually wrote that song. It’s written as more like the music that he listens to, and it shows that you don’t know what to expect on our next record.

Evan and Tim both have ‘producer’ credits on “Frail Words Collapse”. What did you do that made you ‘producer’?
We worked with an engineer who never really did a metal record. He had worked with some heavier bands, but nothing as extreme as As I Lay Dying. We were a little nervous because we figured this guy is going to be somebody who really understands us and where we are going, or the album would totally suck. We took a gamble and we wanted to work with him and knew he had a good ear for music in general and trusted him on that level. He did a great job. He dialed in everything that we asked. As a Producer, that’s really the role. To say, “This is the tone we want to go for. This is the arrangement of the song. This is what we are going for as a total mix and have a complete picture in mind.” Where as the engineer only knows kind of one step along the way.

As I Lay Dying have played with a ‘who’s who’ of hardcore. So when Tim has a band he wants to recommend, it must be something far above the pack of genius. What has impressed him the most as of late?
As musicians, Dillinger Escape Plan. They are phenomenal. Not only do they play with total precision, they move around more than most bands playing power chords and stuff. And there a lot of bands that somewhat disappointed us as we expected them to be really good because we’ve been listening to their CDs for so long. I really like the guys from InFlames music, but live, they just kind of hung out and stood around. There wasn’t really a passion or intensity to what they were playing. They just kind of got up there and played their songs. They seemed to just kind of play it because they were getting paid to play a show. That’s not to say we wouldn’t tour with those guys anytime. When you see a band live, there is a certain amount of energy and passion that you feel from a CD and if it’s not there live, if you don’t sense that they are excited about what they are doing, it kind of takes away from the music.

As I Lay Dying lyrics, tend to deal with a sense of decay. Loss. Tragedy. They are very personal and that’s done with intention.
Everything I write about is just what’s going on in my life. For me, it’s hard to write outside the first person, because I don’t feel like the song is then personal to me. Sometimes it may be a little to straight forward, but I’m just writing about life and people should be able to relate to that. There are songs about losing friends, about friends that I have now that I wanted to help that I wasn’t able to help. When someone comes home late at night and there is a lot on there mind and they just write it all out… I think that’s what my lyrics are. And that happy-go-lucky stuff isn’t what troubles me late at night.

“Distance is Darkness” and “A Thousand Steps” have only about 3 lines of lyrics. It’s these small chances the bands takes with structures that let’s them put their unique stamp on a genre that might otherwise just swallow them up without notice.
Those 3 or 4 lines truly said what I was feeling and going through. I think a good poet can say something in the fewest amount of words. Those songs just happen to be concise and I like them like that.

Evan and Tim thank God first in their thanks list. Why thank God? I asked Tim if he thought God had anything to do with how his album turned out.
I believe as God as a creator of life. There was a beginning to all this and I want to thank God because all the joy I’ve had in life wouldn’t be here without him. Not necessarily applying to the music…

What if the album tanks, and everyone thought it sucked, would you then take back your thanks to God?
No, like I said, it’s outside of the music. It’s just me thanking God for the things and joys I’ve had in life.

I challenged him a bit to see if he was worried about being tagged with any specific religion associations. After all, it’s hard to be religious without losing credibility nowadays. And if you think differently, you are going to hell.
I think it’s funny in the music industry, that if a band thanks God, those guys are Christians. All of us in the band actually do have a very strong belief in God. We are all actually Christians. So some people now think that we are “Christian band” and we have some sort of agenda. But we can’t really attend Church because we are gone every Sunday. If we were home, we’d all be involved in some church activity. But we are just here trying to intelligently represent what we believe.

Religion is a terrible topic for an interview, so I wanted to know what was the draw of the hardcore scene. What’s the coolest thing about metal/hardcore?
Probably the aggression. I think that hardcore by itself doesn’t have same aggression because it doesn’t have the precision or technicality of metal. It still has that aggressive feel to it. When I think we are playing live, we kind of lose our mind for a half an hour. At the same time, we are passionate and have something to say and not just be like an idiot.

What’s the biggest joke about metal/hardcore?
Everybody is trying to be tough. Everybody has got designs with skulls. Everybody in the bands that we tour with are just normal guys. No one is killing chickens in their back yard.

I had to test Tim’s tough guy meter, or at least embarrass him. I asked what was the stupidest thing he has done lately.
When were on tour and there was this opening band called Show Red, and they were kinda younger guys so we wanted to mess with them in a practical joke kind of way. So I took a crap in a box, put a bag over my hand, then picked it up and stuck it under the door handles of their car. We call it “Turd Tucking”. They had no idea it was us. They kept asking everyone who the “Dookie Bandit” was.

This interview was actually conducted on September 11th of this year. Hard to even say that date without getting a little flash in your head. Fuckers kind of stained this day for a long time. I poked a bit into his opinions on the political state of our country.
My brother is a major in the Army Rangers. He has an inside position where he has a totally different perspective than we hear about on the news. He’s not the kind of guy to force his point of view on anybody. He was responsible for protecting guys from CNN or MSNBC while they were over there. And at the same time while they were protecting them, those guys would sometimes misrepresent what him and what his platoon were doing. And he felt really kind of ripped off that they are protecting somebody who is kind of stabbing them in the back. But at the same time, there is some news coverage that is genuine. The media perspective I think is very twisted. People get into this thinking “It’s definitely over oil”. And yeah, there were times when we’d be going through an area where our duty was to protect an oil field. But things are a lot greater and deeper than people realize. Oil was a factor, but that wasn’t the main reason we were over there.

Why do you think we are there?
If any of us were able to go over there and see their culture and see their leadership and their government and to know truly how corrupt things were over there, I think we’d have a totally different perspective on it. I honestly do not have an opinion on whether we should or should not have gone over there. After speaking to my brother, I don’t know what to think. Originally I was pretty against going to war, and now, I’m kind of more neutral.

I sincerely wanted to steer the conversation toward the fact that OUR government is so truly corrupt, and if people would start opening their eyes, they’d see how ripped off and manipulated we’ve been over this last 50 years. It’s truly insulting that we use “Government Corruption” as part of our reasoning for invading a country. I get worked up easily lately, so I saved my rant for right here at the end of the As I Lay Dying interview. Tim wouldn’t mind I don’t think.

But to bring this home with some wisdom for the millions that read Modern Fix, I asked time to enlighten the masses.
Regarding the music scene, I think that there is a lot of different ideas right now, but we are playing music because we love music, not because we want to be involved in a certain scene or have a particular agenda. It seems that a lot of times when you go to a show, they don’t seem accepting. This is “their scene” and who is the new guy? I’m really hoping music will get back to the point where it’s just people loving music coming out to shows. Through that there are more genuine friendships built. Currently, I see music being kind of close-minded. You’ve got the hardcore scene and the punk scene and all these scenes. And it’s these groups of people that are kind of elitist and when a new kid comes to the show they kind of get the evil eye.

So you got that kids? The singer from As I Lay Dying says to not be such elitist scenester pricks and support everyone. And you girls talk to the guys more. You all sit in your little giggly groups and shit waiting for us to talk to you, but when it’s all ages, and social lubricants are prohibited, the balls in your court ladies. Heh. Balls. And speaking of balls, check out As I Lay Dying’s “Frail Words Collapse”. That will put hair on your balls. Or rip it off. Either way, it’s some brutal metalcore that just don’t fuck around.