MEB staffer Tim Dodderidge was lucky enough to catch up with Josh Gilbert, the bassist/clean vocalist of metalcore giants As I Lay Dying at Mayhem Fest. They discuss the band’s upcoming album, Awakened, their continual usage of skulls, guilty music pleasures, and more.
First off, how’s the tour been so far?
It’s been great, man. We’re playing a lot of cities we haven’t been to in a couple years, and just with the band package, it’s been really awesome – very exciting. We just switched to the main stage, playing with Motorhead, Slayer, and Slipknot, which is crazy for us. It’s just been really cool to play to a completely metal crowd and maybe play for some new people who haven’t heard our band.
You guys have a new record coming out soon. Can you give a little bit of insight about the album and its title, Awakened?
Yeah, the album’s called Awakened. Tim [Lambesis, lead vocalist] writes the lyrics for all the songs, and I think he just kind of wanted to (well, he actually named the record before all the lyrics were written for reasons of getting the artwork turned in and stuff) write about how he, at this point in his life, made some realizations of things as being completely true, and he was just kind of finally realizing important things in his life and he talks about them on this record.
You guys worked with Adam Dutkiewicz of Killswitch Engage on your previous two records, but are working with Bill Stevenson on the new album. What made you guys want to use a different producer?
We just would’ve worked with Adam again if he would’ve been available, but he wasn’t available. So we started looking for other producers and out of all the ones we talked to, when we approached Bill about producing the record he was interested. When we talked to him on a conference call, he was probably the most psyched and also the most detail-oriented. He was like, “Well, I was listening to this song and I really liked what you guys were doing there, but maybe if it was me I would’ve done this, or made the bass tone stick out.” He made a lot of very detailed responses and made the best impression on us I guess. We were big fans of what he had done with Rise Against and Good Riddance and stuff. So it was a pretty easy choice, and it worked out awesome I think.
If you can describe how this album is different from every other As I Lay Dying record, how would you?
Well, I think it’s partly because of this vibe we wanted to go for. On an album like The Powerless Rise we would have the songs that were just thrashy, chromatic, and not very melodic, and then we’d have the melodic songs. As we were talking to Bill – it was before we finished all the songs on the record – he was saying he’d like to hear more of a good hybrid of the two, and maybe not have that much separation between As I Lay Dying A and As I Lay Dying B sounds. It was like we fused the brutality with the melody a lot better than we have on previous records – it wasn’t too much of a jump between songs.
You released “Cauterize” at the end of last month. How’s the reaction been as you’ve been playing the song live on this tour?
I think it’s been pretty surprising to us. For the first couple days at the start of the tour, the lyric video had been out for maybe four days or so, and a few people knew the lyrics that first day, and then every other day you look out and see a few more people singing it. When a record’s not out, you only play 30 minutes and they hear you play a new song, not everybody’s going to be as psyched because they want to hear that song from 2004 that we’ve played 100,000 times by now. I think as far as playing new songs on a tour go, it’s gone better than any time in the past where we’ve done the same thing. I’m really excited on the response.
What are some of your favorite songs to play live and why?
Umm…there’s a few songs that we don’t play as much in the set anymore. Like, there’s a song called “Beyond Our Suffering” that’s just a super-fast, pretty brutal song. It’s probably one of the heaviest songs or the heaviest song the band has ever done. It’s really fun for us to play live, and it’s maybe a little hard to digest live because it’s so fast the whole time – nobody really knows what to do. There are songs that even though we’ve played so many times, like “Confined” or “94 Hours,” the audience makes them the best songs to play live. It’s not really because it’s my favorite song, but the audience goes so nuts that it makes this really energetic vibe on stage and in the crowd and stuff.
My parents aren’t a fan of your recurring images of skulls on your album covers. How would you respond to their disapproval and branding of you guys as “Satanic”?
Well, I mean, everybody has a skull (laughs). It’s a symbol of life as much it is a symbol of death. I can’t really respond to that question because it just seems silly for anyone to associate a skull with being Satanic.
Yeah, well, my parents don’t like or respect any metal at all.
That’s fine. I guess that’s cool. Yeah, but I don’t really know how to respond to that because it has nothing to with…
You just kind of brought it up from the style of music you play?
Yeah, it’s something that’s been there from the beginning. It was actually before I was in the band, in 2003, when they did the artwork for Frail Words Collapse. Jake Bannon [artist] included a skull. It’s actually a real skull he takes a picture of; it’s an actual human skull that he owns. He used the same skull for all of our records that we use for the artwork. It’s actually a photo that he somehow does a graphic design thing with. We told him we wanted recurring themes for that album [Frail Words Collapse], but that’s another difference with this new record. It was actually done by a different company and a different guy, so that kind of represents the change in sound with a little bit of new imagery I guess.
You guys are all Christians, but you definitely have a ton of non-Christian followers. Do you guys feel like you have a message you’re trying to get across to them? How do you feel spreading the word should be done?
We get this question a lot, and it’s not an easy question to answer, because I don’t think anyone in the band would say we’re an “Evangelical band.” We’re not trying to convert anyone. Our message on stage does not contain any religious message at all. Most of the songs don’t, and so it’s one of those things where Tim, when he wrote the lyrics, is coming from a Christian perspective. So it affects the way he writes songs, but I don’t think our band has a mission or a message we want to get out to people at all. It’s not that kind of thing. There’s no kind of mission statement that we have; we’re just trying to play music. The first goal is to just write really good music and play it really well. There’s no goal of trying to win souls over for the Lord or anything, even though some of our peers may take that as a cop-out. We didn’t label ourselves a Christian band – it’s something that everyone else called us.
This may be a bit hard for you to answer since you’ve been in the band for six years. The band has been through a lot of lineup changes. How do you think that has affected the course of you guys’ career?
I don’t think it really affected the course as much, because there was always someone who was the primary songwriter. In the beginning, there were a ton of lineup changes, but there was always Tim and Jordan [Mancino, drummer], and they wrote most of it at the beginning. Then when Nick [Hipa, guitarist] and Phil [Sgrosso, guitarist] came, Phil ended up writing a majority of the riffs himself. Of all the ex-members, Clint [Norris, bassist] was in the band the longest, and he was only in it for three years, and I’ve been in the band for almost six years. So it’s been pretty solid since about 2006. I think that, if anything, in the beginning, even though there were a lot of lineup changes, having the really solid members is what kept it together. In general, in most bands, there’s one or two guys who do most of the music writing. So I think that saved the band, and it just happened to be that the primary songwriters were the guys who stayed.
Since the only constant is change (pun intended), where do you see the band five years from now?
Hopefully things don’t change in a negative way, but you never know. We just hope to keep touring and keep writing and having this be our career. Even if it gets to the point where we have to go get a job when we’re not on tour, it’d be worth it. Fortunately, right now we’re lucky enough that we don’t have to do that. You can’t really rely on when you’re 40 years old to be doing the same thing. I think in the ideal world, we would love to take the career path of a band like Slayer. They never blew up and had a number one single, but they’re so consistent and they still headline festivals 20-30 years later.
What albums have you been listening to lately?
Well, surprisingly, on this tour there’s so much metal that I haven’t really been listening to anything heavy at all. Like, the only thing heavy I’ve listened to in the past month is the new Gojira record, which is freaking amazing.
Yeah, it is awesome.
It’s so heavy. But you can only listen to so much metal in one day. I don’t know. I’ve been listening to…I’m trying to pick the thing that will make me sound the least lame.
If there are any guilty pleasures, just throw them out there.
I really like the Lana Del Rey record that came out this year. That’s probably the guilty pleasure on my iPod right now. I’ll just leave it at that because I’ll probably embarrass myself more if I go on too far.