MEB Staffer Austin Gordon recently caught up with Shane Blay of metalcore heavyweight Oh, Sleeper. He discusses their upcoming tour, details about their newest record, ghetto Wal-Mart cookouts, and more.
MEB: When does the tour start with Greeley Estates and Ten After Two?
Shane: It starts this coming Thursday, the 27th in Little Rock. I can’t wait, Greeley Estates are some of our best friends, we always have the stupidest times with those guys. I’ve never met the other bands, but I’m really excited about them.
I noticed that the tour is sponsored or supported by To Write Love on Her Arms. What is your opinion on the various music-related charities throughout the community like them and Music Saves Lives? How much of an impact do you think they make?
I think they make a huge impact. To Write Love On Her Arms got enormous, really fast. It’s cool to see it. They’re everywhere, I see them everywhere. We go to Australia, they’re there. They help us out because they believe in us, and we wear their stuff because we love the message and everything. I think it really does make a difference because our screamer guy Micah, he got really inspired by them. He started his own clothing line called “Steadfast Modesty” that tries to raise awareness about human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking and stuff. It totally touches people, it touched me. I’ve sat down with Chad Moses who works for them, and it’s always pretty inspiring.
How have the fans responded to the new songs from Children of Fire?
Oh, it’s been nuts. I mean, I’m biased because I just wrote it (laughs). It seems like everyone thinks this is the best record, and the most advanced we’ve ever gone. Micah’s doing a lot more with his vocals, and I’m singing a lot more. I tried to write some of the craziest stuff I could, and then I tried to write some of the most beautiful stuff I could. It’s got all of the abstract stuff I’ve always wanted in a record, and I think it just had to mature out. The fans in my eyes are like freaking out. We’ve played three shows since the new record, and every single word of the new songs was being roared back at us all three shows. So I’m really excited about this tour because then I’ll have a much better perspective about how many people really care about this record.
Are there any songs that you guys want to play live but haven’t played yet?
Yeah, we play like half of the record live. I’m biased because it’s just me, but I think it’d be cool to play “Means to Believe” live, one of the acoustic songs; it would be a cool break. I think it’d be cool to show that side of us too. Right now the only few songs we’re not playing are “Claws of a God,” “Chewing the Stitch,” “Dealers of Fame,” and the other acoustic one.
Are there any songs you guys are most proud of? Like one of those kind of songs that ten years ago you never could have imagined being involved in creating it?
Yeah, I think that there are a couple of songs like that for me. Just on my end, “Hush Yael” is a big thing for me. Me and Micah covered the lyrics and stuff, and he had this idea. He told me the story; I had never read the story, I hadn’t ever heard of it, a lot of people hadn’t either. He was looking for true stories around the world of the worst things that we as people do to each other, without remorse. And I took it on to write this song that was just so, hopeless. I think that it’s one of those songs that captured that whole feel, and I think a lot of people feel that too.
Another song like that is “The Family Ruin.” Micah had this idea and he wanted to have this conversation between this girl’s conscience, and her actions. I sang the actions part, and he sang her conscience, or her God talking to her. It’s one of those songs that sounds like it does in the lyrics, you know what I mean?
“Dealers of Fame” is pretty similar in that respect too isn’t it? Isn’t it about a murder I believe?
It’s about these Ukrainian dudes that I believe got on Youtube and taped themselves beating people to death with a hammer just to get famous. They were young, they were just kids. The thing is, I wrote that song completely before we even had the lyric idea for it. With “Hush Yael” and “The Family Ruin,” it was right there. It was on the spot.
Describe in detail the kind of madness that came as a result of Micah’s vocal sessions during the recording of “Hush Yael.” That song is so intense and powerful, but so angry at the same time.
Yeah, that one was pretty rough. Whenever we do vocal takes, it’s usually just me and him (Micah) in the studio. He usually is in the room for all of my takes, and I’m in the room for all of his takes. We critique each other. Like, I’m not a very emotional dude, but there have been a couple moments in our career when I’ll just start tearing up, because my best friend is in there just freaking out. You know? Not so much in “Hush Yael,” because we both knew the story and we were calm, and just wanted people to know about it. But “The Family Ruin” is another one, he was in there. You know how the song has three really long rants in it? He did all of his parts in one take. I was in the control room, just like “holy crap….” He wrote the lyrics for “Means to Believe,” and a lot of his lyrics in that song were calling out what I had written. And it was the first time I had heard his ideas. He hadn’t told me or any of us his lyrics for that song; he had just written them the night before. He came in and I was the first man, and I was just like “holy crap” and got all teary-eyed. We did the same thing on “Reveries of Flight” from the last record. I went in there and sang my stuff, and he had never heard it. And then he went in the same day and tracked his parts. It was just like that, we both teared up (laughs).
I think with the experimental parts you guys write into your music, it’s tempting to try absolutely everything you can think of when working on a new song. When does a song feel finished to you? Is there ever that defining moment where you’re like “Yeah, it’s finished”?
Well typically, our songs are just written not like a typical song. Usually, I’ll just have it already done. I have a little studio at my house, and I’ll have it pre-pro’d (pre-production) out. Then I’ll show the guys, and then Micah will start working on whatever he wants to do with it. If I have a singing part, he’ll tell me where he thinks it should go, and I’ll tell him I think a singing part should go here or whatever. But when it’s finished, we kinda just let it ride until the studio. A lot of the vocal ideas don’t even get written until the studio. My singing stuff doesn’t happen until after we’re recording. I mean, you kinda know when a song is done. For me, I make most of our songs pretty pop-structured. So, I’ll have an idea already. Like, some sort of verse, some sort of chorus, then verse-chorus again, and then something will happen, and then like an outro or climax or something. In writing, I’m always thinking about how it’s supposed to end.
How would you guys say you’ve grown as musicians just from the time-span between Son of the Morning and Children of Fire?
Well, we got a new drummer, and he is just awesome. He’s a child, but he’s really good (laughs). As the guitar player, I wanted to write stuff that people couldn’t figure out very quickly. I didn’t want it to sound like anybody else. I think I accomplished what I wanted to do with this one. I didn’t write anything that is just impossible to play. I just wanted to do some stuff that’s pretty difficult, and hard to figure out. As a singer, and with Micah a screamer, we wanted to do everything we could with all of the range we had. Micah, he had never been able to do low screams like on this one. We both wanted to put all of our ranges in there on this one. I didn’t sing like a lot of metal bands do, like we wanted to do it live with a lot of emotion. It’s the same with Micah; he does most of his tracks in one take. It has a very raw feel to it. We’ve worked really hard to make our vocal trade-offs and our vocals period the best they can be.
Absolutely. Being in a touring band yields many challenges. What would you say are some of the toughest challenges you guys have had to overcome as a band?
I’m the only guy in the band without a girlfriend (laughs). Everybody’s all gone nine months out of the year, and it really sucks. Well, we really only hang out with each other when we’re home. We have a couple other friends that we hang out with here, but for the most part we’re the only friends we really hang out with. I guess it’s just being away from all of our families, and not being able to sleep, ever (laughs). This past record cycle, when we got our new bass player and drummer, things have been really chill. There was a time after SOTM where we were so fed up, and wanted to call it quits.
That can definitely happen, with all of the back-and-forth, from tour to tour, and the writing cycle in the studio. You can’t get away from it, but it’s a necessary evil almost, you know?
Yeah, I mean if I wasn’t doing this I’d be playing music somewhere else. It wouldn’t be much of a change. I’m running all of the time, so it’s not a struggle. This past month or so though, we’ve really found our stride. Things have really been non-dramatic, and pretty easy.
What’s a favorite band you enjoy touring with and what’s a funny story you have with them?
Well, we’ve toured with The Chariot quite a bit, and we’re pretty close with them. The Greeley Estates guys we’re about to take out, we’ve toured with them before and it was just out of control. It was fun. One time, both of our bands, us and a band called I Am Alpha And Omega, all got together in this Wal-Mart parking lot. And we were just like, “let’s make this a real party.” So we got our bass cabs out of the trailer, and hooked it up to the stereo in the RV, and just started blaring rap. So then all of these gangsters started showing up, like thugs. They wanted to party too. They wanted to hang out. We were like “Yeah we got bratwurst and stuff if you guys want a hot dog!” Then we found out that they had just robbed the Wal-Mart, and were trying to sell us shampoo bottles. It was just this insane night that never ended. It was just like hanging out with rappers (laughs). It was awesome.
Are there any music videos that are coming out soon?
Yeah, we shot a video for “Endseekers,” the first song off of COF. We shot it about two weeks ago. I think somehow something went wrong though, and some of the footage got deleted. So I don’t know what the drama is, but we should be having it out pretty soon. We’re also having a video game coming out for the iPhone. It’s awesome, but it’s still in development. We also just got word that The Devil Wears Prada has a video game coming out too (laughs). Crap. We were like “Aw man, they stole our idea!” (laughs) Whatever though. It’s still gonna be cool.
In your opinion, what are the best run venues from a production and band point of view?
Well, House of Blues is the best. I mean, if you’re playing you get treated like a king whether you’re opening or whatever, unless the headlining band are a bunch of dicks or something. Yeah, HOB is one of the best places to play in the world. There’s also this place called The Brewery in North Carolina, it is amazing. It’s a little crap-hole-in-the-wall place, but every time we play there the kids are so awesome and the sound is so good. We like playing Murray Hill Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida too. Let’s see, The Door in Dallas is one of the best places too. That place is awesome, the owner/manager is one of the coolest dudes ever, his name’s Joel.
What are your favorite albums of 2011 so far?
I don’t even know if I know any (laughs). I don’t listen to any heavy stuff really. I don’t know if 21 came out this year, by Adele (it actually did). It’s amazing. The new Coldplay album, I wanna get that really badly. The new Brad Paisley record came out this year, and it’s amazing. Me and James love country. We’re from Texas! (laughs) I know John Mayer‘s supposed to come out with a record this year too, so I can’t wait for that. I know it’s not this year, but last year Muse came out with one of my favorite records ever. And we definitely can’t forget about Thrice– their new record Major/Minor came out this year too, and I love them.
What is the next step for Oh, Sleeper?
We’re gonna see where this record takes us. Now we’re off Solid State, this is our last record with them. So it’s pretty open-ended. I just wanna do these tours. We have a Norma Jean tour after our headliner, we’re supporting them, so we’ll see how we fare. After that I think we might go to Japan, and New Zealand again, and more international stuff. We want to go to South Africa, because apparently we’re really big there even though we’ve never been. Mike from Haste the Day went there and he was wearing an Oh, Sleeper shirt and he said like 30 people asked to buy it from him (laughs).
Any closing words for the fans?
Thank you for picking up the record. We hope everybody appreciates all of the hard work we put into it. We’ll see you all on tour!