As I Lay Dying were among the progressive front-runners in the early evolution of American metalcore. In 2000, a five-piece was born in San Diego, California, which currently features vocalist Tim Lambesis, guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, drummer Jordan Mancino and bassist/clean vocalist Josh Gilbert.
The epitome of smooth-but-hard, real metal, As I Lay Dying has defined a quality of musicianship that has transcended from production to the mosh pit masses. The band packs a whole lot of sound on their albums, and easily replicates their impeccable sound and sync in any live performance.
The pioneers of metalcore have released six studio albums, one split album and two compilation albums. They’ve toured tirelessly with bands including Killswitch Engage, Hatebreed and Shadows Fall, among others. They were even nominated for a 2008 Grammy Award for the song “Nothing Left.”
Their September release, Awakened, debuted at number 10 on the Billboard 200, proving the tenacity of the band’s cult following and appreciation for their raw, pure sound. Having previously collaborated with producer (and Killswitch Engage guitarist) Adam Dutkiewicz on 2007’s An Ocean Between Us and 2010’s The Powerless Rise, the band tapped Bill Stevenson (Rise Against, NOFX) to produce their most recent release.
Shooting for an outside-the-box production approach, As I Lay Dying stays true to their metal roots on this record, but experiments with a plethora of production value and crisp instrumental impact.
The song “Cauterize” calls on deep-rooted guitar lines and vocals more like aching howls. A trademark of sincere metalcore is the breakdown, but this track endures a consistent pace of pure music. The song comes out of the gate with pretty poetry masked with tried and true growls as Lambesis cries, “The truth of my heart is like a repressed tale / A censored and silenced story.”
The album’s first single, “A Greater Foundation” paints a realistic portrait of life’s tribulations, but most importantly, the triumphs. Though the lyrics are uplifting, the music induces sounds of eerie marching soldiers beckoned to join a dark, fast-paced metal parade. At the heart of the song is a celebratory chant to rise up and commemorate trial. “As we face distress we must not lose heart / Stand fast and press on, triumph awaits.” The chorus encourages, “Sometimes we have to watch our whole lives fall apart / Before we can rebuild them again / A greater foundation.”
Now, the band is currently on tour with Asking Alexandria, and will be gearing up for South Africa’s RAMfest next March. In the interview below, Lambesis shares his thoughts about the band’s latest record, the music business, and the thrill of playing with such a tight community of metalcore mavens.
Congrats on the release of your sixth studio album, Awakened. From where did you draw inspiration for the record, both lyrically and musically? Can you describe the composition and production process?
On our previous albums we had some thrashier songs contrasted by more melodic ones. When we started writing Awakened, we wanted to better combine our different elements within the same songs. As a result, even the most aggressive songs on the album have a memorable quality to them. In a way, we drew inspiration from ourselves but just wanted to present a more fine-tuned version of that. Lyrically, I was inspired by taking an honest look at myself over the past couple of years.
As I Lay Dying are always in good company in terms of touring with like-minded bands. There’s a special community in metalcore, and you’ve kept acts like Hatebreed, Shadows Fall and Killswitch Engage as part of your band’s circle of friends. Can you speak about that group dynamic both musically and personally?
There is a lot of mutual respect within that group of bands because we’ve all helped develop our generation’s wave of American heavy metal. Rather than being competitive and trying to knock each other down, we’ve all become friends. Hatebreed has finely tuned the heavy mosh while Killswitch Engage found a way to be heavy with melody.
I guess you could say we’ve found our own blend of melody and aggression that has its thrash influences as well. No matter which producer we work with we always end up being the co-producer. However, recording with Adam [Dutkiewicz] is just a fun experience and it’s always great to have a respected friend to settle differences of opinions between band members.
The music business has changed significantly since the inception of As I Lay Dying, as the emergence of digital and social media has caused a shift in the way bands interact with their fans. How do you guys interpret the current landscape? What are your thoughts on piracy and digital sharing channels, both illegal and legal?
This is one of those topics that entire books can be written about. My general opinion on piracy or sharing is that there was at one point a small window of time when digital music online helped bands grow. The mentality back then was to get a couple songs from an album out to fans and even encourage them to share. In turn, bands hoped that they would pique people’s interest. If the songs were good, the sharing of digital music actually helped create more album sales.
The two key factors at that time, though, were that a truly interested listener still was motivated to buy the rest of the songs, and that the bands or labels were the ones determining what people got for free. Now, people go online and demand everything for free regardless of what the artist wants to share. Some artists even get demos leaked that were never intended to be heard by anyone outside of their creative circle.
You were scheduled to tour with Slipknot back in 2005 but unfortunately, the shows were canceled. What was it like play some shows with them this year?
We’ve toured with Slipknot twice now and the first thing that comes to mind is how grateful we are for those opportunities. They are the largest drawing live heavy band in the generation behind Metallica and Iron Maiden. In fact, I can’t think of an audience we can better benefit from playing in front of, since fans from that generation still understand the aggression of our music.
As a band you’ve covered a lot of ground since 2000 when you first formed, and you’re also involved in your solo/side-project, Austrian Death Machine. What’s next for you both individually and for As I Lay Dying?
I have a new side-project I began working on that will launch first thing in 2013. For As I Lay Dying, it will always be my main focus and we’ll keep touring through summer of 2013 before we even start writing again.
As I Lay Dying’s new album, Awakened, is available now through Metal Blade. See them at Philly’s Electric Factory on Dec. 7 and NYC’s Best Buy Theater on Dec. 9. For more information, go to asilaydying.com.