Since you are trying to win over that new audience, how are you balancing new and old material? You’ve got a healthy back catalogue at this point, but if you’re trying to—
AR: It’s weird because for the majority of the kids it’s all new. (Laughs) We’re just trying to make it interesting for ourselves, switching in a new song, seeing what works, what doesn’t work.
JZ: And switching in and out old songs, so you know, it’s been a constant fun little thing with the setlist. Switching in and out songs like ‘Bad Seed,’ ‘Other Side,’ throwing even old ones around. ‘Lost,’ some nights we’ll do it, and some nights we won’t do it.
Some nights we’ll do ‘I Regret,’ some nights we’ll do ‘Weeds.’ And the new songs are just free for all. We just keep revolving all different ones and see what works. It’s pretty cool.
For the new material, you rotate it, so it’s all pretty much good to go live?
SA: We’re just trying to make it as interesting as possible for the kids.
JZ: There are certain songs we’ll probably hold onto until the record comes out. Songs over six minutes. And to play a new song that’s that long, a song like ‘Justified,’ which I think is the longest song on the record, it may be a little bit too much to swallow for the crowd, although it’s a great song, so it’s kind of like throwing some in there that are the quick hitters. That’s what we’ve been doing.
How did the material come together for the record?
AR: Really naturally. As ideas were coming in from each guy it was just really easy to work on stuff. I think we were all on the same page this time around, and we definitely wanted to make a heavy record, but melodic and deep, and that’s what we did. We kind of set out to make a conceptual record at first, and without even trying, the songs kind of made it…
JZ: Gelled it together.
SA: It made itself conceptual is what you’re saying.
AR: Yeah, we set out to do it, and without even trying to do it, it happened anyway.
What’s the concept?
AR: Generally, a lot of the songs touch upon Keith’s dad passing away and his life story and how his life affected all of us. But it’s put in a general way most of the time so anyone that’s dealt with that kind of a situation can relate to losing a loved one to substance abuse or just losing someone in general. There’s a lot of songs that touch upon that.
[To Joey] That’s your family too. Putting that much personal investment in a record can’t be easy.
JZ: It’s not easy. There’s been days where Alan or Keith brought in lyrics and we just sat there and wept. And that’s just the way we are, we’re so tied to it. It’s so real, sometimes it’s so real it’s surreal. It sounds strange, but it’s true.We have that thing where we just pour it all out, we don’t hold anything back.
AR: We’ve always done that too, from the first record. ‘This Time’ is about Joey’s relationship with his dad. I think that’s what makes us who we are. It has always been that personal. I think the Soul Searching Sun record kind of lost that, and I’m glad we got back on track with this one, with the original lineup and I think it’s important. It’s a big, strong quality about what Life Of Agony is.
Coming back so long after Soul Searching Sun, and you had more things available in production, how was the actual recording itself?
JZ: Well, Greg Fidelman. The cool thing about this record is, again, we’re very open. We didn’t have any certain idea of what we wanted to do in the studio, so we relied heavily on what Greg had to bring to the table and knowledge-wise on what he thought the record should sound like, as well as consulting with us and asking us what we thought. The cool thing is, and I’ve said this before, I touched not one knob on not one amplifier for this record, because I wanted to learn. I wanted this to be a learning experience and see where I could bring myself. If you can personally reach new levels, you’re kind of doing it for the team, and everyone did that.
Everyone was leaving themselves completely open to try new things, whether it was Sal drumwise, new equipment, new snares. Al with new equipment, new basses actually that he got so sold on that he actually spent thousands of dollars…
[Alan’s wife glances at him, surprised]
AR: Shh… (laughs)
JZ: But yeah, the way we recorded it was on ProTools, but there was no cut and paste bullshit. He was relentless on us, like with the drums, he was relentless with Sal. Sal did the perfect take, but if something was wrong, the snare may have been detuned, not quite perfect, we’d do that fucking song over again, and we wouldn’t stop until it was perfect, until he thought it was right. Same thing with guitar tracks, same thing with bass tracks, same thing with vocals. We all got grilled, we all got put on the burner, we all felt like we were the boar with the apple in his mouth. It was definitely a huge growing experience as well. Learning and growing.
A lot of the time when you get something done on ProTools, you can hear where the punches are put in and the overdubs are loose, the whole thing sounds kind of lifeless. I’d imagine you guys would want to stay away from that.
AR: This record was way organic. That was what we geared up for. It’s actually a lot more stripped down than the other records that we made in a lot of ways. We used really vintage instruments and microphones, and tried not to use a lot of unnatural effects, and went out of our way to make a timeless sounding record instead of something that’s dated.
Broken Valley is available now via Epic Records. Life Of Agony will be playing Maxwell’s in Hoboken on June 16. For more info, check out lifeofagony.com.