Interview with A Life Once Lost: Back To The Underground

It’s been a while since the world at large has heard from A Life Once Lost. There was a time when the Philadelphia and South Jersey-based heavy metal collective made their living turning smiles into grimaces with face-contorting grooves, punishing riffs and flashing lights.

Fueled by their aspirations and driven by the merit of their art, the band toured the world over, slaughtering crowds from the suburbs of Philadelphia to the frozen Russian underground. For five years, the band was on the road, hoping they would break through. Hoping the work they put in would render more than just enough to allow them to keep doing it.

Time went by and, though the tours were successful, A Life Once Lost got tired.

To fans, the exterior of the machine still looked brand new but, under the hood, three record labels, five albums and countless touring miles had taken their toll. With no support from their nearly bankrupt record label, the fire burned out. The engine stopped running, the wheels stopped turning, and in a cloud of cannabis-scented exhaust, A Life Once Lost disappeared from metal. Back to the surface. Back to friends and family.

“We’d been on tour and everyone’s lives at home just went to shit, because we were away so much,” said guitarist Doug Sabolick. “Everyone just wanted to see what living a normal life was like for a little bit.”

“I’m not bitching about money, because whatever, that’s the life,” he assured. “But we were really struggling to get by. We were like, ‘let’s just take a step back.’”

And two years at home appear to have done them a great deal of good. The reprieve has brought them renewed perspective on their lives and career as a band. They have a new album nearly completed, a new record deal about to be signed, a new manager, a new bass player in Mike Sabolick, and a conservative number of shows planned before 2011.

“I think the two years [away] rejuvenated the love,” mused vocalist Bob Meadows, “but it also gave us the chance to look elsewhere and see if anything else would spark interest.”

The first step was playing shows again. The next one was getting backing from a record label. The band has been working diligently on a new deal and hopes the news of their contract’s signing will be a bit of a Christmas present for the “still remaining A Life Once Lost fans,” as Bob put it.

In spite of the hardships of road life, they remain grateful for their opportunities.

“I’m very fortunate,” said Bob. “The success lies in being able to have the opportunity to do the things I’m doing. I turned 31 this year and I’m still actively involved in music, and I have been since I [was] 18 years old.”

Having been on the road for the larger part of their 20s, the band took advantage of the return to normalcy, but their band was never far out of mind. Doug and his older brother, Mike Sabolick, started a music studio that was used to write and record the demos for the new album. Though they may have been burned out from touring, they were not at a loss creatively. They recorded around 20 demo songs, one of which, “Expression Of Hate,” was posted on the band’s MySpace page earlier this Fall.

“It was just a demo that we wanted to throw out there and let people know that we’re alive,” Bob explained. “This is a small taste of something that’s gonna melt your face off.”

And, it tastes pretty good. The track features vintage A Life Once Lost riff-craft with a circular groove, addictive vocal hook and something that feels unlike any ALOL song before it.

“We’ve down-tuned, so it probably sounds a little bit different,” said Doug. “We’d always really been sticking to standard tuning and dropped-D, but now we’re in B. So that is a big change, in the tuning and just overall feel. Iron Gag was more a rockin’ vibe. This one, we’re really going to go back to a mechanical vibe [à la A Great Artist].”

The new song may have a great deal of autobiographical content as far are the band is concerned. Bob described “Expression Of Hate” as a song written to a friend. The prevailing theme is respect and giving credit to those who came before you.

A Life Once Lost has quietly watched the metal scene grow and change, and, they haven’t liked a lot of what they’ve seen. The rise of pop-metal and pop-hardcore has left a bad taste in their mouths.

While they were writing honest music and paying homage to those that came before them, droves of puberty-stricken teens with bad haircuts and dangerously tight pants were bastardizing metal and hardcore, and stealing ALOL riffs in the process, all just to sell some t-shirts.

“Whether it’s art, whether it’s film, whether it’s life, love, whether it’s music,” Bob explained, “there’s constantly someone there that already did it before you and all you have to do is respect them, and not shit on them.”

Bob believes his band has more to offer, and a legitimate chance to change the scene for the better. The new material is among the most polished and creative of the band’s career, and the new album should be a landmark for A Life Once Lost.

“This is gonna be one of the grooviest fucking records metal has ever heard—it’s bound to be a classic from the day it’s released.”

They have been playing new songs live since they returned to the stage in October with a couple shows, including a headlining set during the CMJ Music Marathon and a few more supporting gigs over November and December. Their biggest show of their year comes this Sunday, Dec. 19, supporting Shadows Fall at the Starland Ballroom, with the return of 89.5FM WSOU’s (Not So) Silent Night. Admittedly, the band is still tightening up their live act, but things are falling into place.

“I feel like now, at rehearsals, we’re really starting to get our shit together,” said Doug. “At that Starland show, we’re gonna be hitting our stride.”

WSOU has supported A Life Once Lost since the beginning, playing their music and getting the word out on their shows. And the support has been mutual. In 2008, the band played the WSOU 60th Anniversary Show at Starland, opening for Shadows Fall and Unearth, among others.

“Just to be able to grow alongside of them—it’s been a very enjoyable experience,” said Bob. “If you show support for A Life Once Lost, it doesn’t matter who it is, we support you.”

As he elaborated, it became clear that support to the band goes much deeper than ticket or merch sales.

“Sometimes, there’s a day when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed like ‘man, is this fucking band worth it?’ and all the sudden you’re listening to the radio and [your song] comes on, or somebody brings it up, or somebody drops you an email or posts a message on MySpace or Facebook and they’re just like ‘we really appreciate you guys writing music, man, it’s really got me by in tough times,’ or really makes you feel good or really makes you wanna beat someone up. It just really makes you feel good that someone else is thinking about you.”

A Life Once Lost has been around too long to worry about their reaching their bottom line playing music. They know that they can live off the road, but they continue to make music for the those to whom it makes a difference.

“I feel pretty excited that we’ve taken our time and are gonna put out and album that we didn’t rush through just to get back on tour,” said Doug. “We’re doing this for the people, not for ourselves.”

But what do they expect to achieve in 2011?

“I expect it to be an album that comes out in metal that is unlike any other album that comes out in metal that year,” Doug said. “It will be its own thing. I don’t really have expectations—I expect the album to be great. That doesn’t mean it’s gonna blow up or not blow up. I just expect it to be a great album.”

“I’ve already done and seen and experienced a lot more things than a lot of other people have,” added Bob. “Right now, I’m just looking to have a good time and kinda leave the expectations to people that have yet to actually experience a life like this.”

A Life Once Lost will be playing at the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on Sunday Dec. 19 with Shadows Fall. More info at