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20th October 2008
San Diego metallers As I Lay Dying's roots can be traced back to 2000 when frontman Tim Lambesis formed the band initially as a two-piece with drummer Jordan Mancino. A full lineup was assembled by 2001 before the band's debut album, 'Beneath the Encasing of Ashes' was released on Pluto Records that very year. A split album with American Tragedy was released on the same label a year later before As I Lay Dying were snapped up by Metal Blade in 2003, a deal which has, so far, spawned three albums and propelled the band from an indie underground act into metal's mainstream. Huge album sales, and an ever widening fanbase, latest full-length effort 'An Ocean Between Us' has seen As I Lay Dying broaden their trademark hardcore/metal fusion into a greater diversity of musical styles, proving themselves transcendent of the metalcore tag the media so often brands them with.

In the UK for a series of dates as part of the latest Rockstar Taste of Chaos European tour, I took the opportunity to hook up with the band for an interview before their show at Nottingham Rock City. Scheduled to meet at 5pm, I ring the tour manager contact with which I'd been provided but only get through to his voicemail. Making a few enquiries, I eventually locate As I Lay Dying's tour bus (out of five identical looking vehicles!) and one of the band's crew takes me backstage to their dressing room where guitarist Nick Hipa sits at one end playing unamplified guitar. After brief introductions, we begin to chat about a whole array of subjects including the band's problematic journey to this year's Bloodstock festival; Christianity; Arnold Schwarzenegger and the concept of celebrity metal; and much more...
METAL DISCOVERY: How has the tour gone so far?
MD: Do you see your fan base as wider than the teenage girls then?
NICK HIPA:The tour so far is going well on the personnel side of it. We have a lot of friends on the tour and we’re sharing a bus with Story of the Year and we get along great with those guys, and Atreyu are good friends and everything. As far as the shows - the shows have been pretty good, you know. It’s a little different for us because you get up on stage to play and there’s a lot of fourteen and fifteen year old girls who are just kinda giving us blank stares, but I think we have our own fans that are coming out and kind of making us feel at home in certain cities.
NH: Yeah, I think we’ve got, er…I guess we’ve got younger fans; they’re like teenage boys who just wanna mosh or headbang or something, although we have some older fans as well. You know, we’re not the prettiest band on the tour or the prettiest sounding band on the tour so I feel like we might turn off a lot of people, but it doesn’t bother me.
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(Nick Hipa on As I Lay Dying's problematic journey to Bloodstock Open Air 2008)
"...at that point it was just funny! It was like, okay, we’re here, we can’t park by the stage because Nightwish’s truck is stuck in the mud..."
Nick backstage at Rock City, Nottingham, 20th October 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: You were part of the Taste of Chaos tour in the States in 2006 - how does this version of the tour compare so far in terms of the bands you’re touring with and audiences?
NH: Well, I mean, that tour in ‘06 was a massive tour because Deftones was headlining and Deftones is a pretty big band. The package was Deftones, Thrice, Atreyu, Story of the Year, ourselves, and then Funeral For A Friend and Dredg did the second half of the tours. But it’s kind of the same idea, and the same vibe; like this is on a lot smaller scale, but it’s still the same thing - it’s very diverse, tons of different bands, but as people we all get along and have fun when we’re together. So it’s a good tour to be on and I guess it’s a good experience for us in the sense that most of the tours we were doing we’d kinda be drawing the same fans, so I feel that now we’re playing to a lot of new people which is interesting. It kinda sucks when you go out there at first and everyone’s like - who are these guys? - but then towards the end you see more and more people getting into it and you get to thinking that maybe you won over a few more fans.
MD: It must be interesting to play on such a diverse lineup because then you are playing to, like you say, people who aren’t into that style of music. So hopefully people buy your CDs afterwards!
NH: Yeah, yeah, we’ve been doing pretty alright in merch, so that’s good! Yeah, it’s been a while since I felt like we’ve had to convince people to like our band, because we’ve done a lot of headlining shows in the past years and since our last album came out so everyone who was there was there to see us. But now we’re having to introduce ourselves all over again which is fun; it makes it kind of challenging and exciting.
MD: How do you find UK audiences compared to the States? Are the pits more intense over there?
NH: Well this isn’t really a good tour to compare because, you know, most of the times we’re in the States it’s a little bit more crazy because we’re doing things that are a bit more As I Lay Dying oriented, whereas on this tour it’s a little bit more mellow, but that’s because it’s not our show. But as far as my experience goes with us headlining over here, it’s always been great. People are a lot more…well, they’re just very open and kinda loud sometimes which I like and it’s great!
MD: The last time you played over here was for Bloodstock and I understand you got stuck at customs in France?
NH: Oh yeah!
MD: What happened there?
NH: Well, it’s actually, er…it’s a horrible story…or it’s funny now, but what happened was our booking agent sent us our visas on Thursday but our tour manager never checked ‘em. And so Saturday night at like three in the morning when we were going across the border, he printed them all up and saw that two of them were wrong, and one of them was for Phil, our other guitar player. And so he was just like - “Hey Phil, you don’t have a work visa so you’re just gonna have to lie your way through, and make up a story about how you’re a friend of the band, and you're just travelling with us!” - and Phil is the worst liar ever! He couldn’t do it so he even filled out his paperwork, you know, to get through and it’s like - occupation...musician! So he goes through and they’re like “what are you doing”, and he’s like “oh, I’m just, er, hanging out with the band”; they go “what do you do for a living”; “oh, I’m a musician”…
MD: …of a famous band…
NH: [laughs] Yeah, of a famous band…and then the lady just saw right through it and she’s like “denied”! So we had to drive a few hours to, I guess, the train that goes underneath and erm…I don’t know if we…we just…we worked it out via Photoshop and whatnot, and got Phil another work visa! And we gave it to them, and they let him through, and then we just drove, and we showed up half an hour before our set at Bloodstock. We were just all sitting there saying - we’re not gonna make it, we’re not gonna make it - but we showed up and immediately set up our stuff and then played.
MD: I noticed as well backstage that one of Nightwish’s truck’s got stuck in the mud, and I heard that was blocking your way into the main site!
NH: Oh yeah, yeah! [laughs]
MD: Did you feel by then everything was conspiring against you to actually play?!
NH: Yeah! Well, at that point it was just funny! It was like, okay, we’re here, we can’t park by the stage because Nightwish’s truck is stuck in the mud so we have to park down and then carry the gear like fifty yards to the stage - it’s like, alright!
MD: Like the old days as an underground band, carrying your own gear miles…
NH: Yeah! So we, I guess, have seen it all and had our fair share of miserable experiences so it doesn’t even phase us; it’s kinda funny now!
MD: Considering you only arrived a short while before you played, it was a pretty awesome performance I thought.
NH: Oh thanks!
MD: How was the show for you, from your perspective? You must’ve been pretty tired by the time you played!
NH: Yeah, I was a little tired but, to be honest, that was kind of like a hard show for us because it felt like we were being looked at as maybe not one of the real metal bands that played because it’s such a traditionally extreme metal festival…
MD: ..and a lot of power metal bands get booked too…
NH: Yeah, and power metal and stuff, and I feel like metal fans are, as I’ve experienced with our band, are very loyal to the bands and styles they like but if you don’t fit in there they’re not really gonna be there here to support you, and I felt like there were a lot of people within the crowd who were looking at us like, you know, what are you guys doing here. But all we can do is just play as hard as we can and play for the people that are there to see us. I felt like it went over pretty well.
MD: Yeah, I think, as I put in my review, I think you answered your critics because there was a lot of animosity on the Bloodstock forum towards As I Lay Dying when it was announced you’d been booked…
NH: Oh really?
MD: …but there were equally the same amount of people sticking up for you saying give ‘em a chance, and it’s not too different from some of the bands that are playing like At The Gates and whatever else, so I think people gave you a fair chance in the end.
NH: Oh, that’s cool.
MD: A pretty cool performance I thought.
NH: Oh, well thank you!
MD: Your band is widely labelled by the media as metalcore which many regard, particularly in this country, as a derogatory term for a band. Is that a term you’re comfortable with or do you not care about labels?
NH: Yeah, I don’t really care because I just learn that people will call you or your band whatever they want and, in doing so, will associate you with other bands of that genre or of the like that they don’t like, so they will just write you off automatically. But we don’t concern ourselves with it; we just try and write songs that we’re completely stoked on and what comes naturally to us. And we listen to everything, you know, and I think our music does have a lot of elements of both - of, say like, metal and hardcore, but we don’t write music to fit a stereotype or anything like that. So when people say that, or call us a metalcore band for good or bad, I’m just kinda like well listen to it and don’t assume it is going to be something that you already think it is I guess.
MD: I think that was half of the animosity on the Bloodstock forum because you are labelled in Metal Hammer and Kerrang or whatever as metal core and in the UK that is considered a derogatory, put-down term for a band, so I think people were assuming already that, just because you are labelled as metalcore, without probably hearing what you sound like, you know, that’s a bad thing.
NH: Yeah, and you know that’s…we can’t change that and it’s not like if someone, if Kerrang or one of those magazines wants to be like, yeah, yeah, this metalcore band, I can’t write in the magazine and say, you know, retract that. The only thing that we have control over is the music we put out and the shows we put on, so I would prefer that people just judge us by that and, if they don’t like us, hey, I mean there’s lots of bands that…you’re not gonna like every band that’s out there, so…
MD: Exactly. Your latest album, ‘An Ocean Between Us’ has a more thrashy edge to it I think and songs like ‘The Sound of Truth’ seem more inspired by the classic Gothenburg, early Dark Tranquillity kind of sound. Was that a conscious decision to write material more in that style, or did it just end up that way?
NH: I think we had a little bit more time with this album, and you spend so much time on one song and labour over it. Like say a song like ‘Within Destruction’ is more just fast paced, thrashier and brutal, we spent, you know, like a week writing it and by the time we’re done with it we’re just like man, so what riffs do you guys wanna work on next, and the last thing we wanna do is write the same sort of song. So it’s like, well let’s just write something a little bit more melodic just to mix it up for us, because it would be boring if we just, you know, picked one thing and just kept trying to do that over and over. So it’s like, well let’s just try and write a melodic song because that’s what I feel like listening to right now because I’m over the straightforward fast, thrashy stuff, and that’s why the album, I think, came out so…maybe not diverse, just different sounding songs all over the place; it’s because we would normally jot back and forth between whatever song we wrote and whatever we felt like writing next.
MD: The album’s been your most successful release to date in terms of your highest chart positions - were you surprised how well it’s done, particularly in an age where downloads are becoming more prominent and people are buying less CDs?
NH: Yeah, yeah, definitely surprised. If you’ve been looking at bands’ first week sales in the States, everyone’s been doing less than they did with the album before, and so for us to do that , we were just like wow, we have a lot of loyal fans here. So it’s a really good feeling, but I was already proud of it when we got the masters back - you know, I was just like yes, this is sick! And I was stoked to show my friends and I really liked that so…I was happy though that the album did as well as it did.
MD: I understand you’re all Christians, and I’ve read you consider yourself a Christian metal band, or just Christians playing in a metal band?
NH: Yeah, that’s like the question of all questions, and that’s the same thing like people like to label us metalcore and other people like to…
MD: …exactly.
NH: You know, and I guess there’s a common thread running through all of us, like we all share the same…around the same beliefs and so, because of that, and it being something that would be maybe like eyebrow raising within the metal community, that gets highlighted a lot. But I wouldn’t call us a Christian band by any means because we’re not evangelical or forward in spreading any sort of message, or telling anyone else how to live or what’s right or what’s wrong.
MD: The non-judgemental side of Christianity then…
NH: I guess. It’s just, you know, we’re all dudes in a band. I play my guitar in this band because I love writing riffs, I love doing that sort of thing, and that’s the same way we all feel, and just because there’s something, you know, that I said is kind of like…I guess almost of an oxymoron, you know, within like Christian metal, that most people don’t associate, it gets highlighted in almost everything we do, and it gets brought up in every interview we do.
MD: Which is unfortunate, because that just happens to be your beliefs and people that play in whatever other metal band have whatever beliefs, and that’s not concentrated on, so…albeit I’m asking questions about it now!!
NH: Yeah, oh that’s fine, because you’re curious, you know, and it doesn’t bother me, but I mean I get on stage every night and I just wanna play and have fun like everyone else.
[A guy brushing his teeth at the other end of the dressing room shouts out - “he’s a Satanist!”]
NH: Dude, you’re not supposed to let the cat out of the bag!