Vocalist Tim Lambesis
***Interview and All Live Photos By Lord of The Wasteland
As I Lay Dying vocalist, Tim Lambesis, sounds like a serious guy. Speaking to him from San Francisco during a day off from their still fresh tour with August Burns Red, Misery Signals and Evergreen Terrace, Lambesis was stoic and deathly serious throughout our half hour chat. Whether this is his usual demeanour or just a bad day remains to be seen, but the only time a laugh crept in was when I asked him about how bands afford tattoos and his new Arnold Schwarzenegger-themed side project, Austrian Death Machine.
One would think that a Grammy-nominated new album, a continuing rise in recognition and appreciation for As I Lay Dying’s music and a positive outlook on life in general would bring a little sunshine into Lambesis’ life but apparently not.
AN OCEAN BETWEEN US is without question the finest moment in As I Lay Dying’s still-blooming career with a graceful mixture of aggressive, mosh-ready riffs and angelic clean vocals courtesy of new bassist, Josh Gilbert, to offset Lambesis’ monstrous roars. For those who missed the boat, it isn’t too late as the album is still riding high with current video, “Within Destruction,” just hitting airwaves. Live, the band simply annihilates everything in its path and on record is just as vicious.
Don’t expect many witty quips or tickling of funny bones in this interview but Lambesis does get to the bottom of the band’s line-up changes, European versus North American fans, living a Christian life and tattoos.
AN OCEAN BETWEEN US (2007)
I just wanted to say belated congratulations on the Grammy nomination for the new album, AN OCEAN BETWEEN US.
Oh, thank you.
“Accessible” is kind of an ugly word to throw around because it carries a lot of pre-conceived notions with it, but I think it does fit with the new album. There are the melodic choruses and some of the real catchy moments that really grab the listener but you’ve also got the faster songs like “Bury Us All.” Overall, it’s a really good balance. Do you guys find it difficult to maintain that balance of melody and aggression without drifting towards one end of the spectrum and losing sight of the other?
No. I think that a lot of bands in our genre find it difficult to find that balance because they’re going for a certain sense of accessibility. I think with us we just wanted melody and melody, naturally, is more accessible but even if you think about a lot of the songs, we have a lot of singing and stuff. They’re generally a lot faster and much more aggressive actually than our songs on our previous album even if they have singing. The instrumentation is definitely faster and just a greater energy to it I think.
Speaking of the singing, your vocals were obviously a lot more dominant on the previous releases, whereas on the new one, the clean vocals play a more prominent role. It’s nothing new to the band, since As I Lay Dying has obviously done it before but why the shift to make them a more significant part of the band’s sound now?
Realistically, we didn’t think consciously of how much singing versus, you know, yelling and screaming there was. We just wanted the vocals that best fit each part of the songs that we wrote, so on our recent release the clean vocals were done by me on [“Nothing Left”] and [“This Is Who We Are”]. The other clean vocals were done by Josh our bass player. But you know, I decided to use clean vocals in those situations because I felt like it brought the most amount of energy to that part and not necessarily because it was more or less accessible. Sometimes I hear bands where the music is super brutal but then they’re singing in it and it doesn’t make sense to me and then sometimes I hear these bands where the music is really melodic but they’re screaming and that doesn’t make any sense to me either. So I think it’s just writing songs that are good as opposed to walking into it with a preconceived idea.
Now I didn’t know that you’d sung clean vocals on the new album. Was this something new for you or had you done that before on other releases?
No, I hadn’t done it on previous releases. I did on this one because that was before we figured out who was going to be playing bass with us and we were writing songs and I had written all the vocal melodies even though I didn’t perform them all on the new CD. I had all these ideas and I wanted to get them down and recorded. So on the pre-production version of all the songs, I actually did a lot of the clean singing just to get the idea down and when it came time to record it in the studio, my voice better fit the part on a couple of the songs.
You mentioned your new bassist, Josh Gilbert, who makes his debut with the band on the new album. How difficult was it to replace your former bass player, Clint Norris, with somebody who could sing a solid clean vocal as well as play bass?
Well, a big part of the replacement really came down to the fact that we needed somebody who could legitimately do both. Clint loved playing in the band while he was in the band and touring with us but he never really took the same sense of pride that the rest of us did and it wasn’t fully his passion as it was ours. And at some point he realised that he wanted to pursue other passions in life. I think that that difference between us is why he wasn’t able to record bass or sing on our previous albums and so we always sort of had guys fill in and make up for that in the studio when Clint was in the band and this was the first record where the bass player actually tracked bass and sang on the record.
Somebody wanted me to ask you if the song “Forsaken” is about Clint?
No, that song’s not about him but the song “Comfort Betrays” is. I can definitely see how those lyrics might be taken that way in “Forsaken,” but yeah, the song “Comfort Betrays” is the one about Clint.
I noticed a bit of a different guitar tone on “Within Destruction” that sort of has an old school thrash vibe to it that really grabbed me when I first heard it. Was it something that you guys wanted to try or did it just sort of happen?
I think it really comes down to the difference in tuning more so than even the guitar tone. I personally wrote the main riffs in that song and when I first wrote it, I wrote it actually for a side project just as kind of an idea. I thought it sounded too different and it didn’t necessarily fit As I Lay Dying and I tuned it just to a standard E tuning and of course most modern bands are tuning down to C for a lower, chuggier kind of feel. So I wrote that song in E and I recorded it and I showed it to the band and I said “Look, here’s the song I recorded.” I didn’t think it was going to fit As I Lay Dying but I really like the song, so I showed it to them. In order to keep that vibe, we kept it in the higher tuning so it maintained that original vibe. But yeah, it definitely feels quite a bit different.
SHADOWS ARE SECURITY (2005) / FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE (2003)
You mentioned you wrote the guitar part and I know that you used to play guitar in your old band before As I Lay Dying. How much of the riff and solo writing do you do or do you leave that mostly up to Nick [Hipa] and Phil [Sgrosso] to do?
Well, I can’t play solos at all so that’s a hundred percent Nick and Phil. I do try to contribute as much as I can riff-wise and on FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE and SHADOWS ARE SECURITY I was a big influence more so than on the new record. On the new record I contributed mostly to the darker sounding songs like “Within Destruction” and “Comfort Betrays,” which I guess shows my more recent influences a little bit. Personally more of the thrash and a little bit of an angrier type sound sonically, but Phil and Nick really brought a strong sense of melody. So I think it’s that mix of songwriters that balances out the record.
Regarding influences, the guitar instrumental near the end of the album, “Departed,” sort of reminded me of a couple Van Helen songs—“Cathedral” and “Eruption.” Just the way they’re working the volume knobs and that sort of thing. Am I way off base here?
I don’t know if it was a direct influence. I doubt it that it probably was just because Phil doesn’t really listen to Van Halen much and he was the one that mainly put that song together. Actually it’s funny, I thought it was cool only because it sort of split up the record a little bit, gave it a little bit of depth before it got aggressive again. But that was all Phil really on that one. Actually, when I first heard it I didn’t even like it but I do like it now in the context of where it sits on the record.
The last As I Lay Dying album, SHADOWS ARE SECURITY, was self-produced but Adam Dutkiewicz from Killswitch Engage handled production on the new CD. Did you find it difficult to let go of the reigns and relinquish control at all?
No, I was really glad that somebody else was able to focus on the instrumental side of our record. In the past, because I was so involved producing, I had to keep a lot of my mind focused on the instrumental side of things, guitar tracks specifically and getting the drums and guitars tight, and it prevented me from being able to put all my energy, or at least an adequate amount of energy, into my vocals. Of course vocals on every record always get kind of put off until the very end. Sometimes they get pretty rushed and in this case I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to spend more time writing and spend more time on working on my vocal parts. I’m more than happy with the vocals because I was able to focus on them and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I was producing the album.
With the new album, and I sort of noticed it with the last one as well, As I Lay Dying seems to be escaping from the confines of the “metalcore” label and you guys are moving into more of just a straight-forward metal band. There are a lot of bands obviously out there right now that are overtly riding the wave that you guys helped create. How do you go about separating yourselves from that pack and making sure that As I Lay Dying remains the teacher and doesn’t become the student?
I think we just have to do what we’ve always done and that’s just play music that keeps us personally interested in the band. And if we’re passionate about it and we love what we’re doing, yeah, we’ll be changing….I guess we’ll change over time but it will keep us true to the intentions of why we started this band. I don’t think we sat down and said we were going to be more of a metal band. I think that’s naturally more of our influences and more of what keeps us entertained as songwriters, so we just do what we feel like doing.
I know you just wrapped up a European tour and you’re currently on the road with August Burns Red, Misery Signals and Evergreen Terrace. What sort of crowd response does your music get when you’re in Europe compared to the responses here in North America?
Well, Europe’s a different kind of environment because each country is its own story. Particularly in Germany, I feel like we have some of our most diehard fans. The appreciation we get over there, I think it’s pretty hard to match because I think they recognize how far we’ve travelled to play the shows. The crowd participation and the excitement that’s there is unmatched but that doesn’t mean that our fans over here in North America are unappreciative. I just say that to point out how surprisingly interested the German fans are.
Well I know Germany has got a lot of bands like Heaven Shall Burn and Cataract that are similar in style to As I Lay Dying. I wonder if that has something to do with it?
I really don’t know what it is. I don’t know if there’s really a formula as to what kind of bands they have rising up in their country versus what style of music is popular and all that kind of stuff. I don’t know the formula of what makes it happen but I just know that something’s really working in that country particularly, but the rest of Europe, each country is a different story. The U.K. is more similar to what we were like in the United States a few years ago and maybe they’re a little bit behind the times over there. Who knows what the case really is?
I know you’ve got a little bit of Greek blood in you. Have you managed to tour Greece yet?
No, but I would love to. I haven’t done anything in Greece, not even a vacation, so first opportunity we get I’ll definitely be there.
You guys just played the Desert Rock Festival in Dubai last month. Is there a big metal scene there or do they rely on people sort of travelling from outside the country for a festival that size?
There’s definitely not a local metal scene much although one of the bands in the festival was from Dubai. But I think that for that area of the Middle East and just for the Muslim countries in general, they’re very restricted and suppressed in a lot of ways. They’re not allowed to listen to certain styles of music and enjoy certain freedoms of life that we would appreciate in North America, so I know that a lot of people saw the Desert Rock Festival as an outlet and a place to go and they’d just be free and enjoy heavy music. So I would assume some of the people came from other Middle Eastern countries but the majority of the crowd was definitely from the Middle East.
As I Lay Dying has also just been added to this year’s Wacken Open Air festival. Is that the first time you’ve played that?
Yeah, we’ve done a lot of German festivals but this is our first time playing Wacken which is, well from what all our friends have told us, the biggest of the German metal festivals. Of course it’s a big honour to be on it, specifically because this year’s unique having the reunion of both Carcass and At The Gates.
Yeah! It should be a pretty cool line up this year for sure.
I’ve seen you guys live probably six or seven times going back about four or five years now with everybody from In Flames and GWAR to Cannibal Corpse. Do you guys take pride in the band’s sound being able to cross, not just the genres of metal, but being able to appeal to the hardcore crowd and the emo kids, as well?
Yeah, it’s weird. Particularly that we sound very metal yet a lot of our fan base isn’t the typical metalheads. I think that really comes down to our focus being on songwriting and not necessarily a certain genre of music. Although we all love metal and we want to play metal, our bigger and greater goal is to write good songs. Sometimes bands, they do what is cool for their genre, not necessarily what’s actually good songwriting. I don’t know much about the emo or screamo kind of scene. I think we do draw a lot of fans from that area mainly, probably because we’re a younger band. You know, we’re probably ten years younger that most of our contemporaries and…who knows why that happens but it does and we’re grateful for it.
What’s the significance of the skull imagery theme on all of your album covers?
Well, an obvious one being that our name is As I Lay Dying. We just felt it was appropriate to represent death in some sort of visual way and the skull being the most obvious of that, but you know, it fits in with our name and just that we’re all dying in some way, the world and us as individuals, we’re all decaying and it just represents a need for new life.
There has been quite a few line-up changes in the guitar and bass positions in the band over the years. With yourself and Jordan [Mancino, drums] being the founding members, if one of you were to leave do you think the band would carry on under the same name or would that sort of be the end of the band?
Umm, you know, because we’re part of the core, I think that if one of the two of us were gone, it really wouldn’t be the same band. So I’d say if somebody were to ask me strictly who and what is As I Lay Dying at its inner most core, I’d say it’s us. It’s Jordan and I and not to say the other guys are disposable or anything like that but yeah, I agree with your statement that if one or the two of us was gone it wouldn’t be the same band.
A LONG MARCH: THE FIRST RECORDINGS (2006)
It’s common knowledge that your faith is an important thing within the band. I’m just curious, when you guys are out on the road do you still attend a traditional Sunday church service in the respective city that you’re in?
Well, my personal belief is that church, especially in the modern sense as far as being a building and a place to go listen to somebody talk to you, it has nothing to do with Christianity. People that want to follow the teachings of Jesus, which unfortunately isn’t very many people, including churchgoers, so to me the core of Christianity has nothing to do with where I go on a Sunday afternoon.
Do you get tired of interviewers sort of being mystified that you guys are able to be in a metal band and maintain a Christian lifestyle?
I don’t mind talking about it. I mean it’s definitely something that’s very important to us. I just think it’s unfortunate sometimes when I do interviews that they want to talk about that instead of the music that we play. We started a band because we want to play music to the best of our ability and sometimes people focus entirely on what we believe and they ignore the music that we’re playing.
Do you find that’s changing as time passes?
Definitely in North America and most other places. For some reason, the U.K. press, in my opinion, does a terrible job of representing us as a band and they just want to talk about what’s shocking to their culture which is the fact that we’re Christians and so, in my opinion, they ignore our music and just write about what we believe.
I have a question about your tattoos. Bands are typically seen as starving musicians, living in vans and subsisting on a diet of Taco Bell and gas station food. But how is it that so many bands always seem to have an extra ten grand laying around to, you know, get double sleeves done? (laughs)
(Laughs) That’s a really good question. It’s funny because nobody’s really ever presented the question that way. I think a lot of bands have learned from the past and a lot of idiots like the guys in Motley Crue having almost all killed themselves and they realize maybe rock ‘n roll and drugs and women isn’t the best way of having fun and being a musician. Maybe if you’re going to spend your money on something stupid, maybe they’d rather spend it on a tattoo (laughs). I have no idea what the case is but it just seems that kind of rock ‘n roll mentality is sort of gone and people are into new things and maybe that’s saving their life. Who knows?
If you don’t mind me asking, how much have you put into getting both your arms done?
I know a lot of friends that have really taken pride in the tattoo they’re doing and I think with a lot of tattoo artists, they probably charge less for something they enjoy doing rather than, you know, maybe like a barbed-wire arm band on somebody. So, I probably spent a lot less than what it would seem like I would spend if you just walked into a tattoo shop and got a quote. I wouldn’t give you the exact dollar amount but I would say it’s less than what you’d think.
I know we got one of the news blasts from Metal Blade saying that you were going to be on L.A. Ink a few weeks ago. How did that partnership come up?
Well, I knew about the show. Specifically I knew that the girls that work on the show are fans of metal music in general so that just made me think, okay, we obviously have a natural connection. They like metal. Let’s get in touch with them and see if I can be on the show. And it worked out.
You’ve handled production on two of Sworn Enemy’s releases and, of course, the As I Lay Dying albums. Do you have any other production jobs that are coming up?
Well I just left for this tour yesterday, but before that I was producing the War of Ages record coming out on Facedown Records. Other than that I’m producing a side project of mine which is entirely themed on Arnold Schwarzenegger songs and it’s called the Austrian Death Machine.
(Laughs) Sounds interesting!
Yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s just to have fun.
What’s the status of your Metal Blade imprint label, High Impact Recordings? Was the A Love Ends Suicide record the only release so far or is there more activity coming up?
The latest Evergreen Terrace release is part of the label, as well. Unfortunately, since I signed Evergreen Terrace, I haven’t really found anybody that got me that excited to do anything new.
What sort of a process is involved with getting your own label?
It just came about with my relationship with Metal Blade and a lot of bands that they’d signed being friends of mine and bands that I had recommended and just from that long standing relationship there of when I had new ideas of bands that I thought deserved a chance, it was better to partner in on that than try to do something by myself.
You had a previous collaboration with Pluto Records called Clockwork Recordings. Is that laid to rest? Is that all done?
Yeah. There is an issue with the trademark for the name there so I had to put that down and that’s why I started the newest incarnation with Metal Blade.
***Thanks to Sarah at Metal Blade Records for setting up the interview.