Jordan Mancino & As I Lay Dying Do It For The Fans
Interview by Shawn Jam Hill
Promo pics courtesy of Metal Blade Records
Being a drummer can be a somewhat thankless task compounded by the plethora of groaners cool guys (like guitarists and singers) have come up with over the years. Did you hear about the bass player that locked the keys in the van? It took the band 2 hours to get the drummer out.
Jordan Mancino, famed skinsman for San Diego metalcore heroes As I Lay Dying, has probably heard it all before. An engaging dude with a laid back, West Coast attitude, Mr. Mancino recently called me up here in Ottawa, Canada to discuss his obsession with drumming, AILD’s formative years and the pinnacle on which they preside in the world of metal. With a fresh record, The Powerless Rise (Metal Blade), hitting the streets May 11 and a tour cycle that will see the band melting faces all over the world for the next 2 years, Mr. Mancino will be one busy drummer. He better just watch out for that gong (more on that later…).
So, you guys are on The Powerless Rise tour right now?
Uh, yeah more or less. It’s a tour to promote the album, for sure.
Where are you right now?
We’re in Des Moines, Iowa.
That’s probably why you had time to call me, might be a little boring in Des Moines, Iowa right now!
[Laughs] Well, we finished soundcheck and I’ve got a bit [of time] before I gotta start my warm-ups and I was flipping through my voicemail and I was like, ‘ Oh yeah, gotta call this guy’.
Being a drummer in a successful metal band, what have you done to get to where you are right now?
I think, in general, just a lot of hard work and I’d say the hard work is bred by passion. I started playing drums when I was 13 [Mancino is almost 27] and when I started playing, I stopped skating, I stopped playing baseball, pretty much stopped all of my, y’know, extra-curricular activities outside of school. I just wanted to play. I wanted to play because I was passionate about it not necessarily because I wanted to do it for a career but it just worked out like that [Laughs].
Were you in a lot of other bands before AILD got off the ground?
Before I really had any idea about how to start a band, how to play shows and do all that stuff, I pretty much just played in my garage. When I was a sophomore in high school, the high school metal band, y’know, everybody has one of those, the most popular band at the high school lost their drummer and one of my friends recommended me for the position. I had only been playing a year and I couldn’t play double bass, I couldn’t do a lot of things but they still wanted to try me out and they were just looking for someone that was dedicated, that was passionate about what they were doing more so than a high skill level, I guess. So I went in, I tried out and totally blew it [Laughs] but they saw potential in me so I started plying with them, a band called Edge Of Mortality and, y’know, playing with older musicians, musicians that had been in a band for awhile and were a lot more mature than I was really pushed me to learn new things and to pick things up quick. I had to, I really had no choice. We started playing local shows, hardcore shows, churches, youth halls, and then we broke up. I played in this punk band for awhile just to fill the time, I had no other useful projects going on. Then, Tim [Lambesis, vokills] and I started AILD and that’s pretty much it. Both Tim and I played in other bands, one band was Thieves & Liars, a rock n roll band from San Diego and then the other band was a hardcore band from Redland, CA. called Point Of Recognition. We ended up doing it full time, just stopped everything and did the bands.
Where did you guys come from with your sound during these formative years? AILD has their own sound, and I think it remains intact.
As a band, we just wanted to play heavy music. We really had no direction at the time. We were influenced by bands like Zao, a Christian metal band that was one of the bigger ones in the scene at the time, bands like Living Sacrifice, also hardcore bands like Shai Hulud, Poison The Well, I think that’s what influenced [first record] Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes (Pluto). From there, we started finding out about all these Swedish metal bands, euro-metal bands, kinda more melodic side of things and then we basically just decided to try and fuse those together. Obviously, we weren’t the first band to do it but it’s just something we wanted to do and we wanted to do it well and that just kinda got it started with the sound we had on our split CD and also Frail Words Collapse (Metal Blade). That’s pretty much how we started with that direction and, obviously, we’ve been trying to mature, to incorporate different elements that we all enjoy listening to and enjoy playing like thrash metal, things like that.
I think AILD have their own unique tone. Do you see that bleeding out into a lot of your peers now, a lot of younger bands picking up on where you guys started out or what you guys sound like?
JM: Yeah, we definitely see that. A lot of the bands might adopt our sound or the sound of metalcore bands like Unearth, all that stuff. They usually adopt that sound but the bands that are gonna get set apart and continue to grow usually adopt their own sound. We meet a lot of local bands that will either cover our tunes or kinda try to have a similar sound but every band’s gotta have a starting point. For people who know Zao, they can listen to their record and listen to our first record and see how much we ripped them off [Laughs] It is one of those things that happens, a band’s gotta have some direction in the beginning.
Do find that flattering or kind of annoying?
I think it is definitely flattering. Some people get upset when bands try to use them as an influence cause they’re like ‘Oh, write something original’ but everybody’s influenced by something so I think it’s definitely flattering.
I last saw AILD in Montreal opening for Lamb Of God and that was a giant show! Did you ever think that your band would ever be in that position someday? Were you guys more, let’s say, realistic about where you were going?
I guess we never really expected to be at that point or we never expected to be at the point we are now. We started this band just because we wanted to play heavy music, we wanted to play shows in front of 30 kids, we didn’t really think long term too much, we just we knew we wanted to tour and we just tried to make it happen ourselves. As we grew, we started getting involved with different people like management, record labels and things just started growing. We had more people working with us to keep things growing and that’s always been our mentality, not necessarily becoming the hugest band in the world, it’s just about growing and connecting with our fans, playing music that we love and not abandoning our sound, finding those people and surrounding ourselves with those people to make that happen. There’s never been a grand scheme to take over the world.
How many dates a year do you think you are one the road?
It varies. We actually just had this last year off writing the record and this is the longest amount of time we’ve ever had off. Before that, it would be a coupla months here if we were lucky but usually a week or two weeks between tours [was the norm]. We’re in full swing of the album cycle, we’re on the road for 9 months out of the year I would say. We don’t really know what’s gonna be happening next year, we’re planning ahead, trying to get things sorted. We plan to be on the road for the next couple of years supporting this record.
How do you cope with that strain on your body and on your mind? How do you cope with that pressure?
Because I love it, it’s easier. If I don’t love what I do, I don’t know if I could make it out here [Laughs]. I love playing, I love meeting our fans, I love hanging out at shows so it makes the days where you don’t get any sleep, you have 20 hour flights, it makes those days easier. It can get a little frustrating, you wish you had more sleep, you wish you were home or whatever, we really enjoy what we do and that’s what keeps us going.
Do you find you lean on your band-mates to get through this insanity?
Definitely, we are all in this together. I don’t think we’d be able to make it out here if we didn’t rely on each other, I think that’s one of the most important parts about being in a band is having your bandmates there for support and your crew for support. That wouldn’t be able to happen without them, without everybody working towards the same goal, having the same focus. Having Josh [Gilbert, bass] in the band now is really cool, it definitely feels like that last piece of the puzzle is here and we’re ready to go [Laughs].
That’s one you don’t usually hear: ‘The bass player kinda made it all come together’.
It’s about having that 5th member in the band. We’ve had a revolving door of bass players and guitar players but now that Nick [Hipa, guitars], Phil [Sgrosso, guitars] and Josh are the band, it’s helped a lot. We have 5 minds instead of 3.
Is there a sense of fun there as well, combined with the passion and that need to do it?
We have a lot of fun with what we do. Playing live shows, it’s great, to be there with your fans, connecting with them and performing for them but it’s also a lot of hard work and preparation. On our end, our crew’s end, label, management everybody, just to make these shows happen and make them come off the way they do. It’s not like we just roll in with a drum and a guitar and a mic and set up and play, it’s a lot of preparation, weeks and weeks of work before the tour getting production ready, getting everything set up then getting in every day at noon, loading in, setting up the gear, soundchecking , there’s a lot of pieces that are involved with the shows.
I saw an interview where Tim was talking about recording in a different way for The Powerless Rise. You were doing the drums first then vocals were being recorded while guitars were being done in 2 different studios. Can you tell me about that experience?
There was a lot of coordination involved just making sure the right session files were going to the right studios, making sure everyone was on the same page with what was going on. It was really effective, a really productive way to do things. We were able to spend more time on each individual part that way. Tim didn’t have to wait for guitars to be done before he could record vocals, it turned out really cool. We spent a lot more time tracking and we ended up doing the record in 2 different sessions. We wrote for 4 months, recorded 8 songs then wrote for 6 weeks and recorded 12 songs and then mixed for a couple of months so we spent a lot of time. Every single part is there for a reason and I think that’s why the cool part about the record once people have heard it is that every time you listen to it, you can hear something different. There’s so many guitar layers, vocal layers, even drum layers that the first listen doesn’t necessarily show. It’s not obvious, but it is all audible.
Did you feel any extra pressure given the Grammy nomination you got for the last record? Did it push you to take your music to the next level?
We definitely have some confidence, every record we’ve ever done, we just want to make it better than the last. It’s not necessarily the success of the previous record that puts the pressure on, there’s really none of that for us. It’s just about writing a better record and I think that’s what we did. We’re all really happy with it, it’s heavier, the songs are better: It’s a good record, we’re really psyched.
You said you were getting ready to warm up. What kind of things do you do to get ready mentally and/or physically? What kind of injuries can you sustain drumming like the maniac that you are?
Well, I guess we’ll start with injuries: Yesterday, I thought I broke my hand [Laughs]. Not my whole hand, I had a swollen pinky and knuckle from hitting my gong with my fist.
That’s pretty metal, man!
Usually I hit it with the ball of my hand, but I caught it on my knuckle. Typical physical injury, y’know, you catch a cymbal under your fingernail or you get a bloody hand, stuff happens. Nothing stops the show. Before the set, I just warm up with my little practice pads until I’m ready to play the show, to play the songs right.
What happens if you don’t do those warm-ups?
I have a really bad show! [Laughs]