Josh Gilbert of As I Lay Dying
My first introduction to As I Lay Dying came several years back when murmurings about the band quickly turned into fandemonium, some of those discussions centered around whether a Christian based band could be THAT good while others wondered if they were REALLY Christians at all. It seems every few years there comes a band that soars beyond categories and genres to make an imprint upon those beyond their core fan-base who wouldn’t typically be interested in a similar band’s sound and/or message, As I Lay Dying has definitely been one of those rare groups. With the release and accompanying tour for their 5th and latest full-length album, The Powerless Rise, it’s near inconceivable to fathom of a more-better-er As I Lay Dying, yet comments from band members and early reviews all seem to indicate that these San Diego based metalcore gents have raised the bar yet again. We recently had a chance to complete our first phone interview and incredibly enough it was with with bassist and background vocalist Josh Gilbert, a young man who is foremost a fan of music and just happens to be a member of one of the hottest as well as one of the most grounded acts in all of music. Take a moment to peer behind the curtain with us and if you haven’t already, get yourself a copy of The Powerless Rise by As I Lay Dying!
So, you are from Birmingham, Alabama, how did you get hooked up with this band based out of San Diego, California?
Josh Gilbert I’ve been playing metal or hardcore music ever since I was 14 or 15. The last band [This Endearing] that I was in won a contest for The Cornerstone New Band Showcase. It’s a contest where the fans vote for bands from all over, the top 6 get to play at Cornerstone and we won 3rd place. We had a new drummer and he had met the guys from the band [As I Lay Dying] when he was working with another band on Pluto Records. This guy Eric who worked for Pluto Records and also did A&R for Metal Blade sent a demo to Tim Lambesis, but nothing really came of it at the time. Our band soon broke up due to two members getting signed for another band that they were in. When Clint left As I Lay Dying, Tim called Eric who suggested me and it ended up that Tim called me for a tryout. I flew out to San Diego and they offered me to go on sort of a tryout tour, as they had done with a few other guys previously, and they decided to offer me the spot as bassist for As I Lay Dying.
Are you still living in Birmingham and commute to California or have you since moved to San Diego?
JG When I first started with the band, I drove out and lived there for about the first year and a half but we’re always on the road with touring and I would go home after tours. It didn’t make sense to keep a place in San Diego where it’s more expensive while I was on the road so I moved back to Birmingham for about another year and a half. When we started recording this new album [The Powerless Rise] I moved back to San Diego.
We all love the rumble of the earth that comes from a great baseline but not everyone appreciates the art/science behind the instrument. How do you approach writing and pushing yourself as a bassist?
JG There are so many different bassists and approaches to styles, there’s a fine line between being interesting and taking away from what the guitars are doing. As I Lay Dying, especially for this latest album, at times has five or more layers going already, so there are some areas where we lead into a song with just the bass and drums or a few flavor licks but doing so without taking away from the other elements and layers. Pre-2007 the albums had bass primarily played by the rhythm guitarists for the recordings. For the 2007 album [An Ocean Between Us] the parts were pretty much already written, so I learned the parts and played them. With this album we did a lot more with the bass and playing with things like leads so that’s been cool but nothing too crazy, I’m not looking to be on the cover of Bass Player magazine or anything like that. [laughs]
You primarily stick with the 4 string base, have you ever played around with 5 or 6 string models?
JG I really don’t know all that many metal or hardcore bands that use 5 or 6 string basses, I mean there are bands that use them but not that many who actually use them. I mean, there are some people that do and I totally respect that, like Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse or like Les Claypool of Primus. I respect people that want to use them but it’s pretty rare that they get full use out of it and you can only go so low, something crazy like Drop Z tunings or whatever. People say they need to tone down but there aren’t that many tunings that require an extra string or people who actually get the full use out of that extra string or something that you couldn’t do with a 4 string.
The two things I keep hearing about this album, The Powerless Rise, are that it will be heavier and that you all are excited about the layering. In working to improve your sound, are you mindful of the balance between the drive to experiment with your sound and keeping an edge to what makes your sound unique – were you all conscientious during recording to push your sound without losing it?
JG I really don’t think so, it’s not that we’ve changed the sound. The layering best describes the vibe-ier songs from the last album [An Ocean Between Us] like Forsaken. So it’s not like we’re changing the sound but getting more of that Pink Floyd esque layering and leads. Our songs are still to the point, we won’t have any 8 minute songs or anything, but really worked to bring out the feelings and bring out more of the elements that were part of the last album.
I’ve read/heard that Tim and you dedicated a lot more time to the vocals as well to finely tune the sound that you wanted for this album.
JG For the vocals we spent a lot more time on them than we did in the past but not in the sense that we changed anything. In the past we would spend less than a week and they were more rushed, now we spent at least two and a half weeks of legitimate pre-production. We even recorded two months ahead of time to get more of a feel and work out the kinks with the choruses. For the last album we were writing choruses as we were recording but with the preparation we experimented more with singing, the takes were so much better and stronger.
So your part has a lot more to do with the melodic and singing elements? How did the extra time dedicated to vocals play out with the recording?
JG Yes, my vocals are all singing, I don’t do any of the yellier or screamier parts. Again, nothing is really changed for the sound just the singing and guitar parts were more planned. The vocals match the melodies rather than by chance and not as rushed, so not a change in sound as much as making the vocals much more of a focus.
You’ve been involved with music from a young age, so aside from you talent and love for music, what keeps you grinding?
JG I couldn’t imagine not being interested in music. In this band, we all are fans of music, even this last Tuesday we all ran out to get the new Deftones album just because we love music. I never been like, “I’m bored so I’m just going to pick up a guitar.” It’s just what I am programmed to do and even outside of it being an occupation I can’t imagine not being involved with music in some way.
You all have been pretty forward about your beliefs, even in your previous bands you personally have made your message an emphasis. How have you seen/heard your music making a difference?
JG There have been all kinds of crazy stories that we hear about, of course Tim [Lambesis] hears a lot more of those, but stories of the lyrics to our songs helping people in some similar struggle or saying something like, “Your music convinced me not to kill myself.” In a less direct way, which is important to me, we try to go on tour with bands that don’t share the same beliefs as we do in our band. I’d say most of the bands we tour with don’t share or agree with what we believe. We’re want to be “just dudes”, rather than becoming someone’s friend just to get “your moment” where you can harvest their soul for the Lord or something. I think people see past that kind of agenda and sense that you’re out for your motives rather than just being someone’s friend which is more effective. Every now and again there will be a band or dudes who don’t share our beliefs but will say something like, “You surprise us with how you are, not making us feel awkward about what we are doing.” I think just being dudes it’s the first step to making a change in how people perceive things and it’s better than just beating people over the head with something.
In the vein of making a difference with your music, is there a theme or meaning behind The Powerless Rise?
JG The first thing that you see on the album is the artist’s depiction of our original idea for the cover. There’s an upside down crown, which whenever you turn a symbol upside down it’s usually a sign of disrespect. Like if you don’t believe in Christianity and you turn the cross upside down or when people don’t agree with countries they turn their flag upside down. Our lyrics address how the focus of people is on having money as the key to political or social power, where that is all we are striving for in America and really all over the world, not just America. Like somehow if you have money and power that will equal happiness. The title for this album comes from the song Upside Down Kingdom. The whole message is about simplicity, but simplicity is seen as like a small house and only having one TV – God forbid. It may not be a glamorous life but more value on simplicity would bring us closer to a community rather than just being about ourselves, cars, houses or money. This record sort of calls that out, calls ourselves [in the band] out, on putting merit in things that really don’t matter.
Man, you guys have played everywhere, on some of the largest stages nationally and internationally, will this be your first time to Oregon [on Tuesday, May 18th at The McDonald Theatre in Eugene]?
JG Since I’ve been in the band, we’ve been to Oregon a few times. I know we did like two shows there and at least one stop with the Warped Tour a couple years back which I think was in Portland. I think this will be my fourth trip to Oregon with As I Lay Dying and probably the eighth time or so for the band.
As I Lay Dying has been all over the world with stops in places like Indonesia, Singapore, Europe and more, do you have a favorite place to tour overseas?
JG I think if we had a favorite, other that being in the states, it would have to be Germany.
What makes Germany so special?
JG The fans over there just go nuts about metal. It’s the only place that I know of where hard music and metal top the charts and the fans are so enthusiastic.
When you are overseas are the crowds different from fans here in America? Do you ever look out into the crowd and see moves that just blow you away?
JG No, not really. It’s pretty much the same as far as new dances, I wish there were unique or crazy moves in other places like a human triangle or something but everything is pretty much the same. Especially with the internet, everyone can see what everyone else is doing.
Whereas some bands seem to wrestle with whether to be public about their faith and defining themselves, you’ve been pretty upfront with your position as a band. What do you do personally to keep your faith fresh, especially when on the road?
JG A lot of us have churches that we go to when we are at home and we all used to bring our personal Bibles when on tour but now with the internet there are so many tools and internet Bibles where you can just find what you are looking for so much faster. You can find basically anything on any topic and its really useful. There will be times when we are stressed and we’ll all sit down and talk, not always like a Bible study, but sometime we’ll do that depending on what is needed. Again, with the internet you don’t have to scour the Bible to look for something, not that that doesn’t matter or isn’t good, but when you are on the road there is so much going on and being worn out so having that easy access is huge.
As I Lay Dying > Metal/Hardcore > San Diego, CA > Metalblade Records
The Powerless Rise available now nearly everywhere – Metalblade, Best Buy, Hot Topic, iTunes…Currently on tour with Demon Hunter, Bless The Fall and War of Ages (see AILD Myspace or AILD Website for more info and tour dates)
As I Lay Dying is: Tim Lambesis – Vocals; Phil Sgrosso – Guitar; Josh Gilbert – Bass/Vocals; Nick Hipa – Guitar; Jordan Mancino – Drums. If you are new to As I Lay Dying, fan favorites include Nothing Left and 94 Hours or for a more melodic feel, check out Forsaken – or just take the plunge and get yourself The Powerless Rise!
OREGONIANS – As I Lay Dying w/ Demon Hunter, Bless The Fall and War of Ages on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 @ The McDonald Theatre. May 16 @ The Knitting Factory in Boise, Idaho and May 17 @ The Knitting Factory in Spokane, Washington.
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