As I Lay Dying Interview with Josh Gilbert, by Ollie Thoma

As I Lay Dying have released their sixth studio album, Awakened, back in September. An album that takes everything you may know and love about As I Lay Dying, throws a few extra melodies on top and then smashes you in the face with Tim Lambesis’ darker views.
Tonight they are at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire faced with the unenviable task of supporting Florida metal giants, Trivium; and we’ve been lucky enough to chat to AILD four-string master/clean vocalist Josh Gilbert.
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Your latest album Awakened was released recently, how do you feel it was received?
Uhh, I think it went really well, you know. We were really excited about the record and at first it was getting some pretty mixed reviews because it just depended on who was reviewing it, but ultimately I think our fans – which is who really matters to us – really liked it and said it’s one of their favourite records. So we’re happy they like it, and excited that it’s finally out there.

Metalcore is a genre quite often viewed as one which is constantly repeating itself, do you feel it’s a big challenge to improve yourself and not make The Powerless Rise II etc.?
Yeah, I mean… it’s a double-edged sword because you wanna… you know, the word Metalcore has so many negative connotations when it really shouldn’t. It just came about when all the bands were ripping each other off and there was a lot of unoriginality happening back in the mid 2000’s, you know, first decade of this century. Every band was writing the same riffs. I think it’s a challenge to write songs that sound like the band, but also do it in a creative way. ‘Cause you know, of course we could write something that the critics will be like “this is fresh and inventive” but the fans that actually like the band aren’t gonna like it ‘cause they like the band because it sounds like As I Lay Dying. So it’s important, I think, to meet in the middle. Do something that makes us happy and is a little bit different but still sounds like what people expect of us.
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On your last release, Decas, you included a Judas Priest cover. Would you say they were a big influence on the band?
Yeah. I think Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden were some of the first bands to ever do, well do really well, the harmonised guitar stuff. The super-classical influenced riffing with guitar harmonies, those bands stick out as the ones who really popularised it. Fast-forward thirty years and those sounds are still showing up in our riffs, and other bands in other genres and other bands in our genre. I think for us to cover a Judas Priest song, we felt really scared because we didn’t wanna make it seem like we were joking about it, because we wanted to make it sound badass. The video was tongue-in-cheek for it, but we actually took a long time to make sure we could put our own stamp on it, to sound more like our band. It’s kinda dumb when a band covers a song and they play it the exact way it was recorded. We added a half-time section in the middle after the lead section that wasn’t in the original, which I thought was pretty cool. We definitely like to let people know that we wouldn’t be a band if not for bands like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest.

Your band has been around for eleven years now, that’s quite a while. What would you say was the secret to that?
I think the secret is you know: one just to constantly write the best you possibly can, to play live the best you possibly can. We try to be very smart with our money, we’re not out buying brand new cars. We try to keep everything in a way that’s sustainable for the long term. You see a lot of bands going out and getting their record advance and blowing it in a few months, then they can’t tour for the rest of the year because there’s a lot of up-front money that’s required for a tour. I think for us it’s a mix between the passion of playing and writing, and making sure we stay on top of the business end of things, which doesn’t sound very glamourous but it’s important. A lot of bands will put all their trust in some manager who’s looking out for his own pocket, and doesn’t always take into account the band’s needs. I think our band is a little more savvy than other bands we know or we’ve toured with. We know where every dollar is going basically. I wouldn’t say we do the accounting, but we get budgets for every tour that we review. It’s not gonna be like “whoa, where’d that ten grand go?!” Anytime someone’s about to spend money, it’s a band decision. I think that’s really important, it’s something you don’t really think, but in order to stay on the road you have to be smart with that sort of stuff.
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Obviously you’re on tour with Trivium, who have been affected by something quite big recently. What kind of effect do you think illegal downloads are having on the music industry?
The numbers speak for themselves, you know? Because there’s been a downward trend in our CD sales, but an upward trend in our audience… attendance to our shows. Which doesn’t really make sense if you think about it, we were having less people but probably selling twice as many records seven years ago. It’s that way across the board. A band selling 30,000 records in the first week in the US in the early ‘90s probably wouldn’t crack the top 30. Nowdays, we sold almost 30,000 first week and that was number 11. Our last record a couple of years ago, The Powerless Rise, sold 38,000 – number 10. People are still listening to music, probably more than they ever have, online and streaming and all that stuff. You have to be creative in new ways to get people to get excited about buying merch or coming to the show. We almost view the record as being a promotional tour now because we don’t make that much money from it now. You used to go on tour to promote your record sales and now it’s like the record promotes the tour you’re going to do.

Do you feel in any way that detracts from the value of your albums, the time you spend writing them, etc.?
Well, luckily for us as we’ve always been able to sell enough records, the way records work is you get a budget from the label and you spend that money making a record and luckily we’ve sold enough to where our budgets have stayed large enough to do exactly what we wanted to do for our records. We got to record with who we want, mix with who we want. I think maybe if record sales continue to fall five years from now we’ll have to find DIY ways of recording and maybe not having names we want to work on it. I mean, they’re even taking cuts now too. The producers charge less, studios charge less and it all trickles down to people just not buying records. For the time being now, we’ve always been able to do what we want artistically what we’ve wanted to do with the budgets.

There’s a lot of bands out there now pointing you out as their influences, how does that make you feel as a band? How do you see the future of the genre shaping up?
I think it’s really cool, it’s really sweet when you see a band that’s blowing up and they were inspired by our band. It’s one of those things where AILD was that band for a bit. We were taking bands like In Flames, Dark Tranquility and At the Gates, that were our influences and we would talk about them in interviews, whatever. It reaches that weird point where our band played above In Flames in the States on tour, and we all felt bad about it. It was actually before I was in the band but they felt bad about it. We took some ideas from things that In Flames have done and put our own twist on it, and that’s what they’re doing. It should be flattering, I think so I don’t think it’s anything to be bummed out about.

You opened the main stage at Download this year, how was that?
That was great. It was our first time on the main stage, so we were kinda scared! We weren’t sure if there would be a full crowd or not. It kinda started trickling in, but by the end of the set it was tonnes of people – I would say at least 20 or 30 thousand people there.
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Are you playing anything from the new album tonight?
Yeah, we’re playing at least two – probably three, we’ll see. Definitely Cauterize and A Greater Foundation and possibly a song called Defender.

Who’s your favourite band to tour with?
I always say this, because we’ve done multiple records with Adam, but we’ve done even more tours with Killswitch Engage. We’ve played tonnes of shows, shared management for a long time so done a lot of the same festivals and stuff, so we’re just really good friends with those dudes. Everytime we go out, or play a show, it’s like family sort of. It makes sense because the bands came up at the same time. We’re playing at a show with them next month, I’m really excited about it. Adam came and visited me, we live in a house in San Diego and he flew out just to come chill. It’s funny because he’s not as crazy as you think he would be based on his stage persona. He can totally just chill, hang out and drink beers and be normal sometimes. He’s definitely one of our good friends and their whole band is.
Ollie Thomas