Aaron Gillespie says he’s anxious about the new album. Then again, he says he’s anxious about anything and everything. But you’d think he’d be able to relax after the success that’s come his way as both the drummer for Underoath and the front man for The Almost – two rock acts with throngs of fans and highly successful touring bases.
Then again, the sophomore slump is the Monster facing Gillespie and the rest of his band mates in The Almost this time around and Monster Monster is their response. After secluding themselves for seven weeks at Dark Horse studios near Franklin, Tennessee, the guys hope this new album allays any fears or concerns of following up Southern Weather unsuccessfully.
In this interview, Gillespie spoke with Stereo Subversion about the songwriting process, making this a band effort and why his nerves are always part of the game.
SSv: Let’s start with the recording sessions for Monster Monster. I know you were wanting to really hole yourself up in the studio, so how much gearing up did you do and yet how much did you wait until you got there?
Aaron Gillespie: Yeah, we prepared and had writing sessions and made about 10 tracks or demos but they were just super-loose. We purposely didn’t make any professional demos. We didn’t want any studio sound. We brought them in like garbage and there was really an element of wanting to be fresh and hip and current with the time. In my experience as a recording artist, you go in and do these really great demos. Then you go in to record the record and you end up becoming attached to the demo and wanting the track to sound like the demos, which I don’t believe is a good idea.
SSv: So much of Southern Weather was Aaron Gillespie – from writing the songs to ,playing the instruments. So how much of the new album is a band effort?
Aaron: I did play drums on the record because we just got a new drummer right before the process. I was on tour with Underoath pretty hard so we kind of wrote the whole thing over the Internet via Garageband and all of that. So I didn’t have time to teach a new drummer the songs. We didn’t have any live writing sessions for this record. It just didn’t happen until we got into the studio. So I played drums on the whole thing.
SSv: Adding Joe to the mix – can you talk about chemistry and how that works with the band now?
Aaron: Well, it’s really good. I’ve known Joe for 10 years. We all get along really well. We actually get together soon to begin pre-production for our next upcoming two tours, because we haven’t even tried playing any of the new stuff live at all yet. So we really have to dig in. Usually a rehearsal session for a tour will be a few days long and this is a two-week rehearsal because we don’t really know what we’re getting ourselves into. But it’s great. We all get along really well. I’ve known Dusty for 10 years. It’s definitely a family atmosphere which is nice.
SSv: What about the musical vision – what were you wanting to accomplish?
Aaron: Well, I didn’t want anything to be calculated. So much music today is electronic and extremely calculated, which is fine. I don’t have a vendetta out for electronic music, but we wanted to make this record that was organic and natural with real instruments and real vocal takes – or at least as much as we could. So that was definitely the only vision that we had. I don’t think we went in thinking, ‘We need the record to sound like this.’ We just had a vibe and a mood we wanted to create and I think our vision was just that.
SSv: So what was the vibe or mood?
Aaron: We wanted to make it a very traditional, real rock and roll. So we had this plan to have no non-standard guitar tunings. Everything had to be recorded through an amp. The drums weren’t too heavily edited and we didn’t want the vocals to be heavily edited, so we spent a lot of extra time making sure we got the right takes so we wouldn’t have to super-digitize anything.
SSv: Why Monster Monster?
Aaron: It’s kind of a long story. It evolved into this lyrical concept record accidentally. [Laughs] But initially, and I’ve never done before, but I had the title before I had any lyrics for the record. That’s something I’ve never done before with this band or Underoath. I felt that every person has this incessant tugging at them to do something negative. In all times in the day, how many moments do you have to reign yourself in at some point – from some thought you have or some comment you want to say?
So it’s this idea to every human having this monster inside them that they hate. Some people may love it, but I’m a very anxious person and I hate the monster inside of me that I want gone. So it’s sort of about hating that monster and the journey of getting rid of that. It starts out with the opening track professing the fact that you have this mess and you want to get rid of it and the end is after all you’ve gone through in your life and all you’ve gone through to alleviate this mess in your life and you still have to deal with it. It’s the human condition. So it’s asking if you can move on and know that you’ve been forgiven and you receive grace and that’s palpable.
SSv: Did that create much pressure to already have your title and then to have to write content around that?
Aaron: We didn’t have any pressure to follow the title. We just went for it. You had the whole seclusion thing, the whole organic thing and so we could just go for it balls out.
SSv: So can you tell us the tangible plans around the album?
Aaron: Yeah we have about six or eight weeks of touring coming up that starts on the 23rd [of September], so we’re doing some really small venue shows to underplay it, which is something we’re really looking forward to. We haven’t toured in a while so we’re wanting to get out there and cut our teeth a bit. Then we make our way out West and meet up with the band The Used and we do a full tour with them.
SSv: So are there any sonic surprises for fans?
Aaron: Yeah, we just hired a utility guy and there’s a lot of keyboards on the new record. When I say keyboards, I don’t mean synths. We instead wanted to use real world instruments like a piano and organ and we didn’t even use digital applications in the studio. We actually went out and recorded the real instruments, so we’re pretty excited about that.
SSv: It seems there’s a risk inherent in that approach, because you said you haven’t tried them out live. Yet a lot of rock songs find their home on the stage first to test crowd response and then they’ll be recorded. So is there a bit of tension there at all?
Aaron: Oh, heck yeah. The thing of it is that there’s always tension. It’s 2009 and the music industry is the worst it’s ever been. What are you going to do about it. The absolute worst case scenario is that I put out records and fall on my face and nobody listens, so I move in with my mom with my wife and my dog. Life would be simple. That’s the worst case scenario. If I live my life constantly in a tumultuous mess, which I normally do, then when I get 10 minutes of rest and peace, I kind of roll with it and laugh.
But I am nervous, dude. I’m really nervous. The new stuff isn’t really avant garde though. People can hear me describe it and think it’s this crazy opera mess that nobody is going to understand, but it’s definitely not that. It’s definitely just a pop/rock record, so I’m going to say that we took this big risk. I really love rock music and I really love pop music and I didn’t set out to make some avant garde record.
In that sense, though, I am concerned because people are finicky. People are persnickety. You never know what people will like. But if I spent all of my time worried about that, you’d have to change your style once every three months. You don’t see U2 making songs about “up in the club,” you know? [Laughs] You just have to speak to what you know and see what happens. But I am nervous.
Then again, I’m not as nervous in some respects because I could just care less about being cool anymore. I don’t care about looking cool. I don’t care about wearing the latest fashion. I don’t care about any of that stuff anymore. I’m on the latter half of my twenties and I’m married and I’ve been blessed to be able to live my dream job since I was 18. So whatever happens is going to happen.
If every time you got onto an airplane you wondered if you’d live, you’d be a pretty miserable person. I live my life that way a lot. I’m a pretty anxious guy. But when you accept that freedom that everyone’s going to die when they’re supposed to die and everyone will fail when they’re supposed to fail and everyone will win when they’re supposed to win, then you can accept that as reality and the whole thing is a hell of a lot easier.