by Ryan Meehan
Our choices define us. At heart, we choose between good and evil or right and wrong. It’s not predisposed, but rather something we learn through experience, life’s twists and turns, and the stops along the way. The very moniker Wovenwar speaks to that truth. “When we’re born, we’re innocent and blameless creatures with no hatred or judgment,” explains guitarist Nick Hipa. “Along the way, personality and perspective get cultivated. Hate, love, and other influences can be woven into you, but you ultimately choose your path. If you recognize the foundations, you can opt to live differently. It’s a struggle. That’s what the name signifies. It’s about recognizing that and choosing accordingly.“ In the spring of 2013, the members of As I Lay Dying-Nick, Phil Sgrosso [guitar], Josh Gilbert [bass, vocals], Jordan Mancino [drums]-made an important choice of their own. They had seen tremendous success, selling over one million albums, enjoying a Top 10 debut on the Billboard Top 200 with 2010′s The Powerless Rise and a Top 15 debut with 2012′s Awakened, and touring globally alongside the likes of Slipknot, Slayer, Suicide Silence, Killswitch Engage, and more. Facing tumultuous controversy related to their singer and a shattering foundation shakeup, these four musicians decided to press on and do what they do best. “We had been playing music for our entire adult lives and working towards becoming a better band every year, and then our unit was extremely compromised,” sighs Nick. “The natural step was to let that be and work on something else. We felt like we had a lot to accomplish in terms of our writing and chemistry together. We still wanted to develop. A lot of bands quit because they lose their love for it. We loved it more than ever. That’s why we decided to form something under a new name with no pressure to be anything.“ As they traded song ideas back and forth, Nick reached out to a lifelong friend Shane Blay. The two grew up together in Dallas, TX and even played in Evelynn before Hipa joined As I Lay Dying. In between working with Oh, Sleeper, Shane had begun writing songs with Nick purely as a creative outlet a year prior. Given their existing bond, the transition to writing for Wovenwar‘s self-titled debut proved seamless. With Shane officially in the fold, the quintet hit a San Diego studio to record the album with producer Bill Stevenson [Rise Against, NOFX], who helmed Awakened. Immediately, they collectively tapped into a sound that picked up where they left off, while forging new territory altogether. “It’s more dynamic,” exclaims Phil. “There’s a hard rock element to it. We wanted to utilize Shane’s voice and go bigger. That was important. There’s a different energy, and we got to explore more sounds. It feels more alive than ever. This is the most exciting thing we’ve done. We wanted to keep it familiar but take risks here and there.“ We are extremely proud to have guitarist Phil Sgrosso of Wovenwar as our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: How has your summer been so far? Have you gotten the chance to go check out some other live acts, or have you been pretty focused on the record release?
PS: My summer has been great so far. We’ve been out on the road with Black Label Society and Kyng for a week now. We’re so stoked to be hanging with those guys. Great musicians and nice dudes. It’s been a lot of fun so far. Haven’t been able to catch many other shows unfortunately due to preparing for the road. We’ve got all new material so we had to put in a lot of practice time.
RM: I know that you play Charvels – What’s your main axe of choice; and what have you been using for an amplification setup in the studio?
PS: Yeah I’ve been rocking the Charvels lately. They made me a couple of customs and they play and sound great. They’re part of the Fender Corporation so their standards are pretty high. In the studio, the amp setup we used before it went to mixing was an EVH 5150III 50 watt with a MaxonOD808 through a Mesa 4×12.
RM: How much of the decision to go in another musical direction after As I Lay Dying disbanded was based on your desire to approach the creation of music from another angle; as opposed to just trying to disassociate yourself from the unfortunate circumstances that surrounded the final chapter of that band? Do you think you will ever speak to Tim again?
PS: The 4 of us have always wanted to grow with our sound. With AILD, we were pretty limited musically because there had to be screaming on every song so we couldn’t do a lot of the things we were interested in trying. With Wovenwar, we have the opportunity to broaden our sound and not limit ourselves. We wanted to create something refreshing and not just rip ourselves off and do the same thing again. That was sort of getting old. With Shane in the picture now, we are a much more musical band. In regards to speaking with my previous singer, I don’t really wish to associate myself with people who have harmful intentions towards other people.
RM: You mention in the bio that you wanted to “explore more sounds” given the different energy present now that Shane is your vocalist…What are some of the sounds you are looking forward to pursuing with this lineup, and how many of those sounds are present on this record?
PS: Well, for one, I think exploring new tempos and drum beats helps set the foundation and energy of a song. With AILD, things were a little more abrasive in that sense. We want to still maintain power in our sound but just scaling it back so it’s not as relentless and songs can really open up when they have to. With Shane and Josh singing together now, we can do a lot more with vocal harmonies and making songs more anthemic. Shane also plays guitar live so we had to focus on guitar dynamics while writing. There’s no need for 3 guitarists to play the same thing so we were wanting to come up with more parts that would be cohesive together. It’s a risk because we don’t want to muddy things up but if it works, there’s just a lot more depth guitar wise. More notes and chords flying around and just swerving around eachother. I love a band like The Strokes, especially when I listen to the guitars and they are hardly ever doing the same thing. It’s very dynamic. We’ve got a lot of clean tones sprinkled throughout. Lots of acoustic stuff on several songs. A lot of noisy ambient stuff hidden in the mix too. You can’t always distinguish some stuff but it’s more so something the listener can sense something is there and it just fills in the sound. We also programmed a lot more synth and digital percussion using software programs. We’re definitely not afraid of adding more electronic or orchestral sounding elements with this band.
RM: As a guitarist, how does the writing process for the Wovenwar material differ from when As I Lay Dying was still together? Which aspect of your playing has improved the most since the creation of this band?
PS: The writing process is pretty much the same. Josh, Nick, and I either write an entire or half of a song and then we add it into the song bank for everyone to listen to and either get onboard or express their qualms with it. Mainly for the vocalists to get a vibe of what they can do vocally and if the song has a good flow. Shane wrote the song “Father/Son” so that was new for us in the sense that he’s capable of writing an entire song musically/vocally on his own. It’s such a stand out song too in terms of the more ambient vibe. It was really cool for me especially to write a lot of atmospheric guitar stuff on that song. To have the electric guitar just be lingering in the background coming in and out around the vocals. I’d say my ability to do stuff like that has strengthened. Being able to always find an idea for a part or for even 3 guitar parts. I think I had a lot of fun messing around with guitar leads/and solos too. Nick’s more of a shreddy/cram a million notes in at a fast speed kind of soloist and I like to let notes float a little more so I think these songs allow more of that for me.
RM: What was the greatest thing about working with Bill Stevenson on this album? What personality type is he as a producer, and how has he been able to challenge you as a songwriter?
PS: The greatest thing about Bill producing is that when you might be doubting yourself or a particular part, he will help you see an idea through to the end. He’s a very clear communicator and he’s able to help you help yourself and get ideas flowing and solving the problem you once had with the part. A great thing about a producer in general is when the whole band is arguing and not agreeing about something, they are the mediator. Their opinion holds a ton of value and so we always put trust into what Bill thinks how a part should work. It helps get everyone onboard with eachother. Bill isn’t a super metal dude but that’s what we like about him. We know enough about metal musically on our own, it’s better to have someone with a different background to give you that extra perspective. Although punk and metal are highly relatable in terms of energy and aggression so he isn’t really too far outside the box for us.
RM: Is there anything that you hope to accomplish with Wovenwar that you felt you did not get to do with As I Lay Dying? Is it safe to say that you are excited about hitting the road again?
PS: We’ve very excited about being on the road again. We had over a full year off so it’s the best part of my day to get onstage and perform. With AILD, we started having this sense that we were limited with how much more we can grow successfully. Not in terms of money but in terms of playing with bigger bands, doing bigger festivals, just having bigger opportunities coming our way. We were just sort of doing the same thing and not progressing how we wanted to. It was obviously the screaming aspect of the music so we really knew that if we wanted to take advantage of bigger opportunities, we have to have a singer SING. Aside from that, there were just a lot of things not being done properly with AILD so I think it’s our time to do things right from the start.
RM: What’s up next for you guys in the remainder of 2014 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
PS: We’ll be touring a lot in Europe. Doing some big festivals and an In Flames tour for 6 weeks. We’re looking to hit the road pretty hard and do a full on 2 year tour cycle so we’ll be getting around. Hopefully we’ll get things back up and moving at the pace we were used to.
Official Website: http://wovenwar.com/
Wovenwar on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wovenwar
Wovenwar on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WOVENWAR
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