Las Vegas, NV based quintet Escape The Fate is back, and releasing a brand new album entitled 'Ungrateful'. Check out one of the most in-depth interviews Shameless has ever done, as I talk with drummer Robert Ortiz about the band's newest release.
1)The most recent tour you guys did was Uproar Festival in 2011. When did TJ (bass) and Michael (guitar) come into the picture? What would you say they’ve brought to the new ETF lineup?
To me, that tour summarizes Escape The Fate. We had reached this amazing point, dude. It was, “I’m playing with Avenged Sevenfold.” My favorite band, outside of artists like Metallica and Michael Jackson. I’m sitting up there; I’m onstage with Craig, which is great, and Kevin Thrasher, a friend of ours who filled in. And Max [Greene] is falling asleep. We had to replace him halfway through the tour. He was falling apart at the seams, man. He couldn’t get control of his demons. We gave him one last shot.
You know how Ozzy used to say about Randy Rhoads? Monte Money is my musical soul mate, dude. We’re in tune. Like, we have this vision together that just works. He and I are always onto the next thing together. We always want to be in the same spot as each other. It’s great to have someone in tune with you in terms of where you want to go musically. He wasn’t there (on Uproar). He couldn’t handle Max anymore, man. He couldn’t deal with Max’s drug addiction, leading him into so much trouble, having to cancel shows, having to friends fill in for him on bass since we couldn’t find him. He (Max) was being woken up by paramedics at airports. It got bad, dude. It got real fuckin’ bad. At that point, me and Craig both said, “Well look dude, he supposedly went off and got clean. We’re gonna give him one last shot, dude.” And he said, “I’m not doing it”. Ultimately, in hindsight, we probably should have kicked Max out a long time ago, but he’s my brother, he’s one of my best friends. It’s hard to say good-bye. That was it though. We were on that tour, and halfway through we just said “Max you’re done. Don’t get on that bus, you’re not coming with us. That’s it.” And that was that, man.
TJ had already been filling in for us on several tours, and he had replaced Max because we had sent Max home to go and get clean. With TJ, we had already had a bond with him. He fit in, you know? He’s not an angel, by any means. And that’s fine. He’s a kid, he’s growing up, and he gets his shit done. After the show, you know, he likes to go out and party sometimes, but he gets his fucking job done. He loves to play music. He brought in a spark of life to this band that we desperately, desperately needed. He gives a shit, and that’s the most important thing. We stopped giving a shit for so long, we really did. We stopped caring, man. We were over it. We were depressed, tired of dealing with each other, dealing with Max, we were tired of all of it. So TJ came back in and said, “Listen, man, if you guys don’t fucking want to do this, then no ones gonna do it for you. “ So he brought some life back and re-energized us. Michael’s basically been with us from the beginning. He’s always been around the band. He was playing rhythm guitar for us for years and years. So for him, basically we were putting him through all the hell that we were going through. He has to deal with all the bullshit too. We thought, “If you’re going to deal with it anyways, then you might as well be an official band member. You’re Monte’s brother. You’re gonna hurt just as much as Monte does, and you should feel joy just as much as Monte does. And that was an easy transition, that wasn’t anything too drastic. It didn’t change a lot since he’s been a part of this for several years. So that’s kind of how that all went. All my dreams came true, and all my dreams fell apart, dude.
2. How soon after the self-titled record did you guys begin writing for “Ungrateful”?
It’s a little tricky. I know you probably expected just a three-word answer of “Yeah they’re great!” (laughs), but I think it’s important to know the whole story. For ‘Ungrateful’, it was a long process, dude. It was a long process before we all got in the same room and said “Dude, are we going to do this right now? Or are we not gonna do this?” It took some time before we were engaged together. Once we got everything right and decided “okay, this is what it’s going to be,” we began writing. That was a few months after Uproar ended. We ended that tour in 2011, and we went and met up with John Feldmann. It’s been about a year and half. Now it’s getting released tonight at midnight, it’s been a year and a half in the making, essentially.
3. Where was it recorded? You said you recorded it with John Feldmann, so does he have a particular studio he records at?
I think this the reason why it took so damn long (laughs). We went in with John Feldmann in December of 2011. At that time, we were searching for who it wanted to be. We found out who was gonna be a part of this, but now we needed to find someone who wanted to shape “What is Escape The Fate’s sound?”. We went into the studio with John Feldmann, recorded a full album. We recorded about fourteen songs, with the intent of having ten to twelve make the actual album. He was pushing for certain songs, and we were pushing for certain songs. We were experimenting and trying different things. We went back to recording things the way we did on the first album, just straight-ahead, more pop-punk sounding stuff. We tried all of these different things, and it just….just wasn’t us. We had a full-length album virtually done in June of last year. Our manager helped us out and said, “This isn’t who you guys are. This album isn’t you.” We then all said that this album was definitely not done. It was not us; we’re a heavier band now. We’re a more metal band. So we went back, wrote seven more songs, and in that we got “Ungrateful” and “You’re Insane”, and a few other ones that we really loved.
We went to David Bendeth who recorded Paramore’s “Riot!” and Breaking Benjamin. He’s done a lot of great things. The chemistry just wasn’t right with him. We didn’t know how to communicate with him at all. It just didn’t work out. Ultimately, we said “you know what? Monte’s fucking demo sounds better than all of these producers we’re going to. Let’s just do this ourselves.” And that’s what we did.
We went to L.A., found a studio, and went to work. After we were done, we had Josh Wilbur mix it for us. He took it to eleven. The songs were there, but he made them sound really good.
4. “Ungrateful” kicks off the album with a bang. What was the particular inspiration behind that song?
Essentially when we started that song, it began more as a “fuck you to the haters” type thing. We were looking at all of these people who kind of gave up on us. At that point, our record label was not helping us. At that point, our fans were running out of patience. They were almost like “You’re taking too long, who the fuck’s in your band? We’re fuckin’ over this.” So we started that song off as a “fuck you” to haters, and eventually it turned into “you know what? I think we have something bigger to say here”. That’s when we started to lean more towards this full-on theme that Escape The Fate has never done, and it actually had this message in the song about anti-bullying. It made us go “Is this the same band that was making videos with fuckin’ porn stars on an airplane?” (in reference to ’10 Miles Wide’). It was definitely something that was not too easy for us to do, but it was something we had to do. We had to grow up, and we had to show people that we’re made of something more than being a fuckin’ party band. That was our statement, and we wanted it to be brutal and in your face. We wanted it to be, as some of the lyrics are saying, we’re fighting for everything. We wanted to have it go full-on, heavy as we can, and without a producer telling us what to do, I went fucking crazy on drums. Everything is balls-to-the-wall on that song, there’s no holding any punches at all.
5. “Until We Die” has this reference to a truth we’re looking for, and a battle we’ll keep fighting. What is this battle, and this truth, specifically?
Well, Craig wrote that one all on his own. I think Monte wrote the chorus, but I think that’s more of a Craig type of question. But we wanted a military-reference type song. We wanted a song for people to relate to what military people go through, so it’s really about a battle within. A battle of self-doubt and a battle with those people who don’t believe in you. As he says in the bridge, “Don’t tell me I won’t succeed/It lights the fire under me”. Our confidence was shot, dude. At the end of the last record, our confidence was absolutely obliterated. It was gone. That was our way of saying “we’ll get this back, and it’s a battle we’ll overcome, whether we’re battling ourselves or our nay-sayers.”
6. “Picture Perfect” was definitely a change of pace for the record, kind of like a power ballad. What specifically inspired you guys to write a slower song?
That song had been coming for a while. Monte’s friend passed away. His name was DJ, and they were best friends all throughout their childhood. He passed away in a motorcycle accident in 2010. He passed away after we were finished with our self-titled, and Monte carried that lead around because we were on the road, unhappy because of all of our internal problems. And to hear a good, dear friend of yours passed away and you’re not there to mourn. That’s what that song’s about. It’s about dealing with loss. We tried to make it not so much of a sad song, but almost like a tribute type song. Ultimately, it’s still gonna be emotional and hurt. At the time we were writing, my girlfriend (who I’ve been with for almost ten years now)’s grandmother passed away, so I was going through that loss as well. We wrote that with Patrick Stump from Fall Out Boy. That guy’s a genius. Especially in this song. He pushed us to get our feelings out. Most of our songs are based around the riffs and the drums, and then we fill in the lyrics later, and it takes a vibe from there. But this time it was very much “Hey, these lyrics are here, and you have to mean them, and say something with them. They have to be right. “ We sat for hours and just wrote lyrics. Then finally, we said “I think we’ve got this”. We went in and it became what it did. You can’t be balls-to-the-wall pissed off in every song, and not every song has to be a war cry. We were dealing with something that was very close to home and hit our hearts very hard, so we had to make a song about it. If you hang out with my band, I mean… we’re kind of idiots, dude. None of us know how to communicate, or carry a conversation with people, and that’s why we make music. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is something that we had to go through, and we felt like the best way that we knew how to explain it was through this song.
7. How would you say this new material differs from the self-titled album, or (to go a bit further back) “This War Is Ours”?
This time, it shows that we took our time. Most people will say that albums are a moment in their life, and it’s a moment captured. With this one, we wanted to make sure the moment was right. Everything we’ve ever learned has culminated here. This is the best representation of who we are because we made sure it was who we are. I think “This War Is Ours” was very unbalanced. You’d have a pop-punk song, and then you’d have a fuckin’ ‘This War Is Ours’ metal song. You’d have stuff like that, and it was very unbalanced. But we enjoyed it! The energy was there.
With the self-titled, the problem was that we experimented a lot with sounds and things. We went somewhere that was a lot of bells and whistles, and not enough art. We made an album because it was time to make another album. We were into it; it’s not like we didn’t put our hearts into it. But it wasn’t a desperation album, and that’s what this one is. With this one, we were like “we’ve gotta get this fucking right.” So we took our time and made sure that the songs were right. They’re a little more straightforward, a little less bullshit, and a lot more attitude. Whether it’s a strong, angry attitude, or a heartfelt attitude, whatever it was, it just had to be real. I mean there are a few songs where we were like “let’s just fuckin’ have fun with it!”, but you gotta have it.
8. What kind of gear will you be using this time around for your live performances?
(Laughs) I don’t know man. I have an endorsement with Pearl Drums, so I’ll be playing one of their kits. Pearl drum kit, double bass. Monte uses his Ibanez guitars that he can shred on. That’s basically it, man! (laughs). Not too much craziness in terms of equipment. We keep it pretty basic, and we don’t want to complicate it too much. If it works, it works. The stage show comes via other forms, whether it be bigger staging or bigger lighting. Right now, we’re very stripped down and we’re just fuckin’ rocking. Our band is definitely not gear-heads. We become gear-heads more in the studio when we’re trying out different computer programs and stuff. But with this album, I don’t even know if I wanna call it stripped down, I’d say it’s a lot less bullshit. The one thing I did add that did change the sound a little bit was an extra ride cymbal on my left. I did that a little bit in tribute to The Rev (from Avenged Sevenfold). As I said when we started this interview, they are huge, huge influence. I wanted to add that kind of add that part of his style, the double-ride, double-bass thing. I threw that into the album in a few spots as a tribute to him, because I thought that was something neat he did that I didn’t hear very often. I wanted to put that in our album, as kind of a way of saying “Hey man, thanks for helping make me a drummer.”
9. What kind of message would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I would say never give up. That’s what this album represents above all. We called this album ‘Ungrateful’ because that’s what we were. We were a bunch of ungrateful assholes. We had the world in our hands; we had all this opportunity, and we screwed it up. But I’m not giving up. I’m gonna fight to the death to show people that we’re capable of doing this. Ultimately, that’s the main message of this album. Don’t give up.
10. Future plans?
The album comes out May 14th, so pick it up! We’re gonna be touring virtually non-stop throughout the rest of this year, with a select handful of dates that are at home. For the most part though, we’re gonna be chillin’ on the road because we’ve gotta promote this album. We’ve gotta go get our fan-base back, gotta remind them we’re still here, and get the new ones that never got a chance to know what it is that we do. We’ll be all over Europe, Australia, all over the U.S. and Canada. We’ll be doing Hollywood Undead in July. A lot of shows, man!
Escape The Fate's new album, Ungrateful , is now available on iTunes, at Best Buy, Hot Topic, Target and other retailers. Follow the band on Twitter: @EscapeTheFate, and like them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/escapethefate for more information about their new releases, upcoming tours, and more.