They have a unique brand of alternative rock. They're incredibly energetic, and they're well on their way to the top of the alternative/punk music scene with the release of Volatile, a ten-track album that you won't soon forget. I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking with vocalist Jonnie Baker about songwriting on the album, working with producer Jesse Lawson (ex-Sleeping With Sirens) and much more. Check out the full interview below:
The first thing that I did want to go over with you was that I did take a listen to all of the music you guys have put out thus far. All of the covers and the originals. My favorite, by far, is “Halfway to Paradise”, the one you did for the Ernie Ball Warped Tour entry.
Yeah, man! I guess, having listened to all of the songs in order, you guys are a band where I could try hear the progression as time has gone on. What did the process entail for coming up with a track like this? I assume this will be on the album coming up?
Oh yeah, definitely! This was a song that we had the meat and bones for already. We came up with ideas for this one the day that we were in the studio and started writing. This was the day before Jesse Lawson came into the studio and joined us for recording.
It was just this chorus idea. We didn’t really know where it was going to be and that is was going to be like that. At the end of that section of the song where it goes “Can’t make up my mind”, the song kind of slams in. That’s basically what the first part of the song was. After we had written the first part of the chorus, we were like, “let’s use that as the first part of the intro, and let’s clean it up a bit.” Originally it had an acoustic feel in the beginning, and then it slammed in, but it kind of felt a little played out. (laughs) We let the chorus do its work.
I believe we started writing the chorus first. When we got to the verses, we had this drum beat that we were working with, and we just kind of let it loop. A bunch of us had gone out for a cigarette or something. We take frequent smoke breaks every couple of hours or so. When we came back in, our guitarist, Aaron Bossinger (we call him “Boss”) had this clean lead that he was playing. We buried another rhythm underneath that, and then it started to grow. It was one of those songs where everything grew organically. We let everything do what it was supposed to do.
A lot of the time, you can get in there, fidget, and fool around with different parts of a song and change it a bunch of times, as much as you want to hear something else. If you hear something enough times, it doesn’t sound as good anymore, but we were really excited about each part we were writing. There were some modifications made; it’s not like we tracked it all at one time or anything, but we had this motto between all of us that we were just going to do what was best for the song. Whatever served the song, we’d dig, whatever we didn’t like, we’d cut. We spent maybe the first two weeks in the studio.
We were in the studio for about two months overall, just sitting there and writing and working on tracks for pre-production that we had brought down. We were doing some co-writes from scratch while we were down there. By the end of two weeks, there were certain days where we had actually written the bones of two songs, and then we would come back the next day and hate one song (laughs). It was one of those weird things where we let everything go as it should, and we didn’t try and stress ourselves out about anything because the writing period is the worst part to be super critical. We just everything be the brainstorming phase. After we were sitting on songs for two weeks, we were like, “okay, this part could be switched out for this part, this could be shortened up a little bit, this could be modified, or this needs something else.” We would then add to or subtract from the songs over the coming weeks.
We started tracking scratch vocals about two weeks in. We had done some scratch melodies along the way, but then we worked on the lyrics to those melodies. Those were songs we had written already that were maybe not even parts of songs, or that were part of another song that we hadn’t used. We’d plug and play wherever we saw fit! Overall, we went through fifty or sixty songs to work with. What became Volatile was ten songs that we considered the best grouping of all of those songs together. The record’s kind of all over the place. You’re definitely going to hear a big progression over the course of this record.
There’s a lot of songs that have this kind of Thirty Seconds to Mars kinda vibe. Others have more of a Linkin Park-vibe, and some have a vibe around The Used and Taking Back Sunday. These are all us. If we liked something and a progression was four chords, we’d go through and be like, “let’s modify these chords, and play with these alternate versions of them. Make them more interesting and less common.”
We’re big fans of The Beatles and Rolling Stones. We’d take these interesting chord progression and go, “see how they used those chords and how they worked? Let’s try and do something along the lines of that. Let’s go to this chord, then this one, and then this weird diminshed minor at this part.” And then when we’d get to the chorus, we’d make everything really punchy so that it’s a very different feel from the rest of the song.
The way you’re describing the process seems very much like it’s a puzzle. Like every little progression is a different piece, but they all fit together in one way.
Oh yeah. It’s definitely like a multi-layered puzzle. We’d let the melodies be the melodies that they really wanted to be before we started throwing in lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics would be right there in front. If it had an aggressive vibe, we’d be like, “okay, this song has to be cocky. What do I feel or think about with this?” There’s a lot of back and forth and puzzle piecing together. The benefit of it was that we got to make those puzzle pieces the way that we wanted them to be, so that everything fits together.
I was curious to know how the working relationship between you and both Jesse Lawson and Stetson Wentworth came about. What did they each bring to the table production-wise? What was it that attracted you guys to their style?
So, when we layed out our plan to do the record, we hired this guy named Ryan McKinnon, whose a good buddy of Jesse’s to come down and sort of document the entire time we were down there. One of the things that we did at the end of the night were these “confessionals”, where we would sit down and talk about what we’d gone over in the day. Some of this was stuff that we discussed in there, but the way that I had met Stetson was when I had been tour managing and doing merch for Our Last Night for a couple of years. Every time we’d go through Salt Lake City, we’d stay with Stetson. He has a studio. He’s one of those guys where’d we show up at two in the morning after coming from a venue, order pizza, and he’d be like, “let’s write thirty seconds of a song.” So we would. The exercise for them just became writing these progressions, melodies, lyrics, and screams. He would sit on these songs, and then turn them around to local bands that liked them.
When I was watching him work like that, I saw how fast of an engineer he was, and he’s one of those people where as soon as you come up with an idea, you can have the scratch for that down. He’s very, very good at doing that and making sure you’re not losing ideas and taking too ldong to get them down. If it’s good to you when you first hear it, play with it, but don’t play with it too much, and don’t over-engineer it.
The by-product of him being a fast engineer was, “you know, if go into the studio with him, we’ll get a lot done in a short amount of time.” Since we were self-funding this record, I wanted there to be a lot of layers to this record. We chose him as an engineer, first and foremost, because of his speed and his skills as an engineer. He had interned under John Feldmann, so there’s a really great studio engineer. The computer that we had cut Volatile on was a staple in [Feldmann’s] studio for the longest time. We had a record that was cut from the same computer with a lot of big records that John did. Maybe it was a magic computer or a magic record, I don’t know.
I had hit him up, and he was building a new studio. He was going through the studio build, and he really wanted to make this masterpiece studio of his. We used our deposit as a means of helping him get his live room together for his drums, mics, and cabs. We had paid it in advance before we had ever flown down. We had finished paying for our record at the beginning of May, and we weren’t even flying down until the first week of June. It helped him get a lot of his studio together before we had even got there.
Jesse [Lawson] was another person I had met on tour. We had done Warped Tour together prior, but we hadn’t really talked to each other or gotten to know each other, but he’s just one of those guys that you can kind of see from afar and see that he’s the life of the party. And with all of the media hype with [Sleeping With Sirens], he was the primary songwriter for their band. We did the “Feel This” tour in Europe with Our Last Night. I was doing tour managing and merch managing for them, and I met him on that run. We spent a lot of time drinking and visiting exotic places in Europe, and it was an absolute blast.
The next tour I had done with Our Last Night and Sleeping With Sirens, Jesse had left the band after that summer. I thought it was weird, and the dynamic in Sirens was completely different because he was gone. Nick Martin was the new fill-in, and he and Jesse are actually really good friends; they’re all really good friends, actually. The split was amicable. Jesse just had a different outlook on music as a whole. He just wanted to go off and do his own thing. So he did, and Sirens has been doing what they’ve been doing since then. I just feel like there’s been a noticeable gap in what they’ve been doing. I mean, when you do a record with John Feldmann, a lot of the songs come out sounding like they’re b-sides from The Used, and you get this feeling that they didn’t have that special element that was there that made them organically “them”. I never really knew any of Sleeping With Sirens’ music, I just knew them as people. For the most part, the entire band are hilarious, they like to drink and they like to have a good time. Jesse was definitely one of those guys in the band. There was a show in Scotland, and Jesse came into our green room. He was holding a bottle of Absolut, and he was dumping it and making everyone take shots maybe an hour before everyone had to go on. Everybody was drunk before they got on stage (laughs). You never forget one of those people whose like, “let’s get rowdy!” And they’re a great live band. There’s a certain chemistry you get after touring together for that long and playing with that many people and you’ve got a full production behind you. It’s easy to find that and put on an amazing show. They were always really good to watch, and Jesse’s a very skilled guitar player and songwriter.
Jesse had put up a post that he was looking to work with bands and do co-writes and songwriting with them. I hit him up to do like one or two random songs. I said, “we don’t have to be together and we can do it remotely.” He was like, “well honestly, I’m I’m gonna do it, I want to do your whole record.” I was like, “well, you’ve got a wife, and a kid, and a family, and I know you have to support that so I don’t want you to just come down here for free, so what’s that going to run me [money-wise]?” He said, “honestly as long as you can make sure my bills are paid for that month, we’re good (laughs).”
We bought his flight down, and the first night we were there, we were like, “alright, let’s go to the liquor store (laughs) and get some idea juice”. We would sit there and work pretty diligently from 10 or 11 AM to 5 or 6 PM. Then we’d get food and come back and go, “alright, let’s make drinks”. We’d sit there and sip on drinks. We’d work until about 10 PM every night. Some nights, we’d be trashed by 11 and be like, “alright, it’s time to call it! (laughs) It’s not making anything productive.” We’d come back the next morning, and listen back to what we had and go, “alllllright, so we got a little avant-garde with that (laughs).” Jesse was really there to help us with soundscaping and be an extra voice. He wasn’t holding our hand through the entire process by any means (Boss is a really strong songwriter), but having four people in the room at the same time that are all excellent songwriters that are there to do one thing and commonly unite to make a record was nice. It was different than going into a scenario where everyone is trying to write a different record and try to make that work somehow. We were all trying to write the same record. It was an awesome dynamic and it’s one that I hope to work with again in the future.
What was it that you guys wanted to set out to accomplish with the release of Volatile? If I’m correct, this is the first full-length you guys are going to be putting out.
We just basically sat down and said, “we want to write a record that we’d never written before.” We wanted to write songs that were all cohesive but felt like they all belonged on the same record, but we also didn’t want to pidgeonhole ourselves into one specific genre. We wanted to write songs that were huge in scope and would be great to play live, whether we were playing to ten people, or ten thousand people. The goal was to write a record that was huge and worthy of us trying to play large arenas and stadiums someday. Not that I’d say it was like planning ahead or anything like that, but we wanted to write something that didn’t sound like a local band thatwent into the studio.
The benefit of having amazing songwriters in the studio like that is that you’re never going to run into that situation. When you’ve got a great songwriter in a band, you’ve got the ability to make a great record. We spent time on it; we really widdled away at it. When the record was complete, and we weren’t really satisfied with the in-house mix and master, we sent it out to Bert and Eric from Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! They have a studio and I had done touring with them. They would show us their demos, and their demos would sound better than the records that ended up getting pressed. I thought, “okay, I definitely them to mix and master our record.” Their records slam. They sound heavy and there’s so much gravity behind them. When you want to write songs that sound big, you want to make sure that they hit in all the ways they’re supposed to hit.
Our goal was to write that record: a record that was based off of our goals, dreams, and position as a band and people, and then write a record that we felt competed with who we look at as our musical peers and that we may be on stage with someday.
Last two questions: first, what kind of message, if any, would you like fans to walk away with after listening to your music?
I mean, the record is definitely for anybody at a lot of different points in their life. If you listen to this record and can identify with any of it, then you’re identifying with these places in life where you’re going to find yourself feeling volatile. You’ll feel like you want to explode, or you feel weak, or you feel exploited or under-appreciated, not paid attention to, or neglected. It’s definitely a record that is hopeful in a lot of ways, and in a lot of ways some of the songs dealt with severe bouts of depression that we were going through. Some of us were going through breakups, some of us were going through transitions where we really wanted to get the [feelings] off of our chests. When you’re writing all the songs, you’re like “okay, all six of these songs can’t be about hating our dads.” (And we all love our dads.) We went through and we wrote these songs to be about moments in life where, I mean, you can really dig into the lyrics and listen to it. My favorite part about listening to music has been about listening to what’s being said, as well as the melody. I like sitting there and hearing an insight that maybe I wasn’t paying attention to. Maybe at the time I couldn’t completely identify with it, but then years later, I could hear Taking Back Sunday or The Used, and then I’ll listen to it in a totally different way because I resonate with it on a new level. The songs are not broad by any means; some of them are very specific. They’re there to coach people through and help them with those feelings that they’re dealing with. When you need to feel determined, turn on a song we have called “Bridges”. If you feel like saying ‘fuck you’ and singing and driving around in your car, listen to “The Ugly Truth”. There’s a whole bunch of different songs on the record, and they all resonate with different emotions and feelings in life, when you’re dealing with the bullshit that life throws at you.
Finally, what does music mean to you?
We’ve grown up on it. We have a broad musical taste, and we never get bored of listening to it. We just pass the aux cord and let everybody play whatever we want to play. Boss is a huge Beatles and Rolling Stones fan. I love newer, contemporary stuff as well. I think Bring Me The Horizon is going in an awesome direction for their band. I love Of Mice & Men. I toured with Our Last Night, so I’ve grown to have an appreciation for their style of music, and that genre of metal/metalcore/active rock. Dirk and Nick are very old schoo, Drive-Thru Records era pop-punk fans. They love New Found Glory, Plain White T’s, Less Than Jake, Hidden In Plain View. We’re all over the place. Music for us is searching to find what song fits that mood, or what song fits that moment in your life. When you find it and connect with it, it’s that song that you listen to over and over and over again. I think that A Day To Remember is a band that has done a really good job with that throughout their discography as well. They wrote these songs that said where they were, and people felt themselves identifying with them. It’s not an accident that you find people coming out in droves to come see their shows when they’re writing music that is really accessible and relatable to the things that people are going through. Music is important for that purpose. You have to have people that are able to identify with it and grow as a fanbase, and you need to have it to grow as musicians, because you’ll learn along the way that you don’t want to play the same songs all the time. We didn’t set out to write a record that sounded the same; we set out to write a record where we could tailor different sets if we wanted to, for different tours or scenarios. Music is that all-pervasive existence in life, where you can find a song and it can heal you. That is something that is very, very subversive and powerful. That’s what music is to us. It’s something that heals you, motivates you, and lets you tear yourself down a little bit. It can be a good song to cry to, a good song to scream to, and they’re just all in there. It’s insane that we have something like that in our culture and in human existence. We’re happy to be a part of it, whether we’re some large band or some band that only a few people hear, but really love what they hear.
This has been another Shameless Promotion.