As I Lay Dying Drummer On Tenth Anniversary And Beyond: "I Want To Keep Doing This. I Love Doing This."
Band Photo: As I Lay Dying (?)
San Diego's As I Lay Dying hardly need an introduction by now. On the heels of their new compilation release "Decas," these titans of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal have now launched their milestone "Decade Of Destruction" tour. The ten prolific years under their belt have seen As I Lay Dying grow from humble underground metalcore origins into a major modern extreme metal force and a Grammy-nominated, bestselling music group.
I crossed paths with the band on the fourth date of "Decade Of Destruction" at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts. Prior to showtime, I rendezvoused with drummer Jordan Mancino, who - together with frontman and bandleader Tim Lambesis - founded As I Lay Dying at the turn of the century. He reflected on his group's progress and accomplishments to date, the current tour, and plenty more, including hints of some exciting news for fans in 2012.
Mike Smith (OverkillExposure): This is quite a special tour for As I Lay Dying, and I’m curious about the bill you’ve assembled. Did you handpick these bands yourselves?
Jordan Mancino: Yeah, I think it’s a combination of handpicking and seeing who’s available, and seeing who hasn’t toured in a while. There’s a lot that goes into putting together a tour, y’know? If a band we want to bring out has just toured the States a month before this run, it doesn’t make sense to bring them out. But yeah, we try to put together diverse packages, and we’ve tried at least a few times to bring out younger bands. It’s important to help the scene keep growing, with the younger bands coming up who are more in tune with the younger crowds. And it’s also good for those younger fans to see an older band like us. Because sadly, we ARE becoming an older band. [Laughs]
Mike: It happens.
Jordan: Yeah, I’m cool with it for sure, but it’s just funny. For so many years, we were the young guys, and now we’re the old guys. [Laughs] But we’re not relics yet.
Jordan: Right. We look like the bands we used to tour with when we were younger, I guess is the best way to put it. But yeah, we try to put together an exciting package that kids will enjoy, so they’ll want to come out and see us.
Mike: Did any special thought go into picking these particular bands for this tour, since it’s been billed as the “big one” for your ten-year mark?
Jordan: Of Mice And Men are obviously a young, up-and-coming band, and they’ve done Warped Tour and stuff like that. So we’re trying to bring in that younger audience, and our band bridges that gap a little bit. And we thought we’d balance bands like them and iwrestledabearonce with the hardcore stuff like The Ghost Inside. We think they’re a great band, and really wanted to bring them out. Sylosis, this is their first time here, and that’s one particular band that we handpicked, because they’d never toured the States before. We’d done some shows with them in Europe, and we were just so blown away with this band. They’re younger guys – but not super young – and really, really talented. Great players, great sounding band. We were pretty excited to have the opportunity to bring them over for their first time.
Mike: They’re a real gem on this tour.
Jordan: Yeah, and it was difficult getting them over here. In their position, there are so many expenses that come with playing the States if you’re a European or a U.K. citizen. Work permits, flights, and all that stuff. And we’ve been there and understand that, so we do our best to try and help them out by letting them use our van we have back home, and trying to make sure they have a comfortable time managing the tour.
Mike: This year is a real milestone for As I Lay Dying, and at the risk of going into “woulda, coulda, shoulda” territory, is there anything you’d like to have done differently over the past decade?
Jordan: Hmm, that’s hard to say, ‘cause hindsight’s always 20/20. [Laughs]
Mike: But in a perfect world scenario… ?
Jordan: I think when we first started, things were really different. The music scene was really different. Our music was really different. Everything was more underground, pardon the pun. There weren’t as many media outlets or social media outlets like Myspace – wait, Myspace doesn’t even exist anymore. Facebook. There weren’t as many outlets to promote your music. There was mp3.com, a fairly popular site. I don’t know if you remember that.
Mike: I certainly do. [Laughs] That’s waaay old school!
Jordan: Yeah, super old school. And there were just a couple sites that promoted our scene. That was it. It was an underground thing, word of mouth, where your friend is the promoter and you help each other out. When we’d go to Massachusetts, Unearth would get us a show, and when Unearth came to San Diego, we’d get them a show. That type of stuff. So it was a lot different from how it is now. It wasn’t as “industry involved,” y’know? That being said, I guess I’d say that I wish we had the tools we have now, back then. But at the same time, who knows how things would’ve turned out if we’d had all these outlets in such an oversaturated market? So it’s hard to say what we would’ve done differently, because the music industry is always changing and always will be. It’s all about adapting and making the most of it.
Mike: And I guess in the long run, for a band like you guys, it doesn’t always truly pay to have the overnight impact of Justin Bieber or someone like that.
Jordan: Yeah, and I think the fact that we didn’t have that “overnight success” could’ve resulted in the diehard fan base that we have now. It’s a real fan base, something we’ve built over the last ten years. Something we care very deeply about and our fans care very deeply about. So who knows if it would’ve turned out that way if we’d done things differently?
Mike: Reflecting on the first-ever As I Lay Dying show, what are the most significant and staggering differences between that night and tonight?
Jordan: Yeah… a lot… [Laughs] One thing would be, actually knowing what we’re going to go up there and do. For our first show, we’d practiced maybe once or twice. I barely knew the songs. Almost everyone in the band – although there were different members besides Tim and me – didn’t really know the songs that well. So we just kind of went up there and did it. Now, we have a much bigger catalogue and very planned-out setlists, very planned-out production. So things are a little bit more organized, and obviously a little bit bigger, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the energy behind our set. Right from our first show until now, we’ve always tried to put as much energy into our live show as we possibly can. The way that energy is shown has changed over the years, but as we’ve gotten older, we haven’t lost it.
Mike: On to your new tenth anniversary compilation, “Decas.” At first glance, a fairly standard stopgap release with remixes, covers, and a few new songs. What kind of thought went into arranging and presenting these tracks in the way that you did?
Jordan: I think the main goal was to separate the originals from the covers from the remixes. We didn’t want to put an original and then a remix, because we didn’t want people to think that somehow, As I Lay Dying was going in a new direction. [Laughs] We wanted to make it very clear that this is different from anything we’ve ever done, and is probably the only time we’ll do it. It’s something special for the ten-year anniversary, and that was the main goal. After that, it was just about the songs flowing well. We actually debated putting the remixes on another disc, to make sure the kids and the press understood that separation. In hindsight, I wish we had, because there are a lot of very confused people that are like, “Why is As I Lay Dying dubstep now?” or something. And we’re just like, “No, we’re NOT!” [Laughs] These are other artists’ interpretations of our songs.
Mike: “Why are you pulling a Morbid Angel?”
Jordan: Yeah, exactly. And Fear Factory has done this. It’s just… [Sighs] There’s a lot of fighting that, and insisting that this isn’t a “new sound” for us. But anyway, we wanted to do something different and make our fans happy. That’s the reality of it. We asked our fans what they wanted, and there were a lot of requests for remixes. That’s something we’d never done before, something I wasn’t at all familiar with, but it turned out cool. I hope people enjoy them. Doing the covers was a lot of fun too, actually.
Mike: And these are freshly recorded covers, correct? They haven’t been lying around for a while, “War Ensemble” [Slayer] and “Electric Eye” [Judas Priest]? … And is there one that I’m forgetting?
Jordan: “Coffee Mug.” Descendents.
Mike: Yes, “Coffee Mug.” That’s right. Why those songs?
Jordan: Each one kind of has its own story. The Slayer song we recorded for a video game soundtrack right before we got into the studio for “Decas.” Actually, it was the same session. We thought it turned out so well, we were like, “Hey, let’s just throw it on here. It’s a band that’s influenced us. It’s an awesome song that turned out super sweet – let’s put it on here for our fans to hear.” And “Hellion/Electric Eye” was originally [guitarist Phil Sgrosso’s] idea. It’s obviously a very guitar player, riffy song. And we all love Judas Priest, so what a cool way to pay homage to an awesome band! That was one of the songs we were able to put our own twist on, with the arrangement, and changing up parts, and adding more of an As I Lay Dying-esque feel while trying to keep true to the original song.
Mike: It’s a delicate thing.
Jordan: It is, very, yeah. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I was listening to the song, trying to think of different things we could do, and I was like, “Ah, I’ll add a downbeat here, do this or that there, make it a little bit different.” But when we actually started doing it, I realized how delicate a process it was. You said it right. We didn’t want to change it too much, to where it ruins the original intent of that song, but we also wanted to create our own energy. And I think we got it to a good spot. It’s a reflection of a great song, but a reflection of us too. And “Coffee Mug” is 30 seconds long, so we just went for it, and that was that.
Mike: On the subject of the reactions to your remixes, the thought just occurred to me that unfortunately, some people simply aren’t that smart. So even with an obviously non-traditional compilation release, you’ll always hear “What? You’re changing your style!” from some quarters.
Jordan: Oh yeah, exactly. There were sooo many interviews I did right out of the gate, where it was like, “So you guys are changing your sound a little bit.” And I’m like, “[Sighs] You’ve gotta be kidding me.” [Laughs] It says, “REMIX ARTIST.” It’s someone else’s interpretation of our song, which I think is cool. I like the fact that they’re on there, and it was interesting for me to experience, and it’s fun for those that want to hear it.
Mike: How about the originals on “Decas?” Are you playing any on this tour?
Jordan: Yeah, we’re playing the first track, “Paralyzed.” We wanted to try and maybe do one other song, but since it is our ten-year anniversary, we wanted to be respectful to our old fans too. So we have a very diverse setlist.
Mike: Any deep cuts you’re resurrecting?
Jordan: Ahhh, yeah. A couple songs we haven’t played in about five or six years. But we’re not doing anything from “Beneath The Encasing Of Ashes”  or anything like that.
Mike: I last saw you guys back in February, at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vermont –
Jordan: I remember that show. That was the day I shaved off my mustache for the first time in three years. I’ve grown it back since then, but I remember walking outside the hotel room and INSTANTLY regretting it. [Laughs] My face was so cold! Having facial hair and then NOT having it is terrible!
Mike: It’s like emerging from the womb all over again.
Jordan: Oh, exactly. Once my face acclimated, it was fine, but it took a couple weeks.
Mike: NOT the best time of year for that. But at that show, you only did “94 Hours” from “Frail Words Collapse,”  which every other song postdated. Are you going back to that record much?
Jordan: Yep, we’ve got a couple songs from that. We’re trying to play a couple from each. We did a poll via Twitter and Facebook, just to see which songs from each record our fans wanted to hear. For the most part, it’s what we expected, but with a couple, we were like, “Okay, cool!” And we threw them in the set.
Mike: Do you ever play “Losing Sight” from “Shadows Are Security?” 
Jordan: No, we don’t, actually. We’ve played it once live, at our DVD shoot.
Mike: Okay, just throwing this out there, but one day, I have to hear you guys do that live. That riff makes me want to punch a hole through the wall. It’s a kickass song. So I have to lobby for “Losing Sight” in a set one of these days. Anyway, those are my two cents.
Jordan: [Laughs] Sweet!
Mike: Onto the next studio album. Any new material written?
Jordan: Individually, the guys have some stuff, but we haven’t gotten together and thrown around any ideas yet. We’re still trying to figure out who’s producing the record, and to get the scheduling worked out, and then probably starting in the new year, we’ll get to writing. We have a couple one-offs, and a big summer tour announcement coming up soon for the U.S., as well as European festivals.
Mike: Can you throw us some minor hints about the big summer tour announcement?
Jordan: I don’t know when we’re supposed to announce it or when we can, but it’s a tour that’s been a long time coming. It’s a tour that our fans have wanted us to do, and it’s a tour that we’ve wanted to do. And it hasn’t worked out until this upcoming summer, so it’ll be sweet. Hopefully in the next couple weeks, we’ll be able to get the word out there.
Mike: Have you anticipated a certain vibe or direction the material for the next record might take?
Jordan: Yeah, we talk about it. I think we’re on the same page going into this record. We’ve actually already had that discussion with a couple producers, and amongst the band. One of our main goals is to fuse the diversity within our music into singular songs. I feel that on the last couple records, there was a big separation between the heavier, thrashier songs and the more melodic songs. With the next one, we’ll see what we can do to fuse those elements together within singular songs. We still have a lot more to do and a lot more to write, but at least for now, we’re going to try to bridge that gap between the different styles within the band.
Mike: Do you have any side projects, or anything else that keeps you busy, musically?
Jordan: Not right now. I went back to school a couple years ago and just finished. I wound up doing it all online and just graduated this past summer. Coming up this new year, I’m probably gonna try and start doing some stuff. I did some session stuff a couple years back, and was teaching lessons and things like that, but I haven’t figured it out. I don’t know if I want to try and create a side project, or maybe start doing clinics or lessons again – I haven’t really decided yet. We’ll see what happens this month.
Mike: What’d you study?
Jordan: Psychology, and social behavioral sciences. Yeah, I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with that yet. [Laughs] I do feel like there is a lot of room for research in the field of entertainment, and that’s something that hasn’t really been tapped into yet. It’s gonna take a lot of people caring about it to get that research underway, but if I’m one of them, that’d be cool.
Mike: Of all these bands you’ve brought on this tour, who do you really enjoy watching when they play before you? Do any of them really float your boat?
Jordan: To be honest, I haven’t had much time to watch the bands on this tour. Starting out, until we get in the groove of things, it tends to get a little busy, and the only band I actually had a chance to watch before this tour was Sylosis, and I love watching them. I’ll get to it at one of these shows, probably in the next week or so, when things start to settle down a bit and I find some time to enjoy the other bands.
Mike: 2011 is almost over, and we’ve had a lot of great records. Any top picks for you?
Jordan: I really like the new Machine Head. Great record. They definitely made a good follow-up to “The Blackening,” for sure. I like the new Anthrax. It’s Anthrax, y’know? Classic Anthrax. What I like about it most is hearing Anthrax with a polished production. Obviously with their older records, things were different, recording-wise. So I was pretty stoked to hear a new one with a great-sounding, polished recording. And hearing all the nuances of Charlie’s playing was pretty sweet.
Mike: Do you envision a 20th anniversary for As I Lay Dying? If so, where – and how – do you think you see yourselves then?
Jordan: It’s hard to say. When we started the band, if you’d asked us what we’d be doing for our ten-year anniversary, I wouldn’t have any idea, ‘cause I didn’t think that far ahead. [Laughs] Who does when you’re that young, anyways? But we’re just going to take things as they come. I certainly hope that we make it to 20 years, to 30 years, to 40 years. I want to keep doing this. I love doing this. I think as long as there’s a place for us, we’ll be here. Obviously, part of touring and putting out records is making that place for yourself, y’know, and becoming a timeless band. Bands like Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, Metallica, Testament – those bands have been able to make themselves timeless, to where they can keep touring and keep doing things, playing to their fans that haven’t gone away. I hope we do that. But for now, we’ll continue to do what we do and play music that we love. That’s the bottom line.
Mike: Speaking for yourself, is there an overriding attitude or vibe or message that you want As I Lay Dying to impart to its fans, or anyone else who cares to listen?
Jordan: Whatever we do, lyrically or musically, I guess we want people to think. To put thought into their lives, what they do, what they believe, and to question norms. Not necessarily to go off the deep end and just go against everything that society’s put together – that’s not what we’re saying – but just to not be complacent, and to think. To not simply go with the flow through life, but to put some thought into things you do and believe, and to try and improve the world around you as well, while there’s time for that. That’s something we’ve always tried to do with our music, and our message is to better the lives of others through our own creation, our own artistic outlet.
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