Bassist Jeph Howard talks about wanting to start over on the band’s fourth album Artwork, how it differs from previous records, coming from their own scene, and the mentality growing up in Utah instilled in them.
So you guys are in Europe right now?
Yeah, we’re in England.
How’s that so far?
It’s cool. We pretty much just had a couple days off, mostly like press days and stuff. We played one show the day we got here. I don’t know. It’s going to be good. We have a couple more shows coming up. They’re all really small, like 500-seaters. We’re going to hit up England and Germany, and then we’ll come back after our record’s released.
How does it feel to have your fourth album coming out now?
Pretty awesome. This is definitely the most work we’ve ever put into a record. This is the best we feel about a record. This is the record that we had to make right now.
You titled the album Artwork, which is a pretty unusual title. What led to that decision?
It’s kind of the theme going on right now for everything. It’s funny. The exact reason we got the title name from is after we did our third record, we put out an EP that had 10 songs on it. I still think, and everybody in the band thinks, it’s a record and not an EP. 10 songs is a fucking record.
Bert wanted to do the artwork for it. Him and his buddy kind of had something going on. He got sent this picture, and Bert wanted to paint over top of it. Then when Bert sent the artwork to the label for them to see it, he put it in a folder and on the front of the folder he wrote “Artwork” really big.
For some reason, the way it looked on the folder, just the way he wrote it and the way it looked, was super awesome and striking in a way. He mailed it to the label, and when my friend that works there was scanning all of the art in to put in email form to show everybody, he scanned the cover, too. He also liked the cover and thought it was really striking. He just kind of left it on there.
Then we all got it and we’re like, “Wow. This is fucking awesome. Think of that. Artwork.” From there, it started spawning off into the art of everything. It’s crazy how the word art has the word work in it. Work of art. Live to work, or work to live. It’s weird how life really is all about art and work. Art and work are kind of the same thing in a way, you know?
How did you come up with the cover?
We wanted something that was really striking, like the title, Artwork. We wanted something that was as striking as Artwork. Something that went along the lines of what I was saying before about art and work and work and art.
The needle actually that we got was from Ed Culver. He’s a photographer and sort of a collector. I want to call him a collector because he collects a lot of random stuff and he uses it in his photo shoots. He’s this very artistic, different person. We hired him to do a couple photos with us.
I guess he had that at his house, that needle lying around, and it said “Art” in it, just like it is. It just kind of worked out that that’s a perfect cover. We have the carving in the arm and stuff. I don’t know. That needle felt iconic in a way, and we want this record to be the most iconic record we’ve ever done.
When you were writing the album, did the process differ from how you wrote your past ones?
All of our records are usually different each time, really. They really are. They either start with a guitar line or us jamming in a room, or a piano line or a bass line or a drum line. This one, I want to say, is even more of that. Our new drummer, well, you can’t call somebody that’s been in the band three years new.
Right, but your first recorded album with him.
Yeah, this is his first album that he actually recorded with us besides the b-sides one. He recorded all those, too, but this is the first actual record that we all sat down and wrote together. That sort of had an impact on the record and the writing process, too, just being with Dan and jamming with Dan. Some of these songs, too, came from some piano lines Bert had. I don’t know if you’ve heard the record yet. I’m trying to think of the names. I don’t have the titles [laughs], but a lot came from piano.
One even came from a drum rhythm thing that started out. We wanted to write this song off of this rhythm idea we had, and then it kind of progressed from there into the song. Actually, a couple songs had to be rewritten. I don’t know. It was an excellent time and actually worked out really strong for us, I feel. It’s funny. “Blood on My Hands,” the first single that we just put out, was one of the last two songs that we wrote. It kind of came out of nowhere. Usually the best ones, it seems, come out of nowhere like that.
Your last record, as you were mentioning, had a lot of b-sides. Was there a lot of extra stuff for this one, too?
Yeah, we’ve got a lot. Not as many as last time. Not like 12 [laughs], but we definitely have five or six that are out there that we’re still trying to figure out what to do with and where to place them right now. Quinn and Bert actually just recently wrote another song. It was just them. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it. It might go on a soundtrack. It’s kind of up in the air.
What do you think are the standout tracks on the record?
“Blood on My Hands,” of course, is one of my favorites. I like “Born to Quit” a lot. That one actually started out on piano. It was a piano line that Bert had that he kept playing over and over because it got stuck in his head. I like that one because it’s really dark and heavy, and it’s got very moody verses and a moody bridge. It’s a very fun one to play, too.
“Empty With You” is probably my favorite to play right now. It’s got a very strong bass and drum section going on. I think that’s why it’s my favorite to play. They all kind of have something, really. This record’s a special record, I feel.
I’ve read a quote or two where you guys compared this to your debut record. What do you see in that?
Well, it’s kind of like you get your whole life to write the first record, right? That’s your first record. The second one you get pressures. The label wants it now. You know what I mean? At the same time, you’re not pressured because fuck them and fuck everything, really. But you’re not as ready for those because you haven’t worked your whole life for that first record on the second one. You have to do it again and get used to writing in short periods.
I think for this record, to me personally, the reason I compare it to the first one is I would like everybody to forget what they know about us. Forget what you’ve ever heard about us. Forget what you’ve listened to. You know what I mean? Listen to this record with open ears of a new style of what we are. We’ve never been a scene band. We’ve never been a screamo band. We’ve never been an emo band. We’ve never claimed that. We never came from a scene like that, which is cool.
I have respect for all music and all bands. We kind of are from our own scene, really. There’s nothing like that. So on this record, we wanted to start over and do another thing. Do our own thing in this direction, you know?
I think this is probably your least heaviest record with the least amount of screaming, so was that progression pretty natural then?
I think it’s the heaviest record we’ve done. I think it’s totally different. Just screaming doesn’t make certain things heavy to me. I’m a fan of old Cave In and Botch. We all are fans of Converge. You know what I mean? This record is more intense, more heavy than any record we’ve ever done. I think Bert doesn’t need to scream. He can if he wants, but it’s like everybody’s doing the scream and sing thing, trying to get heavier with certain things. We just want to write awesome rock songs that we feel comfortable about. That’s it.
I think it’s good that Bert didn’t scream as much on this record, personally. I mean, if you look at the backups, he screams a lot on the backups. Like “Men Are All the Same,” the last song on the record, he screams for like three or four minutes [laughs]. Maybe not that long, but the whole outro is him just screaming, like if you put your headphones on and stuff. It’s just not as up in your face, you know?
As far as the lyrics and tone of the record, would you say it’s as similarly dark as your past releases?
I would think it’s a little darker. I can’t really explain why. Maybe it’s because we worked with a different producer on this record. He was so hands on and trying to make the sound come out of us. He was more laid back and trying to let it happen. He just let the tones happen.
We told him we wanted it dark. We wanted it messy and dirty and grindy. He kind of just put his head back and was like, “OK, let’s hear this. Let’s hear what you want to do. Let’s get the sounds that you want. Let’s get that sound as dark as you want.” We told him we wanted fuckups. You know what I mean? Fuckups are cool. It shows that it’s real.
Since you’ve only worked with John Feldmann before, was it easy switching things up with Matt Squire?
Yeah, it was amazing that we worked with Matt Squire, actually. Like I just said, it worked out for the best, for sure.
Another thing that I think is in your bio is Bert talking about coming together on this record, like one of the themes of it. Did you notice that more so on this one than on your previous three?
I wouldn’t say it was more of the theme of the record, but I would say we feel we’ve come together stronger as a band the last three years, that’s for sure. I think Dan being in the band has definitely brought us closer, and stronger and tighter, as a band and musicians.
One of the songs that stuck out to me is “On the Cross.” What’s the story behind that one?
It’s funny that you brought that one up. That song originally was sort of like a rock. You know what I mean? It was like more rock. The music was completely different. Those words Bert sang over the top of it were a little bit different melody, but it was the same idea. He wasn’t into the chorus or the verse, I can’t remember, so he rewrote all the words to it and rewrote a different melody to it. Then we weren’t into it the way it was, so we rewrote the music to that, and then it didn’t seem to work out that way.
So instead of writing one song, we ended up writing three songs out of it. We’re actually going to release the original one later on. I think the original one was cool. It’s just different. It’s kind of cool to hear the same song done a different way, sort of like a remix.
You just released the video for “Blood on My Hands” last week, which was pretty interesting. What was the concept behind it and what was it like to shoot?
It was excellent, actually. We hired our old friend Lisa Mann, who actually did two videos for us in the past. We really liked how dark – I guess dark is the proper word for that [laughs] – our other videos turned out. We kind of all came up with the concept talking about it. It’s funny. We were talking to a different guy about the video, and we kind of came up with the concept then. I think Bert and Quinn had the idea about it before and then there we set it up, the idea of it. Then they told Lisa Mann the idea. I think Quinn talked to her. She sort of put it in her own way to make it more video-ish and to make it more of a storyline.
The whole theme is there’s a killer that Bert gets obsessed with. He wants to be him almost. He’s so obsessed with him. He follows him around and stalks him, kind of like a serial killer. Finally Bert turns into him, you know? He actually kills him and turns into him, and then the police find all of his stuff. At the end, it’s supposed to be kind of an open thing where you’re not really sure if Bert did the killings or if Bert was the killer. Maybe he was. Maybe there wasn’t a killer involved, and he really didn’t kill another guy. It was just him killing all these people, thinking it was someone else. At the end of the movie, Bert definitely gets hung for his crimes against humanity.
It’s an interesting thing because while a lot of your music is dark and stuff, whenever I see a video clip of you guys hanging out, you always seem to be really funny and laughing it up.
Yeah, we’ve got our times [laughs]. Everybody’s hanging out in the room right now, actually.
Are you guys still living in Utah these days?
Only two of us live in Utah right now. The other two live in L.A. I’m not sure which is the better place [laughs].
When you were first starting out, did you ever think four guys from Utah could make it this far?
That was the funny thing, is that everybody said, “No, you’re never going to make it. You guys will never make it.” We always heard that. For us, it was like a serious thing. It was like, “You guys really are never going to make it. No band from Utah makes it out. Nothing from Utah gets out.” You know what I mean? We really didn’t care. It wasn’t really about any of that. Maybe older bands that are grown up are like, “Yeah, it’d be so cool to be signed and be everything.”
With this band, all we wanted to do was write music. We just wanted to jam together and write music. After a while, we couldn’t even play shows. There were no venues where we lived. They all closed down, so we even stopped playing shows. We were like, “Whatever. Let’s just write songs.” Then a possibility came up, and it was like, “Holy shit. Wow.”
Well, that’s about all I got. Do you have anything further you’d like to close with?
Just how stoked we are on this record. I’ve never been this happy about any of our records ever, personally, but that’s just me. The way that the bass sounds. The way the drums sound. The way the guitars sound. The way that Bert sounds. Even Bert’s lyrics on this record, they’re the most intense lyrics he’s ever written for anything. He’s just spot on for this whole record, I feel, even his melodies. We all feel super strong about this record, so we’re excited to tour and play this record.
Originally appeared on Mammoth Press