Interview: The Almost
Mon, 05 Oct 2009 13:06:42
Aaron Gillespie has a monster on his hands.
His latest record with The Almost, Monster Monster [Due out Nov 3, 2009], is a living, breathing beast of an album that's bound to stay with listeners for a very long time. It's thought provoking and smart rock n' roll with heart, and Gillespie's opening up more than ever before. The Underoath drummer/vocalist unleashes a part of himself with each and every note of the album, and it's got some serious teeth.
On October 6, fans will get their first full taste of the record with the release of Monster EP. However, Aaron had a lot to say about the entire record. He sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino for this exclusive interview about making this Monster monstrous and so much more.
Monster Monster is definitely more cinematic than Southern Weather. Do you feel like you were telling more stories this time around?
Yeah, but it was totally accidental [Laughs]. It's funny because I've never been one of those guys in either band. I'll write songs and do lyrics. Then all of the imagery and titles for songs will come last. This time, I had the record title and concept—for the ideas, the masks and the whole thing—before we even wrote the first note. I had no idea what that meant. I knew what I wanted the record to mean, but I wasn't planning on writing anything that was narrative. Song-by-song, it ended up telling the story of the monster inside of everybody and losing that monster. It was a total accident, but I agree with you [Laughs].
Did you have the story fleshed out from the get-go?
Well, I didn't go in with that. I went in with just the title and the idea of the monster in everyone. That's as far as I'd gotten. As I began to write, this story slowly took shape—it's chasing that down, finding what it is and pinning it to the wall. It took shape on accident, which is interesting.
It's cohesive, and it feels natural.
I think so. I don't really know, man. I still don't believe that I'm making records, if that makes any sense. Let me expound on that. I wake up in the morning, and I go about my day, and it's weird to me. I'm such a big fan of music still. I know that sounds cliché and musician-like, but I listen to records and I say, "Wow, how do they do that!?" So when someone tells me my music feels natural or intentional, I can't believe I'm making records and they sound decent [Laughs]. When I was a kid, I had no formal training. Hitting two cymbals at the same time was a big deal to me. I still can't believe I'm a part of all the little things that you traditionally see musicians do. Most days, I wake up and I don't believe it's real—that I make records. If it feels natural and you think so, that rules! I still think it's weird that I make records [Laughs].
Did you feel more confident going into this record having done one with The Almost already?
Yeah, I felt a lot better but I had more of an idea of how to make an Almost record. I didn't know what making an Almost record meant two years ago. I didn't know what that looked like. I didn't know what it meant to make a record that wasn't Underoath or that wasn't heavy! I'd never done that before. It's a freeing feeling. I really grew up loving rock n' roll music, and it's great to be a part of that. I was more confident in the sense that I had more songs prepared and we had a full band this time. We worked with a really great team in a great facility. It was definitely an easier record to go into making.
This album is a bit brighter than Lost in the Sound of Separation—that was your most intense Underoath album.
I think so too. We've begun talking about writing another one, and I don't know where to go. With Monster Monster, it was obvious for me where to go. I felt a certain way in my life, and I'm in a certain position now where I'm married and I'm becoming a "new old guy" in the sense that I'm not 30, but I'll be 30 before I'm any other milestone age. The music scene only gets younger every day. I guess I'm nervous these days. Am I still relevant? Is the music I make still relevant? Who knows? I don't know. We were making the record for each other, and we were making the record we wanted to make. There are so many here-today-gone-tomorrow flash-in-the-pan bands. What if I'm that? I drive myself crazy constantly asking, "Is this cool?" On this record, I tried not to think that way.
It's got to be relevant for you first and foremost.
It's true, but think about the people who say those things. Think of the guys who are out here paying their own money to play music. Those guys would do anything to be relevant. Am I right?
You know what I mean? There are guys like Thom Yorke who have had massive, massive commercial success. He's also a visionary songwriter in my opinion. He would always say, "It has to be relevant for you first." Why? Because he's already had commercial relevance. I think that statement is really kind of scary to make. I'm not saying you're wrong by making it, but what I am saying is you really can't trust that statement due to the fact that the guys who are truly relevant to their own selves would do anything to be commercially relevant. The whole thing drives me crazy. I can never wrap my brain around it.
At the end of the day, you have to let the songs speak for themselves. You've evolved on Monster Monster.
I'm trying to, man. I'm just trying to be as real and as honest as I can. You can't make music for everybody. Like you said, you have to make sure the music is relevant for you and just go from there. You can't spend your life trying to please everyone even though you may want to sometimes. Thank you for saying that, it means a lot.
Well, it's got to come from you. Kids can tell when something's genuine.
I agree. That's hard to find. There are few bands that you watch and you feel like they really really mean what they're doing. I feel like that's rare. At the same time, people know even if they can't put their finger on it. They know when something's real and when it isn't.
What's the story behind "Summer Summer?"
I'm from a little town in Florida called Clearwater Beach. I grew up here. It's one of those places that empties out during the wintertime. I love summer time. I love when it's hot, and I don't have to wear a shirt. I grew up by the ocean, and I've lived here my whole life. I love that it's a warm outside. That song is a narrative about a guy; summer ends for him, and he's bummed. Everyone leaves town, and he's just there. He lives there, and it's over for him. That's what that track is about.
It's an interesting perspective, because you live with the seasons of your music at the end of the day.
Yeah, you're not going to die when the summer's over [Laughs]. I'm a big fan of country music. I don't tell that to a lot of people. It's not a conversation that I have with a lot of people, but I'm a huge country fan. With "Summer Summer," I was trying to write a song that was lyrically like a country song—where there was almost a narrative. I think that might be why this album feels how it does. I really tried to tap back into that country side of my life. I listened to a lot of country music during and before making the record. I loved the whole idea of turning a song into a story. I think there's a difference between a story based song and a concept record—if you follow my drift. You can have a record about a guy who travels out to space and his friends don't remember him because he looks like an alien—that's a concept record [Laughs]. There's a song on this record that's a complete thought about someone losing someone. There's a song on there about a guy who's stuck in the city during the summer. I love that whole idea. That's what I tried to do lyrically. I don't know if I got there, but I tried.
Do all of the songs follow that style?
There's stuff on there that's from the same heart. The track "Monster" is definitely from the same heart. I hope my lyrical process is changing. I'm a different guy. I don't ever want to wake up and feel like I've made the same record twice. That works for a lot of people, and I think that's cool. Like you said, it's got to be relevant to you first, but I hope every time I make a record it comes out different from the one before.
Just like the records that impacted you as a fan.
I hear certain records, and I remember where I was when I heard them. I hope I can be a part of that for somebody. I don't work anywhere. It's hard for me to believe that I wake up in the morning and make records. It's a huge blessing from God himself, and I believe that. It's really strange to wake up every day and be a part of that for somebody. My days don't involve anything but music. That's the biggest blessing that I could ever imagine.