There’s something beautifully ironic about finding out Art of Dying has a new album not from your press contacts, but from the guys themselves via Facebook. The Art of Dying boys have always held a close relationship with their fans, and foster that feeling of family via social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope. Within minutes of their announcement, the outlet requests came forth, and I jumped at the opportunity to take a listen to their upcoming EP Nevermore (review coming tomorrow), and to talk with lead vocalist Jonny Hetherington about Nevermore, his chops, Cale Gontier’s (bass/vocals) hatred of 80’s hairbands, and new drummer Cody Watkins.
Shockwave Magazine: Hello, Jonny!
Jonny Hetherington: Hey, is this Robin?
This is Robin.
Hey, how are you?
I’m really good. How are you?
You can hear me okay?
Yes, I’m just going to kick up the volume a little bit. I’m at airport heading out on tour.
That is right! You guys are headling this tour with Letters from the Fire and Children 18:3.
More ShipRocked alumni there.
That’s right! Letters were out before and I think they’re back again this January with us.
They are back with you guys this January. We are definitely looking forward to that. How is the tour going?
It actually starts tomorrow!
Right! Oh, this is getting published today then! Shockwave is sending a reporter out to cover your show when you hit Baltimore.
So we will see you there for sure. You’ve got to be excited.
Oh yeah, totally. This is the first time we’ve really headlined; 40-something shows in 8-something weeks [laughs] so it’s going to be a lot of fun. We kind of hand-picked those bands to come out with us because we really like them, and we think they’re really cool, so it’s just — yeah, it’s gonna be a fun little spin around the USA.
Is this what prompted you guys to surprise us with Nevermore?
Yeah, actually we’ve been working on Nevermore really quietly behind the scenes for a little bit and definitely we pushed really hard to make this new music available for the tour. Nevermore comes out September 2nd. The tour starts in Baltimore on August 31st.
So I’ve been listening to it and I would to talk about it if you have some time before your flight to kind of dig into it.
Yeah, let’s do it.
Okay, so one of the things that I’ve always loved about you as an artist, and Art of Dying as a band, is that you guys don’t just throw things together with no forethought. When I listen to your lyrics they are very intentional. When I listen to the melodies you chose to go along with your lyrics, again, it seems very intentional. I’m curious about the writing process for Nevermore. How did you start putting these songs together, and how did you select the ones that ultimately made the cut?
You know, Tavis (Stanley, guitar/vocals) and I went to Nashville and through old friends we started writing a few songs. One of those songs is with a guy named Marti Frederiksen, who is just an amazing talent and writer. He introduced us to his protégé Mark Holman, and we just really hit it off, the three of us — it was — you know, all cut from the same cloth. So we started writing together in Nashville, and a couple of those songs on Nevermore came together really quickly. It was just a really great thing. So we continued the writing process together as we did some traveling. We jumped on Skype when we could, and did some three-way writes, and that was a lot of fun. Actually the song “Nevermore” from Nevermore we wrote remotely. So Mark was in Nashville, Tavis was in Vegas, and I was in the Gulf of Mexico [laughs]. So it was like, this futuristic kind of writing session on Facetime. It didn’t impede the writing process at all, in fact I think it made it better because we were able to put our three separate environments together into one kind of beautiful idea.
Nashville is the best place to learn the craft, but I feel like you have always been a poetic lyricist. Art of Dying from back to Vices and Virtues and your self-titled LP has always had a particular sound, and you’ve always had a way of saying something prolific in a very singable way. I am able to pull tiny little snippets of your songs that become mantras in my brain, like “Dragon fly, you’ve always been the one” (from “Everything” off the Rise Up LP). Are they coaching you or is this something that is just a Jonny thing?
[Laughs] It’s a bit of a Jonny thing. You know, I’ve always been down with words, since a very early age. I was inspired early on by, funny enough, authors like Edgar Allan Poe and it just kind of always was part of my being, creative writing. We borrowed the title of this record Nevermore from a very famous Edgar Allan Poe story. We’ve been synonymous with ravens and poetry and stuff for a long time, and I think it’s just really fitting that we would borrow Nevermore from Edgar.
Why did you chose “Cages” as your first release?
“Cages” is a really cool song. I love how spooky it is, and how the music — I just wanted people to hear that first, you know? It was kind of a selfish decision. I was just like, you know, I’m so proud of all the songs on the record, but that opening pulse on “Cages” I think really sets up — like the hairs on my arm go up right away, and I’m like, “Uh-oh, what’s gonna happen now? This is awesome.” So that’s kind of what I wanted DieHards and Art of Dying fans to hear first.
It definitely has a great build. If I were listening to it on the radio, I would know it was you. But interestingly enough, now that we’re talking about that pulse, I’d like to segway from that into talking about your new drummer. The last time you and I talked, Greg had just left. Now Art of Dying is minus Jeffy, and we have Cody. I would love to hear how this all came to be.
This time last year, just after ShipRocked, Jeffy let us know that he was moving on, and it definitely caught us by surprise, but you know, that happens when you’ve been in a band for eight years. Sometimes you decide you want to do something else. So, you know, we were sad to see him go, but happy for Cody because he has been part of our team for five years, and he’s such a great musician and friend of ours that it was just a natural fit to let him jump into the drum throne and have his shot. You know, that’s the way it goes, actually. A lot of younger musicians ask me “How do you start a band?” or “How can I get a band?” or “How can I get in a band?” or whatever. I get those on Facebook and Twitter all the time. That’s one of the great ways, you know, is becoming a tech, becoming a stage manager, you know, paying your dues in the wings, I guess as it were. That’s what Cody did. He’s so humble and loyal and cool, and just waited in the wings, and I guess that timing was perfect. So he jumped on board. We’ve only played three shows together, which is cool. Just after ShipRocked last year we did that fundraiser with Sebastian Bach out in Alberta, and then we just did a couple festival shows together, Grizfest in BC, and a festival down in Oregon. This tour is going to really bring us together in a live sense, you know, the four of us for the first time. It’s very exciting to come to these shows because it’s just going to be so exciting to have new music, a new relationship on stage. As an audience member, you’re kind of witnessing a whole bunch of fresh and new things, which I think is really exciting.
I’m assuming then that since he’s been with you for so long that it was a very seamless transition. You must kind of feel like you’re growing up your baby.
Yeah, you know, we just called him up and said, “You’re in.”
That is awesome. If I remember right, isn’t that where Cale (Gontier, bass/vocals) started, with his cousin? Their tech?
Yeah, this is going back a few years, but a band called Thornley in Canada, which was Ian Thornley, the singer for Big Wreck, you know, he had a lot of success in Canada, I think he needed a bass player, way, way back, and Adam Gontier, Cale’s cousin, phoned up Cale and said, “Hey, Ian needs bass player. Start learning the songs.” That’s just, you know hearsay, and I’m not sure exactly how it went down, but that’s pretty close to how Cale got the gig in Thornley, which led to — you know, Tavis was the guitar player in Thornley and that’s how they became great friends, and that’s how I met them and knew them, was through that band. Waiting in the wings and having your chops ready to go, it never hurts.
I want to talk about your chops, because whether you’re singing live or in recordings, or on the fly with some acoustic stuff you throw up on social media, your chops are pristine. What is your vocal routine? What makes up the care and feeding of Jonny Hetherington’s chops?
Thank you, that’s kind. You know, I think nothing can replace experience and talent. I’ve always had a voice since day one. I think my parents just gave me that voice, and I inherited it, so that’s kind of cool. Then just the experience of singing my whole life. It’s different singing on the road than it is on a recording. It’s different singing on a demo than it is on the stage. Once you’ve done those things, you know, the 10,000-hour rule or whatever, you just totally become more proficient at it. However, a couple of years ago I got a little cocky and thought I could do it all, and I tried to sing through a virus I had, and I lost my voice for a couple shows. And David Draiman from Disturbed introduced me to a vocal coach, Melissa Cross, she’s known as the Zen of Screaming girl, and she absolutely changed my life and my world when it came to warming up my voice for live shows, and a whole different way of approaching singing, more so from your skull rather than your vocal chords. And it really changed me so, like those three things together, a little God-given talent, and little experience, and a little special training really helps me.
There’s definitely God-given talent. I wouldn’t put that on the shelf. But I’m glad to hear that, because that voice needs to be preserved and that is how you do it.
Totally, and I learned a lot from Draiman too, you know. Like he — that first Disturbed tour we were on in ‘08, he was struggling vocally. I remember they had to cut a song because he was struggling, and that’s when he met Melissa Cross and started to turn things around. And look at David now, singing absolutely pristinely at the top of his career, you know? It’s just amazing.
You have a new label!
Yeah, we do, Vices and Virtues. Vices and Virtues is obviously our album that we put out with Warner Brothers, but it’s also the label that Cale and Tavis and I now own together. This new music is completely from us, you know, done — obviously performed by us but we’re actually putting it out through our own entity now as well, which is new to us.
And how is that going? I recently got to talk to Rick DeJesus about starting his own label, and we talked a little bit about the freedom of expression that you get when no is trying to make your music something more marketable, but allows you to be your true artist self. Are you finding now that freedom to be…?
We have had a different story. We have always had that freedom. It’s funny, because working with Warner Brothers, working with Eleven Seven, working with some of these amazing producers, Howard Benson, David Bendeth, Dan Donegan, not once along the way were we told to change our creative expression. You know, we just did it. I guess we just delivered what those producers were digging already. Those labels never held us back. They did help us sometimes, guide us with — like when we finished Vices and Virtues, there was a president change over at Warner Brothers, and he encouraged us to go finish the record in Chicago with Dan Donegan, and that led to a much better record. So things like that were cool. But we never were forced to change anything, so for us the creative journey just continues. I think for us it’s more of a business journey now. Labels don’t always market you the way you want, or as hard as you would want. We were a little frustrated that Eleven Seven didn’t release our Rise Up hard copies, they just did it digitally, and that was a little frustrating for us. Now we have control of that end of things where we’re putting out a hard copy of Nevermore right now. It’s actually available at artofdyingmusic.com right now. That’s the kind of thing that makes us just high-five each other, man, is being able to release music the way we want to, how we want to, through our own channels, to our fans. Like, you know as a fan you’re buying the CD from the band. It’s like a very pure relationship with purchasing music, so that’s pretty crazy.
And you guys have always been just so tight with your fans. I’ve chimed in on a few of Tavis’ recent Facebook Live sessions, and you have a great media presence and a great personal presence via social media with the DieHards and with your fans. Do you intend to keep doing that? Are you enjoying it?
Yes, absolutely, and actually more so. I think some of these social media sites are giving us great tools, like live streaming on Facebook and Periscoping. We’re going to set up a few cameras in our tour vehicle for this tour and just let people into our lives a little more. So expect a lot of interaction for the next few months while we’re on the road for sure. Wherever we have internet, you’re probably going to be able to be in the van with us or backstage with us. We might even live stream and Periscope some of our shows. It’s such a cool day and age to be able to have your fans be on the journey with you.
One of your DieHards, Sarah Jolin from Montreal Quebec, Canada asked me to ask you a question.
She wanted to know, “From all of the songs that you have written to present time, which one was the most difficult one you had to redo because of something you didn’t agree on or like?”
Which was the most difficult to write?
I think she’s asking, like, of all of the songs in your mind, the ones you’ve written, do you have a particular song that maybe you really had a lot of labor pains getting out there? That’s how I interpreted it anyway. Not to put words in your mouth, Sarah!
No worries, Sarah is awesome. She’s only of our total Canadian DieHards. We love her. That’s a really great question. You know, I write very prolifically, and so I — the easy answer is, there’s a lot of songs no one has ever heard because they were so difficult to write that I never got through it. I never finished them. As a writer you go through those songs that just refuse to come out. They refuse to perfect. And then you go back and listen two years later to your notes and stuff and you’re really happy it didn’t come out because you can see the struggle. Sometimes that struggle is good. Like, “Eat You Alive” off of Rise Up, that was a really, really difficult song for me to sing. In the studio I remember tracking the vocal a hundred times, you know, and Bendeth was really tough on me on that song, and it’s just not — for some reason that song — lyrically it’s about a guy in a prison cell, plotting his revenge. Imagine some dark Mexican hole in the ground prison cell, and just kind of scratching the days on the side of the wall, you know, counting the days until your escape. That’s kind of how I felt in that song. I felt like I was the real character in the real actual vision. I was trapped in this song that I was having a tough time singing and a tough time recording. That was a really difficult song for me. Another song off that album, “One Day at a Time,” that was particularly difficult for Tavis. He was fighting back tears the morning we were writing that. It was about a relationship that he was in, and it was one of those moments where you’re like, your best friend is sitting there crying about his pain, and we’re trying to write a song together about that. We have that in this band. Every time we sing “Get Through This” on stage, I know the guys are feeling for me and my dad, whom I lost last year to cancer. Every time we play songs like “One Day at a Time” I can look over at Tavis and remember that moment and that emotion. All the songs are difficult in one way or another.
Last time we talked, you described the recording process for Rise Up as being almost heart-wrenchingly painful. I think now, with this second writing process a little more sunshine than gloom this time?
This whole record feels like a resurrection, and it definitely feels like a rebirth. There’s a lot of lyrical ideas pointing to that, especially “Nevermore.” That song is such a release. If you’ve ever been in an abusive relationship, or if you’ve ever been in a place where you don’t want to be, and you finally decide to get out, and the clouds part and you say, “Now that I know/I can let go/leave this all behind/I’m taking control/on my own/I can finally feel alive/I don’t need you anymore.” It’s such a — the hairs are standing up on my arm just saying that out loud because it’s such a great release. This whole record of Nevermore is a very much a drawing a line in the sand and starting again, starting a new life on the other side.
I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I know it’s frustrating talking in an airport, and I so appreciate just having a sit down with you again. I’m looking forward to seeing you on ShipRocked, sharing thoughts and drinks and whatnot. Any final messages, any final words? Anything that I didn’t cover that we definitely want to get out there to your DieHards?
I think you got it, Robin. You know, it’s all about Nevermore for us right now, and this tour, so you know, as long as people know where to find us and how to find the music, I think we’re good. We’ve been using that app Bandsintown a lot on this tour. It’s so funny, every tour we do — we’ll be in Baltimore tomorrow. And then we’ll jump in the bus or whatever, and we’ll get online the next day and someone will comment, “Hey, when are you guys coming to Baltimore” [laughs]. We’ll always be pulling out our hair because we want every fan to be able to get to every show, obviously. So it’s so frustrating that we hear that somebody didn’t know we were in town. I think Bandsintown really solves that, so we’re encouraging all our fans to sign up on Bandsintown and track us. It’s really awesome, and as a music lover it’s really amazing, right?
Yes! Definitely do that! I appreciate Bandsintown! It keeps me on my toes. I do have one quick question for you. What do you guys listen to when you’re on the road?
You know, whoever is driving usually just controls the iPhone and we just listen to music, so you get a really good mix. Like, if I’m in the front seat, I’ll put on something super old to bug Cale because he really hates 80s bands. He hates it.
Def Leppard and Journey, and Guns N’ Roses. Like, Cale just doesn’t like that music, so we’ll always crank that and bug him.
That’s so funny!
He’ll put on Citizen Cope, and he’ll put on stuff that he and Adam listened to a lot together. Actually, you know, he’ll put on some old, old Groundswell demos from back before they were called Three Days Grace, and we’ll hear stuff that we haven’t heard for years, or all that — all those bands from Norwood. You know, Cale’s been so in those guys’ lives. Just lots of fun stuff. Tavis and I really get off on Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, kind of those 70’s records, so we’ll always put those on. Yeah, I’ve played a lot of stuff for the guys too that I’m writing, you know like I just always have my folder of songs that they haven’t heard yet [laughs].
My friend Allison refers to it as “The Vault” where you have a stockpile of ideas and lines that may not have worked in one song, but you’re saving because they’re so damn good.
Totally. Well, my phone is my vault. It’s just jammed with ideas. I was just writing all day yesterday. I got inspired. I was just in Edmonton where my mom lives. I just stopped in to say hi on my way to Baltimore. I grabbed my dad’s old guitar and started writing a song, and the next thing you know, like four hours had passed by. So I’ve got a new song to show the guys.
Do we — will we maybe see that song on an extended version of Nevermore?
You know, that’s something we did with Eleven Seven, release five songs from Rise Up early as an EP, and then finish the record with a full release later on. So I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad idea. It’s hard to say. Now that we’re at the helm of our releases, we might just release six songs every 12 months, or we might continue on with Nevermore and complete the album. I don’t know. The way we listen to music is changing so much, you know? Like listening to full albums, I still love doing that, but it’s becoming difficult to do that with Spotify. Spotify is kind of my go-to to listen to a lot of stuff. Then you end up just kind of filtering songs rather than going through entire albums. I don’t know. We’ll probably ask our fans. “What do you guys want? Do you want new music every 12 months, or do you want, you know, these six songs with another six wrapped up in a full-length album?”
I mean, I think any time you guys put out new music we’re going to be happy, so no worries there. I have to ask really quick. You mentioned that Cale hates 80’s music. I brought up Journey for a reason. In “Torn Down” I hear Tavis do this quick little guitar break and it just is so Journey-esque.
Was that a little dig on Cale, or no?
No, I think that’s just Tavis’ expression. He gets a lot of guitar influence from the 80s, from Zeppelin, I guess going back further than the 80s, but from Slash. I think that’s just Tavis. I don’t think there’s any method behind that.
Awe, but that would be so funny! Well, listen to it again, and maybe you can poke him in the ribs for us the next time you perform it.
I’ll do it.
Alright, Jonny, thank you so much for your time, once again. I’m definitely looking forward to chatting with you and seeing you on the road. We appreciate you guys. Have a great time on your tour and a safe flight.
Thanks, Robin. Always great talking to you, and see you on ShipRocked if I don’t see you before.
Sweet, okay! Talk to you soon.
Art of Dying kicks off their tour tomorrow, August 31st in Baltimore, MD. Tour dates can be found here, but please take Jonny’s advice and download Bandsintown on your phone to keep up to date on their whereabouts! As always, you can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as artofdyingmusic.com. You can pre-order Nevermore at iTunes for only $2.99 (limited time only!) or purchase directly from artofdyingmusic.com.