After a miserable experience recording their latest record – including three producers and a near breakup – followed by a tour fraught with van breakdowns and health problems, As Tall As Lions are finally on the right path.
The album You Can’t Take it With You turned out better than imagined and the tour with MuteMath still had some great moments.
While the thought of recording their next record still causes guitarist Saen Fitzgerald to shiver, he took the time to answer a few questions about the new record, finding their groove and seeing Kiss up close.
How was the tour with MuteMath?
The tour was a roller coaster of bad luck and great experiences. Our trailer broke down just shy of a million times, and Dan (Nigro), our lead singer, had to miss a good amount of shows due to doctor prescribed vocal rest. On top of that it was the longest stretch of tour we have ever done. There was no break in between MuteMath and the previous tour with Rx Bandits/Dredg. No matter how much you love your band mates, it's hard not to squabble when every moment of the day is spent with them. We definitely learned a lot. It wasn't all-bad though. I'd say our biggest and best shows were on that tour. Even the shows without Dan gave the boys and I the opportunity to be creative with our instrumental and improvisational sets. Not to mention MuteMath were some of the most talented, genuine guys I have had the pleasure to tour with.
You guys also played Voodoo Fest this year. How was that?
It was a trip. Just being in New Orleans on Halloween is enough reason for excitement. The only downside was playing in the morning after an overnight drive. We arrived at the show and immediately loaded onto the stage and played. I thought we were a mess, but looking out into the crowd made me realize the previous Friday night had made everyone that way. I did get to see KISS up close. I'm not a fan but everyone told me to check them out for their kitsch value. It was very funny. I heard they had four fire marshals onstage due to all the pyrotechnics. I spent the rest of the night on Bourbon St. and caught The Flaming Lips the next day. All in all it was a great time and I hope we get invited back next year.
What can you tell me about making You Can't Take it With You?
It was the hardest thing we ever had to do. Even the writing process became grueling. We tried to go about the whole thing in a different way, and like most things in life when you do that you make mistakes and learn along the way. It was just test after test and black cloud after black cloud. We caught the whole thing on camera and released it as a DVD to coincide with the record. We thought that fans would get more out of the album if they knew the story behind it.
You had a number of producers lined up to make this record. Why do you think it was harder to write/record this one?
Well we knew we wanted to make a different kind of record. We had done our previous EP and LP with our good friend and producer Mike Watts. We thought to achieve this new sound we would need to find someone different to push us out of our comfort zone. This led to an endless search for the "perfect" producer that lasted almost a year. We finally found a guy out in California, so we rented studio time and a house for us all to live in. We fell into negotiation issues that soured our relationship with said producer and he pulled out of the project a week before we were scheduled to record. We scattered to find another guy in California, and after a quick but thorough search we found who we thought was the best candidate. He had worked on some of our favorite records and had a unique style that excited us. After two weeks of tracking we were unsatisfied with the sonic quality of what he was achieving and unfortunately had to part ways. We were left in California with half the time and half the original budget to work with.
Who ended up producing the record?
A lovely man named Noah Shain. He saved the record, and in my mind, is the one responsible for its existence. He hustled and busted his ass; working all through the night to make sure everything got done. His attitude and work ethic was inspiring. After losing two producers in a row, we had a bad taste in our mouths. There was a very good chance that if we had gone with someone other than Noah, we wouldn't have gone through with making the album.
I read somewhere that the band almost broke up a few time working on this album. What do you think kept you from ultimately splitting up?
(Laughs) I have no idea. Maybe it was just the concept of the greater good. We had faith that what we were trying to accomplish was good, and that these problems were just temporary setbacks. Though, when the problems kept happening and happening, it really got to us. In order to stay together, there had to be a sense of camaraderie between us. We were soldiers in the mud, and we were just trying to keep our band alive. Looking back on it now I'm very proud of us. We went through a lot of shit and I'm surprised we came out of it, all limbs intact.
Is there a theme to the songs on this record?
There is a loose one, but I wouldn't consider it a concept record. We came up with the album title before writing most of the songs. Everything was underneath the general "you can't take it with you" umbrella. We thought that songs about making money, love and loss, and a lot the "human condition" lyrical content all fit together.
Despite all that you went through, are you pleased with how the album came out?
Very much so. I look at it as our selfish album. A lot of people were trying to freak us out by saying things like, "Your self-titled album was great and a lot of people loved it. You have to make sure whatever you do next is that much more successful or you're screwed." I don't subscribe to that line of thought. We have always made music for ourselves and are astounded when other people like it. I think we were much more conscious about trying to make a "successful" record during the self-titled sessions. We had conversations about trying to write these three-minute pop songs that were disguised in reverb and crazy drum patterns. I think we were trying to make up for dropping the ball on our first LP. I don't remember talking about anything when we made You Can't Take It With You. We did a lot of individual song writing this time around. Looking back, I feel like we were trying to impress each other and write songs we thought the other guys would be turned on by. That's probably why it's all over the place.
Do you have any dread thinking about the next record?
Yeah, in a lot of ways I do. It took us nine months to write and record the self-titled LP. After that we told each other we couldn't bear taking that long again. When it took us about a year to do this one, we were all very frustrated. I tried to convince the guys to record You Can't Take It With You by ourselves, but they thought a producer was needed. I think we are all on the level now. I guess we'll wait and see. I wouldn't be surprised if we wrote and recorded a self produced double album in a week or if we spent the next two years working on a follow up EP. If history teaches us anything, then it will probably be the latter.
What's next for the band?
We are releasing a 7" in the UK that we are all very excited about. It’s just a single for “Circles” with a few songs from You Can’t Take It With You, a song from As Tall As Lions, and a new B-side called “I Could Die Here.” We go over there in early December to support it, opening up for Frightened Rabbit in Scotland and Athlete in England. After that we are planning to head to Costa Rica in January to film a live DVD of us playing acoustic versions of our songs in various locations throughout the country. We will probably take February off and start a U.S. headline in either March or April.