Following the release of their sophomore album, Dissimulation, on Facedown Records, Jesusfreakhideout.com's Michael Weaver caught up with Hope For The Dying's Josh Ditto to discuss the new album and the metal scene...
This interview took place on: 4/29/11.
JFH (Michael Weaver): I wanted to talk to you about the band and the new album. First, a little background for our readers. How did Hope For the Dying come to be; how did you guys get to together?
Well, actually myself and our one guitarist, James Houseman, have been playing music together since we were 16; I'm 26 now, so about 10 years I guess. We played music together for a long time. We had a band coming out of high school and partially into college and we decided we wanted to go a new direction musically and ministry wise. So that's when we started Hope For the Dying; late 2006 or so. Later on we picked up Jack Daniels on guitar, like a few months down the road after we started the band and then our original drummer and bass player that we had at the time, and that was the start of Hope For the Dying.
JFH (Michael): I think it turned out pretty good, man.
Along the way we've had a few member changes, obviously; we've made that pretty public over the years. The core songwriters have always been Jack Daniels, James Houseman, and recently we've added Brendan Hengle in on drums, who also played all of the bass on the new album. I guess he was pretty quintessential to the writing process and the finished product we had with Dissimulation.
Josh: Yeah. We're happy with it, so I appreciate that.
JFH (Michael): You guys have set yourselves apart with the sound of this album. What was the thought process in blending older and newer metal sounds together with the orchestral sound and all of the technical guitar work?
Josh: Well, it wasn't a thought process as far as trying to achieve a certain sound goes, honestly. We all come from different backgrounds, well - musically, and we all have a pretty broad influence range, I guess, from different artists that we were brought up with or listened to over the years. So the end product of Dissimulation really is just all of those different influences combined. When we wrote the album, we didn't really write it to try to match any specific genre, or any specific style; we just wrote it to be… Hope For the Dying music, I guess. If that makes sense? We kinda know what sound we like. We kinda know what kinda songs and what styles we like. So we really just wrote the songs to be where we thought they were acceptable rather than trying to mash them into a certain genre, or try to make them, you know, more radio friendly, or more tempo, or sing-a-long friendly for people. We just tried to write an album that we were happy with musically. If that makes sense?
JFH (Michael): Yeah, that's probably why it turned out so well. Most people, it seems like listening to stuff today, try to do what's going to sound popular; what's going to sound good and get them some exposure. When somebody just plays what's from the heart, it just seems like it's always what's best.
Josh: We actually tracked this entire album ourselves. So all guitars, bass, vocals, everything we all tracked at our homes and we took it in to get mixed by Brian Hood; he did the mixing and mastering. But, about just under 2 months before we were due to go in and have it mixed and mastered, we decided, "This thing needs to have symphonic elements to it." *laughs* And that's when the orchestra came into play. I mean, there were plans all along to have basic strings and keyboard parts here and there, but as far as the entire orchestral arrangement of the album really just came into play about just under 2 months before we went in to get it mixed and mastered and finalized. James Houseman, our guitarist, did all of the arrangements for that with the exception of "Transcend;" I think Jack did that one.
JFH (Michael): It turned out great, man. I love it. I don't know if it was your idea going into the recording process, but what was it that lead you into the making the album flow the way it does? It's non-stop from track to track and perfectly blends into the next one.
Josh: Well, that all kinda came about with the orchestra stuff. We had always said we wanted a gapless album, but we couldn't come up with a good idea for what was going to be in between the songs. We kept saying, "I guess we'll just have to come up with some little riffs or some little piano parts or something like that," but we didn't just want to throw something together. So, when we came up with the orchestra, James sat down with the songs we had and he figured out that all of the songs, when put in a certain order, could be properly transitioned from one key to the next without them sounding too out of place. So he actually completely arranged all of the songs for the album and then also wrote all of the parts that tie it all together... Once we finalized that orchestra.
JFH (Michael): That dude is pretty talented, huh?
Josh: Yeah. He's very knowledgeable in music and music theory and that really helped bring this album, you know, to what it is today.
JFH (Michael): Cool. Dissimulation itself has to do with concealing the truth, which is pretty evident on the album cover, but how else does it relate to the overall theme of the album?
Josh: Lyrically, there's a lot of songs that go back to that overall theme. Some of the lyrics deal with deceitfulness the individuals of this band have experienced with other band members. You know, problems with deceit and deception, or problems with deception or problems with betrayal in the past. There is a song on the album called "Perpetual Ruin" that deals with our own personal experience with an individual and it's just to say that, "You know what, Christians can get hurt too, you know? Christians can be betrayed in the same way that anyone else can. The difference is at the end that we have to strive for that forgiveness that Jesus teaches us and try to maintain a certain level of… I guess the word I'm looking for here is a certain level of respect for the love we've been given in order to continue to give love to those even when they have hurt or betrayed us as well. That's just one song; that's what "Perpetual Ruin" is about. There's other songs like "The Awakening," "The Awakening: Dissimulation," and "The Awakening: The Veil is Lifted;" those three songs tied together are just one person's account of overcoming the deception of the world. Looking past false teachings and looking past what you see on TV and what you see on the internet and finding the true meaning: which is a relationship with Jesus Christ. Which is what ends up happening in the end of "The Awakening: The Veil Lifted." So really, all of the album kinda ties back into that concept. There are a few songs that are a little bit outside of the scope, like "Imminent War" and "Vile Reflections" are more Revelation-style songs, but the rest of the album really is all basically tied around that central concept. So whenever I sat down and looked at all the lyrics and knew what I had been thinking while writing them, that's when I tied it together and came up with the title, Dissimulation, for the album. If that answers your question ok?
JFH (Michael): Absolutely, man. More about the album... What would you say is your favorite track; what's your favorite song?
Josh: Um. I keep bouncing back and forth on this, but I think my favorite track is probably "Transcend." That's the first track we actually released when we got out of the studio. Second to that would probably be "Vacillation," which is track two on the album; it's actually the first song after the intro.
JFH (Michael): "Vacillation" is pretty good. I like the fast, fast guitar picking. Kinda swinging back to something that you've already talked about a little bit, but one of my favorite lines in the whole album is in "Perpetual Ruin" where you start off with, "Verily, verily I say unto thee." Jesus repeats that line throughout the gospels; what was going through your head with that particular line.
Josh: Yes. Well... *laughs* it's always good. I feel like just from a writing stand point - to have a strong opening line in a song and you don't really hear, "Verily, verily" too much in metal music. *Michael laughs* I was thinking, "How can I strictly get my point across that is to you", you know what I mean? That I've dealt with this situation because of the love that was shown to me. So I was looking through the Bible trying to figure out, "How can I pull this together and what kind of information can I use in this song?" I just ended up stopping on that line, "Verily, verily I say unto thee;" it wasn't really related to the verses I used when I was writing the song, but it just popped out at me and those were my first words in the lyrics, so…
JFH (Michael): That's cool, man. Your faith is obviously important to you, and it's evident in your lyrics, but when and how did you come to a relationship with Christ?
Josh: When and how? Right in my late high school years. Growing up I was kinda in and out of church with my family a little bit and then at one point they kinda stopped going to church after a few bad experiences with different ones. And so when I was old enough, I started walking myself to the closest church, which was a Lutheran church. I wasn't really into the service too much, but I still went because it was the only one I could go to, but I never really… I was learning, I was experiencing, I was being an active member of the church, but I never was really experiencing the relationship that I wanted. Probably when I turned 18, a little bit after my dad actually passed away… right around that time I started dating a new girl, the woman I'm married to now actually, and we started going to a different church together. We went to this revival and they had a special preacher come in, a speaker by the name of Brady Weldon, and he gave a very convincing sermon. That night I began to understand that I knew a lot of stuff about being a Christian, but I didn't have a very good personal relationship with Jesus and that was the night that I changed all of that.
JFH (Michael): Awesome, man. Building on that a little bit, is there anything in your life right now that God has been teaching you lately?
Josh: Really, it's just been patience, man, patience with everything. I know a lot of other musicians will probably tell you it's not the easiest thing to be on the road, especially the stage that this band is in now. We're not going on a lot of tours so everyone is trying to juggle music and still trying to keep a job to pay bills and stuff like that. So, it's all about being able to wait and see what God has planned for you and sometimes that's very difficult. It looks so easy to just jump the gun and switch gears and do something else and if we didn't have patience, Hope For the Dying would have never made it this album. We released our EP in 2008 and that's a long time ago. *laughs* So that's been the biggest thing on my heart lately; just being able to kinda wait and to see what doors are going to open and to see what was planned for us.
JFH (Michael): Good deal, man. I'll be praying for you with that then.
Josh: I appreciate that.
JFH (Michael): Going away from the band a little bit… What are you thoughts on the current Christian music and metal scene right now?
Josh: My thoughts… There's a lot of good stuff going on in the metal scene right now. I'm anxious to see a little bit of change in the trends at least because there are a lot of bands coming out, at least in the last 2 years, in the metal scene in general that sound the same - whether it be in the hardcore or metalcore genre. There's a lot of similarity so it's nice to see some new bands that are kinda branching off and doing new stuff; exploring different areas of the guitar and breaking away from the traditional breakdown-central music that has been popular in the last 2 years and some more creativity and stuff like that. I'm just anxious to see a little bit of diversity and change in the scene in general. That's just musically. As far as the Christian metal scene goes, I'm impressed. There are a lot of guys coming together playing metal music that are doing it for Jesus and it seems like there's more and more coming out everyday that are willing to do that. It's impressive what these bands are doing. When you look at a band like For Today, they're playing sold out venues every night on their tours right now and it's incredible that these people are coming. Whether they know about Jesus or not, they leave there and they know who He is at least.
JFH (Michael): Yeah, no doubt.
Josh: So, that's all I can say. I can't say anything bad about the Christian metal scene because anybody that is making any sort of music for Jesus is doing alright in my book.
JFH (Michael): I'm with you on that. That's why I got so excited about your album when I started getting into it… It was different. It's not what I've been hearing over and over and over again. So, I'm glad you're contributing to that part of it.
Josh: *laughs* Well, I appreciate that, man. We're trying.
JFH (Michael): Is there any kind of advice you would give to an aspiring band coming up trying to make their way?
Josh: If I had to talk to a band right now and they wanted to know, "What do we to do to get from Point A to Point B?" I'd say maybe 5 or 6 points of advice. One: try to establish a sound that you're all happy with, not necessarily that you think will sell or not necessarily that you think is popular at the time because trends change. Sometimes they change in a few years and sometimes they change in a few months. If you spend all of your time working towards a certain sound, odds are that by the time you get there, everyone else will already be moved on. *laughs* So the idea is to just write music that's inspiring to you, that you're happy with, that you enjoy playing because you're going to write better songs that way and you're going to have more fun playing them when you go out. Point two: once you have some songs written, get a decent recording of them. In this day and age there's tons of guys with studios in their basement and their bedroom with Pro Tools or Logic Pro that can make awesome sounding stuff on a super tight budget. So, really it doesn't necessarily set you apart, but it will at least put you in the mix when you have something that the quality is good on. In this day and age if people hear poor quality it's really a quick turn off for a recording, I think. Other than that, I'd say work hard and expect nothing for a long time. Go and play as many shows as you can in your local area even if you're playing for free, especially if you're playing for free because if nothing else you're getting that exposure. The local promoters, distant promoters, they're not really interested in paying bands they've never heard of, or that no one's ever heard of before. So, for the first year of your band, it's likely you're going to have to take a hit and go play a bunch of shows and just get your name out there. Write songs, get a decent recording, play as many shows as you can… That's the best I can say. After that, just make sure you're having a good time the whole way because if you're not, if you don't have a good time, if you don't feel like you have purpose, then it's going to fall apart and you're not going to enjoy it for sure.
JFH (Michael): Alright, man. Sounds like good advice. Do you guys have tour plans beyond the summer festival circuit that you are going to be on?
Josh: Not at the moment. We do have some ideas and some stuff we're shooting for. We're talking back and forth with Jason at the label right now trying to figure out what exactly we want to do and what we can make happen. But as of right now, we're pretty busy this summer just with the festival circuit. We're playing Cornerstone, Lifefest, and Ichthus. We're playing Agape this weekend and then we've got a couple smaller festivals -- Pierced Festival in Minnesota and then a new festival that's like an old school/new school type festival in Florida coming up. We're pretty busy with that all the way through July and then our idea is to try to hit the road pretty hard the rest of the year [until] after Christmas or so. Then just continue doing as much as we can. We'd love to get into some decent tours with some similar bands that are doing more metal… more metal and progressive metal style and that sort of thing. All we can do is hope, take what we can get and hit the ground running.
JFH (Michael): I'm hoping to see you guys over in the central Florida area.
Josh: Yeah, we're coming down there a few times this year so hopefully we can catch up then.
JFH (Michael): That sounds good. The last thing I'll ask is if you have any last comments for the readers?
Josh: Not anything in particular, except for that I appreciate everyone who has supported the band for the last three years, who picked up the EP and who has now picked up our sophomore release. We couldn't do it without the encouragement of people that are everyday on our Facebook or Myspace letting us know that they enjoy the music, or that they're anticipating new stuff and that they're ready for us to come and play in their area. Other than that, God bless, I appreciate your time, and thanks to everyone who reads this.
Hope For The Dying's new album Dissimulation is available now!