While on their winter 2012 tour, Hope For The Dying front man Josh Ditto took some time out to talk to Jesusfreakhideout.com's Zac Zinn about their album Dissimulation, their writing techniques, and what lies ahead for the metal band...
This interview took place on: 1/27/12.
Jesus freak Hideout (Zac Zinn): So, the first night of the Beast in the East Tour, how are you guys feeling?
Josh Ditto: Pretty good. We've been rehearsing quite a bit because this is the first time we played Dissimulation the full way through. So tonight will be our debut of playing our new album. We're just a little nervous about it just because there's a lot that went into it. But we're pretty stoked about it. I know Michael Hinath, the drummer of Ark Of The Covenant, worked really hard booking it. I'm hoping that it will be fun time.
JFH (Zac): It's been a little while since you last toured, what brought this one together?
Josh: Well, we toured in October with a band called Righteous Undead, and we were actually out here on the East coast then as well.
JFH (Zac): Oh, really?
Josh: Yeah, we played in New Jersey twice and New Hampshire. I don't think we stopped in Pennsylvania that time. Yeah, that tour was from September 30th to October 20th or something like that.
JFH (Zac): You released an album in 2008 right? I've only heard a few songs from that EP. That was released for Strikefirst Records wasn't it?
Josh: Yeah, we had originally recorded that in a small studio on a really tight budget. It was the first seven songs that we wrote as a band. So that was really what we made from the beginnings of the band to the time that it was released. We actually finished writing some of them as we were recording them, so it was kinda rushed. We perceived it as just representing our style. We dropped off a copy for Jason Dunn for Facedown Records at Cornerstone that year, and he called me and told me that he was thinking about re-launching Strikefirst and he'd like us to be on it. And he's played a huge role just by doing that and helping develop the band and having a support system behind us. But yeah, we did release it once independently with the help of some friends locally and then Jason picked us up and re-released it, but with different artwork.
JFH (Zac): When did you guys get started?
Josh: It'd have to be late 2006, which was when our first show was. We were much different then. We had one guitar, and yeah, that was only one show. We really started to progress and mature as a band several months later when we had more songs to work with.
JFH (Zac): So when you guys started off, did you have it in mind that you'd be implementing all of the orchestra pieces?
Josh: I can't really say that we did when we started as a band, because we were still developing who we were for the longest time, and that's something that's constantly changing. Our influences always broadening and our musical abilities advance. So the orchestra stuff really came into play pretty late in the game with tracking Dissimulation. We were about a month away from going into the studio when we decided to add the orchestra element to it.
JFH (Zac): Wow, that came together quickly then. With the latest album, it's easy to hear that you pull your musical influences from a very wide range of music. Who would you say you pull from the most, musically and lyrically?
Josh: Jack would be happy to answer that one. *Motions Jack over* He's asking about musical influences.
Jack Daniels: Oh okay, yeah, a lot of symphonic metal, some black metal. And as far as with the orchestra and musically, I listen to a lot of Opeth and Dream Theater; we all listen to Opeth, and then some tech metal here and there.
JFH (Zac): Okay cool, never listened to Opeth. So, as far as lyrics go, they cover a wide range of topics, either relating to possibly different stories in the Bible or on a faith level that's personal to the lyricist. I don't want to ask you where you pull your inspirations from, because it's something you get asked every day. But, what do you observe in the world around you, the people, friends, family, that gives you the ideas and the mind to write what you write?
Josh: Really, I guess it's more along the lines of things that stand out to me, more than every day observations. You have songs like "The Awakening" trilogy on the album that, that was just me trying to relate to people on a personal level when they they're at the beginning of their journey at point A, where they don't know that there is a forgiving God, they're just not good enough. Point C, the third song, it all makes sense that there is someone who loves and forgives them for whatever they've done and wherever they've been. That was a set of songs I'd wanted to write for a long time, and with Dissimulation, those songs had already been written to transition together musically, so it was the perfect opportunity. So a lot of times, I gauge the opportunities I have with the type of song it is. So for example, if we have a song that sounds a certain way, I might recall lyrics I've already written or notes I've taken from passages in the Bible, that might fit the style and mood. I just really have to be feeling it, you know?
JFH (Zac): Yeah, it makes sense. Because, I was even thinking earlier that the lyrics are pretty much a story and the music behind it is the soundtrack.
The lyrics for me are matched up to the song in my head, so I'll think, "this is what I want to fit with that." I don't know if that makes sense or not.
Josh: That's kinda how it works when I'm writing them. When we're going back and forth with writing, when we have the music in advance, I'll start writing some lyrics and think, "well this part is too long, it doesn't work with the lyrics." So if something repeats a lot, we cut it back shorter and if they're too short, we'll extend it. I'm not the kind of guy who will throw extra words into a song just to fit the music because I like everything I write to make sense. So if something comes up, I don't like to senselessly repeat something twice, but just write a little differently--unless it has a meaning or purpose to do so.
JFH (Zac): That actually kinda surprises me, because as complex as the musical parts are, and as complex as the lyrics are, the songs always struck me as the lyrics are written first, and then the song is built around it.
As you said, some of the songs were written as life experiences and Biblical stories, and some of them are written from my world and political views as well -- two in particular, "Imminent War" and "Vile Reflections." Those songs were written early on, about a year before the release and I was really going through a time when I was just disgusted the state we were in, and that's what drew the inspiration for those two. The rest were really about trying to reaching out to people.
Josh: No, the song is always written first. I always maintain ideas I have for lyrics, and I never piece a song together lyrically before hearing the entire song.
JFH (Zac): As a lyricist who writes from a very honest point of view and says what you feel, usually there's a hope or a goal you want the audience to hear or realize? Maybe a truth they never thought about before?
Josh: I can't honestly say that I maintain a solid goal because it changes with the times and what we're doing. My goal with Dissimulation was to follow the definition of the word, not all that glitters is gold and to seek truth in God's word and not take the word that everyone is telling you. So with Dissimulation, I hope we encourage people to seek their own truths because there are a lot of people out there who are misrepresenting Christians in general, and that really got to me. That's the reason we titled the album Dissimulation. But as far as touring, day to day and show to show, I think the idea is to let people know that there is hope for the people who are dying spiritually in this world. And we want our audiences to know that you don't have to be preached to if you want to listen to Christian music. You don't have to be judged if you want to go see a Christian band and you can have a good time and if you're not into it then, hopefully we can place something on your heart spiritually and God will work through our music that night. Day to day, that's the best we can do. We're not a preaching band; I'm not a preacher, I'm a vocalist. I'm there to entertain and my lyrics are made to plant the seed.
JFH (Zac): We were talking about the "Awakening" songs earlier. Can you tell me anything about the second one?
Josh: Yeah, "The Awakening:Dissimulation" is pretty much about seeing past the muck and mire and realizing that there's a loving God, so that's why the lyrics read, "How can this be, that out of the darkness a light has been cast upon me?" Because in the first one, you're looking at a guy who's ashamed for the life he's lived, of the things he's done, what he's done in private and in public. And at the end of it, "I felt the hand of mercy reaching down for me and pull me from the trenches and the stormy sea." That's the realization in the song that there is a God who loves me and will take me for exactly who I am.
JFH (Zac): That's really cool. It's good to hear a Christian metal band who stays to their roots spiritually. I was interested in the artwork; is it referring to worldly or political?
Josh: No, that artwork is a visual representation of the word 'dissimulation.' We had the idea for a cover before we came up with the duel girl character. She perfectly represents 'dissimulation' because on the top, you have a seemingly good looking girl with so much emphasis put on beauty these days. It's like I said earlier, not all that glitters is gold.
Not all preachers are telling you things that are the truth. We just wanted to create the opposite of a beautiful girl. We weren't really trying to go for a shock factor. We gave the idea to the guy who designed it, and he gave us exactly what we wanted. So it really represents all that is seemingly beautiful or not everything that claims to be a part of Christianity is from God.
JFH (Zac): That's definitely better than another metal band trying to make a gory cover to try and show how hardcore they are. How's the reception been for the cover?
Josh: We've had a lot of people say they love the cover. On top of having a cover with a meaning, we've been told it catches the eye immediately. We haven't really had any negative feedback on it. I know there's a lot of people who will post youtube videos of songs. And with the first single we released- 'Transcend' someone put a video up with the picture of our album cover. I kept it with the comments for a while and there was a little bit of controversy about what the album was about, like if it was about the war of Babylon or something like that.
JFH (Zac): I was curious about that because I had heard of different bands with covers and lyrically, they speak very honestly from a true Christian perspective and they end up getting, to some degree, shunned by a portion of what we call the Christian music industry.
Josh: I'm sure there will always be people who are conservative and strict who will never change from their ways, but those aren't the people who are going to play a show at The Boondocks in York Haven. Those are the people who are sitting in the front row in their Baptist church every Sunday. And that's no offense to them, they just don't understand that there are different ways to minister to people. The people who listen to metal aren't the people who are getting ministered to by a church and choir every Sunday.
JFH (Zac): Yeah, I completely agree with you. I like what you said about how they're wrong in what they say, but you didn't take a violent or critical stance. Just as you put, they simply don't understand. So even though Dissimulation hasn't been out for too long, do you guys have any plans to write a new album, or maybe an idea or theme for the next one?
Josh: I couldn't really say a theme, but there are definitely a few songs in the works right now. We were just talking about it the other day, and we're all really stoked about entering the writing process again. One problem is, I don't know if you've seen any reviews online for the album, but some of it is saying "How are we going to make another Dissimulation?" Or make something as good as Dissimulation, and the way we're already going is to not try and make another Dissimulation. We're doing the same thing as before; we're gonna write the music we want to write and write the lyrics we want to write. We don't have any specific goal or genre of music we want to be.
JFH (Zac): That's a good approach, because there's a lot of albums that can be good or a few that are exceptionally good, but when you look at Dissimulation as a whole, it looks like a complete masterpiece from the guitar shredding to double bass and drum fills, to unique and honest lyrics and a vocalist who knows how to scream, and not sound like everything else. You know, I can just see you guys finishing all the recording [for Dissimulation] and when it's all said and done and you're holding the CD in front of you; that had to be an incredible sense of accomplishment.
Josh: Yeah man thanks; we were happy with it. I can't lie to you and say that we weren't. When we listened to it on the way home after it was mastered, I mean, we self-tracked this. We were recording in bedrooms. I was recording vocals in my house. And we were just driving away and it's amazing how it all came together perfectly. Like I said earlier, the orchestra came in just a month before we recorded and it ended up being a very noticeable element to the album. Our hope to create a gapless album with every song flowing into each other worked perfectly. I can't say we could have done this album any better. We were more than happy with the final product.
JFH (Zac): Sweet, that's awesome. I was just looking up the history of the band earlier this week and I noticed that there were many member changes.
Josh: Yeah *laughs*, a number of them and one currently happening too. We're looking for a new drummer. Brendon is staying with us until we find somebody. He's going a different way; he wants to do some studio stuff and other places in the music world. And there are other reasons too, like touring isn't for everyone. One of our earlier members didn't like to tour so that hindered us at one point. Or it's hard to keep a job and be in a band. What happens when you have a full-time job and all of a sudden, next month your leaving for three months. At one time, we had a few people transfer from other states to live with us, but some of them, we couldn't trust them and they did us pretty wrong. There's actually a song on the album about that whole situation, but you never know what's gonna happen. We've had members leave for other life choices or just couldn't play the parts. Our songs, musically, are not for the faint of heart and it's difficult to play. You're not going to learn the songs over night. It's just hard to find someone who is devoted to the type of music and believes in the lyrics being screamed at every show.
JFH (Zac): Yeah that's hard, especially when you find someone who everyone likes and can play their parts well, and then they leave. That has to lead to maybe a question of why you're still doing it, or how you're going to get through it. Are there any passages or stories in the Bible that you turn to for guidance, or encouragement?
We always have people asking for auditions, but we never get anything back once I send them an audition track. And if you join this band, you're not on the top 40, you're not making a paycheck, we've had people expecting sold out arenas and the glamor life.
Josh: Well, we mostly stick with the New Testament, because it's easier to understand and apply to our lives. With the Old Testament, we could just take one line and argue about what it means for hours. I like to read Romans; Romans 12:2 is my favorite verse: "Do not conform to the ways of this world." It's always a good reminder that we may stand out or not fit in, but we know it's what God has called us to do right now.
JFH (Zac): I understand that, it's good to have an identity of why you do what you do, especially in a band. Is there anything else you want to say?
Josh: Yeah, we're pumped for this tour and hopefully we'll see some new faces!
Hope For The Dying's new album Dissimulation is available now on Facedown Records!