Monday, September 23, 2019

INTERVIEW: Patty Walters and Ben Biss of As It Is chat mental health, their new record and current North American tour

INTERVIEW: Patty Walters and Ben Biss of As It Is chat mental health, their new record and current North American tour

It’s been a minute since Brighton, UK’s As It Is has been on a headlining run and since our first interview with the band was on their first headlining run in the states, it was something we just couldn’t miss. Last summer was a whirlwind for the band as they played the full final summer of the Warped Tour and released their third record The Great Depression. The band has been incredibly open about the importance of mental health and there was some serious light shown on that importance in the new record.

Just hours before the band took the stage at an incredibly packed Middle East Club in Cambridge, I sat down with vocalist Patty Walters and rhythm guitarist Ben Biss to talk the tour, how the band is the most positive they’ve been since the band started and how The Great Depression came to be. I’ve sat down several times over the years with the guys and have seen an incredible progression in their music and performance as a band. Find our conversation below and keep your eyes peeled for what Walters and Biss said will be a wild year.

You guys were on VANS Warped Tour this past summer, and now you have this tour, which is your first US headline run in a few years. How have these shows been going so far? You have a great variety of sounds playing with you, you have Sharptooth, Point North and Hold Close. How did this tour come together?

Patty Walters: This is our second headline tour in North America. Biggest so far, we’re in a much better place as people and as a band. We’re so optimistic and positive about the future longevity of the band which feels really nice. You always give the performance and the interaction everything you have but you never know what the band is personally going through. This is just the most positive we’ve ever felt in this band. It feels really good to be celebrating the new record finally. On Warped Tour we were only playing two of twelve songs and on this one, we’re playing ten out of the twelve. It’s nice to be living in “The Great Depression” finally with all the North American fans who have been very patient.

So Warped Tour was just the two songs off the new record?

Patty: Yeah, ‘The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” and “The Wounded World.”

Well, that makes sense, you have so much less time on stage when you’re on Warped Tour. Thirty minute sets versus when you’re out headlining and you have that hour plus. Now, I know from looking at who produced the record (Gene “Machine” Freeman, who has worked with artists like Every Time I Die and Lamb of God), it does make sense for people who know to have bands like Sharptooth and Point North on tour with you. But how have these shows been with these bands out? How have the kids been feeling it?

Patty: Great! I mean I don’t want to say we were apprehensive but we were just curious about how Sharptooth were going to be received by fans of As It Is. But honestly, this tour is one big family on and off stage. The amount of support fans have shown for Point North, Hold Close and Sharptooth has just been really humbling and amazing to see.

Ben Langford-Biss: It’s nice to see people liking variety. I always liked mixed genre bills because sitting there through four incarnations of the same band, it’s far more interesting to me to have a variety of genres. But we all have this voice that we use and that’s what ties all the bands together because of the message. Because the other bands sound nothing like us but we share very similar sentiments and vision.

And it must be nice to be back out with a band (Sharptooth) that you spent the whole hot summer with.

Patty: They were some of my closest friends this summer and it’s been amazing hanging out in close proximity. Every day off we’ve spent it with Sharptooth and most of the other bands. Most days off everybody is there hanging out but Sharptooth we’ve spent every day off with. Whether its escape rooms or Disneyworld or bar crawls, it’s been really fun.

Then talking about “The Great Depression” – it’s been out for a little while now but you just put out the video for ‘The Fire, The Dark’. So on that song in particular, how did it come together?

Patty: That song, I co-wrote with someone called Larry Hibbitt who played guitar in a band called Hundred Reasons. With this record, we were very intentionally paying homage to post-hardcore and emo bands that inspire us. More specifically, UK post-hardcore bands. Being a band from the UK, it’s only been in the last five or so years that UK pop-punk has been on the international stage. There have always been incredible UK pop-punk bands that we grew up listening to that never got to tour internationally or get this recognition. Hundred Reasons were one of those bands for us. They were on Top of the Pops twice and festival main stage artists that never really branched out of the UK. And working with Larry was not only really humbling and surreal for us but it was also a very intentional and calculated move for the record. It was like this is who we’re channeling so writing that song with one of these artists can only be a good thing. So that was extremely fun and fulfilling for us.

Ben: The video definitely in that light channels the live band we feel we are now. We never had really done a video where we really put a spotlight on us as a live band and that was really nice to do. Ian filmed it.

Now each album for you, maybe it doesn’t seem too different to you, but it’s obviously been different. You’ve progressed and you’ve done something new. When it comes to each record, you said how happy you are and how this is the happiest you guys have been as As It Is, is it something where you go in with a theme. I know from looking at for example The Maine, they do something completely different too each album and it’s something that they intentionally do. For you guys as a band, do you go in with a theme in mind or is it something that just happens naturally?

Patty: I think despite how different every record has been, these three records really feel like a trilogy. A kind of growth and maturity within ourselves. I think our first album, we paid very close attention to some of our biggest influences. A lot of Drive-Thru Records era bands, The Starting Line, The Early November, Hidden in Plain View, New Found Glory. With “Okay”, I think that was a journey of experimentation where we were trying to find out who we were. So we embraced darker but also poppier elements. Like we’ve got pop songs like ‘Okay’ and darker ones like ‘No Way Out’. I think through out the “Okay” cycle, we found who we were as a band and “The Great Depression” was really channeling and really start feeling comfortable and confident in ourselves as songwriters and musicians and performers.

“The Great Depression” has easily been the most ambitious and conceptual from the get-go. It’s something that we’ve introduced kind of step by step and I think the increase in confidence is apparent. A lot of the time, we shied away from overly ambitious ideas because we didn’t want to seem like quote on quote sellouts or something.

Ben: Like pretentious. The connotations that come with stuff like that.

Patty: And for better or for worse, we’ve just really stopped giving a shit. We do what we do for us and we don’t pander towards people who do and don’t like this band. If anyone likes it when we’re done, that’s great but as long as we like it, we make ourselves proud, then that’s the only thing we care about in the process.

And I know recently Ronnie Ish was announced to join the band. It may be a tough subject but since this record came out, you did part ways an original band member (Andy Westhead) but you’ve probably been writing. I feel like you guys are constantly putting out music, constantly working on albums. How has the writing process been affected with a new member in the band? Who I know just from talking to him now, he’s spent a lot of time with you guys.

Patty: Ronnie has added so much already. So much heart, so much soul, passion, love. I’m so excited to fully embrace everything he has to offer creatively. He was in the studio 80% of the time when we recorded The Great Depression. There letting his thoughts and opinions be heard but I’m excited to see what his musicality is and his lyricism. Very interested to see. He’s a very thoughtful guy. He feels a lot, he feels in a loud way. I think he’s going to bring a lot to the creative process.

And kids are into it?

Patty: Kids love him.

Ben: He’s the friendliest person I’ve ever met in my entire life, like 100% of the time. He’s on all the time and I can’t be like that. I’m not that switched on the whole time and just in terms of networking as well and just talking to different people. He can talk to anyone.

Patty: Our bassist Ali made a joke because everyone loves him so much, he’s like Buzz Lightyear. He’s the new toy and we’re all Woody’s. We’re all feeling a little jealous, wishing we were getting played with, Ron’s getting all the love.

He’s the new cool thing, they’ve had their time with you.

Patty: Exactly!

Kind of going on the lines of having to turn that switch on, I work as a waitress as well as this and you always have to feel like you have to be so nice and so friendly all the time. It brings me to something important, mental health and talking about the importance of it.

Tonight Alive was supposed to play here last night, in the same room and they just announced a hiatus from international touring because of taking care of themselves. I’m sure there have been times you’ve dealt with that as well, of course you may not want to talk about it too much, but what is importance of that? Tour is hard, tour is strenuous, do you have any advice for people about handling mental while their on tour as a touring musician?

Patty: The biggest thing I’ve learned is that self-care and self-love aren’t inherently selfish. So when we started touring internationally, it was in 2015. We started touring in 2014 and in that year we did forty shows and in 2015 we did 175. It went from zero to a hundred really fast and learning how to cope by doing was very difficult. And in a big way we were living a dream that we had dreamt of our entire lives. And when that doesn’t cure every problem in your life, you have a crisis on your hands in a sense. And when I still struggled with my mental health, I felt ungrateful and unappreciative. Because I was in this very rare and fortunate position I was so thankful for that I loved but I was still struggling. I buried it and internalized it and it was just always weighing on me. So it’s something that I’ve learned to face head-on. A lot of the times, it involves me being reclusive in my bunk. Or I go to a café and I read with my headphones on and I escape tour for as little as 30 to 60 to 90 minutes but it makes a big difference. You just really have to look after yourself every single day. You have to sleep well, you have to eat well. I mean this is a job.

Very much so a job. Younger kids may not realize that.

Patty: I didn’t realize it!

Ben: There was a learning curve.

Patty: It’s unlike every other job. You wake up less than a foot away from the people that you work with all day then you go to bed again at the end of the day like that.

Ben: I think as kids you see touring in this band, that you get to write songs with friends and you get to play them on stage. And then the rest of the time is like a party. And that’s like fifteen year old me’s vision of what doing this is. Not the 23 hours of work that we all have to do aside from the set every day to make it all work. To make sure we’re where we need to be and everything. So it was a learning curve, we’re always still learning. Tour to tour, from headlining bands explaining how to tour better, etcetera.

Then maybe to end it off, obviously, you’re on the road really early this year. Unlike most bands, who it seems get going in the next month or two. So we’re still so early in 2019, considering the album is still so new, maybe focuses or goals for these next few months for As It Is? You probably can’t say too much about plans.

Patty: It is one of the busiest years we’ve ever had. That we know for certain I can say. We’re home for one, maybe two, sleeps in our own beds before we leave again on our UK headline tour and shortly there after leave to support Enter Shikari around Europe. We’re doing a lot of exciting things over the summer. We’re conceptualizing the next record. We’re releasing extensions of The Great Depression no matter what that looks like, that will happen this year. And it’s going to be the busiest year we’ve ever had and I’m glad we feel so great about that.

Like you said it’s the most positive you guys have ever felt about the band which is incredible because obviously it’s been a journey. You’ve been doing it for a while now.

Patty: Six, maybe seven years for the band. 2012.

Ben: I’ve realized every band member of this band has been saying that we’ve been a band five years for the past three years so we need to update our answer. So yeah, like seven years.


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