EVERY TIME I DIE’S ANDY WILLIAMS: “WITH NEW JUNK AESTHETIC, I’M FINALLY HAPPY.”
As one of the chief riff providers for swaggercore titans Every Time I Die, Andy Williams takes pride in making the discordant into catchy. For a perfect example of this, look no further than the band’s latest (MetalSucks-approved) album, New Junk Aesthetic. Distilling the band’s decade-plus essence into a tight half hour, it’s a satisfying mix of thunderous heaviness and easily the most appealing material the band have put to tape. But while he’s often overshadowed by vocalist Keith Buckley’s relentless wiseassery, it’s his and Jordan Buckley’s Skynard-by-way-of-Dillinger-Escape-Plan guitar work that make the band stand out and ultimately worthwhile.
A self-described “chatty Cathy,” Andy Williams was remarkably frank and refreshingly earnest in a recent interview with MetalSucks on the eve of the release of New Junk Aesthetic. Among other things, he discussed why he can listen to the new album and none of the band’s other material, his thoughts on the new Converge record, the changing landscape of the scene he came up in, and life over at ETID’s new label, Epitaph.
About the new album, how do you feel about it?
Dude, every band says this, and I’m going to be that clichéd and say it too: it’s the best record we’ve ever written. I hate listening to our music. I fucking hate it. I can’t listen to Hot Damn! I can’t listen to Gutter Phenomenon. I can’t listen to The Big Dirty. This record I’ve been listening to because I like the music on it. It’s retarded. Listening to yourself is such an arrogant, prick thing to do, but it’s catchy shit. I listen to it, and I like it. I don’t listen to it a shit load. It’s not like I’m listening to it five times in a row – about once a week I’ll find myself listening to it and going “Wow, I think if I wasn’t in the band I would actually like this.” Do you know what I mean?
Yeah. You’ve never had that with any of your other records before, even right after you did them?
It’s hard, man. I’ll give you a breakdown: some of the songs we had been playing for three years before we recorded them. So it was like, “Okay, I’ve heard these songs a million times.” So when Hot Damn! came out, I had some weird fucking thing going on where at that time, I was going through this transitional phase in the guitar where I would down pick everything. Then I was finally figuring out how to cross pick. Right before we recorded that album, I was doing this weird hybrid of, “Okay, I’m going to down pick this part, cross pick this part, down pick this part.” Now I’ve become really good at facilitating the difference between the two, but at that time it was right when I was first figuring it out. I down picked everything on Last Night in Town, and it was the most technical shit we did. Still, to this day, I don’t know how I did it [laughs].
I don’t know either, actually.
It’s fucking retarded. Thinking about it just boggles me. I can’t believe I down picked everything.
Halfway through recording Hot Damn! I had a nervous breakdown. Jordan [Buckley, guitars] was still in school and going back and forth from New Jersey, where we recorded, to Buffalo to finish his exams. He did all his guitar tracks, left, came back, and in that time I called him and said “Dude, I can’t do this.” Something was happening where I was getting this wink. Every time I would pick, I would get this “wink wink wink wink.” I would hear it over the riff. Even if I played it for you without telling you about that, you wouldn’t hear it. But because I was playing it and listening, I could hear it everywhere. It was freaking me out, and I said “Fuck it.” I called him and said “You’re doing all the guitar tracks.” He was like “What?” [I said] “I’m not playing. I can’t do it.” I was literally freaking out almost to tears, because I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I went to a thicker gauge string, went to a thinner gauge string, used a thicker pick, used a thinner pick. I tried everything, and it just wouldn’t happen. So I was just wasting time.
So I called him and I was like, “Just get back here and do all the main parts, and then I’ll do my leads and shit like that.” He was like, “Okay.” So he came back and did all the rhythm tracks on that record. I did all the things that were unique that I did. You know what I mean?
Dude, I was flustered. So I can’t listen to that record. I knew the songs, plus that was the first record that [then-drummer Mike “Ratboy” Novak] didn’t use a click track on. So the timings are all over the place. Now that Ratboy is out of the band, I’ve been trying people out and stuff, and they’re playing to the CD. So they’re playing “Ebolarama” fifteen times faster than what I’m used to. I’m like, “Oh my God, I can’t play like this.” That record I can’t listen to. Then on Gutter Phenomenon, we had this bass player at the time who was just a fucking shit head – that Kevin Falk dude. I really couldn’t get into the dude that was recording it. I like Machine a lot. It was the first time we worked with a producer. It was a guy telling us how to make our band better. We were like, “You don’t know us. We’ve been doing this for years, and you’re telling me that you can make shit. No you can’t.” It was little things.
When we worked with Steve Evetts, he was like, “Okay, check this out. You can do a fifth or a third here over that on the harmony, and it would sound pretty rad.” He wasn’t changing songs, where Machine was changing songs. He was trying to add parts and stuff like that. I was like, “I don’t get it.” I didn’t understand. “People seemed to like what I do. How do you know what they like? You don’t know us.” That was basically going on in my head. So I got a black cloud on that record. The Big Dirty, there are a few things I would have liked to have done differently, so I can’t listen to that. Now with New Junk Aesthetic, I’m fucking finally happy. Everything turned out the way that I wanted it to. The recording process was fucking awesome. Everything was great. The only thing that I wished happened differently was that Mike stayed in the band and didn’t quit right after the recording. Whatever. It is what it is. That’s it. I’m sorry that took a long time, but I gave you the gist of it. Not that I’m not proud of that stuff. I’m really proud of Last Night in Town, Hot Damn!, Gutter Phenomenon, and Big Dirty, it’s just that now it’s come to that we’re writing the exact music that I wanted to write from the get go.
Do you think that it needed to take this long? Do you think that maybe you wouldn’t have been as satisfied with New Junk Aesthetic if you hadn’t gone through all that other stuff first?
It was definitely honing the craft. I think that everything takes time to get to the point where you are actually happy. At the time, I was having a hell of a time writing Last Night in Town. I had a great time writing Hot Damn! I had a great time writing Gutter. I know what you’re saying. I guess ,yeah. If I did write New Junk Aesthetic, and we were writing something new, I probably would think the same way about New Junk Aesthetic [laughs].
I’m completely fucked when it comes to thinking about music and trying to keep it an art, instead of something that is manufactured. I’m always torn in my head about that. Still, to this day, writing a catchy chorus or something like that is something that I can’t do. It feels so manufactured. When you write a song like “The New Black” or something like that, it’s natural. Those songs are really fun because they’re just brainless. You don’t have to really think, and it’s cool. When it comes out, even though during the writing of it, I’m thinking “Okay, this is so straightforward compared to what I want in my vision of what I want the band to sound like, and what I want the band to do.” It actually ended up turning out cool. Even though people look at that and say “Oh, they fucking sold out,” that’s way more punk rock for a band like us to do than you think.
I hate it. I can’t stand having that song being out in the masses, but then it’s like it’s such a breath of fresh air playing live when that song comes up, because you don’t have to think at all. You can just fucking run around and be an asshole. Now I finally met the in-between on this record, where it’s like some of the most technical stuff we’ve written, but it still has that breath of fresh air where it’s like,”Okay, whew!” I’m not constantly thinking and then a part comes where I’m like, “Oh fuck, I got to think.” So it’s great. It keeps me on my toes. That’s why I like the record so much. It’s literally across the board, every song has everything that we’ve ever done in it – it’s technical, rocking, and groove all in one.
I’m really talkative today [laughs].
I have no problem with that. The only problem that I have with it is that you just kind of answered half my questions.
[laughs] That’s true.
This is all good stuff. So you’re saying that the new record is pretty catchy, but it’s not overly simplistic?
Exactly. That’s exactly it. The thing is, Keith [Buckley, vocals] fucking killed it. I’m trying to think of a band that I can reference. When there is something technical going on in the background, and the vocals are just that catchy that you don’t pay attention to what’s happening. Dillinger [Escape Plan] does that a lot of stuff where the riff behind it is out of control, but Greg [Puciato, DEP vocalist] is doing something so catchy that you don’t even think. When you actually pay attention to the riff that is going on behind it, you’re like, “Holy fuck, that riff is brutal.” It’s really cool. Keith came to one practice this whole time.
He came to one practice?
One practice, and that was it. We were just recording it and sending him tapes. He only lives like five minutes away. We would give him tapes every single day. We weren’t taking time at all. We weren’t like, “Okay, we’re spending two days on a song and that’s all.” We would record it and give it to him. The ideas just kept going. We didn’t hear anything until he started doing vocals in the studio. It was like, “Holy shit.” There is one part where it’s just a really slow riff, and he sings over it, and in my head I was going, “Okay, if I were the vocals this is what I would do over it.” It was nothing even close to what I thought he was going to do. It’s fucking awesome. It’s such a surprise.
Was that nerve racking at the time?
It was totally fucking nerve racking. We were like “What the hell is he doing?” He’s drinking like fucking piña coladas while we’re fucking sweating in a basement five hours a day. It wasn’t like that at all. The guy was working the whole time. This is the most songs we have written for a record. We had fourteen songs that we wrote, but only used thirteen of them. We were giving him songs constantly.
Was there any sort of different inspirations for the album? Were you guys listening to anything specific?
Every single day, it was so weird to hear what people were bringing to the table. You really can’t tell. I’m not dissing Jordan at all, but you can tell what Jordan has been listening to when he brings a riff in. It’s me, so I can’t see myself outside the box, and I’m sure I’m just as guilty of it. On this one he would come in with a riff, and you would be like “Holy fuck, what is he listening to? This riff is out of control.” He wrote a whole song, I can’t remember the name of the song. I think it’s the second to last song on the record [That would be “After One Quarter of a Revolution.” – Ed.]. He wrote a song, and it was like… think of a band like Terror or something like that – a straightforward hardcore band, but then add weird, fucked up King Crimson-ish elements to it. He brought this fucking song in, and the only thing that needed help was the very end of the song. I was like, “Okay, just let me fuck with this part. Let’s leave everything the same, let me fuck with this part and see what we can get into.” He blew my mind on it. I couldn’t believe it. It was awesome. It’s funny, because I’ve been in this band for fucking twelve years. You think by the twelve year point, you’re not going to get surprised by dudes anymore. You think you know them pretty well. It’s a new thing every fucking day. It’s great.
Do you think that’s an indicator of the long history you guys will have now? Do you guys see this as the beginning of a really good creative period?
Yeah, for sure. All these bands that have been around that we came up with, it fucking blows my mind. Twelve to fifteen years after the fact, they’re still putting out good fucking music. It says something. I hope that we’re a part of that this year. I heard the new Converge record [Axe to Fall], and it’s fucking unreal. It’s like exactly what my ears have always wanted to hear [laughs]. It’s fucking awesome. I hope Dillinger has their shit together and fucking put out a record. I hope that all of us old time bands that all these kids started listening to, I really hope they start saying “Hey you know what? These old dudes are still fucking writing great music. Let’s go out and see them.” Poison the Well, I don’t know what their deal is. They did that 10 for 10 tour and everyone I talked to are like “Yeah, they’re not really getting over that well and blah blah blah.” They fucking wrote a monster record [The Tropic Rot]. I don’t know if you’re into it.
I like it.
It’s a great record. I hope Dillinger does it. When that fucking Converge record comes out… there are solos and shit on it. We did a video two weeks ago in California, and the guys from Epitaph showed up and played it. One of the guys had their iPod and played it. It was like every song was like, “Really? No. Really? My God. That dude is on it? Holy shit!” It was just [like] being blown away over and over again.
Do you feel a sense of healthy, good natured competition with these bands? Has that subconsciously kept you on your toes?
It’s not a competition at all. I thin it’s more or less something to prove. I don’t want to be ever looked at as a wash up. I think the competition is a personal competition with ourselves. I never ever want to be looked at as a washed up band or something like that. I always want it to be special. The minute that it’s not, we’re done. Go out on a high note.
It’s funny, because me and Ben Weinman have been talking about doing this fucking Black Flag tribute band where it’s like me, him, Toby from Street Dogs. It’s like a super group, but we would actually go on tour and play Black Flag songs. So we’ve been talking and saying that us, you guys, and Converge are all bands that set ourselves apart a long time ago. We did it kind of together. It’s not a competition thing, but a”Let’s stick together and make sure that each of our bands stay fresh through the other ones” thing. If I’m doing an interview, I’m going to talk about Converge. I’m going to talk about Dillinger. I promise that I didn’t bring them up just because of that fact. We should make sure that we stay fresh because there are so many bands out there where it is manufactured. There is no such thing as a grassroots feeling anymore. Any kid can get a ProTools rig and fucking vocoder or whatever the fuck they use and write the songs that are being written nowadays. The quality is fucking horrendous. You can hear a record and go “Holy fuck, this record sounds unreal.” I heard some band last night that someone told me to check out. I can’t remember what it was called, but I was like, [sarcastic] “Oh, this is great.” You could tell that the drums were fucking fake. There’s nothing real about the recording.
That made me curious about how that band was live. I checked out the band on YouTube, and it was a wreck. It just sounded awful. We move around a lot on stage. We’re assholes for sure. This dude’s guitar was behind his back. You can’t play your guitar without your hands on it. What the fuck is he doing? That’s all you would hear – “Wahhhh.” Bands now have no sense of art. It’s not an art form anymore. I think that’s the competition with all of our bands – Dillinger, Converge, Every Time I Die, and Poison the Well. It’s still an art to us, and we still want to be artists. We don’t want to be rock n’ rollers. I think that’s where the competition lies, is to just try and set ourselves apart. If you don’t think we’re cool, well, fuck you. That’s basically it. We don’t have to have cool haircuts and shit like that. We can write music and let our music speak for itself.
What do you see that sort of happened to the scene and happened to metal and the genre of music that you do that made it this airtight, compressed, manufactured product, as opposed to what was going on back when you first started? What do you think changed or caused the change?
First, I think it’s just hard work. Kids don’t have to work these days. If you get a million friends on MySpace, then the labels are fucking barking. Shit like that.
I can’t remember what fucking tour it was, if I knew the band’s name I would just come out and say it because it was the most preposterous thing I’ve ever heard. It was their second tour ever, and the guy goes, “We’re getting a fucking bus on our next tour.” It was like, “Dude, we were on tour for eight years before we even had a bus.” I remember how fucking proud we were. We had the shittiest bus ever for Ozzfest. It was like, “Holy fuck, we finally have a bus, dude!” It was like a 1979 Eagle with no air conditioning, but somehow we could all sleep on it so it was cool.
Buses are not cool. It is the fucking worst. It is a harbinger for fucking disease. That’s what it is. Everyone gets sick on a bus because you are all living around each other 24 hours a day. It’s fucking disgusting. What is not cool about getting in a fucking van and sleeping somewhere where you don’t have to sleep with other dudes. It blew my mind that it was [this band’s] second tour, and they were already complaining that they didn’t have a bus. So, okay. When you do get a bus, what’s the next fucking thing that you can complain about? “I don’t have fucking cheese that I want and blah blah blah.” That’s what you’re going to complain about? The reality is this: talk to one of your friends that aren’t in a band and are like “Yeah, I just got fired from my job and I’m fucking living blah blah blah.” How shitty are you going to feel that you’re complaining about a block of cheese or a fucking bus?
That’s the thing – there is no real world with these kids. They grow up and everything is just handed to them now. When we were booking tours, I had a black book with numbers in it that went all the way across the United States. That’s how shit got booked. I remember going to a library because I didn’t have the internet and emailing dudes. It just doesn’t happen nowadays. There’s no networking. They got bands like Stick to Your Guns and stuff like that have this network that works where they constantly talk about each other and stuff like that. It’s always fresh in your mind that these bands talk about each other, and then you go and check them out because those guys like them. Now there is a competition where everyone is trying to one up each other. This band has a fucking keyboard player, so we’re going to get a keyboard player and a light guy who stands onstage. That’s fucking retarded because he’s not going to look at the stage. Kids have to have it in them to say “no” to their friends. “Oh man, we’re going to start a band. Phil is going to be the singer, Joey’s going to be the guitar player, Bob is going to be the bass player, Dave is going to play drums. Fucking Mick is such a good guy. What are we going to have for him? What are we going to do? You know what? He can play keyboards because this dude in this band that I watched last night played keyboards, and he didn’t even touch a fucking button.” When we started the band, I didn’t know the Buckleys. I saw them at shows, and I was like, “That kid can play the fucking guitar. His brother can sing. I’m going to start a band with those dudes because they’re good fucking musicians.” This doesn’t happen nowadays. They’re like, “I got a ProTools rig.” None of those bands talk to each other. There’s no networking. I was fucking stoked when Converge asked if we could do a fucking weekend in ’99. It was like, “Whoa, this band fucking rocks, and they want us to go on a fucking weekend.” They called me. I got a call. They were like “Hey dudes, do you want to play this show with us?” Fuck yeah! Eighteen Visions, before their radio rock heyday, sounded like a hybrid between Carcass and something else. It blew my mind. I got a call and they asked if we could go on tour with them. The tour ended up being: Eighteen Visions, Poison the Well, American Nightmare, and Every Time I Die. That’s a classic tour. That shit doesn’t happen nowadays because everyone’s ego gets in the way. Everyone wants money. It just sucks. I don’t want to sound old and bitter because I fucking love music, and there are a lot of great bands out there. The great bands aren’t going to get recognition because they sound different. It’s sad.
What keeps you out there touring? I know why you guys make new records – you still enjoy it. Do you guys still get stuff out of touring?
We do, for sure. A big part of it is that it’s creating something artistic and it feeds that. You got to play in front of the kids. You got to play the shitty tours. You got to do stuff like that because it is what we love to do. I think it’s just for the love of it. We fucking love what we do. It doesn’t matter who we are on tour with or anything like that. Every Time I Die is what Every Time I Die is. If you ask anyone that we toured with, that’s exactly how it is when we’re on tour. It’s not that we’re loners and stick to ourselves, but we have such a great time with ourselves. We have so many inside jokes and shit like that. When a band gets it, it’s like, “Holy fuck.” We’ve had that joke for like five years, and for some reason they understand it. That’s fucking weird. Then you have this bond, and it makes touring fucking awesome. That’s when that happens.
It’s funny, because we toured with this band that we thought were going to be the worst dudes ever because they’re like this young band and little girls like them. You tour with them, and they’re fucking rad. You’re like, “These guys are Christian, little girls like them, they care a lot about their hair, they wear flip flops, they dress like they’re from Abercrombie and Fitch, but the fucking dudes are so rad.” They understand. They get it, and it blows your mind. I fucking love when that happens, when you really think something of a band, and it turns out completely different. JD is one of the funniest dudes I’ve ever met in my life. They can all be Abercrombie and Fitch models. It’s fucking funny.
So how’s it been over at Epitaph? I noticed you guys changed labels. Has it been going alright?
It’s awesome, man. It’s fucking great. Ferret was a really good, family-orientated situation that we were in. We were all friends with them, and it was really natural. We did that for nine years. It was just time to see what else is out there. That was it. There was never any ill will or anything like that. It was just a matter of, “You know what? We did this for nine years, let’s see what happens here.” It was time to shake things up a bit.
We went to Epitaph and we were worried. But it feels the exact same way as Ferret did. Everything is very family-orientated. It’s a weird situation over there. Every time I’m out in California – my girlfriend lives in San Diego – so every time I’m there I’m hanging out with those dudes. I’m not looking at it as, “Oh fuck, I’m hanging out with Jeff [Abarta] who’s the fucking vice president of Epitaph Records.” I’m hanging with this dude who is fucking rad. This guy is awesome. I’m not supposed to like this guy. He’s supposed to be a suit. He’s everything I fucking hate, but he’s fucking awesome. I love him to death. Brett [Gurewitz] is the fucking coolest. He played guitar in Bad Religion, and he’s the president of Epitaph Records who put out legendary records. The dude shows up at the recording studio playing World of Warcraft, talking about how he’s a big purple bog. It’s so fucking weird to see that. We thought it was all going to be business and “You got to do this and that.” It’s like the coolest thing ever. It feels so good. It’s a breath of fresh air that we don’t have to put up with bullshit. We went from dudes to dudes. It’s great.
It still has that small label vibe then even though it’s a big one.
Exactly. It blew my mind when Brett gave us a tour of Epitaph’s offices. He comes up and says “This is so and so’s office,” and it’s an enormous office. “This is marketing. This is blah blah blah.” He’s going to go up into the attic. It’s going to be the coolest fucking office I’ve ever seen in my life. There’s going to be video games and a live tiger. I’m expecting to walk onto a rainbow and a unicorn pisses into a cup, and it’s the greatest fucking drink you had in your life. That’s what I’m expecting. He takes us to the interns’ section, and he’s like “That’s my desk.” It’s a desk in the middle of the interns.
Are you serious?
I swear to you dude. It blew my fucking mind. It’s so cool. It’s so good to be with humble people that just want to put out great records. It’s so awesome.
My last question would be: who do you consider influences you both as a guitarist and just in general?
That’s a rough one. Guitar-wise, I like anyone who tries to push the envelope. I like Jimmy Page a lot. I like Jack White a lot believe it or not. They do really cool shit. Even though it’s on the radio constantly, for some reason if you listen to what they’re doing, it’s really out there. I’ve always been a big Black Flag fan, so Greg Ginn’s been a huge influence. Kurt [Ballou] from Converge has been a huge influence.
Then on a dude level, there are a million people. The biggest influence I would say… why can’t I think right now? Anthony Bourdain [laughs]. I fucking love the dude because he’s crass. He’s fucking loaded, and he’s a real down to earth guy. It might seem like he’s a prick on the show sometimes, but I think he’s the type of guy that would sit down and have a drink with you and bullshit. The other day I was watching something about him in Sweden, and he was like “God, these people really do like ABBA. This sucks. When I think of Sweden, I think of the Helicopters, and I think of death metal.” [laughs] I was just like “This guy is fucking awesome!”
The dude [Jason] Pettigrew from AP is a huge influence for me. He’s a guy I can sit down and talk to forever. He’s always been there for me. When we played Cleveland, I can sit down and talk to him about anything. He’s fucking awesome. He’s a really good guy that has that story of, “You think it’s hard nowadays, try growing up in 1977 walking down the streets of Pittsburgh with a Sex Pistols shirt on, and everyone calling you a faggot.” He’s that guy with that story. He’s a great guy and isn’t as bitter as everyone would think. He’s someone that I look up to as a man.
That’s it: Anthony Bourdain and Jason Pettigrew. I hope Jason reads this. I’m not comparing him to Anthony Bourdain, but there are very close similarities between the two of them.
In the same class basically?
Yeah. That’s it. Obviously all my friends, too, and the guys in the band are definitely a huge influence for me. Making those dudes happy is kind of awesome. When I write a riff and those dudes are like, “Man, that’s one of the best riffs you’ve written,” it definitely makes me feel stoked. Do you like metal or do you think it really sucks?
We do not really think that metal sucks. We’re all really big metal enthusiasts. I personally wasn’t one of the guys who founded the site. I just started writing for them a year ago, but I can tell you that both the guys who founded the site are big fans of metal. I’m a big fan of metal.
I fucking hate modern metal more than anything. It’s not that I hate metal, I’m a huge Entombed fan. They’re my favorite metal band of all time. Bands now I can’t get into. I thought I would ask about that because I thought you’d bash metal, but you guys are metal enthusiasts.
We are definitely metal enthusiasts. It’s sort of a bullshit, irony thing.
I like that.