THE MAKING OF THE HUMAN ABSTRACT’S DIGITAL VEIL, PART 2: DRUMMER BRETT POWELL AND EX-GUITARIST ANDREW TAPLEY
Back in July, Axl and I visited The Human Abstract at the Machine Shop in New Jersey, where they were recording their new album, Digital Veil, with producer Will Putney. Between the (then) six members of the band and the two of us, there were way too many people to do one interview, so we ended up splitting up into groups and conducting three interviews. The first, with guitarist A.J. Minette (before he was a MetalSucks columnist) and vocalist Travis Richter, was published a couple of weeks back; the second, with since-departed guitarist Andrew Tapley and drummer Brett Powell, follows below. We’ll run the final interview with guitarist Dean Herrera and bassist Henry Selva in the coming weeks.
Even though these interviews were conducted before the album was even completed, in a lot of ways they’re far more interesting now that Digital Veil is done and released. Powell and Tapley share some interesting thoughts on selecting and consequently working with producer Will Putney, how they chose Travis Richter and Henry Selva to fill the vacant vocalist and bassist spots and how A.J. came back to the band (and what his two-year stint as a classical guitar major at University of Southern California brought to the new record). These many months later, it’s especially interesting to read Tapley’s (and to a lesser extent Powell’s) take on how the band planned to procede with three guitarists. They also mouth off on “scene” bands and how as a young band they were coerced into doing things they didn’t necessarily want to do.
Fun-time with Brett and Tapley after the break.
How has this recording process gone so far?
Brett Powell: Swimmingly minus Will’s unfortunate accident.
Did that put any kind of crimp in the process?
BP: For about a day and a half. Will’s the toughest dude ever.
How is it working with Will?
BP: Amazing. Will split his head open on the staircase – just so everyone knows. He had 57 staples put in. If no one had found him, he could have died. It was on top of his head and he only missed a day [Gruesome picture here, not for the faint-hearted. -Ed.]. He was in the next day and woke us up that morning. We were shocked to see him because we thought he would be out for a week or something.
Luckily we were already ahead of schedule because we did drums in 2 or 3 days to start off really quick. This is our third record and by far the fastest experience ever. So far it’s turning out to sound the best before any mixing. We went with Will initially because we wanted this young, hungry engineer guy that was making records that sounded huge. We felt that if we worked with someone like that we’d be able to get a more modern metal sound and then we would come in and kind of take care of the rest. We didn’t want a producer. We wanted a guy that was really fast and awesome to work with and that’s Will.
When you guys decided on Will, was it you guys saying “this is our guy” or did you have a hit list and talked to various people?
BP: Yeah, we actually e-mailed about 10 or 20 different people. I don’t know if I should name names. And I was talking to Travis and was like “man, whoever writes the longest response back might be the winner” because we wanted them to care a lot. We had such a bad experience with Toby “Wrong” [Wright].
BP: Will actually wrote back like 2 or 3 pages of notes and thoughts and how excited he was. He killed pretty much anyone else. The most we got from anyone else was a paragraph or two. Right away we were like “alright, this guy is really excited. He’s 27 years old. He’s young. He’s not beaten down by working with a million bands over the years.” It seems like a lot of guys just get sick of it.
He sent us Upon a Burning Body’s record and right away we were like “whoa.” We never heard of this band but it sounds so heavy and big. I’m not even into any deathcore bands, but it featured that really loud Roadrunner Records’ sound that we wanted to get but didn’t have a Roadrunner budget to do it.
AT: It sounded better than anything we were comparing it with. Anything by anyone else that we reached out to didn’t touch what Will did with that band. We were pretty stoked on him from that alone.
Has he lived up to the billing?
AT: Totally and completely. [Laughs]
Is he a pretty chill dude to work with?
AT: Absolutely, yeah.
BP: He’s someone that we can hang out with also and be buds with. He’s so hungry. He wants to be this huge producer and he’s needing that one band to break him – like BTBAM broke Jamie King into the world or Trivium broke Jason Suecof. He’s really giving his all. He comes in early every morning and stays really late. He pretty much handles it all on his own. He has assistants here but he does it all himself; he wants to be a part of it. Other engineers will throw us with assistants and go out and smoke pot and stuff. Will is such a crazy workhorse. He’s a bulldog.
We’d work with him again, and we haven’t even heard the final product. Day 1 we were like “yes! This is going to be perfect,” as soon as we met him.
AT: He works really quickly and gets quality results very fast. We came in having a month to do this and didn’t feel that that was enough time, but as soon as we got here and started working with Will, it was pretty clear that it was going to be done in time and done really well.
That’s awesome. Let’s talk about the actual music for a little bit. What was the writing process like for this album? What are you guys trying to go for with this one both standing on its own and in comparison to the last album?
BP: The last album was nothing really short of a disaster. I don’t want to talk too much about it but getting A.J. back in the mix and getting Travis as our singer . . . for one we get along as a group which is the first time ever in our existence. We’ve had 12 members total ever and finally, we’re set on our group five years later. With the new music, we wanted to bring us back into the metal community. We totally went beyond our means with the last record — the production wasn’t there and everything went wrong that could have gone wrong. With this record, so far, we’re on a roll with everything going our way. We just got to stay friends and work hard. We came in here the most prepared ever. We spent a year working on this record pretty much. We knew all of our parts coming in. We didn’t have to learn anything, didn’t have to write anything in the studio — it was already done. Even Will was like “you guys are pretty much the most prepared band I’ve ever seen walk in here.” Once we heard him say that we were like “thank god” because that was our plan. We wanted to just fly through stuff so we could have a lot of time for vocals and mixing and make sure that it’s polished.
AT: The whole album was demoed before we even flew out here. Everything was ready to go. We didn’t have to waste any time messing around in the studio. We just got right to work.
How is this record a growth or a progression from the last one musically?
AT: Just that there was time — we took the time to make sure that it was everything we wanted it to be rather than taking a month to bust something out, record it really quick and tour and come back and finish recording. I don’t know. The last album was such a mess and this album is just really focused. We took the time to make sure it was right rather than just rushing.
BP: A lot of young bands are forced to do a bunch of things that they don’t want to do for everybody else on their team that is making more money off of them than they are personally. I see this happen to all kinds of young bands. You make your first record, it does well, and they just want to shove you right back into the studio, give you a tour in the middle of your studio time; “you’ve got to do it” and “you’ve got to do it.” The most important thing is your album, and it seems like managers and labels think that touring and having a catchy band name and a cute guy seems to go further. They can really care less how the album sounds it seems like. A lot of bands are huge because people seem to hear with their eyes (as I like to say). I’m not going to name bands that I think sound terrible that people love, but there are plenty of them — we all know who.
We didn’t want to force ourselves to rush it at all. That’s why we took a year off and really figured things out, and we came in when we were really mentally prepared and prepared with our instruments because this album is the most technical thing we’ve ever done. We wanted it to be super heavy and techie and really establish the band as a metal band again.
AT: Not screw around and be some radio thing.
You guys mentioned a few minutes ago that you have two new guys (one old guy and one new guy). So how did those guys come to be back in the picture again?
BP: We met Travis on a tour that we did — the Take Action Tour 2008. He was still in From First to Last as the guitar player (one of the rhythm guitar players). He also did backup screaming for them and is also the screamer and front guy on the Color of Violence that album that came out through Epitaph. He’s one of the top ten favorite dudes that I had ever met in meeting people on the road. We met at the Take Action Tour 2008 and we toured with them again at Warped Tour that year, and I pretty much hung out with Travis the whole time during both those tours. When I heard that he was interested in sending a demo I was already psyched. He sent me a demo and it pretty much blew every other demo out of the water. His scream is really original and sounds like a mad man. Everyone acknowledged it; “this is the best demo so far”. We flew him out, and he moved in with us for about six months. We instantly became great friends. He gets along with everyone. He brings so much life to it all. It’s awesome. I’m stoked to finally be behind a front man because when you’re a drummer you’re looking at the front man. This is a front man that I can have fun with after the show whereas our last guy, none of us were friends with him. We felt like we were forced to be in a band with him because of everyone else who was making money off of us.
AT: When it was time to look for a new singer, one of the requisites was that he’d be a righteous dude that we can all hang with. That was first on everybody’s list I think. It’s important because living in such close quarters and working with somebody like that, you just want to be bros. [Laughs]
How did A.J. come back around?
BP: He really wanted to go back to school when he left the band in 2007. I’m so glad he did because he learned so much these last two years. He graduated from LMU, and he all of a sudden can shred a classical guitar now. He’s been working on that nonstop for two years. His nails are super long on his right hand. He got into the University of Southern California to get his Masters the next two years.
BP: In classical guitar. Because he learned all that, it really brings that element to this record. I think that three years ago he didn’t feel like he’d be able to take the band to the next level after Nocturne. He wanted to go back to school, and he didn’t get along with Nathan. All those things combined, he made his choice, and it was the right one and I’m glad he did. Somehow we kept the ship sailing for those years and now that he’s back, I feel it’s a big step from Nocturne. It was worth the wait. There were a lot of people who haven’t forgotten about A.J. and were influenced by him years ago.
Oh yeah, we see that online.
BP: Yeah, I’ll check Youtube’s weekly videos, and there are at least ten kids that post guitar playing stuff — every week, still from our album that came out in 2006. It’s kind of crazy for me.
[To Tapley] What was it like for you, as a guitar player, to have him around?
AT: It’s great. He’s an inspiring little man.
AT: He’s turned out to be a good bud and a great influence.
So are you guys going to do an Iron Maiden and do three guitars or is he not going to go out with you guys?
AT: I think he’s planning on coming out with us whenever possible… but the school thing.
BP: 3 guitarists — that’s a plan.
So who’s the Adrian Smith, who’s the Dave Murray, and who’s the Janick Gers?
AT: That’s a good question. We’ll have to see how it works out.
Cool, that’s exciting.
AT: It’s actually Henry’s first record with us too.
BP: Yeah, and it’s his first record ever. And he’s amazing. It sounds unreal.
How did he come about?
BP: We’ve been friends and played in bands when we were 13. Our band was called Tripnautic.
BP: There were five Mexicans that were bigger and older than me. He’s actually not Mexican. I played guitar in the band. He was also our roadie on our first Human Abstract tours ever. He did play bass with us after we let go of our first bass player. He toured with us for about three or four months. It was with All That Remains and Mushroomhead. We did a tour with Mushroomhead once — that was the biggest mistake ever.
That must have been ridiculous.
BP: Oh terrible. We got him back because we were such good friends. He’s the best bass player that we ever had play with us too. Once again we got pushed by booking agents and labels all the time when we were a young band with what we needed to do and look like and all this advice. It just go into our heads. We picked a bass player for awhile that couldn’t play his bass, but he looked the part. When we got in the studio with him, it was like “oh great, you can’t play the bass.” I don’t know if I should even say that. It’s important to not be shallow with your band members and just care about people who know how to play. I feel like if everyone plays well, that comes off better than everyone looking good. Last to Fall will last another year or 2 — maybe, hopefully.
Back in the mid 90s bands were scared to ever have solos because everything was this nu-metal thing and if you had a solo you were like “oh that’s terrible. That’s like the 80s.” A few years ago if you didn’t look a certain way and have the tight pants and straight hair and played stupid breakdowns, then once again . . .
BP: I feel like it’s already passed it’s pinnacle. It can’t get any bigger than it is now. At least I really hope not.
AT: That band Black Veil Brides is blowing up.
BP: Yeah. It’s true.
That’s for 13 year olds, literally.
AT: A couple of more years and those kids will start liking [real] music.
“Oh yeah, Trivium didn’t invent twin lead guitars”.
I like Trivium though.
BP: Yeah, me too.
What’s in the pipeline for you guys after mixing and mastering this record? Tour presumably?
BP: The record is going to come out on Halloween [That didn’t work out, but it was worth the wait and label swap. -Ed.]. We don’t have any touring plans, and we learned the hard way on that; we’ve always taken tours that we really didn’t want to do because we felt that we needed to. At this point, we’re ready to go out and headline and see how it goes. There’s something to be said by not putting your name below a bunch of bands that you’re not into and doing tours because you feel like you have to. We’re just going to tour with bands that we like and headline if we have to and go out there and have fun and sound as good as we can.
Dir en grey – that was a weird one.
BP: That was a terrible idea. Yeah, we sold like a shirt a night. It was pointless.
AT: Even though those dudes are all really great. We all really dug those guys. It was a cool experience, but it might not have been necessarily the best thing for the band.
BP: With cult bands, no one wants to see anybody else but the cult bands. That was a pointless tour. We’re not going to do scene bands at all. We’ll try our best not to – you never know what happens.
There could be something like say Whitechapel or Suicide Silence or something who would send that direct support offer and then you might be like “hmm”.
BP: Yeah. Whitechapel and Suicide Silence I wouldn’t put in the same category as the bands I would not want to tour with. It’s more the scream-o, Black Veil Brides, Last to Fall and stuff. We did so many of those tours on Nocturne. We toured with Drop Dead, Gorgeous, the Devil Wears Prada. It kind of somewhat worked.
Another big thing is one of the reasons we are doing music… a lot of people make it a competition and it’s not really supposed to be about that. It’s supposed to be an art thing. You can go up there and do whatever you want and people should like it because you’re giving it your all. That’s what’s more important. Not one of the best bands ever but had the most heart, so these bands that I’m talking about that I may not like and I may not think they’re technically proficient do have a lot of heart and great presence and that’s why they’re really big bands. There’s both sides of it.
Stay tuned for the third and final part of our epic interview series documenting the making of The Human Abstract’s Digital Veil, featuring guitarist Dean Herrera and new bassist Henry Selva.