“Who said we were wild? Did people say that? Oh no, I didn’t know we had a reputation." Tavis Stanley is stretched out in the back lounge of the tour bus, relaxing before the start of the Art Of Dying concert at a little hole-in-the-wall club in Jackson, Mississippi. I seem to have caught him off guard when I ask if he and his bandmates were as wild as some rumors going around insinuate. “We have a lot of fun, we like to drink our beers and just party and have a good time like everybody else but I wouldn’t say we’re too wild”.
One thing that IS for sure is that Art Of Dying is riding an all-time high as a band. With the release of Vices & Virtues earlier this year, their popularity has done nothing but rise. The first single, “Die Trying”, became an instant hit as has the follow-up, “Get Thru This”. They were a part of the Avalanche and Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar tours, the latter being a particular highlight for Stanley and AOD vocalist Jonny Hetherington. “Me and Jonny got to host the Miss Uproar contest every day so that was kind of neat,” Stanley told me. “We’d do our show at 3:30 in the afternoon and then at 6:00 every day we’d have to go to the main stage and do that. But it was kind of cool cause it was like we had two shows every day so it was a lot of work and we were all over the place. But it was fun to get to go do that and wander around onstage with a mic in my hand instead of a guitar. It was a cool learning experience for me to go up there and get everyone going and talk to the crowd like that. We had a blast doing it.”
The friendliness seems to come quite natural to the five men in Art Of Dying. Following their show, they all spent time with fans, signing autographs, posing for pictures, just hanging out talking about music and finding out more about each individual who stuck around. As bands become more popular, this kind of interaction becomes less and less. Not necessarily because the band wants it that way but because the sheer volume of fans wanting time increases to mammoth numbers. At this moment in time, with AOD on the very verge of moving up a notch in the rock & roll hierarchy, they are enjoying every minute spent with their fans who are crowd-surfing them up the charts.
After performing in front of thousands, playing a small club like The Joint could be somewhat of a letdown. But not for this band. The intimacy gives them a chance to get hot and sweaty up close with everyone. “You stepped into our living room,” Hetherington said from the stage. “Welcome to our house”.
Unfortunately, the venue was switched from one club to another at virtually the last minute and a freakishly low amount of advertising was used to promote the band’s playing in town. You had to be a fan of the band, who they call their “diehards”, to even know they were here in Jackson, Mississippi’s backyard. But Stanley wasn’t worried whether they were playing to five people or five hundred. “We’re going to rock it out, totally. It’s going to be awesome”. I would have to agree. Although starting with some sound problems, they kept pumping and by the end of the too-short set, everyone was just as sweaty as the band.
Opening up for AOD, were two young bands that worked hard to get the small crowd rocking out with them. First on stage was the Minneapolis band New Medicine, with big guitars and an even bigger drum sound. “The band’s been together for three years,” drummer Ryan Guanzon informed me before their set. “My band is a rock band. We like to party, we like to have a good time, we like to get everybody amped up and we like to basically drink till everybody passes out.” Playing songs such as “Like A Rose”, “Laid”, “Rich Kids”, and “Race You To The Bottom”, where vocalist Jake Scherer and bass player Matt Brady chug-a-lugged beers in competition during solo time to end their set. They definitely have a bright future ahead of them.
Next up was the heavier Emphatic, featuring the hard-ass guitar slinging of Justin McCain and the Animal-hyper drumming of Dylan Wood. Signed with Atlantic Records, their debut album is called Damage. Highlights included “Beg”, “Original Sin” and “Bounce”, a song already popular with their fans. Even the older members of the crowd were jumping up and down to this song, a good sign that this band is reaching all-ages.
With just a few more shows before they can go home and regenerate for the holidays, Art Of Dying was ready to rock & roll. Highlights included “Completely”, featuring an excellent bluesy guitar solo from Stanley that wove into Cale Gontier’s bass lines; a knock-out “Get Thru This”; an impassioned “Best I Can”, where Hetherington saluted with a fresh bottle of Jack; and a kick ass “Whole World’s Crazy”. Hard rock doesn’t get much better than this.
An interesting part of the AOD set was Tavis Stanley’s guitar. Known as the Yamaha Silent Guitar, “It’s got a very unique tone,” AOD’s other guitar player Greg Bradley informed me. “He got it when he was playing in the band before he started playing with us … It’s a great addition to our live show and a lot of people are really struck by it”. You have to see it to believe it, having a hollow open body but a big strong sound.
“You know, we’ve worked really hard so it’ll be well-deserved time to go home and just regroup and reflect on the year and look forward to next year,” Bradley told me when he called from Florida right before flying home to Canada. So what’s up for 2012? “Well, next year we’re working on getting some more big tours,” revealed Stanley. “Nothing confirmed yet but it’s going to firm up in the next few weeks and we’re going to be out and doing the same sort of stuff and big festivals … We’ll have a third single out there”.
Stanley: We haven’t confirmed yet. I wish I could tell you.
(whispering) You can tell me, I won’t tell.
Stanley: (whispering) I can’t tell you (laughs) I’d get in trouble.
I even tried to get Bradley to spill the beans: “I’m sorry (laughs). It’s up between two songs and I can’t say right now because the band hasn’t actually confirmed which one it’ll be. So I just can’t let the cat out of the bag yet”.
So we’ll all just have to wait till next year to see what Art Of Dying will be throwing out there. With the Vices & Virtues album filled top to bottom with killer songs and no throw-away filler, the next single will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of the previous singles. And the band will continue to rise to the top.
Below is more from my interview with guitar player Tavis Stanley.
Art Of Dying has had a really exciting year.
Yeah, we’ve been busy. Our record came out in March and we’ve pretty much been touring steadily since then. Avalanche tour in the spring and the Uproar Festival and now we’re headlining our own run. It’s been a variety of different shows and lots of interesting travels for sure. We’re on our second single and everything is really good and been really positive and we’re looking forward to next year.
Other than judging the Miss Uproar festival, what else has stood out this year for you?
Meeting tons of great cool people and awesome bands. We started out early this year, going out with Stone Sour and Theory Of A Deadman. The Theory guys are good friends of ours and we had a blast with them. They’re a fun group of guys. We got to razz each other a little bit (laughs).
Actually, I’ll tell you a brief story about those guys. The last day of the tour on Avalanche, you know sometimes there’s a little bit of hijinks or special moments that happen on the last day. You don’t want to mess with anybody but certainly with those guys we pulled a couple of pranks. Me and Jonny walked out on stage during one of their ballads and we both kissed Tyler Connolly on the cheek at one of the most intimate moments of one of their songs (laughs). It was really funny. We walked away and he goes, “Those are the two ugliest chicks I’ve ever seen” (laughs). It’s all in good fun.
I interviewed Tyler not long ago and he was a really nice guy. But I wonder how long he’s been rocking that hair?
Oh a long time (laughs)
Who would you say has been your biggest influence as a band?
We’re pretty much influenced by the early 90’s bands a lot, like Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Nirvana. They’re all great influences for all of us.
What about for you personally as a musician?
I’m more into the classic rock and grew up on Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin and a lot of old blues stuff like BB King and Muddy Waters. The Beatles were a big influence.
So what made you want to play guitar rather than another instrument?
It’s the coolest instrument there is (laughs). When I started getting into Led Zeppelin and stuff like that, “Stairway To Heaven” was the first song I learned. At the same time I picked up the guitar, I really got into that music and started learning all the riffs and got hooked instantly.
Does it come natural to you?
I don’t want to brag but it did come really naturally to me (laughs). I picked it up and just ran with it and I learned very fast. I guess I just had a knack for it but I guess that’s a good thing. I found my calling but I guess it’s different for everybody. Some guys got to practice and I just don’t really practice and just sort of show up and play and have fun. It’s just easy. I guess it’s the ears too. A lot of people don’t have the right ears for music. Like I could always listen to a song on the radio and just figure it out right there cause I could just hear it, hear what the chords were. Some people can’t do it.
If you had to tell somebody about your music who has never heard you guys play, how would you describe it to them?
You know, I didn’t come up with this but I’ll go with what David Draiman [Distrubed] dubbed us when he first met us. He called us “Eagles In Chains”. So with the three-part harmonies mixed with the heavy grungy sound, yeah, “Eagles In Chains”.
Are you writing now, while you’re out on the road?
We’re always writing. There’s always one of these laying around (taps the acoustic guitar sitting beside him). We’re always working on ideas.
Well, Vices & Virtues is a great CD. Every song hits on something different, they’re energetic and the lyrics aren’t fluff by any means.
That’s kind of how we approach our songwriting. It has to have some substance to it. Jonny is the main lyric writer and he’s just a gifted lyricist so he’s great at that. He’ll come up with really great ideas to write about and we’ll sort of get together and run with it. But he’s great with coming up with ideas. I don’t know where he gets it. He pulls it out of the universe from somewhere (laughs)
I read a quote by Jonny that said when all five of you guys came together, it stopped being a band and became a family.
Yeah, that’s kind of our vibe. We’re really good friends and we became friends before we started playing together. When the five of us [which also includes drummer Jeff Brown] all met in Toronto, we just had a few beers. Me and Cale were actually playing in a cover band at this bar called The Hideout one night and we used to do that every week. And these guys came down. Jeffy was friends with Cale and we had a few Guinness, ended up hanging out, crushing a bunch of beers and hit it off.
Then the next night we hung out again and then a few days later they called up me and Cale and said, “Do you want to join the band and go on this tour with Disturbed?” So we did and that was it. So it’s really cool when you have that kind of vibe within your band cause I think that’s what’s missing from a lot of bands, you know, the camaraderie. A lot of people show up like it’s their job and play their show and check out, see you later, go back to the hotel or whatever. But we’ll hang out all night when we’re not on stage and we have a good time.
Watch for more with Greg Bradley in a future edition of MY ROOTS early in 2012.
You can also read my interview with Cale Gontier from a past MY ROOTS here