We sat down initially with drummer Robert Ortiz and guitarist K Thrash, later to be joined by vocalist Craig Mabbitt of the band Escape The Fate to chat about everything before the release of the new album I Am Human… So here’s our rather lengthy chat covering down time on tour, setlist arguments and the revelation of a running theme behind album artwork!
BM: So you’re in Manchester again, do you like it here?
Robert: Yes, love it. I mean the shows here are always great. Manchester’s cool though, the energy is always cool- I think we’ll pack out a sweaty room in here and we’ll have a good time. I’m a boxing fan and one of the main things I love about Manchester is that Ricky ‘The Hitman’ Hatton is from here…
BM: So what do you do on your down-time on tour?
K Thrash: Well it depends; what kind of time we have, if it’s snowing… like today was, it was kind of miserable. Right now on this tour I’ve been reading a bit, just the Henry Rollins book at the moment
Robert: I love working out, if you follow me on any of my socials you will see that… I just like it because I like to get away from the environment of this, it’s a completely different space. It’s fun, it’s therapy, it fixes you too if you know what I mean.
K Thrash: Yeah, believe it or not a little time away means you can come back and last longer.
Robert: Another thing I like doing at the moment is streams with fans; just on Facebook live and they come on and we just talk about anything really. Most of the time really its usually related to Escape the fate- at least 70% of the time, and then the other time we’ll talk about movies, other artists and lyrics… stuff like that. It’s actually started its own little community of fans who are all starting to talk to each other, and they’ve asked me if they can make a fan page- so that way they can all connect.BM: So how do you go about deciding a setlist for tours like this, now you’ve got a fair few albums worth of material under your belts?
K Thrash: Oh my God don’t even say that word back here! It’s been a heated debate at times, we were supposed to completely change it for today but that hasn’t happened. This set in particular is the most unique setlist we’ve ever done. We’re playing four new songs, ones like not even been released, then there’s stuff we haven’t played in a long time. Setlists are probably the most fought about thing in this band, we will argue for hours and hours about it…
Craig Mabbitt: Can I just get in on the interview because I’m just wondering round here…
K Thrash: Ladies and Gentlemen, this is THE Craig Mabbitt!
Robert: We have to take into account as well the fans that are outside of the hardcore fans, who want us to play certain songs, so you have to think about the ones that have the most views and all that kind of stuff. So you put those in, then you’ve got to do it for yourself and play the new stuff that you’re excited about. Then you decide on the songs you don’t usually put in the set that you rarely play, for the hardcore fans who have gone to multiple shows- they need to hear something different too. It’s really amazing to hear the reaction to one of the new songs in particular- to hear people singing from the first fucking note, because it starts with vocals. People are automatically singing it, and I didn’t even like it at first!
BM: And you’ve been covering My Chemical Romance as well?
Craig: I would really just like to say that if My Chem ever come back, then we would love to tour…
Robert: They toy with my EMO-tions dude. They’re up there for me. We have been covering it, we love them and it just goes off. It’s fucking fun!
Craig: It’s a cool ass song for sure, and it has those harmonies, and the la la la la… It has las!
K Thrash: There’s two guitar solos in it!BM: How have you been finding the reaction to the song you haven’t released yet?
Robert: I mean, online it has definitely been interesting. But the world will fear change!
Craig: It’s not even that they fear change it’s just that anything online is gonna be controversial.
K Thrash: Sometimes you want a certain flavour of pizza, and sometimes you go somewhere else because you want special pizza, or you go Dominoes because you want something else another day… And people go to Escape The Fate because they expect a certain product, they expect a certain thing. But we happen to be artists who like to create different things, and we put everything into this band. We want to express ourselves in different ways sometimes, and sometimes people may disagree because it’s not what they’re used to. But change is good!
Robert: I don’t mind when people like to talk shit about music because I love to talk shit. You tell me why you hate it so much and I’ll explain why you’re wrong. If you tell me that we changed and you liked the old stuff better, you don’t like the new stuff- then you’re lying about being an old fan because if you truly were, you’d know that we’ve always had every different type of style. The only offensive comments I ever hear in terms of comments are when people can’t see that we’ve always had it all, we haven’t just suddenly changed. It’s cool if people don’t like it, but don’t use that as the reason
Craig: In reality, everyone is like Robert. Everyone just likes talking shit, and they just want to be involved in a hot topic conversation.
BM: But having said all that, some of the newer stuff does have a slight shift in sound, was that intentional or did it just happen?
Robert: Every song we do has a shift in sound!
K Thrash: And then every album is different as well. Some are more planned out and… like this album we just put our heads down and wrote. That’s how the most honest material for me happens, if I’m not thinking too much. If we just put the pen to the paper and start going.
BM: So is that how it went with this one?
K Thrash: Yeah I would say it was more that… Like the song Empire came on a day when I wasn’t even feeling it, I was hungover as shit and I was aware we still needed to be working on the record, so I went into the studio to write, and I was writing about how I spent all my money and more the night before. It was real so I just thought, fuck it I’ll write that.
Craig: Most of it did happen like that, but then we did have that one conversation at Howard’s, were I brought up the fact that I looked at all of our albums on iTunes and the majority of them have two or three songs with stars on them because people are listening to them the most. This War Is Ours had six- people loved Ashley and Something and This War Is Ours, songs like that. So we went into this knowing that, so what makes me happy in terms of reactions to the new songs are the people who know what they’re talking about that say the songs remind them of This War Is Ours and stuff like that.
Robert: I think one thing that makes us love this album too is that this is a super emotional record for us; there are a couple of songs that are a little bit more party. But for the most part I think everyone has a song on here that we look at and think ‘that’s my opus’- I told Craig on stage last night when we played I Am Human the title track, I was like ‘wow that’s a fucking anthem dude!’. That song for me is very therapeutic, and I think people will get it.
Craig: This record though, my Mom has always been a huge supporter. For her last birthday we went to a bar and sang Mötley Crüe karaoke together, we get along great. But this is the first album where I’ve actually seen her telling people like ‘you have to listen to this!!’ I’m so excited for this album.
Robert: At the end of the day, this record has something, that quality music has that when it plays we somehow magically move to it, and when I play something to my infant daughters, they start dancing. There’s a feeling you get, and I Am Human is a perfect title; what you get is human emotion, through the majesty of song. That’s what people will get and I’m fucking excited for it.BM: What’s the idea behind the album art; it kind of toes the line between simplistic with the line drawings and such, yet there’s a brain, a heart and the weighing scales for which the symbolism isn’t so simplistic?
Craig: So I thought of that because of the overall theme of the entire album. I know the majority of people, myself included are liking things a little more simple; these days I don’t like things that are too busy. So I thought about the constant battle everyone has every day, torn between what your brain wants and what your heart wants. It’s simple, a brain, a heart and a scale. I honestly got the idea from lurking my own Instagram and seeing this photo I posted of a guy walking a tightrope with a heart on one side and a brain on the other.
K Thrash: You can look at the music like that too though, you can learn all your theory and know all the notes on the fret board, which is the brain side. But when you’re playing you want to follow your heart, and if there’s no passion behind it then you’re just playing notes.
Craig: A lot of people don’t realise; I don’t even think I’ve discussed it with these Robert, but every album until Hate Me has followed a theme of the album before it. The first Escape album had the girl with the lipstick, then I came into the band and we were talking about artwork; so then it’s that mummy, but the bandages don’t cover her mouth right here and she’s got these big red lips covered in lipstick. That’s the girl from the original album, bringing the band back from the dead in her mummy wraps. Then the self-titled, the mummy wrap comes off and you can see we’re a little zombie-fied… Ungrateful is the artwork I hate the most but I guess that’s just fully dead. Then Hate Me just went in a completely different direction. They all followed this theme and nobody ever noticed, I never even talked about it until right now!BM: Not even in terms of artwork but just for your albums in general, do you ever start with a theme in mind, or do you just go with it as you said before?
K Thrash: Well for one of the songs, Beautifully Tragic, I was just sat there thinking, ‘what would 18 year old me do on guitar?’ And that one has little shred stuff all over it, and a long solo. Then I thought, ‘what would me not censoring my guitar playing do?’…
BM: Has it always been like that with past albums, do you choose a starting point and work from there?
Craig: Sometimes what it starts with is there’s either a song you already have written, or a song you start working on when you know you’re going into the studio to write a new record. And sometimes that song is definitely going on the album, that everything else you’re writing is kind of based off what that song is.
K Thrash: Or I can sometimes be super hyper-critical, and I’ve listened to our new album a million times just looking for mistakes. But I always do stuff like that. For Hate Me I did that and found stuff I wanted to improve on, and every album I do I feel like I get 10% better, and then I’m in a good place. On this album I feel like we have more riffs than Hate Me, there’s more guitar solos and catchier vocals. We’re a lot happier with the mix, and just all the little things I wasn’t stoked about for Hate Me… Even though I loved that album too, we’re just trying to one-up it always.
Photos by Erin Moore at Forte Photography UK