Wednesday (February 9th), around 10 PM in Austria. I’m fixing myself a drink and preparing for an upcoming call on zoom. Meanwhile, an ocean away, it’s around 2 PM in Denver, Colorado (USA) and As It Is’ vocalist is trying to make the wifi work to join me for an interview, while the preparations for the show that night are in the midst of taking place.
After line-up changes following their 2018 release “The Great Depression” the band set out to write their follow up album and they were sent on a trip to a very dark place, from which they returned stronger than ever. In this little interview, their very own Patty Walters sat down with us to talk about their latest body of work “I WENT TO HELL AND BACK” and shares how different the process of working on the album was this time around.
Patty: Hi, how are you? Where are you calling from?
FM5: Hi, I’m good - calling in from Austria
Patty: Oh wow! Beautiful, thank you so much for staying awake so late just to talk to me. That’s very kind of you.
FM5: Congrats on the new album “I WENT TO HELL AND BACK”, it’s phenomenal.
Patty: Thank you so much!
FM5: The last two years things have certainly changed a lot due to the pandemic, so you had to work on your album remotely with half of the team in the US and the other half in the UK: What were the biggest challenges and if there were - advantages of working in that new way?
Patty: Yes. Well firstly, very well researched. Thank you for doing your homework that makes the interview always infinitely more enjoyable for me (laughs).
It was quite a challenge, you know, when you write a song collaboratively it is a very intimate experience, you want everybody to feel just as excited and elevated and proud of the songs as you are. You want everyone to share that ownership equally and to collaborate equally over zoom and dropbox is difficult. When you’re not there in person reading the body languages and the subtle physical nuances of a person you can’t have sort of secretive conversations for everybody to get on the same page.
So, that was challenging, but at the same time I sort of thrived from a lyrical perspective. [The team was] operating from two or three different time zones so I had the entirety of the morning and early afternoon to work towards lyrics. Sometimes when working on albums in the past your producer and your band are just waiting on you to finish a lyric and you don’t want to rush a lyric - you want it to be great, you want it to serve the song and having that sort of liberty and time to really craft and really perfect certain lyrics, I really thrived under those conditions. It wasn’t always easy, but it wasn’t always difficult either. It was a balance just like every other writing experience in that way.
FM5: What was the hardest song to write on the record, sonically and/or lyrically?
Patty: I would say there were songs that were difficult to write from the perspective of mental health struggles throughout the making of the record. There were tears in my eyes when I wrote these lyrics and recorded these vocals. It was a process that was just me on my own for hours because I couldn’t bear to join the zoom call, to join the writing/recording session. Everybody worked without me because I was just struggling profoundly. From that angle there were songs that were difficult to write, but there weren’t many songs that took very many days to write which is sort of a new approach to songwriting for me.
I do love to write and rewrite and rewrite and reimagine and rewrite and go back to previous versions and perfect the song and that can take an eternity whereas with this record, it was really completing a song over no more than two or three days. I think that explains why this is our longest record in terms of the tracklisting. It’s a 14-track album, it's our longest in terms of total songs. From that perspective none of them were difficult to complete, just some were difficult to confront and therefore write.
FM5: You have always been very vocal about mental health and especially the past two years isolation seemed to amplify those problems for many people and your album captures those feelings perfectly and the “and back” part of the title really stands out to me, so what helped you in those difficult times of dread and uncertainty?
Patty: Yeah, I would say what helped me was working on the album, it helped being productive - it would structure my days in an otherwise structureless pandemic and zeitgeist. I found that something that I and others struggled with during the pandemic was lack of structure, the lack of routine and the lack of normalcy.
Writing and recording and being with my family... writing songs and being creative was a small glimmer of normalcy in an otherwise very strange and uncertain time. I think the thing I struggled the most with in terms of the pandemic was the uncertainty in terms of how long it was going to last, you know?
To go without live music, without touring - without really doing my job to its fullest extent. It’s one thing to know when it is coming back, of course none of us did and to wrestle with that uncertainty.. I found it extremely difficult to accept and it inspired certain songs on the record for that reason. Songs like “I WANT TO SEE GOD” are about wrestling that uncertainty, desperation and wanting to have some autonomy over my life and where it was headed.
FM5: Touring is sort of back, at least in the US and the UK. What is that like in the midst of the pandemic compared to normal times? What are the biggest burdens?
Patty: [Touring] isn’t back entirely. It is different. We’re having to be much more conservative and careful about socializing on this tour - being reunited with our fans. We’re having to be smart, having to be safe, having to be careful, not just for ourselves, but for everybody attending the shows. It is strange, but I will absolutely take “strange” over the absence of touring entirely. To just be back in any capacity, in any facet is so much better than not touring at all. For me personally that’s just how I feel.
FM5: Yeah that’s understandable. Over here in Europe they cancel/reschedule tours left and right so I’m kinda sad about it.
Patty: That’s right.
FM5: So speaking of tour, right now you’re on the road with Set It Off who also features on one of the songs alongside JordyPurp called “In Threes”. How did that come about and why were they the perfect fit?
Patty: Set It Off has been some of our closest friends for probably nearly 8 years at this point. They took us out on our first ever North American tour in 2015 and we’ve toured with them four, maybe even five times. We’ve done Vans Warped Tours together, we’ve toured Japan together as a co-headliner and they’re just so kind and wonderful people and wonderful artists.
We were lucky enough to have Cody Carson (vocalist of Set It Off) come to the studio when we were doing writing sessions with our producer Zach Jones in August of last year and we wrote “In Threes” and I think we expected to write something a little more upbeat, a little more major, a little more pristine and polished, but instead we wrote this really dark and ominous, sort of sludgy alt-pop song together with extremely somber lyrics, but it’s one of my favourites on the record and when we penned the lyric “tragedy comes in threes” we all sort of realized we need a third feature, a third artist on the song before it’s complete.
Our good friend JordyPurp, who had already been in two of our music videos. We admire his song writing, his art, his style so much and we thought he would be perfect for the bridge. So we took an empty 16 to 32 bars and he put down exactly what is on the finished track. I think he did an amazing job. The whole song turned out better than I ever could have hoped for.
FM5: This is your most diverse/experimental album yet and shows quite a new side of the band - obviously change is an inevitable thing, but were you ever worried about how this change would be received from your fans?
Patty: Yes and no. You certainly wonder, but first and foremost you have to please yourself. You have to make yourself proud, before you aspire to please anybody else - no matter who that is, whether it is fans or critics.
We create art for ourselves and it’s our self expression, it’s our therapy. This is our livelihood, this is our passion and we do wonder, you know? It’s “are our fans going to accept the songs that are different?” versus “are fans going to accept the songs are similar?” because sometimes songs and albums are rejected for both of those reasons respectively. We are so thankful for the fanbase that we have. They’re so kind to us.
FM5: With the rise of the relatively new platform tiktok, social media seems to have gotten even more fast paced and “trends” seem to come and go in an instant. The music industry has caught onto that as a new, effective tool for promotion. As someone who has stated not being the biggest fan of social media before, what are your thoughts on that?
Patty: I think it’s extremely exciting that if you are talented and hard working you can create your own path in this industry. Whether you are a songwriter or a producer or a musician of any kind - that if the passion is there, if the talent is there - you aren’t reliant on labels or managers, as much as they are wonderful and can do incredible things for your career, it’s possible to create your own path in this industry and we all can reach the exact same number of people through tiktok, through instagram, twitch and youtube. I think that is extremely exciting and should be celebrated.
FM5: We are at the end of our little interview, is there anything you want to add for our readers?
Patty: I would just like to say, thank you so much for reading this whether you have heard of the band before or whether you haven’t. Our brand new record “I WENT TO HELL AND BACK” is out now. It’s a labour of love, it was a way of surviving the pandemic and I mean that literally. It was truly life or death for me and having something like this to work on... to create light out of darkness... I hope that this is how our record sounds when you listen to it. Hope you like it!
FM5: Thank you so much for taking the time!
Patty: Thank you so much, thank you for tolerating all the noise today. It is a smaller venue, so it was harder to escape today. I appreciate you, thank you for the professionalism and the homework, it was a fantastic interview and I look forward to seeing you again.
As It Is brand new album "I WENT TO HELL AND BACK" is out NOW! via Fearless Records