Say what you want about Massachusetts’ All That Remains, but the metalcore quintet has become an undeniable success story in the world of modern metal and hard rock. The band’s latest album and seventh total, The Order of Things, was released in February 2015 and earned several positive reviews and accolades, including peaking at number 25 on the Billboard top 200. While they have faced criticism for the change in their musical direction over the years – as well as some members’ thoughts about said change – All That Remains has and continues to be able to support themselves on their music. It’s safe to say that they’ve come a long way since being featured on Guitar Hero II, and once being known as that band with the original vocalist of Shadows Fall. While supporting In Flames on the second leg of their Charming America tour, I sat down with All That Remains bassist Jeanne Sagan and guitarist Oli Herbert. Prior to taking the stage, we covered a number of different topics including musical expansion and writing, touring and staying healthy on the road, video games, and somehow, only I could end up talking about Disney/Pixar movies with a metal band.
To start, I want to talk about this current tour. This is at least the second time you’ve been booked as direct support to In Flames. Although, I remember that the band had to drop off the 2008 run (which also included Gojira and 36 Crazyfists) due to issues with your voice. Have you toured with In Flames other than these two tours as well? Either in the U.S. or other countries?
Jeanne Sagan (bass, vocals): This has pretty much been it. And it was cool to get an offer to do it – this is the second leg, we did one previous already for about five weeks, took a month off, and then came back to do a second leg with them. For me it feels good; kind of like redeeming ourselves after having to drop off in 2008. That was kind of a bummer, because that tour was amazing. So for them to be like, “OK, we trust you to come back out.” [Laughs] I think we work really well together, sell-wise and people-wise. I think our fans kind of understand and overlap, so it’s great.
How has this tour package been with Wovenwar on the first leg and Periphery on the second (although they’re not playing tonight) in comparison to other tours? Is there still that same or similar crossover appeal with the third band(s)? How does it compare with previous tours; good or bad, better or worse?
We’ve only had two shows with Periphery, so we’re still kind of in the beginning of it. Wovenwar, I thought, was awesome because they kind of that metal thing, but also very melodic and a lot of singing on top of it. So it worked.
Oli Herbert (lead guitar): That was a very good tour last time [first leg], and this will also be a good tour [second leg], I think.
So it sounds like everyone’s been pretty cool, then. Are all of the bands getting along? Are the Periphery dudes just as cool as the Wovenwar dudes?
There’s been a couple of fist fights. [Laughs]
Who won? [Laughs]
We toured with their [Wovenwar’s] previous band [As I Lay Dying] a lot, so we knew them walking in day one. Periphery, I have not met anyone yet.
I’ve met Mark (Holcomb, lead guitar), one of the guitar players; he’s really cool.
We see a lot of bands – metal and otherwise – lose members throughout their tenure, but All That Remains has kept the same members for several years now. What has been the secret (if any) to keep everyone working seemingly so well together, through so many album cycles?
I would say, we all mind our space on tour.
We’ve definitely learned each other, know when to step away from each other and stuff like that. But we all have the same goal. So as long as we can work around each other if we need to, we’re all heading for the same thing.
Your latest album and seventh total, The Order Of Things, was released earlier this year… Basically, what exactly IS “the order of things?” Are things in order? Are things out of order? How should things be ordered, at least according to All That Remains?
…I don’t really know. I don’t know what the order of things is. [Laughs]
Still trying to figure that one out?
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t know exactly how to answer that.
I think it’s just stock in where you are right now, and having an objective look upon it. That’s my interpretation, I could be totally off-base.
I just thought it was some kind of O.C.D. thing. [Laughter]
I can have O.C.D. tendencies myself, so I buy into that. [Laughs] Jeanne, you sing a whole lot more on this new record than on previous All That Remains albums. I haven’t seen All That Remains live for several years, since you were opening for Dethklok along with Machine Head and The Black Dahlia Murder. And I noticed that you were actually singing more onstage, and harmonizing with Phil (Labonte, vocals).
That’s how it started actually, that Dethklok tour. He [Phil] was like, “You know, I kind of need some more help with harmonies and choruses and stuff like that.” And I just, during our off-time, took lessons and stepped up, got over some fears or insecurities [laughs]. So when it came time around to record this new album, it just made sense because I’d been doing it live, so we kind of just threw it in there. So, it sounds drastic on CD, but I’ve been doing it for a few years now. So it’s not that surprising, but it is surprising at the same time [laughs].
I was going to mention that I’ve definitely heard you support Phil on stage with the harsh vocals, too. So was it a difficult transition between the harsh vocals and the clean vocals for you?
No, but trying to balance them on a nightly basis… I definitely have to pay attention a lot more. Because a lot of it is mental as much as it is physical; just listening to my body and knowing that I’m going to hurt myself, or if I’m overdoing it. Just finding a balance between the two. At this point, I’ve kind of figured it out a little bit more [laughs].
Who did you take vocal lessons from? Was it Phil?
No, a friend just recommended someone in my area. I went to her for a while and learned some basics. I still use the warmups that she gave me, it’s worked out.
When you write music, what comes first? Phil’s got his own lyrics, but does anyone else contribute to the lyric writing?
No, it’s typically all Phil. This time, he did collaborate with our producer, Josh Wilbur.
So then what comes first, the music or the lyrics?
The music always comes first.
Do the lyrics reflect the music, or do they come from a totally different set of notes?
I think it’s a very abstract reflection on the music. I don’t think there’s any thought going into it. It’s like, “Oh, that sounds cool. I think I’ll write something based on what I’m hearing right now.” I was picking around with the pre-chorus of “For You,” and I came up with this little picked guitar line. And Phil was like, “Oh wow, I like that melody,” and starts a vocal melody around it. So that was kind of a musical inspiration that translated. But, lyrically, I think he just picks a place in his head at the time.
When you build the music, do you, Oli, do all of the guitar work yourself? Do you contribute with Mike (Martin, rhythm guitars)? Does Phil or Jeanne also contribute to the riffs? Jeanne, your bass playing seems different on this album too; a little more pushed forward than previous works.
It is mixed a little differently. Oli and Mike work [on guitar], but Phil comes in with some stuff.
He’s got riffs.
Yeah, he’s got riffs. He is a guitar player, so he definitely has ideas of where he wants songs to go. I kind of sit in a corner and watch them all feed off of each other. And I write off of that, pretty much. I kind of just do my own thing.
But, you are able to “get a lick in edgewise,” so to speak?
Yeah, but I’m not really a “lick” writer. I just kind of feed off of the other members.
I definitely noticed on the new album, that even the guitar solos fit the different identity and style. Because, All That Remains has definitely seen a style evolution and branching out, going in different directions throughout your career. When you’re still writing and making riffs or solos, where are you pulling inspiration or influences from to make it fit the song?
Well, I go to the song itself. So I might draw something from one of the riffs, such as the song “The Last Time.” A lot of the time, on this album, I took some of the actual vocal melodies. Like in “Divide,” the second half of the solo, I just rip it. I figure that’s kind of “quoting” the melody. And as a soloist, it’s my job to be “the singer” for that twenty- to thirty-second period, or whatever it is. I try to find what’s in the song already and just extrapolate upon it. That’s kind of how I do things, I don’t just go up and down scales and hope for the best. [Laughter] I did that when I was a kid, but it doesn’t get you very far.
Do you still teach guitar, by any chance?
Yeah, but not like I used to. I used to do it full-time. But yeah, I do it whenever people are interested and get the chance.
If you weren’t in All That Remains, would you still be teaching? Or would you be doing anything else? And same question for you too, Jeanne; what would you be doing?
I’d definitely be teaching a lot more if I wasn’t in this band, but I’d probably try to get into another band as well.
I’d probably just be playing with friends whenever I can. But I’ve had real jobs. Actually, my last real job was working at an animal hospital, because I have a Bachelor’s Degree in science. I’d still be doing stuff along those lines. It was kind of just the right time; I lucked out, and I get to be here now. [Laughs] I mean, we get to play Pop’s tonight.
It’s cool! We haven’t been here in a long time.
Yeah, I think the last couple of times that you’ve come to town, you’ve played The Pageant. Which is a fantastic theater, and their sound system is how I could hear those vocal harmonies that I was talking about earlier. But, now you’re playing in between two strip clubs so, moving on up in the world! I guess… [Laughter]
It definitely has a big [parking] lot. I ran around the lot a bunch. [Laughs]
We’ve played here multiple times, and it’s always a good show.
Jeanne, you just mentioned that you ran around the lot. Oli, I understand that you just returned from the gym. Everyone in the band seems to be in pretty good shape. How do you stay in shape, particularly when you’re at home, versus being on the road?
I’ve kind of flipped where on the road, I’m in this mode or mentality that I want to go to the gym every day. Like, half of our bus goes to the gym. It’s easy to stay active and inspired to do it. And we also have only good food; we all cook on the bus, so we’re not eating, like, pizza and McDonald’s every day and stuff like that. We just kind of started taking care of ourselves. We’re getting older.
I’m going to be 40.
Yeah. And I’ve found that, when I’m home, I kind of just sink in and eat comfort food and kind of relax. [Laughs]
So it sounds like you might actually eat better on the road than at home?
A little bit. Like, I definitely don’t eat Chinese food once a week like I do at home. [Laughs] But… everyone’s been into this whirlwind of going to the gym and eating better, everyone’s been staying on it.
When I get home, I have a Vitamex juicer, and that’s what I do. It’s really cool, and I run around my property a bunch. I have hills and stuff, so can get a good workout going… when I’m home.
Now that All That Remains has seven albums, each one with its own identity, how does that affect putting together a live set list?
That’s definitely a question for Jeanne, she makes the set lists.
I just try to find a balance of everything, because that’s kind of who we are. We’ve been playing ballads [like] “What If I Was Nothing?” since it came out. We just don’t care who we’re playing with. We’re like, “Eh, we’re playing with all heavy, doom metal bands. Whatever, we’re going to throw a ballad in there.” Because it’s pleasing to the ears and it changes the flow of the set. It actually ends up being the highest point of our set, throwing that in. But we write all kinds of songs, so why shy away from it? Just play a little bit of everything and everyone can get the full effect of us.
We’re not ashamed of what we write, you know? We write a wide variety of metal, so we feel like we should represent that on our set. I remember we did one festival [with] a lot of heavy bands, and [people] were like, “Wow, I like the fact that you guys played a ballad, because my ears were just hurting from all of the sameness.” [Laughter] It was a good little palate cleanser.
I really like the video for that song. I don’t know where the credit should go to, but the concept of love throughout a lifetime and then losing someone at the end of it is, I think, I concept that doesn’t get talked about a lot, especially in metal.
Yeah, it’s really happy. [Laughter]
Hey, it worked!
It’s kind of like watching Up. Have you ever seen Up?
No, I’ve never seen Up actually!
Oh man, I cried like five times just in the beginning. It starts off all “boy meets girl,” and it goes through his lifetime and they’re all happy. And then she’s dead. And that’s just like the opening sequence. [Laughs]
…You’re not selling me on this movie.
It doesn’t sound very “up.”
No! It sounds very much “down.”
Aren’t Pixar movies usually, like, fun and have happy endings? What about Toy Story? Like, the third one? Oh my god…
I’ve also never seen that one either because, again, I don’t want to cry… I’ll tell you what, I hate Finding Nemo; that’s the saddest fucking movie I’ve ever seen in my life.
Another Pixar movie.
Exactly! That’s my point; whoever is working at Disney has got some fucked up minds, man. I think we can all agree on that.
Amazing stories and animation but, depressing. [Laughs]
I guess you either have to have some kind of a mental condition to work at Disney, or at least you’ll develop one… I actually kind of feel bad that I keep interrupting Oli while he’s on his phone over here.
He’s actually really good at multitasking.
Yeah, I’m doing this, I’m listening to you; it keeps me from being too fidgety. But if you’re wondering what I’m doing, I’m playing a game called Blood and Glory: Immortals. I’m going through and upgrading my gear right now.
Would you recommend that game?
Yes. It’s awesome.
Well, that’s actually the perfect segue. Speaking of games, now that we have Rock Band and Guitar Hero expanding their franchises, and what is considered to be the hardest song on Guitar Hero II was All That Remains’ “Six”…
That’s not true.
Oh, it wasn’t the hardest song? What was it?
The song that was considered to be the hardest was the one by Buckethead.
Got it, that makes sense. So, any chance we’ll see some more All That Remains songs on this “resurgence” of these games?
I wasn’t really aware that they were being resurged.
Well, I guess what I mean is that they’re suddenly being talked about more now.
I believe we are. I don’t know if it’s more downloadable or if they still do basic ones on the disc. I mean, a lot of the technology has evolved as far as those games go, especially with online [capabilities].
I love the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, it’s great for us. It’s great for bands because video games are like, the biggest industry in the world; bigger than music, film, porn, everything.
Remember how I said that you got stuck with [interviewing] me because everybody else is playing video games? [Laughs]
Well, Oli IS playing a video game, right now! [Laughter]
I’m going to start practice after this, but yeah it passes the time and I can still focus.
Totally! Well now you’re going to have to find something else to pass the time and shift your focus, because I’m done! [Laughter] I’ll go ahead and cut you guys loose, so thank you very much for taking the time out to talk to me today.
Oh no, believe me, the pleasure’s all on this side over here.
…That sounds like a quote from Office Space.
It was! That’s exactly where I stole it from, “The Bobs.” [Laughter]
[Doing and impression from the movie] “So, what is it exactly that you do around here?” [Laughter]
To answer Oli’s question, what I do around here at Damnation Magazine invade the personal touring space of bands, pretend to know what I’m talking about, and then take forever to finally publish my work… Seriously; this interview was conducted on May 1, 2015! A combination of home computer issues and my day job are just some of my excuse (not that any excuse is a good one). Thanks to everyone involved for participating in this interview, and especially for their patience in me finally getting around to it. All That Remains’ latest album, The Order of Things, is available now on Razor & Tie. The band is currently booked to play a number of U.S. festivals during the summer and fall of 2015. Make sure to check out the rest of our own Nick Licata’s photos from the show.