The Whipping Post presents...
Aletheian Interview - Added 08/06/05
For those who read my Cornerstone 2005 Report a couple weeks ago, you know that seeing Aletheian play live was one of my favorite experiences of the fest. What impressed me just as much as the band's live performance was the band's great personality and love for the fans. It seemed like I ran into lead singer, Joel Thrope every time I turned around...whether it was at another band's concert, at their merchandise table, standing in line to get some late night coffee, or just walking around the grounds. Every time he had a smile and stopped to chat for a few minutes. Enjoy this talk I had with him after returning from Cornerstone.
The Whipping Post: Well guys, I just got back from seeing you all play some shows at Cornerstone 2005 and I was blown away by your live performances. It’s mind-boggling to me that you guys can be so unknown in the world of metal despite having 3 solid albums to your name and being a pretty active band in playing live. So…with that in mind, please give the readers of The Whipping Post, who maybe haven’t heard you before, a brief history of your band from the beginning to the current day.
Joel Thorpe: Thanks Matt for the compliments and encouragement, we appreciate that. The band has had many phases, we refer to different periods of time by phase numbers. The band started as CRUTCH in 1997 at Messiah College in central PA, this was phase I. Alex is the only remaining founding member. I joined the band in early 1998 (phase II) and by the spring we were in the studio recording for the first time (an album we now deny exists, so please don't ask about it). In early 1999 we wrote our own version of the Bob Dylan song “masters of war” for a Bob Dylan fest (we ended up being asked not to play by the fest director, he couldn't understand the lyrics). That song was the beginning of a more extreme metal style (phase III), our previous material was more metalcore with solos. We also recorded a 6 song EP during phase III (which we also deny exists), which included the Dylan cover.
In the summer of 1999 we parted ways with our drummer and acquired a second guitarist, Donny Swigart. In the fall of 1999 we acquired a new drummer, Travis Turner, wrote all new material and started Phase IV CRUTCH – The ...hope prevails phase. This is when we really began playing out a lot and building a name for ourselves. We recorded a three song demo at Messiah College, the Awe and Disbelief demo. We lived off that $3 disc, recorded mixed and manufactured in our bedroom (three of us shared an apartment for a year), for two years. We sold nearly 800 of those super crappy demos. During that time is when we did our cover of “Breathing Murder” for the Living Sacrifice Tribute album.
In spring of 2001 we recorded “... hope prevails” and released it ourselves on the way to cornerstone festival, making copies in the van along the way. We re-released the album on Burning Records in 2002. In the summer of 2002 (at cornerstone) our drummer informed us that his wife was pregnant with twins and he would have to leave the band to be dad. Our bass player (Keith Isenberg) also decided to leave to support his wife through college. We had close to 9 months off while we searched everywhere for a new drummer, everyone thought that we had broken up for good.
During this time, we had been receiving some label interest and were under the gun to record a full-length album. We had planned to record a short 4 song concept EP as the last CRUTCH project, but due to time restraints we were forced to expand the project into a full-length, greatly changing the original intent. A long story short, the final end result was “Apolutrosis”, the experimental concept album. Alex recorded everything with broken equipment in the basement of an old farm house, it's a miracle that the album ever came together at all. Right when we were in the final stretch of that album (early 2003) is when we added a new drummer (Joe Walmer) and bassist (Travis Wagner), both from the band Blind Influence. This started CRUTCH Phase V.
We only played two shows as phase V before deciding to take the band to a more serious level and start touring, part of this change resulted in a name change to ALETHEIAN. As a result, the “Apolutrosis” album ended up being Aletheian's first full-length rather than Crutch's last EP. “Apolutrosis” was released in 2003 out of the backseat of our van while on the road, we made copies in the van as we went. The album was re-released in 2004 along with a re-release of “...hope prevails”.
In early 2004 we parted ways with Travis Wagner, and have been looking for a bassist ever since. In the fall of 2004 we started recording 'Dying Vine', but hit a 3 month road block when our guitarist/audio recording engineer, Alex Kenis, severed a tendon in his right thumb and had to have surgery. We resumed recording in March of 2005 and the CD was released on June 24th. We have been out on the road since the release, trying to promote the new album as much as we can.
Basically, Aletheian is just the natural progression of Crutch, and has been pretty much entirely a DIY band all along.
TWP: Back to your Cornerstone appearances, how did Cornerstone go from the band’s perspective? Was it better than you expected?
JT: We did not get invited back to play this year (2005) which was disappointing, so we actually got into the festival as a vendor (Hope Prevails Productions). We planned to just play the generator circuit and promote the new album. Five minutes after we got to the fest, Rock for Life asked us to fill in for LA Symphony on Sat at 10pm. We were thrilled. We spread the word the best we could and then played one of the most fun shows we've ever played in our lives. We all had a great time. Thanks to everyone who came out.
TWP: What was your favorite band to see live at Cornerstone this year?
JT: Becoming the Archetype was cool. The Showdown was fun. Crimson Thorn was a great late-night treat. Still Remains put on a great show. As I Lay Dying and Haste the Day did well. But the best new band that I saw was the Florida band FireFlight, very tight and professional.
TWP: I really enjoyed getting to meet and talk with you guys at Cornerstone. My wife is not a big fan of metal at all, but after meeting you guys and seeing you play she is definitely an Aletheian fan now. How important is it to you guys that you connect with your fans personally instead of being a band that just plays their songs and runs…having no contact with their fans?
JT: The primary focus of the band is to share Hope with people, especially people who have never heard that there is hope in this world. Therefore the fans are the primary focus. We all love music and we want to create the best music and art that we possibly can, but my heart is centered on using my art and music as a carrier for a message of hope. We are all normal down-to-earth people, and we want fans to be able to approach us and hangout with us, not be intimidated by us or elevate us to some other level. Cornerstone especially, we deliberately chose to stay at the festival all week and camp-out with our friends and fans, rather than leave and stay in some hotel far away. We want to be at our merchandise table all day meeting and talking with people, having a good time. Being at the fest all week also allows us to go see all kinds of new young bands, as well as support and encourage friend's bands.
One thing that I love about the way our band relates to people is that the quality of music and skill of the musicians draws in all kinds of people who would never listen to metal. The comment we get a lot is, “I LOVE the music, but I HATE the vocals”, which I understand completely, death metal isn't for everyone. The music coupled with the positive message of Hope and printouts of all the lyrics enables people to look past the dark exterior of the “metal band”, and actually get to know us and our vision. Over the years we've amassed quite a following of non-metal fans of all ages; kids, parents, grand parents, wives, etc... Some of them support us as a band even though they wouldn't ever listen to a CD. I think that's really cool.
TWP: Have you had many experiences were people went to your shows not having heard you before and came away as huge fans?
TWP: You guys have a new album out called Dying Vine. Tell me about the recording process of the new album? How did it compare to previous recordings and are there things you learned that you may want to do differently on the next album?
JT: We recorded with our guitarist Alex, he runs a startup studio called Studio Insomnia. We had no budget at all (not an unlimited budget, a $0.00 budget), so we did the best we could with as much as we could come up with. Alex borrowed some really nice gear from a friend, we transformed our practice space into a recording studio, and then spent as much time as we needed to get the sounds we were looking for. This was an extremely complicated process that I've just simplified into two sentences. I suggest that anyone who really wants a more in-depth look at how we recorded the album, buy the Aletheian DVD, there is a 20 min documentary style overview of the process.
Basically, we are 100% DIY, we record, mix, and master all the albums. We do all the artwork ourselves, release the albums on our own record label, design and print all our own t-shirts, etc... So we just want to encourage kids who don't have any money (which is most of them), if you really want to work hard you can accomplish whatever your willing to attempt.
If there was something we could have done differently, we would have liked to have a large and properly designed “Live Room” to record in. We would also have liked to have a lot more time to work on the mixing and mastering (these were rushed greatly in order to have the CD out before Cornerstone Festival).
TWP: Tell us a little bit about
the live DVD and what’s on it and what kind of quality we can expect.
The DVD contains a concept music video for the song “As the Fall Breaks” as well as a short 'making of the video' section. There is a full set from a special “DVD Video Shoot” concert that we held in late 2004. I had 5 camera guys and a special set for the shoot. This was an actual live concert in front of a sold-out live audience. We also brought in Alex's live multi-track audio recording setup and recorded the audio so it could be mixed and mastered in post production. There is also a few songs on there from our CD release show in July 2004, and some songs from Cornerstone 2004. The Special Features include a 20 minute documentary on the recording process for Dying Vine. A very short “making of the video” section, and an even shorter section of some funny stuff. Overall the DVD is over 2 hours of edited footage, and I think the quality of the project is very very good. So far everyone we've talked to has raved about it.
TWP: I know that the album just came out, but what kind of responses have you been getting from your new recording? Do old fans like it and have you gained new fans that maybe didn’t get into your previous material?
JT: So far, everyone really seems to like it a lot. We've only had a handful of reviews so far, but they have all be very positive. The fan response has been amazing, we kind of lost some people with our concept album Apolutrosis, but this new album appeals to a much wider audience. We feel that Dying Vine falls in-between ...hope prevails and Apolutrosis in a sort of place that is progressive and artistic, but yet heavy and accessible.
TWP: Do you have a favorite song on
Dying Vine that sticks out from the others? Do you have a favorite one you like playing live?
JT: “As the Fall Breaks” is a very personal song to me, they all are in a way, but this one is about some serious regret issues that I've wrestled through. That's why we decided to use this track for the music video, the lyrics are written as a first person story. The other song that I really like is “Call to Arms”, I just feel that the lyrics of that song embody where my heart is, and what I wanted this album to communicate to people. I want to encourage people to find and choose hope in a world of darkness and despair. The lyrics from this song are also where I chose the album title Dying Vine.
Songs I like best live? “Exaleiphein” from the Apolutrosis album is one of my favorites. All of them tend to be much faster live than on CD, so sometimes that's fun (other times it can be really bad).
TWP: Considering the fantastic live performances you guys put on, will you ever consider recording a live CD?
JT: No, most likely not, we are never quite happy enough with our live performances. We all had to compromise a LOT in order to even use any of the material on the DVD. We found something wrong with everything but ultimately just let things slide since most people never notice anyway. But a live CD, most likely not.
TWP: I have a friend of mine that ran up to me at Cornerstone who was floored by your tight set. After seeing so many slopping shows, it was like a breath of fresh air. You guys seem to put a big emphasis on good musicianship. How long have you guys been playing your different instruments?
JT: We want to be as solid live as possible, no one wants to see a band butcher their own material. We are firm believers that bands should be able to come very close to duplicating their recordings in a live setting. We don't want to have people say “but on the CD you did ...” But at the same time, no one wants to see a band sit on stools and play while looking at sheet music. So we compromise a little in our performance in order to have a high energy stage presence.
Alex and I have been in the band for over 7 years, Donny for over 5, and Joe has been with us now for 2 and a half. Alex has been playing guitar for over 14 years, Donny for 10 years or so, and I think Joe has been playing for 6 or 7 years.
TWP: How often do you get to practice together as a band?
JT: We all live a great distance from each other, some of us have to drive 2 hours each way to practice. So having band rehearsal is quite difficult on a regular basis. We try to have a rehearsal once a week. So we all spend a lot of time rehearsing the band material at home on our own time.
TWP: What do you see as the future for Aletheian? Do you see yourself playing in the band ten years from now or is this just something for the short term?
JT: Well, we hope that within the next several months or so we can line up some more substantial touring. Our goal is to get to the point where we are on the road as much as possible and making enough money to break even. As modest as that sounds, that is a huge goal to attain. It's very very hard in the metal world to even stay afloat financially, let alone actually making a living.
TWP: Your website lists your influences as Death, Cynic, Carcass, Emperor, Extol, Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Meshuggah, and At the Gates. When you are not listening to those bands, what are some of the bands that you guys get into…both in the world of metal and outside of metal?
JT: Well, we all have very broad and diverse musical tastes. We tend to agree most often on metal bands, we all share a love for the bands listed above, beyond that it gets much more complicated. In one day we could have everything from; brutal tech grind, to melodic power metal, to pretentious prog, to industrial, to instrumental shred, to folk, to spoken word, etc, etc... Between the four of us, there probably isn't too much at least one of us doesn't like. Music is all about feeling and mood, so what's playing is different all the time.
TWP: How do you guys balance your different responsibilities in life…like work/careers, the band, relationships, church, etc.? Do you often find yourself feeling overwhelmed, or do you have things running good and smooth?
Nothing ever runs smoothly, that's just a universal constant. We are 100% DIY, so EVERYTHING is our responsibility. There is a lot of pressure most of the time, and things are often overwhelming (especially when working with deadlines and trying to get CDs in time for the CD Release shows). But we can't really complain because we're the one's who cause the problem, we set our own deadlines. We run our own record label and our own recording studio. We also do all our own artwork and hand-print all of our own merchandise. Promotion and booking shows also falls on our shoulders, so there's never a dull moment. Nothing is FREE is another universal constant, and we don't make enough money at the band to be self sufficient, so we have to work to be able to support the band. This is complicated as well. Finding jobs that allow weekends free for shows and also let you take a week off here and there, or 3 months off for the summer, that's a difficult situation. Long story short, when we are not playing shows we are working at various jobs trying to make ends meet. Personally, I build houses during the day, do stained glass and screen printing at nights, and do the band stuff everywhere in between.
TWP: What are some of the ways you like to spend your free time...what little you seem to have?
JT: Well, most of us work all the time, so we don't really have much free time. But if and when we do, we usually go see friend's bands play, or watch movies, hangout with friends, etc... Primarily, we go see bands play whenever we can.
TWP: You mentioned this in the history question at the first of the interview, but a while back, Alex had an accident. Tell us about this in a little more depth and tell us how it affected the band in any positive or negative ways.
JT: In November of 2004 our guitarist Alex, cut his thumb severely, severing one of the tendons. This injury required corrective surgery to reattach the tendon. It took about 3 full months for Alex to return to playing close to the level he was at before. We had just started recording the Dying Vine album, Joe finished his drum tracks only days before the injury. This accident drastically changed our timetable for recording. Alex was forced to have to record his parts in great pain with compromised playing ability. Nonetheless, we finished the album on time (even though we had to rush the mixing and mastering). If you would like to know more, there is a section of video about this incident is the “making of the album” section of the DVD.
TWP: You guys seem to take the time to write good quality lyrics and you don’t make any effort to hide your faith in those lyrics. How important is it to you all that what you believe shows forth in the lyrics that you write?
JT: My beliefs are the source of my passion for music and art, out of that passion stems my desire to share that passion with others. I have found that the only True hope that we have in the world is trusting in God's promises and the covenant made between us and Him through Christ. Hope that transcends all darkness and despair, peace that overcomes the doubt and fear of the unknown. I write lyrics that hopefully communicate that despite the struggle of this life, there is something so much more that we can rest in if we are willing to look for it and embrace it. This Hope is firm and unchanging, there is no subjective individual circumstance that negates the Truth. There are absolutes in this life and we do not determine them for ourselves, we can only choose to embrace them as they have been intended. If people don't want to listen to our band because of our beliefs, that's a shame. The message is so much more lasting and important than a great band.
I write all the lyrics from personal reflections and experience so that everything is honest and engaging. This life is a terrible complicated struggle, so I write about those struggles in a way that I hope challenges people to think and act. I try to bring hope and restitution into every song as an encouragement and reminder, not only to the listener but also to myself.
The album Dying Vine starts with the Truth, the pinnacle archetype of life as it should be. Then that model is destroyed and we're thrust into a world of struggle and confusion. The topics covered include regrets, life's lost, personal accountability, relative truth and rationalization, commitment, and personal growth. The final song is an encouragement to rise up from the ashes and re-connect to the source from which life's true strength is found.
TWP: This may be a little bit of a controversial subject. At live shows, fans love to mosh, and stage dive, and crowd surf. All that good stuff. I know that in the metal scene it can get quite violent at some shows. At Cornerstone, they ban the stage diving and crowd surfing, but there is still a lot of moshing going on. A lot of people got seriously hurt at Cornerstone. One evening they had 5 ambulances come to take people to the E.R. Numerous people got knocked unconscious, people dislocated knees, and all kinds of other injuries. I also saw a few times where some people almost went to blows. I also saw big, muscular guys purposely ramming people on the outside edges (some of them petite girls) on purpose…one time knocking a girl unconscious. While bands can feed off of that energy, and while most fans are doing it just to have a good time, many of them seem to be getting out of hand in my opinion. (Especially at a festival that is supposed to be promoting Christ). How do you guys as a band view all of this stuff that goes on a concerts?
JT: The is no need for violence, dance your heart out if you desire, but don't kick people in the face (especially innocent bystanders). When I was young, the mosh pit was fun and harmless, no kung-fu fists of fury. I don't understand the hardcore dancing now, the dancers don't even pay any attention to the bands. As for Aletheian, we don't have to worry about that. The people at our shows are usually too busy staring at the guitars to do anything else. We do have some heavy sections where people tend to get wild, but nothing crazy tends to happen when we play. If the crowd is rowdy, I often ask them to be respectful during our set.
TWP: Any final comments?
JT: I think I've gone on and on for too long already. Thanks for the opportunity to share. Hopefully we'll be out in OK before too long.