Originally published online at BLUNT Magazine.
Troy, Michigan’s We Came As Romans are a band who value quality over quantity. After almost a decade of performing, the post-hardcore sextet are on the cusp of releasing their fourth full-length album, which they’ve been rigorously recording with the help of distinguished producer David Bendeth (who’s been the go-to guy of choice for the likes of Paramore, Of Mice & Men and Breaking Benjamin among countless others). We chatted to vocalist Dave Stephens about the creative process for album number four, why you won’t ever hear We Came As Romans deliver the same album twice, and what it’s like to cover the priestess of pop, Taylor Swift.
You guys have been together as a band for almost a decade now, so how does that feel? How does the We Came As Romans of 2005 differ from the band in its current form, both musically and emotionally?
Musically, we can all actually play music and play our instruments now, so that’s one improvement [laughs]. As people, in the last 10 years we’ve travelled so much and gone to so many different places, met so many different people and experienced so many different cultures. Growing up while travelling with this crazy lifestyle has forced us all to grow up and become different people than we were back then. I think we’re a lot more mature; we have much broader perspectives and respect for different cultures, and people in general. I still think we have the same work ethic we’ve always had, and that’s why our band has continued to move forward.
In amongst a busy touring schedule, I read that you guys went into the studio in January to start recording your new album. Where are you at with everything at the moment?
That record, actually, we’re all done with it. It was a very, very long process where we wrote about 36 songs and then cut out over two-thirds of them for the record. It was a pretty gruelling process and took a lot of work, but it’s completed. We’re just working on mixing and mastering it now, and we’ll be releasing it soon; we’ll have an official release date very soon. We worked with David Bendeth, and we really wanted a producer that would push us and make the best songs we could. He was that guy. He was very honest; if we had a song that wasn’t good he would tell us it wasn’t good and it’d be scrapped. We were very focused on writing great songs, not good ones. If the song was good it either got cut or was rewrote over and over again until it was great. I think that made a huge difference on this record.
With Tracing Back Roots going in a more melodic direction, did you approach this album any differently from your previous ones? Are you continuing to take bigger risks or pushing yourselves out of your comfort zone?
Definitely. We’re the type of band that doesn’t like making the same record twice; we like taking risks. You hear people say, “I wish they sounded like their old stuff” but if you make the same record over and over again people will get bored with that. We were definitely open-minded to taking risks and writing different music than we have in the past. It’s fun for us, it’s challenging for us – it’s something new. For this new record we didn’t have a plan in mind for all that, we just focused on writing the best songs we could. At the end of the day when we got the final track listing, the songs we wanted to keep and work on, it wound up actually being a pretty balanced record. We’ve got a few songs that show off the softer side of the band, we have two of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written in our lives, and some songs in the middle as well. I think it balanced nicely, and like I said they’re all just great songs, which was our main goal on this record.
What’s the creative process like when there’s six of you in the band? Does one person take the lead or is there an equal input?
It used to be Josh Moore, our guitarist, pretty much writing almost everything except for vocal melodies, but on the last record Kyle [Pavone, clean vocals, keys] and I stepped up a little more. On this record we had three different groups for writing going on the whole time. Josh did a couple songs on his own; me, Kyle and Josh did some on our own, and then Andy [Glass, bass], Lou [Cotton, rhythm guitar] and I would write some together on our own. It was cool. I feel like if you put six guys into a room and tell them to write a song then there are too many cooks in the kitchen; there’ll be too many ideas and there’ll always be someone who doesn’t like something, so you won’t get anywhere. So I think writing groups of one or two or three and changing up the mix of who is writing what really helped this record sounded different. Andy and Louie getting involved in writing music was great, and I was able to write a ton of lyrics for this record along with the majority of my vocal melodies. Everyone really cares about this record a lot, and it’s cool that everyone got to be so involved with it. And it definitely shows, because it does sound like us but you can tell that things got changed up a bit.
If we could just go back to you guys working with David Bendeth, being such a renowned producer in the alternative scene, what was he like to work with? What did he bring to the recording sessions?
I loved working with him. While I was working with him, I maybe felt a little differently because he is a perfectionist. He’s the kind of person that if he’s going to put his name on the project it has to be incredible, it has to be great and he’ll keep working on it until it is. We really needed someone like that to push us that hard. There were nights that I’d leave the studio completely frustrated; I just wanted to go home, and was so mad. But the next day we’d come back and finally get the part nailed and fix the thing we were all upset about, so we’d leave that night on a crazy high. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. When it came down to the last week it was like, “Oh gosh, I can’t believe we finally got to this point”. I’ve never felt that way making a record before. Our whole band, everyone stepped up so much as songwriters and musicians, and Dave helped to push us all there. That’s what’s awesome about him, that he cares so much about all his projects and just wants everything he touches to do as well as it possibly can.
Looking back on it, Tracing Back Roots featured guest vocals from Aaron Gillespie of Underoath. What was it like having a member from one of the formative bands of the metalcore genre contribute to your album?
That was absolutely incredible. It was one of those things where we had people we wanted on the record but this didn’t work out and that didn’t work out – no one worked out. So we sent the song to Aaron, because we felt it was the kind of song Underoath would write and maybe he’d do it. We figured we had nothing to lose. So we sent it and he sent it back saying, “This is awesome. I’m doing this, just pay for my rental car.” And we were like, are you serious? He was just, “Yeah, I love the project. I’m into the song and like that you guys are trying to do something different here. I’m really into it”. He was super modest and cool to work with. First time I heard my voice and Kyle’s voice with his, it was really emotional for me because he was in a band I grew up listening to and admiring. To hear my voice mixed in with his and us singing back-and-forth, it was very emotional for me; I was very very happy.
Will there be any guest vocalists on your upcoming album? At this point is there anyone else you’d really like to work with in the future?
It was funny; time just flew by while working on this record. We got to a point during the last week in studio where I realised we hadn’t done any guest vocals on this record. I’m not saying we won’t do it again, but it was something we almost forgot about for this one. I guess since we weren’t looking for them and it didn’t feel natural then it wasn’t right for this record. We have a lot of friends around the scene and in different bands that I would love to work with in the future; like last record we tried to get Jake [Luhrs] from August Burns Red but he was out travelling for a wedding or something so it didn’t work out. He’s always wanted to be on one of our songs and I’d love to have him on in the future, so I guess that’s something we can work out for the next record.
You’re responsible for the unclean and, more recently, the clean vocals for the band – how do you approach performing these different types of vocals? Was perfecting both singing styles something you had to actively work towards, as you’re more naturally a “screamer”?
Yeah, absolutely. The most challenging thing about that was being able to do both at the same time. I could always sing but as soon as I started screaming I wouldn’t be able to sing. It was really hard when it had to be both, and the band really needed me to step up. So I spent months and months trying to figure it out and working towards it. I ended up changing the way I scream, which you can’t really hear a difference that much but the way it feels is very different; I can control my volume more. It’s still really loud, but quieter than it once was. I tried to scream more to a pitch than there being no note at all, so that really helped me change my voice and range height. Vocal lessons and months of practice later, I feel like I’ve gotten much better at it. Even on the new record I was taking a lot of vocal lessons before it and trying to be as good as I can. I wanted to walk out of the studio feeling like, “Hey, I sang that the best I possibly could. There was no way I could sing that better”. And I do feel that way – very accomplished. But it did take hours and hours, and months of work.
In this gap between albums, online streaming services likes Spotify and Rdio have blown up as outlets for bands to spread their music. What’s your opinion on these services? Do you think that they’re the future of music distribution or a fad of the now?
Unfortunately, I do feel like it’s going to be the future. People are always going to go for the cheapest and most convenient route for music. I personally buy every song that I listen to, but I understand why someone would want to go to Spotify and stuff like that. I really do think those are going to take over. Artists are making less and less money from record sales – I think making money on record sales is a thing of the past and it’s something that music industry and artists are going to have to adapt to. As artists, we already are by trying to sell our merch more and more. But yeah, I definitely think it’s the future.
You guys have contributed multiple songs to the Punk Goes Pop album series, most recently with a cover of Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble”. What attracts you to performing these covers? I feel like pop music is somewhat on the opposite end of the spectrum to the type of music that you guys play.
We really just try to have fun with those. There’s a list of songs and we pick out two or three that stand out to us, that we have ideas for, and then try to imagine ourselves playing them and what else we could do with it. For example, we loved making those music videos for whatever song we picked. I watched that Taylor Swift video for “I Knew You Were Trouble” and thought, “This would be way too easy to make fun of for our own video”, so that was one of the selling points of picking that song. And also being the popular song that it is automatically drew attention to our cover of it. It was a lot of fun shooting the video.
Have you received any negative feedback to these covers from your fans? Close-minded assertions that these covers compromise your integrity?
Yeah, but in the music world you really can’t please everybody. We got a lot of hate on the video but at the same time it also got over four million plays on YouTube. It’s not that big of a deal to us if people don’t like those; we just try to make the best songs we can. At the end of the day some people aren’t going to like it, but we’ve always felt we can make more people like it than hate it.
Is there a song you really want to cover for the series that you haven’t had the chance to yet?
I think all the guys – I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do it, maybe live or something – but we’re all big Linkin Park and Slipknot fans. I think it’d be really fun to cover something from a band like that we grew up listening to who were childhood heroes of ours. I don’t know if we ever will, but that would be something I would really like to do.
It’s only just been announced, but you guys are touring here with In Hearts Wake, Beartooth and Storm The Sky in the next few months. Are you excited to be heading Down Under with fellow UNFD labelmates?
Absolutely! I’ve been a big fan of In Hearts Wake for quite a while. There were shown to me in 2013 and I really liked what they had musically and what they stood for lyrically; I can always respect a singer who puts in a lot of emotion, thought and time into what they want to say. So many bands nowadays, the guy gets up there and just screams the first thing that comes to his mind. I really respect Jake [Taylor] for actually putting thought and time into everything that he does. I actually got to meet him this past Saturday in Los Angles. They were playing Self Help Fest and they destroyed it. I found Jake after the show, introduced myself and he was a very nice guy. I look forward to touring with him.
You’ve toured around the world a lot now, so how does the American metalcore scene differ from what you’ve experienced here in the past?
One of the biggest things I’ve noticed is that when it comes to building tour packages, it seems like the whole world is more accepting than the US. For example, lets say us and Suicide Silence wanted to tour together – I feel that’s not a tour we could do in America, but if we took that to Australia or Europe they wouldn’t care. It’d be like, “This band is good, that band is good. It’s cool they’re touring together!” That’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed, that Americans are more concerned with what genre a band is and what they sound like comparatively instead of, “Hey, they’re a good band!”
Package tours have become quite popular here in Australia as it’s often too costly for single bands – especially in the alternative scene – to come out here for their own headline tours. From a band’s perspective, is this the ideal way to do things? Do you think it helps expose audiences to new bands and even new styles of music?
Yeah, absolutely. A big reason for my band’s success in America was due to a tour we did with A Day To Remember. People who came to the show early were forced to listen to our set, whether they liked us or not. If we played in front of like 2,000 people and 1 in every 100 people liked us, that’s a lot of new fans. I think it’s great; I’m really appreciative of In Hearts Wake for wanting to bring us along and let us play in front of a lot of their fans. I’d love to bring them stateside and return the favour someday!