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Interview with AS IT IS about their new album I WENT TO HELL AND BACK

The alternative band we all know and love, As It Is, has finally released their long-awaited album "I WENT TO HELL AND BACK" and we cannot be more excited about it. I had the chance to listen to it before the release date but not only that; I was lucky enough to hop on Zoom with Ronnie Ish. We discussed what writing the album was like and what it means to be a band in the scene today.

Photo: Ian Coulson

ALEXIS: This is an exciting time; touring is happening again after two years, and more importantly, the album is out today. How do you feel about it?

RONNIE: Happy release date; wow, we are ecstatic it has been such a long time coming. At one point, I didn't even know if this record would come out, so one, to be on tour and two for the record to be out, both at the same time, is an incredible feeling. We are out on tour with our best friends Set It Off, Stand Atlantic, and No Love for the Middle Child; the tour has been great, and the shows have been huge. It feels good to be back out here; right now, we have a string of mid-west shows, so we played my home state in Michigan a few days ago. We have Cleveland House of Blues tonight, Indianapolis tomorrow, and then Chicago House of Blues on the day of my birthday, so it has been a very exciting week for me.

Happy to hear it! So, I wanted to dive into the album. From what I understand, the band was separated during the writing process. What was it like creating remotely with one another?

RONNIE: Ya know, if it were 1955, it probably would've been difficult, but I feel like now technology is in such a cool place where we have audio movers where we can listen to live mixes in the moment and listen to all the changes as they happen. There's Dropbox, Zoom, FaceTime, Logic, and there are all these abilities to share on the internet. As strange as it is, I kind of like the experience. I am definitely an in-person kind of dude, but it was so strange to gauge the vibe every day because you are not altogether to create it, right? I would say a majority of the record was made over Zoom, which is interesting, and there was only a handful of songs that weren't. "IDGAF" was written in 2019 and in person. "I HATE ME TOO", "I MISS 2003", "IN THREES" were also written in person, so there are about four or five songs total that were written in person, and I feel like there is definitely an energy to those. It was a wild experience and something that felt never-ending, right?

Right, 100% that's why I feel like it is such a joy to have touring back after you guys went through that. It just seems rewarding. But throughout the years, especially within quarantine, I feel like the alternative scene has grown so much. The genre is expanding in audience and artists, so what was it like trying to find your sound in the new era of the alternative scene.

RONNIE: Well said, the scene is the biggest and the coolest that it has been since I was a teenager. Growing up in the late '90s and early 2000s, listening to bands like Nirvana, Linkin Park, and then eventually Good Charlotte, Simple Plan, and Blink-182 into drive-through era bands and tooth and nail bands Underoath. The scene has definitely evolved, but we are seeing a unique and cool moment where guitars are at the forefront of all genres; genre-bending is very prevalent. Artists like Travis Barker are touching so many incredible artists that bridging the gap between emo punk rock and hip hop is at the forefront of our scene. I think the collaboration and partnership is inspiring; artists like Yungblud, MGK, Halsey, and Iann Dior; just the entire new wave of rock and hip hop is probably the coolest thing to be happening. We were very inspired going into this record, and we started writing it in 2019. Our record "IDGAF" was inspired by "I Think I'm OKAY" by MGK, Yungblud, and Travis Barker; we love the energy, making us feel youthful. We took many of our influences from the early millennium and dumped them into this. So, it is nostalgic for sure, but it is also extremely authentic, and we are doing something that I think services our hearts, the hearts of our previous fans, but I think we also have an ability with this record to touch new fans in a big way.

So, I know it has been out for a while now, but going off that subject, I heard you say in an interview that "I MISS 2003" was almost like you passing down a torch down to the next generation of the rock scene. I think you guys capture that not only lyrically but visually in the music video as well. It felt and looked the right way to celebrate this genre and the bands that have inspired you guys. How rewarding and nostalgic was it for you to have a record like this on the album?

RONNIE: Yes, let's talk about 2003 because that was the last song we had written, and the week leading up to the studio, Patty had flown into America, which was my first time seeing him in 19 months. I picked him up from the airport, we went to my apartment in Indianapolis, and we just started ripping down memory lane. I'm taking out old notebooks, old lyric books, and journals. We are writing, recording, and getting ready to go out to LA, we had a handful of friends over, and we are just sharing memories from our childhood and what it was like for us growing up in school. We went to my hometown; we flew out and visited my mom; Patty hadn't seen my mom in two and a half years. We listened to pretty much everything from the early millennium, and it was subconscious, but Patty has this idea like "how cool would it be if we did exactly what we spent the last week doing." We just paid homage to the entire reason we are going out to LA to record this record in the first place; let's write a love letter to the scene. From there, we filled an entire Google Doc full of bands/artists, and at first, the song was going to be "I Miss 2004", but I said to Patty that 2003 had all the records. We ended up going through the list of records from 2003, and there were about 25-50 big stand-out songs. Lyrically it's decorated with a handful of our favorite bands. There are 14 that we know of, but many people are coming forward pointing out more unique references that we might've subconsciously put in there. But also, sonically, there were so many bands like Alkaline Trio and MCR that had inspired us and allowed us to be who we are.

We wrote "I MISS 2003" two days before we went to the UK for Slam Dunk, and when we landed, we had a completely different guitar part written, and it was actually the intro to From First to Last's "Emily", but we could not get ahold of Sonny Moore or Skrillex. We couldn't get clearance on the publishing side, so I am playing a completely different guitar part; if you pay attention to my hands, you will see my fingers moving and think maybe that's off. When it came to the music video, the guys and I have always wanted to do something in a skatepark, and we were thinking about the video games we were playing and what we were doing in 2003. Skateboarding culture has always been a big part of our lives. When it came to it, we wanted to do it outside but couldn't get a city permit in Brighton on short notice, so we ended up renting out a local nonprofit that was up the street from one of our flats. It was incredible; we hired six local skaters from all age ranges/backgrounds who were so cool. We put out a PSA 18 hours before, and we had one hundred fans show up. We were thinking about what fans must go through 12-18 hours before getting a negative covid test, being masked up, on-site, and ready to rock. I remember Patty was hesitant, thinking if we could pull this off or not and I was like, let's just do it and see what happens. We ended up having the time of our lives, I felt like I was 13 again, and Ali spent the entire day skateboarding.

When it came to the cover art, I created something in my bedroom before we headed out to LA. When I was in school, I used to decorate the front of my notebook with sharpies, stickers, and duct tape, so essentially, I was just like I would love to make the cover. I did it on computer paper, I mocked something out of one of my old notebooks, and that is the cover of "I MISS 2003". We ended up scanning it, and I'm not tech-savvy, so my friend Ian Coulson ended up bringing the dream to life. This song makes us feel youthful, and everyone can resonate with it.

Totally, I miss the music from that time, but I think that is what is so great about this album, it brings us back a little bit, but also you have this new sound. I read that you wrote "ILY, HOW ARE YOU?", what was the idea for the lyrics? What was going on to make you write this song?

RONNIE: "ILY, HOW ARE YOU?" was written on one of the days that Patty missed our Zoom and studio session. Patty and I have this push and pull; we have spent the last five years attached at the hip. We had cultivated such a meaningful relationship when I used to work for the band selling their t-shirts, tuning their guitars to now being on the stage, and writing the songs. When we got home from covid, it was a dark time, and we were both kind of rollercoasting when there was that much distance between us. Going from doing what we love to having it stripped away from us, we had no control or power over the situation, thanks to covid. Patty could not bring himself to show up and tell us how he was feeling; I feel like he couldn't be the man that he thought in his mind that we needed him to be then. All we needed was for him was to be present or just to communicate and not be present at all. It came to me relatively quickly because it is all I wanted to say to Patty. He told me he was great, but I was like, you’re not.

As a society, we are so conditioned that whenever anyone asks us how we are, we just white lie our asses off. Even the people we love the most feel like this responsibility to be strong for everyone around us. We take mental health being emotional and vulnerable, very seriously. You know you are in a bad place when you can't even tell the people closest to you out of fear of letting them down. So that was a conversation piece for Patty; I wanted to write a song for my brother. He had got the song later that night, and from there, we woke up to "I'D RATHER DIE". In some ways, the only way we could communicate was through our songwriting. It was the one thing that connected us through our dark times because we were both going through something in different parts of the world.

I want to be as strong as I can for the band, my friends, family, and community, but even I wake up and struggle. On those days, we show up for each other. On the record, you will see that sometimes I'm up and he's down; vice versa. The lyricism, melodies, and some verses have a completely different vibe because I wrote one and Patty wrote one. The first two lines of the hook are maybe direct and blunt because I wrote them. Then you have the tag lines, which are very poetic and thoughtful. That's the beauty in this record; it's surface-level enough to absorb but still has room to think.

It was my first record with As It Is. It was important for me to show up, and I had a lot to say. To be able to tour with the band and look in the eyes of fans seeing how the songs make them feel and what words matter and mean to them. Zach Jones is a mastermind in the studio, and collaborating with him, he and I had a lot to do sonically with where the record was going. Patty will be the first to say it; he stopped listening to music entirely during the pandemic. He didn't know what sounded good or what sounded cool, but me and Zach were plugged in and excited about music. Us being able to do that while Patty was able to take the time with his words and thoughts was very therapeutic for all of us.

I found myself playing "I'M GONE" repeatedly, actually. While simultaneously having a tone of fear in the lyrics, it is still such a playful vibe. How do you find the balance of having fun in the writing process while also being completely cathartic?

RONNIE: That is one of those cool songs that almost didn't even make it to the record; that was one that we were going to put in a hole with like one hundred other songs and ideas that just didn't make it. When we were crafting this record, we started the core of the album with "IDGAF", and we knew this is the vibe sonically; this is the perfect amount of sadness and aggression. That one song communicated with how we were feeling emotionally, but then we started to weave the web and everything started to connect. But when it came to "I'M GONE", the title was originally "I don't wanna wake up", and it just stuck out like a sore thumb. But we ended up changing the name last minute. It was one of those unique ones that we wrote with Jon Lundin in the studio. We visited him in 2019, and it was one of those twelve sessions, one of the three songs that made it out of those LA sessions. It was one of those things where it was effortless in the sense that John Lundin's process is; he is an incredible friend, artist, and musician, but as a songwriter, I've learned so much from him. I value it when you get in a room with him; he's like, "so, how are we feeling today? What are you guys going through?". It was effortless to get on the page to locate exactly what we were thinking and when it came to that hook, we went to get coffee, and everyone was walking down the street and snapping their fingers like a barbershop quartet would, we would come back and 35 minutes later we have the hook. It was just one of those songs where we started experimenting with that rhythm and flow, almost like rap; we just couldn't let go of it. Ultimately, it was important that we collaborated and connected with certain artists on this record; we did a good job handing out schedules to our handful of collaborations that did not happen due to scheduling. But who knows, maybe there will be a deluxe, and maybe they might happen. We were looking at everything and said to ourselves we would be doing a disservice to anyone that listened to "Never Happy" or "Okay." It is probably the furthest from what we are doing right now, but that is exactly why we should include it.

Yeah, it’s fun to take a risk! I have time for one more question, so I just wanted to know what is the biggest way As It Is has grown while making this album? You as a person or musically?

RONNIE: That is such a great question. I think our bond as friends grew tighter, obviously going from five people to three people the entire process shifted. Being a friend, brother, and bandmate, sharing stage is one thing, but the songwriting is also very intimate, and I've learned so much from so many people in the process. When you can be in the room, and the moment, you find a lot out about yourself and your friends and the people in your life. Opening doors to your mind and allowing certain people in who otherwise wouldn't be, I would say we have definitely grown together, and our bond is much stronger. There is nothing off-limits. The biggest takeaway from "I WENT TO HELL AND BACK" are the words "and back". I think we put our money where our mouth is on this record; we let everyone know where we are at. We aren't very social on the internet, but I'm very social in person, and I feel I have a hundred thousand in-person followers.

This album is definitely laced with faith; there is a light at the end of the tunnel for anybody struggling. There's a comfort to be found in this record, no matter how dark and moody it is.

Listen to AS IT IS' new album I WENT TO HELL AND BACK on Apple Music and Spotify now. Stay updated by following the band on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Conducted by Alexis Marzo


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