Matt Watts of The Starting Line
Confident that they are delivering their best material to date The Starting Line is getting ready to unleash their new album titled Direction on Virgin Records on July 31st. It’s been a long time coming since their last release on Geffen and it hasn’t been the easiest road traveled. Not only has time passed but many things have changed in The Starting Line camp. The title of the album dictates just that, a new Direction.
While going through a label change, the band (Kenny Vasoli on bass and lead vocals, Matt Watts on guitar, Mike Golla on guitar, and Tom Gryskewicz on drums) held tight to the belief that their fans would weather the storm with them and be there through thick and thin. When the band debuted their first single “Island”, I think it’s safe to say that the fans never wavered. Nothing but rave reviews for the first single and the forthcoming album that delivers a solid punch right to the musical senses.
Guitarist Matt Watts took some time to talk to me about the new album, the video for the first single, Warped tour and the general status of The Starting Line…
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | June 2007
Why did you choose to name the album after the song Direction? Does it have a significant meaning to the album overall? The song tends to have a heavier vibe than a lot of the other songs…
There were just so many new directions that we were all at personally, especially with the making of this record and getting out of our last record deal and just songwise too. I don’t want to say that we reinvented ourselves with this record but in our personal opinions it’s definitely better musically and different directions. We’re not the same people we were a couple of years ago and we’re trying to embrace that.
You announced that you’ll be filming the video for Island this week as well. Has that already happened? How did it go? Can you give us some insight into what the video premise is? When does that debut?
That’s this upcoming week. It goes along with the song. As far as I know we’re shooting it on a beach. There’s going to be a shipwrecked boat. I think we’re pretty much the only people in the video. We wanted to keep it really simple and focus on really cool imagery. We want to make it a really positive and optimistic video.
You have been previewing the first single Island on your MySpace and PureVolume pages, have you been getting a lot of positive feedback?
Yeah, it’s been crazy positive. Any time you put something new out you are always curious as to what the fans are going to say. I remember when we debuted it on MySpace I stayed up til 4am just to read the comments on AbsolutePunk.net and I kept refreshing the page every two seconds. Everything was super positive and I was shocked. It’s such a good feeling to have people be supportive.
Can you take me through a few of your favorite songs on the new album both musically and lyrically?
Island is definitely one of my favorites, that song really came together in the studio and I’m really glad it did. Direction is awesome, I think for us it’s a really ballsy song, just playing it live I have so much fun. I don’t know if the kids get it yet when we play it, it’s one of those things you have to kind of have to have the record and spend some time with that song, it’s a lot to digest at first. There’s another song called Something Left To Give..I don’t know why but that’s probably one of my favorite songs we’ve ever written…
Oh, speaking of Something Left To Give, who is singing the chorus?
It’s Kenny and Cove from Saosin.
Okay sorry to interrupt, any other favorites you want to tell us about…
Hmm..I’m trying to think of what else is on the record…
You forgot already?
I know right! I think Need To Love and What You Want, those were the first two songs we wrote for the record and I’m just really proud of them. To me they are timeless. I think that’s really cool.
With the music industry and fans as finicky as they often are, did you ever have any fears with the length between the release of your last album and this upcoming album?
I really didn’t. When we got out of our deal with Geffen we sat down with Virgin and everyone was totally gung-ho about our band, they were fans and that was the first time in three years that we were talking to a label that were fans of our bands. Geffen never came out to a show at all, and Virgin came out to pretty much every show in the area. Just to have that kind of support in the beginning alleviated any of those fears. It’s also one of those things where with what happened with the last record, our fans still stuck by us. We still toured big venues and were lucky enough to be on a tour bus…I think we’ve always been a self-sufficient type band. We definitely weren’t worried.
You just sort of touched on my next question but I’ll see if you want to expand on it a little more – after leaving Geffen, you must have been a little leery about signing with another major label, what did Virgin bring to the table that gave you the confidence to put your career in their hands?
There were some pretty cool things. David Walter, the A&R guy, is pretty much the coolest dude in the world. He’s super passionate about our band. He use to manage one of my favorite bands and he also signed Gorillaz. He has a full spectrum of musical tastes that cover a lot of bands that I really respect. Jason Flom, who is the president, also came out to the shows and is an awesome, awesome guy. His track record precedes him. Just knowing what he’s accomplished and the fact that he was super psyched about our band just made us want to be there.
I know musically with Geffen they tried to have you change some of your lyrics and some of your songs, you haven’t run into any of that have you?
Not at all, they were 100 percent amazing. I don’t want to say its full creative control, they definitely give their two cents but at the end of the day it’s our decision.
Are there any notable writing or recording differences that you think the fans will pick up on? I know you said you believe this to be the best album the band has ever written, how do you think the fans are going to feel? Will they feel a change?
I think they’ll feel it. I think a lot of our fans are still really familiar with Say It Like You Mean It, a lot of those kids don’t know that we even had a second record because Geffen kind of dropped the ball. I think for those kids it might be a little bit of a stretch but I think there’s definitely songs on there that combine both records, I hope the fans will be stoked.
Everyone seems to be really raving and impressed with the improvement in Kenny’s vocals. Can that be attributed to anything specific?
I think once you’re in a band for a long time and it becomes your livelihood I think you get comfortable with what works for you. I feel like all of the songs on this record are really in his range and he can give 110 percent vocally. He’s not stretching, his voice is definitely on point, more-so than it’s ever been and we’re very lucky for that.
I’ve talked to a lot of bands recently who have worked with Howard Benson so I’d love to know how you felt about working with him..
I think he was awesome. Everyone had mixed feelings when his name was initially brought up because we did two songs with him on the last record. It was one of those things where Geffen was really pushing us to do it with him because he has the reputation of being a hit-maker, which he totally is. His records sell more records than anybody out there right now. Geffen actually had Howard and some other people edit the songs so after we recorded with Howard we got versions back that totally weren’t the songs that we recorded and we just thought that was typically the way he does things. After meeting with him we found out he was a fan of the band and totally down with whatever we wanted. He was the best option, it made the most sense and it was a pleasure working with him and everyone else he’s involved with.
Keeping with the studio vibe, while in studio, what things do you have to have?
Pretty much just my laptop…if I’m not recording I’m just spacing out on the internet, doing work or seeing who’s talking shit.
You also recorded acoustic versions of Island and some other named songs, where can fans expect to hear those songs? Were they recorded for anything specifically?
I honestly don’t even know.
They’re just bonuses for now?
Yes, hopefully they’ll see the light of day.
Is it really true that the origination of the band was when you emailed Kenny asking him if he wanted to jam?
Yes, I sent out like a hundred emails to people and he was the only person that responded.
Do you ever get the urge to go back and email everybody and just say “ha ha”?
You know what, I never really thought about it but that would be amazing. If I could find their email addresses I totally would.
You’re going to be on Warped Tour this summer for a few months before and after the album comes out, what do you see as the pros and cons of that kind of tour for the band? Do you fee like you have to compete for the crowd?
I think being on the main stage is really not much competition, it’s all about kids coming out to the show and experiencing good bands. There’s never enough good bands out there especially for a young kid going to Warped tour to discover new bands. I think if its a band on a side stage then it becomes more of a competition but we’re definitely fortunate to be in a really good position. I really don’t feel like there are too many cons, it’s hot, and you can’t shower but you suck it up…
Right..you smell like garbage..but it’s fun. I’m really looking forward to it.
Are there plans for your own tour after Warped or am I getting ahead of myself?
We’re talking about doing a co-headlining tour…
I’m not sure if I can mention it yet..
Well you know I had to ask..
Yeah of course!
As an ongoing project on the site, we’re asking everyone we interview what the first album they ever bought for themselves was and if there are any memories associated with it?
The first record I ever bought for myself was the first SKID ROW record.
I love it!
Yeah it’s so good right! I just remember rocking out to that record every day and it made me want to play guitar and it made me pissed off that I couldn’t solo like they could. I guess the first real record that made me want to get into a band and that made playing music somewhat tangible was Nirvana. I remember I bought Bleach and Nevermind right around the same time and it was so simple and so amazing and it gave me the motivation to want to start a band.
And how old were you when you decided that?
I think I was probably like nineteen.
Message to the fans or any parting words?
I just want to say thanks for checking us out and staying by our side. We were kind of off everybody’s radar for quite awhile and we’re just psyched to be back. Hopefully everyone enjoys the record and can make it out to the show and hang!!!