Aaron Gillespie of The Almost
On November 3rd The Almost will release their new album Monster Monster, the follow up to their debut album Southern Weather. Although “Southern Weather” could be described as more of an Aaron Gillespie solo project with the band coming to fruition after the fact, Monster Monster was a collaborative effort from start to finish with everyone in the band (Aaron Gillespie on vocals, Jay Vilardi on guitars, Dusty Redmon on guitars, Alex Aponte on bass, and Joe Musten on drums) involved.
From track one “Monster Monster” gives off a bit of a different vibe than “Southern Weather”. Although cohesive, the songs tend to draw from many different musical influences which is undoubtedly the effect of the joint writing process. From bits of classic rock to modern melodic rock influences to an actual bluegrass steel guitarist taking part on a song, there’s a little bit of everything. Lyrically the songs carry a shared theme of dealing with the monster in all of us – our inner demons and the positive and negative effects they bring and finding hope throughout.
Currently out on tour with The Used the hardest working man in the business, frontman Aaron Gillespie took some time to talk to us about the new album.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette | October 2009
So right from the start this second album was much different from the first in that rather than you doing everything you had an actual band now that was involved in the overall process. How was that change for you?
I guess relieving would be the proper adjective. It’s hard when you do everything alone because you’re in the situation where everyone around you agrees with you. The only people around you are people who are working on the record so they are agreeing with you because they’re in it with you. When you look behind you and ask questions about ideas or cohesion there’s really no one to answer, so in that respect it’s wonderful. But also being able to take breaks and not do everything alone was pretty great too.
I think a lot of us in the music world look to you and all of your work and consider you to be an overachiever with all the amazing projects that you’re a part of so it was actually more of a relief for you to approach this as a collaborative effort?
For sure. It’s not a mystery that I’m not a great guitar player, I’m just not. I’m a drummer by trade so it was really wonderful to work with the band and guys that are gifted in that area. We all wrote and recorded together so it was very prolific and proficient throughout.
I read that you formulated a lot of your song ideas for this album while you were out on the road with your other band Underoath. Being that they are two incredibly different monsters, was it hard to get in the mind frame of writing for The Almost?
There’s always an adjustment period of like a week every time. Recording and writing is pretty seamless because that’s just the life that I lead but with the touring aspect of it there’s always about a week gestation period where I’m figuring out where I am and the mood I need to be in. It’s a different mindset when you’re on stage and a different feeling that happens so there’s definitely a bit of an adjustment period.
Without it really being something you planned this album started having a continued theme throughout, can you talk to us about that theme and how you would describe it?
When I write I’ll have music and then I’ll write lyrics and sometimes way after the fact we’ll pick titles and imagery and everything else that goes along with it. For this record I had the title and all the imagery ideas before any music was even penned which was kind of odd for me because I didn’t really know what that meant and I definitely didn’t plan on everything having a central theme. We ended up starting to write and the lyrics started coming and I wanted to write around the whole monster theme so I just started writing and it just flowed in this sort of conceptual way. It’s not conceptual like Pink Floyd – The Wall, it’s not avante garde and overly conceptual, it just has a reoccurring theme that is the weirdness of life and the darkness of life and finding hope in that. There are some narrative stories that talk about certain examples of that.
Speaking of the narratives, overall it seems like the songs on this album are very rich in storytelling, is that something you were focused on going into it?
Absolutely, I grew up listening to a lot of country music and kind of got away from it for awhile and then over the last three years I got into the whole country music thing again and the idea behind what country music songwriting is, which isn’t necessarily what people think it is. Ray Charles always said that he loved country music because he loved the stories. It kind of blew my mind because if you listen to some of these songs they really paint a story so I wanted to loosely do that. Obviously our music is not country but we wanted to paint the stories and see if we could narrate the emotion that was Monster Monster. I think it worked.
So one of my favorite things to do is to just throw out a few songs and ask you to give me your take on them musically/lyrically/how they came together…are you game?
Let’s start with Souls on Ten –
Souls on Ten is my favorite song on the record. Souls on Ten is a story about my wife and I directly but could apply to anyone indirectly. The song is about a car trip with your significant other and it’s about this hope in life that if we’re here for each other romantically, in a loving way, that all of the other stuff will work out, which is sort of like a fairy tale I guess. At the end of the day there’s this idea of a person that’s consumed by the negativity of the world, and God sends everybody somebody. That may sound trite but that’s how I feel. I think every person in this life has someone that they can choose that will enrich their life in a romantic way. In a spiritual way too you could find that one person who will change your life and make you better for it. So it’s sort of about that but it’s narrated through the eye of going on a car trip with that person and the windows are down in the car and not really worried about the world, it’s just you and them. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced anything like that. I’ve been married for a couple of years and my wife has changed my life. She understands me and cares about me and it’s humbling to be in a position where you’re with somebody like that and you realize that they’ve been given to you and you’re supposed to take care of each other. It’s a very epic thing. I know it sounds cliché but I guess you have to listen to it.
So what was your wife’s response to the song, does she love it?
Oh she does. It’s not a love song like Daughters by John Mayer, but it’s a love song on that good, wake up in the morning kind of mood. It’s totally relatable. It’s just about loving life. I named the song Souls on Ten and that’s the main hook. The first line of the song is “The windows are down and our moods on ten” and I got the line from reading twitter a few months ago and I’m a huge John Mayer fan. He was in Japan and he was staying at a traditional Japanese hotel and he said “Traditional Japanese hotel, bottle of scotch, acoustic guitar, souls on ten”, so that’s where the title came from.
Okay, how about the song Hand Grenade?
Dusty wrote Hand Grenade. We were listening to a band called Mudcrutch which was the original Tom Petty band before it was Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. He wrote the tune and I had this melody, and the song is overly country, it’s very much like this Americana acoustic thing. Then we found this guy in a bar and had him come play lap steel on the song. Coincidentally he ended up being country royalty. We went to this bar every night when we were in Nashville making the record called Roberts Western World. It’s like a traditional country bar and we saw this kid playing lap steel in there one night. He was so talented and we went to go see him for a month. We had the music and lyrics finished for the song and we thought it needed Steel Guitar and wanted to ask this kid that we had been going to see. Come to find out, he’s the grandson of Earl Scruggs who basically invented bluegrass music in the 40s. So we asked him to play and he was happy to. The song is about giving it all up for love – for the love of God, for the love of another person, whatever you want it to be but giving it all up for that. The line in the song is “If you’re a hand grenade I’ll pull the pin” so it’s about giving it all up, here I am, this is me.
I think one thing to note is the diversity of the sound of the album. When you read the previews of some of the songs you hear everything from blues influenced, country influenced, melodic rock, techno rock, arena rock. Was it hard to reel in all of these influences and make a cohesive effort?
I think when you go into writing a record any sort of imagery idea or social idea or any sort of vibe is cool but I think when you start out saying that you have to have a slow song, a fast song, a rock song, etc, I don’t think that works. I think you just have to go in there and grab it by the neck and see what happens. So there was definitely no effort to make it cohesive, we just wrote the songs we wrote. I don’t even know if some of them are cohesive. I don’t think that cohesion was a big issue for us with Monster Monster, the issue for us was making a product that we believed in and that was musically true to us as people and spiritually and vibe-truth. That was more important to us than the idea of making a cohesive album and I think that part has been achieved so maybe a byproduct of that is the cohesion.
So do you think that the diversity can be attributed to everyone being involved in the process this time around?
I think that and somewhere in the incredibly long 07 – 08 tours for Southern Weather we kind of just got into music, we really got into American Rock n Roll and British Rock n Roll, the whole idea of this really simple music that can make the world spin from Oasis to The Beatles to Bruce Springsteen who wrote this three chord rock and roll that seemed so complex and I think that might be what people hear when they listen to Monster Monster is a little bit of that. I don’t know.
So, you’re still being inspired by music every day?
I think so. I’m afraid too. I’m afraid of this whole industry; it scares me to death right now. You don’t know if you’re going to wake up tomorrow and anyone’s going to give a crap anymore. There’s no way of knowing anything right now, there’s no security.
Yeah there are no guarantees in this business.
There’s no security in this industry so you have to do what comes naturally to you and what comes true to you and hope that people like it, and if for some reason they don’t, I guess I’ll get a job at Subway.
Some of the songs on the album are about fighting off demons regardless of what they may be and turning to positive influences, you’ve always said that music is what you turn to most of the time, can you tell us how you originally got into music and how it led you down this path?
It’s in my blood. My mother toured most of my young childhood in a Southern Gospel band. I toured with them as a kid and just hung around. And then my mom sang in a big gospel choir that I played drums in as a kid. Every Friday my Dad would grab a 12 pack and listen to his old classic rock records and he’d educate me on what he thought was cool. That’s sort of it; there’s just never been anything else.
And you’re self taught too right?
I am. There’s just never been anything else for me; I’ve never had a backup plan.
You always knew that it was music for you.
Yeah, which is kind of a blessing. It’s kind of scary at times too, like you said, there’s no guarantees and now I’m in my 20s and very blessed and able to do what I love to do.
For more info on the band:
Visit the official website
Catch The Almost out on tour with The Used:
Tour w/ The Used (* except where noted)
Oct 28 Electric Factory Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Oct 29 Canal Club Downstairs Richmond, Virginia*
Oct 30 House of Blues Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Oct 31 House of Blues Lake Buena, Florida
Nov 1 The Tabernacle Atlanta, Georgia
Nov 3 House of Blues New Orleans, Louisiana
Nov 5 House of Blues Dallas, Texas
Nov 6 House of Blues Houston, Texas
Nov 7 La Zona Rosa Austin, Texas
Nov 9 Marquee Theatre Phoenix, Arizona
Nov 10 The Wiltern Los Angeles, California
Nov 11 Warfield Theatre San Francisco, California
Nov 12 Hawthorne Theatre Portland, Oregon
Nov 13 Showbox SoDo Seattle, Washington