The Almost: What’s Old Is (Almost) New Again
For a band whose most recent album was titled Fear Inside Our Bones, The Almost are sounding pretty damned confident. But who would blame them? The Aaron Gillespie-(that’s the pretty-voiced ex-skinsman from Underoath, kiddies)-fronted outfit may have just made the record of their career, and according to guitarist Jay Vilardi it’s all thanks to their newly adopted back-to-basics rock’n’roll approach in the studio. When we caught up with Vilardi he was driving cautiously around Clearwater, Florida in full-on monsoon weather – quite the contrast for a band whose career seems to be reaching bluer skies than ever before.
Now that Fear Inside Our Bones has been out for a few months, how are you guys feeling about the record?
We’re really stoked on the response to it, and really surprised! We honestly couldn’t be happier.
What made you choose the song “I’m Down” as the lead single?
I liked how gritty it was, it’s catchy but it’s also short, sweet and to the point. Our label and the whole band, everyone was kind of on the same page with it. I liked the song “Ghost” for a single too, it’s got a different kind of vibe.
Choosing to record an album in a live-band setting is very unusual these days, what challenges did you face in the process of doing that?
You know what, I’m surprised at how easy it was! There weren’t too many challenges. I think maybe getting everyone in the band to actually be on board with the idea was the biggest hurdle. You hear people say how hard it will be, but it just came down to us having to know the songs really well. If I messed up a part, the whole band had to start over. But everyone did their homework, everyone had their craft together, so we didn’t really have any problems aside from the days being really long. That’s usually the case in the studio anyway, but I guess the difference is that in a normal studio setting I can sit around while the drums are being tracked for example, but there really was no sitting around this time.
Was there any objection from your label to the idea?
They actually really liked it because the odds of us going over budget were cut in half. As one song got finished, everyone was finished with it, so we could move on. We didn’t have to go back to them for money, so everybody won! [Laughs].
Did recording in this way affect the amount of impact your producer was able to have on the way the songs turned out?
I think he had a lot more to do with it than he would have otherwise, he was way more hands on than previous producers we’ve had. He was in our practise room for a week and then he was in the live room as we tracked, counting the songs in with us, standing two feet from the drums! He couldn’t speak obviously but he would point at us and gesture like he was directing traffic or conducting!
Apart from the sonic differences, the songwriting has a much more rock’n’roll vibe than your previous work, with almost no trace of pop. Where did this new sound come from?
Honestly, I attribute that mostly to tracking live. We’ve always been happy with our previous albums, but they don’t sound like we do live. When we play live, we’re like a bar band, we’re too loud and we don’t always play things the way someone would say they should be played, and sometimes our guitars go out of tune, you know? Sometimes a recording can hide too much when it’s polished so much. We didn’t really do anything different songwriting-wise though, or at least not intentionally.
Do members of the band bring songs into rehearsals fully formed, or do you assemble them collaboratively?
For the most part, Aaron will have a song that’s almost-there, I’ll have one that’s almost-there, and he and I will get together and get the songs as close to finished as we can. Most of the time any collaboration will happen together, but I guess we’re the two people that have the ideas that are the most filled-out. Then we’ll either bring either our individual songs or our songs we’ve written together to the band and then they’ll change there.
Can you tell us about the lyrical themes of the record?
Aaron has said that they mostly talk about the human condition and what it means to be afraid. I think fear is something we all deal with, and anxiety. I’m not really sure how to deal with it, and I’m actually currently afraid I’m driving down the wrong road [laughs] but all over I would say it deals with what it means to be human, through the perspective of fear.
In past records, you have openly referenced your Christian faith in your lyrics. Aside from in lyrics, how else does your faith affect your approach to being in a band?
That’s a good question, I think a lot of people would assume that backstage at rock shows there are just naked women and piles of drugs and stuff. But obviously it’s not really like that for us or most bands! We tour mostly with secular bands and I’m happy to say that we can still throw down on tour with those other bands but it mostly just affects our standpoint on, for example, things that we might abstain from. But other than touring with Switchfoot, who are Christian dudes but are also in very much the general market, we’ve never done any other tours consisting only of Christian bands. So it really doesn’t affect our tour life that much. Our faith is our faith, but at the end of the day we’re still normal dudes and we still like to hang out with other musicians and have a few beers! The only difference between me and someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus is that I pray more and I might abstain from certain things that go on backstage, but to be honest tour life isn’t that crazy most of the time anyway, it can get pretty boring!
I understand that your label, Tooth & Nail, recently became independent. Has that affected you guys in any way?
It hasn’t really, it’s still the same old thing. We’re still dealing with the same people. They’re still working out some bugs here and there and reassembling their team to put records out the way they used to, so luckily it’s still the same for us.
Did the band ever face any negativity from Underoath fans when Aaron left the band to focus on The Almost?
I really don’t read into that much stuff on the internet, but I did hear that there was a little bit of beef between some fans and stuff. But we don’t pay much attention to it. If I spent enough time on the internet to keep up with all that, I wouldn’t have much time to do anything else. I’m sure there were some kids who were disappointed, but hardcore fans of Underoath aren’t gonna leave Underoath’s side because of one member. Aaron was an important member of that band for sure, but I don’t think it hurt the band as badly as some might think. I think what hurt them was their desire not to tour anymore and that’s really why they broke up. But in fact I played guitar in Underoath during their last year!
Will The Almost be hitting up Australia soon?
I can’t really confirm anything, but we really hope so. Any chance we get to come out there, we’d love it!