“It ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!” Somehow, this motivational speech from Rocky Balboa perfectly describes the fighting spirit and ultimate comeback story of modern metal titans Wovenwar.
Harkening back to the mid 2000s, I discovered this groundbreaking band called As I Lay Dying that took the genre of metalcore into previously uncharted heights of mainstream acceptance. From an innovative standpoint, 2005’s Shadows Are Security and 2007’s An Ocean Between Us became genre-defining blueprints for a decade’s worth of metal bands. Once I started to pursue a major in journalism, I never thought that I would interview As I Lay Dying yet this dream came true at Vintage Vinyl Records in Fords, New Jersey. Till this day, I give full credit to drummer Jordan Mancino for answering my questions, as I was so incomprehensibly nervous. We spoke about the group’s sixth studio LP Awakened and I used his quotes for a story in my school newspaper. Truth be told, this was a pivotal moment in my writing career as it gave me the confidence to further pursue my dream as a music journalist.
Unfortunately, this Cinderella story came to sudden halt after their lead vocalist Tim Lambesis was arrested in May 2013 for attempting to hire a hitman to murder his wife. After a yearlong trial, he pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to six years in prison. Even worse, family members and closed ones were personally affected by this crime. The name “As I Lay Dying” took a nosedive into the tabloids as the “Heavy metal singer tried to murder his wife” headline played straight into the derogatory heavy metal stereotypes (Marilyn Mansion and Columbine for example).
For over a year, the rest of the band members avoided the spotlight and rightfully supported Tim’s wife Megan – the victim most affected by this situation, There is simply no worse feeling than seeing bad things happen to good people. Having interacted with the instrumental core of As I Lay Dying, I could personally attest to each member’s high character. There are some real jerks in the music scene but the remaining members didn’t deserve such a tragic or controversial ending. This group wasn’t guilty by association – one person made a very dangerous decision.
Honestly, I kept my fingers crossed for the band to regroup since the musical chemistry between these four musicians is one-of-a-kind. I didn’t want this overbearing controversy to destroy their passion for songwriting and my prayers were answered once Nick Hipa, Phil Sgrosso, Josh Gilbert, and Jordan Mancino decided to start a new band called Wovenwar. Rather than replace Tim, the members of Wovenwar recruited longtime friend and Oh, Sleeper vocalist Shane Blay to front their new project. For the naysayer’s against screaming, the clean vocal harmonies provided by Blay and bassist Josh Gilbert create an alternative for anyone interested in the heavier riffs and intricate melodies of modern metal.
Once I heard the premiere of “All Rise,” the goosebumps were instantaneous since the vocal hooks were some of the strongest of the band’s career. I’m not sure anything could eclipse the odds stacked against this project and their self-titled debut represented triumph in the face of adversity. Talk about coming full circle, I spoke with Wovenwar drummer Jordan Mancino for an in-depth conversation covering the rise of his new project. Believe me; keep your eyes glued to the screen, as his inspirational story represents the importance of staying true to your core values despite the hardships of life.
Take me through the last two years of your life and how you personally grew stronger or wiser following the events that led to Wovenwar?
It’s been quite an adventure – there have been some high points, middle points, and low points. The coolest thing has been starting Wovenwar and putting out this record so we could tour and feel this sense of support once again. This band is our biggest passion and everything seems to be going really well. We feel very fortunate to have come out of this situation and get to this point. We’re still looking forward and we’re going to keep moving forward. You could sense a little bit of the chaos today but this is my life everyday (Laughs). We’re touring right now, driving ourselves, teching ourselves, and trade marking our stuff too. A few of us just bought a venue at home (San Diego) so that’s been pretty busy too (Laughs). I have a show going on here and at home every night (Laughs). It’s been pretty busy but music is our life and our biggest passion.
We’re very thankful for the opportunities that we’ve been given and we’re trying to create new opportunities. Obviously, there’s a lot of other stuff that happened but the reality is we’re just starting over. It’s cool though because this is something we’ve already done before. We’ve toured with so many great bands and we’re just moving along. Black Label Society took us on our first tour and we did a bunch of European festivals before In Flames took us across Europe. We’re actually going to tour with In Flames again. This tour with Periphery, Nothing More, and Thank You, Scientist was amazing. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on.
Would you say the benefits of being professional and respecting the road for all those years in As I Lay Dying are helping you in the long run with Wovenwar?
It’s kind of hard to define the cause and effect. Obviously, we have a lot of experience and we’re going to utilize that experience. It’s cool to come into something and know the best way to get it done and do it in the most efficient way possible. We’re also trying to do this by ourselves in a barebones way. We’re all willing to work hard and grind it out. That’s the way we’ve always been. We’re not idle dudes. Some people thought the record came out quick but even in As I Lay Dying – we never sat around. We always were writing or touring.
Could you describe your mindset transitioning from a band touring behind their sixth studio LP to a new band recording their debut? You guys had been together for a long time but making a first impression is sometimes a different beast.
We just started writing and there was obviously a lot stuff going on when we made the decision to start a new band. From the beginning, our priorities were to start a new band in order preserve the legacy of As I Lay Dying. We started jamming and writing so we could focus on moving forward. Obviously, we had to find that fifth member in terms of a singer. We found what we wanted after we jammed with Shane. We didn’t try anyone else out (Laughs). It was obviously important to find someone talented and like-minded but also someone that came from the same place we did. We’re obviously a group that’s been around for well over a decade. For someone to come into this circle – we wanted to make sure our personalities meshed and that they understood our past, present, and future. He was a natural shoe in. I’ve actually known Shane for longer than any of the guys in the band besides Tim. Shane and Nick (Hipa) used to be in a band called Evelynn. Evelynn and As I Lay Dying played a ton shows together back in the day. We even played shows with Evelynn before Nick was a full time member in that band. Oddly enough, Shane literally came from the same place.
Both of your bands played together in San Diego?
Believe it or not, this happened in Texas. Before we signed to Metal Blade, our original record label Pluto was based out of Texas so we played a ton of shows over there. I always thought of Shane as a guitar player too. When Nick mentioned his name, I was like, ‘Alright, cool. Let’s check him out.’ Shane recorded vocals over “All Rise” because that was our first song and I was like, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t know he had that kind of voice.’ I said to myself, ‘This is really cool. Let’s write the rest of the record.’
There had always been a strong melodic presence in As I Lay Dying; did the entire band want to further pursue the melodic component in Wovenwar?
Of course, I think having the opportunity to redefine our sound – we wanted to focus on our melodic side. Our past kind of precedes us. We didn’t want to start As I Lay Dying 2 or As I Lay Dying with another singer. We wanted to start something different that still sounds like us but also something that we could grow musically and creatively even more than we could with As I Lay Dying. Don’t get me wrong; As I Lay Dying is still our heart and passion. That’s something that could never be taken away. It’s something we will always believe in as far as what we accomplished. This is obviously a new book in our lives. This isn’t a new chapter of As I Lay Dying and this isn’t even a new chapter for us – this is a new book.
I think that was the right way to approach your situation. Going off your last statement, was this the most important album of your career?
I feel like every album that I’ve made has been a step towards something greater. We always try to write and think beyond ourselves and our collective ideas. This was another one of those records. It was a therapeutic process considering all of the stuff that happened and was still going on while we were writing. It was a really cool experience, especially having Shane in the picture. It was amazing to write with Shane because we mashed together so well. I was like, ‘Wow, we’re writing together and having so much fun.’ We were stil writing efficiently and this positive energy brought out the utmost creativity.
What outsides influences inspired your drum tracks on this album?
My usual metal bands like Testament, Pantera, and Slayer (Laughs). Obviously, I’m just the metalhead dude (Laughs). It’s funny because one of our producers Jason Livermore – me and him would drive down to the studio everyday and crank Vinnie Appice records like Dio or any of the Sabbath albums. This music obviously has a little more space. I wanted to transition my mentality and use some different characteristics than what I used in As I Lay Dying. I’m not doing gnarly blastbeats or doublebass at ungodly speeds anymore. Well, I still am but not as much. I have more space to work within the songs and I was a little more creative in utilizing my set. I think Vinnie Appice is one of the best at playing slow grooves and long crazy fills. It creates so much more excitement so we jammed on those records all the way down to the studio and I’d get ready to shred.
Since you also worked with Bill Stevenson on Awakened, how critical was his presence during the recording of this album? Could you talk about his role in keeping the band inspired and creative?
I think he was very critical. That’s why we wanted to work him again. We had such a good experience collaborating with Bill and Jason in As I Lay Dying. We all agreed, “Let’s use the same production team because these new songs are right up their alley.” It was a lot of fun because those guys are awesome. Bill is a pretty entertaining dude (Laughs). He’s very talented and he’s a musical genius and the same goes for Jason. The tones we were able to create in the studio –it such was a great experience. We had a little more freedom because the music allowed it. There was a lot more time spent tracking drums and trying different sounds that would sound a little less mechanical as opposed to things I played on previous records. I was grooving and feeling everything because we were trying to make a powerful and punchy record.
How impressed were you by Nick and Phil’s guitar playing on this album? They really stretched the boundaries of their songwriting and brought all these new guitar tones into the fold.
I was totally impressed – I think everyone stepped their game up. Josh took it a new level in terms of his bass playing and singing. Shane also recorded a ton of guitar parts for the record. All of my dude’s were really impressive on this album. We were creating something new and we were able to bring in those specific strengths that everyone showcased on previous As I Lay Dying records and even Shane in Oh, Sleeper. We were able to zone in and create specific songs that allowed each band member to shine.
Josh has an incredible voice of his own; did the band originally discuss the idea of having him sing on lead vocals?
Josh was honestly comfortable playing bass and singing for us but he also said, “I want to see what else is out there too. Let’s have some else come in and try out.” It was something we all talked about but we agreed, “Let’s see what other element we could bring into the fold.”
Having someone like Shane who has a huge vocal range and even incorporates his falsetto, what components attract you to his voice artistically?
His voice is so powerful but it also has a lot of dynamics. He’s just spot and it’s so natural for him. He’s one of those guys that nails it every time he sings. His voice is pretty cool. I can’t think of anything specific right now but I just love his voice.
Going on a tour with a band like Periphery, what was the experience like to make a first impression on a younger audience that was potentially unfamiliar with your previous band?
I think this was a diverse package and every band stood out for having a unique sound but we also mashed together so well. This was actually our first comprehensive American tour since we released the record. It’s been a lot of fun. We’re getting our music out there and people have said to us, “Oh, I didn’t know you guys started a new band or even put out a new record.” Hearing something like that – it just feels great to play our music in front of a lot of new people. We’re excited to keep touring and we want to play as many places as we possibly can. We want to reconnect with the fans of As I Lay Dying and the new band. We also want to build a fanbase through grassroots touring like we previously did. We’re going to keep bringing metal to the masses (Laughs).
You guys flew the flag for modern metal for such a long time; this is a new opportunity to have a major impact on a different generation….
Thank you man, that’s what is cool about this new music – it’s so much more reminiscent of older metal with shredding guitars over these raging vocals. Guys like Halford and Dio – they both had powerhouse voices. Shane and Josh both have these barrel voices and it’s sweet because it allows us to shred underneath and keep it metal.
Shane and Nick came up with some powerful and introspective lyrics on this record. Are there any particular songs like “All Rise,” “The Mason,” or “Father/Son” that strike a certain chord?
Of course, this record is all about overcoming challenges. Take the hand that you’re dealt with, create something positive out of it, and learn something from it. It’s about moving forward and pushing forward. I think we’re taking our experiences and trying to become better human beings and see how we could impact the world more so than we ever did before.
For anyone stuck in a toxic environment – coming out of your situation – what’s the best advice you would give to someone to persevere through challenging circumstances?
It depends on the person or what’s happening in the situation. It’s hard to give advice (Laughs). For us, I think we tried to keep our ideals in tact. It’s best to not let things out of your control get the best of you. Take those things and create something positive out it and become a better person, and try to get better at what you do. You realize something about the people that are really important in your life – those who were there for you during those difficult times. It’s something you learn about when you’re going through hardships, there are people who are really there for you and it’s something you have to appreciate. You also have to learn how to be there for other people as well. You have to see what you’re being given and give back if that makes sense.
all photos courtesy of metal blade records.