The Gray Area

"It represents the tone of the record, in general, and the idea that the world is not as clear cut and as right-and-wrong as it was when you were a kid."

Photo by Ty Watkins

Veterans of the heavy music genre, Wovenwar prepares for the release of their sophomore album, Honor is Dead, with gratitude and zeal. With roots coming from powerhouse bands As I Lay Dying to Between the Buried and Me to Oh, Sleeper, surely, there are immaculate expectations for the new release. After As I Lay Dying declared a public hiatus in 2013, Nick Hipa, Josh Gilbert, Phil Sgrosso and Jordan Mancino teamed up with lifelong friend Shane Blay, vocalist of Oh, Sleeper, and began writing what would be Wovenwar’s debut self-titled album. Curious fans were kicked in the teeth by this new breed of collaboration; their self-titled debut came in at No. 36 on Billboard’s Top 200. Now with two years of weight behind them, the guys have honed their alt-metal sound and have dropped their second round of music, coming in at No. 7 on the Hard Music Chart and No. 15 on Independent Albums.

The album resonates with a tension between realism and idealism. If honor is subjective, does it really exist? Blay’s lyricism has taken on a new weight since their debut album, unveiling the well-rounded nature of Wovenwar. Sonically, the band finds the golden mean of metal somewhere between chaos and melody, guided by primary songwriter and guitarist Nick Hipa. Speaking with him, he expounds on the birth of the band; our conversation ranged from the craft of music to the philosophy of growing up.

In a band spread out across the country, Hipa emphasized the role of communication and collaboration on the new record. He spoke of his brothers with high esteem and with genuine concern for the world in which he lives. His attitude of humility overflowed as each question evolved into three more points of dialog. For Hipa, this new record is one the band collectively owed to themselves; they could only do justice to their 10+ years of industry experience by presenting a conceptually different album.

The band is touring the album as a four-piece, as guitarist Phil Sgrosso recently announced his departure from Wovenwar. In an interview with Alternative Press, drummer Jordan Mancino said, “We just wanted to go in different directions, in terms of touring commitments. It was something that we talked about like adults and understood each other’s perspectives.” With professional respect, it was an amicable split. What remains is still a melting pot of talent; this band creates a unique blend of worlds bringing forth a number of backgrounds, fan bases, talents and experiences that stack high. And while Sgrosso’s departure ends one chapter, it wasn’t long before they started their next, as Honor is Dead came out shortly thereafter. As they say, every closed door leads to an open window.

First, can you tell me about this band? How did you guys get hooked up with Shane?
Shane and I have been friends for a very long time, close to 13 or 14 years. We both lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. We both played in bands and played shows together, and then, eventually, we were playing in bands together. We were in a band called Evelynn that was on Pluto Records that was also the home to As I Lay Dying. We did a tour with As I Lay Dying and became friends with all those guys. So eventually — when Evelynn disbanded — Shane went and played with Between the Buried and Me and I went and played with As I Lay Dying. That was where our course split physically, but we were still good friends. When we were at the end of the road with As I Lay Dying and ready to start a new band, Shane was the first person I thought of. We have a great musical respect for one another and he’s just been a great friend for so long.

And how long had you all been playing together as Wovenwar before you released your first album?
Well, technically our record came out in 2014 and that’s when we started playing shows. So I guess you could say that’s how long Wovenwar has been around. But we started writing in 2013, so at this point I think the band is about three years old.

How would you say this band is different than your other bands?
I would say that this band is different musically the most. There are familiar elements with riffs and some of our musical approach, but the way that it’s presented is a lot different. It’s a lot more melodic, you know? There’s a lot more dynamic and variety in the album overall. So I would just say that it relates (to my other bands), to a certain extent, because it’s members of both of those bands. But the culmination creates something that I think is a lot different. It’s just a lot more melodic vocally, and I think that’s what people notice when they hear it.

I know that the making of your first album was really personal. How is Honor is Dead different than that?
This album was different than the first one in that I think we were a lot more optimistic and positive about the circumstances in our life when we were writing the record. We never really gave ourselves a moment to focus on some of the more negative or frustrated or even melancholy vibes that we were having. So I think this record focused a little more on the darker elements that you wrestle with when you go through a great transition, and you need to address those and exercise those in order to feel balanced.

I feel like a lot of bands are going through that, where the first album was a lot more positive, and then the second album is really honing in on reality.
Yeah. I think you always want to find balance. When you do a lot of one thing and then it’s time to do something else, you want to gravitate away from that. I just think that another overly positive album would be hugely ignoring some of the other things that we were needing to get out.

“I think honor is ideal and survival is real, and, when you get older, you see the lines blur between the two.”

Did you feel any pressure with it being your sophomore album? Was it something you thought would make or break you?
I think we always feel a great amount of pressure to do something different and challenging that pushes ourselves. So yeah, there’s always a lot of pressure. But we’ve recorded a lot of albums now, across our careers. What’s important about a sophomore record for bands is that you kind of prove your musical competence and your creativity. It shows how you’re able to develop as a band and as musicians, and I think we’ve done that a lot with our ten years of playing music. So we knew that we had it in us to do things different and move forward. It was more appeasing ourselves rather than expectations other people may have of us.

Can you talk about the title of this record?
It’s called Honor Is Dead. And again, I feel like it’s a great title because it relates to that more negative view. It’s not necessarily one that we hold on to entirely, but I think, in choosing to call the album that, it represents the tone of the record, in general, and the idea that the world is not as clear cut and as right-and-wrong as it was when you were a kid. When you’re young, you’re taught that honor is doing something because it’s right. It’s right by your fellow man; it’s just right by everything. There’s a good decision to be made and a wrong decision to be made.

But when you’re older, you find that there are a lot more gray areas and a lot more compromising that goes on. People don’t necessarily do what is right across the board; they do what’s right for them or they make decisions based on what suits them with little care about how it affects other people. I think it makes honor more circumstantial, you know? I think honor is ideal and survival is real, and, when you get older, you see the lines blur between the two. So, by saying “honor is dead,” it is sort of a short way of saying that if honor is circumstantial and you choose to be honorable when it suits you, then it doesn’t really exist.

Do you think the world evolved into that state, or is it something that was always there and we just grow into it?
There’s no way to say, I’ve only known this time, you know what I mean? But as you get older, you just see things from multiple perspectives more. When you’re young, you’re raised to believe what is right and wrong and when you’re older, you live by that, you know? For the most part, if your parents did a good job, then you know what is wrong, what is good, what is bad. But you get older and you start being out on your own and you start seeing the in-between. You see where the in-between isn’t necessarily abominable or terrible, it’s just where life takes people sometimes.

That’s heavy.

Can you tell me how writing looks for you guys since you all have a decent amount of writing background?
In this band, since everyone lives very spread out across multiple states, we write via the Internet. Everyone writes songs at home, and we send them to each other and everyone kind of chimes in on what they like and don’t like. Then we whittle those to the top ten or so and work on those together and try to flesh them out as a band and try to give it more of a human touch. That’s usually how the process has been with this band.

That’s how a lot of bands make it work in this technological age.
Yeah, it’s smart. It’s taking advantage of the technology in this digital landscape. But if you don’t get together and talk about it, if you let one idea become only one person’s representation of a good song, you kind of miss out on the creativity of other band members. So we try to make it so that everyone has input.

Yeah, I mean the album totally has a unified sound, so I can tell that everyone had a part of it.

Who’s your biggest influence as a guitarist and as a songwriter?
Well, when I was young, it was always Randy Rhoads and Dimebag (Darrell, guitarist for Pantera). Those were my two favorite guitar players of all time. But, as you get older — as long as I’ve been listening and playing the music — you find influence in random things. It changes. Influences always shift. On this record, I was listening to a lot of John Carpenter. He was an ’80s director, and he’s got these two records he put out, and they explore cinematic music. I enjoy listening to different sounds, you know? It’s a change of pace to get away from the riffs and song structures that we listen to and play on a day-to-day basis. But influences change. Everyone listens to different music across the board in the band, but I listen to a ton of metal. I love metal. I’d say 70% of what I listen to is heavy music.

If you had to sum up this album in one phrase, what would it be?
I would just say, “Worth an honest listen.”

I like that. Somehow this record is equally heavy and catchy. You talked about how there are a lot of melodic elements to it but there’s still no doubt that it’s brutal. How do you go about finding that balance?
When we write, we think about the batch of songs that we have. As a record is coming together, you can assess what is there and what isn’t, as far as what you think makes a well-rounded album. We’ve all listened to a million albums over the course of our lives. There are some albums that are one-dimensional the whole way through and that’s sick. It works for those bands.

But we like to have a diverse, dynamic record with ups and downs and weird left turns to make it feel like a full ride. So when we write, it starts off with people putting out ideas. Then, as we get to the end point in demos, it’s like, “Okay, we have a lot of this type of song or a lot of this type of song.” And then we ask, “What else is there that we’d like to hear on this record?” That’s kind of how we gravitate toward those more off-center demos that are out there.

That definitely sets apart an album of songs verses a fully composed piece of work. What does the studio look like for you guys? Do you get together for that?
We recorded all over the place for this record. We recorded in San Diego. We recorded vocals and bass at Josh’s studio in Birmingham. We recorded guitars at our own home studios here in Ocean Side. Then we consolidated files in L.A. at Josh’s other studio and had it mixed by our buddy in the U.K. So this is all the actual stems from the album being sent back and forth. It was crazy.

Actually, after we finished this record, we realized there was never an actual point in the entire recording process where all five of us were in a room together at the same time. There was one time when it was really close, but, other than that, it was a lot of communicating on parts and sending them back and forth. I mean, when we were drum tracking, four of us were there but Shane was gone doing an Oh, Sleeper tour. So we were able to get a lot of musical ideas formulated as a band there. It was definitely a logistical juggle; it was a hard album to make in that way, but we figured it out.

Do you feel like you ever miss out with not living near each other?
Yeah, totally. I wish we all lived on the same block and could jam all the time. If you just sit in a room, it’s more grueling, but you always have that spontaneous creativity of multiple individuals that can come up with an idea together that’s way different than what a dude sitting at a computer could come up with. I feel like that’s the magic of music. It’s hard having everyone live elsewhere, but we try our best to work on ideas together and try to synthesize something like that because it’s the way this band is set up.

Did the album come out like you imagined it would when you started writing?
No. That’s a hard question because I don’t think we ever expect an album to be a certain way. There was no expectation of what it would be at the end. All we knew was that it would probably be a darker and more aggressive record just because that was the vibe. So I guess in that way it ended up being that way. But an album ends up being based on what everyone is personally going through that they channel through music, you know? And that’s cool because it’s sort of a mystery.

As veterans in a young band, how are you approaching the growth process? I always wondered if it was weird to have so much recognition and then to start from the ground up for a different project.
You just do it, really. It’s hard starting a band over again, that’s for sure. But you understand that even though we might be older and we might have done X amount of things, it doesn’t matter as it relates to this entity, this band we’re creating now. It’s still an infant, you know what I mean? Well it’s a toddler now; it’s like three years old. It just takes time. We’re still finding ourselves in this band, and you can’t measure what you’re doing against anything you’ve done. You have to take what it is that you’re working on as it is, keep your head down and riff away.

That’s great advice! How do your fans help you and support your music?
Play our music on Spotify, buy our records if you can, follow us on social media. So much of a band’s support is tangible and quantified by the people that control the opportunities that you get. If a band has a lot of support, you can see that in their number of Facebook likes, Instagram followers, Spotify plays, album sales, ticket sales. So if you support a band, then support them. Follow them, listen to them, and, if you can, go see a show and buy a shirt. That stuff might seem little, but even if you have no money, it doesn’t cost anything to follow a band or listen to their music online or watch a video on YouTube. Each one of those things adds up, and the more they add up, the more people in the industry think, “Wow, this band is worth adding to this bill. They are worth this much, so we want to give them this opportunity.” That’s all you can really ask for is for more opportunities to present your band.

Is there anything else you think people need to know?
We’re very grateful and thankful for anybody that has supported any endeavor that we’ve done, whether it’s this band or an old band. We’re lucky to have people care about what we do in any sort of way, and we don’t take that for granted.

Wovenwar was posted on November 2, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by .