Our War

Nick Hipa and the rest of Wovenwar have risen from the ashes of As I Lay Dying. He has new life, a new perspective and the old scars to prove it.

Photo by Ty Watkins

It’s been a long year for Nick Hipa.

There was the news regarding the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the demise of As I Lay Dying. There are official statements. There was a trial and a sentencing. There was so much of it, I’d venture to say you probably heard enough about it.

So has Hipa. For him and the rest of Wovenwar (vocalist Shane Blay and the remaining members of As I Lay Dying, Phil Sgrosso, Josh Gilbert and Jordan Mancino on guitars, bass and drums, respectively), it puts them in an incredibly unique position. Rising from the ashes of one of the most successful metal bands of all-time, every one of their actions judged, scrutinized, made publicly known. They have to choose their words carefully. For a band of their stature and ubiquity — any wrong move could be a death sentence.

“I’d have to chalk everything up as very memorable,” Nick says, reflecting on the last year. “Some things were weird, some things were, obviously, clearly unusual — but mostly just memorable. So much happened. Everything that happened was outside of our control. The only thing we could have a hand in is responding to it, and we had no desire to. It was something so personal and already so well publicized. We didn’t want to put ourselves into it. We just wanted to move forward with life. And that’s why we were all just kind of absent from the whole thing, from making any sort of statement for a really long time.”

Understandable, but also frustrating. To spend the better part of an entire year in silence left the whole metal world chomping at the bit. It wasn’t until the other members of As I Lay Dying were specifically mentioned that they felt like they needed to say something.

“The only reason we started to be a little more vocal about things is when a statement was issued from a ‘different camp’ that was inaccurate, and we had to clear things up. “Or, in the course of talking about Wovenwar — we have to do a lot of interviews — everyone’s going to want touch on the past because that’s all we have right now. We’re on tour, but our record isn’t out yet. And you can’t talk about the present without talking about how you got there.

“In doing that, we learned that some people’s intentions for asking us those questions were to sensationalize it and fuel the drama. This whole time we’ve been trying to keep to ourselves and be productive and positive in our lives, but then you do an interview where only 20 percent of it is about Tim (Lambesis) and As I Lay Dying, but when it’s published, that’s where all of the attention and the headline focus. That’s a huge bummer.”

I can’t imagine having someone else speak so bluntly about something as personal to me as my own spiritual journey. To have someone just say “oh by the way, those guys haven’t been Christians for a while,” that had to be incredibly hurtful and frustrating for you guys. Have you been getting a backlash from these kids who thought your music was a safe place for them as Christians,? Are you getting any apprehension from the legions of young, Christian As I lay Dying fans?
There are so many things I want to address here. First off, yes, it was incredibly frustrating and hurtful that Tim took it upon himself to make a very grand statement about us. To do so in such a public way… I don’t think he was trying to discredit any reputation we had or anything, but it was in very bad taste. When you know people well, especially when it comes to being in a band together, you communicate certain things with each other.

My whole life I was raised in the Christian faith. So many things I was taught, I believed wholeheartedly. But as I got older, I’d say things like, “Here are a few things I’m challenged by, and here are a few things I don’t know if I necessarily believe, absolutely.” It doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned faith or anything. But Christians naturally — I know, because I was raised in it — after you get saved, have that emotional, honeymoon phase where it’s all love and positivity. It’s all a very new thing you don’t really challenge because you’re just in love with the community and the church around you. It’s a real thing to you.

You’re excited and passionate about it at the time.
Right. But then you’re in it for a long time and a result of your passion for it is that you really want to study it. I think everyone goes through this at some point. You study the Bible and you realize some of the things really challenge your inherent reason or logic. It makes you think a little bit more objectively about what it is you believe.

I think it’s unfair for someone else to publicly say you’re not a Christian anymore or that you’ve abandoned faith because you happen to be going through that phase. Imagine being in a (church) small group or something and saying, “You know, I’m not sure if this is something I wholeheartedly accept anymore, but it doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned my faith,” and then having someone share that in a broad way? It makes it look like you just gave up.

These things are personal and private. You approach it and you really try and understand, in its entirety, what it is that’s at the center of your faith and what to make of things beyond this world. But it’s always been a very private thing for all of us.

So we all agreed it was unfair to have Tim — who’s always been the kind of person who is, “I’m 100 percent this. This is me. This is what I speak on” — that ultimately became the person who said, “You know what? I reject all of this, and this is the person I am now.” And then to paint us in the same way. That was hard because I don’t think he ever really represented us fairly before, and he definitely didn’t accurately afterward. It’s just not a good feeling to have somebody make these claims and have people’s perception of you completely change, immediately, because of what someone says.

Completely. I can’t imagine how that felt.
Take my mom, or the rest of my family, for instance. She reads that and asks me, “Wait, Nick, what’s going on? I just read all this — what happened?” And I have to respond, “Look mom, you don’t understand. There’s an agenda behind it. And it’s something someone else said. It’s the media. People are taking it as truth and forming their opinions based on it.”

We get people coming up to us or sending us messages saying things like, “Well, you guys lost your faith, we’re not going to support your music anymore.” It’s a huge mess. Because then you start to think about how all of these people will be willing or unwilling to support a band merely because they fly that flag or not.

In essence the whole situation brings out the worst in everybody.
Yeah, and it’s crazy. Just read our lyrics and listen to our music and form your own opinions based on that. Make a decision for yourself. At least that’s what I hope people will do with this Wovenwar record.

This isn’t about As I Lay Dying or Tim Lambesis. This is about Wovenwar. With a debut album releasing this month, the metal world is about to experience this next in the chapter in not only the band’s musical journey, but walking into a new world after being forced from their old one. The addition of Oh, Sleeper’s guitarist and backup vocalist Shane Blay has opened an entirely new dimension to the songwriting capabilities of the other four members. It has an added dynamic of clean, melodic vocals, and it has changed everything. (Think Illusion of Safety-era Thrice meeting the aggressive urgency of As I Lay Dying, all wrapped in a more progressive, atmospheric package). And that’s just to get them started.

On to Wovenwar. Does it feel like a continuation? Or does it feel like starting over? Does it feel fresh again?
Yes. It feels entirely like a birth, like a new life. A new spirit. To have the opportunity to grow with these guys I’ve been friends with for so long, and then bring someone in who’s on the same page as us musically and a person, there’s a level of camaraderie that’s making it feel so purified. Both of those things constantly benefit and influence each other.
We’re so happy and excited to be doing this band. And it’s new again. We’re on tour right now and there are only a handful of people who’ve even heard of us. I mean, you have some people who know us from the past, but for the most part, we’re a brand new band. There’s no way to be able to predict how this band will do, but I’ve never been so proud of anything in my life.
This is the band I always wanted to be a part of, and this is the record I’ve always wanted to make. It feels like I’m in a band of brothers, rather than in a business relationship, which is the way it should be.

Wovenwar is on tour with Black Label Society and has another lined up with In Flames. Not only are you a new band that not a lot of people have heard of, but you’re also doing it on a much bigger stage than most any new band will ever experience.
It doesn’t feel too unusual, but I don’t want to take it for granted. You’re right; not many new bands get to go on tour with bands like Black Label Society or In Flames, and we feel extremely fortunate for that. But where the new band part comes in, we get on stage and no one has heard the record yet. Only two songs have been released so far. I mean, you’ll have a few people who’ve been a part of our musical journey, but then tons of people who are like, “Who is this band? I’ve never heard them before.” And it’s nerve wracking. You feel so vulnerable, but that’s what makes it so exciting. We just get on stage and play the songs the best we can and to leave the stage knowing that we’ve impressed some people, that’s an amazing feeling. You feel like you really accomplished something. Once the record comes out, I hope we’ll have grown the fanbase and people will know the songs and all that.

It’s a crazy feeling to be a new band starting from scratch after doing As I Lay Dying for ten years.

That being said, has the reception been pretty good for you guys so far on the Black Label tour?
Yeah, it’s been awesome. We’ll be at the merch table talking to people and these gnarly Black Label fans will be like, “That was rad, brother” (laughs). That’s really cool to get approval from someone like that, because these are dudes I doubt ever heard As I Lay Dying. They saw Wovenwar and then they thought it was good enough to come say what’s up. We hope that will only improve as we tour more and people become more familiar with the record.

Speaking of, the songs on the Wovenwar record sound a lot more dynamic. A lot more is going on, there are more shifts in sound and tempo, even mid-song. To me, As I Lay Dying songs were always one thing: one tempo, brutality all the way through. How is the writing process different with Wovenwar? Is it more of a rewarding experience?
Oh totally. This band feels so much more musical than As I Lay Dying was. But I mean, we’re taking the exact same approach to writing as we did before, but we just have a very different variable and skill set in Shane.

With a band, the best move is to take what everyone’s strengths are and employ that skill level to the highest degree. Whatever everyone does best, you want to utilize that, then you meet in the middle with your tastes. With As I Lay Dying, vocally, we could only really create one type of sound underneath that — driving, blasting down beats — and that’s cool because that’s what our sound was. And we felt like we were doing the best with what we had.

But with Shane — whose voice could be complimented by so many different things — there could be more ebb and flow beneath it. That really opened up what we could do. Writing this record, we were playing honestly, trying to build on everyone’s strengths. Shane’s strengths compliment a more expansive and dynamic sound.

And that’s what’s so exciting about it. For the first time in our musical careers, we feel like we don’t have to have that feeling that we had in the past.

In reading people’s responses to the two songs you guys have released so far, it seems that some people have been thrown off by Shane’s vocals — not necessarily negatively, but at least surprised by them. Did you guys sit down and intentionally say, “We’re going to write a record with no screaming,” or did it just happen naturally?
When we first got together and decided it just wouldn’t feel right to continue As I Lay Dying, we knew it didn’t make sense to start another band that sounded the same. We decided that it had to be different, and it’d be different based on whoever we got to be the vocalist.

Shane was always one of the first names on our list. He and I have been friends for a very long time. (Editor’s note: for some deep cuts, look up Shane and Nick’s pre-As I Lay Dying chaotic metalcore band Evelynn.) Shane can scream, but we knew he also had a really rad voice. It was great to write a record with him. It was that process that just naturally led to having a different sonic identity than we had for the last ten years. We didn’t intentionally say, “You know, we’re going to have singing only.”

And what does this mean for the future of Oh, Sleeper? They are currently touring with a fill-in for him. You guys are starting to get some traction. Is he solely Wovenwar now?
For Shane, Oh, Sleeper was the band he started and it will be the band he’s always a part of. But when we started this, it became the main band for everyone. I mean, we’re not doing As I Lay Dying on the side or anything. We’re 100 percent Wovenwar. And Shane has always wanted to play with people who were, I guess, on the same professional path and took things as seriously as he did. With Oh, Sleeper, he and Micah are the original members. I think they are irreplaceable. That’s not anything against the other guys; they are all great. But for Oh, Sleeper to work, I think Shane always needs to be involved.

With Wovenwar, Shane’s going to have to be more selective with his time. He’s going to have to do Oh, Sleeper when he has time for it, and that’s something he has let those guys know.

It’s cool he’s committed to Wovenwar. This is his band, his thing now. But when we have time off, I’m sure he’s going to be working on Oh, Sleeper material and playing shows with them. Right now, everyone’s focus is this band.

It seems that, across the board, there is a lot of mutual understanding going on.
We communicate with each other. And those guys in Oh, Sleeper are our good friends. Micah is someone I hold in the highest regard.

You know, it’s weird because a lot of people could say Shane was “just their guitarist,” but I think it’s awesome he’s really trying to pursue things as a vocalist, which is something he’s always wanted to do. And Micah has really been supportive of us — in fact, he’s the only person we had do guest vocals on the record.

Hipa and the rest of Wovenwar are in one of the most unique positions any metal band — let alone any band — could ever be in. As I Lay Dying are one of the historical greats in metal, one of the biggest names with an astounding degree of both commercial and critical success. It’s rough sand to build your home on, and it’s even fewer and far between those houses stand. It made me genuinely curious about the past ten years, from Hipa’s perspective. There aren’t many people who attain that level of success while maintaining enough autonomy to start something brand new.

“I’d consider myself so blessed,” he responds. “I’ve been a part of and been able to experience so many things I’ve always dreamed of experiencing, but never 100 percent expected to. I’ve worked really hard — and so did the rest of the guys — but there have been so many things that have come our way I can’t take credit for. We were lucky to work with great people, lucky to have the support we did, even when things fell apart for As I Lay Dying. It was tough, but at no point did we feel sorry for ourselves or cry over what we lost. We’ve done so much and have experienced so much and we have so much to be thankful for.

“I’m not sour or jaded by any means. Life will move on, and hopefully we can create something great out of this. We’re so appreciative of all of it.”

Wovenwar was posted on August 13, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .