As It Is: Interview With Patty Walters

Presently in Little Rock, Arkansas, I had the pleasure to speak with As It Is frontman Patty Walters on a day off for the band in the thick of the Vans Warped Tour. The four piece (Patty on vocals, Benjamin Langford-Biss on guitar & vocals, Ali Testo on bass, and Patrick Foley on drums) had played a show in Houston, Texas the day before as part of the tour. Describing the experience as “bittersweet” and “special” due to being the last cross-country event, Patty shares that they’re having a lot of fun and that it’s “nice to be surrounded by friends and playing to great crowds everyday. It’s a cool experience.”

The Great Depression is the upcoming third studio album for As It Is and is due for release on 10th August via Fearless Records/Caroline Australia. It’s already apparent that it is far more of a ‘concept album’ than the previous album, okay. which the band released early last year. We’ve seen As It Is band members undergo a change in their appearance (black fingernails, dark eye makeup, emo styles), as well as darkened social media aesthetic for the band, sharing the striking logo/image/album artwork. This immersion in the upcoming album, as well as seeing the band share posts about the album being “told through the story of a man who finds himself face-to-face with death” had me curious about the band’s progression from the okay. era through to The Great Depression.

Patty surprised me by saying that the progression began even before okay. was released! “We started writing The Great Depression three weeks before okay. came out. We were really working and living in this era of As It Is throughout the entirety of touring the previous record. I think a lot of that came from just enjoying the kind of musical experimentation and liberation that we found whilst writing okay. We embraced some very different influences and directions on that record, be that darker and lighter. We talked about such personal subject matter regarding mental health in general, and my personal mental health. Very personal and vulnerable transparent stories for me, my experiences, my struggles..  It’s a very special record for that reason.”

“Finding ourselves so ready to write album three, I wasn’t in the exact same position. I wasn’t kind of on the same journey. And writing another record about myself wasn’t going to fulfill me the same way as writing a much more important and necessary record was going to be, living in this day and age with the downfalls that we’re kind of facing as a world, as a modern society. We were just ready for a change, and we were ready for a challenge and really embraced that. No matter what it was going to look like at the end of the day.”

“It started with asking myself if we as a band, we as a scene, and we as a world, are part of the romanticisation of depression and mental health.”

The Great Depression follows the story of characters through the album, and shares about their interactions with others, such as The Reaper. I asked Patty if it was the story that came first or the songs. He shares that it began more with questions than a story per se. “It started with asking myself if we as a band, we as a scene, and we as a world, are part of the romanticisation of depression and mental health. Whether we are part of the solution, or if we are part of the problem. Because talking about it, I believe, takes away the stigma, but I don’t know if talking about it in any way, shape, or form, is always in the best interests of improving the state of the world, and the state of our people.”

“So I had a lot of questions. I had to find a lot of truths about our world, our band, and myself, and the idea of the concept record, the character The Poet, and the other characters within the story of the record, and the narrative, that came from Ben. That was his suggestion. And it was this really perfect, succinct way, of communicating very important questions in a way that was still going to be personal, about one person’s experiences; his thoughts, his feelings, his journey, in a way that’s still as personal as our previous two records. We didn’t want to lose how personal those records were and how personal people really view those records as. So it was really just the perfect situation to ask these questions, but for it to still feel, sound, and at the end of the day be an As It Is album.”

“We didn’t want to lose how personal those records were”

Seeming like a really great way to bring the band members’ personal experiences to life, while also maintaining some distance in the case of vulnerable honesty, As It Is have taken these concepts beyond the known/real, and expanded upon them creatively/theatrically with The Great Depression concept. Patty uses the example of when The Poet comes face-to-face with Death himself and is pulled both toward Death but also toward his wife. “His wife wants him to live, and see the beauty in a life with each other. And Death wants to end his suffering and take his pain away, because all he thinks to do is hurt. And he finds himself in the middle of this paradox and the record is about that journey and ultimately his decision and his conclusion.”

By way of sound, The Great Depression is an impressive mix of darker and rockier tracks, as well as more upbeat pop punk, but also some electronic sounds. I asked Patty as to what the band’s perspective was on genre, going into the creation of the album. “Yeah, that’s super interesting! There’s a couple different answers in there for me. First and foremost, we are very proud to be an alternative band, in the alternative music scene. And we’ve seen it time and time again with bands wanting to kinda transcend the scene and exit the scene with their eyes very wide, but writing music that doesn’t have a lot of heart. Because they want to reach a different demographic or a bigger demographic, whatever the reason may be. We’re ultimately lifers in this genre. We love this genre of music and we love this scene. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. We didn’t want to dilute our sound or our artistic integrity in any way. So at the core of it, we wanted to write a record that was going to belong in this scene, and really makes a statement that says ‘If any band feels like leaving, that’s fine. We’re here for the rest of our lives and as long as anyone feels like listening’.”

 

“Myself being American growing up in the UK, I experienced a lot of amazing UK pop punk bands ten years before the UK pop punk explosion of Neck Deep, Roam, ourselves, Trash Boat, and Boston Manor, all that great stuff. And the same is true of Australia, that I’m sure you guys had incredible Australian pop punk bands that nobody internationally recognised ten years ago. And the same is true of British post-hardcore. There are incredible British post-hardcore bands that I was lucky enough to know as an American growing up in the UK. Bands like Funeral For A Friend, Hundred Reasons, Hell Is For Heroes, etc. And we’re paying homage to those bands that really directly influenced us as a pop punk band or a rock band or anything in between. And this is kind of for those bands that were so integral to the scene but didn’t get the recognition they deserved and I think now that international eyes are on the international scene, not even just the British scene, we want to pay homage to that and let people know how great those bands were.”

As It Is have taken this appreciation for the era seriously, having Larry Hibbitt of Hundred Reasons co-write the third track of the album “The Fire, The Dark”. Of the experience of working together, Patty describes it as very “special, surreal, incredible”. The firm presence of Underoath in the era inspired the band to reach out to their Fearless Records label mates. Aaron Gillespie features on “The Reaper”. Of the experience, Patty says: “If you don’t ask, it’s not going to happen. So we thought we’d throw it out there into the universe and see what happens. And fortunately Aaron was open to collaborating. “The Reaper” was one of the last songs written for The Great Depression. It was written in the studio. We got to write the song and his part specifically with him in mind, which I think always benefits the song and the feature. Instead of kind of doing it for the name and the kind of association. I think his part and his reinterpretation of the melody and the delivery really suits him, really suits the song, and really benefits everything about the journey of the song and the music for sure.”

Patty feels “pretty fortunate” to have the open mindedness of the band’s fans, allowing them to explore/experiment with darker or lighter elements while maintaining the pop punk sensibilities and the lyricism they can expect from As It Is. “We have very eclectic music tastes. [laughs] We didn’t grow up together, we met each other in our early and mid-twenties. We grew up listening to very different music. And you’re write, there’s electronic influences, there’s vocoders.. The record doesn’t really really start with a guitar for the most part, or a real instrument. It’s very different as far as our previous two records go, but I think ultimately it still feels and sounds like and is an As It Is album.”

Patty sees lyrics as the most important ‘ingredient’ of As It Is music, along with soaring chorus melodies, which they’ve kept in mind when exploring different sounds, in order to keep that same intact. With lyrics like “Jet black hearts and abandoned souls” and “Life is agony, but worth it all the same”, The Great Depression might just spark some new tattoo designs. Patty couldn’t decide on a favourite lyric from the album, but shared his penchant for lyrics that are “pessimistic twists on something ultimately positive”, and vice versa, mentioning “pretty little distance” as a favourite from okay.. The sarcasm of the second single from the album “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)” is also a style of lyricism he enjoys, describing it as “a lot of positive messages that are delivered tongue-in-cheek, where they’re spat back with a lot of venom, a kind of ‘rulebook’ of toxic masculinity”.

 

On specific songs, I asked about “The Hurt, The Hope”, which appears second last on the album and stood out to me as something of a turning point emotionally. I wanted to hear from Patty directly about this one and what they were attempting to express with it. “That songs interesting for a number of reasons. I think that song really exists because of our bassist, Ali. We were writing the journey of The Poet and his experiences with depression, suicidal thoughts, the guilt of his life in general. It was the kind of suggestion of our bassist, that not every day is as negative as the one before it, no matter how bad your situation is, no matter how bleak, and it’s important to represent that with at least one song or at least one moment, and “The Hurt, The Hope” is really the dark and the light coming head to head; the hopelessness and the hope. You can even kind of hear it, where the chorus melody of the hurt, where it goes down an octave, and in the hope it just goes up an octave. So it’s all very descending, ascending, and all this kind of stuff, minor, major.. It was just important to not even the diversity of the journey, but if we’re going to talk about this kind of subject matter, that’s very sensitive, it’s our responsibility to do it justice and to do it accurately, and portray it as not bleak 100% of the time, or not hopeless 100% of the time. I think that’s why that song was so crucial to be written.”

I sought to understand more about the ‘romanticisation of depression’, as to where Patty (and As It Is) observes this. For me, Twitter is an obvious one and I asked if social media was part of this romanticism and inspired the creation of the album. “It certainly was. And I think more specifically was conversations between ourselves and our fans before and after sets. We exchanged very personal stories at length about our mental health respectively and our experiences growing up. It really took a toll on us. You really feel the weight and the responsibility of that, and that’s where so many of these questions kind of began, asking ourselves if we were doing the right thing, if we were ultimately doing a good thing for not only the people who listen to this band but also for ourselves. You do see it on social media, but I also think you see it throughout all of time. Music and more generally art is not the responsibility of art to give the best advice to every person. People are too different and art is too subjective. I don’t necessarily think The Cure or The Smiths are to blame for people being sad, and I think the same is true for all art; film, music, painting. It’s not the responsibility of the artist to preach universal advice, it’s just up to that artist to create what they believe is the best they can create. And it’s this very interesting almost existential question that I had to keep asking myself throughout all of it, and that’s why it was so interesting. Moreso than just writing about what I was feeling that day. It was so much more fulfilling to write about something that was bigger than myself and bigger than this band, and it won’t surprise me if we continue in this direction in the future.”

Pre-order The Great Depression here: https://caroline.lnk.to/TheGreatDepression

TRACKLISTING:
Stage I: Denial
1. The Great Depression
2. The Wounded World
3. The Fire, The Dark
Stage II: Anger
4. The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry)
5. The Handwritten Letter
6. The Question, The Answer
Stage III: Bargaining
7. The Reaper (ft. Aaron Gillespie)
8. The Two Tongues (Screaming Salvation)
9. The Truth I’ll Never Tell
Stage IV: Acceptance
10. The Haunting
11. The Hurt, The Hope
12. The End.

 

Kel Burch

Creator and caretaker of Depth Mag, Kel uses her superpowers of empathy, word-weaving, and feeling everything deeply, to immerse herself in music before returning to reality to write about her experience with it.

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