Frontman Joe Brown has anchored A STATIC LULLABY along with guitarist/vocalist Dan Arnold since 2001, weathering multiple lineup changes, shifting trends and nomadic ventures when it comes to record labels (Fearless is their third in four albums). That likely prepared them well for their newest full-length, Rattlesnake!, arguably the band’s heaviest and most technical record to date. Brown candidly spoke with Brian Shultz about all of these topics-not to mention their continued partnership with producer Steve Evetts (the Dillinger Escape Plan, Saves The Day), Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman paying inspiration, and Brown’s stint in rehabilitation late last year to help suck out the poison.
Musically, Rattlesnake! comes off a lot less serious than anything the band’s been done before. Is that reflective of how the mood has been since the self-titled record was recorded?
Musically, it is… It’s the heaviest, most abrasive [album we’ve made]. As far as content on the album, this is the most hairy time for an album we’ve ever done. Together as a whole, the album came out best just because we’re finally content with the members that we have. For a long time, it’s always been Dan [Arnold] and I. We were never really quite sure anybody really "found" us. We knew what we wanted to do, and it was [a matter of] finding some other guys that we felt were going to be part of a team. So we were always putting people on a trial basis: "Oh, we’ll see how this tour goes." Things never really seemed to really truly work out, and then over the last two years, Dane [Poppin, bass] has been a huge contribution to the whole element of the thing. Tyler [Mahurin, drums] has been with us for a little over a year now. We just feel really strong as a unit. Everybody really gets along. It’s better to be in a band with people [where] we’re not conflicting each other all the time. There’s not too many arguments; everybody’s kinda on the same page about what we want to do; how heavy of a touring schedule we want to do, and what we’re willing to invest into this record as opposed to what we had had on the previous two records-which was just confusion and a mess of bullshit with people having their own issues, money issues and people not feeling they [were] getting what they deserve. That’s the thing. But everybody is on the right track now.
Where does the heaviness come from?
I think we finally found a bearing. I scream, and it’s always been my passion to really accentuate the heaviness but still keep the melody… Everybody was really on the same page as far as, "Hey, we’re going to really make an expressive album but this is how we’re gonna go about doing it"–taking our influences from Pantera to anyone from Killswitch Engage to As I Lay Dying-then go back and [say], "Here we are, and now we’re going to add in a new certain thing that we’ve never really dabbled into," and that’s playing extremely heavy. It’s the first time we’d done that as a band, and I think it [worked] well because [it references] stuff that I’m passionate about–I love heavy music. It’s something that we’ve all been wanting to do. Dan just really melded it and worked that out real, real well based on what I was writing. As far as me writing a song that’s dark, [we were concerned it could end up] a pop-screamo-type jam, not necessarily with the best lyrical content how it should be expressed. So we went about viewing the album as a whole and wanted to have certain feelings going all the way through it, so it seems like each two tracks on the record went through a different type of experience until you get to ["Everybody’s Got A Lil’ Fonz N’ ‘Em"], which is pretty neat.
Where does Rattlesnake!‘s title come from?
Me and Dan came up with the name. We’ve always been sticklers on our names and every [album name]’s been kinda weird. I can’t tell you–I don’t know where that came from. A lot of it is the basis of a woman being a rattlesnake [as if her affection is] her venom and it being scary, [like] "Rattlesnake, look out!"
You’ve recorded three of your four albums with Steve Evetts. He seems like an unofficial fifth member.
Yeah, he really is.
What sort of comfort do you find with him?
He understands us but he’s not afraid to piss me off, or push me as hard as I can go to where I either feel like tearing up, or screaming or quitting. That’s something that I want. I don’t go into a situation where everything’s so lackadaisical that we’re just taking it as a jamming time type of thing. When we get in the studio, we want to portray live sounds to record. We want to portray the feelings and the emotions, and I believe that he is the only person to date that can pull that out of us. I’m always attracted to Steve. Nonetheless, he’s become one of my best friends over the years. He’s a huge contributor to producing an album [as in] he doesn’t write our songs for us, we come in there with our songs and we play what we’re gonna play, but he’s definitely willing to throw in an opinion-like, "Maybe another chorus," or, "Maybe we should take that part out; it doesn’t make sense." That type of deal. And it really, really helps mold the album.
I have pages and pages and pages of lyrics that [I’d bring] in and I’d be so happy, [them being] so certainly shocking that I thought it just had to be in a song. But a lot of it wasn’t melding right. And some of the parts that were being sung by Dan didn’t sound correct, and I’d always have to go back and revise and revise and keep doing it. We got the perfect final product. And I don’t know too many people that would push a band and actually test [their] limits.
How do you think Dan handled the new pressure of being the only guitarist on the album?
It was hard. It was so hard for him. He had to record three sets of guitars. I think he did embrace it quite well, because usually when we go into a studio, Dan plays really well. He’s a great musician. [We] know what we’re gonna get out of him and it’s just basically "Dan’s great, and we know he’s gonna do a good job." But I think he really embraced it just because it was him. It definitely did say, "This is Dan. I wrote the music and this is how we’re gonna play and these are my ideas." Him getting into second and third guitar parts, it was more of a blessing on the record than anything. He carried the weight and he was stressed out a lot. I did have to bite my tongue sometimes [to] just let him go and be himself and do whatever he was gonna do because the pressure was so huge for him. We wound up with a great album.
Did the title of "The Prestige" come from the novel or the film?
There are three songs on the album–"The Pledge," "The Turn" and "The Prestige”–[which] are concept songs that I wrote in order, and they’re not placed in order on the album, but if you saw the movie The Prestige, [you’d know] there’s an order of the way that a magic trick should go. It starts off with the pledge, then the turn, then the final part: The prestige. So, basically, yeah, we took that from the movie. Those songs, if you put them [in order], the lyrical content rolls from the pledge all the way down to the prestige as one story.
What inspired those lyrics?
When I was in rehab, I was having really, really crazy recurring nightmares and they’re kind of [awfully] vivid. It was about feelings that I was having about my ex-wife and things of that nature, and I just didn’t feel right about really putting these thoughts and these images down on paper [so] directly. [So I took] it from a different perspective and I wrote a little story behind it while including everything that I was feeling and going through. Basically, it’s about a person who becomes a detective, has a wife, winds up going insane, develops a split personality, has this daughter that he looks forward to and then he’s chasing a serial killer. As it ends, he realizes that he was the one killing all these people.
When were you in rehab?
I [started] in rehab in October of last year, [and was there] for two months.
What was that for?
How do you think those experiences in rehab shaped the writing of this record?
To be so bold lyrically was not something I was afraid to do, because I’ve always pushed myself to that degree. Except I [previously] used metaphors and misunderstood metaphor-type ways of expressing my feelings, and this way was a lot more literal. [Becoming] sober was a blessing in so many ways; I was able to, for the first time, be clear-headed while I was working on something. I drank every day for the last eight years,[but now that I’m sober, I’m] able to feel feelings on a true level.
It seemed to me that it really propelled my writing. I have more to write. It made more sense. I think everybody was able to benefit from it–my live show and what I was able to invest on the record, which probably before was 40 percent, and I actually gave it 110. Not meaning to give 40 percent, but that’s probably just what I was able to give at the time. I was able to really pour out some of those demons that were eating at me that I really couldn’t drink off, so my pen and my paper were my therapy that time around.
Did the alcoholism worsen as a result of the divorce, or was the divorce a result of the alcoholism?
I think they go hand in hand. I’m never going to say that my drinking was a direct result of my divorce. I mean, it probably contributed to it. I didn’t actually realize [I was] getting so uncontrollable [that] I actually made attempts to stop and was not able to until after the divorce. After a year of separation, I drank myself into a hole that was just really hard to get out of and [I tried] to detox myself… [Then I knew] it was time to actually go seek help and really get out of the pit that I was in.
I was kind of a piece of work. I don’t think it’s a reason, but it probably definitely contributed to [a] destructive relationship.
Around the time you released …And Don’t Forget To Breathe in 2003, there was a lot of online criticism regarding your live performances. Would you agree with those criticisms of the time?
As in what, me being an asshole or whatnot?
No, more regarding your vocals not being as strong on the record.
Well, the funny thing about that is that album I recorded with no voice whatsoever. [Laughs.] [It] was hard for me to listen to it and suck it up. But I really couldn’t even mutter a word when I had to record the vocals for that album. We did it in two weeks. That was all the time we had.
But yeah, I was a drunk idiot. And some days were probably good, and some days were probably bad. I didn’t take care of myself nonetheless. I think over the years I’ve gotten stronger and become more of a machine.
But nowadays, I realize how much better it is performing and giving the people something [worthwhile] to experience–me delivering a sober show to them, and giving them the opportunity to see the real Static Lullaby. alt