411 Music Interview: Craig Mabbitt of Escape The Fate
Escape The Fate has been on quite a rollercoaster ride the past few months. After the release of their self-titled album back in early November, and on the heels of a major European tour with Bullet For My Valentine, bassist Max Green entered rehab for addiction issues. Opting for the recovery of their friend over touring, the band has taken a few months off to wait for Green to be out of rehab. When he is released, a lengthy North America tour awaits the band. In early December, I had the opportunity to speak to vocalist Craig Mabbitt about the issues with Green, the unreleased material from the recording sessions of Escape The Fate, and how the band was able to sign with major label Interscope and not compromise their sound.
Why did the band decide that their third album was going to be self-titled?
We decided to self-title it because we’ve been working on it literally since we finished the last record. So we really feel like it was us. We had our hand in it from the beginning and Don (Gilmore), the producer we worked with, didn’t really change anything about the songs or about the sound at all pretty much. He just gave us a direction to go. For the first time, we’re all really happy and satisfied. For the first time, we thought it was us, so we’re like, ‘Let’s self-title the album.’ Also being the first album on a new label, it’s kind of like an introduction thing, so we just figured it was the right time to release a self-titled album.
Do you see this as being the start of a new era for the band, different than the last two albums? Do you see yourself heading in this direction in the future?
Yeah I should say so. It’s definitely a little darker and definitely a little heavier music-wise. I think that is definitely a direction we are going to stick with. We’ve been figuring out what we like to do and we’ve been figuring out what we enjoy playing live, what we enjoy listening to on our record. I really think the past two records were working our way up to what this record is. I think this record sets it in stone what we are and what we want to do.
You said that the music is a lot heavier, yet there are softer songs, like “World Around Me.” Do you feel like the band took a big chance with material like that; really piano-driven, very bombastic?
Our band has always been about writing stuff that we like and if it’s good, then we want to release it. We’ve definitely could have been like, ‘Oh, let’s throw another minute-long solo, let’s do a chugga-chug here, let’s scream over this, and let’s sound like every other band and put the same song on the record ten times so that we have a one song, ten different track album.’ I don’t know, we just like to be very diverse, and if we like what we’re hearing, then we’re going to do it. I think that’s the most important part sometimes about being in a band; you have to enjoy what you are doing. If you don’t, at the end of the day, you’re just not going to like what you do period.
Are you more excited about these types of songs like “World Around Me,” songs that are off-beat, or do you enjoy the heavier stuff more?
I enjoy everything. I enjoy the whole 360 view of it all. When we get up there and we play our live shows, like the headlining tour we got coming up, I’m going to be able to get up there and I’m going to be able to jump around and do my heavy thing, which is my favorite. I love the heavy stuff. Our guitarist, he’s a little more on the metal side. He loves shredding, but he also loves putting that swing and that pop into it. I like the whole jest of it because I can just get up there and enjoy the heavy song and then we can go into a track like “World Around Me,” and I can do the off-beat thing. You do a whole bunch of different things in one night; it’s awesome.
How was it working with Don Gilmore? Did he bring anything to the table that you didn’t expect when you first found out he was the producer?
He definitely helped us find ourselves. Like I was saying, we had all the material written and then when we went into the studio, he would just sit back and said, ‘You know what? That sounds good, but what else can you show me? Do you think you could make this part better? Let’s dig a little deeper on this part.’ It’s very rare for any artist to be completely satisfied with any piece of work that they do and obviously, there are little things here and there that I still wish I could go back and change about the record. He definitely gave us a really good direction. I really enjoyed working with him. He was very hands-on, but very hands-off at the same time, if that makes any sense.
Was there any concern that Gilmore, who has worked with many big-name rock bands, would tame the metal side of the band too much?
Yeah, that was definitely a concern going through our heads. Obviously, signing to Interscope was a big concern. It’s like this big-time guy who has recorded some major selling artists, and then we’re on Interscope, which is one of the biggest labels ever. So we were definitely nervous about being dumbed-down or being told what to do, but it didn’t happen anywhere. Don didn’t change us and the label didn’t want to change us. We were really satisfied with how easy it was to work with everybody and go into the studio. This record has the heaviest song the band has ever written, it has the softest ballad the band has ever written, it has the craziest solo Monte has ever written. The whole record just has everything in it.
When the band was looking for another label, what drew you to Interscope? What was their appeal?
Their appeal was just being able to get our music out there to a wider audience; being able to show our vision to more people that sometimes on an indie label you can’t really do. I mean, I think that’s what every band wants when they first start being a band. Every band wants to be the biggest band in the world. If our careers have taken us in this direction, and Interscope is interested and they wanted to sign us, we’re going to go for it. Like I said, we definitely had those concerns at first. We weren’t going to do it if it was going to mean we had to change our band or do this and do that. Interscope was hopping on board with us, instead of us hopping on board with Interscope. They were willing to push us in doing what we wanted to do. That’s why we decided to sign the papers. If not, and they wanted to change us, we would have totally just stayed on Epitaph. That was a great label.
What was your mindset when it came to writing lyrics? Anything in particular that influenced the album?
My mindset was literally anything that I could think of. There were so many different things. When I was sitting down writing the album, I wanted to write about every emotion that you can get from life, everything that kind of happens, every kind of story I’ve heard that really upset me. There’s a track called “Lost in Darkness” about this story I heard about a friend that literally got dragged out of their house at gunpoint and was screaming for help and nobody helped her at all. Everybody just turned the other cheek. That was something that really struck me, and I see that happening a lot, just people not wanting to lend a helping hand to people when somebody is hurting or getting dragged out of their house at gunpoint. That’s definitely where I went with that song.
The first track after the intro, “Massacre,” is about me and my addiction problems. What I had to do to get through that. Then you get to things like “World Around Me,” which is pretty much life in itself, about relationships with my ex and my child, everything cumulated into one song. You got “Guillotine (The Aftermath Pt. 3),” which the first “Guillotine” was about Halo, the second one was about Halo as well, but the second one kind of went into being about real-life soldiers and not strictly a video game character, and this new one is just completely about real-life soldiers. Every time I listen to this song I just always think of my Dad because my Dad was gone in the military all the time when I was a kid. So the chorus, ‘Now I’m coming home,’ is an ode to my Dad and an ode to all the soldiers out there who are fighting a war from us and waiting to come home to their families. So every track has a completely different underlying story to it.
Did you feel more comfortable vocally with this being your second album with Escape the Fate? Just tell me the differences between the first album you recorded with them and the recent one.
The first album was just, ‘Hey man, you want to be in the band?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I tried out and they were like, ‘Fuck man, we really like you. We want you to be in the band.’ Played three shows and a week after playing the three shows, it was time to go in the studio. I definitely felt rust. It was definitely still all new to me. It wasn’t like a new band I joined; we were jamming, playing local shows, writing an EP, and then working up to a record. It was literally like, ‘Hey. You need to go in the studio and write this record right now.’ It was very nerve-wracking and I felt very rushed. So naturally, this time around, of course I felt more comfortable.
Did you experiment at all with your voice in the studio for this album? Do you try something you’ve never tried before?
Oh definitely. The track “Lost in Darkness” and another track “Liars and Monsters” that’s on the deluxe edition where I’m singing the lowest I’ve ever sang on a song before to try it out. Tracks like “Zombie Dance,” where I’m literally doing five different vocal harmonies in there, creepy little sounds above it. “World Around Me” is almost like Queen in there with all the different harmonies I’m doing. It was fun to experiment and get different sounds and find out if I do this, if it’s going to sound this way. I can’t wait to keep on going back into the studio and experimenting on a ton of different things.
What is more of a challenge for you when recording in the studio; the harsh or clean vocal style?
I can’t really say what’s harder. I don’t really know. I have to say the hardest thing for me sometimes is getting the harmonies right, getting the high harmonies part sometimes on songs, you know, to boost that last chorus or the ending of the song. It gets really difficult and frustrating when you are sitting in the studio and you start getting all sweaty. You’re trying 50 different things and nobody can agree on one thing. That’s definitely the hardest part; coming up with the high harmony ending parts of songs.
The deluxe edition has a few bonus tracks, including “Liars and Monsters,” which was co-written by John 5. Why was this track saved for the deluxe and not the regular edition?
I can’t really answer that because there’s a lot of hair-pulling in the studio about what songs are going to make…I mean, we still have a whole other record of songs that didn’t even get put onto the record. There’s a completely different song that we recorded and everything and it was going to be on the record, and we decided not to do it at the very last second. Both songs, “Liars and Monsters” and “The Final Blow,” I wanted both of them on the record, but everybody was saying, ‘We need to keep this record this length with this many tracks, and then, if you guys want to release these other tracks, we’re do it as a bonus.’ It just gets to a point where it’s like, ‘Well, crap dude. I just want to record everything and just release a 20 track album.’ A lot of hair-pulling and a lot of arguing about what was going to make the cut.
You just mentioned that you got pretty much enough material for a whole other album. Can you tell me a little bit about the material that didn’t get put on the album? Could we see it in the future on another release? Are you going to use it for the fourth album?
Oh yeah, for sure. We got two other songs that are kind of like “World Around Me,” we got four or five other songs that are the heavier ones like “The Aftermath,” “Prepare Your Weapon,” and “Massacre.” That’s why certain things didn’t make the cut. It was like, ‘Which one is the strongest one? Which one do we have most vocals to? What’s going to fit in the diversity of the record?’ Because that’s what we like to do; we like to give our fans a lot of diversity to listen to. Like I said, there are four or five other songs like “The Aftermath.” We could have thrown those songs on there and not put “World Around Me” or “Gorgeous Nightmare” or “Zombie Dance” or “Issues” or anything like that. It would have been more like a straightforward record. That’s not what we like to do. We like to have a lot of that diversity in our sound.
Was there any track left over that didn’t get on the album or the deluxe edition that you were disappointed wasn’t put on the final release?
Yeah, there’s one track that we recorded and finished. It was called “Dream.” We had it demoed out; I really liked that track actually. At the last minute, our guitarist decided he wanted to see what it would sound like if he tuned his guitar lower to kind of get a beefier sound on the tones. We recorded it all that way and at the end of the day, we all just agreed maybe we shouldn’t have tuned it down like that. It sounded better up higher, but at that point, you can’t really go back and start all over because there’s deadlines and hey, it’s like ‘let’s get the record released.’ Then you’re just like, ‘Well crap, let’s just scrap that song and we’ll try to re-record it later for the next record or something. Bonus track, feature track, who knows?’
Max Green going to rehab has been highly-publicized over the past few weeks. Did the band sense something was wrong with him before this happened?
Max was always kind of to himself about his addictions. He’s never really let it affect him as a person and how he acts to the band. He’s never really been an asshole to anybody. So it never really bothered anybody and everybody let him do his thing while we all did our thing. But after a while, it just started to get so bad to where it did start to affect it. For instance, this last tour, we had to cancel two shows because we tried to fly him out, and he gets woken up in the airport by paramedics because he can’t board his plane. He’s just laying there in the airport and everybody thinks he is dying of something or OD’ing. We hear things like that and then it’s just, ‘Obviously, you’re taking it too far. Obviously, you need to get some help. We love you.’ That’s when he admitted it. He’s like, ‘You know, I’m not even doing it recreationally anymore. It’s not even fun for me anymore. I’m kind of just binging. I need to get some help.’ We definitely wanted to help him.
Then when he expressed, ‘You know man, I don’t want you guys to go out to Europe and have somebody cover for me. Obviously, he’s not going to have any problems and then you guys aren’t going to want me to ever come back.’ It was like, ‘Dude, c’mon man. All of us have been through so much crap the past few years, with my old band, this band has have so many changes. Dude, we’ve decided that we’re all going to stick together from this point on. We’re not going to leave you high and dry.’ Obviously, even us telling him that, if we went out to Europe, that’s just not the kind of mindset you want to be in when you are going to rehab. Sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, my band is out there doing all these shows, blah, blah, blah.’ We figured it was best to just stand by his side and just chill at home until he gets the help he needs.
So how is he doing right now? Give us a brief update, as of early December.
He’s doing good. I talked to him a little bit on Facebook. I’ve been trying to call that damn rehab because I don’t even know if he’s allowed to have visitors or anything yet. I talk to him online every now and then when he can get to a computer they have in there. The last thing he told me was that he was really grateful for the place and he kind of liked it there. Obviously, he doesn’t like it because he’s stuck in there, but he likes it because he is getting the help he needs and he says they have these big group talks and it’s really nice to get your feelings out and be around the same bunch of people that have the same problems. I think it’s good for him. I think in the long run, it’s going to be really good for the band.
When he comes back to the band, will there be any changes internally to fit Green’s new mindset?
I don’t know. The rest of the band, nobody really does anything that Max did. It’s not like Max started binging and he started doing more than somebody else and needed help and he’s going to come back to the band and walk on the tour bus and there’s going to be 50 lines of coke on the table and like, ‘Oh, can’t do it Max. You just got of rehab, but we’re still cool.’ There’s definitely nothing like that. We’re definitely going to keep an eye on him and make sure that’s he okay so it doesn’t happen again. One, you don’t want to see your friend die of an overdose because you care about him. Two, you also care about your career and about the future of everything. So it was good for him to get help now and better sooner than later.
Is the band working on anything while waiting for Green to recover?
Yeah, I’ve been working on a few things personally just for me. I’m going to start a clothing company pretty soon; I’ve been getting that in the works. Monte’s actually coming out here in a few days and we’re going in the studio to just bouncing ideas off each other, maybe get some more tracks recorded just to have under our belt that we can just release out there whenever we need to.
Tell me a little bit about the band’s upcoming North America tour.
One, I’m super excited about it. We haven’t done a headlining tour in almost two-and-a-half years and that was one of my favorite tours I’ve ever done. Some of the venues are the biggest venues we’ve going to be headlining in a while, obviously because we haven’t headlined in so long. There are a lot of good friends coming on the tour. We just toured with Drive A with Bullet (For My Valentine) and they are opening up. There’s a band Get Scared that we’ve all known and have been friends with for a while and now they are finally starting to get a name for themselves. Don’t really know the Motionless in White guys, but I’m kind of excited. I’ve listened to their stuff online…I’m stoked for them. Alesana is one of the first bands I ever toured with, like six years ago. We’re on the road together for like three or four months straight.
In the whole jest of it, we get to get our name out there, we get to meet fans face-to-face because it’s our show, it’s completely different from being a support band on a tour. It’s like we’re showing up and it’s an Escape the Fate show and everyone there is definitely there to see us and say what’s up and that feels really good. Obviously, just getting back on stage with the band, having Max at the top of his game is going to be great, and like I was saying, all the friends that are going to be on the road. So it’s going to be a really good time.
Will having a headlining set allow for a few surprises for long-time fans?
Yeah I think so. We’re actually in a debate right now about what the set list is going to be, so we can get all the production things figured out. We’re all trying to decide on the set list right now, sending e-mails back and forth like, ‘What do you think we should play here? What do you think we should play there?’
Have there been any discussions about rescheduling the European tour dates?
Yeah, we’ve been thinking about rescheduling that. Obviously, it sucks because we were supposed to go over there with Bullet (For My Valentine), which would have been amazing and they’re really nice guys. But we already rescheduled the London shows that we had to cancel, so we’re actually flying out to London right before this tour starts and playing those shows. So those are already rescheduled and then we’re looking to reschedule all the Europe ones sometime after this tour finishes. I’ve been trying to talk to my manager about it. We’re trying to take the whole Dead Masquerade tour package with us after the tour and bring it over to Europe and do a whole world tour thing. You never know man. I guess we’ll see what happens.
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
Hmm…who would I want to tour with? (Pauses). I would have to say either Journey or Aerosmith. One of the two would be rad to tour with personally for me. Or Michael Jackson; that would be amazing. I would have to say one of those three.
Do you think your fan base would appreciate seeing any of those acts?
Well, I would hope so man. Jesus Christ, those are some amazing acts. If our fans don’t like that music, we must be doing something completely wrong (laughs).