Before sound check on their tour with Face to Face, Strung Out and The Darlings, I got to catch up with Dean Richards and Ian Blackwood from The Artist Life. Their new record, Impossible, was just released on April 26 through Underground Operations. Thanks to the users who submitted some of the questions:
Your first full length just came out and you guys have been a band since 2006, right?
Dean: We started loosely, not really all that serious yet.
Ian: Yeah. 2007 was when it really solidified. That’s when Jake and our former bass player joined and we really started playing shows. 2006 was the birth of us figuring out exactly what we wanted to do though.
What are some of the factors that made this record take so long to surface?
Dean: There’s a lot of factors, but one of them was just making sure that we were able to write the best songs we could. Producers, looking for them took awhile and just time. In the end we’re happy. I’m glad that it took this long because I think we picked the best songs that represent where we are as a band right now.
Ian: Yeah, in 2009 it was weird because the EP came out in 2008. 2009 came up and we started getting these touring opportunities that are kind of like this one, a little last minute, so we weren’t able to plan that far ahead. So we just thought it was another chance to plug the EP. Then 2009 ended and we started writing at the beginning of 2010, switched producers like three times and ended up finishing it in November. So yeah. There were ups and downs and that’s why it’s called Impossible. [Laughs]
What made you settle with Greig Nori and Jesse Colburn in the end?
Dean: Yeah, it was crazy, we went through a lot of producers. With Greig, we sat down for a meeting with him and he told us that he really, really dug the songs. It was before that though, we saw him at some event or something on the Stereos tour. They were friends and we were between producers at that point. And yeah, Greig really wanted to do it and I think that was it. The other people we were talking with, we didn’t feel like they wanted to do it as strongly as he did. It was great that he came up to us so into it, so gung ho.
Ian: With Jesse, it was kind of natural since he works with Greig a lot on other projects. He’s kind of Greig’s right hand man along with the Underground Operations family, he’s known Mark and Katie for so long. Adding Jesse in there was great because he’s good at writing pop and lots of hooks.
Greig too probably, with his background with Sum 41 and Treble Charger.
Dean: Yeah, he brought a lot of experience to the table. We’d be sitting around arguing over a part or something, meanwhile we’re sitting surrounded by platinum Sum 41 records. We’d be arguing and then Ian would be like ‘Hey dude, why don’t you shut up and look at what’s on the wall. Maybe he has a good idea.’
What did he bring to the table that wouldn’t have been on the record otherwise?
Dean: Ian can speak for the vocal stuff, we both shared the writing duties. For a few songs I wrote, like “Find You,” he said ‘Dude, the chorus sucks. It needs to be stronger, it isn’t good enough’ and he pushed me. It took like a month. But at the end of the day we actually listened to the old demo with the old chorus and it’s not nearly as strong. So he pushed me to write better lyrics and stronger hooks and melodies.
Ian: Yeah, he beat the shit out of me in the vocal booth. I went in there thinking I was going to slam those songs out no problem, but that wasn’t the case. He worked the hell out of me, it was amazing. Same with Colburn, it was this onslaught of ‘OK, you’re going to sing the best you can.’ And I went in there going ‘I think I am’ and they were like ‘No, do it again.’ And it wasn’t like doing it again for fun, it was literally to dig deep and get the best performance.
How did you end up writing “Impossible” and why did you choose it as the first single?
Dean: We wrote that awhile ago, before we started recording. I think I wrote the bulk of that one and I don’t know. We always wanted to write a song different from the four chords, palm muting, open chorus. For some reason Coldplay came to mind with the intro and I just wanted to write something different. I think it’s one of the most different Artist Life songs that we have. So that’s why we went with that one. Plus it’s autobiographical in terms of some of the things I went through as a teenager and some of the things Ian went through too, we connected on some of that stuff. It was the single too for the cohesion, since the record has the same title. I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the record.
Ian: Yeah, I think it kicks in so hard. And in a way, I think it might not be what people were expecting, but at the same time I still think you can hear a lot of “The Last Time” in there. But “Impossible” is a way better example of that sound. And then you have the big chorus. I think it speaks to where the band is at right now.
How would you say it varies from your EPs?
Dean: I would say it varies from our EPs because it explores different styles of songs and different kinds of dynamics, “Impossible” being one of them. And I would also say that sonically on a production scale, it’s above and beyond. We had a way bigger budget so we got to be really experimental in the studio and use some really cool gear. We didn’t have to rush, we had all the time and Greig Nori has the craziest collection of guitars and amps I’ve ever seen. Sonically I think it sounds a lot smoother and slicker, which is what we wanted. We wanted something more polished.
Ian: Yeah, the Let’s Start a Riot EP, we did in two weeks. Whereas we did this one over five months. It was the record we always wanted to do, whether people like it or not. I think it’s the best thing we’ve ever done and we really worked ourselves to the bone on this one. We’re stoked, we’re proud of it.
Would you agree that this is poppier than your previous efforts?
Dean: I would agree with that, it’s something that we’ve always been aware of when we write songs. We wanted something that would stick, where they could sing along and we wanted to make that summer anthem record that we all grew up listening to. There’s so many to name, but we wanted to write that really fun, the sun’s out, driving in your car, windows down, having fun with your friends, record.
Ian: Exactly. And there’s still songs about social change and the political things we’ve talked about in the past. We have “Working Class Revolt” and “Fighter Planes Vs. Foreign Aid” so we still got a chance to get our views out, but Dean and I like a lot of music. And when we write together, we just really enjoy writing fun, catchy things.
How did the collaboration with Marissa from Good and Broken come about?
Dean: Well, I wrote that song forever ago and we knew we wanted a girl. We thought about Ian’s sister, but then it’s kind of like a relationship song so we thought that would be super weird. We thought about Care from Die Mannequin, but she was gone and kind of random. And Marissa has been working with Underground Operations for awhile with the disBAND stuff. I’m a huge fan of her voice, she’s such a power house singer.
Ian: Yeah, she’s got a fantastic voice, great attitude and a bright career ahead of her. It was awesome to have her on the song, good pick.
Underground Operations released this record in Canada. Do you think about trying to enter the US market soon?
Ian: Every day. We’re so excited for this tour because we get to tour with our heroes. The best thing every night is getting to watch Face to Face and Strung Out sound check. But we also get to play some of those key cities in the States, which is huge. When we started the band it was just DIY, get the name out there. We’d love to take that step further. And with Europe too, I think pop-punk is bigger in Europe right now than North America, so we definitely need to get over there at some point too.
What’s next for The Artist Life?
Dean: Lots of stuff is in the works. The “Impossible” video will be out soon, we just saw some cuts recently of that. The record’s out in Canada, we’re playing festivals this summer and hopefully we’ll be back on tour in Canada this fall.