INTERVIEW WITH ANDY LAPLEGUA BY ANABEL DFLUX PHOTOGRAPH BY CHAD MICHAEL WARD
As one of the most highly anticipated metal albums of the year, Combichrist’s One Fire is only weeks away from being released. This album brings forth a new cycle for the band, along with a new lineup and even new management. We had the opportunity of picking the brain of Andy LaPlegua of Combichrist on all of this and so much more.
Your upcoming album One Fire is about a month away from being released. How are you feeling about this?
I’m excited. I mean, finally. I don’t think people realize this, but we always finish the album so far ahead of the release date. Of course, as an artist you want it out there, you want people to hear it. So, it’s been a long few months waiting to release it.
Sitting in anticipation.
Was the process for creating this album easier or more difficult than your past records?
I think that every album has its own way to be easy. It’s because I never really write if I can’t feel like I can write. If I go in the studio and it doesn’t come naturally, I would literally just walk back out and get on my motorcycle and take a ride and not think about it. Every song that I’ve ever done in the studio somewhat came natural or easy. This album, I spaced it out a little bit more. I took more time. I didn’t force myself to get in a studio at all, like not even to try. It was, if I didn’t feel like I had an idea, I wouldn’t even go in and write. In some ways, I never had bad days where I walked out of the studio. I always knew what I was doing when I went in. And I think the album feels extremely honest. It’s dirty, it’s raw, it’s very honest.
Do you feel like your process is a testament to how much you’ve evolved as a musician over time?
Yes, this album definitely has every single element that I’ve done. Every single album that I did has been evolving and evolving. It has elements of all of those pieces of progress over the years. I did that deliberately, as well as subconsciously. I mean, it was subconsciously in the beginning that I was doing it. I realized what I was doing, and I deliberately added more to it where I took pieces from all of my favorite parts of what I’ve done over the years and I added it together.
Do you feel like your lyricism has also grown?
Yes. In the early days, I enjoyed, not necessarily to provoke people, but to kind of, “I don’t care what you say. I’m just going to write this.” I always wrote in metaphors, so it sounded way worse than what it actually meant. I wrote as a character. It was a lot of fantasy. Like, it was an aspect of a serial killer or anything like that, like a horror movie. But over the last few years, you grow, you get older, and you realize that you actually have an impact on people and that you have to be a better role model. Maybe not a role model, but what I say is important to people, so I decided to use that tool to try to write about things that are more important to me. We’re talking about mental illness and depression—it’s extremely important to me. So, since I have the opportunity to reach out to people, I’ve more and more included this in my music as well.
In using your influence, do you have any words of advice for any fans that are struggling with mental illnesses right now?
It’s important to talk about it. There’s a lot of people that want to talk about it. Maybe they’re using social media as an outlet for attention, and that’s not always the best way to do it because people are not understanding and they will push you away. The most important thing is to actually reach out to people who do care about you, and talk to people and be honest about what you’re going through. There are a lot of people who are afraid to talk about it in real life because there’s nothing you could see. It’s like if you’re missing a finger or missing a hand or an arm, everybody feels sorry for you because they can see it. If it’s in your head, then they can’t see it. So, they would never understand. And it’s hard to understand, but it’s very important to have a dialogue about it and to reach out to people. And if there is nobody around that you feel you can trust, there is always therapy. There’s always a therapist, there’s always a suicide line that you can call. There are people out there that really care. Even the people who don’t know you still care.
It’s interesting that you brought up social media, because I was about to ask you if you feel like social media is aiding and making society care about mental health illnesses, or if you think it’s contributing to the taboo?
There is nothing about social media that is real. Everybody can have an opinion. Everybody can be a troll. And everybody can sit there and be a bully even with people who are fighting against the topics that we should be fighting against, like racism. A lot of these people will sit and bully people online because they are sitting behind a keyboard. They don’t take any responsibility for their words. So, social media is very fake. It just doesn’t go anywhere. They realize it doesn’t work. That’s why you have to take consequences for everything you say, and we have to separate that sometimes. You have to step out of social media and see the world for what it really is.
That’s becoming harder and harder for people. It’s contributed to how our communication has changed in society.
Yes, for sure. The one thing I think is really important to remember is that just because they follow you online doesn’t mean that they’re your real friends. People have a tendency to forget that there is a difference between your Facebook and your real life.
Mental illnesses and other hidden illnesses have influenced One Fire a lot. Do you have any other non-musical influences?
I believe everything is an influence. Everything you do and achieve has an influence. I tend to try to not be political. I’m trying to be politically neutral, which would often get me in trouble because of the way the political climate is right now. It’s like, “Okay, you don’t have an opinion on this, then you must be right wing.” But I’m trying so hard to be neutral when it comes to politics. But at the same time, it’s hard to be neutral because it’s not only politics, it’s an observation of the world that makes you look at the world in a bird’s-eye view. It’s hard not to make a social commentary when you’re writing. So, of course, everything that goes on around us will affect my writing as well, and it will also affect me.
Does this new album have a particular image it will convey to your listeners?
Hopefully, it opens up a little bit more to see how I feel and not just the image that the band has gotten in the past. This is a little bit more raw, but it has a little bit more of me in it as a person. I never really put myself as a person in front of the image of the band. But this album, I feel like that a little bit more. Hopefully, people can see that.
Can you talk about the production process for this album? Who produced it?
Well, I wrote, engineered, recorded, produced, and mixed the album. But, there was one point where I did have it mixed by someone else. Got it back and it was great. He did a great job, but it was not the feeling that I wanted it to be. So, I mixed it again myself. I also did work with a couple of other guys, did a couple of songs like “Guns at Last Dawn.” I wrote that track, with Gigantor, a great electronic music producer, and had Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory sing on it. I worked on another track with an old bandmate of mine, Daniel Myer, and he did a good job. We did “Last Days Under the Sun.” So, I did do some co-ops on this album, but except for that, it was all done in my studio in Tennessee.
Very hands on!
Yes, I’ve been a control freak my whole career. So, this is actually the first time I’ve had…no, I was about to say it’s the first time, but this is actually the second time of every album I’ve ever done where I didn’t do the artwork. So, that’s a start. You start to delegate some of it away. But I have always been a control freak and tried to do everything myself, which makes it that much more important and personal.
Speaking of the album cover, who was the artist and how did you find him?
His name is Deka Sepdian. He’s from Indonesia. A long time ago I found some of his work, and I actually had him do a couple of designs for me for my clothing company. I was so impressed by him, so I decided to use him for this album as well.
How does the album cover artwork tie in with the music?
It was funny because I tried to explain to him what I wanted. The album is called One Fire because it’s about the one passion, like a “one love” kind of thing. At the same time, l also touch on the subject on “Last Days Under the Sun,” which is the last day on earth, and a ton of stuff like that. So, I wanted it to be apocalyptic, but at the same time, sanity based, where you don’t really know if it’s real or not and you question your sanity. So, I was talking to him, and I had just said that, “I want there to be a UFO, but I also want it to be of the world on fire, and let’s put some tentacles and sharks.” (laughs) Then it took him like an hour to send me back the sketch of it. He styled it exactly how I wanted it, so it was cool. It sounded like such an impossible task, and he knocked it out of the park.
You mentioned that one of the songs was a collaboration with Burton C. Bell from Fear Factory. How did this come about?
Well, that was in the making for almost 20 years. I’ve known him for a long time, and with him and many other talented artists that I happen to be friends with, every time you hang out, it would be, “We need to do a song together one day.” Very often it just doesn’t happen because everyone is so busy and on their own time schedule. But when I did this track and actually worked on recording vocals for it, as I’m listening to it, I go, “You know what? This would be perfect for Burton.” So, I sent him the track, and he’s like, “Let me talk to my engineer. We’ll get this done tomorrow.” It was the right time and the right song. So, it just worked out.
That song, “Guns at Last Dawn,” has recently been released as a single. How do you choose songs to be singles?
It’s hard. For me, it’s when you have a track that represents what you want people to know about what’s next. If that makes sense. But it’s hard with an album like this because it’s so varied. Every song has its own identity. It’s hard to find that one song that represents it. So, I’m trying with the first couple of releases, which would be the most different ones to show the diversity in the album. Then, of course, there’s also the record label that goes, “This should be the one.” I always fight them and say, “No.” Because as an artist you have to always disagree with your label. But somehow we found something in the middle. That’s how it ends up being the single.
There’s a cover of a Dead Kennedys song on One Fire. With so many amazing Dead Kennedys songs out there, what made you choose “California Über Alles?”
It was very obvious. When I was nine-years-old, I didn’t really know anything about punk, or anything else for that matter in general, because my father was so stuck listening to Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and other 70s stuff. An uncle of mine, he was into hair metal. Hair metal started getting big. This was like ‘84. I didn’t really know anything except 70s rock and hair metal, because that was what my surroundings were. When you’re nine-years-old, you haven’t developed your own music tastes or anything yet. Then my uncle took me to a record store, he asked me to pick out an album, and I picked up my album. It was the first time I ever picked up an album myself, and I picked out Give Me Convenience or Give Me Death by Dead Kennedys from the cover art. If you look at the cover, it also has a lot of fire and stuff, which also has a relation to One Fire. And I was sold. “California Über Alles” is the first song I’ve ever heard from Dead Kennedys, and it was what changed my whole life when it came to music. And Dead Kennedys led me to Lard. Lard led me to Ministry. Ministry led me to electronic, and here we are. It was an obvious choice for a cover song.
Sounds like it came full circle.
The behind the scenes of Combichrist has changed a bit. You are now managed by Dez from DevilDriver and have a new booking agent. How have these changes affected the band?
It’s almost too early to say the result of it because this happened when the album is not out yet. We are on tour right now. This is the first tour we are doing with this booking agency and also the first tour and album that Dez is working. So, it is hard to say where it’s going quite yet. Things are going well. I don’t know how it changed things yet. I had changed in a way that I have to work to give up some control, because I really haven’t been working with a lot of managements before because I tend to like to do things myself. That’s the biggest change. It’s hard when you are used to doing everything yourself for 20 plus years. I’ve been including all the bands that I did before Combichrist in that and doing everything myself for 26 years. It’s hard to give up that control, but it’s also nice to be able to focus.
Speaking of changes, the band has recently had a lineup change. Can you tell us about your new drummers?
Yes, Dane White and Will Spod. Both of them are new to the band, and it was just the right time for a change. I had no real fallouts with anyone from the past. It was just that time for something new for both my old drummers and for myself. Since it’s just me in the studio, I don’t actually have my drummers in the studio with me. It doesn’t impact the writing or the band itself. It definitely makes a big change live because it suddenly has all this new energy. It’s just a newfound energy, and you can feel it on stage. You can see it on stage. You can hear it. Everybody who’s been to the show so far is saying the same thing. They’re like, “We thought we would miss the old drummers, but this is what Combichrist is now. This is like seeing you guys in the beginning. You guys really have that new band energy on stage. You’re really loving what you are doing and your playing together.” It’s really been a positive impact from them.
So, that’s how everyone adds a piece of themselves to Combichrist, all the past members and the new ones?
I feel like it’s always been like this with old members and new members. Everything that’s being experienced live, I always bring a little part of that with me to the studio. Whenever I am writing stuff or I’m doing stuff, I always see my band members doing it live in my head or hear it in my head. You always bring the influences. So, having this new energy in the band is going to make it more interesting to go back to the studio. This new energy is also going to contribute to my writing.
Combichrist had posted some of its set lists online. Has the feedback from fans altered the set list in anyway?
There were a couple of changes to the set list, but I don’t remember if that changed what we were announcing. We definitely have been truly consistent with our songs on this tour so far. It’s definitely a lot of audience favorites, like old songs with a pretty good mix of new songs, too. For us, it is a really good flow in the set, and we don’t see any reason to change it around right now because it works so great. Luckily! You never really know, because it could work great in rehearsal before we go on tour, and then you go on stage the first day and go, “That song didn’t work at all in the set.” Even if it’s one of our favorite songs, it can sometimes be one of the songs that doesn’t sit well in the set. But it’s been working really well so far. So, let’s see where it goes forward.
Have you ever changed the set list or performance for different countries?
There are certain countries where we know that certain songs are more popular than in other places. When that happens we might swap the set list around a little bit, but when we first go out on a tour and we set the set list and set the songs, we pretty much stick to it. It’s going to be different this time around when we go to Europe, because when we go to Europe, the album will be out, so we are definitely going to play more of the new album. But that might just end up being that we are playing longer sets and doing a different show in general.
Is there anything in the works right now that you can share?
I don’t even see the end of us touring this album. I’m just really excited about everything coming out! I have so many variations of the album coming out, and just releasing something on CD, it’s so pointless these days because everything is getting streamed. We have a box set, different colored vinyl, picture discs, and all that kind of stuff coming out. It’s really exciting. I’m just waiting to hold it in my hand myself, to be honest. But really the only thing I look forward to right now is to just continue. This year we’re looking at doing the US tour, then we are going to do the full European tour, then go to South America, then we’re going to go to Australia, then we’re probably going to the Baltic, and then the Russian shows. So, before this story’s over, it’s already Christmas. So, I can’t really see past that right now.