Few bands in 2014 generated the comet-like momentum of San Diego’s Wovenwar, who, in less than 12 months, announced their formation, released their debut album, toured the US with Black Label Society, toured Europe with In Flames and still got home in time to finish their Christmas shopping.
For guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso, bassist Josh Gilbert and drummer Jordan Mancino, this was a return-to-roots of sorts, having played together in As I Lay Dying for over a decade. For their new project, they invited their longtime friend Shane Blay — the founder and lead guitarist of Oh, Sleeper — to take over as frontman and together the five men hammered out a bracing new sound that was wholly different from anything they had previously created. Wovenwar’s debut album, bristling with brightly-spangled melodies, sharp dynamics and muscular, arena-friendly choruses, stormed onto the charts and along with a relentless touring regimen, positioned them well for a big year ahead.
I caught up with Shane a couple of days before the holidays to take a look back on Wovenwar’s massive first year.
Could you sum up 2014?
If I had to sum it up in a single word, it would be “insane”. It was a very surprising and insanely busy year. At this time last year, I was in a studio with a new band that had a couple of dudes that I’d never really hung out with before and since then, I’ve gone on the biggest tours of my life, made friends all over the world, been to something like fourteen countries I’d never visited before and played music for over a hundred thousand people. It’s just been fucking insane. (laughs)
Even though you had known some of the guys in the band for many years, you already had a gig with Oh, Sleeper. So what was it about Wovenwar that fit in with your own creative aspirations?
I’d always wanted to just be a singer. Obviously I’d played guitar and I had been the lead guitar player in my band for ten years. On the Warped Tour last year, Oh, Sleeper was reaching a point where everybody wanted to slow down and get married, buy houses and get steady jobs because Oh, Sleeper had never made good money. We always had to be on tour; we couldn’t ever take a break because we could never afford it. It’s hard to keep a girlfriend when you’re on the road and those dudes wanted to get married. Honestly, almost all of those guys are married now, which is crazy. But I didn’t want to do that. So it was a no-brainer for me. I was like, Well, this band is huge and they want me to sing for them. So it was a no-brainer to put Oh, Sleeper on the back burner and go for this. I helped build Oh, Sleeper from the ground up — Micah and I had started it – but he was like, “Dude, if you don’t take this opportunity, you’re a fucking idiot.” And he was right – I would have been a fucking idiot if I didn’t go for it. (laughs)
I didn’t really look at it as stepping into anybody’s shoes because it was a new band. So that was a load off of my shoulders. The only thing that worried me was the blowback from them moving away from a screaming-only sound. I knew that I was going to get a lot of that blowback, like people complaining, “He’s a pussy because he’s not screaming,” and all that shit that you hear from dumbasses who never make JV football in high school or whatever. But it didn’t scare me too much. I had a month to think about it on Warped Tour and I remember talking about it for a long time with Sam Carter, from Architects, he was like , “Dude, you’ve got this. Just do what you do because that’s why they hired you.” It’s crazy just knowing the guys, too. I’d only seen As I Lay Dying play just once because we were always touring elsewhere. I knew that they were huge and I knew that they had sold all these records and shit, but to me, just being around the guys has always been just hanging around with dorky Nick, from high school and dorky Phil. I’ve known Jordan almost as long as I’ve known Nick. I’ve known Jordan since I was seventeen and I’ve known Nick since he was fourteen. So it wasn’t really weird for me, like walking into the room and tripping like, Wow, these guys are rock stars, or anything like that. It was more like hanging out with old buddies.
Your first tour with Wovenwar was a true baptism-by-fire. How did it go opening up for Black Label Society?
Oh, man… it was a huge learning curve for being a frontman and a lead singer. I did not know what I was doing, and I still do not know what I’m doing (laughs), but at that point I really didn’t know what I was doing. So having all these bearded fucking old dudes in leather jackets screaming at me, and all that comes along with being on tour with Zakk Wylde, was a total baptism by fire. But by the end of that tour, I had grown comfortable enough to where I was having a good time on stage. By the end of the In Flames tour, I wasn’t giving a shit anymore about being nervous. Now I’m totally fine onstage. But it was definitely like getting thrown into the frying pan.
In Flames are a little closer to your core sound. How did the European reception differ from the US?
Zakk Wylde’s crowd are there to see him just balls-out shred. There are a lot of Guitar World buyers out there. Which was awesome because we have some great guitar players in our band. But the In Flames audiences were more music lovers, and Europe in general is more about music lovers and particularly metal. In Europe, people would be moving around and starting pits even if they’d never heard of us. They were way more receptive to new shit instead of just being there to see straight-out shredding. That made me more comfortable each night. That was a seven-week tour, so we got a lot of practice working together as a band. And it was a bigger tour, too. In Flames is fucking huge in Europe. So those crowds were a lot more receptive to us.
Well, we all like to have a good time together, and we all like whiskey… On the European tour, we shared a bus with While She Sleeps and we became the bestest of friends ever with those guys and hung out with them every night. Typically once a week you’d have somebody crowd-surfing on the bus. In Flames would prank us quite a bit. One night I walked offstage and into our dressing room to find it completely filled with balloons up to my chest. Another night they put octopus all over our dressing room, like hanging from the door and shit. Real, stinky, disgusting octopus. All of our shit stunk like fish! We got with the other guys and tried to come up with a way to prank them back, but we just couldn’t afford it. (laughs)
What was the biggest surprise of the past year?
I’d say having a label that really cared about the band and everything that goes on (Metal Blade). I had never experienced having a label and management team and people working for the band who showed up for all the video shoots, the shows, the meetings. I’d never been flown out for a meeting before. It was a really big difference from my previous experience with labels.
You’ve got a tour coming up with Periphery and Nothing More. How is that a good fit for Wovenwar?
Nothing More has a really big single on active rock radio right now and I think that we fit that mold too. We both write big choruses and I’d say we’re both up-and-coming bands in a similar genre and we’re both able to reach a broader fan base than a lot of metal bands are seeing right now.
Have you started on any new material yet?
Yeah, we’re all working on stuff individually, but I’ve got about six new songs already. Josh has I think three songs that he’s been working on. Phil’s been working on a lot of acoustic stuff for the last record, so if we have to do an acoustic session, he’s got it mapped out for us to play, which would be really cool. So yeah, we’ve got a lot of stuff in the works.
How do you see the new stuff differing from the material on the debut?
This time I’m able to write songs by myself. On the last record I was playing catch-up, just writing vocals because they already had so much material. This time I’ll get to play a lot more guitar and bring ideas to the guys and go from there, which I didn’t get to do all that much on the last record. So we’re pretty excited about this year.