It’s been a rollercoaster few years for Orange County metalcore quintet Of Mice & Men. From decimating the largest European venues with Linkin Park in 2014 to their more recent ventures with Slipknot and Marilyn Manson on home soil, their touring schedule has read like what most metal groups can only dream about.
They’ve emerged as frontrunners in the next wave of bands to shape heavy music, and if you’re lucky enough to catch them on their current European tour, you’ll see exactly why.
Guitarists Alan Ashby and Phil Manansala check in with MusicRadar…
“Before we arrived, we just came off the most metal tour of all time with Slipknot and Marilyn Manson,” beams Alan.
“All of the Slipknot guys were super-nice. There was a huge family-orientated vibe because a lot of the guys are married, they take their wives and kids on tour. It’s a lot more of a relaxed atmosphere than the crazy backstage shit you’d expect from us and those bands!”
“Slipknot is a machine,” agrees Phil.
“They have a jam room where they are continuously playing – they’ll run through things a few times before the set. The dedication they have is insane, learning how to nail all those parts without a click – most metal bands use one. You literally don’t know how fast some parts are going to be night after night.
“What I love about them is that the show goes on no matter what. Behind the masks, they’re probably yelling a lot of vulgar words, but the show always comes first. And that doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Nobody is perfect in this world; we need to practise as much as we possibly could to be at a level where we could play with these… there’s a lot of learning. If you’re not willing to learn and change your ways, you’ll get left in the dust, because there are other people that want it more than you.”
On the current Euro run, both guitarists are favouring their signature guitars – Alan’s ESP AA-600 and Phil’s custom Ibanez, which is set for official release in the near-future.
As for amps, Alan highlights an incident that resulted in the pair turning their backs on analogue for digital technology…
“I have my guitars going into a Fractal Axe-Fx, with a Marshall preamp. I had a bad experience once while we were touring South America with A Day To Remember,” he explains.
“I had to rent a tube head, I think it was Mesa/Boogie, which blew up during the show! And I had to play the rest of the show with it making weird noises… so in the end I got an Axe-Fx.
“Now I can just take it on the plane as a carry-on; it’s really easy, and most importantly, sounds good. From massive arenas we’ve done with Linkin Park to the 3,000-capacity academies, it’s just always been so reliable.”
Here, the guitarists talk us through the 10 albums that changed their lives…
Of Mice & Men tour Europe in October:
11 October - Trabendo Paris
12 October - Ronda Utrecht
13 October - Live Music Hall Cologne
15 October - Batschkapp Frankfurt
16 October - Kesselhaus Munich
17 October - LKA Longhorn LKA Longhorn
19 October - Kofmehl Solothurn
20 October - Arena Vienna
21 October - Taubchenthal Leipzig
23 October - Columbia Theater Berlin
24 October - Grosse Freiheit 36 Hamburg
25 October - Trix Antwerp
1. Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction (1987)
Alan Ashby: “The most important album of all time for me has got to be Appetite For Destruction. I must have been about 12 years old, and my best friend who I played video games with had this metal chick mom. She gave me that album, and I loved it immediately.
“It felt like Slash was the coolest guy on the planet: with the hair, the hat and the glasses… he was just rockin’! At one point, I could play his parts for the entire album from back to front.
“I love Nightrain because of that opening guitar riff; it’s probably my favourite song on there… but to be honest, every song is amazing.”
2. Linkin Park - Hybrid Theory (2000)
Alan: “This felt so heavy the first time I heard it, especially with all the hip-hop influences and all the electronic noises. It blew my mind… I’d never heard nu-metal like that before. Hybrid Theory was actually the first album I went out to a store and bought with my own money as a kid.
“Playing with them at London’s O2 Arena has got to be one of the highlights of my entire life… it was just nuts. We’ve played a lot of shows and I don’t really get nervous, but that night I felt fuckin’ nervous like crazy!
“At one point, we played a slower song and got everyone to put their lighters in the air. I remember looking out and it felt like we were in outer space.”
3. Papa Roach - Infest (2000)
Alan: “Around the same time as Linkin Park, I discovered Papa Roach. And they were from Vacaville, which was really near San Jose where I was from in the Bay Area. It felt great to see a north-Cal band breaking through and doing something cool.
“I actually bought this record three times because my mom kept taking it away. She said that the lyrics were too angry and she didn’t want me listening to it. So every time she took it away, I’d go to the record store and get another one, haha!”
4. Green Day - International Superhits! (2001)
Alan: “I went through a huge pop-punk phase. International Superhits! was the first CD of theirs I got when I was about 14 – it was a bunch of choice tracks and all the hits like Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life), Waiting and Warning.
“I learned how to play all their songs, and at one point I started a Green Day/Blink-182 covers band which had an acronym that spelled out ‘AIDS’, and I thought I was super-cool because I was in a band called that.
“Longview is a great song, with that bass intro. I was all about that… I had the Green Day wristband and everything when I was a kid.”
5. The Eagles - Hotel California (1976)
Alan: “Oh my God, the amazing guitar work on these amazing songs… I heard them all the time growing up, because my dad was a superfan. In fact, the first concert I ever went to was to see the Eagles with him.
“I remember standing up there and being blown away by the sounds Joe Walsh was making with his guitar. He had all these cool pedals, wah-wahs and talkboxes… it just sounded incredible.”
6. Rage Against The Machine - The Battle Of Los Angeles (1999)
Phil Manansala: “I’m a huge Tom Morello fan… those riffs felt huge to me when I first heard them.
“The sounds he made through his guitar on that album have always stuck with me. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how he made those noises and tried to mimic them myself. It never sounded as good!
“While admittedly I don’t think we’ve written too many songs with that RATM influence, their riffs showed me how heavy simplicity can feel like when done right. Tom is the master of that.”
7. Blink-182 - Enema Of The State (1999)
Phil: “Like The Battle Of Los Angeles, this is another album that I learned to play the entire way through.
“Tom DeLonge is a So-Cal legend for that pop-punk sound, and growing up in that part of California, a lot of my earlier bands had Blink-182 references. We’d actually cover a lot of their songs.
“It might not be the craziest riffage ever, but it’s all about how much fun you’re having playing those songs. And you could see it when they played live, they were having a blast while making it all look effortless.”
8. Metallica - Metallica (1991)
Phil: “The first Metallica riff I heard was Enter Sandman, and I probably played that song for a year straight because I didn’t really have any formal lessons and it was the only thing I could figure out from the Black album, haha!
“Then I started practising more, learning more and more parts by both James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett.
“They were my first influences when it came to metal guitar. After hearing RATM and Blink-182, this album definitely talked to me more as a guitar player - I think it must have been because there were more complicated guitar parts.”
9. Incubus - Morning View (2001)
Phil: “Mike Einziger is another guitarist that has had a huge effect on me. He’s a player that has this really ambient and atmospheric sound, with loads of dynamics from super-clean to heavy-as-can-be. He knew how to bridge all those gaps, and that’s what always made Incubus so unique.
“Make Yourself turned me into a huge Incubus fan, but this was the one where he really started to experiment on songs like Are You In?. Those songs have this cool, laid-back beach dynamic…
“And it’s because the album was recorded at Morning View studio on the cliff side of Malibu. If you put yourself in their shoes making that album, I feel like it’s the only place they could have created those recordings. There are actually songs on the album that sound like the band members are looking over a cliff and just going with the wind and water.”
10. As I Lay Dying - Shadows Are Security (2005)
Phil: “One of the other bands that really stuck out to me when I got into music was As I Lay Dying… and what an album this was.
“It’s unfortunate what happened with that band [they went on an indefinite hiatus in 2014 when Tim Lambesis was sentenced to six years in prison], but you can’t hate on the riffs. The music was very true and raw, unlike anything else that came out around then.
“Their balance of riffs and hooks definitely changed me. I’d never heard anything that heavy before, and especially not with choruses like that. They kept getting better and better on those early albums. It’s what made me want to be in a metalcore band myself.”