From writer’s block to near-death experiences, Pierce The Veil’s new record plunged them into darkness. Here’s how road trips, moms and channelling Pantera helped them recover...
Back in 2012, post-hardcore quartet Pierce The Veil gate-crashed the US top 20 with the reassuringly unorthodox Collide With The Sky. Frontman/rhythm guitarist Vic Fuentes’ background in Spanish and jazz guitar and lead player Tony Perry’s love of punk set them apart from the waves of US metal merchants vying for plaudits.
It’s a stylistically jarring formula that slays on tracks such as Bulls In The Bronx, the single that helped Collide... shift north of 350,000 units. So, when it came time for a new album, to the suits it was a no brainer - get in and out of the studio as quickly as possible, do more of the same and you’ll have a hit record and arena tours before you know it. But, things didn’t quite pan out like that.
“Honestly, people were saying we could literally put out anything and people would respond well,” explains Vic. “That didn’t make any sense to me.”
Instead of churning out a label-pleaser, the band agonised over detail. So much so that by the time Vic came to pen the lyrics, the well was dry. Having already spent months toiling in the studio, Vic needed to get away, and that’s what he did. First by taking the band out on tour and then by flying solo on inspiration-seeking trips, before locking himself away to write.
As if that wasn’t enough, in the midst of it all, Tony was seriously injured in a biking accident that left him hospitalised. It’s almost four years since Collide…, but now Misadventures is here - Vic and Tony fill us in on the agony and ecstasy so far.
There must have been huge pressure to follow up Collide, and to do it quickly…
Tony: “There’s always some pressure. It was a different this time because Collide... did so well. It was kind of scary but we try not to focus on that. The numbers have never been the focus: we want to write better records and be better musicians.”
When did you start writing for what would become Misadventures?
Tony: “There was a time when we tried to write on the road. We tried to set up in the back of the bus but it didn’t work too well. It was never an inspiring place for us to write music.
“We need to keep momentum up by touring, so we can’t take time off to write. Eventually we had to take a break and write. Vic did a lot of writing on his own. He likes locking himself away to get inspired.”
Vic: “I started writing in San Diego - I rented a house and set up a studio in the living room. I always write as the guitar player first so I got a lot of cool riffs going there. Then I rented a cabin in Big Bear, California up in the mountains. That was great to get away and work on it. We had enough songs to go into the studio so we went over to Long Island and worked with our producer Dan Korneff.”
We understand there was plenty of time spent getting the perfect tone in the studio?
Vic: “Our goal for this record was to make one of the best-sounding rock records ever. We had a great studio, a great producer, we had the guitars, the amps, everything was there.
“We worked so hard on the tone - that was one of the reasons why we had been in the studio for months by the time it came time to record vocals. Literally from one guitar part to the next, from verse to bridge to chorus, every tone was planned to work with each part. We really geeked out on that.”
Tony: “It helps that Dan has a ton of amps at his studio and he has a great ear for tone. We explain what tone we’re going for and he will know what guitar to play and what amp to go through. Although lot of the time in the studio and live we just use a Marshall with a volume pedal.”
So Marshall was the staple option?
Tony: “I have a 1971 Marshall Super Lead that has been modified by one of our techs, John Meyer, to have an extra gain stage and more preamp tubes. That sounds amazing. Vic has a clone of that type of head but Johnny built it from scratch. We use those on the record and live.
“For guitars, for our drop B stuff we have a baritone that Johnny built for Vic, and then he also used his Explorer. For a lot of the record I had just got a custom guitar from ESP, it’s just got a single Seymour Duncan JB pickup and it sounds awesome. It’s the white guitar with slime drips. It’s great with distortion or for anything lead-based.
“We have a ton of pedals. We have a good collection of Moog and Electro-Harmonix. We’ll just mess with weird combinations to get the spacey kind of sounds. It’s great for a lot of the hidden sounds, when all of a sudden you hear a warped sound you know that was made with just a guitar and a pedal. We try to get those sounds that way instead of using synths, it’s more fun.”
Looking for lyrics
You nailed the tones, but you didn’t finish the record in that session; what happened?
Vic: “I hadn’t written any lyrics before going in, and by the time we got to vocals we’d already been recording for three months. I spent a couple of months in the studio working on vocals, but I was so over being in there that I just needed to get out.”
Tony, you were having your own problems, after a mountain bike crash…
Tony: “We finished our parts and left Vic to finish the vocals. We had some tours booked so we had to put a hold on recording. It was maybe a week or two before we left for Warped Tour when I got injured. I was in hospital for almost a week. I had broken ribs, a separated collarbone, a torn shoulder, a collapsed lung - a lot of stuff that made my torso just not work.
“I was stuck on a couch and I couldn’t sit up without my girlfriend helping me. It was three weeks before I could walk around and pick up a guitar again. That was the longest gap of not playing I had ever had since learning guitar.
“The hardest part was going back to playing live. My first show back with the guys was Reading and Leeds which was also the biggest show we’d ever done. That was scary, I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do anymore!’”
And Vic, after Warped Tour was when you started darting across the map?
Vic: “The record was done, it was sat there on a silver platter waiting for my voice to go on top of it. The joy in my life comes from music - finishing a song is a huge personal victory and is where my happiness comes from.
“When things weren’t happening, I felt at a standstill and it was frustrating. I felt I just didn’t have the stories that I wanted to tell, so I went on a crazy journey to try and finish the lyrics.”
What was the mood in the band while this was going on?
Tony: “We have so much faith in him, I knew the inspiration would come to him. We were more worried about Vic’s wellbeing rather than the record. We could tell he was getting a little dark when he was stuck in the studio. You could tell he wasn’t happy and wasn’t in a good place. We knew we’d figure the record out; we just didn’t want him to destroy himself doing it.”
Vic: “I took it slow and travelled a bunch, I stayed in a bunch of places all over Southern California and Seattle. I was searching for the songs. As soon as I finished the last lyrics, I rang the band up and said, ‘It’s done, let’s get this record finished!’ It was a long, crazy, twisted journey.”
The record, particularly tracks such as Bedless, depict the band’s mix of styles perfectly, showing your Spanish background and Tony’s love of metal…
Vic: “That riff is a jazzy riff. My dad is a jazz cat - he loves jazz and Spanish guitar, he loves Hendrix. That influence comes out in me every once in a while, and that was one where I think his influence came out. It’s this little dance-y, funky riff and we built the song around that riff.
“We wanted a clean tone for that with a little overdrive for a little bite. When my mom first heard that riff, she told me it was a hit! On our last record, we really found something in our sound and that helped with this record. We perfected our sound a little further.
“On the last record, we found out what people respond to. We’re a band that can sometimes stylistically wander and I think that has developed into something unique.”
Then, at the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the tone and bridge riff from The Divine Zero…
Vic: “That bridge is kind of a Pantera-style riff. I’ll often turn to my brother [drummer, Mike] and tell him to play something Vinnie Paul-style and even vocally I’ll do something like Pantera, I don’t know why.
“Well, I do know why, it’s because I fuckin’ love Pantera! That bridge riff was super-metal. We played that riff live, and when it kicked in I thought, ‘Oh yes, we nailed that.‘”
Tony: “It’s fun jamming with these guys knowing there’s not really anything that we can’t put on a song. We can have a really fast punk-rock part and Vic can add a Spanish lead and Jaime [Preciado, bass] can add a breakdown.”
Is the struggle that you had to finish the record reflected in your lyrics, Vic?
Vic: “On Phantom Power, I wanted to write about the way people were treating us in the process of making this record and not really understanding what we were going through. As lame as it sounds, I think of what we do as art. There’s no time limit. You can’t just tell me when to finish a record; this is art. I think of a song as a painting or a poem, and they’re not done until the painter says they’re done.
“Now it is done and, oh my God, that was such a relief. I feel like I am literally starting a new life. Albums are like time capsules and capture a moment in our lives. It feels like it’s time to tour now, and that will be another completely different life.”
Misadventures is out now on Fearless Records.