Since signing to Epitaph Records in 2011, LETLIVE. felt the unnerving pressure to write, record and release a new album. But instead of succumbing to deadlines and street dates, they shifted their focus and in a soulful fashion, took over the world. Unraveling their latest disc, titled The Blackest Beautiful, shows how the Los Angeles outfit’s progression through the 2010s has resulted in a unique sound that’s part alternative metal, part post-hardcore and a melodic collage of lung-gutting authenticity you can practically scrape off your eyes and ears at any given moment.
As much as letlive. have fed off their live set – which has made a name for itself on this year’s Vans Warped Tour – the band have used their new album to embrace everything that’s supposed to be negative so they could make it positive. It’s a far cry from being a clean-cut punk record that expels PG-rated radio vibes, and it doesn’t have to be. As vocalist/friend Jason Butler explained to us, your unpopular imperfections and flaws are what make you unique.
Which holds more emotional intensity: writing songs or performing live?
That’s such a good question. I’ve never been asked that before. I think that they both serve a very particular purpose. When you’re writing you’re afforded the chance to actually sit and become introspective. You’ve afforded yourself an amount of time and a degree to which you’re going to be emotional. Then when you’re playing live it’s more visceral and in the moment, if you will. I think they’re just two different things. On the new record, I am the most candid and vulnerable I’ve ever been. We haven’t even performed the songs yet so, for me, writing has been the most emotionally trying but, again, we haven’t performed the songs yet.
You guys are on this summer’s Vans Warped Tour alongside some bands that are known for bringing the chaos in their live set. What’s your biggest challenge while maintaining letlive’s personality in such an atmosphere?
I hate to sound pretentious, but I think it’s actually benefited us to be in this atmosphere because we are not used to it. We’re just used to doing whatever we do at all times no matter what, and that has benefited us in the sense that it does seem different from what we’re used to. The challenges… we haven’t really seen many. It’s just been really nice meeting bands that we didn’t know, but have to come to know now. They’re great people. I don’t mean to deflate the question, as it’s a great question, we just haven’t seen too many challenges. If anything, a challenge would be making sure that we respect the guidelines and some of the rules Warped Tour has, because we’re so used to just going, and going full force and not paying attention. Sometimes we breach rules and we’re trying not to, because we really respect the crew, the stages and this tour.
When you first began recording this album you were working under a deadline, which was later extended. What happened?
Once we were done we felt as though it was a good record, and it sounded great, but upon living with the record for a couple weeks after we had recorded it, we felt there was more we could do. We had a feeling that this was going to happen so we didn’t even tell the label that it was done when it was first finished. We ended up going back in and recording at the studio again with Jeff, who’s an engineer at the studio. We left and went back on tour and we were living with it, going through experiences and letting it permeate the mind, but we wanted to do more. It took about six months for us to finally feel comfortable with letting it go. When we realized people actually wanted to hear it, we thought we should give them the record they deserve, something with a lot of time and effort behind it.
How different would The Blackest Beautiful be if that had not happened?
Everything about that record would be different. Not much was even changed, aside from instrumentation and vocals and the “tracking” aspect. It wasn’t that much but it certainly was enough to tip the record left or right. I think more so just us understanding how much of ourselves we wanted to put into that record. Personally, some of the most impacted and pointed parts of that album were done at the end because I was just so worn from recording, touring and trying to be a real person. Everything came to at the end of that recording process, so that would certainly be the difference as it’s the record’s strength.
When you wrote Fake History you weren’t signed to a major label. Was the writing and recording process any different this time around?
With Fake History we had so much time to actually write the record, because not only were we not affiliated with a label with any sort of notoriety and/or money (laughs), but we were not touring nearly as much as we have been in the last four years. So we had so much time to write it and no one telling us when we had to finish. With this, we had time, but we had to make time, as opposed to being lent this time by circumstance or situation. The label gave us time at the end and money to record it, in the sense that they got us in the studio. Things that we weren’t used to I guess, protocol and things that commonly happen with labels that we weren’t used to, which was really cool. The thing that most labels do, that Epitaph doesn’t – or at least they didn’t with us – was put a lot of pressure on us. They just said, “Give us a good record. If you need this, then take that time. Do what you guys do.” We were really, really fortunate in that aspect. The only pressure we felt was that they were really eager to hear it.
Everyone was (laughs). You use some pretty intense imagery in your lyrics. When you write do the lyrics rush out or do you find yourself analyzing the impact of each individual word and phrase?
For the most part I think generally they write themselves. There’s two ways that I like to write lyrics. If I’m writing on paper, I’m just writing things that are coming to my head, or sometimes, especially in this record, I woke up to songs in my head or things that I was talking about in my dreams and I would remember to write them down. Then I would go back to sleep, wake up and analyze what I had said and try to figure out why I had said it. Why I said it would be the remainder of the song and what would follow the song. I grew up playing guitar then learned drums and bass and stuff, so in the studio the way I have it in my head is a very particular idea. When we’re writing that and I’m trying to do the lyrics part of it, it’s just phonetics, inflections and whatever words sound right. Prose is actually tertiary to me when I’m writing in the live setting. I’m usually focusing on phonetics or the way that it sounds. It does just write itself, but I do mull over it in the end to make sure that I’m conveying what I’m trying to say.
Both in Fake History and The Blackest Beautiful there seems to be a theme of flirting with death or dying young. Can you shed some light on this?
When I was younger I felt like the idea of death was illuminated and brought to my attention on a very great scale. I was put in the hospital because I was not well, and in that I became very saddened, and things that you assume people would typically feel if they thought they were going to die. Following this, before I was told whether I was to exist for a large amount of time or smaller, I left the hospital. I just left it. I remember telling myself that I need to appreciate the delicate nature of life, its fragility and that it’s actually a pretty tenuous thing – you could fall down the stairs and die. So, for me, it was really about understanding that I don’t know what happens in the end, and I don’t know what happened before I was here, well aside from the history books that are usually lying anyways.
What I do know is now, this moment, you and I, and everything that I’ve experienced prior to this, everything I can remember in my cognisance – that’s what I have and that’s what I have control of. So me being sad, me being upset and me being scared, it was a big mental thing. Following that, I became another person. I started enjoying myself in ways that people find to be reckless, so there was a sense of self abandonment, and there’s a list of things I’m still dealing with. Things I’m trying to figure out how to do without harming myself. The way people see me is pretty much as a loose cannon – which I understand. I find it to be just the way I am living my life for me, in my own life, and I’m enjoying it. I make sure never ever to put anyone else in danger, and never ever bring anyone else within it that doesn’t want to be a part, but for me the idea of death is something that I have to grapple with and overcome.
I first met you guys in March of 2011 at SXSW, you guys were flying under the radar. I’ve only been at Warped Tour for an hour and I’ve already heard two different bands say you’ve got to check out letlive. Though you guys have been a band for years, things have really come together recently.
I think just our efforts were noticed. When you first met us in 2011, we were touring non-stop. We didn’t know what else to do. That’s all we knew, it’s all we wanted to do, so we just kept doing it. Fast forward to right now and we’re still touring heavily — about nine to ten months a year we’re touring. I think just the organic growth of letlive, the one thing we actually wanted out of this band was to be as authentic and organic as we can, and it happened. In our eyes, no matter whatever guarantees we’re getting paid or how many people are watching us, that development is something we succeeded in and we’re very happy about that. We just played music and got lucky, I guess.
I don’t know if you can just chalk it up to luck! When I spoke with you in April 2012 you said you believed that each album a band makes should be able to stand on its own, while still showing maturation and progress when viewed as a series. In retrospect, have you accomplished that?
I do. I don’t feel like The Blackest Beautiful is some crazy departure because, if we were to do so, it would isolate a lot of people and ourselves. It would put us in a place that we may not even be ready to embark to. I think The Blackest Beautiful is certainly its own album and the significance it holds is certainly different from Fake History. There is the idea of an attitude and essence in letlive and that is certainly present in this record. For the most part, I really think we did a good job at evolving.
In what ways does The Blackest Beautiful represent a new chapter in letlive’s history?
I think The Blackest Beautiful is really a great representation of every bit of trial and turmoil and everything that naturally you don’t want to experience as a person or as a band. We’ve experienced those things and the fact that we’ve been able to take that and par-lay it into something that has benefited us and made us stronger as a band… that’s what this whole idea is now. It’s understanding that everything that you’re told is wrong, might not be wrong. Everything that you’re told can destroy you, hurt you, or that you don’t want to be a part of, that’s part of being a human being. It’s our imperfections and our flaws. That’s what makes us different from everything on this planet.