Zen and ART OF DYING

“The Art of Dying comes from a longer sentence: ‘the art of dying is my life to live’,” explains Jonny Hetherington, frontman of Canadian rock band, Art of Dying, to Upstate Metal’s Kate Drexel, over their lengthy Skype interview. “And it was a real late night, kind of drunken conversation that kind of came to that exact sentence, ‘The art of dying is my life to live.’ But it kind of became just, between the members of the band, just became our motto, our theme of how we live, recognizing that life is precious and your time here is kind of limited or unpredictable at least so that’s it, that’s the band name.”

Media Credit - Travis Shinn
Media Credit – Travis Shinn

Formed in the streets of Vancouver, BC by Jonny and the band’s guitarist, Greg Bradley, over the years this band has grown in many ways since the beginning in 2004, making band member changes along the way. Originally, the band started with Jonny, Greg, Chris Witoski (guitarist from 2005 till 2008), Matt Rhode (bassist from 2005 till 2008), and Flavio Cirillo (drummer from 2005 till 2008). In 2008, Hetherington and Bradley met their current drummer, Jeff Brown, then the rest of the current members made their way into the band, Tavis Stanley (guitar), and Cale Gontier (bass). When asked about how the band met, Hetherington recounted the details of the formation. “Greg and I met in Vancouver, I actually just moved out here and I pretty much sucked at playing guitar and singing at the same time. So I decided the best thing to do was to play on the street a lot so I would go down to Gramble Street or a couple of little spots that I had in town and I would just sit there and play my heart out all day long and all night long sometimes. One night, some dudes were walking by and they were starting a band and heard my voice and kind of…I guess they followed my voice for a couple of blocks because I was singing pretty loud. And next thing you know, that was Greg, and the next thing you know, we never parted ways since, it was like we decided to start a band right away. After a few years, we met Jeffy, who’s also in Vancouver, a drummer here, who was in a different band just a couple of doors down from us, in our jam space, and when the time was right, we just knew that after having Jeffy out once, we knew he was our guy. Then he had ties to Cale and Tavis who were living in Toronto, which is like…I don’t know…2,000 miles away. But he’s from Ontario, so he knew Cale and Tavis and we were heading out there for Canadian Music Week, which is a festival they have every year. And the timing was just perfect, we all hooked up, the five of us literally had a couple of beers together and we got along like we had been friends our whole lives, and the timing was right in our band to have them come in and the timing was right in the band they were playing with, to step away, so it was just perfect, that was about five years ago now.” He then chuckled and added, “I always joke that it was love at first beer, I guess.”

Since 2007, the band has released a total of three albums; their self-titled debut, Vices and Virtues (2011), and an acoustic compilation Let the Fire Burn (2012), featuring songs from their sophomore album, “Completely” and “Get Thru This”. The band definitely has a unique sound, as some fans put it, “a mix of Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace”, particularly because of Hetherington’s voice. Of course, according to Jonny, various artists, going as far back as Led Zeppelin, broadly influence the band. “I know Tavis and Greg both hold the highest regard for those guys, I’m learning the Zeppelin catalog myself now a little bit, so I’m just kind of…I have saved that for this part of my life, which is kind of cool to be going through that,” explained Jonny. “But the thing that changed music for me the most was really the grunge years. Just when I heard Pearl Jam and Nirvana and Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains for the first time and Tool for the first time. A Perfect Circle, all that kind of stuff in the 90s just really resonated with me and the passion they were singing with and how good the bands were, the instrumentation, everyone seemed really great with what they did, it was a very real time in music… It was such a real movement, the closest thing our generation has to the 60s movement or whatever. So I feel really fortunate to be a part of that era and just to have grown up a little bit with those bands as an influence, because we try to follow the same rules in our music and if it’s not real, then we move on from it. So we try to be as real as we can in our recordings and as real as we can on stage, and what you see is what you get in an Art of Dying show. It’s really important to us to wave that flag of ‘we’re real people, making real music’.” Well, their fan base has grown greatly over the years, and these dedicated fans call themselves, Die Hards. On Facebook, Jonny created a group for the fan club called The Die Hards (Official Fan Club for Art of Dying), where the fellow fans post pictures of themselves with the band and/or pictures with videos from live shows, as well as their favorite lyrics, personal stories of discovering the band, and questions. This is a very successful way for the Die Hards to connect with each other and possibly meet each other at nearby shows. Since the creation of the group, the members of the club have become very close with one another.

As for touring, the band is very tour hungry. They have featured in various hard rock and heavy metal festivals throughout the country including the 1st and 2nd annual Avalanche Tours in 2011 and 2012, both tours headlined by Stone Sour and Shinedown. They were also a part of the 2011 tour of Rockstar’s Uproar Festival, headlined by Avenged Sevenfold. As for other festivals, they performed at Rock on the Range, Carolina Rebellion and the 48 Hours Fest, all in 2011. Art of Dying has been known to tour with Disturbed and Three Days Grace. Currently, they are on the road with Saving Abel, part of a beneficial acoustic tour called Rock4Revival. When asked about the band’s favorite part about touring, the enthusiasm in Jonny’s voice was evident. “Touring, you know, I always feel like it’s our home. We all have our homes, obviously at home, but it just feels like for us the road is…as soon as we get home, we want to get back out again, so fun. It’s a little sad because a lot of the bands we’ve toured with don’t feel the same way. A lot of the bands are dying to get home and…I guess the more bands I meet, the more I realize that true friendships within bands are pretty rare, and I think a lot of people on Facebook and Twitter ask me stuff like, ‘I’m starting a band, what should I do? Give me some advice!’ My first advice is always to make sure you’re doing it with people you really like and people you really love and hopefully it’s with your friends because it’s truly how you’re going to make it or get by or survive, the support of true friendship. If it’s just a common, ‘We want to start a band, but we barely know each other…’ I don’t know! It could last too but at the same time, I just think the friendship part is very important so to me. Being on the road is just about embracing that time as a musician, as a performer and as a friend, and just really…whether it’s writing a song unexpectedly at 9 in the morning on the tour bus or whether it’s that perfect moment on stage, that night, it’s all a real good time for us.”

Out of the three albums, the band has a total of six singles with catchy yet powerful lyrics and tones. These singles include “Get Through This” from their debut record, yet another version was released in 2011 from Vices and Virtues, “Get Thru This” along with “Die Trying”, the very first song from that album. In 2012, from the same album, “Sorry” and “Raining”, and this year, “I Will Be There”. These profound songs manage to touch the Die Hards’ hearts and those songs remain to play a big part in their lives. After Drexel asked about song ideas and their evolution, Jonny recalled how he had coincidentally wrote a song that morning. “So this is actually typical in some ways for me, I woke up this morning, and I was dreaming. In my dream, I was writing a song, which is kind of weird, but this actually happens to me all the time now. I’ll either be on stage in the dream or I’ll be writing in my dream or I’ll just be humming a melody in my dream or something and that’ll wake me up, and when I wake up, I try to force myself to get up and go work on the song. Because if you’re lazy and just sometimes like, ‘Fuck! I just want to go back to sleep!’ then you totally miss your chance because it’s gone. So like this morning, it was way too early to get up but I just forced myself to get up. I pressed ‘record’ on my voice recorder, and hummed the melody from the dream and then grabbed my guitar and started working on the melody for about an hour. Then I kind of made some coffee and set the guitar down for a bit, and I like to let the musical ideas kind of mix up a little bit in my head for a bit and then I sat down with my guitar again and kind of found…I don’t know what the word is but it just all of the sudden clicks. The ‘Oh yeah, there is where it has to go!’ and it feels good and it feels right so you just follow that and then about three hours later, I got some lyrics now and I’ve got what I really think is a strong chorus and the whole thing, just…I got the verse, pre-chorus, and the chorus, and I know the bridges, I’m going to finish that as soon as this interview is done,” said Jonny, both he and Drexel shared a hearty laugh. “It’s just like that are really, really fun ‘cause the song kind of comes really easily. I know this one is coming that way. Sometimes there’s a song that sits around for three years and it’s hard to finish it because it’s not an easy one, but yeah, that’s generally how it works, and if I don’t write lyrics, or if I get busy and if I don’t have time to finish the words, I’ll usually do that later…I love Cuban cigars, so I’ll just light up a two or three hour cigar and just finish all the words to a song or two. Actually, recently too, there’s this really awesome friend of mine in Vancouver that lent me his store at night. He owns an amazing coffee shop, but it closes at night so he lent me that place to go finish songs, so I’ve been doing that a lot recently, and it’s just great to be in this dark, closed coffee shop, alone with my ideas and I’ve been able to write lyrics for two songs a night when I do that, so yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

While talking about their songs, Drexel was eager to find out the story behind “Raining”, one of her favorite Art of Dying singles, featuring the former frontman of Three Days Grace, Adam Gontier. “That one’s weird, the lyrics for that one found me, and I think it’s all about fears and coming to terms with the fact that we’re all a little bit crazy, and we’re all a little bit messed up inside at times. Sometimes I feel like I have the best life on the planet, I’m in a rock band, I’m having fun, I have people in my life that are brilliant, and I love them, and so I often think, ‘Wow, I’m the luckiest guy in the world’. But then there are days when I feel like complete shit and just things inside are not right, and I hate those days, but I think I wrote ‘Raining’ to kind of say to myself that we’re all that way, and it’s ok and we’re all kind of…you know, it’s raining inside for all of us at different times and it’s ok. So it’s kind of like that comfort in numbers or something, just realizing that it’s a normal part of life.” Kate admitted that on rough days, she finds herself having the song on repeat at times, to help her get through them. “That’s actually how Adam Gontier wound up singing on it with us, he’s Cale’s cousin, and so we always bounced ideas off of him and stuff, just as a friend, and he always came back saying that song was his favorite in our group of songs that we were going to make the record with, so we just asked him if he wanted to sing on it, and he said yes, so I think that song runs deep for people, including Adam.”

Through all the madness of touring and recording, Hetherington admitted to not having a lot of downtime, trying to manage the band with various documents and preparations for upcoming tours, from work visas to union dues being paid. “I’m always trying to get through these crazy to-do lists of stuff. I don’t just play music in the band; I do a lot of the business in the band as well so I’m always just whittling away at different things on the list of what to get done…It gets a little crazy when you care about your band, you want everything to work all the time and I don’t know whether I’m a bit of a control freak or whether it’s just I care so much that I want things to work, just always busy with either music or band stuff or trying to cook some food.” However, there is one downtime activity that Jonny is very passionate about, cooking. On Facebook, Pintrest and Twitter, he tends to post recipes for fantastic looking dishes. “When I cook, I really love it. I put a lot of passion to that too because it is one of the things I enjoy, really good food and having a beer or wine or cocktail that goes with that food. I love the whole experience of mixology and dining and eating and cooking and I think that’s probably…it’s a necessity in life, you might as well enjoy it and make it a really fun moment every day.” A little chuckle escaped from him as he added, “Although this morning, I just had a fried egg sandwich and a pickle, so I guess that’s not much of a moment.”

As of mid-May, Art of Dying is on the Rock4Revival acoustic tour with Saving Abel, originally created by Kayla Riley, one of the DJs from Sirius XM Octane. It all started with a small benefit acoustic show, Rock 4 Recovery, in downtown New York at the Gramercy Theatre in January of this year. Bands included Smile Empty Soul, Hurt, Art of Dying, Adam Gontier, and Before the Curtain. Because of the show’s huge success, Riley wanted to continue this as a benefit tour. “They took the bands from that evening and split it up into two tours and Adam from Three Days Grace couldn’t do it, so they got Saving Abel to do it. So basically it’s just Saving Abel and a couple other bands, I know Hurt and Smile Empty Soul are doing one leg of the tour, we’re doing the other leg and it’s all acoustic, and we’ve only announced a few shows right now, but it’s going to be almost two months of touring, so it’s going to be really cool. So we’re going to be all over the place with our acoustic set and it’s a lot of fun for us to have those intimate, really lower volume but still really fun shows. So on our Facebook and our Twitter and our website, we will be announcing the shows over the next few days, so if you wanna know if it’s coming near your city, just find us online and we’ll be announcing stuff daily.”

Be sure to follow the band on their Twitter (@ArtofDying) and be on the look out for updates on their tour on Facebook. This is a band you will not want to miss out on!