Interview: Jonny Hetherington of Art Of Dying

TFRR: The new album, Rise Up, it’s out next week, how excited are you guys to get this out? I remember meeting with you guys in the studio in Chicago, back in May. Right before Rock on the Range, you told me the record was done. So how does it feel to have it finally releasing? Jonny Hetherington: It’s quite a feeling, man. It’s kind of like, I guess, having a baby or something. [laughter] We’re bringing something we worked so hard on, finally, out into the world. We’re so proud of the record, so it’s really difficult to hold it in and not have it out there when you know it’s done. You know, I’m at the gym or going for a run every day listening to it, so I feel so bad because no one else can hear it! TFRR: I can’t imagine how frustrating… But it’s a good kind of frustrating too, because it’s like, ‘we’re done! We’re done with it!’ but you want everyone to hear it. The EP released earlier this year; that was kind of a taste of what was to come. But with Rise Up the full-length, what was it that you guys really wanted to talk about and address and say with this record? Jonny Hetherington: You know, so much happened during our touring building up to the record, and so much happened personally to us in the studio, it just made it a really personal record. It’s just really emotional, you know, we toured for years on the former record Vices and Virtues, we became really, really close as band mates and friends. A lot of our late night conversations were about spirituality and about our belief systems, and what we think is going to happen if the bus hits a ditch. So we had some heavy conversations and that’s something we really enjoyed doing together, and that led to the album art, and it also led to a lot of the content on the CD. It’s kind of questioning a lot of what’s going on in our lives and what’s going to happen. Just like we’ve always questioned, you know, the Art of Dying is my life to live, that became our theme for the longest time as a band. So that became kind of an extension of that, you know, kind of figuring out all the things that have happened to you and how to react along the way. TFRR: Speaking of that, I mean, you guys are down a member. There was a pretty big lineup change that happened going into this record. Can you talk a little bit about how that affected you guys going into the full-length? Jonny Hetherington: Yeah, that was huge man. Greg and I founded the band over a decade ago, and for him to decide halfway through the record that he wanted to leave was really… It was crazy, man. I don’t think I slept for three days because we were up talking and hashing out the situation. And he’s still one of my best friends and was at the time too, you know, there [were] tears, there were hugs, just like, anger and yelling, and we went out and had some long conversations over beers as a band, and things got emotional, and at the end of the day, we just had to respect Greg’s opinion and let him go. And this is in the studio, you know, not while we’re at home. This is, ‘fuck, I’ve got to record vocals in half an hour and I’m yelling at my guitar player for quitting the band.’ It was intense. And we’re all still great friends; we’re all brothers, we’re just down a member like you said. We still talk all the time and he’s still super supportive of the band and our movement and what we mean, and he still reaches out to all the old fans and stays in touch, so there’s no anger now; no harshness whatsoever. But it definitely fueled some of the angry feelings on the record. You know, for me, I was actually working on “Rise Up”, the title track, around that time. I think I was really getting into the verse lyrics, and it’s a little bit angry. I don’t know what else you can say when it comes down to you know, the loss. And it’s a loss, you know, it’s the loss of someone. TFRR: Yeah, you can sense that aggression. I mean, the second the album kicks in, it’s just like, you can sense some anger and frustration, and just kind of a new sense of attitude as soon as “Best Won’t Do” kicks in on that first track. You can tell that something just kicked in on this record for some reason. So that explains a lot right there. Jonny Hetherington: Yeah, we were frustrated man, in many ways. You know, David- the producer of the record, he’s quite a brilliant guy to work with, and he really pushes you to your extremes. And he definitely pushed me. I think I’m comfortable now to say I did rise up to the occasion and deliver what I needed to do and what he needed me to do. I think we all walked away from that record extremely proud and better-schooled, you know, I think we came out of it better players, better writers, performers. TFRR: And probably closer, as a band, as well. Jonny Hetherington: Oh totally, yeah. There’s no question. And there was just a lot of personal stuff going on, during the record, actually. I can talk about it more easily now, but for awhile there, it was something that I couldn’t even really talk about. My dad, [whom] I had written “Get Through This” for 10 years earlier when he struggled with cancer, and survived for 10 years, was diagnosed with cancer again when we were making the record. So that was really, really hard for me to be away from my family and get that phone call. It seems everyone these days is dealing with a bit of cancer in their family circles. It’s one of those weird ways to die because you’re given a time. You know, you’re given a time limit, and [for] a lot of people, it sneaks up quickly, and a lot of people seem to get a few years or more, and some people survive and do well, and just have a long life after. So I’m torn, because I’m there making my baby, my record, and all I want to do is go get on a plane and be there with my family at that moment. Not knowing how serious the diagnosis was, with my parents and with my band, and David, our producer, I just decided to stay and finish the record and pour all of those feelings into the record. So I wrote, “Ubuntu”, which is the last song on the record, about my dad, and mortality, and how I was feeling at the moment. TFRR: Wow. And speaking of certain songs, one song that really, really sticks out to me, even musically, is “Dead Man Walking.” It’s an interesting track, from the very beginning.  And then your rant, during the breakdown towards the end there, where did that song come from? Jonny Hetherington: [laughter] It’s an inner demons song, you know? I think we all feel like we’re constantly battling something, [or] at least I do. Inner demons, and trying to overcome the negative parts of our lives all the time. When you get caught up in it, which everyone does sometimes, you do just feel like you’re a zombie, a dead man walking. You’re up against too much, and you start to drag your feet. And again, Art of Dying, all of our songs seem to come from a place of hopefulness, you know, and that seems to have been our theme, and I think there’s definitely a hopefulness to this record too, but there’s also an inherent hopefulness in the fact that other people feel the same way as you. And we’re in this together, and it’s not always fuckin’ sunshine and rainbows; shit gets ugly in this life, and a lot of these songs, I think that’s “Best Won’t Do,’ and “Dead Man Walking,” and a couple of the other ones. They’re just simply frustration, and I think a lot of people feel that and I think people feel a little better when they know that it’s not just them. So maybe you’re very frustrated. TFRR: [laughter] One thing I have to ask you about: You, personally, you’ve got a little bit of an appearance change this time around; you’ve kind of changed your look up a little bit. What inspired that? Did you just want to change it a little bit? You’ve really switched it up. Jonny Hetherington: Yeah, again, this record was such a metamorphosis, and physically, I felt like I went through so much, I needed to kind of strip away my cocoon, or you know, my shell, and just start to feel reborn. As this music on this record is a lot different, everything felt like a rebirth, and I think changing things up kind of matched up. TFRR: I was about to use that same word; it seems like a rebirth, almost. I think it’s been about three and a half, four years since the last record, and you guys kicked the touring cycle off at Rock on the Range. I mean, is there any better way to kick things off and come back? I remember we were in the studio about a week before, talking about it, but now we can talk about how it was. How did it feel getting ready to take the stage at that festival? Jonny Hetherington: It really felt surreal, and at the same time, it really felt like we were at home. That’s kind of where we left off with Vices and Virtues, was on a big tour and a big stage. We had done Rock on the Range and Rocklahoma, and a bunch of those big festivals on that tour, so starting this tour in the spring the same way, to me right now, it feels like a dream, just because when we saw you in Chicago, we were just rehearsing for a show. And that’s something we’d never done before, was rehearse for a tour. So it felt a little strange to jump in with two feet. But if you’re going to jump in, I guess that’s the best way to do it. TFRR: And obviously there’s the big weather mishap at Louder than Life, two months ago now, where you guys weren’t even able to really play, but I know you were able to take the stage with Saint Asonia for a little bit. Jonny Hetherington: Yeah, whenever we play with those guys, it’s pretty awesome because Adam Gontier usually comes up and sings with us, and then they asked me to come up and sing with them for a couple shows. So that’s been awesome, to share the stage with them; they’re a little bit of a superband. To share the stage with some of my heroes is pretty rad. TFRR: Any chance we could see a Saint Asonia and Art of Dying tour in the future possibly? Or is that just something that would maybe be cool to do? Jonny Hetherington: I think it’s definitely going to happen; if you’re betting, I would definitely put money on that because Cale and Adam are practically brothers. They’re cousins, so everyone’s real tight and I think they would bring the same kind of spirit to their touring that we do, you know, it’s a good time, and I think we would all have fun hanging out. There’s nothing but respect both ways for the musicianship. So we could have a lot of fun touring together. TFRR: Awesome. So I’ve got to ask you about the hot sauce. How well is the hot sauce doing? Where did that come from? And how hot IS it? It’s got to be hot as hell. Jonny Hetherington: I’ve been making this habanero sauce for about three years, just as kind of something I wanted to do for family and friends, and mostly for myself, to be honest. I fell in love with the flavor of the habanero, but I couldn’t find any sauces out there without junk in them, without preservatives and garbage. So I just started making my own, and just when I was home from tour, I would make another batch, and send it out to a few people, and everyone seemed to really like it. So we had a little break this fall from touring, so I decided to finally get serious. So I launched a Kickstarter, and it went really, really well. So it’s succeeded, and I’m actually going into production next week, and shipping out my first orders. I just launched a new site under my own name,, and if anyone’s interested in habanero sauce… And the other rewards from Kickstarter, I’m putting on there too. So I’m going to continue to not only ship people hot sauce if they want, but also, I’m going to continue to do the Skype cooking lessons… You know, Kickstarter kind of inspired a lot of things for me: basically, I designed a kind of chef-for-a-night dinner package, where I fly to your city, get your friends together, and cook everyone dinner. So I’m still going to have all those things available on my site: TFRR: Nice, man, everybody make sure you get out and look for that. To wrap it up, the album the album drops a week from tomorrow, and I assume you guys are going to be hitting the road for most of 2016. We talked about it in Chicago: any chance you guys are hitting Piere’s in Fort Wayne maybe next year or something like that? Because we talked about the cheeseburgers, I think, from Piere’s. Jonny Hetherington: Yeah man, I love Piere’s! That’s one of the greatest rock and roll bars in America, and we’ll always try to get back there when we can. A lot of our good friends are touring this year, like Disturbed, and like you said, Saint Asonia, and we’re trying to hook things up in the New Year. So we’ll definitely be out there for most of 2016. TFRR: Awesome, I’m looking forward to that. I think I’ve listened to the album five or six times already, and it kicks ass from start to finish. It’s everything I could’ve expected it to be man, everyone’s going to love it when it releases. Congratulations on a kickass record. Jonny Hetherington: Thanks, Reggie man, I really appreciate it! You said your favorite track is probably “Dead Man Walking”? TFRR: It’s close between “Rise Up,” “Tear Down the Wall,” and “Dead Man Walking.” It’s really, it’s so close. I’ve liked “Tear Down the Wall” since the EP released, but “Dead Man Walking” is making its way to the top. “Space” is another one I really like. Jonny Hetherington: Yeah, cool, man. We got really into it, you know, we tried to strip away all of our preconceived notions and tried to make something we all loved, and I think we did that. TFRR: Oh, definitely, you hit it out of the park. I mean, it kicks ass. Jonny Hetherington: Thanks man! TFRR: Definitely. Everybody reading or listening, make sure you get out and pick up the new record Rise Up, out next Friday. Hopefully we can catch each other on the road sometime, ‘cause we’ve gotta kick it again. -Reggie Edwards