Interview With Ryan Phillips of Story of the Year
When Story of the Year stopped by on their tour with Flyleaf, I had the opportunity to conduct this very insightful interview with guitarist Ryan Phillips:
How has it been touring with Flyleaf?
It’s amazing. It’s kind of weird like, I wouldn’t say we have a whole lot in common, musically, so I kind of had no idea what to expect. But it took like, one day… these guys are super sweet, their crew is super sweet, it’s pretty much the easiest, smoothest tour we have ever done. Good vibes, everyone is just amazing. They’re a super talented band, and just good people.
Have you been able to reach out to a new audience?
Yeah, I really think so. I wouldn’t say we have a huge crossover fan base, so we’re playing to a lot of new people every night. Progressively through the set, as more songs go by I can see more and more people getting into it, and by the end of it I feel like we really won over a whole lot of new people that maybe have never even heard of us.
When you’re on tour and not headlining, does it influence your set list?
Yeah, it’s weird, ‘cause like, there’s the fan favorites, you know, like the songs that might have done well with video or radio, or might have a lot of Youtube buzz, so there’s always just a handful of songs you have to have. And from there, it’s just about what songs allow us to put on the kind of show we want, what songs are going to let us do our thing, and we just kind of try to find a sort of delicate balance.
With the new record out, how do you fit that into your set?
While we are promoting our new record, at the same time we do have four albums. So, you know, four albums in forty-five minutes? It’s no secret our first album was our most successful album, so we just have this legion of people that want to hear mostly that album. So at this point, it’s kind of like you’ve gotta give your hardcore fans a good so, you want to please them. You don’t want to alienate anybody. But we are trying to promote a new album, so we just try to find a good balance between all of those records.
Although your first record was your most successful, you guys have said you are closer now than ever to your true sound. Is it frustrating that as you find that sound, your sales are dropping off and you might not be reaching as many people?
Yeah, it can be frustrating, but when you really step back and look at the big picture, it’s like, who’s record sales aren’t down? But yeah, I think everybody that has a debut like we did, it seems like we just came out of nowhere. They don’t know the backstory, like the ten years we played just to get to that first album. So it seems like to most people, this band just came out of nowhere and we had a really successful debut album. Most bands try to spend the rest of their years trying to get back to that. It starts off with everybody buying your [music], and in the back of your mind you’re trying to live up to that. After our second record we just realized that we can’t just keep making the same album, because it would be stale and boring. We want to do things our way, and I think that’s what we’re going towards, that’s what we do best. We do things our way, regardless of what scene is going on, and what trends… Story of the Year is gonna sound like Story of the Year no matter what. So going back to your question, yeah it can get a little frustrating, with what you said about us going back and finding our sound. The Constant is definitely the closest to our first album than anything we’ve done since then, and it’s weird, it was the most natural record we’ve ever done. It just kind of came out, it was the easiest time we’ve had, and it wasn’t intentional, we didn’t go in saying we’re gonna make an album that sounds just like our first album, it just happened, and it worked.
What’s your process when you go into the studio? Do you start out experimenting with different sounds you’ve wanted to try?
Well, this one was weird, because it was so streamlined. It was done in four weeks, the quickest we’ve ever done an album. So no, we didn’t really, the sound was just dictated by the songs, I can’t explain it any other way than it just kind of happened. It was just natural, if you listen to that album all the way through, it just sounds cohesive and natural. I think it’s our most cohesive record we’ve ever made.
Were there any albums that were just the complete opposite, not so easy?
Yeah… at this point I’ll just be candid with you. The Black Swan was kind of a rough one. We took like a year and a half off, dealt with some internal stuff, and that was a rough period with that record… There was a lot of stressing and agonizing over [every detail], like taking three months because I was determined to make a riff fit into a song. It was a really draining process, and now I’m just like, I’m not going to agonize so much over one little riff, you just have to let the songs flow, and be what they’re supposed to be and not try to force anything.
The title of the new record, The Constant… What is the constant for you as a band?
I can’t answer that, that’s something we want the fans to figure out for themselves, and really listen to the record to find out.
Good sport, haha.
On your album In The Wake of Determination, you have a very personal song, “Is This My Fate, He Asked Them,” about homosexuality, which is very relevant to us right now with gay marriage and the gay teen suicides. How do those issues make you guys feel as a band that has confronted the issue in your music?
There’s a member or two in our band that has had some personal experience with some gnarly, Bible-belt bigotry, and I think… I haven’t participated in the lyric-writing process, so I can’t speak to the exact meaning, but I think the overall vibe… like when the lyrics get kind of political, or the message that’s being conveyed is more researched, I want to bring this topic up just to bring awareness to you, so you can think about it and make your own opinion. It’s more than just like, here’s what I think, believe what I believe. Just open your mind, this is serious, think about it. But yeah, especially in the mid-west, there’s a lot of that out there, and it’s just kind of disgusting. When you look throughout history, any time you try to suppress someone’s civil rights, it never works. There will be a time when we look back at this, all this horrible bigotry that’s going on that the homosexual community has to endure, we’ll look at this the same way we look at slavery now… If two guys want to get married, how does that affect me, ya know? It’s not a choice any more than it’s my choice to be white.
On the topic of songs, what are some of the songs that are closest to you, personally?
On The Constant, the first track, “I’m Alive,” I’m super proud of that song. I think the lyrics are outstanding, I like that it’s more serious, and it’s more metaphorical and less in your face. The message I get from the lyrics are kind of like, it’s like an internal struggle. Things can get kind of tough in this business, especially right now, and with the main chorus, “I’m alive but barely breathing,” it’s like, we’re still fighting the good fight. We’re still going at it, going at it, but sometimes it’s just really tough. That’s kind of the metaphor I get from that song, and it hits pretty hard sometimes. That’s a song I’m proud of, musically.
I know the album is still fresh, but do you have any plans right now, any new material you’re working on?
This is actually the first time ever, really, where I’m like… Usually when SOTY finishes an album, before we’re even out of the studio I’m working on the next one. I write non-stop because it’s like, if I write twenty songs, maybe one is good for SOTY. The other stuff might be soft, and super wimpy, other stuff might be super metal… I can’t control it, I can’t ever sit down and just be like, I need to write a SOTY song.
Have you ever considered doing a side project?
Yeah, the other guitar player and I. He’s just such a talented guitar player, and we actually started another band last year, called Greek Fire, and we’re gonna pursue that full-time, and it’s so artistically satisfying. I write all the time, and this is maybe some of the stuff that might not work for story of the year.
Would you still keep the balance between both bands?
Do you still try to check out the local music scene?
Yeah, but at the risk of sounding like a total [jerk], music these days, like rock, all this stuff going on these days is just really… And I don’t want to come off as a conceited person, but I’m just not very motivated by what’s going on in music, in the “scene” these days. It’s just gotten so boring to me. Like any song on the radio these days, the rock music, it all sounds so safe. It’s all safe, predictable, soul-less. I just feel like in the new scene, nobody’s doing anything creative… I just always wind up going back to the same music I grew up with.
What is some of that music you grew up with?
When I first started playing guitar, some of the first stuff I started playing was old Sabbath stuff, like old seventies metal stuff. Then when I first really fell in love with music was with all the nineties grunge stuff, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, Nirvana, all that stuff. Smashing Pumpkins is my favorite band.
Favorite album from them?
Siamese Dream. That’s one of my desert island discs, one of my favorite albums of all time. I’ll listen to Pumpkins, The Who, Zeppelin, all that stuff that I think is just honest, pure music. Nowadays I just feel like all that is missing. That’s the reason for Greek Fire, I got to the point where I had to do that band, or I was gonna lose my mind. I really just needed another outlet.