The first part of this interview can be found here: Billy Howerdel: Rising From The Ashes
Antiquiet: When did you start writing songs for Ashes Divide?
Billy Howerdel: I started writing Stripped Away when I was on tour with A Perfect Circle. It was one of the heavier songs, it was something I was playing at soundchecks a bunch. Most of ’em are new though, for the most part. I think there are three or four songs that are pre-2004, but they weren’t fully fleshed out or anything.
Antiquiet: In an interview you did during the last APC tour you mentioned a new song you were working on that you were calling Army, because it was kind of a ripoff of Army Of Me by Björk -did that ever materialize into anything?
Billy Howerdel: Yeah. (laughs)
Antiquiet: What was it?
Billy Howerdel: You’ll have to hear the whole record and let me know what you think.
Antiquiet: How much of yourself did you put into the lyrics?
Billy Howerdel: If there’s a story to a song, a lot of times I took something that might be emotionally charging me, and what I would say, or if there’s a misunderstanding and someone had the wrong idea behind your intentions, I kind of ran with that. Even if it was in a sarcastic way, just running with that theme. I wrote Enemies from the point of view of a friend of mine that I haven’t talked to in twenty years, what that guy would think coming back seeing old friends of his and not letting them let go of the past. There’s kind of a recurring theme of people never letting you change. You get a couple fresh starts in life, and one of ’em is graduating high school, moving on going to college or whatever you’re going to do. You can change your name if you want to, cut your hair, but if you go back and revisit those old places, the past doesn’t forget about you. You can have some shit resurface that you thought you’d lived down. I pretty much wrote it from the story of Frankenstein, as well as this guy that I grew up with. (laughs) But every line in that song is a conversation that I’ve had with somebody else.
It’s hard to explain, but the songs aren’t always so simplified that you can say “this song is about this fight I had with this person,” or whatever. There was a very complex formula that came together for most of the songs. Not intentionally, that’s just the way that it went. I had never written lyrics before, and I don’t read. I’ve never read a book in my life. In high school I squeaked by with cliff’s notes or if I could find a book on tape or something. I just never read. But I do listen to books on tape quite a bit now, as well as talk radio (laughs). One of the key things about Maynard and most of the singers or lyricists I know is to read constantly. I just didn’t have that luxury or base to draw from. I had to approach it in a different way.
I took a couple acting classes, and I think good actors are pretending to be honest as hard as they possibly can. And that’s kind of how I approached this, like writing about an extremely painful situation my best friend’s going through, but injecting everything that I feel about my current situation. Somewhere those two met.
Antiquiet: What’s behind the title of the album?
Billy Howerdel: Recurring themes. The Stone certainly deals with it, but it’s that approach of using denial as a tool to work through something, whether it be somebody dying and helping yourself lessen the blow. Sometimes you have to experience that denial to come with a particular moment in a situation, but staying in a perpetual state of denial can leave you without the ability to evolve in any kind of way. I think a lot of recurring themes on this record are dealing with that, just trying to figure out how to move forward without imploding.
WATCH THE VIDEO FOR THE STONE:
Billy Howerdel: It’s funny, I’m in my studio now, just pacing the floor, and the master switches have been thrown off for like a month and a half now- which has never happened. Not that I can ever remember. I’ve never not had a recording computer going. I’ve only written one part of a song since I finished the album back in November. That’s kind of another first for me- I’m always usually writing something. But there’s just no time for me to do it.
Antiquiet: Is that frustrating?
Billy Howerdel: For me it’s cathartic. It’s always good… people meditate or whatever, but I just like recording. I just look at it as this ever-evolving currency that’s always going, always moving forward. I’m not great at writing under pressure on the fly. I’m good at finishing it under pressure, but I like to have a lot of things in my arsenal of songs to pull from when I’m writing. But on this record it was good to start from scratch, to have enough time to let it grow and breathe. I was starting to plan it out around the idea of APC doing something again, and Tool was finishing their most recent record, so I did start to feel that pressure of time, just from the Tool record coming out. And I finally said you know, I don’t know if we’re going to do anything together again, to be honest. So I just kind of took a deep breath and made the best record I possibly could. This is my full focus. This is all I can see right now.
Antiquiet: Is there a future for A Perfect Circle ?
Billy Howerdel: I don’t know. I would say it’s possible, but it’s more than just saying “Hey, you wanna go jam at the bar tonight?” I mean we could do that, but that’s a big machine to dust the cobwebs off of and start up again. And with Maynard being in Tool and now Puscifer, doing all that, and with me doing this… if those times collide again, it’ll probably be a bit further down the line. But who knows? Anything can happen.
Antiquiet: Those were some great years as a fan, just to see how you guys evolved over time and got to know the songs as they were evolving. It was probably the second or third show you guys ever played, the Key Club show in September of ’99. I don’t think Maynard had set lyrics or even concrete melodies for most of the songs yet. It was just so raw, and it was really cool to watch as you progressed and got tighter and tighter as time progressed.
Billy Howerdel: Speaking of that show, I’ll give another little prop to Island here. That show at the Key Club was a showcase for Virgin to see us play live. Which is understandable, you kinda want to see what you’re signing ahead of time. But with Island, I never got asked to do any kind of showcase for these guys at all. I’ve never fronted a band. I flew out to New York and met with LA Reid and Steve Bartels, the heads of Island, and they just said “Lay it out for us.” It was strange, it was a weird situation to sell yourself, cause I’m not a good salesman. But it felt like they got it, and it went back to the very beginning for me. I saw Pink Floyd at Giant’s Stadium in New Jersey when I was a kid, and it literally changed my life. Either being a musician or being around that whole vibe of being around music… you can pick and choose what you’re going to do with the rest of your life. I was like “Shit, this is where I want to be. At this venue, right now, with all the people that saved up their money or looked forward to this one moment in time. I’ll be one of those ants running around onstage setting up all the gear if I have to. But I’m gonna be a part of this in some kind of way, and just feed off this positive energy every day of my life.” Everything stems from that for me.
Antiquiet: What advice do you have for a band who has what it takes, but doesn’t really know how to present themselves or handle themselves in the industry?
Billy Howerdel: I mentioned one of my best friends, he works with me, his name’s Dean Sainz, and he’s in a band called Dead Ponies who are struggling. They’ve been playing the Echo and the little clubs all around, and it’s been tough for them to get a following. I’ve got people in my family who are struggling with it. It depends on who you’re trying to write to, do you want to write jingles, or do you want to write esoteric jams? What are you trying to do? How do you want to be seen, and what can you live with? I think everyone’s got their threshold of how much work they want to put into it and how much they want to get back from it. There are just so many variables to apply. For me, it’s all I do. this is my day and night job, it’s my life, and I get scared sometimes thinking that if the industry falls entirely, how do I make a living? How do I support my family when there’s nothing coming from it? You think about those things, especially when you’re starting something new like this. Thinking about those bands, at least I had the benefit of having Maynard believe in me enough to give me a shot by doing A Perfect Circle and getting together that way. He saw something in me, and I didn’t even need to have faith in him, knowing where he’s coming from and how talented he is. But now that I’ve made a name for myself, it’s still a difficult mountain to climb. It’s fuckin’ tough, and it’s probably harder than ever. You can look at it as being easier than ever in that you can get on the internet and self-promote, but there are so many eyeballs, so many streets on there that it’s almost an even wash at this point. Of course having the internet is great, but there’s certainly a nostalgia for the past, going to the local music store… there was a place called Sound Exchange in Wayne, New Jersey where I was growing up, and that was the closest record store to where I grew up and that was like a half hour drive. I just remember going in there though, and they had all the cool memorabilia and you had to dig deep to figure things out. It was all such an unknown, there was a cool excitement to not exactly knowing everything that’s out there, and a greater appreciation for local bands. Now everything’s just spoon-fed to you, you can find anything you want anytime. But you have to do so much to get it out there now, because the internet is now so saturated with new bands vying for attention. I’m trying to promote this band, but my closest friends, some of ’em don’t even know what I have going on. There’s just so much coming at you. It’s overwhelming.
Antiquiet: Saturation fatigue.
Billy Howerdel: Right. But back to the label question, LA Reid said something about Radiohead‘s decision to do what they did with their last record, and he’s more old-school-minded for sure about the industry, but he’s thinking, ‘if you give it away, noone values it.’ In some respects though, maybe Radiohead should charge more for their records, because it’s better music. (laughs) But I guess that’s the point, to give it your own value. It’s all an experiment right now. But they’re an established artist, and they look like heroes when they’re doing this because they’ve already sold millions of records. You never think about the bands who are struggling to find some way to do their thing with integrity.
The albums I like, I buy ten copies of ’cause I give them to people. Like Cat Power‘s You Are Free, I’ve at least bought fifteen copies of that record, because I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. Band Of Horses, same thing. I’ve bought so many copies of their records just because I think they should be paid more. If I’m really into something, I want everyone to know about it. Band of Horses and Cat Power, they might be outside the realm of what my music is, but it’s what drives me to create.
What propelled me on [A Perfect Circle’s] Mer De Noms… was… I’m not a huge Radiohead fan, but I’m a huge fan of OK Computer. So OK Computer and Fiona Apple’s Tidal were the records that drove Mer De Noms for me. That’s what made it happen for me. For Thirteenth Step it was Interpol‘s first record and You Are Free. I love Interpol, I think they’ve ripped off things and put them back together in a great way. I mean that’s what I do, that’s why we did that medley (a live mix of The Cure‘s Lovesong and Ozzy Osbourne‘s Diary Of A Madman, a staple of early APC shows). To me, as a musician, I am a product of Ozzy Osbourne’s first two records and the Cure from 1984 on down. And the medley was Maynard’s idea, he’s the one that… I mean we both kinda came up with it, but I didn’t think he was really into The Cure. He’d be poking fun at me because I like the Smiths, but he was a closet Morrissey fan. I exposed him. But the common love of some stuff was where we met, like he was into the Cocteau Twins too and all that, so it made things easier.
Antiquiet: Did you ever record a studio version of the song?
Billy Howerdel: We started to. I think I still have everyone’s parts but mine and Maynard’s. I remember I had Josh and Paz and Troy play their parts separately and I just never got around to it. I can probably remember what I played, but you know.
Antiquiet: Are there any Perfect Circle songs that haven’t seen the light of day?
Billy Howerdel: No, nothing that was fleshed out. There were some things that we started messing with… we were gonna do an Elton John cover on the first record. One of the first things Maynard and I talked about was doing a cover, and we were gonna do like Your Song or Daniel or something like that right off the bat. But then we decided to do the Ozzy medley.
Antiquiet: I also heard you did some programming on the new Guns ‘N’ Roses record.
Billy Howerdel: Yeah, but the programming stuff I did, I’m sure it’ll never see the light of day. But I was there for two and a half years, and it was a long process… the way that I produce or engineer, the bar that was raised for me was set by the professionals I worked with in that whole Guns ‘N’ Roses experience. I got to be around a lot of people that knew what they were doing and I got to kind of absorb that and see the kinds of tricks they use. But I’ve always felt weird looking over someone’s shoulder, and I rarely ask questions. People hit me up on MySpace with technical questions, and I’ll answer ’em sometimes, and I’ll give away everything that I do, cause I was always so timid about asking. I’ll usually answer to kids who are struggling or don’t really know what they’re doing, to try and steer them in the right direction. ‘Cause I always think, if I had something like that as a kid I’d be so much further along.
But ten years ago, it seemed like the new GNR record was almost done. It sounded really good. If you took a time machine and would’ve told me then that ten years later in 2008 the record still wasn’t out, I’d have laughed at you. I say that because Axl has a lot to offer, he’s really talented and there was a lot of great stuff there. It’s a shame that it hasn’t come out yet, there should’ve been four records out by now. But you know, it’ll come eventually.
Antiquiet: Where would you like to see yourself in 5-10 years?
Billy Howerdel: I would definitely love to still be doing this. We’ll see if people like Ashes Divide, we’ll see what it forms into. But I fully intend on putting out many more records under this name. I’m looking forward to it. It’s just crazy to imagine May coming around and getting out on tour. I signed with Island in June… it’s funny when you’ve got a record done, the time that it takes once it’s finished until it comes out can be so long. It seems like such a long time ago that I was working every day on these songs, but it’s only been a couple months. There’s just so much going on.
Antiquiet: What do you do to relax?
Billy Howerdel: I play with my son. Get beat up by my son.
A cool little widget featuring an Ashes Divide news feed, as well as the video for The Stone, can be grabbed here: