Interview by Holly Aker.
This Tuesday, Lodi, California post-hardcore rockers, A Skylit Drive will release their third full-length album, Identity On Fire. The band has released a music video for the album’s first single, “A Little Too Late,” which is now available on iTunes along with the song “XO Skeleton,” and already Identity On Fire is proving to be a big hit with the fans.
Before the album drops, we caught up with A Skylit Drive’s lead singer, Michael “Jag” Jagmin to get the inside scoop on the new album, see how ASD keeps their sanity on the road, and to find out the latest on his organization, Finding Equality.
So let’s talk about the new album a little bit. From what I’ve heard of Identity On Fire, it seems like the album shares a sound similar sound to what we heard on Wires And The Concept of Breathing rather than Adelphia. Was this change in sound a conscious decision?
Jag: We were just writing what we wanted to write really. It wasn’t really “We should do this” it was more just this is the kind of music we should like playing and whatever comes out, comes out.
From what I understand, it seems that you guys enjoy creating concept albums. Would you say that Identity On Fire is a concept album?
Jag: Not exactly a concept album. There’s definitely a lasting theme throughout the album. The whole album means making your own identity no mater what anybody says, just doing exactly what you want, whatever makes you happy, and setting fire to the things that you don’t want to be a part of your life and you don’t want to hold you back and so on and so forth.
You guys have been streaming some songs from the new album lately and you can now buy “Xo Skeleton” and “Too Little Too Late” on iTunes. Do you know if fans have been taking advantage of the streams or if fans are buying the songs on iTunes a lot?
Jag: Yeah, we’ve actually been kinda surprised at the whole reaction to putting out a couple songs early. I definitely think it’s helped. We wanted to do pretty much everything different this time around. Anything that we maybe didn’t do before Wires or Adelphia, we wanted to make sure there was as much hype as possible and do as much promotion prior to the CD coming out as possible, and I think that we definitely pulled that off this time.
And so when you say do different things, that’s the streaming and putting out the new songs. Is there anything else?
Jag: Also having the video come out before the CD even dropped, that was something that I really, really wanted to have done, so I’m really happy that that was able to happen, rather than the video coming out four months after the CD’s come out and it’s not the new, exciting thing anymore.
You guys seem to have a strong following now and solidified a good reputation over the years. With that being said, did you feel a lot of pressure when you were recording Identity On Fire?
Jag: Yeah, definitely. Not only having to live up to a reputation, but it being our third full length, we knew that we had to somehow top everything that we’ve done before. Not necessarily go over the top on anything, just be really self-conscious about what we wanted to do and things that we didn’t want to do anymore. We just had to be really smart with all of our decisions, and I think the fact that we had a lot more time to work on it really helped us on that aspect.
Now that you guys have been playing together for a few years now, what was the writing process like for the new album?
Jag: Everything we write, we write in a group just so everybody gets their say and everybody loves the song equally. We rented out this showroom in Lodi, California, and we would just spend day after day there, sometimes 10 to 11 hours straight at this showroom that had no AC inside. It was blazing hot in there, and we’d just stay in there all day, just writing stuff and going over tons of different ideas. There was definitely a lot of hours and a lot of hard work put into it. There was a lot more time put into this album. I wouldn’t say there was more effort than the others. We always put all of our effort into them, but we had more time to make sure we were making all of the right choices.
Do you guys write the lyrics together too?
Jag: Usually the way that goes is I’ll write a full song’s lyrics and the melodies and everything, and I’ll bring it to everybody and then we’ll pick it a part. Find the parts that maybe not everybody loves and work on those lines. Some lines are from me, some are from Brian [White], and some are from Nick [Miller]. Everybody gets a say in everything, so if there’s a drum part that I maybe think something might be better, we’ll try it. Or if there’s a keyboard part that Cory [La Quay] thinks might be a little, then we’ll try it, and whatever’s best is best. I’m not always going to have the best melody, Kyle [Simmon]’s not always going to have the best keyboard part, and Brian might not always have the best screaming idea, so everybody dips into each other’s thing. We all try our best to work together as one unit.
Are there any guest musicians on the new album?
Jag: There actually aren’t. We had plans to, but all of them kept falling through, and by the time we were going to be able to get them in because we were taking up so much time making sure our parts were right and everything, when it came time to have those people come in, they were already gone and they weren’t available anymore. Once again, three albums in a row, we don’t have any guest appearances or anything. But it’s like shit happens. I kind of like how we just keep it us. So many bands do all those guest appearances nowadays, and I like that the album is all us. It’s us doing everything, and if people like it, they like it. Cool. If they don’t, then they don’t. I don’t want people to like us because of a guest appearance.
What’s the meaning behind the symbol on the cover of the Identity On Fire album?
Jag: It’s pretty much our own rendition of the infinity symbol. If you turn it sideways, it’s the sideways eight pretty much. It’s our way of expressing that if you want it to be timeless, it can be timeless. It can last forever if you want it to. You just need to make it last forever and not give up and just keep fighting for it, and even if that comes down to rebelling sometimes, if it’s in a positive way for you, then do it. So that’s just our way of saying never give up and never give in, just do what’s true to you.
When a band’s popularity starts to really take off, it seems like a lot of bands have a hard time keeping it together, and they usually lose a member or two. However, since A Sklit Drive’s popularity really started taking off in 2007, you guys have been able to keep it together and not lose any members. How do you guys do it?
Jag: We’re all friends, but I think one thing that keeps us sane is that everybody separates at home. Everybody’s got their own thing that they like to do. We have our way of coexisting on the road. There’s the partiers in the band, there’s the more chill dudes, there’s super chill dudes, there’s the guys who like to drink, the guys who like to smoke. Everybody’s got their own thing that they do, and everybody knows how they operate with each other. We all definitely get along, but I think a lot of bands, some of those dudes will want to live together when they’re off tour and everything, and maybe it’s two members who don’t really get a long to start with, but none of us…actually our bassist and guitarist live together, but the bassist is never really home. Everybody kind of just separates when we get home. I think it’s that kind of needed separation, so that everybody cannot get too fed up with each other. It’s just like if you hang out with your best friend all day, everyday. We’re with each other so much to where, we know each other better than most people know their best friends. Like, a best friend you might hang out with them for maybe three days straight plus spending the night with them, but other wise, you’re not going to sleep with them or anything, you’re going to probably go home. But we all know each other so well to where we all know every single mannerism, every little noise, every tone of voice. I even know before someone’s going to get mad because I know what’s going to make them mad. That’s just how well we all know each other. We know each other’s breaking points, and we all respect each other breaking points as well. We do our best to never cross those lines, and I think that that’s one of the really important things that we all have, respect for each other, which some bands maybe don’t, and that’s when members start leaving.
You have an organization called “Finding Equality”. Can you tell me a little bit about the organization’s mission and how it’s going?
Jag: It’s going well. I don’t get to put as much time into it as I’d like to just because when we’re on the road, I always act as the tour manager, so I’m usually extremely busy throughout the entire day. It’s pretty much an anti-racist organization/clothing line that I’ve always wanted to start. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always felt really strongly against any form of racism. I’ve never been a fan of it. I despise it. I just figured, if anybody’s listening to me right now, at least some people are, I mean kids come out to shows and it’s great, and I I just figured, sure, I’m giving them this message of not giving up and so on and so forth, but there’s so much more that I want to say too. While I have their attention, I at least want to say something positive. I don’t want to be saying all this really uplifting things in our songs but then portraying something completely different outside of the band. Me doing this clothing line is my way of saying I’m not going to give up. This is what I want to do, and I want to spread this positive word, and if you want to listen to it then that’s fine, and if the guy next to me doesn’t like it, then pardon my French, but fuck him. It makes me happy, and if I can even get one person to even pay attention to what I’m doing, then I did something right.