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The PV Q&A: letlive.'s Jay Johnson on Losing Themselves During Shows, Overseas Success, and the Making of 'The Blackest Beautiful'

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BY Jonah Bayer

The Los Angeles act letlive. aren’t your typical post-hardcore act. In fact, the group’s inspired brand of rock is difficult to define, referencing everyone from Rage Against the Machine to Refused—and not just in the music department, but also when it comes to their passionate live performances. This week letlive. dropped their third full-length The Blackest Beautiful, which sees them taking their ambitious sound to the next level both in sound and scope.

We caught up with bassist Ryan Jay Johnson as the band were driving through their home state during their run on the Vans Warped Tour to discuss their new disc, what making it was like and how the members deal with the frenzy they’ve ignited overseas.

Don’t worry: We also managed to ask him what’s going through the members heads when they are on stage. If you’re wondering if letlive. have suffered any major injuries from their onstage antics, read on.

PureVolume: letlive. have toured with so many types bands over the years, from Bring Me the Horizon to Deftones and that type of musical diversity shines like a beacon on The Blackest Beautiful. Do you like the fact that you don’t fit neatly into one subgenre?
Yeah, I mean in general, we all have very different tastes from member and member. We write collectively so everyone has their say with every song and I think it lends itself to create something that has a bit more depth in general. The dimensions are what we focus on and utilizing everyone's influences to create whatever it is we're doing. It's hard to pigeonhole our thought process in general and I think that shows when people try to categorize us, but all of us kind of hate labels in general and we want the music to speak for itself in its own way.
What was the writing process like for The Blackest Beautiful?
It was a bit atypical. We started off typically: We had riffs floating around for quite a while and spent some time before we went into the studio writing and fleshing out everything. We co-produced it with a buddy of ours named Kit Walters, who helped engineer the last record and once we found a studio to record it was a process of whittling down what we wanted to hear and refining everything. Our guitarist [Jeff Sahyoun] is actually a sound engineer himself, so we spent almost a year recording it on the road and spent almost a year fleshing it and getting the mixes where we wanted them to be. It's been a process, but it's amazing right now to be finished and we can't wait to present it to everyone. But, yes, it's been a long process. [Laughs.]





Was it hard to let go and finally decide the album was finished?
It’s always hard to decide you've completed something and everyone struggles with that in any situation where you have creative control. There just came a point where everyone just had to step back and say, “This is it, this where we need to leave it and push forward with it.” It's satisfying knowing you've come to that end and knowing you can pursue other avenues with future endeavors. It’s been amazing to be honest.
letlive. have a huge following overseas. What’s that experience been like for you personally?
It's unreal. It began in the early days when we started coming through and there were two shows we actually had in the beginning [overseas] that sold out and we never thought that would happen. When this project began we were just doing it for ourselves and playing and having a good time and making sure we could continue with music and slowly but surely we started selling out shows more and more and I don't think anyone has had the chance to step back and look at what's going on. It isn’t until you're actually slowing down at home do you realize what's actually going on. [Laughs.]
Did you get to do anything on The Blackest Beautiful that you haven't accomplished in the past?
Yeah, definitely. We all were a bit more in tune with our instruments, songwriting in general and working together fluidly—and in the end in allowed us to experiment with different structures, crescendos and things in music that you don't' typically approach the same way. It was fun building it piece-by-piece and everyone spoke really, really well with their instrument and obviously vocally as well and it turned out amazing. I think the influences changed a bit from the last record because in the past we were a bit younger and on the road a lot and influenced by a lot of different music in general.





How have your tastes changed? Are there specific bands you've gotten into?
I don't think anyone has a specific band they listen to but we're referencing heavier rock—not that we're using them as influences—but just reminiscing on the heavier acts of the nineties like Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine and how they were able to push through to a massive audience. That's not say we're trying to appeal to anybody, but I think it’s great that heavy music is able to have that appeal and it was sort of fun to keep that unbridled energy and push it through on the record and try to show that we have those ['90s] influences as well. We love the idea that your mom and your best friend can listen to music and hopefully everybody can enjoy it emotionally just the same.
How have the new songs been translating live so far?
Well, for the last record we had years to play the songs through on the road before we even recorded it and this record was a different process because we were on the road so heavily beforehand. Now that we're actually playing them, we have to find each song's place live because we make minor changes and have to sort those out in a live setting. The two songs we've been playing are the new single "Banshee (Ghost Frame)" and the last song on the album "27 Club," and I think those two tend to translate really well live. I think a lot of the dynamics are really strong so it's going to be much different than it was before when it was just constant and loud and obnoxious in a good way. It's going to be fun honing in on everybody's strengths and making sure they come through in a live setting.
Speaking of which, letlive. are known for your incredibly energetic live shows. When you’re performing are you thinking about anything in particular or are you just caught up in the moment?
I don't even know what [vocalist] Jason [Butler] is doing half the time; I don't know where he is and I think all of us are in the same boat to a degree. [Laughs.] We lose ourselves a little bit and give in to the fact that we just play music onstage and there are times when Jason is off somewhere else in the venue picking flowers for a girl out of a gesture of kindness, and then he comes onstage and breaks something, and I have no idea anything is going on to be honest. All of us kind of zone out for a little while and let the mechanics of our body take over.
Have there ever been times when you're onstage and you're worried about Jason or anyone else in the band hurting himself?
I think people generally worry about that but we've been playing for eight years together and there hasn't really been a major injury that has stopped us from playing a show. I think regardless of how unconscious we are off what's going on, we are very conscious of safety to a degree, you know? It's just kind of an intrinsic feeling and you know when a button is being pushed and how far it can be pushed. Thank God we're aware of these things because otherwise it probably wouldn't turn out so well. [Laughs.]

 
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