The word emo has been something of an insult over last 15 years or so, but a new generation of artists is seeking to reclaim the word for indie rock, and one of its leading lights, The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, recently landed their debut LP, ‘Whenever, If Ever,’ at 196 on the Billboard 200, indicating that this new wave of bands may be on to something, and the world of alternative music may soon have to start paying attention to emo again. I sat down with band member Greg Horbal to talk about the album.
I hear from some reputable sources that you’re know within the band as “Shitty Greg.”How did you get that nickname?
It’s funny, I went to dinner with my friend last night and he told me the “Shitty” Greg thing has gone too far. I don’t remember, probably because I made people do stuff they didn’t want to do. I was always the one doing stuff, and you’ve got to fight sometimes to get things done. I’m less shitty and more just doing what I’m supposed to do in the band.
With the time that’s passed since you put out your first full-length LP in May, what do you think of the impact that it’s had? I remember one of the first reviews I read of it from Under The Gun gave it a 10/10, which shows that people are really starting to take the band seriously.
Yeah, it’s cool, but I think we’re all over the record, just because we were recording it for so long. I think for anyone it’s like, you make something, then you’re ready to move on to the next thing. It’s awesome that people like it a lot, but we’re all ready to just move on to the next thing now. We’re going to be touring a lot for the rest of the year, but I think we’re going to start working on a lot of new records, so we’re excited to do that and excited for people to hear the new stuff.
Has your success resulted in taking the band more seriously yourselves?
We all quit our jobs to do this before the record, and we all knew that this is what we were going to be doing for a while. We’re pretty damn serious about it now; we’re going to see how far we can go with this. It’s still fun. If it weren’t fun, we wouldn’t want to do it anymore. Even with how serious we’re taking it, everything is still wildly stressful, but that pays off in the return you get from making art that people like. That’s the part that’s worth it.
Do you have any plans for EPs or splits in the near future, or has the experience of making an album taken a while to recuperate from? I believe I heard some talk about compiling your EPs into one LP at some point soon.
We were talking about compiling the EPs, we might do that when we go to Europe. Topshelf still has a lot of covers printed out for the early stuff, so we’ve got to get rid of those before we do the collection thing. But we’ll probably end up doing that down the line. We might even just do that as a European release, that’s something I was going to look into. That collection is definitely happening in Japan on Stiff Slack Records at some point, I just don’t know when. For newer stuff, we’re probably going to do an ambient record for our friend Chris Zizzamia who does spoken word with us sometimes. We’re going to do a split 7” series, which will be the next thing we start to hammer out. We’re supposed to do a split 7” with Into It. Over It. where we both cover Minor Threat songs, and we’re doing another LP. So we’ve got a lot of stuff to work on. The LP will probably be the last thing. We’ll probably just start writing and then decide where each thing is going to go.
The lineup of the band seems to be subject to frequent change. Has that contributed more to the creative spirit and having a really dynamic sound? Do you have more problems with focus and direction?
The LP took so long because the lead singer of the band Tom (Diaz) was running into a lot of medical issues. It was really hard for him to be on the road and practice for a while. We were getting ready to tour last year, and at the last minute he had to cancel the entire thing. He had to step down after that because he felt he was holding the band back. He still helped record on a lot of the record, and our new guy Dave (Bello, lead vocals) is also on it, I sing a lot on that record, Katie (Shanholtzer-Dvorak, keyboards) and Derrick (Shanholtzer-Dvorak, guitar) also do. It’s kind of a smorgasbord of everybody. It’s kind of a transition for us. We’ve never done an 8-piece band before – there’s actually 10 people that play on the record. It was written as the group that we were during the split. The way the writing goes, no one ever comes in with a fully written song. People work in a coupe small groups to come up with a general idea. Having so many people changes the direction for sure, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. It keeps everything flowing, and I feel that as the unit that we are now, we’re the most focused that we’ve ever been.
Is there equal input from everybody, including the newest members, or are there primary songwriters?
Julia (Peters, Cello) for example, didn’t write anything. She wasn’t really in the band at the time the record was written and recorded. Same with the horn players on the record. The core band that worked on writing that record are the same people who have always been in the band from the beginning. In the future we’re going to be incorporating a lot more instrumentation as we write as opposed to writing as just a rock group, so we want to try different things constantly. We’re going to try to be very experimental in the writing process.
What do you think was the biggest difference in the songwriting process for this album as opposed to past releases?
Just how long it took, there’s no other difference. With everything that was going on, we almost broke up a couple times, as people just became more disinterested than they had been in the past. There were a lot of times where we thought we were never going to finish the record. Lyrics were not written for a very long time, which was different. That’s what really held everything up. We had all the instrumentation done, but the adding of the keyboards and vocals usually comes later, and that was really delayed. Also, almost everybody contributed to writing keyboard parts for this record, and same with vocal parts. There was a very communal sense going on. There were a lot of long nights with the people who sang on the record just working together in a room and working to get happy with what we had.
For the screaming parts, was there one person who was mainly contributing that, or were there several people contributing to that?
Derrick does a lot of the screaming. I usually sing, but I screamed the parts on “Getting Sodas.” The basic ideas for that were mine, screaming-wise, and Derrick helped there with the lyrics. In the end, I just sounded better doing it because I knew exactly how it wanted to sound, but generally Derrick does that. But now I understand why he doesn’t like screaming: it hurts. It sucks!
So if someone has an idea for something, they generally just go for it themselves?
Well, that’s true sometimes. But, for example, the vocals in the first part of “You Will Never Go To Space,” I wrote, but Dave ends up singing them, because he was just better at it. It’s less of a selfish thing and more like, “You’re better at this, so you should do it.” Everything is very communal. We do whatever is in the best interests of the group. There’s no set rule for what we do, we just do whatever feels best.
What would you say is your favorite part of the album?
This record was very stressful the entire time, so it was just nice having it finished. We had a really big snow storm in Connecticut. We got 3 feet of snow, and we got held up at my house, which was covered in snow, with myself, John from the band Dads, Julia, and Chris Teti our trumpet player. Just before that, I had the record sent to me. It was nice to have the finished product in my hands. Just being stuck inside that day listening to the record felt like the culmination of that whole process. I feel like anything we make from here on out won’t be anywhere near as stressful. There’s not going to be a feeling that we could break up at any moment before we finish recording the next thing because we’re all so frustrated with how it’s coming along. So it’ll be nice to continue on and have more of a level head about everything.
Does it feel like whenever things get so stressful, you start to ask yourself why you’re doing this at all?
I don’t agree with that necessarily. Nothing easy is worth doing. My girlfriend was just talking to me about this, how she’d never really taken college seriously until she’d started taking some really hard classes, which motivated her to feel like “I’m going to kick this thing in the ass!” I think that’s a good approach to anything. Work is more rewarding when you’re pushing yourself. Especially when it comes to something you love to do, and this is something we all love to do. And we’re not going to be a band that puts out the same record six times, every time, we’re hopefully going to challenge ourselves to do something new.
I heard you’re filming a music video, can you talk about that a little?
We’re filming it right now! I’m in Philadelphia right now, but tomorrow I’m driving back to my hometown to this quarry, where there’s just going to be people jumping off of cliffs. That should be a good time. We’re going to rent an underwater camera so we can get some cool shots of people hitting the water. It’s for the song “Low Light Assembly.” Alex Henry who works for Run For Cover Records is going to be directing the video. He’s my roommate. I’m pretty excited to do it. I like everything that he’s done, especially that Daylight video he just did (for their song “Life In A Jar” from the album ‘Jar’), fucking great.
What are some bands you’re listening to a lot lately? Are they an influence on any songs you may be writing?
We’ve all kind of taken a mental vacation from actively writing right now. I don’t think most of us have even seen each other since we got back from our summer tour, so we’re seeing each other for the first time next week, and after that we’ll really start writing again. Personally, I’ve been listening to a lot of The Minutemen. Some other stuff would be, like, Gonjasufi, who’s been awesome lately, Built To Spill, Modest Mouse. I’ve been listening to this Connecticut band called Ovlov, who are this grungy, nasty band. They’re recordings are pretty lo-fi, but it’s awesome. I’ve been listening to a lot of Pile, and this band who’ve put out a new record, they’re called Porches. Their album is called ‘Slow Dance In The Cosmos.’ It just went up on Stereogum, it’s awesome, so I’ve been listening to that a lot. The new Pity Sex album (‘Dark World’), and the new Dads album (‘American Radass’), and Topshelf just did a record for this UK band called Crash Of Rhinos (‘Knots’), and it’s fucking phenomenal. Julia Brown, Teen Suicide, both really good. Radiator Hospital from Philadelphia, put out a record called ‘Something Wild,’ and it’s awesome. We’re going to be playing with the band Toe soon, so I’ve been listening to a lot of that. A lot of Do Make Say Think. Everyone else in the band are huge Brand New fans except me, and we’re going on tour with them soon, so I’ve been listening to their album ‘The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me’ a bunch, and I’m really into it, so I’m excited to play with them now, it should be a great time. Also the Pixies. I went on a trip to Vermont recently, and every store or establishment I went to, they were either playing the Pixies or Built To Spill, and that was awesome, so that made me go on a real serious Pixies kick.
Speaking of Brand New, you’ve got some shows coming up with them next month, and they’re a band that are part of what many call the third wave of emo, whereas you’re part of the so-called fourth wave. What would you say the connection is between third wave bands like that and fourth wave bands like The World Is, or do fourth wave bands tend to ignore the third wave and go straight to second wave bands?
This is a generalization, but a lot of people in the fourth wave scene tend to do the Kinsella thing (Tom and Mike Kinsella were members of influential second wave emo bands Cap’n Jazz, Joan Of Arc, and American Football, among others); the finger tapping, the twinkling sound, and all that kind of stuff. We draw influence from that too, but we’ve also take serious influence from Brand New. Everyone but me is a huge fan of that band, I was the nerd who was listening to ska when I was growing up. But those bands all played a big influence on us growing up. At this point we’re not really trying to replicate anybody. We just listen to what we feel like. When you’re in a band you take influence from everything you’re listening to, and in our little fourth-wave emo scene, the bands that are going to be remembered are the ones that aren’t trying to replicate any one band.
In the fourth wave, there’s been criticism about how bands are too focused on the past and take too much from the bands that influenced them. How do you guys think you’re innovating, as opposed to just being an “emo revival” band?
We just kind of make whatever we like. That’s really as simple as it comes down to. We just try to write a song and hope nobody thinks it sucks. Just add a delay pedal to it!
Indie labels like Topshelf seem to place a lot of importance on putting out releases on vinyl. How does the vinyl format continue to be relevant in the digital age? Is it a crucial part of who you are as a band?
We all just like to collect records. It’s something we’re all happy to have. But it really just makes more sense when it comes down to it to have the digital format. I don’t have every record that I like on vinyl. You can have a year’s worth of music on your computer as opposed to having vinyl take up two rooms in your house. But at the same time it’s nice to have that whole package. I still listen to vinyl records regularly, and I enjoy it. I think of myself as a music enthusiast, music is wildly important to me, and for people like me, it’s nice to have that physical representation. I like to just eat dinner and put on a record, or go do some work and listen to a record while I’m doing it. I don’t know if releasing on vinyl is something we’ll be doing forever. I’m sure at some point it will no longer be logical, but we’ll see. There’s really no way to tell.
Does the sequencing of your records happen with vinyl in mind (side A and side B having certain musical schemes, for example)?
Both ‘Whenever, If Ever’ and ‘Josh Is Dead’ were done that way, although ‘Josh Is Dead’ was done a little more poorly. There’s a song called “blank #6” that’s on both sides. It starts on side A, then fades out, and when you flip the record it finishes. And the delay between part two of that song and ‘Be Neon With Me’ is not as instantaneous as it should have been, so if we ever press that again we’ll fix that. But ‘Whenever, If Ever’ was done very consciously. The record has a very serious flow to it, and everything was done with the idea of “this is how it’s going to be on the LP.” The last few songs on side A run together, and side B is pretty seamless for the most part. The transitions were worked out so you listen to the album as one whole thing. When we got the test pressing for the album, the song “The Layers Of Skin We Drag Around” was on side B when it was supposed to be on side A, and it was really frustrating, because we felt that if we didn’t approve that pressing, the record wouldn’t be ready for the tour. So Topshelf made 500 retail copies of the incorrect pressing, and every other copy has the songs sequenced correctly. But I think it’s very important to have an LP flow, and I like it when bands do that.
What does the future hold for The World Is?
We just want to see how long we can do this for. We all quit our jobs, so we’re all entrenched in this, and I work at Topshelf booking tours for bands. I was a civil engineer before this, and I had to make a decision to throw away my stable life and be a child for a little bit longer. But it’s fun, nobody else I know does this, so I’m happy to be doing it. I’ve always wanted to do this, we all have, and the chance is finally here, so we’re taking advantage of it while we can.
Do you have any advice for up-and-coming bands who want to follow in your footsteps?
Write music that you like, play shows, make friends, don’t have any serious aspirations in mind, and just see what happens. If it’s going to work, it’s going to work. We all played in bands that went nowhere, but they were fun anyway. As long as you’re making art that you enjoy, it really shouldn’t matter other than that.
Anything else you’d like to add?
We’re going on tour again soon, and hopefully you can all see us and it doesn’t suck!