As I Lay Dying: Revisit Revolver's 2010 Feature Story
Former As I Lay Dying vocalist Tim Lambesis was recently sentenced to six years in prison for his involvement in a murder-for-hire plot targeting his estranged wife, Meggan. This story, which discusses Lambesis' adoption one of his children, originally ran in Revolver's May/June 2010 issue and was written by Christopher R. Weingarten.
As I Lay Dying wanted to get Tom Hanks’ attention. “Hey, Tom! Tom! Tom! Tom!” yelled lead guitarist Nick Hipa. It was 2008 and four of the five members of the San Diego metalcore riot starters were on the floor of Los Angeles’ Staples Center attending the 50th Annual Grammy Awards. When Hanks walked by, Hipa brashly got his attention and received a friendly wave for his troubles.
The band had been dark-horse nominees for Best Metal Performance alongside the likes of Machine Head and King Diamond. Their seats were, quite promisingly, located near the aisle where the evening’s presenters were ambling to the stage. Although they didn’t end up walking home with an award, they made the best of their time at the event. “We were real excited about it, so we just got out of hand,” recounts drummer Jordan Mancino. “Anytime someone would walk by, we would yell their name until they turned around and said hello. Rihanna was walking towards the stage, Nick started yelling and she turned around and gave a little wave—then she turned around and gave him a double take! We think she was feeling Nick.”
Long, ridiculous story short, As I Lay Dying is a band that wants to be heard, a band that believes in the voice of the little guy, a band that doesn’t mind being loud and obnoxious to get its points across. Their fifth album, aptly titled The Powerless Rise, delivers those messages with the subtlety of a swarm of bees. And the truth is, that while their 2007 bid, An Ocean Between Us, made them Grammy nominees, Billboard Top 10 sensations, and Metal Blade’s biggest selling act, As I Lay Dying are still little guys themselves, particularly in the Grammys’ world of mega pop stars. Within the world of heavy music however, As I Lay Dying’s latest opus might well make them timeless heroes.
The Powerless Rise raises the trademark AILD intensity to near breaking point. Mancino’s galloping double kicks rumble with piston-like insurgence; the guitars of Hipa and Phil Sgrosso reach near-deathcore levels of violence; the growled choruses are savage and the melodic choruses verge on ridiculous, somewhere between nu-emo wailing and the reflective end credits to a mid-’80s tearjerker. Atop it all, vocalist Tim Lambesis bellows fist-pumping chants that function as musings on personal growth: succinct, unforgettable slogans ready-made to graffiti the walls of your psyche: “We are not the same!” “This is a broken system!” “I see now!”
“I definitely fight for change but am doing it in a very nonpolitical way, because I think that the way we live and the choices that we make are more important than our politics,” Lambesis explains of his lyrics, which he can break down with a philosopher’s zeal. “The sooner we get used to life always changing, the happier we can be,” he says, nodding to The Powerless Rise song “The Only Constant Is Change.” “We can focus on the entire process of life being part of our joy, rather than reaching a consistent destination.”
Lambesis knows a little something about change on a personal level. Just last April he and his wife adopted their son Biruk, who is now 2-year-old. The couple, having talked about adopting for a while, decided to go where there was the greatest need. Ethiopia currently has an estimated five million orphans, more than half of whom are parent-less as a result of the AIDS epidemic. Lambesis prefers to keep the specific details of how Biruk—whose name is Ethiopian for “blessing”—ended up at the orphanage private but admits that his son’s situation was especially dire. “He was literally at that point where if he wasn’t taken in, he might not have survived because of the extreme poverty,” the singer says. “He was as close to malnourished as you could get. The only nutrients in his body were going to his brain. His actual body was basically bare bones.”
After a tangled six-month process, the agency in Ethiopia finally said Lambesis could pick him up, requiring him to cut a few dates off an As I Lay Dying run. “He was terrified of me at first because I don’t think there were any male caretakers in the orphanage,” Lambesis says. “He was like, Who the hell is this guy? I tried to present myself as nice and friendly as I can be. I don’t want to scare little kids by being the stereotypical metal dude.”
Once they grew comfortable together, Lambesis traveled around the capital city of Addis Ababa, visiting other orphanages to fully grasp the breadth and depth of the crisis. “That was one of the coolest experiences I ever had because of the perspective on life that it gave me,” Lambesis says. “When I was growing up, whenever I wanted to be reminded of how blessed I am, I would go on a trip to Tijuana or Mexicali, both border towns right below San Diego. But Ethiopia made Tijuana look like Beverly Hills. It’s crazy. The poverty that people live under in Ethiopia, you think it would be so discouraging, but everybody we met were extremely filled with joy. Which is kind of bizarre compared to how I would react if I was in those circumstances.”
When he returned from Africa with his son, Lambesis focused on his new family; as a result, As I Lay Dying logged their lightest tour schedule in the eight years since releasing their debut, Beneath the Encasing of Ashes. On the rare occasion when As I Lay Dying did tour, like their springtime trek with Lamb of God and Children of Bodom, Lambesis brought the fam with him.
“We converted the back lounge [of our bus] into a little family zone,” he says proudly. “My wife, a crib, and I packed into the back lounge. We could barely shut the door, but it worked out. Biruk loves it. He gets more attention on the road than anywhere, because there’s 11 dudes living on a bus and none of them ever see kids. Everybody’s down to hang out.” Adds, Mancino, “It’s a lot different than a bunch of dudes, old and smelly. You gotta be more conscious about leaving things on the ground… Randy [Blythe] from Lamb of God gave a shout-out to Biruk onstage, which was sweet.”
Needless to say, Lambesis’ new son and his time in Africa were a huge influence on the lyrics to The Powerless Rise, especially on the opening war cry “Beyond Our Suffering.” Explains Lambesis with his usual zen-like aplomb, “Problems solve themselves when we look beyond our own suffering. The more I focus on trying to solve somebody else’s problems, the more my own problems just kind of disappear.” He continues to describe how other tracks tackle big issues, occasionally sounding like a monk who’s fond of the word “gnarly.” The inspirational chug of “Parallels” is about American over consumption and his desires to live simpler. “Upside Down Kingdom” features the album’s title line, and explores society’s backwards ways. “Things we would normally view as good within society, the opposite is actually better. Humility is better than pride; simplicity is better than excess. The quest for power is actually what’s enslaving,” Lambesis explains. “It’s not overly spiritual or religious, but the whole idea comes from Jesus’ teachings that the meek will inherit the earth.”
It’s easy to forget that As I Lay Dying are a Christian band since there’s nothing preachy in their lyrics, no proselytizing in their interviews. Conversely, the band has spent nearly 10 years hobnobbing in the devoutly devil-’n’-death world of extreme metal and has, perhaps shockingly, encountered very few confrontations regarding their beliefs. The ride hasn’t exactly been smooth, though. “I think some people aren’t used to the word ‘Christian’ and the word ‘metal’ being put together,” says Mancino. Adds Lambesis, “One of the top conversations we’ve had on that is with the guys in Behemoth. They’re very anti-religious. They actually said something that surprised me: ‘Well, based on what we understand about Christianity, being from Poland, we don’t think that you guys are Christians.’ They just didn’t believe that we were actually Christians, it’s such a weird concept to them. The judgmental side of Christianity that metal has been so ‘anti’ since its inception doesn’t really exist in our band.”
Without judgment or missionary agenda, As I Lay Dying are intent on taking their music and message worldwide. While working with producer (and Killswitch Engage guitarist) Adam Dutkiewicz on The Powerless Rise last year, the band took a recording break in December to be one of the first metal groups to play Sri Lanka, a one-off gig organized by their webmaster where they playing in the middle of a torrential downpour to roughly 2,000 people. “I don’t know how many times power went out during sound check,” says Mancino. “After the Sri Lankan flight, travel days don’t even matter. Traveling to Europe doesn’t even bother me anymore after that.”
In 2010, they take their first trip to New Zealand, followed by a headlining American trek with Demon Hunter and Bless The Fall. In between it all, they’ve managed to squeeze in an awards-show appearance, performing at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards in Los Angeles—where they had the opportunity to yell, “Hey, Lemmy! Lemmy! Lemmy! Lemmy!” to their hearts’ content.
For all of these travels, Lambesis plans to bring Biruk, who will likely see more of the world by elementary school than many people see in their whole lives. As for whether he’s got a future headbanger on his hands, Lambesis reports that his toddler reacts to punk and metal by running around in circles, but responds best to Metallica’s “Black Album” and Bob Marley. “He’s got some moves for a little guy,” says Lambesis. The same thing might be said of his band.