Dear Guitar Hero: As I Lay Dying’s Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa Talk Gear, Tattoos, Sandwich Punching and More
They’re the six-string duo behind one of metalcore’s biggest bands, and they used to like to punch each other’s sandwiches. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is …
The guitar work on your new album, Awakened, is awesome. What was the hardest song for you guys to write, guitar-wise? — Viking Nilsson
PHIL SGROSSO It was probably “Wasted Words.” [Bassist] Josh [Gilbert] came up with the original song idea, and then Nick, Josh and I revised it. It was the one song where we all really came together and gave it a collective effort.
NICK HIPA That was also the song we were the least prepared for, going into the studio. A lot of the guitar parts and arrangements were in question. We weren’t even sure if it was gonna make the record. Then when we finally hashed it out, it was like, This song is sick! But of all the songs, it was the most cumbersome to pull together.
You guys have some awesome tattoos. Who did your work and what’s your favorite piece? — Charlotte M.
SGROSSO Several of us have tattoos by Tod Bain from San Diego. Actually he’s in Fort Worth, Texas, now. [Vocalist] Tim [Lambesis] has the most tattoos, and he goes to 454 Tattoo in San Diego.
HIPA I pretty much only go to Tod, and Jasmine Wright from Buju Tattoo. I don’t know about Phil, but my favorite tattoo is the [Iron Maiden] “The Trooper” album artwork that Phil has on his calf. It’s not my tattoo, but I’m proud of it! [laughs] It looks so good.
SGROSSO Tod Bain did that one. “The Trooper” was the first Iron Maiden song I ever heard, and I instantly knew they were gonna be one of my favorite bands for the rest of my life.
I’m an atheist, and I really like how you’re honest about your Christian beliefs without pushing them on people. But I’m wondering, would you ever not play with a certain band because of their beliefs—say a satanic black metal band? — John Freeman
HIPA I don’t think we would ever not play with bands because of what we think they believe or what they think we believe. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions and beliefs. What I’ve come to find is that no matter who we’re touring with, we end up getting along fine because we have a lot in common. We love metal, and we also end up liking the same shows and hanging out and drinking beer or whatever. I’ve found it’s more about focusing on what you have in common rather than what you don’t. I think it’s a testament to the openness of the metal community that we’ve gotten along great with the majority of bands we’ve ever toured with.
Random question: What’s on your bucket list? Swimming with sharks? Playing onstage with Slayer? — Jessica Dykstra
HIPA Hmm… I’m pretty sure I’ve already done both! [laughs] Well, I’m sure I’ve played with Slayer a bunch. And unfortunately I’ve probably been swimming with sharks without knowing it. I surf a lot, and I sometimes wonder, What’s going on down there? What’s that swimming past my feet? [laughs]
SGROSSO For me, it’s probably just seeing bands that I’ve grown up listening to. Like we just went to see Roger Waters perform The Wall. We were in the studio in Colorado, but had tickets for his show in San Diego. So we flew down for a night to see it. It was incredible and very inspiring. It was perfect timing to help get our own creative juices flowing.
HIPA Oh, I wanna add one to my bucket list, in case there’s someone out there that wants to make my wildest dreams come true. I really want be on that show Wipeout! [laughs] Actually, I don’t even have to be on the show; I just want be able to run through all the obstacle courses with the bouncy soapy rubber balls, pools of water and foamy things swinging around. It looks like the best time ever! I’ve actually submitted an online application to be on the show, but I never heard back. So if anyone knows anyone, help me hook it up!
My band and I are having the hardest time finding legitimate booking agents and management. Most we find are scams. Do you have any experience with shady industry stuff? — Mike Fitzpatrick
SGROSSO We’re fortunate, because we all think a lot about the decisions we make and who we want to work with. We’ve seen other bands have a lot of issues, but we’ve been fortunate to find people that we’re all comfortable working with.
HIPA When this band was starting out, nobody was willing to do the work for us. Everyone in the band had to play the role of the management team. Our bass player was tour managing, Tim was taking calls, and everyone played a roll. There is something to be said for creating your own success and making things happen for yourself. If you think a certain person is gonna make everyone like your band and make you bigger, you’re really just giving a lot of control to someone. And a lot of times people can take advantage of that. Just be as creative and hardworking as you can be, and I think it will pay off and be more rewarding than just hoping that someone will show up and do it all for you.