Dear Guitar Hero: As I Lay Dying’s Phil Sgrosso and Nick Hipa Talk Gear, Tattoos, Sandwich Punching and More
Nick, I read you’re an avid surfer. What are some of your favorite breaks, and do you take any boards on tour with you? — Jack Shea
HIPA I never brought a board with me on tour, because we don’t really have time to surf. But once we got to surf in Australia, which was really cool. When we’re home, our favorite breaks are in Oceanside: the harbor, the pier and the secret spots in South Oceanside. Phil surfs, too, out in Carlsbad. That’s one of the perks of living by the coast: our local breaks are our favorite breaks.
Do you still play the “Sandwich Game,” where you punch each other’s unattended sandwiches? — Brendan Van Wichen
HIPA We actually retired from playing the Sandwich Game in 2009. We were in Philly, and Phil punched my cheesesteak, and I got super bent because I’m like, “A cheesesteak isn’t a sandwich!” Because it wasn’t fully open; it was scooped out, like a pita or something. So we got into this argument that lasted an hour and led to genuine aggression and swearing. [laughs] All the other guys in the band could not believe we were getting so heated. It was a miserable time, and we both decided the Sandwich Game wasn’t fun anymore.
SGROSSO We still like to play pranks, but it depends on who our crew is. We had this tour manager, and we would zip-tie his shoes together or zip-tie him to a pole. [laughs]
HIPA Oh, here’s another example of our immature humor. We were on tour and staying at the home of a friend who had these gross, really graphic porn mags. We were flying home the next day, so Phil took a Coke can and taped a few of the pages from the porno mag around the can. At the airport, we distracted our friend and slipped the can of Coke into his carry-on bag. So he goes through security and we’re all on the other side laughing at him while the security guys ask him, “Sir, do you have any liquids or gels in your bag?” Then they open up his bag and find the can with the most foul, vulgar pictures ever. [laughs] Our friend was instantly humiliated and red in the face. Luckily for him, and us, TSA had a sense of humor that day.
Nick, it seems like you and Tim have really gotten into working out. Do you think it helps you be a better guitarist? — Jeremy
HIPA We started getting pretty serious about health and fitness about two years ago. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two oldest guys in the band are also the ones that decided to start taking care of themselves. [laughs] Tim does more of a bodybuilding-type workout, where I do more of a CrossFit-style [core strength and conditioning] thing. I’ve found it really helps my headspace. The CrossFit stuff is so miserable and physically challenging that when you push yourself through it, everything else in life seems easier.
I saw you guys at Mayhem Fest, and you sounded amazing! Can you tell me what your guitar and amp setups were? — Tyné Diek
HIPA My setup is pretty minimal. It’s a [Fractal Audio] Axe-Fx II [guitar processor] and a Matrix GT1000 power amp through a Mesa cab. You can really create any sound you can imagine with that setup. I played an arsenal of custom Ibanez ARTs with Edge Pro bridges, and Ibanez Destroyers and RGs with Seymour Duncan pickups. I also use DR Strings and the small jazz-style In Tune guitar picks.
SGROSSO I also use the Axe-Fx with the 5150 setting. I usually run it through an EVH power amp. I play PRS guitars with EMG-81 pickups and DR Strings, but lately I’ve been checking out Charvel. They’ve got some nice guitars and they’re local to Southern California, which is closer to home.