Interview: Guitarist Ben Connett of The Dead Lay Waiting Discusses Gear and 'Almost Heaven'
The Dead Lay Waiting -- a five-piece metal band from Swindon, England -- have had a busy 2011. Their second full-length studio album, Almost Heaven, came out in the UK in June -- and it's slated for a January 24 release in the US.
After appearing at the Download Festival in England and juggling dates on a European tour, TDLW guitarist Ben Connett took the time to discuss success, musical growth and the process of becoming heartthrobs in the world of metal.
GUITAR WORLD: At what age did you first pick up your instruments?
I started off on bass when I was about 11. Steve Harris from Iron Maiden was my idol at the time and I played solidly for about two years. But I quickly got bored of being limited to four strings and moved to guitar at 13. I started playing about five to six hours a day by myself, just practicing and learning Metallica and Maiden songs.
Who did you grow up listening to, and who is influencing you now?
My dad got me into Black Sabbath when I was about 10. I soon stumbled upon bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica and Pantera just by going to this old record store we used to have that sold old magazines. I used to go there every Saturday, buy a handful of them and go home and research these bands. It was a very organic way of getting into music since there was no YouTube or Spotify to endlessly search whatever you wanted. If i wanted to hear something, I'd go out and find it! My brother and I would go on "band hunts" and show each other what we came across. That's how I got into black metal, hardcore and hip-hop.
I'm really enjoying the new Mastodon album, The Hunter. I think it's my album of the year. My old band got to support them for a show and we hung out with them afterwards. They were the nicest guys I've ever met, which I think adds to the enjoyment of listening to them. I also can't turn off Tesseract's album, One. It's so difficult yet sounds so fluid and simple. That to me displays great musicianship and songwriting. Kvelertak's album is also another current favorite. There are far too many good riffs on that album, and Kurt Ballou's production is spot on.
What was your primary inspiration for this album?
My inspiration when we were writing this album was having to work a job I hated for eight hours a day and then coming to practice and writing to get my anger out! Musically, I was listening to a lot of Killswitch and Opeth around the time of writing.
Who produced Almost Heaven, and who would you most want to work with in the future?
It was a joint effort. Mark Daghorn oversaw the whole operation. Guitars, bass and vocals were primarily recorded by us. We, as a band, got a production credit on the album, which was very fulfilling. Outhouse Studios mixed and mastered the recording. They've worked with Enter Shikari, You Me at Six and Architects, so we were very excited to have our names attached to the studio.
Classical and metal seem to mesh unexpectedly well in the modern rock scene. There are some orchestral elements on the new album. What inspired that? Do you see that as a possible signature in future recordings?
I'm a big fan of classical arrangement. It covers so much more sonically than a standard guitar, drums, bass and vocal setup. The dynamic it adds is unique, and I think metal and classical go hand in hand. It wouldn't really work on a pop-punk song, but with metal it just seems to fit. I'd love to do it again, but I'd like to spread out to new elements. I love electronic music, too, so maybe combining the two in the future? Maybe that'd just be silly.
Songs such as “The Decaying King” and “Burnt to Ashes” are merciless and heavy. What tunings did you use for Almost Heaven?
The whole album is in drop-B tuning (B F# B E G# C#). I'm not really sure why we chose this tuning, but it works for Slipknot! We're debating tuning down in future, not for the sake of heaviness but for the sake of vocal range. It's something we never really considered to start with but some of the songs are much easier to sing in A sharp as opposed to B. But it's still early days with this idea.
What gear did you use?
I use a Peavey 6505 through an Orange PPC412A cabinet with Celestion Vintage 30s. It's a standard setup, but there's a reason for that. It works! It's never failed me and always sounds amazing. I use mainly Boss pedals (NS2 Noise Suppressor, DD3 and DD6 Digital Delays, RV5 Digital Reverb and the TU2 Tuner) with a Maxon 808 overdrive pedal and a BBE sonic maximizer. I use mixture of guitars ranging from a Dean ML, Gibson SG, Fender '73 Custom Telecaster and an RG series Ibanez.
Describe your overall writing process and how the songs came together for this album.
The songs were written in two groups, our old guitarist James with our drummer Tom and me at home making demos and sending them around for input. We spent a lot of time in the practice room going over the songs and playing them live. I don't think there's a single song on the album that's the same as it was when it was first written.
Since the release in June, what has been the crowd response to Almost Heaven? What songs other than “The Days I’m Gone” and “Burnt to Ashes” really get the crowd going? Any personal favorites?
The crowds have been noticeably bigger. It's refreshing to see lots of young kids at a show, because I remember being 13 and sneaking into shows I was too young to be at, so I give them all the time in the world if they want to speak to me because that's what I'd have wanted at their age. A personal favorite of mine to play live is 'Take Me Away.' It's needlessly heavy and has a big dumb chanty chorus that even if you haven't heard before you can scream along to. And there's a really fun tapping part that I get to play over that as well.
Do you ever receive any sort of criticism for being so successful at such a young age?
It's usually positive. It shows that this is our life and it's all we do and people respect that. We played a show with Biohazard for a Metal Hammer Awards show and they were really into it, which was surprising considering the different types of music we play, where we came from and the age difference. The unity of metal speaks volumes when things like that happen.
How do you feel you’ve changed since your first EP in 2007?
Massively. I wasn't even in the band then! We've matured at such a drastic rate that I'd like to think we're unrecognizable from that EP.
Any plans for a U.S. tour in support of the January release of Almost Heaven?
Hopefully. I'm sure you'll hear as soon as something occurs.
Any last tidbits you’d wish to share?
Keep an eye out for the guest appearance on the title track of the album. Let's just say he's only been on an Iron Maiden album and no others until us. Let's see if you notice it!
Visit The Dead Lay Waiting’s website for more information on tour dates, videos and upcoming releases.