With so much music at our fingertips, it can take years for a band to fully develop and become the legend in the making that fans grow to know and love. Escape The Fate was started up in 2004 in the Las Vegas, NV area and while the only original founding member remaining is drummer Robert Ortiz, Escape The Fate has only become better and seems they finally have the perfect fit with the additions of Craig Mabbitt on vocals, Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft on lead guitar and TJ Bell on bass guitar and their newly released album Hate Me has been consistently on the Hard Rock Album Billboard Charts since its’ October 30, 2015 release hitting the #2 spot on the week of November 21st. Throughout the years, Escape The Fate had many hit songs and grew an amazing fan base but with the current line-up and their new album, they have simply reached a new realm in their career that will continue upwards.
After seeing Escape The Fate for the first time this past January when they opened for In This Moment at the Schecter NAMM after party and then catching their second to last show of 2015 in Hollywood, it was a true pleasure to have the opportunity to sit down for a phone interview with bass guitarist TJ Bell. When asked how the tour has been and what is running through his mind on the last night of the tour, Bell tells us “the grass is always greener. I wish I could go home for about a week and the do another month of touring. All of the guys on this tour have been super awesome and they have been great to tour with but with our new record just coming out, I wish we could continue to tour and not have two months off because I don’t know if it will be a bad thing and I want to keep the momentum going and I wish we could have started the tour a little closer to the release date but it will be good.” He lists some of the songs from their newest album that he most enjoys playing live especially The Terrible Children because it’s the heaviest song and has a bounce to it the whole way through. “It’s a fun one to play” Bell says. “Remember Every Scar is a big ballad and has the soaring choruses and has everyone’s fists in the air so it is one of my favorites. They’re all fun to play.” When we attended the show at the Whisky the night before, as we stood in the audience, at one point a gentleman standing close by suddenly ran up onstage and dove right into the audience. At first, we thought it was a roadie going up to help the band with something but that wasn’t the case and it was quite cool in all honesty. “That happens a lot” Bell exclaims. “I remember shows back in the day where people would actually catch each other but today everyone just goes right to the floor and it sucks.” Nowadays with iphones, people are more inclined to be filming the band and snapping selfies than to catch the beloved stage diver. With a chuckle, Bell says “I know who you’re talking about. I thought it was one of our crew members too and then I was trying to figure out who it was but it was awesome. I thought at first it was Matt, our merch guy but it wasn’t.” When it comes to practicing their screamo vocals, Bell confesses he doesn’t practice. Even when they ask him to do a sound check, he prefers not to and says it is not something he can randomly do. When he is in the moment during a show, it comes easy but aside from that, he would rather to save his voice. “It’s the weirdest thing, I think Craig is the same way. Once you’re up on stage, the energy is just there and you can feel it and it just happens.”
With the recent release of their newest album Hate Me and this being the first album that Bell really had a hand in writing on since his joining the band back in 2013, in comparison with the other albums, it is easy to see why he has a soft spot for this album. “This album we wrote it all collectively as a band and had a good time doing it. With our album Ungrateful we just had one guy writing and doing everything and if things didn’t go his way, he would get pissed off and he wasn’t open to any suggestions or ideas from any of us. That’s not how a band should be and with the new record, we all put blood, sweat and tears into it and we all heard each other out. Even if someone wrote something that wasn’t really cool, we still worked with it rather than telling them it sucks. We would just say okay and then see how we could change it to make it better. Kevin and I got together everyday for two months before we even went into the studio and we would just work from 11 in the morning until 11 at night and just power through, come up with some vocal stuff and some riffs and then whatever we couldn’t come up with vocally, we would send to Craig of course and Robert even sent over some songs that he wrote and I didn’t even know that guy could even play guitar so he actually wrote one of the songs off of the record called Just A Memory and Kevin of course wrote the shreddy part in the beginning but I had no clue Robert could play guitar and it was awesome. We just had a lot of fun this time around.” It varies between artists but some like the fact that fans can get free music and some have different feelings. Bell tells us how he wishes that things were more like in the 80’s when people bought music and that it is really hard these days. “Most of our money comes from touring and merchandise” Bell continues. “We have to tour our asses off to keep things going.” Speaking of touring, which bands would he like to play with? Motley Crue for one but unfortunately they are playing their last tour now but another band that Bell is fond of that he would like to do shows with is the band HIM. “I am not sure if it would be a weird concert bill or not but it would be really cool if we had the chance” Bell concludes.
For anyone who has been to an Escape The Fate show, the energy level and the loyalty of their fans is through the roof. Both of the times we have seen them play, nearly every single person, if not everyone was singing along to every song, jumping and up and down, banging their heads and completely tuned into every note they sang and every chord they played. Fans are everything to a band and with their show in Hollywood being one day after the terrorist attacks in Paris, one of which was at the Bataclan during an Eagles Of Death Metal concert, hearts were hanging heavily in the music industry and while the show must go on, it still affects other musicians in various ways, especially when they are touring abroad. Bell reveals “Yeah, that was horrible and it makes me think about how every time we go over to Europe, my Mom calls freaking out and worried and to be cautious about everything and I had told her they’re not targeting musicians and then we heard about what happened and it was such a shock and makes me worried now about when we go over there. We are scheduled to play in Europe in January/February and we have played that venue before. That could have been any of us, any of our fans. There is so much going on and we keep hearing about it and some of the other bands we know are even considering holding off on their shows over there just until things calm down.” There was undoubtedly a sense of unity at the show in Hollywood the night before and Bell says a part of it could be that with such a terrible tragedy, everyone is banding together, fans and musicians alike and supporting each other.
The third single off of the Hate Me album called Alive is not only one of the best songs on the album but there are two versions of the music video with one being like a short horror film. This was very interesting and Bell describes that it was their label’s idea and he actually likes the horror version of the video better than the original. “Filming Alive was a lot of fun” Bell raves. “Craig and Rage directed it. The duct tape thing was awesome. I don’t know how Craig managed to sing underwater. He was under for a verse and a chorus, then came back up. It was crazy.”
Prior to being in Escape The Fate, Bell was a member of the band Motionless In White for six years and it was a complete twist of fate that occurred in order for him to leave. “While while I was in Motionless in White, we were touring with Escape The Fate and then Max Green passed out on stage, pulled the whole rock star move and they took him off stage and then the next day the guys in Escape The Fate came up to me and asked if I could fill the spot and I agreed” Bell recalls. “I was doing two sets a night. One with Motionless In White and one with Escape The Fate and then during that tour, they invited me to go on and tour with them in Europe and Australia and while I didn’t want to leave the band I was in, I had been touring for so long and I really wanted to visit and play in those places and it was getting to the point where I had bills to pay and I needed to make a living and I wasn’t making a dime in Motionless so when the Escape The Fate guys offered me $100 bucks a week, I decided to join and I bonded with the guys and Craig is my best friend and the guys and I from Motionless had a fall out, it was just weird and it was a better fit for me in Escape The Fate. Not that there are any problems with the guys in Motionless, we are cool and I really respect those guys but I had to go where it suited me best.” Bell expresses how even the songwriting process is different. “Because I wasn’t given the opportunity to do any of the songwriting in Motionless, I really didn’t feel I was a part of the band most of the time, I felt more like a touring musician and I think that is the biggest reason I left and Escape The Fate welcomed me with open arms and the rest is history. When I first joined, I would give my ideas for the songs but once Monte left, Kevin and I did a majority of the writing for this new album. It was really great. We actually ended up having too much material, we just wrote and wrote and had a lot of fun doing it.” As far as how Escape The Fate got it’s name, Bell said that is a question best suited for one of the older members but jokingly he goes on to say “it is probably because we can’t escape the fate of getting screwed over by ex band members.”
Bell learned how to play guitar when he was 9 years old which was inspired by a family member who had a studio in the basement. When they got the chance, they would go in and just start playing music. Like a lot of incredibly talented musicians who are self taught, Bell had the natural instinct musically but eventually he took a few lessons once he decided that he wanted to play music for a living to understand how to play the guitar. He was also influenced when he went to see one of his favorite punk bands called The Unseen. “I saw the audience with their hands in the air, screaming the words to every single song and I thought to myself how I wanted to do that and so I did” Bell says. “It was at that point I joined Motionless In White and at the time they were just a four piece band but I wouldn’t say I have any influences per se. I know Kevin really likes John 5 and BB King. I wish I had those inspirations growing up but now I am going back in time and listening to artists from back in the day and just trying to continuously grow as a musician.” Well, it is paying off because Bell’s talent is exceptional and raw which is so important in rock music. As his career goes on, he has gone from being the fan in the audience watching in admiration to having people come up to him and say they are a fan. Sometimes it is surreal he tells us. “To know I am playing on the same stage as some of these guys I have followed is just incredible, it’s amazing, it’s so weird. To have the respect of other musicians, it is the ultimate proof that you have succeeded.” Bell’s advice to musicians just starting out is to be prepared. It is not an easy road and you have to give up your normal, everyday life and friendships and even relationships sometimes and become a road dog. Touring since he was 16 years old, he just says that you have to keep going and never give up. Music is Bell’s only option, he is all-in. There is nothing in this world he would rather do for a living. “You just have to go for it 100%” he says. “If you have something else to do, it is a set-up for failure. You just have to go in with both feet and make it happen.”
Having such direct communication with fans is both a blessing and a curse to most artists. While they enjoy being able to instantly interact with people, it is a constant battle to outdo yourself and keep the fans from getting bored and from fading into the abyss as an artist. These days, a majority of music fans in general have the on demand mentality when it comes to music and it is not always easy to keep their attention. In an essence, they pull the puppet strings and while it has its downside, Bell mentions that it goes with the territory and it is a part of life now in the music business.
Outside of music, Bell is a known Star Wars fan and with the new movie coming out, we couldn’t pass on asking him about his excitement. “I can’t wait” Bell exclaims. “I just hope it’s good. I have been playing all of the new video games actually and they aren’t as good as the older games like Star Wars The Old Republic and games like that where you can choose your own destiny. For the movie, it looks sick and I have heard some different rumors about the movie but I am just looking forward to it. I am sure it will be great.” Escape The Fate is hoping with their new album Hate Me that the opportunity arises to have their music in film soundtracks and even video games. Bell tells us how the song Let Me Be is the song they really want to market to music supervisors but it depends on their label. “We created the songs so it is up to them to make things happen. We do bring our ideas up to them but at the end of the day it is up to them.”
As time for their final show is quickly approaching and he is due for soundcheck and ready for a little R & R before they take the stage, especially after their requests for a shot of Jamison during their show the night before, Bell expresses how grateful he is to everyone who comes out to support them and encourages everyone to check out their new album. In early 2016, they will be back on the road touring in the UK and around Europe. To anyone reading this who has not yet seen Escape The Fate live or heard their music, check them out. This is one band that is on their way to great things….or should we say even greater. On any note, Escape The Fate is one band to keep on your radar. From all of the member changes over the years to recording their fifth studio album Hate Me in which there is one hit after another, they have managed to form a brotherhood that flows into their united audiences everywhere. Can’t wait to see where these guys go next in their musical journey.