Massachusetts rockers All That Remains have been at it for over fifteen years now. From 2002’s Behind Silence and Solitude to Madness (release date April 28, 2017), frontman Phil Labonte has been manning the microphone- saying and singing pretty much whatever he wants to. And although the band and Labonte have had their fair share of criticism through the years, that certainly hasn’t affected their success. In fact, their last album, 2015’s The Order of Things reached #3 on the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart, so they must be doing something right. Before the band hit the road in support of Madness, Phil Labonte took some time out to talk with Screamer about the music, fitness, and his outspoken personality.
Now, if you have ever taken a look at Labonte’s social media accounts, you know that he is both very active (responding to fans comments, plenty of Instagram posts) and very vocal. He is most definitely not afraid to share his opinions on any subject, even if the subject may be something controversial. Occasionally, some celebrities choose to keep their mouths shut on these topics. Or are TOLD to keep their mouth shut by management or the like. Thankfully, he says he hasn’t ever been told by a label executive or management to keep his opinions to himself: “I don’t get pressure to not be as vocal because very few people have any kind of outspoken opinions and when they do have outspoken opinions, they generally tend to be politically correct. So I don’t get pushback about voicing my opinions- I get pushback about the way I do. Because sometimes I’ll do stuff just to get people upset. I’ll say something just to get someone worked up. I mean, I’ll have reasoning behind what I say, but I will say it in a way that I know is going to cause a reaction. And it’s trolling, I know. And I’ve kind of reined the trolling in a lot lately, but it doesn’t change any of my opinions and I certainly don’t get counsel from management, or anything, saying,’You shouldn’t voice your opinions.’ I get, you know, ‘You shouldn’t say it THAT way, or you shouldn’t have been trying to poke at that guy about it.’ So that’s about it.”
And Labonte adds that there are couple of songs on the new album that speak to this very topic, particularly Louder and Never Sorry. He added,“Nowadays there’s a LOT of people that if you say the wrong thing or express the wrong opinion, they’ll go after your job. I mean, look at that scientist that wore the wrong shirt! I think it was when they landed a probe on a comet- like, real historic stuff! And then a whole bunch of people got mad at him because he was wearing a shirt that was a gift from his female friend. And people were calling him sexist because he wore the shirt and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It’s getting to the point where anything you do-almost anything you do- someone gets outraged about, so I think that kind of thing has gotten to the point where people are kind of sick of it. You know, you see that there’s a lot of pushback on that kind of mentality, I think, nowadays.”
While social media can be an interactive way to share your opinions and get feedback from others, another great way can be through the music, which is obviously another place where Labonte feels free to let loose. For this album, the band worked with Grammy award winning producer Howard Benson, who has also worked with the likes of Halestorm, Papa Roach and Chris Cornell. The band began work on Madness back in the spring of 2016, but Benson encouraged them to try a different songwriting process. Labonte, Martin, and Herbert being the primary songwriters, they have always starting with guitar first and then vocals came after that. During the process of making the album, the band took a different songwriting path than they have previously- starting with the lyrics and vocals and then adding the guitar riffs and everything else later. It is the opposite of what they have done in the past, but it seems to have been a great move. “That was actually Howard’s idea,” shared Labonte. “He said, ‘You know, why don’t you come out here and we’ll work on some chord progressions and we’ll get some lyrics and vocals and together. Then we can just send the chord progressions back to the guys and they can write riffs that are proper All That Remains riffs.’ And it was a different way to do it and it was cool. I think it worked out really well.”
While that process was a great move for the band, Labonte doesn’t have any other particularly memorable moments from the making of the album, because as he shared with a laugh, “I’m not a fan of making records. It’s kind of stressful for me. I like playing shows and I like writing songs, but the whole going and being in the studio and kind of immersing yourself in that- that’s not really my favorite thing to do. So, no, I don’t really have a favorite moment. When I got home?” He did add that his favorite track off the record is one that also represents his personal stance on life. “I like Never Sorry. It’s kind of a middle finger. Which is kind of a little bit… well, it’s a bit like my personality!”
All That Remains most definitely experiment with their sound, because, according to them, they write whatever they feel like, whether it follows a certain trend or not. Some of the songs may have more of a pop sound, while others are as heavy as heavy can get. And although they could probably care less how people might classify their music, or what genre they belong in, Labonte said, “I mean, I think we’re a metal band still. We still have the sound. Like our kick drum tone and our guitar tone and the way we put songs together- they’re still metal. I mean. We’re still a metal band it’s just that we do more than just metal. We do more things. It’s not just one style of delivery but overall, most of everything we do is extremely metal sounding.”
The current band roster includes Mike Martin and Oli Herbert on guitars, Jason Costa on drums and the newest addition, on bass, is Aaron Patrick. Labonte and Herbert are the only original members, but both Costa and Martin have been around for a considerable length of time as well. Though they have had their fair share of lineup changes throughout the years, All That Remains have been able to stay together as a band for a lot longer than many bands last these days. There has to be a method to the madness, right? A secret to standing the test of time?
According to Labonte, there most definitely is and he described that in detail, saying, “Because we focus on songs. And a lot of bands don’t focus on songs. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say probably most bands don’t focus on songs. I think most bands focus on–not most bands, but a lot of bands–focus on parts, or focus on guitar solos, drum solos, being ‘this’ enough or being ‘that’ enough and they’re not focusing on, ‘Is the song a good song, standalone?’”
So what exactly makes a good song? “If you hear a song and you can envision that song, or play that song in the metal genre, and take the same song and make into the country genre, and then you can take that song and actually make it into and R&B genre,’ shared Labonte. “ I mean if you look at the way a lot of songs–really big popular songs–they’ll go through, like, and R&B producer and act, and they’ll go out as an R&B song and it’s a great song and it does really well, and then a country guy will go ahead and do it and it’ll be a country style song. Well, the same thing goes for rock and heavy metal and country, too, so if you can take a heavy metal and rock song and make it into a country song or vice versa… then you should be able to do the same thing with an R&B song to a metal song. Because the SONG is good, not because the style or the delivery is what sells the song. What sells the song is the song… A good song is a good song, and I think that most bands don’t focus on that stuff. I think they get lost in trying to be this or that, as opposed to saying, ‘Are we writing good songs?’”
And it seems like All That Remains wanted to test that theory on this album, by including a cover of The Thunder Rolls, by country music star Garth Brooks. “It was kind of my idea to do The Thunder Rolls,” said Labonte. “It was something that we had bounced a lot of different songs around between management and Howard and the band and stuff and everyone had come up with different ideas. We all kind of liked Thunder Rolls early, and then someone would say, ‘Hey, what do you link about this one?’ and we’d all kind of mull it over and be like, ‘Nah, I think Thunder Rolls is better.’ And the reason that we went with it, or that I wanted to do it, is because I’ve been a fan of that song since It came out. And we realized, or found out, that the song is, like, over twenty years old and I didn’t realize that it had come out so long ago, so it was kind of a surprise. But I’ve been a fan of that song for a long, long time.” Featured on The Thunder Rolls is a female vocalist that Howard Benson uses often at his studio. “He has her come in and do a lot of stuff,” said Labonte. “I heard her sing and I was like, Whoa! I was completely blown away. She was walking around the studio just kind of humming and when you meet someone or hear someone that’s really, really, really talented, you kind of do a double-take and she’s really, really, really talented. So when Howard was like, ‘Do you want her to do some stuff on the record?’, I was like, ‘Absolutely! She’s great!’”
2016 wasn’t only about recording an album. Something quite unexpected came up and Labonte jumped at the chance.At the end of the year, he had a unique opportunity- filling in as vocalist for Five Finger Death Punch for a string of tour dates, while Ivan Moody took some time off to deal with some personal issues. He also did something similar in 2010 when he took over mid-tour when Killswitch Engage’s vocalist left. Though he didn’t have much time to prepare this time around, he says, “The reaction from fans was amazing. Everything was great. And I had a day to prepare for it. Yeah, Zoltan [Bathory] called me in the middle of the night and said, ‘Hey, can you get on a plane in the morning?’ and I said, ‘Send me a setlist.’ So a day later, I was in Philadelphia singing and rehearsing the set with them at soundcheck and then we went and did it that night. The first night I kind of felt like I was balancing on a tightrope. Actually, the second night was a little bit tough too, but the third night and the rest of the shows, everything fell into place and it was great.”
The fact that he can so quickly jump in and sing with another band, shows that Labonte isn’t just able to perform only one type of music. Sure, they are all hard rock or heavy metal bands, but there are still a wide variety of vocal styles, from screaming, to melodic ballads, and more. His wide range is also exhibited on the latest album. For the most part, his vocal regimen is really just ‘practice makes perfect’, but he added. “I took some lessons from Melissa Cross when I was starting out as a singer. Not as a screamer, but as a singer. And then after that. A lot of it is just practice. Just trying stuff in the car and trying stuff at home and trying stuff in the studio and seeing what works and what doesn’t. A lot trial and error and just practice. Just singing as much as I can, you know?”
In addition to the band, Labonte is very committed to fitness and has been posting about the topic often on social media. Is that something that he will be able to continue as the band hits the road? “Yeah,usually on tour we hit it pretty well. Our bass player Aaron is really big into it. He’s actually working with MusclePharm, so he’ll definitely have to be posting some kind of videos. Me and Aaron and our guitar tech get together, and we’ll go to the gym… I mean, we don’t really get into booze anymore. The only person that really drinks is Jason, our drummer… Other than that, we’re just bringing chicken and rice so we can cook on the bus, so we don’t have to eat pizza and garbage.”
And since he has many followers that watch his fitness progress, he also shared a brief tip for those that ask questions regarding fitness and nutrition: “Well, when it comes to nutrition–in regards to fitness–most of it’s nutrition. So, really, people that are asking about training plans or asking about what your routine is and stuff, that’s really secondary to your nutrition. So, if you’re looking to lose weight or change your body, the first thing you want to get your head wrapped around is eating the way you should. Once you do that, going to the gym is easy. The gym is like twenty percent of it. The rest of it is all nutrition and what you eat.”
And that’s about all Labonte says he has time for on the road–music and the gym, but he is ready to hit the road because, “We haven’t been on tour in over a year and a half. So just getting on tour is exciting for us!” What is the daily schedule like once the tour starts? “On the road, it’s pretty much just going to the gym and playing the shows. Because we’ve got press and meet and greets and stuff, so that usually fills up the day pretty good. Just getting to the gym, eating, managing your nutrition because it’s not just about getting a meal in you. You’ve got to cook and stuff. You don’t want to eat garbage. And then with meet and greets and the shows and stuff, that really does kind of eat up your whole day. So there’s not a lot of other things that I have that hobbies that I do on the road. Instagram?”
So far, the band has released some lyric videos for a few of the album tracks, such as Madness and Louder. Labonte described how the band comes up with ideas for these: “Well, we’ll go ahead and we’ll bounce around ideas and we’ll talk to- like, with these two that we just put out- Wombat, who did a lot of the filming and photography for us when we were in the studio- we walk to him and say, ‘These are the ideas that we like, these are the ideas that we don’t like. This is kind of what we’re thinking. What are you thinking?’ And we’ll bounce ideas off of each other. No one in All That Remains is really proficient as a visual artist, so we definitely rely on people creating the imagery or creating the album cover. That kind of stuff, we rely on them to kind of give us a place to start and then we’ll go ahead and shape it with them.” For fans of the live-action type videos, fear not. They are on the way as well. “Yeah we shot a video for the song Madness, the title track,” Labonte added. “I’m not sure when it’s coming out. It should be pretty soon. I saw it and it’s pretty cool, so we’re excited.” As for Wombat that Labonte mentioned, he also did the album cover art.
As the interview was coming to an end, Phil and the band were gearing up for their album release party, hosted by Jose Mangin on April 21st in Seal Beach, California, with special guests Sacred Silence, a System of A Down tribute band. “I went to the Hellyeah album release and it was just a good time to get together and meet people… where they play it loud… I think they’ll be playing the record on time, have the band play, play the record again, etc. So yeah, it’ll be a good time,” Labonte shared.
As for those that are critical of the kind of songs the band chooses to write, or even those that call them “sell-outs”, what does he say to them? Well, of course he doesn’t mince words: “I say they’re not in All That Remains. They don’t get to make those kinds of decisions. They can have their opinions- they’re welcome to them, but that’s not really going to affect what All That Remains does because there is only five of us!” Just in case you thought he might be worried or shaken up about the name callers. Rest assured, Phil Labonte couldn’t care less. He plays and writes what makes him and the band happy, and that’s all there is to it.
The tour is already in progress so check the schedule and see which venue or festival you can catch All That Remains at this summer and don’t forget to grab a copy of Madness!