Interview: Issues [May 2016]

By Mark Johnson

Having recently released their second full-length ‘Headspace’, Issues arrived in the UK to kick off a headlining tour, including appearances at Slam Dunk Festival. We caught up with bass player Sky Accord and vocalist Michael Bohn to talk about the UK tour and the themes of ‘Headspace’.

Welcome back to the UK! How has the tour been going so far?

Sky: Cool, it’s been nice.

Michael: The first show was solid and in London last night it was crazy.

The album has been out a week now, how’s the reaction been so far?

Sky: Overall it’s been really good.The fans are 99% super hyped and buying copies, and the press has been really responsive and seem to be really into what we’re doing, which is definitely not guaranteed.

Michael: It’s been pretty intense and busy! Which is a good thing.

I’ve seen a few reactions that imply this record is a big change of sound. We thought it was more of a natural progression, how do you guys see this album compared to the last one?

Sky: That’s how we see it too. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.

Michael: I don’t think we went too left field, we just got better. We improved. We really pushed ourselves. I think Issues is left field overall, but we didn’t get too crazy with it, we just refined our sound.

Sky: There is a change, we’ve tried a bunch of new stuff, but it’s still the same Issues. The people who think this is a big change for us, probably saw us before as just a run of the mill metalcore band and weren’t really listening to what we were trying to do. Now we’re spoonfeeding you, like we’re trying to be weird, this is a weird song, there’s no way in hell you can say this is just a random Warped Tour song. Like ‘Flojo’ – that wouldn’t have happened on the last album!

Your sound is a combination of so many different elements and styles, is it hard to reach an agreement on the right balance when writing?

Michael: At times we can definitely butt heads, but at the same time the outcome is usually something great.

Sky: It takes friction to make fire!

Michael: Exactly. The writing process was a little different this time. We all had a pretty decent amount of input, it wasn’t just 1 or 2 people doing everything, which would be the cause of some arguments, but we all just wanted the best possible output. We’re all passionate about what we’ve put out, we weren’t going to half-ass anything.

One of the really effective new additions on ‘Headspace’ is the development of your clean vocals, Michael. Was that something you definitely wanted to add this time around or did it just evolve that way during the process?

Michael: It kinda just happened! It was weird, we’ve been talking about it. I’ve screamed for 6 or 7 years now and I’ve always wanted to do something different. I’ve always wanted to progress and try singing but I’ve never been confident enough to do that, so it was a big change and kinda spur of the moment. Tyler was like “dude if you’re going do it then just go for it. Get your jitters out and get it over with”. So I did and it was cool, it’s different. It’s fun. It’s cool for the writing process because it meant it didn’t just have to be “we’ve written this heavy part, so Michael has to go over it”, or vice versa. We’d be writing vocal parts and if there was a part that was out of Tyler’s range, then I could hop on it.

Sky: We love contrast, so it helped a lot with that.

You recorded ‘Headspace’ with Kris Crummett again, this being the third time you’ve worked with him. What is it about Kris that makes you go back for more?

Michael: He just kicks our ass!

Sky: Oh man, he’s just such a stickler with parts and he works really well with our drummer. Because he’s a drummer, and because our music is so rhythmic, it works really well. He hears the big picture, he doesn’t just hear vocals like other producers, doesn’t just focus on instruments like other producers, he’s definitely a big picture guy. When we first worked with him on ‘Black Diamonds’ he wasn’t the obvious choice for us to work with, he wasn’t even the best for us, but over the years we’ve grown together and he’s helped us grow together, refine our songwriting and just know what we want to sound like. That’s as well as just making us improve to reach his standards, because his standards are so high.

With the new record being so groove-oriented I imagine it’s all really great to play live. How tough was it to build a set list for the tour? Were there songs you just couldn’t leave out?

Michael: Obviously there are the singles, but we didn’t just want to leave it at that, we also wanted to put some heavy stuff in there too, so we added ‘Blue Wall’. Not only is it an important message but that song goes off live, it’s really cool! There are still a couple of other songs that we’re so ready to play live

Sky: ‘Hero’ is one of them!

Michael: Yeah, I can’t wait to play that. That’s one of my favourites. There are definitely songs when we listen back to the album that we’re like – that’s going to be so fun to play live.

‘Blue Wall’ has been an interesting one to watch in terms of reaction. When you guys put it up on YouTube the comments section blew up because of the lyrics. How much does thinking about the public reaction affect you when you’re writing about these issues?

Michael: We’re not going to write ignorant lyrics and be stupid about it, if we’ve got a message to say that we feel it’s important to speak on then we’re going to do it the right way and be professional about it.

Sky: It’s about mutual respect. It’s like getting into an argument with somebody, if you disrespect their opinion or talk over them then they’re not going to listen to what you have to say. So basically you have to say what you want to say in a nuanced and respectful way for them to listen. As you could see from the comments, that wasn’t always reciprocated, but we did our part. We’re such a diverse band in so many ways: musically and ethnically. When my brother was touring with us, at any one time we’d have two black guys, a Mexican, a ginger and two southern redneck gentlemen in the same band! We have so many different perspectives to portray and not all of our messages are going to be as easy to swallow for the mainstream masses, just because they come from so many different places. You try not to let if affect you while you’re writing but when it comes out you’re like, “oh wow I forgot we were so honest. I forgot we had a song about cops, now let’s talk to people and have a conversation”. But it’s funny because it ties into ‘Flojo’, because that song is about people who just hate on everything and try and clip your wings!

During the tour you’re going to be playing Slam Dunk for the first time. How are those shows going to differ from your headline run?

Sky: You have to pack in as many bangers as you can.

Michael: If you want to see the songs that aren’t necessarily the most popular, come to a headliner, but at a festival you’ve got to play bangers and try to wow people. If people are walking by you’ve got to draw them in.

Finally, can you tell us about the inspiration behind the album art and what it represents?

Sky: The album art ties to the title. It’s a pigeon in the headspace of a peacock and it’s representing that potential is only limited by the headspace that you see yourself in. That’s how we see our music. With the ‘Headspace’ album cycle, we’ve always been the same individual guys, but we see ourselves differently now as a band.

‘Headspace’ can be purchased through the band’s merch store and you can check out our review of the album here.


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