As I Lay Dying's Nick Hipa talks about 'This Is Who We Are'

After watching As I Lay Dying's This is who we are DVD pack, it made me wonder whether I would gain anything new by merely interviewing these guys. But interview them I did – specifically, I spoke with guitarist Nick Hipa – all about the DVD, its creation, and more.


As I Lay Dying's (AILD) DVD This is who we are is so extensive, and covers so much about the band, that it probably should be considered essential viewing for any journo who needs to talk to them. Given that the DVD set is so extensive, and given that the documentary DVD (disc 1) runs for over two hours, it seemed pertinent to start with the question of whether these guys ever reconsidered the length of the release.

Guitarist Nick Hipa talked about how there were, of course, changes made to the first version of the film that As I Lay Dying received, but that they didn't want to interrupt the story of it: something about which they're not making any excuses.

'It's pretty lengthy,' commented Hipa. 'But you know, I guess every band's kinda gotta get it out of the way, at some point telling the history of the band. Especially like the early days and all that, how the band came to be.'

Given that the documentary covers a lot of ground about the band members' friends and family, especially in the early years parts of the film, one would assume that they would have seen the film before it was released. In fact, as Nick commented, although their friends and family were 'forced to watch it', feedback that the band received was overwhelmingly positive.

'In the editing process, trying to trim down everything, we were like, “you're sure it's not too long, you're sure it's fine?” And we were all doing that with our friends and anyone who watched it. Everyone was pretty satisfied with it, and hearing from the fans what they thought, they all seem to really enjoy it.'

As Nick rightly pointed out, the fans are ultimately who the film is for: obviously you wouldn't go out and buy a DVD of a band if you're not a fan of that band.

Watching the documentary, one gets a very strong sense of 'story': it paints a picture of As I Lay Dying in a complete sense. Unlike many band films that you see, this one felt almost scripted. This could potentially be because AILD worked on the DVD for four or five years. It's a long time in anybody's books; but it wasn't drawn out for so long on purpose. Where Metal Blade would point out that perhaps they should release the DVD, something would happen that would cause the release date to be pushed back again and again: new opportunities for the band, and milestones, that they felt ought to be included. One of these was AILD's appearance at Wacken Open Air.

'The fact that we were able to put that [Wacken] on the DVD was huge, because that was the biggest show that we've ever played,' Hipa said.

The three shows in southern California that these guys played, which appear on the second DVD in the set, was actually Denise [Korycki]'s idea. As Nick mentioned, it shows the band playing venues of the size that were more like how it was early on.

'We all kinda brainstormed what venues could we do, like what songs and setlist are we gonna do, and then it all came down to hey let's just play our records, our first two records from Metal Blade, play those ones from start to finish. Denise had a really good vision and we just wanted to make it the most interesting and – not different – but just kinda it's own thing. We didn't want it to be compared to anyone else's DVD, we wanted to really focus on us and just stand out.'

The three live shows that are included on the second disc of the DVD set were all recorded during the same week. The largest – the Grove show – was the most important of these, and also the first time playing at that particular venue. It was important for these guys to find smaller venues for the little shows that were just like the ones they used to play back in the day; the Jumping Turtle, for example, is about ten or fifteen minutes away from where these guys live.

Denise Korycki is renowned for her ability to make excellent documentaries, and bands often comment on her ability to capture her subjects. I put this to Nick, and asked him whether he was ever able to relax around the camera or forget that it was there.

'No, you never forget the camera's around,' he laughed. 'It's because, like, Denise became such a good friend. And that's the comfortable aspect of it. You know, you're just talking to your friend. But at the same time, you've got this huge camera in your face, and this huge light, and it's just like, I don't know, it makes me nervous a lot,' Hipa told me. 'But, you know, some people are more easily not distracted by the camera.'

I asked Nick if there were ever times when he wished the process would just end.

'Yeah,' he stated emphatically. 'Yeah, many times I was just like “I don't want a camera on me!” But knowing that the DVD is for our fans to really know the history of the band, you kinda come out of your shell a little bit knowing that. You wanna make this the best thing possible.'

As one would perhaps expect, the fact that AILD became such good friends with Denise meant that she was able to get the best out of them for the documentary. Nick put it that they all started to confide in her.

'She was asking us really serious questions and it's like, I don't wanna tell a random stranger the answer to this. So I guess it's part of her job that she has to, you know, really help make you feel comfortable and the questions she's gonna be asking you, and her being latched on you all day.'

As you see in the documentary part of the DVD set, AILD isn't a band to sit on its laurels. In fact, Brian Slagel (CEO of Metal Blade) states on the documentary that AILD is the only band he's ever had to pull off the road. I asked Nick how much of that was pure work ethic, how much of it is a dedication to their fans, and how much of it was purely because they love playing live. What he told me was more about the experience of touring as a whole.

'On tour you've got like 30 shows in a month. At the beginning you're excited to get back on stage, you're excited for that energy. But towards the end, and just some days here and there, you just kinda burn out, you don't feel like performing. But you don't want to disappoint the fans, honestly, you know? Coz they're the reason why you're up there. When you don't wanna play, it is like a challenge. No-one really likes their job, I mean, I love my job,' Hipa clarified with a laugh, 'but when you view it as a job, you know what I'm saying? But for the most part we all enjoy going on tour sometimes you get burnt out and wish you were at home. It gets kinda difficult to take care of business when you're not at home, but at the same time it's a great opportunity for the band, and for our careers, so. I wouldn't picture to myself giving it up any time soon.'

As Nick pointed out, none of the band members ever get really bummed out when they're on tour. Because they're the type of people who just generally try to stay in good moods, and are good friends, it helps them to get through those times when they don't want to be there as much.

As I Lay Dying reached the pinnacle of their fame relatively quickly, where so many other bands can struggle for ten or twenty years before getting the same type of 'fame'. Nick Hipa puts a lot of it down to being in right place at the right time.

'When As I Lay Dying signed to Metal Blade and released Frail Words Collapse it was the right record for the right time where no one was really sure what was going on with the metal market, I guess. There were bands like Killswitch, In Flames were more like the melodic bands helping pave the way. We were fortunate enough to be a part of that. And I think we also did the right tours,' he explained. 'We never really did a tour that didn't make sense, that didn't do good for us, and that's how we think about everything. Like, what is this gonna do. We don't just do it just to do it, everything has to make sense to us and I think just really being smart about our decisions has kinda helped get our name to where it needs to be. And the fact that we have been touring so much, our fans don't have time to forget about us, we're coming back to their city as much as possible. So I think giving our fans attention has definitely helped.'

These guys are currently writing their next release, and only have four more shows for the rest of the year. They're looking to record in maybe October/November this year, and once the album is released sometime in early 2010, they'll be hitting the road on the next tour cycle in support of it. That cycle is likely to include Australia, and Hipa can't wait.

'The kids in Australia have so much energy,' he enthused. 'Australia doesn't get that many shows – I mean, like, they get a lot of shows but you're not gonna be seeing As I Lay Dying coming through every three months, unfortunately. But there's always good energy going on there.'

As I Lay Dying's This is Who We Are is out now on Metal Blade/Riot.