Devin Oliver, a well spoken, 21 year-old Midwesterner, could be any other guy on your college campus. Clever and thoughtful, he’s the kind of kid you’d sit next to in a chemistry lecture and have an easy chat and laugh with about the upcoming exam. But instead of covalent bonds, Oliver is talking about his band that is headlining tours across the nation and just released their fourth full-length studio album. I See Stars latest, New Demons, has already climbed the charts, peaking at #28 on Billboard and #5 on the Hard Rock Billboard, a feat unimaginable for most their age, and even those more than double that. An optimistic Oliver took a break from his day off to talk to Substream about I See Stars and how though they are young, they are mighty.
Substream: Hey Devin. How are you?
Devin Oliver: Good. We had a day off in Vegas and we’re just kind of chillin’. Hanging out and relaxing with my brother. It was his birthday yesterday so we had a little bit of a celebration, so we’re all kind of exhausted.
SM: Did Andy have a good birthday?
DO: Yeah it was awesome. We had all of the bands on tour on our bus. The label came out. We just played music, talked and hung out. It was fun.
SM: I See Stars has been headlining the Started From The Bottom Tour with Crown the Empire and The Word Alive. How’s that been going?
DO: It’s been great. It turned out just as expected, really. I had high hopes and honestly, I haven’t been disappointed yet. The crowds have been big and loud and just as expected every single day. We chose to go out with people that we’ve grown to become good friends with over the last few years of touring. It’s really awesome to know that every band we’ve become good friends with are also doing well enough to pull the same kids into a room. It’s very cool.
SM: It certainly makes it a lot easier to go out on tours like this and not only have a good time, but play to your best.
DO: Absolutely. We’ve done quite a few tours with The Word Alive and those guys are some of our best friends. Crown the Empire, they’re a newer band, but it’s really cool to see them grow so fast. Get Scared, they came out with us on our first headlining tour last year, and Palisades, we’ve done two tours with them and have known them forever, so yeah It’s really like a big tour of friends. DayShell and Shayley [Bourget] is one of my good friends and I got to know him touring with Of Mice and Men for so long. We’re all having a really good time out here. The fact that these shows are doing so good makes it that much more enjoyable
SM: What’s been your favorite date on this tour so far?
DO: I would have to say Phoenix was my favorite. But yesterday in Pomona was really awesome too because it sold out and we had a good time. Every show on this tour has been awesome, but I particularly enjoyed Arizona. Everything went right on stage and there were no technical difficulties. You’ve got to take into account from a band standpoint how your experience went, if everything goes according to plan on stage and offstage. Everything was just perfect that day.
SM: Did you guys dress up for your Halloween show the other night?
DO: We actually dressed our merch guy up as a chicken and he just came up and started going crazy for one song. None of us actually dressed up. We were going to, but it was really, really hot so we felt like we would die if we were in costumes the whole show. Actually, our merch guy is my little brother so it was funny to see him hoping around stage in a chicken outfit and everyone losing their mind. I have two other brothers. Both of them actually came out on tour with us on separate occasions. This time, it was my little brother who just graduated, so I told him if he graduated high school I would take him on tour. He’s having the time of his life.
SM: Looking back, which tour was your favorite to be a part of?
DO: I would say my personal favorite was when we did the Pulling Your Pud Tour with A Day to Remember. It was right when Homesick came out and we were touring on our first album. We hadn’t been touring for awhile and it was the first time I’ve ever toured with a band that I was insane about. I love ADTR, I’ve always loved them. When I found out we were touring with them, I was so excited. Getting to see them play every night was so cool and to become friends with them was even cooler. It was the first surreal tour we ever did.
SM: Speaking of touring, you guys also wrapped up your second Warped Tour this year. How was this year different from the last?
DO: It was different in all sorts of ways. The first year we did Warped Tour was 2010 and we were kind of new to touring so we really didn’t have too many friends. It was kind of like high school and you felt like the new kid. Everyone knows each other and you don’t know anybody. You had to get to know everyone and we were just nervous a whole lot. Every show was outside and we weren’t really used to playing outdoor shows. We’re more of an indoor band, so it was all new.
And then this year, it was almost like a reunion. You’re on tour with all of these bands that you’ve toured with and became good friends with. It felt more like a Band Camp situation where you wake up every day, bright and early. There’s catering three times a day and you’re seeing everyone in the catering line and then play a show. It’s very routine and it’s really fun. We had our own bus this year too, which was really cool. We shared a bus on the first Warped Tour we did and it was super cramped. It was just an all around a better experience. We didn’t know what to expect our first time. Not only was the internal situation better, but the shows were significantly bigger, like we were on a bigger stage. Everything was brought up to the next level.
SM: So if you could make your dream tour with any bands, still together or not, alive or dead, who would you tour with?
DO: (Laughs) That’s a such hard question. It would be the most ridiculous tour ever because I like so many kinds of music. I’m not a one-track minded person. I would probably throw on the Deftones and The Killers. I would even probably add Skrillex. I would throw on The Beatles, A Day To Remember. The list just goes on, really. I would take out Death Cab for Cutie. Imagine Dragons, which has become one of my hot listens on my iTunes. I would bring out Conditions, this smaller super underrated band, but yeah the list would go on.
SM: Needless to say, you guys have been pretty busy. Your fans have been waiting for over a year and a half to your follow-up to Digital Renegade. But before your new album, you released the Digital mixtape, Renegades Forever. Even though most of the groundwork was already laid out for that, what was it like making an album like that?
DO: That was actually really fun because it was one of those situations where we just had to find people that we wanted to collab with and send them our songs and just be like, show us what your vision of this is. A lot of the songs on that album were just remixes that DJ’s had taken and transformed from their point of view. It was really cool to see a song that we wrote from a different side. My brother, Andrew, he also did a remix. We all kind of sat around and watched him and it was cool to see him take our song and just turn it into something completely different. Then we did an acoustic version of “Underneath Every Smile” and I love doing acoustic stuff, so I was really thrilled to do that. It inspired us to want to do more of that, honestly. The process is really interesting.
SM: So, in the future, do you see the band releasing more acoustic songs and remixes?
DO: I would say acoustic stuff for sure. We’re definitely thinking about putting together an acoustic album, which would be really fun for us. As for remixes, we’re always open to it. It’s really just about who says to us, hey, I really like this song, can I take a stab at it. If we like it, we’ll release it.
SM: You guys are going to be playing the Ohio metal Fest with Frankie [Palmeri, Emmure] and Mattie [Montgomory, For Today,] which will bit of a reunion since they contributed on the first track for that album, “Can We Start Again.”
DO: Mattie has been someone I’ve known from mutual acquaintances. But Frankie, I’ve known him, since I was fourteen years-old. It was cool to put him on a track. To be honest though, the “Can We Start Again” song wasn’t one of my favorite things we’ve ever done. It was one of those things that our label was really into and wanted us to go for it. They flew us out to California and were like, hey we’ve got this idea, let’s do this song and we were like, ok. We just tried it out and they liked it so they released it, and we weren’t exactly too thrilled about it. But it got a good response if you look past all of the controversy of all the hardcore kids that don’t like us new-age hardcore kids tampering with their old school ways
SM: So finally, you guys released New Demons last month. How is this album different from anything else you’ve ever written?
DO: It’s almost entirely different lyrically. We’ve never gotten so personal on an entire album as we did this one. We’ve had songs that were pretty personal, but we’ve never had an entire album, front to back, just be a super in-depth, real, true, album lyrically. I really like that about it. As a lyric strategy, we always told stories and talked more about subjects in the world. That was kind of our inspiration for Digital Renegade, for 3-D, that was our style. And now, we just want to show how stuff worked out and that we’ve come so far and let our fans in on who we are and the things we go through, hence the name, New Demons. It’s kind of about past situations, and how we’re not just the kind of band that writes about conflict, we’re also the kind of band that lives it every day. I think that was our message doing Demons, that’s what I really like about it and separates it from anything other album we’ve written.
Musically, it’s pretty similar more so to Digital Renegade than anything. We kind of took our electronic hardcore vibe that we had from 3-D and just took it to the next level with Digital Renegade. But with New Demons, we just kind of looked outside the box and wanted to do something different. It was a risky album, musically, but people love it and honestly, it’s getting the best reaction we’ve ever gotten from any album we’ve released.
SM: So all of the kids that come out to see you are responding well to the new material?
DO: Absolutely. Those are my favorite song to play right now. I feel like our fans want to hear the new stuff, which is exactly what I want them to want to hear. I’m really happy about that.
SM: Has there been a change in how your write songs from your earlier work to your latest album?
DO: I would say the only change really is that we had more time with this one. We weren’t rushing ourselves. We really wanted to make sure that we didn’t rush the creativity. As for the writers, me and my brother Andrew and my guitar player, Brent, we’re the primary writers in the band and we always have been. We always write for ourselves, but keep our fans in mind. But with this album, we kind of wrote it for our fans. We wanted to write something that our fans would appreciate. We really found our sound in Digital Renegade and the sound that we enjoy writing and the style that we enjoy performing. It was really awesome that Digital Renegade did so well because when we were finished with the album, we were like, this is it, this is what we want to do, this is the kind of music that we want to keep writing. So the fact that it did so well, it wasn’t so hard to please the fans because even though I’m a writer in I See Stars, I’m also a fan. It was really easy to see from a fans perspective and what they would want to see from us. That’s kind of the strategy that we all took on this one.
But there wasn’t anything too drastically different. We recorded with Joey [Sturgis] who did Digital Renegade. I would just say that the mindset was different lyrically and our priorities with what we wanted to accomplish with this album. We wanted ourselves to be pleased, but more than anything, we really wanted to give our fans something to brag about. Something that speaks to why they’ve stuck around with us all these years. That was the reaction I wanted to get and I can’t say I’m disappointed because it’s been getting such a great response.
SM: Which track on New Demons is your favorite?
DO: That’s such a common question, but it’s the hardest question to answer. I love “Ten Thousand Feet” and the way that the album opens. It’s just so intense at the beginning and I’m just such a freak about intense songs. I love something that just hits you right away and keeps you going through the whole song, and “Ten Thousand Feet” is one of them. It just grabs you and you can’t stop listening until the end. But I also love “Murder Mitten.” The lyrics to that song are about a lot of personal stuff in my life. My mom struggles with alcoholism and my brother, Andrew, spent a good amount of time lyrically writing that and trying to work to explain how that situation makes us feel. So I’m really attached to that one, but at the same time, you’ve got “Violent Bounce,” which is so catchy. I think it’s the catchiest song on the album. I can’t pick a favorite song, but I can tell you what I love about every song. There really isn’t a song that I don’t like on the album.
SM: What’s your favorite song to play off the new album live?
DO: I like playing “Murder Mitten” live because I feel like when I’m playing that song, I feel like I’m playing a cover because I love that song so much. I’m such a fan of it. I almost can’t believe we wrote it. I think it’s such a good song, it’s very well written. Lyrically, it’s got a lot of soul and a lot of heart to it.
SM: So what is the plan for I See Stars after this tour?
DO: After this tour, we’re going to Europe for a little while and then we’re done for the rest of the year. I think about late January, we’re taking off again, but I cannot tell you who we’re going out with yet (laughs.)
SM: (Laughs) Well, other than that mystery tour, what can we expect from you guys in 2014?
DO: I think we’re going to shoot a lot of music videos, which is one of my favorite things to do as an artist. I really like taking a song and extracting a visual, so we’re going to have a lot of new videos coming out. And then, we’re doing a lot of headlining tours next year. That will be really cool because we get to play more songs as headliners and also, we get to do whatever we want. Like, we can bring as much production as we want and do some really cool stuff live.
SM: Anything you want to say to your fans who haven’t given a listen to New Demons yet?
DO: If you haven’t checked out the album, you’ve got to check it out. If you don’t have the money to buy the album, then just find a way to listen to it. But if you do and you want to support the band, get the album because it’s so worth it. It’s my favorite album that I’ve ever written and I really think from a fans perspective, it’s exactly the kind of album they want to hear. It’s going to set a whole new bar for us and I’m really confident in it.
SM: Thanks, Devin. Enjoy Vegas!
DO: Will do, thank you.
Check out I See Stars on Facebook and Twitter. New Demons is available on iTunes now!
Interview by Stephanie Roe