The Great Depression was “the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialized world, lasting from 1929 to 1939,” as History.com explains. It serves as a reminder to how quickly a country’s economy can decline, as it ultimately is remembered as being the most widespread depression of the 20th century. This isn’t up for debate, though there is one band that has taken the name and turned it into their own thing: As It Is.
The band released their third full-length, The Great Depression, back in August of 2018. It is a different record for the band, stylistically and lyrically, with the message being one that sparks a conversation, rather than any one specific message. “I think part of what makes [The Great Depression] unique and important is that it’s about not spoon feeding our truths and our answers, it’s more about a conversation and the idea that we potentially as a scene and a society romanticize depression, anxiety, self harm, and suicide,” vocalist Patty Walters tells me last month before the band’s show in Columbus, Ohio as part of their headlining tour. “I think what we think is less important than the conversation because I think the world is so divided right now, is that it’s all very polar, very binary, in terms of ‘This is my political party, this is what I think,’ and it was just about opening the conversations, and we could all disagree and have that discourse, and maybe find each other on the other side of it.”
It is during this conversation that Walters reflects on an incident that involved As It Is this past summer. “On Warped, we had an instance of somebody not agreeing with the message of the record or the things I said on stage that day, and it reminded me that we say these things, we open up these conversations for the people that don’t already agree with us. It is undeniably why we say what we say. It’s not about I’m right or you’re wrong, it’s about listening a little more open-mindedly to one another.”
As It Is is able to be three records in and pull of a change in sound due to the connection that they have with their fans and how they have operated as a band. My interview with Walters and Benjamin Langford-Biss was part of a larger piece on the band, that involved spending the majority of the day together and giving fans and readers alike a glimpse into their daily routine.
When I first arrive at the venue, I hit up the newly anointed permanent guitarist, Ronnie Ish and get together with the rest of the band. Upon my arrival, the band is signing set lists as part of their meet and greet. We talk about their tour, keeping everything in house in terms of their responsibilities on tour, and staying busy — the latter, as you can imagine is not hard to do on a headlining tour.
It’s casual conversations to start, exchanging mainly pleasantries as we don’t have much time before their meet and greet, so we elect to do our interview after their meet and greet. One of the things that does come up, however, is that their tech guy Chris discovered that the U.S. sells gallons of ranch. The price — $8.67 — is what amazes him the most, and after finding out Chris’ obsession with ranch, we establish that a gallon of ranch would, at most, last him a whole day.
Before heading out to their meet and greet, I can’t help but notice the roses and fan art that is hanging around the bus. Regarding the fan art, while they have some hanging up, Ish explains to me that the day before our interview, the band to have a lot of it into a box in their trailer because it was overflowing their bus — though he’s quick to state that it’s “lovely” all of the same and that they never stop appreciating it. He explains the roses to me as additional items that fans bring to them, as part of The Great Depression-era, in addition to other fan art that is casket and death-related.
As part of their meet and greet with fans, they also allow fans to come in and watch their soundcheck. During this, they rip through fan favorites like “Okay” and “Patchwork Love” off of 2017’s Okay. Not only that, but in between their songs performed at soundcheck, they opened up for a Q&A to the crowd of around 60 people. What started out as questions as simple as “How are you?” eventually moved onto their favorite songs to play live (if you’re curious, Walters: “Hey Rachel,” Ish: “The Truth I’ll Never Tell,” drummer Patrick Foley: “The Reaper,” Langford-Biss: “Dial Tones,” bassist Ali Testo: “The Fire, The Dark”), and even to asking how they felt when people told them that they were their favorite band. “It’s cool, but weird because this shit doesn’t feel real half time,” Walters says in response to when they hear about being someone’s favorite band, “Thanks for liking us. We’re out here trying.”
After they answer fan questions, rip through their soundcheck sounding as polished as ever, it’s time to line everyone up for the actual meet and greet and photos. The entire crowd of 60 line up as orderly as they possibly could. I stand around, but mainly stay out of the way as to not interfere in this moment that fans paid for and had been most likely waiting for. Instead as I’m spending some time with the masterfully talented photographer Ian Coulson, I can’t help but notice that Ish introduces nearly everyone with an endearing “What’s up, fam? Come on down” before engaging in a hug, handshake, or whatever each individual fan wants.
The overall vibe of their meet and greet sessions was very much that: about what the fans want. This is something that people paid for, have spent months looking forward to, and wasn’t lost on any of the members in As It Is. This is further evidenced as when it comes time for photos, there’s no reluctancy to do any poses that fans may want to do.
Each individual interaction with fans felt like the first one. What I mean by that is, the 60th person to meet the band was treated as if they were the first person. They were all genuinely engaged and happy to be meeting these fans, even as most shared their own story of how the band played a part in saving their life. As often as this comes up, it’s never something that is annoying or overbearing, and at one point Walters tells a fan in response, “Nothing is wrong with you, there’s shit wrong with everyone else.”
The meet and greet ends, and it’s time to head back to their bus and sit down for the interview portion of our day. We start by diving back into The Great Depression and how it all came to be. It’s a concept record, following a protagonist on his journey but still allowing for the listener to inject their own truth and self into his journey. “It was refreshing and fulfilling to write from the perspective someone else who is on a vastly different journey than me,” Walters explains.
But the story on how it came to be, is one that was fascinating to hear. Walters expresses that the record was unique in the sense of having the title and concept all figured out three weeks before Okay dropped in 2017. Adding onto the idea that everything was planned to be different way ahead of time, Langford-Biss explains that the first two songs written for The Great Depression were “The Great Depression” and “The End,” which serve as the album opener and closer, respectively. “That then sparked from turning from just a concept to a story track by track as well. Definitely having the book ends spearheaded having a concept record” he highlights.
But it wasn’t just the band members themselves that played a part in making the record the way it wound up being. They elected to work with Machine, who was worked on albums with bands like White Zombie, Clutch, Four Year Strong, Chiodos, and many more. They knew he was the right producer based on the first Skype call, after he agreed to do the record without hearing any songs on the record. “He knew the title of the record and anything we’d done previously, and that was enough for him to creatively invest in what this concept, this next era, was going to be,” Walter shares.
Langford-Biss highlights the atmosphere, as well, and the impact that had on recording. Whereas Okay was recorded in the middle of Hollywood, The Great Depression was recorded in the middle of nowhere in Texas — this resulted in eating on the barbecue outside, showering outside, and being up close with wild deer. “The vibe and general atmosphere were adherently very different,” he says. “It was the first time we had done real production where we sat in a room together and we played the songs how we would live, and I think that really influenced the record — the sounds, the parts, playing it live as a band before actually recording it.”
We move our conversation to “The Stigma (Boys Don’t Cry),” as I bring it up as one that seems to be a standout track on The Great Depression. The overall message has resonated all across the fanbase, it seems, and what might be most surprising is that none of the band members in As It Is saw this song as a single. It turns out that it was the team around them that had to convince the band it was a single. “We trust our team. We went with it and that blew up bigger than we could have ever possibly expected,” explains Langford-Biss.
Walters, himself, wasn’t surprised that in this current time, people related to the concept of toxic masculinity and expectations in general, though he was surprised with how people were able to find a whole new meaning to the song. He says it was written from the point of being very cynical and sarcastic, explaining “It’s about the idea [that] being told to stay strong, hold on, is total bullshit. It’s about repressing your emotions and keeping them inside. It’s been kind of reappropriated by the people who listen to this song and find this message and mantra of hope, and it is the furthest thing from the intention of the lyrics — and I don’t mind that.” Langford-Biss jumps in to explain that this is the best part about The Great Depression as a whole, and awtching everyone come away with their own interpretations of the album.
Outside of this single, I wanted to take Walters and Langford-Biss back to the beginning and find out what song they were most excited to hear. They both express their excitement that As It Is didn’t dilute their sound in the interest of mainstream accessibility, even when maybe most expected them to do just that. They wanted to make the record they wanted to — not what anyone else wanted. Because of this, Walters explains that “The Wounded World” was the track they were excited for everyone to hear. “It kind of summarized neatly and concisely the whole record. That’s what you really want in your first single,” he shares. “It’s still As It Is, it’s still got this catchy chorus, but it has one of the heaviest sections we’ve ever written.”
We also spend some time talking about A Voice for the Innocent, which is an amazing non-profit for victims of sexual violence. After meeting through Warped Tour, it was clear that their intentions would line up perfectly with As It Is and their beliefs. They were driven to partner with A Voice for the Innocent for their recent headlining tour, to further illustrate that they are seeking out to make their shows safe and enjoyable for all of their fans. “I think just living by living, loving by love, ” Walter shares when I ask what we can all improve on and be better at overall, “I don’t understand the animosity sometimes about people’s love choices that don’t effect you personally. I think it would be in everyone’s best interest and use of their time to focus on themselves instead of trying to be taller by tearing other people down.”
As we near the end of our conversation, we shift towards what the future holds for As It Is. I brought up that they had the idea for The Great Depression all thought of before Okay even came out, and asked if that was happening again with the next record. Walters explains that he struggles living in the present, but he’s been working on that and trying to appreciate everything that is going on in their band right now. However, he also states that the most exciting thing about being in As It Is right now is the optimism that surrounds their band. “We are the most optimistic we’ve been. The most positive we’ve ever interacted professionally and personally. We’re so excited,” Walters highlights.
He continues, though, to express that it will be hard to figure out where they go from here, after having invested so much of themselves into The Great Depression-era. “It will be difficult to choose just one place to start for the next record. I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse that people expect such elaborate narratives in our work now,” Walters says. Langford-Biss jumps in to explain that, “I feel like we’ve set ourselves up where people can expect whatever they want, but I feel like we set a boundary where there should be no expectations. I think we’ve made it clear that we’re never going to do the same record twice, it’s always going to be a bit different or a further exploration of something.”
We split up for a little bit of time after our interview, some of the guys go to get Chipotle, Walter and Ish head out to dinner with friends in Columbus, and I head out for dinner as well while the show is kicking off. I get back to the venue in time to catch Sharptooth, which is something that I would highly recommend everyone do at least once (but preferably more). When everyone in As It Is gets back, it’s time to get dressed and get ready for the show.
Before the show, the band is doing stretches and warm ups in the green room, making sure they’re loose for the show. After all of that, it’s time for photos. They go around backstage and take photos throughout the back of the venue, and then head out to their bus and do some poses outside, in front of the bus, and even on the bus. The band is ready to go, and the crowd is ready for them, as well. The energy in the crowd is high, as they are loud and singing all of the words back to the band. The set is dominated by new tracks off of The Great Depression — hence the tour name — but this doesn’t lower how loud fans are singing. It’s clear from the beginning that fans are more than receptive of this new album, and will follow the band any direction that they go.
We’re only 3 and a half months into the year, and As It Is may be done touring North America. Walters does express to me, before the show, their desire to hopefully come back to North America, even though there is nothing planned at the moment. At the time, he hinted at “extensions” of The Great Depression that will be coming, and we got the first iteration of that with Denial: Reimagined, the first of a four part series that has the band reimagining the entire record.
It’s a fitting additional chapter, as this was an era in itself of reimagining, in ways. As It Is took the expectations placed upon them and went the other way. They did it for artistic purposes and to make the record they wanted to make, and this honesty showed through and turned into incredible fan appreciation. As Walters expressed to me in our interview, they don’t know where they’re going or what the next chapter is at the moment, and that’s okay. They don’t need to.
The Great Depression was a tragic, dark time in world history. For As It Is — much like how fans took different interpretations from their record — those three words have become something different for the band. Those words represent success, optimism, and a stronger than ever connection with their fans.