With the release of their newest record ‘If I’m The Devil…’ looming, we squeezed in some time with letlive. guitarist and producer Jeff Sahyoun.
For many years now, letlive. have been one of the most forward-thinking bands in alternative music. Whether it’s possessing a DIY, zero-fucks-given attitude, espousing a uniquely social lyrical consciousness, or blowing up stages across the globe with their wild, incendiary live performances and the human powder-keg that is enigmatic frontman Jason Aaron Butler – letlive. have no trouble leaving a mark. With the release of their newest record ‘If I’m The Devil…’ looming, we managed to squeeze in some time with guitarist and producer Jeff Sahyoun to have a chat about differences of opinion, the true spirit of punk rock and how the band pulls off their notoriously extreme live show.
Hey man, what’s up?
Not much dude. How are you doing?
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I’m good. I’m just driving home right now, and stuck in some traffic.
Unlucky. Well, I guess you have some time spare for a few questions then.
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess so.
Awesome. Let’s talk about the new record ‘If I’m The Devil…’. It’s a rich, emotional and complex record, but it’s also a very different record for letlive. Could you walk us through your mindset and writing processes for the record, and how those came out in the studio with the band?
I guess we didn't have a ‘written schematic’ for what we wanted to do on the record, as far as the band is concerned. Everybody had different ideas and everybody listens to different music. We all come from different backgrounds, so this record was a very important record for all of us. We've been touring for the last five years plus, so not only did we have to come back and focus on writing this new record, but I think we also had to start rewriting the band as a whole. Kind of reinventing ourselves. In a way, you start to lose so much of yourself, who you are and those personal aspects of yourself when you tour so much. So we came home and we kind of got to do our own thing for a little bit. By the time we got in the studio to write, it was very ‘hit or miss’ at first.
It was very hard for us to find a common interest I would say, musically. We had to try and feel out different vibes here and there in the practice space we were in. We just kept jamming with each other, writing riffs and trying to think outside the box. We experimented with a bunch of different effects and different routes as far as the writing process goes, whereas before we’d all sit in a room and just make a bunch of noise to come up with the grungiest, hard-hitting and most aggressive shit we could think of. I think this time we all just wanted something a bit more diverse, a bit more digestible and ‘easy on the ears’ as they say.
We’ve been on a massive journey together as people, and I think we wanted to translate that to our music in one way or another. I think it was kind of inevitable that after so many sessions of raw experimentation, we started adapting a feel of what we were going for. So yeah, by the end of it we just kept writing, kept experimenting, making mistakes, and sometimes even when we thought a song was finished and completed, it would be deleted and rewritten. It was definitely fun; definitely exhausting and confusing at times. We had the opportunity to reinvent ourselves as a unit, and as a whole. That’s pretty much the gist of how it happened: just spending a lot of time in that room, almost five or six days a week, 10 or 11 hour sessions every day. I’m very happy with it and really stoked on how things managed to turn around.
That’s really cool dude. Touching on those difficulties you just mentioned, I was reading an interview recently that Jason did with Revolver magazine last year, during the recording sessions for ‘If I’m The Devil…’, where he was quoted as saying: “We got into a bunch of fucking arguments when we were writing this record. Some of us wanted to do our punk songs, and some of us wanted to do our more rock songs. Me, I wanted to do some shit that sounded like Kanye [West] meets Royal Blood or some- thing.” Which is a really interesting quote, because in many ways, I think that sense of ‘push-and-pull’ is rife across this record. There are a lot of different themes and moods going on. Would you agree with that?
Yeah, 100%. I was actually one of the members who kind of sat back in the control booth, being an engineer and what not. And my other band mates would come and show me examples of what they’re trying to accomplish by delivering their visions and ideas to the rest of the band members. So sometimes the way we’d like to do that, is by recording full rough demoes of an idea, and show it to everybody first rather than just trying to explain yourself, because they might not immediately understand what you’re trying to do. It’s much easier to share your ideas. And Jason in particular, threw in some amazing curve balls.
Like the rest of rest, he had some amazing visions and ideas for the band to kind of drive through. But yeah, that definitely happened. There would be times, when I’d be sitting there for six hours or so in the control booth, and I’d end up with a song that’s on more of a hip-hop level, to be honest. Sometimes it was metal, and then other times it was straight punk. Sometimes it was pop. Very, very diverse material with lots of dynamics. We were trying to harness the proper, ‘real’ feel of the record, and come together as a group and then release it to the public.
It was very interesting, and there were definitely a lot of arguments, which actually created some distance in the band as we we’re trying to write. Everybody wants to express themselves. And when you’re a collective group of five individuals in a room, everyone will have different opinions of what they want. It’s inevitable that you’re going to end up arguing sometimes. But in the end, it kind of brings you closer in a way. As opposed to some people who maybe aren’t very vocal about their ideas, and kind of stay quiet, and keep those feelings lingering and it turns into an explosion later on in their lives or career. We’re really close and we’re pretty much like family. Sometimes you hear things that you don’t want to hear, but at the end of the day these guys are your best friends and they’re just trying to look out for your best interests and they can be very vocal and opinionated about what they feel as fellow artists. And I think that’s really important. I think once we got past that, we were able to find a middle ground that worked with what each individual was saying, and it made the writing process a lot easier. So [there was] definitely a lot of difference in the studio this time around, but I think it benefited us in the end, and worked out for the best. We ended up with a great record, and one that we’re all really proud of.
That’s awesome man. I’m glad you guys were able to work through that stuff, and come out of it with a record like ‘If I’m The Devil…’. I was actually looking at your portfolio online while I was doing research for this interview, and going through your work as an engineer and professional musician.
Oh dude, that stuff is horribly out of date [laughs].
That may be so, but it leads me to another question and it’s something that you touched on briefly there before. Being a producer, engineer, as well as a band member, do you sometimes have an ‘outsiders’ perspective, which might help to turn those more heated moments into positive input for the band? Especially in terms of song-writing and making compositions or arrangements within the band?
I think so, in some ways. Everyone in the band has unique characteristics and colour to their art, which is awesome and something that I’m grateful for. With any artist or band that I’ve ever worked with, I’ve always been able to pick up on something. It might be something very minor, or might be something very drastic. And that definitely applies to the everyday things that I do, as a musician and artist. So I’m very fortunate to be exposed to so many bands and artists around the world. I’m always able to question and observe, and then grab those things and bring them back into my band. You know like, ‘Hey I learned how to do this thing, check it out.’ It lets me incorporate those learning experiences into the band and what we’re trying to accomplish. I love what I do, and I’m very fortunate to be able to have that opportunity.
In terms of the band’s back catalogue, I find ‘If I’m The Devil…’ to be the most melodic and accessible, but also the most sonically nuanced record. I see people talk about the band ‘moving away’ from a punk or hardcore sound, and I wanted to know if that’s a sentiment shared by the band, and if so, why?
[Laughs] No, I don’t think so. We’ve all come from punk foundations or backgrounds in a way growing up. We’re still punk [laughs]. I really just think it’s the evolution of the band, as songwriters and artists. We’re all obviously getting older and we just want to experiment with different things. Everything that we write and everything that we do, we channel from what we do on stage. Even from our personal lives too. And I think it will always have that ‘punk rock’ aesthetic. That’s always with us and don’t think that’s ever going to change. It’s who we are as people first.
I don’t think we went in to the studio and had a conversation about moving away from punk rock, or ‘selling out, or anything like that. I don’t think bands have conversations about that, I think it just kind of happens. The stuff on this record came about or evolved from very punk, grungy riffs at first. We just wanted to try something different, try something out of the box. To explore different sounds and different details. We focused a lot more on details this time around, and think that’s how happened. We never had a conversation about not being ‘punk’ any more – we’re always going to be a punk rock band. If anything, I think we were trying to do a different colour of punk rock, if that makes sense?
Totally man. In my opinion, sometimes the most ‘punk’ thing you can do as a band, is not play punk at, all and just be honest with yourselves as musicians.
Absolutely. I think that’s what punk rock music is for, and that’s how it evolved in the first place. It came out of that scene and not giving a fuck about what other people thought of you. If you think back to when you’re 15 or 16 years old, and going to a venue and not having to worry about self-esteem or egos or anything like that. You can just throw yourself around, and give your entire soul to that band on stage, because you feel free. You can do, say, think and feel however you want and that’s the beautiful aspect of punk rock.
Going in to this album, we just wanted to try something new. We never sat down and told ourselves, ‘Hey, let’s try something new.’ It just naturally, sort of happened. And like we always do, we took our time with it and just kind of let the record write itself in a way. We just sat back and kind of let the record do as it pleased. The outcome is ‘If I’m The Devil…’, and I couldn't be more stoked with it.
I agree. It’s a great record Jeff, and you guys should be very proud of it.
Thanks dude! Thank you so much. We’re very excited about it.
You’re welcome dude. Now finally, to wrap up, letlive. are known for intensity and energy when it comes to your live show. What’s your secret Jeff?
[Laughs] Oh man. What do they say: ‘passion over consequence’? If you feel it, you feel it. It’s 100% all the time, and in the moment. It’s really just how you feel. There are some shows, where we’re just chilling. It’s a different sort of intensity. It’s not the whole, thrashing and mashing guitars, or having Jason do back flips and what not. Sometimes I think there’s different sort of characteristics to that intensity. So I don’t think there’s any real secret, we just get on stage and feel a certain way. Music as a sonic element, together with the crowd, just makes you feel fucking alive for 30 or 40 minutes. We’re fortunate enough to be able to do that most nights, and let go of whatever else we might be feeling on a daily basis. We get to throw it out there while we’re on stage. I wouldn't say there’s any secret, it’s just being real. Being very in tune with your emotions, just letting loose, and fucking not giving a shit and playing how you feel. We pull more from our hearts than our brains. So I hope that makes some sense [laughs].
Absolutely man. Thanks you very much for your time today Jeff, and good luck with the traffic!
Thanks man, I’m almost home so we’re all good.
‘If I'm The Devil...’ is due out June 10 via Epitaph. Pre-orders are available here.