Poison Headache has emerged on the scene with their blistering self-titled debut. Guitarist Phil Sgrosso, formerly of As I Lay Dying and currently of Wovenwar, caught up with Metal On Loud to give us a rundown on the new crossover metal trio, the fallout of As I Lay Dying’s shocking breakup, and the outlook on his future with various metal projects.
Thanks so much for speaking with us here at Metal On Loud. Why don’t you give us a brief rundown of how Poison Headache came together. From what I understand the album is several years in the making.
Yeah, it started awhile ago, we’ll say that. I was always too busy. I was hanging just for fun with Andy Kukta and Kyle Rosa, from San Diego and we’ve been friends since high school. I was always too busy with As I Lay Dying’s touring schedule and writing. It was all just for fun. We were still piecing together songs here and there throughout the years, and finally it was like wait, we have enough songs for an album, let’s do it! Lets find out what team we want with a label. Obviously I have a good reputation with Metal Blade, so they were onboard to do it. Getting Taylor Young from Nails and Twitching Tongues to get onboard for mixing and engineering the drums, it all kind of worked out once we started being comitted to taking it to the next level.
I understand you recorded some of this in your home studio?
Yeah, after we had tracked with Taylor we brought everyhting, all the vocals, guitars and bass in my home studio. I engineered all the stuff that Andy had done as well as all the vocals, guitars and bass that I had done. Then I brought all that to Taylor again, and we went to mixing from there.
That’s awesome. I read something you guys said where you aim to mix the speed and simplicity of punk with the abrasive side of metal, and I totally feel that listening to this record. I get the crossover vibe, and I’m sure that has a lot to do with the artists that infleunced your career.
Yeah, totally! Bands like Entombed, High on Fire or the early Deathwish days. Those were bands that Andy, Kyle and I are totally into. We like a vast array of different music, but that’s the common thread of Poison Headache, we wanted to have that more punk attitude, but we’re metal dudes still. So we’re going to combine all of those things together.
It certainly shows off your range, having the metalcore dynamic of As I Lay Dying, and then another layer in Wovenwar, and now Poison Headache. It must give you so much artistic freedom with all these metal and rock subgenres?
Toatally. I’ve been this band for over five years now, so it goes to show that it’s always been a passion of mine to play a sound like that. The rug was pulled out from As I Lay Dying and it was like, ‘ok, what do we want to do with Wovenwar?’ I always had this in the background, that I someday wanted to get Poison Headache out there. As different as all the bands are, this one is something I’m probably the most passionate about, because I do vocals as well and write lyrics. We’re a three piece, so there’s more involvement from all three of us. We have a lot more to take on, especially with me wanting to produce and engineer all of this stuff. It was a very personal project for me. It’s a personal endeavour. I try not to throw the word project around, because I don’t want people to say it’s a side project. It is and it isn’t. It’s something that I take very seriously.
How does the three piece dynamic feel? Obviously there’s five of you in Wovenwar, and you’ve spent the bulk of your career playing for a five piece.
The four of us have been doing music for over 10 years. It’s just a different dynamic compared to Poison Headache, who are friends I’ve had since high school. We found eachother and bonded together really came together through music differently than with As I Lay Dying or Wovenwar. It’s just another different thing.
I’m curious on the immediate future of Poison Headache? Are there any plans on doing any touring? Or is this kind of a wait and see how the album goes type thing?
That’s definitely the first step of the process, get the album done and we’ll kind of see how things transpire from there. We’re getting some offers for some shows, probably in the late summer or fall, so we’ll probably be doing some stuff, but I’m already busy doing touring with two different bands, Saosin and Nails. Two totally different bands all together. I’ve been on tour with them and this new Wovenwar record is being finished right now. It’s scheduling and finding the time, but Poison Headache is going to get out there at some point.
I was going to ask you how you possibly fit everything in? Working with Wovenwar and Poison Headache as well as all this touring you do with other groups, and not to mention your own producing and engineering, etc.
It really comes down to staying ontop of the schedules for all the bands. So far I’ve been fortunate that nothing has really overlapped too much. Saosin and Nails aren’t bands touring nine months out of the year. It’s been good that I can do both so far. Once Wovenwar gets back out on the road I’ll have to be a little bit more strategic with how we do things. But if I can make all these things work and keep playing new music and creating new music with other bands then that’s pretty ideal for me.
Absolutely. And you know, you had a fantastic career with As I Lay Dying. It sucks for everyone involved with how that ended and it’s not the way anyone wanted it to go down. It must have felt like a dark period for awhile, but as sad as it is to say there is some good that has come out of that, with Wovenwar putting out such great material, and now this. It must be, looking back on it, an insanely crazy couple of years for you?
ha ha, yeah, crazy is kind of an understatement in a way. It was becoming a ticking timebomb in a lot of ways with As I Lay Dying. As shocking as it was for the public, we just had to stop. It was getting to a point where there needed to be a change. As awful as this was, there is a silver string where we could all start doing other music and ventures. We had to relight that fire under our ass to keep getting things done and create music and stay driven. I think, having all these other musical opportunities for me has been great. I feel like it’s something I wanted for a long time and just couldn’t have done it then, but I have the opportunity to do that now.
What are some of your favourite spots to play? What do you think are the most thriving metal markets? I’m from Canada, which I know has a very hungry metal community.
Funny enough, Canada has always been for me one of my favourite markets. I’d say Edmonton and Montreal, we’ve sold some of the most merch in those cities than anywhere in the States. The crowds are just crazy. We don’t tour Canada very often, but it’s like oh my God when you go there, because the energy is just amazing. Not trying to kiss Canada’s ass, but those come straight to mind on being some of the best cities that we’ve been in. I would say Germany has always been a very passionate metal, with places like Hamburg, Cologne, Berlin. Those are some of my favourite cities. In the States, I’d say like Seattle is one of my favourites. I feel like it’s just a musical city with it’s background. Sometmes it’s hit or miss and it’s like last time we were here was amazing and this time it’s a total dud. What’s going on? But it all depends on if you’re headlining or if you’re on someone’s support tour. There’s a bunch of variables that always go into that.
It alwaysa amazes me, and looking at North America in particular, how you can pinpoint certain regions as kind of the birthplace of subgenres of metal, with death metal really thriving from Florida, thrash in California and again Montreal being such a huge metal city. It’s so cool to see how diverse metal is and how it spreads.
Yeah totally, and you look at major markets like Chicago and places like that where it’s like man, this is like a hub. They get all the suburbs and the neighbouring metal fans to come into the city, and it’s just one big event.
You’ve gotten to see metal through a lot of different angles. What is it to you that really appeals about metal audiences and the metal fanbase?
They’re a very tough crowd to convince. Me being a metal fan, a part from musician, I’m very critical of what I like. Is this guitar player the style I like? Do I like this drummer? Everything really has to be there, all of the elements have to be there together. It’s like man, this band is great, and I’m in. I’m a true fan, because you go through this critical over-thinker process and they convince you and make you a fan. It’s not wishy-washy. It’s very passionate, and the metal bands that I love I’m still so critical of them, but the fans that keep excelling and progressing, I’m still on board with them. I can’t think of fans of other genres who are as passionate about their music. I feel like they’re not super passionate about Coldplay or Rihanna. These fans are like ‘yeah this is what I like and it makes me happy.’ That’s great for you, but I need to constantly have more and more metal bands filling in my day. I’m like I have to put on some metal, what am I going to do? Ultimately I think it’s passion, and you see it. You go to Heavy MTL or you go to Wacken in Germany and you look out at the crowd and it’s just a sea of metalheads who just want to drink beer and listen to good metal. That’s all they want to do, always.
That seems to be the prevailing theme of most every artist I’ve met and have spoken with and the word that always comes up is passion. The fans are just so amazing. I still think metal gets a bad rep and hasn’t been fully appreciaited for what it is.
Yeah and it should be a community. Obviously that’s ideal for anything. You can tell when someone is doing it for the wrong reason. Metal to the outside world isn’t the cool thing, so you truly love metal because that’s what resonates within you. Fuck everything else. This is what I like and this is what makes me happy. That’s all that matters.
Final question man, and thank so much again for the time. Love picking your brain. How would you like to see the rest of 2016 play out? For Poison Headache and all of your other metal endeavours?
It’s like with everything and taking the next gradual step. Get the Poison Headache out and then the next thing would be to do some shows. We start in Southern California and build from there. You want to buildup your fanbase and scene where you’re from, and that’s something we want to do with Poison Headache. With Wovenwar I think it would be great to get back over and do festivals. We’re still building to the point of getting good support tours. I’m just having a good time. I’ll be promoting the new Nails record, which kicks so much ass and learning those new songs and getting out and doing things with them … just having fun with music, that’s my main thing and to keep doing this. A few years ago I was faced with the possibility that I may not be able to keep doing music. The fact that I have all of these different things I’m just very grateful and I want to make the most out of it.