Photo: Olaf Heine
All of Adelitas Way’s hard work has been paying off big time. In the wake of their first hit single, “Invincible,” the Las Vegas-based rockers have been touring the US with seemingly limitless energy. Adelitas Way’s sophomore full-length, ‘Home School Valedictorian,’ sees them climbing even higher up the charts on the strength of singer Rick DeJesus’ heartfelt storytelling and a very enthusiastic fanbase. The new album, which was released on June 7 via Virgin Records, features the band’s tightest and most varied songwriting yet over 11 hard-rocking tracks.
Rick was nice enough to talk with Rock Edition over the phone as the band was enjoying a day off from their US tour with Sevendust. Check out our conversation about life on the road, writing the lyrics for the new album, and American pop culture below.
Hey Rick, how’s it going?
It’s good, man. Just chilling in Columbus, Ohio.
What’s the band up to today?
We’re off. We played last night; it was a great show. We’re with Sevendust right now, and we got a day off in Ohio. We’re just relaxing, and I’m getting ready to go to the gym in a little bit.
Nice. How’s that tour going?
It’s great, man. Sevendust is one of the best live bands out there. They got some diehard, dedicated fans, which is good for us because you need those kind of people to come out to any show. They’ll come and support the bands; they buy stuff. It’s been a great run.
Sounds like it. Has anything crazy happened on the road?
We’ve been out for almost three and a half years, so I’ve seen everything and anything you could throw at me. [laughs] I’ve seen more crazy things than a man should in his life. But I think at our stage that we’re at now with the band, I think we’ve all mellowed out more on the road. Trevor [Stafford, drummer] used to be a wild man on the road. We’ve been doing it for so long — the band’s been at it for about five, six years now — that we have a great time together, but we do more nerdy stuff together. We play a lot of Xbox, play Call of Duty. We play video games; we play laser tag. We’re not in the back like 1985 shooting heroin. [laughs] But we have a good time, man. The band has fun, and I think that’s what keeps our band fresh; that’s what keeps everything good. When we’re off the road, I still hang out with the guys in my band. When we’re all in Las Vegas, we still go and do everything together. I think that’s why we have so much fun out here.
That sounds like an awesome time.
It definitely is. It’s like being out on the road with four of your best friends, five if you count the merch guy. My best friend and Trevor’s best friend are coming out on the Carnival of Madness with us, so we’re literally going to be with all of our best friends.
Are you stoked for that tour?
I can’t wait, man. First things first, Alter Bridge, I think, is one of the best rock bands that’s out there, that’s coming up right now. Obviously, the Theory of a Deadman guys are very, very good friends of ours. Their singer, Tyler Connolly, performs a song on our new record with me, and we’re really good friends. We’re all looking forward to getting back out with each other. I hung out with those guys a lot when we were making our album. When we were doing this record, we were out in LA, and we went out a lot. The road is really just being out with all your homies, man. It’s like being out with friends. If you’re not with the bands, it’s not fun. That’s what we have; we have each other. We have the bands; we have the crews; that’s what we’ve got.
Congratulations on hitting #1 on the Active Rock chart! How does that kind of popularity feel?
It feels amazing. I still think our band is growing steadily. If you look at what we’re doing, we’re doing it the grassroots, ground building way. We toured the first record for three and a half years, and our first single broke top 5; our second one broke top 15, top 20. We’ve played every city 15, 20 times. We didn’t explode overnight. We’ve got to play every city; we’ve got to do the groundwork, and now our second album’s coming out. We’re still going up; we’re rising. Now we have a #1 song. Now our records are selling. I love seeing the progression of this band because I feel like we’ve done it the right way. I feel like we’ve done it the way for a band who’s going to be around for a long time. That’s the goal. I would’ve been a little afraid if we were to come out and our first song we ever released would’ve been a smash, or we would have sold 500,000 records. Then it’s like you have that pressure to continue to do that; there’s no building. The way we’re doing it, our first record’s going to do a 100,000 records; the second one hopefully will do between 250,000 and 750,000. You never know what’s going to happen. I love that build; I love how this band is establishing ourselves.
There’s no plateau.
Yeah. If we came out with our first single off our second record and we peaked at 22 and the record didn’t sell as well as the first one, then I’d be afraid. But it’s so amazing for me to see more and more fans jumping on it, more radio stations jumping on it. Virgin has put so much development behind us, and it feels amazing.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve seen all these major cities many times over the past year. With that in mind, is touring still just as fresh for you?
Of course, because now our goal is to headline, obviously. We’ve been in these cities five, six times; now you can tell. When you show up to Columbus, Ohio, you come to the show last night, you can tell we’ve been here because people are singing the songs. We’re direct support for Sevendust, and people are right in the front; they’re waiting for us. With the first record, people were looking at us like, “Who is this band? Who are these guys?” Now, people are getting there to see us; people are coming out for us; people are wearing our t-shirts. And you can see it. We were on a theater tour, and unfortunately, a theater pulled off a show. We decided to still go, and we headlined a show in Springfield, Missouri, which we’ve only been to two or three times. We were like, “Let’s just see how it goes,” and we sold the club out in one day.
Whoa. You mean the day that you announced the show?
We sold out the night we announced it. We announced it the night before, and the next day, it sold out. That feels great, man, to be able to go into cities now. We’re starting to build a reputation as a strong live band, a band that can play. We draw people. We headlined a show in Peoria, Illinois the other night, and we packed a club. I love seeing that; it shows our progression. If we were showing up at places and they were still empty, I’d be like, “Man, we’ve been touring for four years!” Exactly how it’s supposed to go, it’s been going. We’ve been constantly growing, and that’s what I think the most important key is in rock ‘n’ roll these days. You can’t be a flash in the pan. You’ve gotta put your groundwork in, and I feel like our band’s put the groundwork in and it’s time to start seeing the results.
It sounds like you guys work pretty hard.
We work really, really hard. We love doing this, man. We love our fans. We love that we’re able to do this every night.
Awesome. Let’s switch gears a little bit now. How would you compare the writing and recording process for ‘Home School Valedictorian’ to the making of your self-titled debut?
For the self-titled record, we had years and years to put together songs and do things. Some of those off the first record I wrote almost 10 years ago, but it’s your first album, so they come out with it. It’s funny because people compare “Last Stand” to Daughtry and Nickelback and Hinder, and it’s funny because I wrote “Last Stand” in 2004 or 2003, before any Daughtry single came out. The band didn’t get signed, and we didn’t get everything going until the record dropped in 2009. The first album is a collection of songs. I think I wrote the song “Brother” when I was out of high school. It’s about my brother. I wrote it in 2002 or 2003, and it didn’t come out until 2009. You have a whole lifetime to write your first album.
I think we knew exactly what we wanted and had to do on the new record, on ‘Home School Valedictorian.’ There was no pressure; I always write the same way. I write about my life; I write about things I’m going through; I write about things people can relate to. If I’m not doing cocaine, I’m not going to write a song about cocaine. I don’t write songs just to hope they’re hits or hope they’re on the radio. I write because I want people to listen to that shit; I want people to relate to it. I want them to feel what I’m feeling when I’m recording the album. There was no pressure on the record. It was like, “Hey, sit down, write what’s going on in your life, write how it feels.” We turned a couple demos into the label, they loved it, and they really just were like, “Guys, you’re doing a great job! Keep going.” They literally just let us run with it.
Nice. Speaking of the lyrics, I was watching your track-by-track videos for the songs off the new record, and it seems like a lot of the lyrics deal with both the conflicts and good times you have with other people. As a lyricist, would you say you’re mostly inspired by relationships?
I think different types of relationships.
Yeah, that’s what I mean.
Yeah, with people, with family, with your spouse. Yeah, definitely. I think that the people that are closest draw the most emotion out of you. I think they touch you the most, so they hurt you the most, so they make you feel good the most. You’ve got to channel that and write about it because you can put any song on the record on, and I know there’s somebody out there that it’s touched them, that somebody’s going, “I feel this way” or “I’ve been through this” or “This song song makes me feel this way.” That’s why I think we are gaining so much success because I think people are listening to the lyrics or listening to the music; it’s hitting them in a certain spot. I’m not just up there telling a girl, “Take your clothes off. I love strippers. I love hookers.” That has no meaning. What kind of person is sitting there, listening to that? What kind of guy really, every night, goes to a strip club or goes and gets a hooker? No one does that shit. It’s not real. When people listen to our record, they’ll hear things that they’re going through. They can immediately listen to the lyrics and apply them to something in their lives.
Yeah. I really like how there’s a balance between dark and light moments on the new record.
Yeah. That’s just the way life and emotion is, man. I’m not sad all the time. [laughs] There’s times I’m happy; there’s times I’m pissed off; there’s times that I’m sad; there’s times that I’m energetic; there’s times that I feel a little crazy. I’ll write about it.
I think there are a lot of bands, especially in modern rock, that only write songs based on negative emotions. Is it ever challenging for you to write songs that aren’t just about dealing with frustration or blowing off steam?
I think the blowing off steam songs always end up being the singles and the most popular ones, so you get pigeonholed to them, but I have no problem writing positive songs. I think that one of the best songs on our record ‘Home School Valedictorian’ is a song called “Alive,” which is just about appreciating life and appreciating the people around you and the person that makes you feel that way. I think that song is a song that’s just a feel good song. You can’t be afraid of those songs. But I think people really do like to pen their frustrations. When me and Tyler from Theory of a Deadman wrote “I Wanna Be,” we went out a night in LA, and we went up to this bar because we wanted to eat. The door guy there was a dick to us, and he wouldn’t let us in. It was kind of like, “Really, man?” So we went back, and we laughed about it, and we were like, “Let’s write an anthem. Let’s write a song for all the people that have to deal with that door guy. That guy standing at the club that won’t let you in, that wants twenty dollars off you. Let’s go write a song about that jerk-off.” And we did.
I feel like songwriting gives you a lot of power, in terms of that kind of thing.
It does because that guy, if he ever finds out who we are or who he is or who Tyler is or one of us, he’ll know that shit’s about him. He’ll have that thought of us: “Oh my god. These guys just wrote a song about me.”[laughs] That would be pretty surprising.
I’ve noticed a lot of the songs on the new record, including “Sick” and “Cage the Beast,” feature some electronic elements. Are you guys fans of any electronic music artists?
I think that music is evolving, and I think that we want to always raise the bar on our records. I love good old meat and potatoes — I love guitars, drums, vocals, bass; I love that. But I also like having those special moments where those things pop out, when a cool synth is coming through. You know who does that, man? Linkin Park. Linkin Park’s a big inspiration. They have those special moments that you just want to listen to over and over again. I’m definitely down with that stuff; I think it’s great. There are DJs out there that are doing it dirty, man. There’s Skrillex, who’s coming up, and you’ve got all this electronica coming up that’s just murdering it right now. I’m glad that we beat the curve. We were one of the first bands to start using that. We made this record almost a year ago, before all the dubstep started becoming real popular. I’m happy that we weren’t the followers. We were one of the first ones to be like, “Yo, we’re a rock band, but let’s throw some synths in here. Let’s throw some electronica in here.”
I think it’s definitely good timing because the whole dubstep scene is really coming up right now.
Yeah, and there are a bunch of artists right now who are running and trying to get on the train right now. I think by the time the records come out, it’s going to be a little late, so I’m glad that we got in the window early. We were one of the first bands to do it; like I said, we tracked this album over a year ago, so it’s still fresh. People are just now listening to Skrillex and then throwing Adelitas Way on, and there’s electronics on that too.
How involved were you guys during the mixing process on this album?
Extremely. It was an honor for me; I got to sit in with one of the best mixers in the world and mix our record. I got to sit with Chris Lord-Alge. I was honored to be in the room, and he let me talk about what I liked and what I didn’t like. I also went in there when Doug McKean mixed the record, and it was great. I was very, very involved; we got notes down. Me and the drummer would sit there and listen to everything, and he would hear the percussion and I would say what I felt. The producer was very involved; it was a team effort. On the day the mixes were getting done, it was me, the drummer, Dave Bassett — the producer — the mixer, and our A&R guy. We were all in there giving our thoughts to make this thing the best it could be.
That sounds like a really cool process.
It was! We literally sat in Rob Cavallo’s studio up in a beautiful part of Los Angeles where they made the Green Day records and the Shinedown records and the My Chemical Romance records. I’m sitting in the same studio that Green Day’s recording their albums in, mixing my record! It was a surreal experience.
Cool. I also really like the music video for “Sick.” Where did you guys film it?
We filmed it in LA. Fortunately for us, our label team, our publicist, our management, and the director had a vision for what we should go for. They wanted something a little over the top, and they wanted something that stood out. I think we hit the nail on the head. We could’ve just went in there and put a bunch of flashy lights around and jumped around, but instead, we got a little dangerous. We got dangerous enough to where I got set on fire.
So those were real flames, not just computer graphics?
Yeah, I got caught on fire in the video. I got set on fire.
That’s crazy. [laughs]
I had to run up and put my hair out. [laughs] But I think it was worth it because the video came out great. We got a lot of love from MTV on it, and I think we did something that was good, that was cool.
Yeah, definitely. What vocalists have influenced you over the years?
There’s so many, man. I definitely would say Chris Cornell is one of the best. Brent Smith from Shinedown is, I think, the best rock singer. Myles [Kennedy] from Alter Bridge is amazing. Adam Gontier from Three Days Grace. There are just so many brilliant artists out there. There are so many brilliant singers, and they all influence me massively. Not to go back to our record again, but that’s another thing the song “I Wanna Be” is about. Here are these guys who are so talented — you’ve got Brent Smith out there, and you’ve got Adam Gontier — you’ve got these amazing rock singers, and the reality TV stars have now become more famous than the biggest rock stars in the world. It boggles my mind that America is letting that happen to rock music. It boggles my mind that Kim Kardashian, who has no talent at all, is more famous than Brent Smith, one of the best singers probably ever to live. I think he’s one of the best to probably ever come around! His voice is full of soul. You’ve got someone like Kim Kardashian — these people, they do nothing! There’s no talent. What’s their talent? Getting fucked? What’s their talent? I think it’s time to take the rock reins back, and I think that’s going to start happening. I think people are going to get sick of Jersey Shore, sick of Kim Kardashian. That passes, man, and we’ll be there waiting to take our reins back.
Hopefully, you guys getting popular is part of that resurgence of music.
It’s going to be, man. It’s going to take a big 360. In the early 2000s, rock was it. The Nickelbacks, the Hinders — they were selling millions of records. Nickelback, obviously, are never going to go away because they’re the biggest rock band in the world. There was a time when rock was on top, and right now it’s pop. You have Ke$ha and that shit, and people will get sick of Ke$ha rewriting the same song 55 times. They’ll get sick of it, she’ll be gone, and it’ll come back to us.
Well, I look forward to that day. [laughs]
So do I, so do I. I think the real artists are going to stay around — the Lady Gagas, the Katy Perrys. They’re not going anywhere; they’re icons. When I think of icons, I don’t think of Ke$ha. I think she just sucks balls, man. She’s big off of a trend right now.
What’s the meaning of the title of the new album?
‘Home School Valedictorian’?
I’ve met a lot of people in my life who are so arrogant and so self-absorbed. In their mind, they think that they’re above and better than everyone else. I’ve met so many people like that, that are the best person they know. Like, “Who’s the greatest person you know?” “Oh, myself.” That’s a home school valedictorian to me. Somebody that pats their own back, that’s constantly telling people how good they are, constantly letting people know that they’re their favorite person. That’s what a home school valedictorian is to me. And I know one of those very, very well, and that was the first thing we all thought of because our whole band knows that person, and we love the idea of the title.
It’s cool that you’re able to express your frustration toward that idea through music.
I told you, man, the record company, the management, everybody’s been very, very supportive of us making a real album and us getting how we feel out. Letting us name the album title, from artwork to photos — it’s just been a great collaborative effort, and that’s why I think this feels so good.
Pick up Adelitas Way’s new album, Home School Valedictorian.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.