In 2008, Black Tide made waves in the metal community with their debut album, ‘Light from Above.’ That record saw the young headbangers — all of whom were under the age of 20 at the time of writing and recording — rip through surprisingly energetic throwback thrash metal and hard rock riffs. But on their recently released sophomore album, ‘Post Mortem,’ Black Tide have swapped their fixation on the ’80s with a modern metalcore sound that has more in common with Killswitch Engage than Metallica. While the rockers have retained their penchant for harmonized dual guitar leads, the songs showcase frontman Gabriel Garcia’s rawer vocals and impeccably polished hooks that wouldn’t be out of place on Top 40 hits. Black Tide hope to pull in scores of new fans with this deft blending of aggression and accessibility.
Rock Edition was fortunate enough to speak on the phone with drummer Steven Spence as the band was wrapping up their stint on this year’s Uproar Festival. Head below to read what he had to say about ‘Post Mortem,’ writing songs on guitar, and pop music.
How’s it going?
It’s going all right. We’re on the Uproar tour, just towards the last leg of it. Still doing it.
How has that tour been so far?
It’s been amazing, man. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.
What would you say have been some of the standout moments, on stage and off?
Well, if you’re not familiar, our new album ‘Post Mortem’ has a track featuring Matt Tuck from Bullet for My Valentine. It’s actually the first track; it’s called “Ashes.” We recently recorded a live video for it. We shot it the other day in Seattle, and we lucked out because that was probably one of the best crowds we’ve had. We’re a band that really likes to feed off of the energy of the crowd that we get, and because of that I think the video is going to turn out really awesome. So we’re excited to see that.
Nice. So has Matt typically been performing that song with you guys live on this tour?
I mean, he has performed it with us, yes. It’s not like an everyday thing, but whenever we do it.
Cool. Could you take us through a typical day on tour with Black Tide?
Yeah, absolutely. It starts at bus call the night before. We’re literally a band of best friends, and we’re trying to build our crew around that. It’s just literally a family on tour, so we always have fun. And then we get to the next city in the morning, wake up, and get things going. We’ve got our minds set on what we need to do and what we need to get done. A lot of the places look very similar so it’s a little weird, but it’s cool. We’ve got our eyes on the prize on the road, and we’re working hard every single day to get there. We get on stage, give it our best, and then relax after all our obligations have been taken care of. We just like to have a good time. There are a lot of parties on Uproar, and I’m actually a DJ too, so I like to DJ and make sure everyone has a good time at night. And then on to the next city.
What kind of music do you play when you do your DJ thing?
Oh, I play everything.
Any specific artists that you like to keep in the rotation?
I play Guns N’ Roses to MC Hammer, dude. Everything.
Nice. Sounds like a good mix. What was it like getting to open for Iron Maiden earlier this year?
It was awesome. We were actually main support for them, so it was only us and them in sold out arenas in Florida. They were actually the only two US dates on that world tour that Iron Maiden were on, so we were fortunate to do every US date. I like to say that, but unfortunately it was only two. But it was still amazing nonetheless. And one of them happened to be a hometown show for us. You can imagine us playing in front of all our friends and family at a show like that. It was awesome, and to see a band like Iron Maiden again on stage was extremely inspiring, to say the least.
Yeah, totally. Did you get to hang out with them at all?
They came and hung out for a bit. We’ve played shows with them before in Europe and all over. I wouldn’t say we’re best friends, but we definitely know the guys.
That must’ve been a really awesome experience.
A few years ago, I feel like a lot of people mainly knew you guys as that one really young ’80s metal band. Has it ever been hard for you to kick that reputation?
You just try to look at the positive things. You never want to be stuck in a box as an artist; that’s how I feel. Just to limit myself to one genre is kind of a negative thing for me. One thing that we like to do is just be creative. We don’t have an agenda of whatever we want to be. I wouldn’t say we’re not that because we do have that first record that was very influenced by ’80s songs and ’80s metal, but I think we’ve grown as musicians, as individuals. We don’t want to limit ourselves.
Definitely. In retrospect, what was it like for you to get so much attention at such a young age?
It was awesome. It was a bit overwhelming, but it was a learning experience. I was on the road when I was 19, when we were doing the first record. Gabriel [vocalist/guitarist] was 14. I say that because he’s the youngest, and I’m the oldest, just to give you a range of our age. It was a bit overwhelming, but it was awesome and surreal. Flying all over, doing things, living our dream — what it was at the time. But at the same time we realized that we’re not done, we’ve got a lot to learn, and we’ve got a long way to go. We’re eventually going to be where we want to be, and that is headlining a festival like this or just branching out and doing whatever we want to be able to do musically.
Let’s talk a little bit about the new album. In your opinion, how has your sound evolved between ‘Light from Above’ and ‘Post Mortem’?
I would say that our sound has evolved in a much better way, in a great way. We’ve evolved and progressed as musicians, as songwriters, collectively and individually. We’ll get together and show each other parts for songs that we come up with, and they’re just more well-rounded than they were before. Before, we had the mindset that if it wasn’t fast, it wasn’t aggressive, or if it wasn’t this or it wasn’t that, it wasn’t good. But now, we write for the song. We write about how we feel, as opposed to earlier in our career when we were just like, “Alright, this sounds cool. Let’s put it out.” Now, we take time with the songwriting experience and wait for inspiration. I feel — and everyone feels the same way — that the songs get better when they really mean something and they’re inspired by actual feelings and passion.
So you guys took some pressure off of yourselves to not just make everything the same way.
Was your label supportive of the decision to significantly change your style?
It was a little rough at first — there was some back and forth — but in the end [our relationship with] Interscope Records is great. They’ve been very supportive, and they’ve pushed us a lot to be the best that we can be. It’s great, and the amount of control we have is almost unparalleled for a band of our stature. I feel like our creative control is, like I said, unparalleled for where we are.
Do you think that having Austin [Diaz] on rhythm guitar now has brought in any new influences to the music?
Absolutely. Austin is like the missing piece of the puzzle that we didn’t have before. He brings so much to the table musically and not only musically, as an individual and as a person. He is the missing link that we really needed, one of the driving forces and one of the people that holds us together on the road. He’s our best friend, so it’s perfect.
The first single from ‘Post Mortem,’ “Bury Me,” came out over a year ago. Do you think that the song has remained fresh over that time?
Yeah, absolutely. Like you said, it was out a year ago, and at the time we thought our record was going to be out a little bit earlier. We put our fans through a lot; we postponed it a couple times. But in the end, all those things were for the better. Our album wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for that. So it’s still fresh in our minds in comparison to other songs off our first record.
Had the other songs on ‘Post Mortem’ been already written around that time, or did you record those after you released “Bury Me”?
It all depends on which song you’re talking about. “Fight Til the Bitter End” wasn’t written or recorded until January. We wrote and recorded this record all over. We started writing on the road. We came up with about 50 songs for it, [took] about 15, and then decided to narrow it down to 10 on the actual album. We recorded in New York primarily, but also tracked in Miami near our home and finished the album up in Los Angeles. So it’s been a long process, but it’s for the better.
Did you say you guys originally had 50 songs?
50 songs, yeah.
Wow, that’s absolutely nuts!
Yeah, I think it was actually like 47, something like that. It was about that.
That’s amazing. I read in your official bio that you actually wrote “Walking Dead Man” on guitar. Do you come up with a lot of songs on guitar outside of playing drums in the band?
Yeah, absolutely. I love creating — that’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve never wanted to be just a drummer. I have so much more to express when it comes to music. I’ve played guitar for a while, and I like to experiment. My songs on guitar tend to be a little bit more driven by rhythm. It’s really humbling, and it’s awesome to see that because I know that I’ve got such great guitarists in my band between Gabriel and Austin. It’s flattering to see that one of my tracks made it on the record on guitar. That was pretty cool for me; that was a big thing. I’m going to continue to write and do different things like that.
Nice. How long have you been playing guitar for?
You know what, it’s not like a thing that I’ve really kept track of. It’s more like I’ve had a guitar in my room, and I picked it up and taught myself how to play after I learned how to tune it. It’s not like I sit down — I don’t consider myself a guitar player. I feel the same way about piano. I don’t consider myself a real piano player, but I have a piano at my house.
Well, it’s awesome that some of your stuff got on the record. We were talking about this earlier — how did your collaboration with Matt Tuck on “Ashes” originally happen?
We were out on tour with them, actually, last year, and we’ve known those guys for a while. I’d say they’re probably our best friends on the road. He came up to us, and we were talking, and it just ended up working out. It was brought up; he was like, “Why don’t you guys…” And we were like, “Are you fucking kidding me? Of course!” It just worked out, and we were really close to the studio that we were tracking the record in in New York. Two days later, we were there, and he tracked it in a matter of one little quick session. And that was it.
We were talking a little bit about this before as well, but where do you see Black Tide going in the next four or five years?
I feel like I answered that question already. Hopefully, we’re just going to be doing things like this, headlining, and we’ll just do whatever we want creatively. On the road and staying humble. Realizing where we come from and realizing it’s all about the fans. That’s pretty much it, just being able to continue to do what we love.
Do you feel like any of the bands — you don’t have to name names or anything — do you feel like any bands you’ve toured with before have lost sight of that?
Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, 100 percent. I mean, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t look at it as a bad thing. I just look at it as that’s how I don’t want to be. It’s also a wake up call for me because if I didn’t see that, then who knows? Maybe I would lose track or we would lose track. So seeing things like that is not necessarily a bad thing for us. It might help us out.
In that same bio I was talking about before, it also says that you read “voraciously.” What are some of your favorite books?
I wouldn’t say that I’m a “voracious” reader. I always like to learn; I always like to challenge my brain. When I’m at home, I read more than when I’m on the road because I’m so busy on the road doing different things and handling — we all split up the tour managing duties because we don’t have a tour manager on the road — just dealing with a bunch of different things. I don’t really have too much time to read, and I don’t really like reading on the road when we’re moving. At home, I’m reading a book called Physics of the Future, which is awesome. It’s by Michio Kaku. He’s a quantum physicist. It’s pretty interesting what technology is coming to and where it will be in the next 100 years. It’s pretty insane, if you guys want to check it out.
Yeah, that sounds cool. I just saw some videos of you doing some Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga drum covers on YouTube from a few years back. Would you consider yourself a fan of pop music in general?
Absolutely. Like I said, I don’t like to limit myself. I listen to everything, and especially being a DJ as well, I play everything. I play a lot of hip-hop, Top 40, metal, the heaviest songs you’ll ever hear in your life, and the catchiest, chillest music. I’ve got a bunch of stuff on my hard drive, so you wouldn’t be surprised if you saw anything on there. Like you said, those little videos that you’ve seen of me online — I do a DJ drum thing on the side as well, and I’m performing in Vegas, which is pretty cool, coming up.
I feel like sometimes it’s kind of rare among people who like metal a lot — they kind of shun all other genres, especially pop.
Yeah, it’s unfortunate. Like I said, if you limit yourself with what you listen to, you limit yourself with what you can possibly create, and I never want to do that because I want to bring to the table anything and everything that I can.
I’ve got one last question for you: if you could build a time machine and play drums in any other band from the past 50 years or so, what band would you choose to play with?
Man, that’s tough. I really don’t know. I think I would want to play drums in a band called Nirvana and then start a band called Foo Fighters.[laughs] That would be pretty cool!
[laughs] That’d be pretty damn awesome. But I’m no Dave Grohl.
Pick up Black Tide’s new album, Post Mortem.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their official website.