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Interview with Flyleaf lead guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya

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In the ten years that the group has been together, Texas alt rock band Flyleaf has certainly come a long way. The band may feature the talented and very attractive lead singer Lacey Mosley, but there is actually some skill in this band to back it all up. It’s been four years since the release of Flyleaf’s hugely successful debut album but the band is back now with its sophomore CD titled Memento Mori. The disc features fourteen new songs, including the singles “Again” and “Beautiful Bride.” Memento Mori has for the most part been positively received by critics and fans and praised for being a very capable follow up to a hit debut record. The band is just kicking off an extended U.S. tour with both Three Days Grace and Breaking Benjamin that will run right through until the end of the winter. Just before the end of 2009, we had the opportunity to speak with Flyleaf’s lead guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya about the new record, the writing and recording process and everything else going on with the group these days.

Your brand new sophomore record Memento Mori just came out. What are your feelings on the record now that it’s out?
Sameer: It’s pretty exciting, I’m curious to see how the songs will translate live you know after people have heard the record and it seems to be doing really well. I think people really are getting into it you know the message of Memento Mori is one that all of us in the band think is very significant, very important so we’re anxious to see how that translates live.

What was the writing and recording process like for Memento Mori? How many songs did you write, when did you start writing and where did the recording take place?
Sameer: We wrote, I would say we wrote almost thirty songs but when we got to the studio I think we only recorded around twenty. It was actually a very painless process; the recording for Memento Mori was much less painful than for the first record. When I say painful, it wasn’t painful like as far as grinding it out but it was a lot of compromise you know between the artist, the record label and the producer to make a product that we were all looking for. With Memento Mori we had a lot more freedom to do what we wanted to do so it seemed to go a lot more seamlessly and I think we got a product that we were very happy with right off the bat.

You worked again with Howard Benson who of course produced your first record. Why did you go with Howard again?
Sameer: You know working with Howard; he does a really good job of making a message very accessible to a wide audience. His focus is really on the message of the songs which is really important to all of us and like I said, he’s good at directing that to a wide audience.

What would you say is the best thing about working with Howard in the studio? What makes him such a special producer?
Sameer: What makes the experience so special is that Howard has a really amazing team, it’s not just him in the studio doing all the work, he has Mike Plotnikoff engineering, he has Paul in the editing room you know editing everything that we do, all the tracks. He has an amazing guitar tech Mark who worked with Jane’s Addiction for a while. The team that he has, they’re all artists; they all are really good at making something beautiful and something that really speaks to us. Howard does a good job at balancing all of that. Howard kind of rakes it all in you know we can get pretty out there you know being artistic and you know, really getting away from the focus of the lyrics, Howard kind of rakes all that in, what we’re doing and he makes it into what it is. It really is a great experience working with him.

Now to promote the record, you held a number of VIP listening parties throughout the U.S. before it was released. How did this go? Would you do it again on your next record?
Sameer: I thought it went fantastic. I think that we should do it on every record, I think every band should do it. Playing those small shows, they were free shows, anyone could have shown up if they wanted to, they’re all so intimate you know being up there with an acoustic guitar and just doing a couple of songs and giving fans a preview of the record. We had a Q&A with the audience and we just really sat down and opened up, it was a really good experience. It reminded me of when we first started, you know and there were only fifty kids in the room and you get to talk to everyone and you really get to know people, I think that was really important. If we could do it on every album, it’d be great.

The title of the record Memento Mori is actually a Latin phrase. Could you tell us the significance behind using it as the album’s title?
Sameer: Yeah um it’s a Latin phrase that’s translated from Roman, Greco-Roman, I’m not sure, but it’s whenever a king expects a battle, he would have a slave walk with him repeating the phrase “remember that you’re mortal” and that’s translated into Latin of course memento mori which is just a reminder, the slave reminding the king that you know what, you’re the king today but in the end we’re the same, you’re just like me, you’re going to die. That was like... it wasn’t the complete message we were trying to send with the record but we wanted to say you know the world we live in now, it’s going to eventually die, we’re all going to die, the world that we know and see is going to go away, you know it’s all going to deteriorate so it’s very important to take advantage of today, to take advantage of now because that’s really all we have. We really need to focus on what’s important which is people, which is each other because those relationships and what we do and how we affect each other, those resonate throughout generations you know how you affect someone is going to determine how they affect someone else which is much more important than material things of this world which are going to go away.

What would you say is the most significant difference between Memento Mori and your debut in terms of sound and style?
Sameer: You can really hear a growth in this record, you can hear a musical growth, you can hear the way we’ve matured over the years. It was pretty long span between the debut and Memento Mori, it was you know five years since we recorded our debut record and even longer since we started writing it. We’re all still fairly young, I just turned twenty-five, Jared’s twenty-four but those things happened a long time ago, five, six years, I think I was seventeen when our band started and that’s really when we started writing our first record. From then until last year when we started recording Memento Mori you know there was a lot of growth, I had gone from high school to travelling the world with heavy hitter bands, bands like Korn, Deftones and Stone Sour. And really, we’ve travelled really the whole world, we circumnavigated the globe at one point, we started in Los Angeles and went to Japan and then went across to Europe you know then came back to the States, we went all the way around the world and just experienced so much. You learn so much when you go to culture to culture and see other people because you realize that you know the world is so huge and there are so many things going on. People are people, we’re all striving for the same things, we all want to be loved, we all want to know that hope is real and what we’re working for isn’t in vain.

What’s the writing and recording process like in the band? Do you all write together or is it one or two of you doing most of the work?
Sameer: We all contribute but it varies, there’s really no formula to how we write. Jared will come in one day and be like “man I’ve been working on this riff, what do you think?” And I’ll be like “oh that’s cool,” and I’ll put some guitar riff over it and all of a sudden by the end of the day it turns into a whole song with lyrics and all. Or I’ll come to the band with a whole song completed, I’ll be like “I wrote this song a couple of days ago, what do you guys think?” And then they’ll just completely rip the whole thing apart and turn it into something completely different from what I started with but so much better than anything I could have done by myself. There have been times when I’ve presented a song exactly the way I gave it to the band is exactly how it turned out, you know songs like “So I Thought” or “Arise.” There’s no format, sometimes Lacey will come to practice with one little acoustic guitar riff and some lyrics and by the end of the day we have all kinds of stuff going on. We have other songs come together to make one song, there are so many ways to write a song, I don’t think that we’ve even done a fraction of what’s possible.

What are your touring plans like for the near future? Where can fans expect to see the band?
Sameer: We just got our routing dates, we’re doing a Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin tour starting in January but I don’t have the routing dates on me. I know that we start in Peoria, Illinois on January 15th but that’s all I really know off the top of my head. We just got the offer, we just got it confirmed, I don’t even know if I’m supposed to be talking about it.

What else does Flyleaf have planned for 2010? Where might we see you in the more distant future?
Sameer: I know that we want to go to Europe to do some stuff, we wanted to go to Canada, we’re hoping to go to Canada in April or something like that but I’m not sure if that’s happening or not. I think we still are figuring out our routing and booking for 2010. The only thing we’re really sure of is the Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin tour starting in January and that should go until March. That’s all I’m pretty sure of right now.  [ END ]
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