Whitechapel’s Phil Bozeman: ‘It’s My Duty’ to Be Personal With Lyrics
Whitechapel frontman Phil Bozeman and guitarist Alex Wade were the latest guests on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The two discussed the band's latest album, The Valley, which is a conceptual album about the singer's dark childhood and the writing process behind it. Check out the chat below.
This is an extremely personal concept album. Phil, what strength comes from being vulnerable with your lyrics?
Phil Bozeman: It just shares a story for people and lets them relate to things. I don’t really feel necessarily vulnerable because it's just been so long since everything had happened. It's easy for me to tell a story and I think people just really relate to things like that and you can write stuff that's brutal and kind of fantasy driven but this tends to be - people connect with it on a personal level. It helps a lot of people, I've had a lot of people tell me that they had their lives saved by us.
That's got to be an amazing feeling.
PB: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I don’t think I feel necessarily vulnerable or anything. It more seems like my duty now.
Revisiting a dark and tumultuous childhood can be a fragile process. Alex, what responsibility comes with being a musical curator of someone else's catharsis?
Alex Wade: We definitely felt like the background for his story had to be there. I think one of the coolest part and a couple of questions that we've had on different interviews is, a lot of people have asked what was it like writing music for this concept? Honestly, the music was written before he even told us the concepts. I think that's really cool how the music played out to fit what he wanted to do lyrically so well when it honestly wasn't even planned.
We just wrote riffs and put the music together as usual and then handed everything over to Phil and that's when he was like, "Well, these are the song ideas that I have. These are the ideas that I have for the lyrics, what do you think?" We were like, "That's amazing."
It's been a while since we've done more of a concept driven record. The past three records have just kind of been about whatever and this one is actually a whole theme and concept and everything. So when he said that was what he wanted to do, we were all really excited about it.
Some stylistic changes were evident on the last album. This time what else did you need to explore musically in order to properly tell the story of The Valley?
AW: With us, every record is about growth. We never want to be stagnant. We don't want to put out the same thing that we did the last time. Musically for us, it's about trying something different and not really pigeonholing ourselves into a box expecting, "This is what we should sound like." There's no expectation of, "It needs to sound like this, or it needs to be this heavy" or whatever.
We just leave it open and whatever we write and whatever we think sounds good, that's what we end up using. If a riff has a clean part, it doesn't matter if it sounds a little softer or not. If it sounds good then it sounds good and we're going to use it. I think that's the biggest thing for us going forward, is just never really limiting ourselves and what our music can be.
Working within a specific framework of a concept album can be a challenge musically and lyrically. What were the biggest hurdles faced when making The Valley?
PB: I guess when it comes to an album, I think time constraints can be the biggest obstacle that you have to overcome because everyone has deadlines when you're working with tons of different people. You have to be efficient with your time. But I think that when it comes to writing music we don't really struggle too much, which is a blessing for us. I feel like when it's crunch time, we deliver.
We have so much material that's built up over the years that we've been able to dig in computers and hard drives and bring out stuff that we'd use before that just didn't work on the last album. It works on the new album just because of a new part that was written that could be used with an old part that was written one of the guitar players, just any one of us.
AW: Yeah, sometimes we'll end up using a part that we wrote four years ago. It could have been two or three records ago that we just didn't have any other parts that really went with it. It helps to have that vault of riffs you can go back to and just have a lot of different ideas to pull from.
People connect with music most when they recognize themselves in it. How have you prepared yourself for the emotional reaction you may get from someone who lived similar experiences?
PB: I feel like I'm honored to be able to share that with someone. I get different stories all the time, whether it's someone who came up in a bad upbringing or someone that's going through a personal issue currently. It sounds weird to say but it's nice to hear because we all relate to it and we connect that way, but I think it's more of an emotional feeling to have, through the music with these people.
It's hard to really stay connected with these people because they're not in our everyday lives so what you say to them has to be the most important thing right then and there. You never know when the next time will be when you'll talk to this person, because me talking to them could save their life, from taking their own life the next night or next week or something. It's wild just knowing that I've had that impact over the course of our career so far.
Thanks to Phil Bozeman and Alex Wade for the interview. Grab your copy of 'The Valley' here and follow Whitechapel on Facebook. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
See Phil Bozeman in the Top 25 Extreme Metal Frontmen