When the 2017 album, Okay, was finished, frontman Patty Walters and the other members of As It Is knew they had taken an important step forward as a band.
“I think with Okay we felt this kind of musical liberation, where there were a lot of both darker songs and lighter songs [compared] to what we had done on our first record, just taking small steps in both directions to see how people kind of warmed to us experimenting musically,” Walters said of the album, the British band’s second release, in an early January phone interview. “When it was all received so positively, it was this real sense of we really can be any band we want to be.”
With Okay under their belts, Walters and guitarist/vocalist Ben Langford-Biss, the group’s lyricists and primary songwriters, also had big ambitions for the next album, The Great Depression. The only question was whether As It Is would remain a band.
“When we wrote, recorded and released and toured Okay, we were in one of the darkest places we’d been in as a band, and we didn’t know if The Great Depression was going to be our last record,” Walters said. “We had a change in the lineup. We lost a guitarist (Andy Westhead) and there was a certain amount of disagreement internally and just kind of stagnation between feeling like we weren’t living up to the potential or the vision of what everybody felt this band was meant to be. And through all of that, it was just this very difficult time and everybody kind of lost their way for [awhile].”
Plenty of questions about the band’s longevity existed, but over time, Walters, Langford-Biss and their bandmates (bassist Alistair Testo and drummer Patrick Foley) found their way back on track.
“We really started to be incredibly honest with each other and were able get through things in a much more healthy way because of that,” Walters said. “And going into 2019, we’ve never been more excited and rejuvenated to be doing this, to be in this band and writing these songs and making these statements.”
Where Okay had been a personal look at depression, mental illness and disintegrating relationships, The Great Depression examines mental illness on more of a societal level.
“It really began as what was going to be an open exploration of [if] we as a scene and a society glamorize, romanticize and at times fetishize depression, anxiety and suicide,” Walters said of the concept.
It crystalized when Langford-Biss came up with the idea of creating a character, the poet, and using his story and afflictions as a way to address different aspects of mental illness and spur discussion about this issue.
“That was the idea, to make it about somebody who is in that position, about someone we call the poet, who is kind of torn, living in between his wife and the reaper, living in between death and ultimately trying to decide where he belongs,” Walters said.
Musically, The Great Depression is pretty bold, too. The album features some of the band’s sharpest songwriting. It evades easy categorizing by blending some of the crunch of hardcore (particularly on songs like “The Wounded World” and “The Fire, The Dark”) with more melody than most music in that genre.
Walters said he has resisted thinking too much about the next musical step for As It Is (which also includes touring guitarist Ron Ish) and is keeping his focus on the tour. He noted that a good deal of effort has gone into creating a set list that honors the new album, but doesn’t get in the way of creating a show that’s meant to be as “grand, engaging and entertaining as possible.”
“It’s a highly conceptual record. There was a lot of thought put into the track listing, the music videos and all this kind of stuff. To a certain degree, we kind of leave that to the record,” he said. “And in regards to the set list, it’s really just about the overall flow, to be the best set possible and what’s going to impact people the most.”
As It Is will perform on Friday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. at Rock City Studios, 2258 Pickwick Drive, Camarillo. For tickets and more information, call 805-383-3555 or visit www.rockcitystudios.net.