2019 is a fresh one for Californian rock band New Years Day, having experienced significant transitions over the past three years.
These span from restarting a whole body of work from scratch, to deep reflections of the songs influencing the group the most, as well as the loss and regain of a vision with latest/fourth record Unbreakable, released today.
When vocalist Ash Costello sat down for a chat at home, she was in between travels, preparing to make a music video the following week before heading to the UK. We dive into the singer’s experience as a woman in music, her “hippy and cheesy” attitude toward life, and the musical light at the end of the tunnel, a tunnel first explored from a much darker place on third album Malevolence (2015).
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This new record Unbreakable is special on a number of levels – You guys recorded an album’s worth of songs before the release of ‘Skeletons’, and then scrapped it entirely.
“Yeah we did, about a year before ‘Skeletons’. We did a whole record right before Warped Tour 2017. It wasn’t completely finished, it was at the part where we were demoing all the songs to go back and refine. We never got to the refining stage.”
I can imagine it would’ve been quite scary from a personal standpoint.
“It was very scary because with that came the loss of our manager and producer who we’d been with for years. We had a bit of a falling out because of that decision… I had to make the choice: either go with what someone else wanted me to sound like, or branch off on my own and believe that I could do it.”
Something really spelling the shift towards more creative control with the album’s reincarnation was your need to find that elusive ‘it’, right? The thing that artists often spend years trying to attain but never quite reach.
“Yeah! It felt very quick, it was like, ‘You have to make the decision now, you’re about to leave for Warped Tour’. I’m glad, because it didn’t give me a lot of time to stress out or mull over it. It was what my gut said needed to happen, and so far, it’s proven to be the right choice.”
When you started writing the way you wanted to, what was missing in the last version of the record that became apparent when you rehashed it?
“My vision (chuckles). That’s it. I’ve always had a huge one for this band, and I knew I wanted to make a poppy metal record. The first one wasn’t the sound that I wanted, which was two extremes. I didn’t want to play it safe.”
Something I really gravitated towards with Unbreakable was its reflection of your personal dichotomy, the light and the dark parts. Especially with the album art. I really connect with that. Did you want to inject that vision into the band for a long time, or did it become apparently only recently?
“It’s been apparent in the last year, because unfortunately I can’t really think that far ahead. I give myself way to much credit (laughs). Just after the almost three years between Malevolence to this record, a lot of my life has changed. When I wrote Malevolence, it really wasn’t a great time, and writing this one has been so different. I’ve learnt so much. So that’s why this record is showing the light at the end of the tunnel, not so much just sitting in a dark place and being really upset about it.
“Malevolence was exactly what the title said it was. I was very angry and upset, and I wanted to take it out on everyone around me – The album reflects that completely. But there’s definitely a more positive message in Unbreakable, and I’m really happy about that. You can’t force a song subject if you’re not feeling it.”
Absolutely. Now let’s talk about last year’s Diary of a Creep EP, you’ve described it in the past as a segue into what you’re currently doing musically. Looking back at the huge changes to Unbreakable since then, do you still see the EP as the precursor to your music now?
“Oh absolutely! We used the EP as a launch pad for the record. I think it was a really good exercise to take songs that helped shape the band, and rework them into the style we wished we were performing. We kept referring back to songs like ‘Fucking Hostile’ (originally Pantera) and ‘Crawling’ (by Linkin Park) and going, ‘Why do these speak to us so much, and how can we make that our own?'”
It’s interesting to see from an artist’s perspective, going back to your point, in terms of not being able to think that far ahead and then reflecting on it all. There’s something special going on there.
“Yeah, because I’ve adopted this attitude of just letting the universe guide me – I know this sounds super hippy and cheesy – and the chips fall where they may. That’s worked out for me so far, and I can look back and go, ‘That’s why that door closed, that’s why this one opened’.”
So bringing it back to Unbreakable, it’s great that you worked with both Mitch Marlow (Papa Roach, In This Moment) and Scott Stevens (Halestorm, Shinedown), who split production right down the middle. That doesn’t usually happen.
“No it does not. I was so scared of asking both of them about it, I’d just started having sessions with them. They both had elements that I wanted on this record, filling gaps the other didn’t have, and most of the time a producer will say no because they don’t want to split payment. They want the full record, credit and payment. That’s not a bad thing, it’s business. So I really didn’t expect either of them to be okay with it, but they both agreed that they believed in me and the record so much, they just wanted to be a part of it. Now they’re doing another one together, they really hit it off (chuckles).
“Scott is really good at rock, but he’s the top-line pop melody guy. Mitch has this attack on rock music that I’ve never seen another person do, and I’m in love with that unique sound. So the two together is for me the perfect rock tone.”
Going back to this concept of portraying the light and dark parts of yourself, I think working with Mitch and Scott plays into that because they bring out those parts.
“Very true. Scott is more the light, Mitch the dark. I’m definitely a bit of a paradox. I’m a smiley people person, but at the same time I want to be left the fuck alone. Sometimes it’s a little hard to navigate life, being split down the middle like that. I can’t remember whose quote this is, but it says something like, ‘I’m both a romantic and a misanthrope’ – I always pronounce that wrong.”
Finally, this is a question I put on myself to ask at the end of every interview: what’s your experience been like as woman in the industry, particularly heavy music?
“I think it gives me a leg up, so I’m very happy to be a woman in rock music. But I’ve always been a woman, so I don’t know any different (laughs). That being said, I definitely noticed the difference in the beginning. I got told by record labels and management that they already had one girl, and that ticked the ‘We’ve got a girl’ box, even though I sounded different to other artists. But it’s different now. I think they think it’s such a hot item to have, and we offer more than the average musician can, because we look really good while doing it too.
“I command respect, and if someone’s treating me in a way I don’t like, I’m very vocal about it. That’s gotten me dropped from labels and management because I don’t play those games. At that time I was making some solo stuff that got me signed to another label.
“I’ve never been afraid of taking a chance so that I can be happy with the choices I’m making, and the situations I’m putting myself in.”
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Interview by Genevieve Gao