There are few bands in the scene that are as polarizing as Stray From The Path. With singles such as "Badge & A Bullet" and "Black Friday" that create dialogue about police brutality and consumerism respectively, there just aren't as many bands (especially on the Warped Tour) that are aggressive about educating their fans about the social ills that plague our society. After a couple days of trying to make it work, I finally sat down with guitarist Tom Williams to talk about the Warped Tour, their involvement with the organization Cop Block, and more.
First off, how's your experience been on this tour? I know the Monster stage is stacked this year, and makes a compelling case for one to just stay there all day.
I mean, it's probably been the best tour we've ever done. We're only a little bit into it, but it's summer camp for bands, hanging out with our boys and playing good shows most of the days. Some days we've had to close and it gets kinda rough when you play late, but everyone has to do that and it's been fucking awesome. We've been playing to a lot of new kids, and a lot of our kids have been coming out, which is sick.
How exciting is it to have a lot of close friends on the tour? I know you have The Ghost Inside with you guys, sharing a bus.
Yeah, it's the third time we've shared a bus with The Ghost Inside. Every Time I Die is some of our best friends, Terror's some of our best friends - The Story So Far and Four Year Strong are some new bands we've gotten tight with. It's been pretty fucking great, it made for a pretty easy transition to do a big tour like this.
Has there been any new bands that you've checked out?
I wouldn't call them new, but it's the first time I've been watching them over and over again - Bad Rabbits and State Champs. I saw Beartooth, I don't really like them but they're good...if that makes sense; I wouldn't never put them on my iPod...
But you can see why people like them.
Yeah, that dude Caleb who I met is a really nice kid was in Attack Attack!, which it's not a secret, I thought that band was dogshit. But it's cool that he's doing something a little more than I can back, but they're doing good, The Word Alive's doing really well, Attila's doing really well. It's pretty stacked tour, it's going great so far.
What inspired you guys to hop on this tour, as opposed to something like the All-Stars tour?
For a band in our genre, this tour is the one that you aspire to get since you're a teenager, and we've been wanting to do it for so long. All-Stars was always like the "Alright, who didn't get Warped Tour? Alright, let's make a tour." And I'm not saying that's a bad thing, cause sometimes the bands are ones like Suicide Silence, Stick To Your Guns, Every Time I Die, Attila; good bands, cause you don't get Warped every year. And that's what All-Stars is, it's just much smaller scale - 10-15 bands, and people come to see the bands they want to see.
This time we've been playing to over 1000 people every day, and 300 know us and 700 don't, and we've been making news fans, which is what we've been trying to do this summer.
Looking at your setlist, which song is your favorite to play each day?
Always "Badge & A Bullet", and that's not even a Warped Tour thing, that's just my favorite. I really like playing the chorus, and we've been opening with that on this tour and it's been setting things off right away, so it's cool.
If you had time to add one more song to the set, which one would you add?
I'd probably say "Radio", we took that out so we could play "Bring It Back To The Streets". We feel like if there's any new kids that checked out bands on the line-up, they'd look at our music videos and "Bring It Back To The Streets" is one of our music videos, so we took out a new song for that. But we still love playing that song, I wish we could bring that song back for sure.
Stray From The Path is all about informing people and being socially active. What's your take on some of the bands on this tour that aren't really saying anything?
It depends on who we're talking about, because Warped Tour is a pretty big deal as far as getting your music out to people, which is a hard thing to do from the beginning. It's hard to get your music out there because you have hundreds of bands that do the same thing as you, so I don't really fault them for using this tour to not do something.
For the bands that just don't give a shit about their music, it's just like the bands that are lip-synching on this tour, it's frustrating because I know how hard we've worked on our music to get here and see people on cruise-control the whole way. It's kind of annoying, and they have that fan base and they don't care about their music, so they're not using it to speak about anything worthwhile, so it's like "What are your intentions?". I dunno, it's hard to say on this tour, but in general there's a lot of bands that don't use their outlet for a lot of things.
Let's talk about the Cop Block literature you guys have at your merch table this year. Why this group in particular?
Because the law enforcement is getting pretty scary and I follow Cop Block pretty closely, and when we put out our video for "Badge & A Bullet", one of the guys that works for Cop Block, his name is Pete hit me up and said "Saw this video, huge fan, love it. Just wanted to say that we're watching." So on this tour, I wanted to do something where we're handing out some stuff that is spreading some sort of information. So I hit up Cop Block, told them about the tour and they of course know what Warped Tour was, and they were totally into it.
When we posted about them, we got a lot of shit for it, and I knew that was going to happen because that's just the way America is. I posted something the other day about the gallon smashing thing on Facebook, and some kids were like "Grow up guys, someone has to clean that up!" I'm like "Yo...have a fucking sense of humor!" Everyone sees something, and they think "Why do I hate this?" and they think of a response. So I knew someone was going to say something about Cop Block, like "Who are you going to call when someone robs your house?" and I'd be like "Well, honestly I'd call the cops because I need a police report to get an insurance claim" but I'm not expecting the cops to do fucking anything, because they never do. People have stolen our shit before, and the cops do nothing. We've gotten into accidents, and cops do nothing.
You got hit with a fine one time, right?
Yeah, we flipped our van and we waited on the side of the road in -10 degree weather and the cop finally shows up two hours later and he writes me a ticket because and I quote "If you flipped your van, you must've been speeding." So the guy wasn't even there, and he gave me a $400 ticket on the assumption of something. They just generate revenue, they're not even trying to protect anything.
So that's my thing with the cops, and then everyone comes out with the "All Cops Are Bastards" thing and then someone comes out with "How could you say that? My uncle's a cop", and it's like look, at the end of the day some people can think all cops are bastards, some people can think "I love cops", some people can think "I think cops are crooked", whatever. At the end of the day, what we're handing out is literature for people to know their rights when they encounter the "bad cops" as people like to call them. That's all we're trying to do, we're always looking for solutions and never talking about the problem, and I feel like that's a good step towards that.
Do you like posting on social media and all that? Every time you guys post something it seems there's always some sort of backlash.
Yeah, I used to like it more, but as the band's getting bigger and we're getting more of an audience, more and more people are just trying to complain about shit. Look, I love debate and I'll always debate with people, even when I posted the Cop Block stuff we had a lot of cool debates with people and I always welcome that. But it's the people who are like "Oh, I'm going to burn your album!", it's like one, you probably didn't buy an album to start with, and two, relax and if you think otherwise then talk to me, we're here to talk. Now we're posting funny shit and people have something to say about that - everything just needs to chill out. We can have serious conversations, we have funny conversations, stop taking stuff so serious to the point where it's just yelling at everyone and calling someone a ****** and doing all this crazy shit online. I dunno, it gets a little frustrating. I used to do it a lot more, but I've backed off a little because I don't enjoy it that much anymore.
And it's tough, because you guys try and create dialogue with people online, even about bands like For Today. You guys don't see eye to eye with them...
Not even close.
No, but you still mention that they're good people and help others.
I don't encourage what Mike [Reynolds] did - he was a good friend of mine and then he can go fuck himself, you know what I mean? You guys can believe what you want but those guys aren't hateful people. I've seen them do countless shit and I've backed them countless times, and I still will, but everyone's just trying to freak out over stuff. It's like "Relax. You don't like this tour with For Today? You have the choice to not go, and that's fine." and "You don't like us doing Warped Tour? That's fine." "Is our headliner not coming in Memphis, TN? I'm sorry." We're trying to do so much, but we can only do so much.
Would you be on social media if the expectation wasn't there to be on it?
Yes, I absolutely would. It definitely helps that we have that and that's definitely motivated it, but I'll post shit all the time...like a hockey update, and I talk hockey with our fans - something that has nothing to do with selling merch or playing shows. Or I'll post a video of The Story So Far playing their hometown. I just like to interact with people, but then everyone's trying to ruin it and I'm just not having as much fun with it anymore. I'll post "The Story So Far in their home town, they're killing it!" and someone goes "The Story So Far sucks, when are you coming to St. Louis?"
And it's like, why would you want to talk to them anyways?
Exactly. It all comes back to our song "Negative and Violent" - "Staring at the screen, saying what you mean, there's got to be more to life than complaining", and we wrote that about people about that.
I see the comment "Just stick to making music" all the time on your pages.
And I always say back "If you want a band that's going to stick to making music, you can go ahead listen to fucking Asking Alexandria or whatever these fucking bullshit guys who make stuff for money." If you want those bands, you can go find them, I'm not saying that it's wrong to like them, you can do whatever the fuck you want. But if you're going to like this band, you gotta know what we're about and that's it. If you don't like the shit that we say, you can unlike us or unfollow us, whatever you want to do; it's your right, it's your freedom, at least what's left of it.
Let's talk about your current record, Anonymous real quick. How's the fan reaction been compared to other records?
Way bigger, we've gotten a lot of stuff from this album from supporters of the band to industry people, it's just elevated our band to a bigger level. We're on Warped Tour right now on the Monster stage, being bumped up to main stage sometimes. It's great, I'm excited to work on the next one and see if we can get bigger.
What was something on this record that you got to try? Something that you haven't had the chance to do with previous albums...
We were way more prepared for it. I like Rising Sun, but I cannot stand the second half of the album, because I wish I had more time on it. And with Anonymous we were way more prepared musically, and especially lyrically, and I feel like we were able to chill out and strip the songs down a little bit and make it a little more structured. I love the verse/chorus/bridge to "Badge & A Bullet" and now that I feel like that's started to work we're going to approach that style more on our next one.
Let's talk the first song on the album, "False Flag". What is the background behind that song?
This goes back to the thing about cops - you can have your opinions about whatever you'd like as far as "I think cops are good", "Cops are bad", "Cops are the fucking worst", whatever. The truth is, there are rights that everyone should know, and that's the way I approach "False Flag". You can think that Osama Bin Laden attacked America on 9/11, you can think that the government conducted an attack on our own country, or you can not think either of those are correct and you can have some sort of other theory. But the only thing that is true out of everything is that what we're being told is not the truth and that worries me that the people that who are supposed to be looking out for me, my family and my friends are lying to us. And that goes back years, from JFK to the chemical attacks in Syria. I have my views, and some other people in the band have their views and maybe the only thing that we're unsure of is that we're not being told the truth, and that's terrifying, and that's kind of what the song's about, like "Okay, maybe this country ISN'T looking out for our best interests" - that's where the "Red, White, and Blue won't look out for you" lyrics stems from.
I love America, I'm an American and I'm from here, and I love this country for what it brings. But there's also a terrible tyrannist way about it, and it's scary.
For those looking to be more informed about what's going on around them, where should they go?
When we did the Anonymous campaign, we set up whereisourliberty.com, and we actually just set it up to where we're going to have links, blogs, videos, and other stuff people can check out. We're going to post stuff about our opinions and views, and what people should check out on our page. I think in the next month it'll come into fruition as far as being more established and having more content. But check out whereisourliberty.com, Cop Block, there's a lot. I think if you check out website in the coming months, you'll find cool shit.
And then what is your other favorite song off the record, and why?
I would say "Radio", because I love the guitar work in that and the idea I wanted to do, which is making my guitar sound like a radio changing dials. I'm more proud of that riff, I would say, so that's why I like that song musically.
When are you guys looking to write and record a new album?
Lyrically, where might this album go?
Way more extreme...to the point where - I mean, I still have a lot of topics that I spoke about in this interview, as far as my views on situations that have happened in this country in the last 15 years. The educational system, the financial system...I'm trying to find a way to do it tastefully, but I feel like a lot more of the backlash stuff is ready to come - seeing as how the Cop Block stuff went, I'm not scared to release this album, but I'm definitely interested to see what people think of what we're going to be saying next.
So it's definitely going to be your most polarizing release yet then?
Without a doubt. When we have two to five songs written lyrically and I can already tell it's going to be pretty ridiculous.
If you had it your way, who would you have do guest features on the album? If any?
Right now we have one person in mind that I'd rather not say for now.
Is it someone in the scene?
No, it's not. On every album we always have some of our friends on it, and I definitely want to work with Sam Carter (Architects (UK)), and Adrian (Northlane). We want to have people on the record that are our friends, but as of now there's one person we want to work with who's outside of our realm - if it comes out, it'll be cool. But we'll definitely have some people on there.
We do Canada with Architects (UK), and then we're doing a U.S. headliner which is going to be our 5 year anniversary for Make Your Own History - we're re-releasing it on vinyl, and we're headlining with Counterparts, Expire, and My Ticket Home. And then after that, we're doing a U.S. tour.
Wrapping up, for someone who's new to Stray From The Path, what is the most important thing that they know?
We take what we do very seriously, but we don't take ourselves very seriously. Sometimes you just need to relax and realize that this is a hardcore scene, a music scene, and this is a band, and it's supposed to be fun. Everyone's always on the gas and never on the brakes, and even if it's a serious topic, let's have a discussion about it, even if it's a joke. That's the one thing - what we say we're very serious about, what we play we're very serious about, but we don't take ourselves seriously. Pump the brakes a little bit.