A Skylit Drive comes into their own on their latest album and gears up for another Warped summer
Summer. It’s as if just the sound of the word can make you feel young again. It conjures memories of skinned knees, camping, day trips to the lake (any lake, just pick one) or endless carefree hours at the beach. Fun? You bet, but all that running around, traveling and carousing can also be exhausting. Just ask Michael “Jag” Jagmin, vocalist for Lodi, California’s A Skylit Drive. This summer, he and his band mates will be taking part in another great seasonal tradition, the Vans Warped Tour, which turns 20 in 2014.
Since 1995, the Vans Warped tour has become synonymous with summer, especially for bands and fans of punk, hardcore, metalcore, emo and any and every hyphenated-hybrid thereof, and it’s not difficult to see why. The tour brings a veritable army of bands to fields, parking lots and amphitheaters all over North America. This will be A Skylit Drive’s third stint on punk rock’s most popular traveling circus.
The band had recently hit the road in support of their latest album, Rise, which was released in September 2013. Their fourth full-length album, Rise was something of a coming of age for A Skylit Drive. It boasts a bolder sound than their previous efforts thanks in part to a more painstaking writing and recording process, according to Jagmin.
The band first entered into pre-production with Jim Wirt (Hoobastank, Incubus, Something Corporate) as well as Mitchell Marlow and Kit Walters, who worked with A Skylit Drive on their debut Wires…and the Concept of Breathing before nailing down the finished product with producer Cameron Mizell at Chango Studios in Arizona.
Jagmin says this was the first time the band really had the opportunity to take their time recording an album, and he was really pleased with the results. In the past, however, writing and recording had to be done at breakneck speed.
“Everything is so fast-paced, there’s not a lot of planning that goes into it,” Jagmin explains. “You put out an album, and a year later the label is knocking down your door for the next one. And it’s like, what’s the game plan? And they’re like, you’re going here for a month, and that starts in three weeks. So we’ve got three weeks to write and a month to record, but we’re probably going to be writing that month in the studio as well. That was usually how it went.”
With a few successful albums under their belts, A Skylit Drive felt confident enough to speak up about how they wanted to do things.
“We put our foot down and wanted to take our time,” Jagmin says. “We weren’t promising when this album was going to come out. We wanted to make the right album…just give us the time, and we’ll give you the album. Things finally went and operated the way we wanted them to.”
Determined to take a more methodical approach to recording, A Skylit Drive left Fearless Records, which put out the band’s previous two albums, and returned to Tragic Hero, which released their aforementioned debut.
In the following interview, Jagmin speaks more about Rise and the band’s return to Tragic Hero and also waxes eloquent about the trials and tribulations of having so much fun in the sun on Warped Tour.
Was taking your time in recording something you brought to Tragic Hero but weren’t sure how they’d take it?
No, that was one of the biggest draws. Fearless is a powerful label and an extremely capable label, but our biggest concern with this album—being our fourth full-length, and we’re not a new band anymore—we wanted that time to work on it. And we also knew that it was going to need a little extra attention. On Fearless, even that label has competition with all these bands in the same genre, and it’s kind of overwhelming. We just felt that for where we were and where we are in our careers, going back to Tragic would have been a smarter move, to be back on a label that could hone in on us.
It must have been cool to go back home, so to speak, and it definitely worked out, because it was your biggest charting debut weekend, and their best seller as well.
I’m sure every band says this, but even a year later, this is the best album that we’ve ever done. The way that we wrote it, the time that was spent on it and the fact that we were able to do it the way that we wanted to do it, that kind of freedom had never been offered to us.
Was there anything you missed about the fast-paced recording process?
I would never want to do it at a fast pace again. It’s amazingly stressful. You don’t get to try all your ideas. You’re left listening to the album for the rest of your life hearing all the things you’d wished you’d done differently. Even on Rise, I’m sure I’ll hear one or two things that I’ll think could have been slightly cooler, but on the other ones, all the way through, I’m like, man, we could have worked on this so much more had we been given more time.
This will be your third time on Warped Tour this summer. Do you have a certain way of preparing for it? It’s such a long haul with a lot of long days.
As for performance and such, we prepare the same as we would for any other tour. As far as preparing for the long, grueling days, that comes with the experience of doing it before. There’s no real way to prepare for it. It’s not like we go running around outside, because even doing that, that doesn’t really get you ready for that. Sure, you have a bus or a van to go back to, but it’s not like going on a run because you’re whole day is different every single day. There’s no plan to it until when you wake up. You wake up, and it’s like, “Oh, you play at 1 today.” I just got up at noon, and I’ve got to play in an hour, or you woke up at 10 a.m. and you have play in an hour and a half. It’s like, oh crap. Time to wake up. Then it’s like, you’ve got a signing at this time at this tent. You have to do this at this time. It’s like, alright, I guess that’s my day.
When you’re in it, it must seem pretty hectic, but at the end it must felt like it all flew by…
I don’t know. Both times that we’ve done Warped, it definitely felt like it was as long as it was. As far as I remember, the days do not fly by. It’s just so hot, every day is a long day, and by the end of it you just can’t wait to go to bed.
As a vocalist, it must be tough on you not knowing when you’re performing. When I wake up and I just speak I sound like crap, so it must be a lot tougher for you considering you have to sing in front of so many people every day on the tour.
Yeah, it’s definitely a whole different experience. You’ll hear a guitarist complaining before having to go on early, and it’s like, your guitar doesn’t have to wake up. It sounds the same whether it has gotten an hour of sleep or slept all day, whereas I am my instrument. That definitely makes it harder, not having that repetition for your body to get used to. On a normal tour, your body almost naturally starts getting used to you performing at a certain time. Your body knows when it’s game time. On Warped Tour, you have to force the game time. There’s almost no perfect time for you to play for your body. If you play too early, you didn’t get enough sleep; if you play toward the end, almost all of your energy is gone because you’ve been waiting to play all day, and you’ve been out in the sun all day. I feel like most bands shoot for that middle of the day spot, because you’re finally awake, and the sun hasn’t sucked all the energy out of you just yet [laughs]. Every day is a different thing. I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for it.
All that being said, this is your third time doing the tour, so it must be something you really enjoy.
Oh yeah. All of this stuff about being tired, it’s not me saying all that sucks. It really is the best experience. It’s like mobile summer camp. I remember doing summer camp, and those days were tiring too. You’re running around, doing the [Water]Blob thing in the lake, playing games and everything, and by the end of the day, you’re knocked out, but you’re having such a great time. It’s definitely the most taxing tour I’ve ever done, and I’m pretty sure it’ll always stay that way, but at the same time it’s the most memorable tour I’ve ever done.
Michael “Jag” Jagmin on Game of Thrones
I saw on your Facebook page, you made a comment about this season of Game of Thrones. How are you enjoying the fourth season?
I don’t think I can handle anything else. Just when you think something is going one way… I could tell you that something is going to surprise you, but it will still surprise you. That’s the beauty of it. It’s almost like it’s right in front of your face, what’s going to happen, but you ultimately have no idea. As soon as it happens, you feel dumb. Like, Really? How did I not see that? That’s what makes the show so great. It can deviate you for that one second and then just sucker punch you.
How did you get into the show?
I started watching it in between the second and third season. Someone gave me the first and second season to watch. If I remember correctly, it lined up that as soon as I finished the second season, the third season started up. It was a major blessing, because I thought the first two seasons were the hardest to get through. All the characters were so overwhelming. To this date, I still don’t know all their names. I have not memorized the names. If someone from this house is talking about someone from another house, I have no idea who they’re talking about. I’ll pause it and google that person’s name and be like, oh OK, that’s who it is.
They should have an onscreen Wiki so you know who everyone is.
Yeah, or one of those pop-up bubbles like I Love the ‘90s. They should just have the person’s name pop up with an arrow that says, “This is so and so from the House Baratheon.”
Were you stoked when King Joffrey was killed? Because I jumped out of my seat.
Oh man. I almost kicked the cat. That was one of those shocker moments where I wanted to high five everyone I didn’t know.
The Vans Warped Tour rolls through the Sacramento area with a stop at the Sleep Train Amphitheater in Wheatland, California on June 26, 2014. A Skylit Drive will perform along with Finch, Saves the Day, Anberlin, 3OH!3, Bayside, I Fight Dragons, MC Chris…and pretty much every band ever. Go to Vanswarpedtour.com for a full list of performers and also to purchase tickets.