For most of their twelve years together as a band, the rock group Flyleaf has written and created songs that deal with the topic of rebirth, perseverance, and overcoming adversity from the everyday forces that try to bring them down. It’s a lyrical message that has resonated with their legions of dedicated followers worldwide, and which helped propel their debut album to over one million records sales in the US alone.
Now on the eve of their fourth record, the band is ready to jump headfirst into their biggest challenge to date: their first full-length record with a brand new lead vocalist, Kristen May (formerly of the indie art-rock group Vedera).
After the amicable departure of Flyleaf’s original vocalist Lacey Strum in 2012, who retired from Flyleaf to focus on her family and personal life, new vocalist Kristen May has wasted no time in leaving a lasting impression with the band. By performing their old hits with ease, she is also excelling at blowing Flyleaf fans away with her solid performance on one of the band’s strongest and sharpest sounding cuts in recent memory, “Set Me On Fire.”
In anticipation of the band’s upcoming new record Between The Stars, which is slated for a September 16th, 2014 release, we here at AltWire had the honor to sit down with Flyleaf’s lead guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya to discuss the inspirations behind the new album, lessons he’s learned as a musician, his hobbies and more. Read below for the scoop!
AltWire [Derek]: First of all, great job on the new record! I’ve heard some clips from it and it sounds awesome. How do you feel about the record and what songs were the most exciting or challenging to write?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Thank you! I really feel like this is one of our best-written records to date, and that Kristen did a phenomenal job with the vocals and her delivery. I’m really excited about it and I feel that it’s a really strong record. As far as the songs themselves go, there are two songs. Pat wrote this song called Blue Roses that I’m so stoked about. And then another song that Kristen wrote is called Head Under Water and it has a really powerful message about overcoming adversity, and also in a sense…bullying. Basically, people telling you that you’re not good enough, or just being in a position where you’ve been beaten down, and being able to overcome those things and hold on to a power that is bigger than that.
AW: This album is the first full length album you’ve recorded with Kristen. How do you feel the writing, recording and performance aspect of the band differs with Kristen, and what are some of the best changes?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: With Kristen she’s very melodic as opposed to Lacey who was very rhythmic in what she did. So there’s definitely a lot of flooring moments on this record and a lot of really great melodic ability, which I wouldn’t really say was lacking before – because I believe the early era Flyleaf definitely had a great sense of melody – but there’s something new and refreshing about what Kristen brings to the band.
AW: How do you perceive the overall fan reaction to the new music and lineup? Have you been happy with the response?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Absolutely. With the fans who have heard it, the friends and family who have heard it, and people in the press and music industry who have heard it, you know, I think it caught them all by surprise.
AW: It definitely caught me by surprise, especially with “Set Me on Fire”. That was such a bold choice of song to use for a first single, and it really showed that you guys were back and ready to take over rock and roll.
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Thank you!
AW: The album cover for Between the Stars is very unique. Could you explain the inspirations behind both the album cover and overall art direction for this album?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Yeah. We hired a friend, Douglass Hale who’s a graphic designer and also a part of this band called Air Review who we played a few shows with when we were down in Dallas. And he’s just a brilliant graphic designer, so we gave him the record and we were like “What do you feel when you hear this? What comes to your mind?” and he made that. And I think he did an amazing job. He’s just a brilliant designer and a brilliant artist, and that’s what manifested when he listened to the album.
AW: Another interesting thing about this album is that for most of Flyleaf’s career your band has opted to work with Howard Benson as producer; however, on this record you decided to work with Don Gilmore. What inspired the move to a new producer? Was it time for a change?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: You know, I think Howard [Benson] is one of the top producers in the world. That guy is brilliant, and we had done three amazing records and some amazing b-sides with him. However; if we would’ve used Howard for this record, I don’t think it would’ve been the right decision. I think it was good for us, especially with the new singer and with trying to re-establish ourselves, to go with a producer who we really hadn’t had a past with and who could see us as a band trying to make a really good rock record, as opposed to comparing it to anything else we’ve done in the past.
With Don Gilmore, his discography is enough to make you want to do the record [with him]. He was really excited about doing it and I think that’s what really caught us. He really wanted to do this album, we didn’t have to really beg him, he was like “I would love to do this record for you guys” and it was that passion and that heart that made us choose him.
“It’s amazing to see the way that music has evolved, and I think it’s important to just embrace it…”
AW: How would you say Don is different from Howard? What differences did he bring to the recording process?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: There’s more spontaneity in what Don Gilmore does and a little less structure. When we make a record with Howard, we know we’re going to go in there and we already know the game plan. It’s like “we’re going to record the guitars like this, we’re going to do drums and vocals, this way, and we’re going to put these little fills here…” Howard is very methodical and he really thinks things through before he does anything, and I think that’s one of his strengths for sure. With Don Gilmore, he’s more like “yeah you know what? I think I have an idea, let’s go there and see what happens” and it was kind of chaotic, but really beautiful that way. I think we kept a lot of takes that I wouldn’t have kept. Like there are some fret buzzes and things that weren’t hit just right, but he was all about capturing the magic. He’d be like “yeah it’s played perfectly, but we need some soul, we need to capture the magic”. It was all about trying to capture the energy and the spontaneity of a song, and that was a different approach. Which in the end, I think it [helped] make an amazing record.
AW: Looking back at when the band first began till now, what would you say are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as an artist?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is to keep an open mind. You can’t be an elitist. You can’t think “oh man that band’s not new, that band’s not going to make it” because you know, people thought that about us. You have to keep an open mind about your songwriting and keep an open mind about all the different genres of music and all the new music that is coming up. It’s amazing to see the way that music has evolved, and I think it’s important to just embrace it. I think that’s a feeling that is really important, and something that every musician should take to heart.
Also, I think a huge thing about being in a band like Flyleaf where we’re all songwriters, is that it’s very important to leave your ego at the door. Because you’re going to bring in a song that you feel is just brilliant, and the band is going to rip it apart and turn it a Flyleaf song essentially. You have to really learn to let go of the songs that you’ve written and let everyone have their take on it, and that’s something that I think is really important and where Flyleaf works the best. No matter who does what, with writing, everything gets split evenly. So no one is trying to write something just to get credit, because you’re going to get credit. So it makes it really important that when people contribute things that it truly is for the betterment of the song, and that it’s not a matter of who does what, because everybody gets the same amount. And I think that’s something that has really made Flyleaf songs what they are.
AW: With the upcoming tour for the new album on the horizon, are there any places you haven’t toured yet that you’re hoping to finally get to within the upcoming year?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Yeah! South America is a place that I think we all really have been itching to go to. We have so many fans down there and I think it’s been a long time coming. South Africa is another place we want to go to, and we also want to go to the Philippines. There a lot of places that we haven’t been to yet that we’re really itching to go to.
AW: I noticed through your twitter that you’re a bit of a Netflix addict, much like me. What’s in your queue currently, and what shows have you been binge watching?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Oh man [laughing]; let me see if I can bring it up on my phone. I can’t remember otherwise, like I have the worst memory. If I don’t write it down, it’ll just evaporate from my brain, like I can’t even explain it. I’ve been watching Weeds, that’s been a lot of fun. I also just watched this movie called The Hunt…it’s a Danish movie and it’s pretty intense, I highly recommend it if you’re into foreign films.
Let me see… [Sameer finishes pulling up his Netflix Queue] Oh, okay! So I’ve been watching Star Trek. I grew up as a trekkie, and I feel like people are like “you’re either Star Wars or Star Trek” and I don’t believe that. Because I believe that they’re completely different. I think that Star Trek is true Sci-Fi, and that the Star Wars movies are more kind of a fantasy film or a fantasy story. So I put them both on a pedestal that is equally high.
I also watched “Tesla: The Master of Lightning”, which is a documentary on Nicolas Tesla and was very intriguing, and that’s pretty much all of what’s in my recently watched or in my queue.
AW: What about Orange is The New Black? I read you’ve been watching that!
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Haha DUDE! I dig it! It’s so good. I was in Austin yesterday and I met Pornstache. He was in a bar watching a football game, and he came by and said hi and it was awesome!
AW: Is the actor anything like the character or are they two completely different people?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: [laughs] No! They’re completely different. He’s like the nicest guy and he’s not creepy at all. Like straight up, it’s like “hey that’s a pretty handsome fellow”! But in Orange Is the New Black he’s like this total creeper and you want to just cover yourself up in a blanket and try to stay away as his eyes are just ogling over you!
AW: Outside of Netflix and performing in a band what’s your biggest hobby? Anything you’re really into?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: I’m really into physics. So I watch a lot of physics related documentaries, and I read a lot of physics books. I’ve been brushing up on all my calculus and stuff because I want to go back to school and study physics. So I do a lot of that. Like in the morning I’ll wake up and do equations and stuff. But other than that, I love to read. I love Sci-Fi and Fantasy, so I’ll try to read Lord of The Rings at least once a year. I’m actually going to try and finish it by September 22nd; Hobbit Day, which is Frodo and Bilbo’s birthday.
Also I’m listening to Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables on AudioBook, so when I go for a walk later I’ll pop that in, and then of course I still write a lot of music. I try to stay busy, and stay inspired, and stay creative.
AW: What are your plans for the year ahead after the release of Between the Stars? What do you hope to accomplish with Flyleaf in 2015?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Well, the goals that I have are that I really want people to connect to the songs, and I want whoever listens to Between the Stars to feel inspired. There are a lot of songs on this record that feel nostalgic and I want people to look at their lives and see how far they’ve come. There’s something really inspiring about Between the Stars that I feel is going to resonate with people, and that’s what I hope and that’s my goal.
AW: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Any last things you want to say to the fans?
Sameer Bhattacharya [Flyleaf]: Yeah! I hope you all really enjoy Between the Stars, and I hope you take away something that inspires you fully embrace life to the fullest, because we have one chance to make a difference and we really need to embrace the weight of our lives and the impact that we have on other people. That we aren’t just floating through this life in neutral, and that everything we do and every decision that we make creates waves, and creates ripples and that it’s really important that those ripples are affecting people for the better.