An Interview with Phil Labonte of ALL THAT REMAINS

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - February 2005

Wisdom is something you gain the hard way; it's never handed to you, nor can you look it up in a textbook. Through pragmatic means, Phil Labonte has learned many life lessons as former singer of Shadows Fall and now current leader of his own group, All That Remains. When sitting with Phil, I got the impression of someone who teems with desire to see his band reach a pinnacle of playing that increases each time they take the stage. I also got the impression of a chill kind of dude who knows when to take things seriously and when not to, something he obviously needs as his band opened for the outrageously unserious Gwar this particular winter's evening at the Recher Theater in Towson, Maryland. You guys are about to head south from here (Baltimore) to North Carolina and South Carolina for dates down there. Are you swinging by the Super Bowl since you're down there? (laughs) I'm sure you guys are heavy Pats fans!

Phil Labonte: Oh yeah, we're definitely Pats fans! I don't know what we're doing, but we're stopping somewhere. We're probably going to find a Hooters because they make good wings and there's nothing wrong with looking at boobs and watching the Super Bowl, watching New England most likely win! (side note from Ray: congrats on another win there, Phil buddy!) The Eagles are good, but no one in the NFC … even if it was the Steelers or the Colts there instead of the Patriots ... I think the AFC, given the way this year has gone and the past couple of years, they're going to stomp them. Total domination by the AFC.

Phil Labonte: Exactly. Now, you guys were inadvertently born out of Shadows Fall while you were still singing with them, so tell me a little bit of the chronology and how and why All That Remains developed. You were there in Shadows Fall for "Somber Eyes to the Sky" and you have a songwriting credit on "Of One Blood"…

Phil Labonte: Yeah, I just really started writing to play guitar, is really what happened. I just really wanted to play guitar. It wasn't that I was specifically planning on going anywhere, although I started writing for a reason; I wasn't quite getting all the stuff I wanted in Shadows Fall, so I started writing stuff and they decided they wanted to go with Brian (Fair), so I was like, 'Cool.' We already had three or four songs written, or at least put together, but then it was just a matter of filling them in. Now ironically, Shadows Fall have become kind of unexpected ambassadors of metal right now, along with Lamb of God …

Phil Labonte: Yeah. So, with Brian Fair receiving all the accolades, despite the fact, there seems like there's still a rapport with them regardless. 

Phil Labonte: That's because 90% of the garbage that gets started … no offense … gets started because of the media. Right, none taken.

Phil Labonte: You know, people go ahead and they blah blah blah, and I'm always very careful to make it specifically clear that there's no bad blood between us and those guys in Shad. It's not thought about. We're just fucking friends. Things didn't work out with me in that band and that was cool, you know? It's not an issue. I have absolutely no reason to hate Brian. When we did a tour in Shadows Fall, we did one with Overcast, and it was cool. We just came back from two weeks with Killswitch, and Mike D's (D'Antonio) in Killswitch, you know, and it was just cool to hang out with Mike because I haven't seen him in years. It was like … we're all family; we don't get involved in that fucking shit talk and stuff. At least we don't, you know? I mean, you may get a different answer from someone else, but I'm not going to get involved. I'm not interested. It's all crap. It's garbage. You're going to be kicking off three dates with Shadows Fall on the big tour coming up with them, Lamb of God and Slipknot, right?

Phil Labonte: Yep. That'll be really fucking cool. Sure will.

Phil Labonte: Biggest places we've ever played. We'll see what happens. So here's my last thing on Shadows Fall and then I'll get off of that. As celebrated as they are, you guys are no slouches yourselves! You're primarily a metalcore band and you incorporate tons of classic metal themes, even some old school Metallica like on "Regret Not" or "And Death in My Arms" or …

Phil Labonte: Yeah. Or even "From These Wounds." Do you feel at this point you guys have been given your just due as a separate entity, I guess you could say?

Phil Labonte: To be honest with you, we're still tagged as a new band from the former vocalist of Shadows Fall. I'd like to get away from that stuff but at the same time, when this album ("This Darkened Heart") came out, I was cool with it just because anything that gets people to listen to the band is cool, you know? But now it's gotten to the point where we've tried to move some records and we've done a lot of touring, so we're starting to make a move where it's like we're trying to avoid that, just because … I mean, it's true and I'm not ashamed of it, but at this point it's gotten to where it's like, 'Well, I used to do that, but I'm doing this now.' That was a long time ago! I was in Shad almost six years ago now, so it's a long time, you know? It's time to move on and get past the fact that I used to be in Shadows Fall. Right. Okay, forgive the length of this next question.

Phil Labonte: No problem. Having put All That Remains together, you have to be proud to have Oli (Herbert) and Mike (Martin) as your twin guitar attack …

Phil Labonte: (laughs) Yeah. Even though the playing style is different, I think they're your KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, if you get my drift. Now, All That Remains was one of the first of today's current crop of metal talent to have the guts, beginning with Behind the Silence and Solitude, to fuse intricate guitar solos in a market at that time shunned the guitar solo. So, if I can be so bold, I'd say I think All That Remains' breakdowns allow for the opportunity to pull out the solos, you know? Kids today are so fond of breakdowns.

Phil Labonte: Yeah. I think to say something that we … I would say the breakdowns in our stuff are not on the full spectrum of heavy and what real breakdowns are. Our breakdowns are really just kind of groovy parts. They're really not like fucking breakdowns because if you take a band like The Acacia Stream, who's on Prosthetic Records, they are fucking heavy! Right on.

Phil Labonte: They have breakdowns. We've got some parts kids can dance to. It's not like we've got something that can fucking annihilate the placed parts, at least that's from my perspective. I think you hear so much stuff to what we do like on old SOD stuff, it's still really metal to me, you know what I mean? If that opens the door to more metalcore and hardcore kids listening to us right now, then cool. I don't think it's bad for anyone who listens to the band, anything that gets them to listen to music, that's cool. It's not like we're looking for something, but it's like, this is what we do and if that's going to open the door, then whatever. We're a band that's really fueled by riffs and solos and guitar, you know, that's where it's really, really focused on. It's not really something we think about, it's just kind of what we do. We don't really sit down and say we want to this and we want to do this and do this or do this. It's more like we go to get together and we write and it's like, 'This is the stuff I've got, what do you think?' Everybody says yea or nay, whether they like it or not, and if too many people say nay then I start fighting! (laughs) (laughs)

Phil Labonte: But I mean, really, it's really not something we think about a lot. We don't put a lot of thought into what's going to get kids to listen to us. We really write for ourselves first. Cool. Now, until the solo anyway, I feel a real hard Pantera pull on the riffs to "Tattered on My Sleeve." Now obviously you had no idea what was going to happen to Dime, but a song like that really, to me, demonstrates the power Dime's playing style had on bands across the board. 

Phil Labonte: Yeah, there's no way anybody listening to heavy music today can say that Pantera didn't influence them in some way, whether it influenced them directly or influenced the bands directly, you know what I mean? I personally listened to a lot of Pantera in the early nineties. I didn't listen to most of the newer stuff because that's when I got into the more death metal and European stuff. Cool.

Phil Labonte: But there's no question whether or not Dime influenced us or even the impact he had on heavy music in general, you know? They were the only metal band, really, the only really big metal band throughout almost all the nineties, you know? Grunge came and just slaughtered metal bands and even the big metal bands, they just scaled down a lot. Iron Maiden went from stadiums; at least in the States they were playing theaters. That's a large step down for those guys. They're probably playing bigger places now, but at the same time, the only metal band that was out there really fucking playing huge places throughout the whole nineties was Pantera. They were fucking selling a whole shitload of records, you know, still selling a shitload of tickets and still being a purely metal band. It's definitely a tragic thing. It sucks that he got killed. Yeah, again, he just carries on through everybody else's name in one way or another.

Phil Labonte: Oh yeah, absolutely. I agree totally. Now, the video for "The Deepest Gray" is a bare bones, kicking out the jams kind of video…

Phil Labonte: Yeah. You stated that All That Remains avoids epic narrative in your videos, so I guess you feel your performance speaks for itself, which I think shows in your video. Now, if you look at the history of music video, perhaps the best of the best videos are straight performance videos versus, say, concept storytelling?

Phil Labonte: Yeah. So elaborate more, if you would, about how you feel making a video like that.

Phil Labonte: First of all, if you're doing a strictly performance video, it's the worst fucking thing in the world to actually do! It sucks! Shooting videos sucks in the first place, all right? The first time we shot "The Deepest Gray" was cool, right? We shot another video for the title track, "This Darkened Heart." The whole new thing was done and it sucked. You'd sit there and then you're jumping around for six or seven hours straight. It's like playing twelve shows in a row, you know? It's the same song and by the end of the day you're sick of the fucking song, you know? (laughs)

Phil Labonte: I mean, I'm not going to say we won't have more storylines in future videos, because you can only find so many locales that are cool and it's not just strictly performance or there's only so many ideas that are cool for strictly performance videos, but I think it's better to have a performance video, especially for your first video. Definitely for your first video. I mean, we want to just go ahead and showcase what it's like for a live show, that's got to be the strongest theme in most of our videos, the common stuff. So in that aspect, it makes it a more effective marketing tool.

Phil Labonte: Well, I guess so. It's like, 'This is what we'll give you, come on out and see the show.'

Phil Labonte: Yeah, yeah, I think so, and it's also … we're not pretentious dudes. I'm not that artsy-fartsy guy. I'm not a name-dropper nor do I trash talk anyone, but I'm not the singer from A Perfect Circle, Maynard. I mean, I'm not like that dude at all! (laughs) It's not like I'm going to wear a bra… (laughs)

Phil Labonte: I'm not going get up onstage and paint my face half one color and leave the rest, it's just not me, you know? I don't get it, I don't understand how that translates to the music, how it relates. I just don't get it. I mean, maybe if it's tongue-in-cheek and he's doing it to fuck with the media or people, then cool, that's funny! Right.

Phil Labonte: But other than that I don't understand the whole face painting and … I don't wear makeup and that's the popular thing to do now. I'm not going to be putting on eyeliner before we go out, you know? It's just not me! But as a marketing tool, I guess it is probably better to be like, 'Hey, this is who we are,' you know, and take it for what it is. Cool, man. Now, how was the European tour with Killswitch? Since it was your first trip over, kind of give me a report of your experiences through virgin eyes. 

Phil Labonte: First of all, it was the first time we were ever on a bus! So that was sick, that alone! I mean, even if the shows were terrible it would've been amazing because we didn't have to drive the van, we all had bunks to sleep in, and we had a fridge and we had like, all the stuff! There were two TV's, you know, just normal stuff that's on a bus that we've never had, so we were like, 'This is cool!' And then you throw in the fact that it was with Killswitch, who we've known for years and years and we're friends with. I mean, me, Adam (Dutkiewitz) and Joel (Stroetzel) have been … I mean, I played guitar with them for Aftershock before they even got Killswitch with the start. I've known them for a long time, and because the fact they're a band that tours and we're a band that tours, we never get to see them, you know? I'm sure.

Phil Labonte: We hadn't done any tours with them, so we never got to see them until this tour, so it was so cool to be hanging out with Mike, Adam and Joel and Justin (Foley) and how good it is to just chill and see your friends. Then you throw in the fact that every show was sold out. Most of them had up to or at least a thousand people. I mean, the few that had …The Astoria in London was 2500 people! It was sold out, so bad even the scalpers couldn't get tickets! It was sold out. The line must've been like a quarter … literally a quarter mile long! (laughs) Wow.

Phil Labonte: It was huge! So, it couldn't have been a better change. I didn't fuck with any girls at all and it was the best experience of my life. I mean, if I was getting laid on the tour it would've been even better! (laughs) (laughs)

Phil Labonte: Even that aside, even without that, it was still a kickass tour! It was still amazing! I understand in November your van lost an axle …

Phil Labonte: Oh yeah. It forced you to cancel a show or two, so the more bands I speak to, I'd say the van disaster is the number one common ground for everyone.

Phil Labonte: Oh, yeah, and it's terrible, and it sucks when you break down … it's one of those things that we just recently kind have gotten to point where we expect it to break down because you put so many miles on it you've got to kind of figure that into your budget. You have to figure that, you know what? It's going to happen at some point; something's going to go wrong with it with all the mileage there is. Right.

Phil Labonte: And that's one more reason to go ahead and rent a bus because you don't have to drive; there's no hassle, and if it breaks down, a new bus is there the next day. It's a lot easier but at the same time it's expensive, you know what I mean? Yeah.

Phil Labonte: It's definitely common ground. Everybody who's been in a band has heard stories about breaking down. Exactly. Now you just kicked off your current tour last night with Gwar and Alabama Thunderpussy, who I'm looking forward to seeing as much as the other two bands. You're kind of bookended by two diverse bands that are dissimilar from what you're doing, so what are your expectations for this tour?

Phil Labonte: I mean, last night was great! Granted, it was kind of close to home, so we've played the area a lot, but I mean, last night was a killer show. I think that because of the slot we've got now, I think we're doing pretty good. We did pretty well on the last Gwar tour, you know, opening up, and being the first band on a tour is always rough. It's always tough because you're the guys who have to warm the crowd up. You have to go out there and you have to work harder to get people to notice you. I think on this tour it's going to be a little easier for us to get people to kind of check us out, to pay attention. It's exciting, though. Gwar is Gwar, man. (laughs) True!

Phil Labonte: They're a great bunch of guys, they always bring a shitload of people, it's a lot of fun to hang out with them and it's a lot of fun watching their shows, so I can't complain at all. As for being sandwiched between two different styles, it's good because it's diverse, you know? I mean, people that are coming are really coming to see Gwar for the most part, and I think it's people that are into Gwar for their music and not specifically just the show, the people that are into the music will definitely find something in All That Remains that they can appreciate, because the fact we're a metal band and Gwar is primarily a metal band too. They've got solos and there's breakdown parts, so I think the fans of Gwar that are into the music really could find something to latch onto with All That Remains. It'll be a good time. Seems like it would be. I like diverse packages anyway. It's neat. You're not getting the same bands over four hours. 

Phil Labonte: Yep. Now, since you guys write to please yourselves first, I know you feel you still have ways to go in what you feel you're capable of achieving. What standards are you putting on yourselves to help you realize your ultimate goal?

Phil Labonte: Well, I know that I personally have a vocal coach. I take lessons whenever I can. Melissa Cross, who's out of New York City, she's got a DVD coming out that I'm in. Me, Randy Blythe from Lamb of God's on it and I think Keith (Buckley) from Every Time I Die. I think it's going to be called "The Zen of Screaming," and if you don't mind, I'm going to plug it … Sure, go ahead.

Phil Labonte: It's at or Cool.

Phil Labonte
: That'll be where you can go and get the DVD through that. They're going to be featuring some of the bits on MTV2 next week as well. But I take lessons. Oli … it's harder for him to take lessons especially since Oli's got his Masters, he's got a four-year degree, so he's knows the shit, so it's harder to find time to get lessons at home, but anytime he can sit down with someone he respects or is in the position, he's always picking their brain. Like him and Joel (of Killswitch Engage) were hanging out a lot on the UK tour and just talked about guitar, picking each others' brains. That's kind of the way we are, we're always looking to better ourselves, so I think we can do a lot more … a lot more of what we already do, I guess that's the best way to say it. The next album we want to have a little more diversity in what we do, kind of to spread it a little bit more, but we also want to go back and do the same things that really define us as a band, you know? We want to have clean parts, we want to have regular singing parts, we want to have screaming parts. I want to have something a little more old school death metal and parts that … Oli's written some stuff that's got a real powerful feel to it, so we're going to go ahead and … we're talking about a little more clean guitars. There's only a few parts on this record, so we're talking about incorporating a little more of that on the next one. Cool.

Phil Labonte: So we're kind of looking to more of what we've already done. I think that we've got a long way to go, because you're always growing as a musician, you know? So we'll see what happens. Right on. Here's my last question: 2004 was such a monster year for metal, it reminds me of 20 years ago when metal exploded in 1984. So, if you would, finish this sentence for me: "As far as I'm concerned, the state of metal today is blank.

Phil Labonte: Silly! (laughs)

Phil Labonte: It is! Oh, man. (laughs)

Phil Labonte: If you get on stage every night and your job is to scream at people, that's kind of silly. You can't take yourself too seriously and I hate to bring up the name again, but Killswitch Engage, look at that … They're probably the biggest band in the genre of metal now, and last summer, Adam, er, the summer previously on Ozzfest, he would come out in a tutu! (laughs)

Phil Labonte: He would come out in hot pants, boxer shorts and boots! (laughs)

Phil Labonte: Basically he's just taking the piss out of everything because it's fun and it's cool to play the music, and it's cool to play aggressive music, and it's a good time and everything, but it's one of those things where you can't take yourself too seriously. I think that's good advice for anybody. Excellent finish. That's all I have, but thanks for having me.

Phil Labonte: Thank you very much.

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Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:09 -0400