With its third full-length release, “Tug of War,” Red Line Chemistry has come into its own. Produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Stone Sour, Alice in Chains), the album—which, even though it is not a concept album, plays and flows as one cohesive piece— combines its expected hard rock numbers with longer, more adventurous material that brings to mind Tool or a heavier Pink Floyd. After hitting all the major U.S. festivals in the spring (Carolina Rebellion, Rockfest, Rock on the Range, Rocklahoma), the band will be on tour throughout the summer to promote its superb new disc. Frontman Brett Ditgen recently called in from the road to discuss “Tug of War” with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: The new album, “Tug of War,” comes out May 14. I think it’s a big step forward for your band in terms of the songwriting and playing. When you started working on it, what kind of goals did you have for this album?
BRETT DITGEN: We didn’t really go into it with any preconceived notions of what exactly we wanted. We knew that we wanted to write something that had a little heavier feeling in some ways, but we also wanted to feed our artistic side of having some melodic, longer songs on there. That’s kind of how it ended up being called “Tug of War.” Half of it’s kind of straight-up heavy, and the other half has more of a melodic, epic-type feel.
It was just a matter of us getting in a room all together and cohesively coming together in a way that we hadn’t before, and things just kind of worked out that way. We had a lot more time to work on songs, a lot more time for them to breathe. Of course, we were getting feedback from our producer. He just wanted us to continue writing and continue writing and continue writing. It kind of all just panned out over the course of the last year. It took us a little longer than we had expected. Nick was pretty busy with some other projects, so we had to work with his schedule, and it allowed the songs to come together the way they did.
You mentioned you kind of got together to write. Was that different than how you’ve done it in the past?
It was more of a comfortable experience because we did have the time, we knew that we had it, and we were just in a different place with the band. Writing the last record—we got signed, we quit our jobs, we wrote the record in three months, we recorded it within the next month or two, and we were on the road within six months of getting signed. It all just happened really fast. We had to get it done and get a product out there and get on the road and get the machine rolling.
In this case, we had a little more of the leisure and luxury to have the time to work together. A lot of times in the past, certain people bring ideas of songs or bring in songs to the table and just kind of go with that. But we started from scratch on this one, and it was just the five of us in a room every day working on ideas and piecing arrangements together to get things into a song format. Then I would take the songs home and work on putting vocals and melodies, and start to piece together lyrics and themes for the stuff, then kind of go through the circle of revisions and feedback. It was a really democratic process. Everybody had ideas, and everybody got their ideas tried.
There were some songs that we loved that could’ve sworn would be on the record but didn’t eventually make it, because you just keep writing and keep writing, and you end up either writing a song that’s better or it’s something from the other one. So that’s kind of the philosophy of how he wanted us to continue writing. He didn’t want us to write 13 songs and say there’s the record. He wanted us to write 25 songs to see what you can eventually bring out of yourself to better the record.
What was it like working with Nick Raskulinecz? He’s worked with so many big-name bands.
It was an amazing experience. We had been working with the same guy for pretty much our whole existence. We met Nick, and it was definitely an opportunity we wanted to take to try to grow a little bit. Working with someone of that caliber for the first time, you don’t really know what to expect. He basically, immediately became like a sixth member of the band, giving feedback in the writing process. We also worked with Matt Hyde, who’s been in the game for a long time. We did two songs in L.A. last February. We went out there for a week, and that was the first experience to see how it was gonna go, and it went off without a hitch. Both great guys, and Nick’s so fun to work with.
Did he have stories about working with these other bands?
Yeah, we definitely got into all that. We spent quite a bit of time with him over the course of the year working on the songs. He had all kinds of cool stories. What he’s done and where he came from—it’s a great story of success. So we had some fun. We did end up getting to meet Alice in Chains. He was working with them in L.A. when we went out. We were just getting started on basic tracks, and he was finishing up their stuff. We were out there for a few weeks, and then we were off for about a week and a half, and got to meet Jerry (Cantrell) and hang out with the guys. That was an awesome experience. But yeah, working with Nick was great. Can’t really say enough.
I really like the longer, melodic, more epic songs on the album that you talked about a little bit. I was just kind of curious about how those came about. Did you write a bunch of those songs wanting to go in that direction, or did you just notice those were some of the best and that’s why so many ended up on the album?
It’s just kind of how it turned out. We just tried not to think too much. They would get into just jamming on some stuff. It was really just kind of how it happened. Songs like “The Fighter” and “Eyes to the Sky” and “Through the Haze”—“Through the Haze,” that’s got some remnants of a song that was written years ago in a previous band. But the song was forever long, and a lot of changes went into making the song what it is, changing it and rearranging it. We went through multiple versions of “Eyes to the Sky,” multiple versions of “Through the Haze.” All sorts of songs were much longer than they are on the record. We were just able to make them more concise and tighten them up and get all the points across and all the parts across the way we wanted to, and make them a little more concise on the record.
“Through the Haze” came together in its final form in pre-production. We went out to L.A. and had two days of pre-production. Four of us, without (drummer) Mike (Mazzarese), went into the studio at 9 or 10 o’clock at night after everybody had gone home, and we were just working on that song acoustic, trying to get something, because that song was on the ropes whether it would be on there or not. The arrangement wasn’t quite where it needed to be. We had a number of songs that could or could not have made the record. That was one we wanted to, so we went in late at night and tried to work on it. Nick walked in the room—we didn’t even know he was still there—and he overheard and said he liked it, and we worked it out that night.
Those songs are just a part of us. We’re really into Pink Floyd, we’re really into harmonies, and we love the album concept. Back in the day, you would listen to a full album, and it’s a feeling that a full album gives you. It’s not just cherry-picking the songs off of iTunes. You get a vibe from listening to that whole album in its entirety. Those types of songs, even though they have no function really for radio, they’re the kind of songs that glue the record together. For me, as a listener growing up, they always ended up being my favorite songs on the record. That’s kind of boiling over into the way that we want to write our records.
Yeah, I think you’ve definitely captured that album feel. You mentioned Pink Floyd, and you do a cover of a Pink Floyd song, “What Do You Want from Me,” which is an interesting choice because it’s not from the classic era that most people would go to. How did you choose that song?
We’ve been playing that song live for—well, we’ve been together nine years, and they were a band before me. We’re a combination of a couple bands coming together back in 2004. But they had been playing that even before I joined the band. Over the years, it’s just kind of grown. The fans love it. Old-school fans love it. New, younger fans take a liking to it. So we figured we’d record it. We felt like this record was the perfect place, because it had some other songs that kind of complemented it very well to where it felt like it fit. Yeah, we didn’t go the obvious route. There are all kinds of Pink Floyd songs that we’ve covered, and a lot of them have been. Our idea was to put our own spin on something that’s not as obvious.
What can people expect when they come see Red Line Chemistry live?
Just high energy. Right now, we’re doing a lot of opening—30-minute, 45-minute sets. We’re trying to bring the highest-energy songs from the new record, as well as our old radio singles. Our tour schedule should continue to grow from here on out, so we’re looking forward to it.