INTERVIEW: Francesco Artusato of LIGHT THE TORCH (June 2021)

For Light the Torch, 2020 was to be filled with a new album and plenty of touring to support it. Those plans, of course, changed completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Skip ahead to June 2021 and the band’s second album, “You Will Be the Death of Me” (Nuclear Blast Records; read Live Metal’s review)—following two released under its original name, Devil You Know—finally is out, and tour dates are on the horizon, too. The day before the album’s release, Live Metal’s Greg Maki caught up with guitarist Francesco Artusato to discuss the pressure of following up a hit record, a back injury he sustained during the writing of it, the band’s ever-evolving drummer situation and more.

LIVE METAL: When you made the previous album, “Revival,” you really kept it under the radar, the rebirth of the band, and nobody really knew about it until you made the announcement. Then that album did pretty well, and “The Safety of Disbelief,” in particular, was all over Octane. Now, people are highly anticipating this new album, so did that put any more pressure on you when you were making it?

FRANCESCO ARTUSATO: Oh definitely, definitely. After we decided to move forward—we had to change the name and kind of start a new band after Devil You Know—that record, Light the Torch, was kind of like, “Well, let’s just do something that’s gonna be fun, and let’s see if it goes well. Otherwise, we’ll see, maybe we’ll do other things.” And then obviously, that record went better than we ever expected, and because of that, when it was time to start thinking about the second record, obviously, you get a lot more pressure and thinking, “Oh my god, what are the right songs to please this type of crowd?” You start thinking more about all those things. And also, it’s not just about the fans. For yourself, you want to make something even better, because you do want to see that evolutionary progress. So there’s definitely a lot more, I guess, thinking but, also, at the same time, worrying that we shouldn’t overthink it. The first record was very spontaneous because of, like I said, we were kind of like, “Let’s see how it goes.” And then, this time it was like, “How do we bring that vibe still while we’re writing something that we feel like is very well thought?”

When was this album made? Was it before or during the pandemic?

It was before, actually. We literally finished the record, and a week later, we went on tour, and that was the tour that had got cancelled because of COVID. So we basically finished the record end of February 2020, and the plan was to have it out last summer. We had a bunch of tours and things lined up, and obviously, everything had to change.

What have you been doing for the past whatever it’s been, 15 months, since this all started? Were you tempted to go back and work on the album more?

I think we felt very good with what we had, and then kind of started thinking, “OK, if we go back and start redoing things, we might end up ruining things that right now sound with a certain emotion.” I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of singers end up using takes that they were doing during pre-production, because they had a more natural, more spontaneous kind of vibe. I’m already very obsessed with that whole process of writing, pre-production, recording, so thinking of doing even more of that after, I think both (vocalist) Howard (Jones) and I felt like, “OK, this is it. We’re happy with this. Let’s move forward.” And honestly, I was so spent with music. That was the perfect time to just go on the road and play shows and stop thinking about that part of being in a band. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Many times people ask me, “So you had all the time in the world. How much music did you write?” And I didn’t write any music, because I was done writing music—mentally, just drained. Basically, I used the time—something that I started years ago and I do more and more, I work with visuals and 3D, and I do animation. In this case, I did the album artwork. But I do album artwork for a bunch of other bands. I work on TV shows and video games and stuff like that. I basically took the time to really study and elevate my profile and learn a bunch of new programs and new things and new skills, and then started getting jobs with that. So it’s kind of like I had to have something, because you wake up, you look outside the window and the world is very depressing with the whole COVID thing, and at least you need to have something that you can put all your energy into.

Yeah, definitely. You mentioned the artwork. What was your inspiration for the album cover and the visualizer for the “More Than Dreaming” video?

I think already, after we were done with pre-production, I had a pretty clear idea of what type of colors I wanted for the artwork. To me, that was the vibe of the music really. After pre-production, you kind of get an idea that this is gonna be the direction for the record. So the artwork really followed that vibe that I felt. Obviously, I talked to Howard and (bassist) Ryan (Wombacher) about what I was seeing. They really gave me all the freedom to do this type of stuff. It started from color. Obviously, Howard had the idea for the album title, and then because of that, the album cover started being that type of theme. And the more I developed that, just adding some vibe with neons and smoke and things like that—just things I like in it. Also, because I think on this record, you hear more synthesizers, keyboards than before, in a way, that to me gave more of a ’80s, ’90s kind of vibe. So I wanted to also have that for the album cover.

Yeah, it kind of reminds me of soundtracks to John Carpenter movies from the ’80s. Were you thinking about that kind of thing when you were putting those synthesizers and keyboards in?

Absolutely. If you’re familiar with “Big Trouble in Little China,” John Carpenter’s movie, toward the end when they’re in this cheesy temple with skulls and then there’s neons around the skulls, that’s kind of how I started kind of thinking, “How do I make things like this, create that type of vibe?”

At some point during the writing, you were injured in a car accident. What happened?

Yeah. About two and a half years ago, I was in a pretty bad car accident, and that really messed me up. So I just spent two years—right until the pandemic—I spent time doing a lot of therapies, rehab and all that, just trying to rebuild the muscles and getting injections in the spine, epidural shots and all that stuff—being a very slow process. It made the whole process less depressing because I was writing music, and music really became my escape. It was just like my back hurts, I barely want to play guitar, but I wanted to write music, so I’ll just deal with it. Twelve hours later, I’m like OK, I’m hurting, but I’m happy because I pulled riffs and pulled songs. So mentally, it was very helpful.

Are you fully recovered now?

Basically. Yeah, I think so. This is a type of injury that you’re told you’ll be messed up for the rest of your life, one way or another. So it’s just a matter of managing it, and I learned how to do it, changed completely my lifestyle, the type of exercises I do, stretching and my diet. My diet changed completely, and I have a diet that helps with inflammation. And I feel much better. Now I’m basically almost normal.

Good to hear. I heard you had a houseguest during the recording of the album. When you’re in a band, on tour you’re basically living with your bandmates, but what was it like having Howard there in your home with you?

It’s weird because with us, we literally are best friends before bandmates. It makes it more fun. If Howard is coming to town and we’re working, either Ryan or I will be like, “Just stay with us,” because it’s just making the whole thing more fun. Howard is a very respectful person, like straight manners and a great friend. There was a point I think we were kind of driving each other crazy towards the end of the recording, because we’re both so obsessed with what we’re doing in the studio. In fact, we talked about it, how we couldn’t stop thinking about it. And when you come home from the studio, what you want is to have some distraction and do something else. Instead, with the same person, it’s like, “Hmm, should we change that part? What about that part?” It was really never ending. But yeah, it’s fun.

You have Alex Rudinger from Whitechapel playing drums for you now. Obviously, we know him from a much heavier, more intense style of music. So how did you decide to bring him into this?

As you might know, with us, the drummer situation. Before Devil You Know, I was in a band called All Shall Perish, and there was a whole mess with the drummer suing the band and all that. Then Devil You Know started, and a very similar thing started happening. Now the three of us, we are so careful of who we’re gonna have sign papers or come into the band and be a band member, because I almost ruined my career twice because of previous drummers. As of right now, we just hire a guy to do the record and then hire somebody to do the album cycle and play live. Eventually, I’d love to have a member that we can totally trust in. But in this case, it was just a matter of hiring somebody who we loved in terms of style.

I’ve been following Alex for many years, his career and all the projects and things like that. Him and I actually did one of those projects with a bunch of musicians years ago, and that’s actually the first time that I heard his playing. Even though he’s known for, in a way, a heavier type of sound, more technical, you can hear he has all the skills that are needed for this type of music to make it sound even better, I think. It’s adding all those extra articulations, all those embellishments, just making even a simple groove stand out and more interesting. And also, everything that we heard about him before we invited him to do it was good things. All the producers that worked with him said he’s an absolute workaholic, how well prepared he comes. And everything we heard was absolutely true. He’s incredible.

Now, he’s obviously a Whitechapel guy. I don’t know how we’re gonna manage in terms of live. We haven’t, literally, thought about it yet. When you go on tour, tours are tours. A record is a statement that will be there forever. And so, to me, it’s like hire the drummer that you feel like is gonna be the right drummer, whoever drummer is going to bring the best sound. In this case, as soon as we started hearing the tracks that he was doing in the studio, we were so happy.

You brought back the same producer from the last album, Josh Gilbert. I guess that means you have a good working relationship with him. What does he bring to the whole process for you?

I think he understands the sound that we were looking for. And also, he’s one of those producers without a big ego. He’s not a guy who’s like, “I’m the producer, so I’m trying to manipulate the music and make it sound like I want it.” He told me he just works on making what we’re doing better. Not having an ego means that he might try something and then we don’t like it and it’s fine. I think it’s the same thing with me. All the music that I write, it’s there to be heard and criticized, and if we want to change it, we can change it. It’s not that just because you worked on it, it needs to stay the same.

I think it also helps the fact that he’s been a touring musician for many years, so he understands that the music that you’re recording is supposed to be performed live. In the past, I’ve worked with producers who kind of don’t have an idea with that. They might suggest good ideas, but they’re not very good ideas for a live performance. And I think, also, so many things work out, just the vibe, how chill everybody is in the room with him and the partner, Joseph McQueen. And also, honestly, the fact that the studio is 10 minutes from my house. That’s also a big thing, because after the studio, you just want to go home and chill and have a relaxing day and recharge. So everything really works for the studio and the producers.

It seems like that approach you’re talking about, where he doesn’t want to make it his sound, would work especially well for you, because I’ve interviewed you before and you were telling me how you don’t just come in with a riff. You have pretty fully formed songs, right?

Yeah, yeah yeah. I don’t even show riffs. I bring full songs, with everything—layers, drums and everything. That, to me, is the best way to really show what you have in mind. And I know producers like this, too, because you always hear stories from producers of bands showing up with a riff and then they basically give it to the producer like, “Make a song.” And this happens all the time. And then the same thing with Howard. He has lyrics for albums and albums. So that makes it so much easier. And also, Howard’s a great talent for just coming up with lyrics, like we need a line and he’s so good with it. I’m confident to say even for these producers, it’s a good relationship working with us. They enjoy it, and they do find it easy.

You mentioned you haven’t really started to think about the touring situation yet, but there are a few festivals that have been announced that you’re going to be playing. Are there plans for more tour dates around those festivals?

Yeah, we actually are planning things. Nothing’s been announced yet. But yeah, we definitely are planning. With the record coming out, and then in a couple months I think is the perfect time. By then, I think especially in the States, it should be pretty safe to tour, I would assume. We are all hoping. Yeah, so definitely we will have more than just a few festival shows.

Last year, you were going to go out on tour with Killswitch Engage, which would have been a lot of fun. Is that going to be rescheduled?

Yeah. It’s one of those tours that we’ve been waiting to do for so long. Since Howard started doing things after Killswitch, everybody’s been saying, “Oh, when are they gonna tour, the bands together?” And finally when it happened, we only got to play three shows, and then we had to cancel. The shows were already so good. Basically, the entire tour was sold out. It was gonna be by far, for us, the best tour ever. It was such a bummer to have to postpone it. Basically, we’re planning to do it in 2022, probably early 2022—something like that. We don’t have specific dates, but 100 percent it will happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

I’m just very excited to see this thing out, finally. It’s been such a long, long time, and, honestly, I’m most excited because to think this record, for us, is more than a year old since when we said the record’s done. Usually, by this time, I end up hating everything. But with this music, I think we put so much passion into this, and also, I think the way we work together now, really for us, this is a very special record. So even more than before, I’m very excited to have this out, and I can’t wait to start playing shows and playing this music.

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