In addition to my interview with Ryan Ray (vocalist of Adakain) I also had the chance to sit down with Zach Lopez-Smith (drums, First Decree) (pictured far-right) for an interview. We talked about a number of things, including: their latest album, This Is Our Rise, how the “Life In Your Own Hands” tour is going for them so far and much, much more! Thanks to Zach for hanging out with me! Check it out below:
BearlySinister: What’s the origin of the band name, “First Decree?”
Zach Lopez-Smith: Okay, so… our lead singer Travis and our guitarist Dane kinda started the band and they named it “Decree” at first. They were looking online, Google’d it and saw that there were a ton of other bands that had that name, so they decided to change it. They were listening to a Tenacious D song, I think it was the song “going to city hall” or something like that… they heard in there, somewhere “this is the first decree.” So it comes from a Tenacious D song, of all things. When they heard it, they were just like “Boom! That’s it, First Decree. Let’s go with it!”
BS: The latest album, This Is Our Rise, came out in August. How has it been received so far?
ZL-S: Really well so far, actually! We charted in the top 4 on Billboard’s “Heatseekers” chart. A lot of people are really diggin’ it, really likin’ it which is really cool because, when you release an album, you never really know what to expect. All of the feedback so far has been positive and they’ve enjoyed them live, people dig it! Hopefully, whatever comes next is better, though!
BS: Where’d the title of the album come from?
ZL-S: It actually comes from one of the songs, “Lost in the Crowd.” There’s a chanted lyric in there that goes “This is our rise, just open your eyes, open your eyes.” I wrote that song on the idea that there are so many bands in the world and it’s hard to kind of separate yourself from the pack. That’s kind of what that song comes from, separating yourself from the crowd and not getting lost in every other band that’s out there. That’s kind of where the lyric came from and we just went with it as the album title because it fit. This being our first album getting released, it just kind of fit.
BS: What was the writing process like for the album and when did it start?
ZL-S: The first songs that were written, I wasn’t even in the process for. Our guitarist and lead singer wrote a song when they were like 16, which was like 10 years ago. That song actually made it onto the album. So… spanning from then all the way to last Summer is about how long the writing process took. There were some songs written a couple of years ago and there were some songs that were written just a year or so ago. Our writing process goes like this: someone comes up with an idea, we bring it to each other and kind of build from there. There were 5 songs on the album that were just written by Dane and Travis, they wrote those songs when they first started the band. Afterwards is when they brought me in, because they needed a drummer. Just for clarification: We all recorded parts on the album but a good chunk of the album was written before I joined.
BS: What was your favorite song to record on the album?
ZL-S: For me, personally, I really like “Lost in the Crowd” as a drummer. It’s one of the faster-paced songs on the record, it’s kinda fun. It’s always fun playing that song live, too. As far as the recording process goes, I really like our song “Rain.” I think we’re actually gonna play that song tonight, we usually don’t play it live but tonight we have a longer set. It just turned out really great, there’s some orchestral parts in there and it turned out really cool.
BS: What’s your favorite song to play live?
ZL-S: “Lost in the Crowd” and “Flesh and Bone.” We close out our set with those 2 songs on our shorter set. When we start those songs, we just get so pumped because they’re headbangers. Those are definitely my 2 favorites that we play live.
BS: Who are your biggest influences as a drummer?
ZL-S: My biggest influence of all is “The Rev” (Avenged Sevenfold), may he Rest in Peace. Growing up, I listened to him a lot, that’s kind of what got me started playing drums. I kind of emulated his style of playing and took that in my own way. Him, bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crue (Tommy Lee), those are all influences that I kind of took in as well. *later on in the interview* Neal Peart, you gotta respect that guy. Another big influence for me was Breaking Benjamin’s first drummer, Chad Szeliga because when I was growing up, I’d watch him and emulate a lot of the stuff that he did. Also, we gotta throw Vinnie Paul (Pantera/HellYeah) in there!
BS: The video for “Lost in the Crowd” has been out for about 3 months, while, the newest video for “Stop” was just released last week. What was the process like when shooting these videos and what idea were you trying to capture with each?
ZL-S: We did “Lost in the Crowd” with a director from Nashville but we went up to KY for that. We shot that video in an old distillery, the place hadn’t been opened in 30 years and we were the first people to have set foot there in that amount of time, it was really crazy. The vibe in that place was really creepy. The way that the video ended up was just showing the different parts of the building and how dense the fog in the warehouse was, which are designed to bring you down. In addition, though, there are scenes of hope where we come out of that and rise up. We liked doing that video, it was a really great experience because we did it on the top floor and when you looked down, you could see something like an 80ft drop. We were on this narrow plank of wood, which was really crazy. For “Stop,” we got a director from Chicago who came up with the idea for everything after listening to the song. He brought his ideas to us and told us “this is what I’m thinking, we can do this, this and this…” and we thought “Wow! This guy’s got a really cool vision for this video!” We decided to go with it, that all came through and we did our parts of the video in 1 day. For a couple of weeks afterwards, they shot some other scenes without us and it turned out really great. We really love how it turned out.
BS: Were you always deadset on being a drummer or do you play other instruments, as well?
ZL-S: My mom’s kinda the one who told me to play drums, which is really weird. She suggested it to me when I was really young, so I was like “alright, I’m gonna learn to play drums!” I’d always bang on stuff, I had this tiny toy drum that I’d hit on. She got me to play the piano first, though, before purchasing a real drum set and getting serious about it. She made me take piano for 2 years before she let me take any drum lessons or anything like that. I actually thank her for that because it really helped with rhythm, coordination and different things. I quit playing piano after those 2 years, though, which I regret. I really wish I would have kept playing piano because I can still play, just not as well. I’m also starting to learn guitar, so that’s my next venture. Drums are the main instrument that I’ve stuck with, it’s always been fun for me.
BS: What’s the following like where First Decree is from?
ZL-S: It’s interesting there because there’s not much of a music scene in Wyoming. There’s a very small metal scene there. When we first started out as a band, we had a promoter there who was throwing us onto some national shows here and there, so that’s how we got started. We actually played with Trapt there once, we played with Sevendust and Saliva as well. There were some shows there, the scene started to grow but then that promoter left and it went stagnant. We still have a lot of fans there but there are hardly any venues to play. As you can imagine, it’s really rough trying to get back there and play.
BS: What can be expected with a live performance from First Decree?
ZL-S: I feel like this is a really generic answer that everyone gives. We’re really energetic, we try to get the crowd going. We feed off of their energy and they off of ours, so that’s one thing that people can get out of our show. We’re kind of show-offs, at least I am. I’ll spin and throw my sticks and things like that. We’re just having fun up there and hopefully you can tell.
BS: For all of our drum aficionados out there, can you take us through your setup for shows?
ZL-S: I have a rack, I have 2 rack toms on top. I have 2 crash cymbals: an 18″ and a 20″ crash ride, then I put a 10″ splash in the middle. From there, I have my floor tom which has a ride cymbal that goes above it. I have a china cymbal that comes down, right next to that. I also have my 14″ Pork Pie snare, I have a Tama kit and I have my hi-hats. It’s pretty simple. A lot of people kind of run with one rack tom, one floor tom but I’ve just never been able to get into that. I’m okay with setting up a bigger kit, some people are kind of lazy and don’t like it but I don’t care. To me, it’s like building an erector set every night.
BS: You’re currently on the “Life In Your Own Hands” tour with Trapt and Adakain. How has the first 2 nights gone for First Decree?
ZL-S: They’ve been incredible! We toured with Trapt a year ago and all the shows were really good. We were the first of 3 or 4 for that tour, the crowds were pretty good for that tour. Now that we’ve been touring for awhile and coming back as direct support to Trapt, it’s been crazy! The crowds have been really receptive to us, even more so than crowds we’ve gotten on our own. It’s been really awesome and we’re hoping to keep that momentum going for the rest of the tour because we played in San Antonio first, then in Houston. Even with the weather being the way it is, with the rain, it’s been awesome.
BS: 2015 has held a lot of great music but it’s almost over. What has been your favorite album of 2015 so far and why?
ZL-S: I want to say 2. One was Breaking Benjamin’s “Dark Before Dawn.” For me, I get excited when a Rock release hits #1 because people are constantly saying “rock is dead” so when a Rock album comes out and destroys the charts, I absolutely love it. That’s one album that I really loved. It’s just classic Breaking Benjamin but it’s amazing. The 2nd album is Bring Me The Horizon’s “That’s the Spirit.” I just saw them live about a week ago and, for me, I think it’s a game-changer for Rock. I grew up with their first album that had “Pray for Plagues” and I’ve gone through the whole transition with them, going from that to “Suicide Season” and even their last album, “Sempiternal.” Going from that to this new album is a lot different but I feel like it’s a game-changer for Rock, even more so that I’ve seen them live. I saw their show and it’s flawless, a flawless show from beginning to end, which is amazing! Plus, it was a packed show in a huge venue. So, it was really cool to see that, get the album and listen to it and see them play those songs live. Those are the 2 releases for me that were huge for 2015.
BS: What album are you most looking forward to that has yet to be released?
ZL-S: It hasn’t really been announced yet but my favorite band is Avenged Sevenfold. They just announced that they’re back in the studio, writing and recording their next album. That might be the next album that I’m really looking forward to because I’m a really big fan. I’m always excited to see what they’re coming out with next because every album they release is different from the last or any other album that they’ve released. A lot of people don’t like that but I think it’s awesome. Why would you want the same CD every single time? For some bands it works but I always like it when a band comes out with something different. I’m really excited to see what they come out with next and what sound they put out.
BS: 2015 has also been an incredible year for comebacks. What band were you most excited to see return to the scene?
ZL-S: Probably Breaking Benjamin, when they announced that they were recording a new album. That probably got me the most excited just because my girlfriend and I love Breaking Benjamin, but we still haven’t gotten to see them live. She and I were both so mad when they went on hiatus because we’ve wanted to see them live for so long. I remember texting her when they first announced it and saying “BREAKING BENJAMIN’S BACK!!! We’re gonna see them live, for the first time ever!!” That was probably the big one for me.
BS: Are there any up-and-coming bands that are catching your eye?
ZL-S: One band called Righteous Vendetta, who are actually from Wyoming as well. They’re actually in the middle of recording a new album right now, which is gonna be on a label. I’m really excited for those guys, they’ve been up-and-coming, working hard for like the last 4-6 years, trying to get out there. They’re like our Wyoming “big brothers.” I want to see them succeed, to become bigger and better. I love their music, they’re amazing. That’s one band that’s up-and-coming, that I feel is really going to do well. Also, I don’t know if you can call them up-and-coming anymore but Nothing More? I’m really excited about them just because you don’t see many young bands really blowing up anymore. Finally, a band that I see as being a festival headliner one day emerges. Even bands like Of Mice & Men and Bring Me the Horizon are up-and-coming bands, I feel, as far as that goes, getting them to headline festivals. I feel like that’s the top thing now, if you become a festival headliner in rock, then you’ve done it. There aren’t many chances given to younger bands, the last band that has probably been relevant in that circuit in the last 10 years has been Avenged Sevenfold. Every year, you get bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden and Guns N Roses. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great bands, but give a younger band a chance once in awhile. I think these bands will really be able to do it soon. I love all of those bands that I mentioned but it’s time to pass the torch. *both laugh*
BS: Who would make up your dream tour, both as a headliner and a spectator? Rules are: No genre restrictions and money is not an object, so you can get whoever you want, regardless.
ZL-S: When I do this, I feel like I always answer kind of lame because it’s always my favorite bands. I’m gonna think this through. My favorite band, Avenged Sevenfold, Queen, bring back Freddie Mercury from the dead, then Led Zeppelin and Michael Jackson to round it out and make it the coolest show ever.
BS: What advice would you give up-and-coming bands, trying to make it in their scene?
ZL-S: I’d say put as much emphasis into your live show as possible. That’s the big thing these days, the live show and writing good songs. There are so many local bands out there who just get up there and play, almost like a bar band, which is fine. If you’re playing a bar show, do your bar show. If you’re opening for a national act, make sure you change up your show. Make sure you aren’t playing your bar show at a show like that. That’s one thing I’d tell people: Put emphasis into your show, make it energetic and make it appealing to your audience. Also… just go out and do it. If this is what you really want to do, make an effort, prove that this is what you want to do. Buy a crappy van and go out on tour, that’s what we did. We bought this $2000 van and $1000 trailer, we toured with that all over the nation before we bought the RV. We didn’t have really nice gear or anything, we just went out and did it. That would be my advice: just do it!
BS: That’s my last question. I do, again, want to thank you for doing this, it’s been an honor and a pleasure. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers, your fans and the general public?
ZL-S: Check us out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Watch our videos on YouTube. Come out and see us at a show, we don’t bite, come say hi to us. Buy our album “This Is Our Rise” from iTunes or order it from our online store. Listen to music, buy music and support bands.
First Decree is:
Travis James – Vocals/Guitar
Dane Lopez-Smith – Lead Guitar
Isaac Lopez-Smith – Bass
Zach Lopez-Smith – Drums