Flyleaf left to right: James Culpepper, Sameer Bhattacharya, Kristen May, Pat Seals, Jared Hartmann.
When hard rock band Flyleaf’s original singer, Lacey Sturm, announced her departure from the band shortly before the release of 2012’s New Horizons album many doubted they would continue. But on October 22, 2012, the same day Sturm announced her departure, Flyleaf announced Kristen May, formerly of the band Vedera, as their new singer. The band soldiered on touring throughout 2013. Flyleaf has a brand new album Between The Stars out now with Kristen May on vocals and is currently on tour. AlternativeNation.Net caught up with Flyleaf bassist Pat Seals and discussed their decision to carry on as a band, their new singer, and recording their new album.
When Lacey decided to leave Flyleaf was there any question within the band whether or not to carry on?
Pat Seals: Flyleaf had some serious questioning going on, however, James, Jared, Sameer, & I all felt like we still wanted to make music. We had just made New Horizons & we saw a future for us in some way, even though it seemed unclear at that time.
How did Flyleaf, a Texas-based band, decide on a new lead singer who lives in Kansas City, Missouri?
The list of singers we compiled was gigantic – a few were from Texas, and many more were not. We were more concerned with ability and personality than credibility derived by location – if Kristen May had landed from Mars, she still would’ve made the cut.
Was there an audition process involved?
Yes, there was an audition process, though it didn’t last as long as the search, thankfully. We only saw a few people before Kristen came in. I felt like she was probably the one before we had finished playing the first song – luckily everyone else felt the same.
It seems to be perfect timing that Flyleaf was looking for a singer when Kristen’s band had recently broken up. Do you feel like the musical pairing was meant to happen?
The way it all went down, it does seem a bit like serendipity. Kristen displayed a great ability to make the pairing work – coming out of Vedera into Flyleaf, she assumed a defining role within a catalogue of songs that existed previously while maintaining her individuality. That whole musical “getting-to-know-you” process got us artistically in shape for Between the Stars.
You have a new album Between The Stars that you recorded at NRG Studios in Los Angeles with producer Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Pearl Jam, Korn). What was the writing and recording process like for the album?
The writing process for Between the Stars incorporated more spontaneity than Flyleaf had previously employed – it was very free writing, most of which happened before Don Gilmore came in, though his production and further songwriting suggestions really took Between the Stars to a higher level. Recording with Don is a bit difficult to briefly explain – he was very hands-on, focused on feel and subtlety – he was extremely good at getting some fun into the music. Drums happened at NRG, but we tracked everything else at the home studio of our friend & Stars in Stereo guitarist Jordan McGraw.
Was it inspiring working at NRG Studios where so many classic albums have been recorded?
NRG is a great studio – very nice & hip, but busy and bustling at times, like a large medical office. 311 recorded there!
Was it important for the band to work with a new producer to have a fresh start after Howard Benson produced the previous 3 LPs?
Flyleaf did need to spread it’s wings a bit, though Howard is brilliant. To say he did a lot for Flyleaf would be an understatement, and I would love to work with Howard again sometime, but it felt right for us to venture elsewhere for this record.
What was the division of labor in the songwriting process like within the band?
Without deviating into percentages, all of Flyleaf contributes, though many songs initially spring up from one member’s ideas. Most Between the Stars songs began as small pieces of lyric & melody getting ‘bounced around the room’ usually originating from Kristen, Sameer, or sometimes myself, with Jared and James building their ideas alongside. So much of Between the Stars began with us all sitting in a room with acoustics, trading ideas & following whichever tangent seemed the most promising.
Does the band write separately, together, or a little of both?
A little of both is the most honest answer, though Sameer and Kristen are both prolific songwriters, individually. All of us collect working ideas throughout off-time and sort of throw them into the stew when we get together to write.
Did recording with Don Gilmore make it easy to concentrate on the creative process and leave the technical recording aspects to him?
Yes it did, very much so. Don is a truly grade A ‘horse-whisperer’ of musicians, in my opinion. I’ve never laughed quite so much while tracking. Several times, Don would count me off into a part, show me a hilarious picture on his laptop, all while cackling like the Wicked Witch of the West. As silly as it sounds, Don’s banning of too much seriousness in the studio got better performances out of me, as far as I could tell.
Do you have any favorite songs from the new album?
“Platonic” is my favorite, though I’m a fan of everything on Between the Stars. Sameer knocked it out of the park when he wrote that one – truly haunting atmosphere. “Head Under Water” is also a favorite – very empowering lyrics from Kristen.
The song “City Kids” reminds me a little of Brian Adams’ “Summer of ’69” in that it’s about reminiscing about growing up. Who does the screaming on that song?
Cool comparison – thank you! The screaming is from yours truly.
How do you think this album is different from Flyleaf’s previous albums?
Aside from the fact that Kristen is singing, Between the Stars songs feel more seasoned, lucid, and mature in many ways. Though I’m still very proud of them, earlier Flyleaf records seem focused to the point of view of individual observations of life, while BTS is more comprehensive, more about relationships, as it says in “Magnetic”, “filling up the space between the stars, WE are”.
On the last tour Flyleaf mostly played material that Lacey was a part of writing. Are you excited to be touring with a new album to promote that Kristen was completely involved with?
We’re very excited to be touring with the new music written with Kristen; she brings so much to the table, in the studio and in a live context. Classic Flyleaf songs will make it into rotation for sure, but these new songs really feel fresh, they feel like ours. I feel like our fans, new and old, will love them too.
Well good luck with the new album and tour. Thank you.
AlternativeNation.net Review Of Flyleaf’s Between the Stars Album:
Listening to Flyleaf’s 4th album with fresh ears may be difficult for longtime fans who have followed the band since their 2005 self-titled debut album. The obvious difference is that new singer Kristen May is a different type of singer than original vocalist Lacey Sturm. Whereas Lacey was a screamer with unique vocal inflections, Kristen is more of a belter with a cleaner vocal delivery.
Producer Don Gilmore brings out the best in Flyleaf with confident multi-tracked vocals, overdriven bass tones, and unique guitar sounds that range from atmospheric to distorted without becoming noise. The soft verse, loud chorus dynamic heard in many modern rock songs is also used frequently here without becoming formulaic. The short guitar solo in “Magnetic” which mirrors the vocal melody and the synthesizer solo in “Platonic” are subtle clues that Gilmore also produced Linkin Park’s first two albums.
Standout tracks on Between The Stars include the raucous first single “Set Me On Fire” and relationship songs like “Traitor” and “Marionette” where May sings “I’m not your marionette doll so let me go.” “Head Underwater” is perhaps Flyleaf’s first piano-driven song. With the song’s soaring vocals and strings it has an Evanescence-esqe sound. In fact Kristen May’s voice has more in common with Amy Lee than Lacey Sturm. Fortunately May has her own style and never tries to sound like her predecessor.
“Platonic” is my favorite song on the album with its strong hooks, reflective lyrics, and a haunting chorus. “City Kids,” with it’s wistful lyrics about youthful memories and ambient guitars, is another favorite. In all Between The Stars is a solid album and if judged on its own merits should win over Flyleaf fans old and new. Make no mistake Flyleaf 2.0 sounds like a new band charting new territory vocally and musically. Those who listen with open ears will find a lot to enjoy in this album.
Watch Flyleaf’s video for their new single “Set Me On Fire”:
Checkout the book: Flyleaf Spreads Their Wings: The Story of a Supernatural Rock Band from Texas by Carl Phelan, the grandfather of Flyleaf guitarist Jared Hartmann. A story for past, present and future Flyleaf fans that chronicles the band’s journey from playing in small venues for a few people to playing for thousands in large arenas. Available at Amazon.com here.