When news came late in 2020, that Love And Death, the hard rock band fronted Korn guitarist Brian “Head” Welch, were returning with, not just their new album, Perfectly Preserved, but their first work together in eight years, it felt only right to get on the phone to guitarist JR Bareis to find out where the last eight years have gone and to find out more about Love and Death in 2021.
Thanks for your time, how’s life treating you at the moment?
JR Bareis: “Pretty good. I’m pretty much a homebody so I’m trying to do what I can at the moment to try and get out of that and, you know, interact with human life. It’s been good though, I can’t say anything negative. Despite everything that’s been going on, I’ve been blessed. We’ve still been able to put this record and do what I love to do so no complaints.”
The big current news is the announcement that live events will possibly return in the UK from mid-June. What’s your take on it and does that change your plans at all?
“I think it’s great. I think people are ready for life to come back. There’s talks of doing it a safer way and I totally understand that. I hope we can see things start to open more again. I’m all about that, I’m excited.”
How does that kind of announcement affect plans you’d made to not be able to tour the record ?
“Originally going into this we were already debating if it was worth putting it out during all of this or do we wait? At the end of the day, we just wanted to put this out for people who are right in the thick of it and struggling. That’s really what this record is about. Going through all the stuff we’ve been going through and, hopefully, bringing some hope to people and that’s what it’s all about. We didn’t want to hold back and not put it out. We had talked about touring and, if and when it comes back, what it would look like. Brian and (bassist) Jason (Rauch) especially are in huge bands and they’re obviously going planning to come back hard when touring returns. We talked about what people’s schedules looked like, we’ll see. Maybe we could do a tour or maybe it would just be festivals here and there. We just want it all to make sense. It would be cool to do something.”
The album came out a couple of weeks ago and you celebrated with a live stream. How did that go?
“It was awesome. It went way better than we though it was going to. It’s not like we went into it with low expectations but we’d been gone for so long and we were thinking that maybe people care, maybe they don’t. It really blew us away the amount of people who bought tickets and watched the show. The feedback was great. For us too, we were just excited to play music again. It’s been such a long time for all of us so, to just be in a room and jam, it was awesome. I felt like me again. Wow, this is what it’s about. It was almost like a reset. You get used to just going through it. You go on tour for a while and then you’re home so, not having that for a while, made it pretty refreshing. Also, playing the new songs to people was awesome and going back and playing stuff from our first record was a lot of fun too. It was really nostalgic going back to those songs and playing them again. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.”
A great way to kick off the album then?
“Yeah! We’ve been gone for so long that we wanted to do something that the fans would be really appreciative of. We wanted to put together something that would be really cool. I think people were really appreciative of it.”
Onto the album then. I believe you started working on the material back around 2014? Has it been a work in progress or has there always been a plan for a second album?
“After the first record came out, it wasn’t our plan to go into hiatus, Obviously with Brian going back into Korn, and I joined another band, and Jasen joined Breaking Benjamin, it meant that everyone was really spread out so it made it pretty rough to keep going. It just fell into a hiatus sort of thing. It wasn’t really planned. We did want to do a second record straight off the bat. We started writing in 2014 and we’ve just been writing every since. We would maybe find time once, maybe twice a year, to get together, maybe Jasen and I, to work on stuff but everyone’s schedules were the complete opposite of each other so, finding the time to make it happen was really hard.
Then, when everything happened in 2020 with the world, it freed up everyone’s schedule. We didn’t want to just sit around wasting everyone’s time, we still wanted to be creative and do something so we decided to finish it. We sifted back through everything we had over the years, picking and choosing stuff. After we’d done that we wrote four new songs and we kept six from over the years. It was all over the place but we go there.”
I read in another interview where you’d said Love and Death wasn’t just a side-project. Given that it’s taken eight years for you to get back together, how frustrating has that been?
“It’s been a bit frustrating because we had plans to put it out earlier and do that. Things would come up in people’s schedules which they couldn’t just put aside for Love and Death. We’d agree to finish it then all this stuff would happen and it wouldn’t happen. It was a little bit frustrating but it almost became a running joke that we’d say we were going to do it and it wouldn’t happen. Even coming into actually releasing it, we knew it was done so we started putting stuff out and people didn’t believe it. We don’t really see it as a side-project, it’s just another outlet for us to create and maybe do things with the respective bands that we’re in. It’s a lot of fun. We get to write fun, cool music together.”
When you realized you could all sit down and finish the album, what did you want to achieve with it?
“From the get-go, back in 2014/2015, even before that in 2013 when did the first record, we ended up putting a deluxe version out and it had an extra couple songs on it. On one of those songs I ended up singing on it for the first time and Brian wanted me to sing more. I was pretty unsure about doing that and fought him on it for a while. Now that I’m doing it, I can understand where he is coming from. He likes singing but he doesn’t love it. He’s more comfortable playing guitar so being a frontman is such an opposite thing. Brian’s voice is great, it sounds cool and different. It’s pretty unique. That was another thing, I didn’t want to lose that.
At first, he didn’t want to sing at all, he just wanted to scream while I sang it all. We agreed to meet halfway, it’s an even balance of him and I going back and forth. It was scary at first because bringing my voice into the fold changes things. Not fully, our sound is still there, but it gives it a different dynamic. With the way the songs came out, I think it worked out great. We were surprised by the end, at least for me, I thought it was way cooler than it was going to be. That was a big difference, having me jump in on vocals, and him and I switching on and off vocally.”
Considering that some songs were written eight years ago, and there are four new songs, how did you work them all together?
“For the most part, they stayed pretty much the same. The song that went through the biggest changes was probably ‘White Flag.’ That song was the first we wrote in 2015 and it ended up being the last one we finished. Some of us weren’t really into it, some of us were so we went back and forth to make it so that we all liked it. We must have five or six different versions of that song until we had the version that made sense to us. We ended up getting it right down to the wire because we had this deadline to get it all done and put everything out. It was either the final day or the day before where we ended up getting it done. It ended up being a lot of people’s favourite song which is pretty cool.”
Having spent eight years not being able to finish the record for whatever reason, did it feel strange to be put under pressure to put one out?
“It was pretty weird because you feel like you have all the time then when it came to actually doing it, management told us we had two weeks to finish it. It threw everyone into crunch time which is kind of nice because, when you don’t have that pressure, you doing things when you want to. It kicked our butts into gear. Sometimes too, when you have some pressure on you, you come up with some stuff that you wouldn’t normally do which I think we did as, in my opinion, the four new songs we wrote are probably the strongest songs on the record. It was weird but it was needed.”
You talked earlier about writing fun, cool songs but, lyrically, it’s quite a dark record with songs about mental health, depression, suicide? Were songs like “Down” and “Slow Flame” written from personal experiences?
“We all collaborated on the lyrics between myself, Brian, Jasen, Keith (Wallen) from Breaking Benjamin who is an incredible dude, an amazing writer, and musician. We first started working with him on ‘The Hunter’ which is the one he ended up guesting on. He has got such a cool way of writing the lyrics he comes up with. We ended up working with him on everything going back and forth with lyrics. I think it’s an accumulation of everyone’s experiences; it’s a big melting pot of stuff everyone has gone through. ‘Down’ was one of the songs we wrote in 2020, along with ‘Tragedy,’ ‘Death of Us,’ and ‘Into Me’ that we wrote in 2020.
With everything that was going on in the world, we had that viewpoint in mind when writing those songs. That shows throughout this record which is another reason we wanted to put this out now instead of waiting until everything blew over. There is definitely a lot of personal experience in there for sure.”
Bearing in mind that you wanted to put it out now. Considering it’s as empowering as it is dark, what do you want fans to get out of it when they listen to it?
“When we write our stuff, we want it so that you can take multiple meanings from it and people can apply it to whatever they’re going through. You know? Like painting with broad strokes. For us, we hope that, if people listen to it and they are struggling with whatever they’re going through, that it would help them and bring them hope. We’re all going through this together and we just hope that people can come out of whatever they’re struggling with. If we can save one person from doing any harm to themselves then it was all worth it.”
Ok, just to finish then. We’ve waited eight years for a new album, now it’s out, what is your vision going forward?
“I was joking with the guys that, at the end of the live show we should have held up a sign saying Love and Death will return in 2030 (laughs). I think the response we’ve had and how great it’s been, has put into perspective that we could keep going with this. I think we do want to keep it going so, whatever that looks like, new album, doing shows, that’ll be great. This album was like testing waters and it’s exceeded all our expectations so that will hopefully drive us to carry on.”