one thing to play a certain type of music,” says singer Sonny Moore dismissively, “but it’s another thing
to have no originality.”
This is not just another brash quote from a member of one of the only truly punk bands
left, From First To Last. It’s actually more of a mantra. Because when the members of From First To Last—Moore,
drummer Derek Bloom and guitarists Travis Richter and Matt Good—began recording their highly anticipated second album
Heroine, the pursuit, above all things, was originality. Which, as one spin of Heroine attests, is what they’ve achieved.
“We are so pleased,” Moore says. “Before we started, we all said, ‘We’re not going to make this
record unless it’s a record we truly love.’ And we did. This is the first time I’ve ever been so proud of
a piece of art in my life.”
This didn’t happen overnight. Formed in 2002 by Richter and Good in their hometown
of Orlando, Florida, it wasn’t until FFTL began recording their Epitaph debut Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has A Body Count
that the band’s line-up began to congeal. Living in Los Angeles and half-heartedly playing in another band, the then
15-year-old Moore decided to spend a few weeks with the band in Georgia, where they were recording their debut. His timing
couldn’t have been better. Moore arrived just as Good and Richter parted with their original singer and they were in
the process of filling in the vocal gap on their own. After hearing Moore singing backups in the studio one day, a decision
was made: Moore was in.
Perhaps unsurprisingly the remainder of Dear Diary came together almost as quickly. Good and
Richter had written the album in two weeks; Moore completed his vocals in the same space. They were barely a band in some
senses, but FFTL’s music caught on nonetheless. Due in large part to their constant touring schedule, including three
consecutive Warped Tour runs, Dear Diary went onto sell over 100,000 copies. But beyond the album’s success was an often-unnoticed
subtext. As Moore puts it on the album’s opening track, with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, “I’m
glad you’ve graced me with your presence/You’re just in time to see me wrestle with my conscience.” Nevermind
your broken heart. This was “screamo” with wit.
“You know those people who tell jokes but you never
know that they’re joking?” asks Richter rhetorically. “That was Dear Diary.”
The irony to Dear
Diary, though, was that for all the scene politics and overnight success that FFTL parodied on the record, they would experience
them firsthand because of it. By the time of Heroine it became obvious such jokes weren’t funny anymore. Soon Moore’s
lyrics became more optimistic than pessimistic. Richter and Good’s songwriting veered from missionary style post-emo
to dramatic industrial rock and progressive art-punk. And when FFTL began talking with Epitaph about who they wanted to work
with on album number two, they kept coming back to the same name: Ross Robinson, a notoriously passionate in-studio presence
who has helped make time-defining records for bands like Korn, Slipknot and At The Drive-In.
Very few producers look
as intensely at the process of making an album as Robinson does, and so it became common for hour-long, emotionally charged
conversations to be held between he and Moore before entering the vocal booth. “They were like therapy sessions,”
Moore beams. Robinson also set a regiment for Bloom of playing 6 to 8 hours a day, for two weeks straight. As Richter recalls,
“He worked Derek until there were gigantic boils all over his hands.” Sounds were set by emotion not tone, and
most of what you hear on Heroine was recorded on the first take. “Every time Ross would correct us he’d say, ‘Don’t
you dare fucking forget what this song is about.’ It all had to have a reason.”
While the band were also
joined on bass by former Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland (an old friend of Robinson’s) and on the album’s first
release “The Levy” by programmer Atticus Ross (Nine Inch Nails), the real star on Heroine is FFTL’s greater
sense of ambition. The combination of Robinson’s emotion-stirring production and the band’s dire need to reassess
its place in the world resulted in the kind of brave, artistic statement that very few of FFTL’s contemporaries will
make this year. So if all that you’ve previously known about this band can be tied up in one single genre, think again.
This is their new beginning. “It’s a very different record,” Richter says trying to find the right words.
“Where Dear Diary was satirical, Heroine was our opportunity to show kids that there are bands that they love who really
can make unique rock music that is progressive.“
Richter pauses, before finally settling. ”I just hope
that it’s empowering,” he says.