Light the Torch isn’t technically a new band, but it feels like it is. Featuring vocalist Howard Jones (ex-Killswitch Engage), guitarist Francesco Artusato (ex-All Shall Perish) and bassist Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through), the band began its existence as Devil You Know. After releasing two albums in two years—”The Beauty of Destruction” (2014) and “They Bleed Red” (2015)—all went quiet while legal issues demanded full attention. Rebranded Light the Torch as part of an effort to sever ties with a former drummer, the band suddenly re-emerged in late 2017 and released its new record, appropriately titled “Revival,” in March 2018 via Nuclear Blast Records. With a new sound focusing on melody and groove, Light the Torch has paved the way for big things in 2019 and beyond. When the band’s tour with Trivium and Avatar recently came to Rams Head Live in Baltimore, Artusato sat down with Live Metal’s Greg Maki to discuss the new sound and more.
LIVE METAL: We all know about how it was Devil You Know and then the problems, so we don’t need to rehash all those issues. But now that you are Light the Torch and you’ve got a new drummer in the band and the new album changed the sound a little bit, does it feel like a new band?
FRANCESCO ARTUSATO: It does. Yeah, absolutely. The vibe is so different, even between us. It’s more mellow and more fun, and I guess it translates to the music. It’s the same vibe—I guess more positive overall and more energy. We’re just more excited now than we were in the past, for sure.
It was a new beginning for the band, so that’s why you changed the sound a little bit, but why that direction in particular?
Even when we were Devil You Know, I remember Howard and I talking about what we kinda wanted to do with the next record. The drummer we had before—besides all the other problems—I don’t think he was the right drummer for a more groovy type of music. He was more technical, with a death metal background. We wanted to do something pretty different. I think that was, you could say, a limitation before. So once we had to look for another drummer, it’s like well, at this point, let’s write really what we wanna do, and we’ll get a drummer who’s gonna be the right guy for that.
So how did you get hooked up with Mike (Sciulara), and how has it been having him in the band?
The last four tours with Devil You Know were all done with different drummers, We had John Boecklin. Then we had Nick Augusto, who used to play in Trivium. While we were doing that, this friend of one of our friends started hitting him up, saying, “Hey, I’m interested in playing drums for these guys.” Without even asking, he started sending videos of him playing songs, and he was playing them better than all the drummers we had played with before. So that was a really good sign. And seeing the enthusiasm. Literally, in the matter of a week, he sent videos of our entire set that we were playing on tour. So knowing that already was a good thing.
A lot of our friends from other bands knew of him, and they had positive things to say. Everybody liked them. The people at the label, when they met him, they liked him. Monte (Conner), the president of the label, saw him play live with one of his other bands, and he was really stoked. He was like, “Yeah, he should be the guy.” It’s the typical small world—you have a friend who knows a friend. That’s kind of how it happened.
When were you writing and recording this new album, not many people knew what was happening. These days, bands are always tweeting photos from the studio and all these things, but you guys kept it really quiet. Do you think that had an effect on your work?
Well, for us, at that point, it became a thing where we need a new record and we are changing the name. We’ve got to sign again with a label. We’ve gotta do a bunch of stuff. Those things can take months and months. We don’t wanna stop. We’ve been writing music. We want to start pre-production and all that, even though we didn’t have support from anybody—label or anything. We decided to go into the studio and start putting together tracks, even without having a deal. We didn’t even know if the new band was gonna get signed. But we felt very confident. We felt it would be our best material we had worked on so far. Once we were done with three or four songs from pre-pro, we showed the label, and right away they were stoked.
So throughout the process, yeah, we were kinda on our own. We decided the producers; we decided the studio. We didn’t really have other people telling us what we should be doing. That was probably five, six months of our time where we were completely not online or posting anything. With the name change, it’s a big deal. You don’t know if it’s gonna ruin a lot of things.
Aside from going to the groovier, more melodic sound, did you have any goals for this album? Or was it that that freedom just allowed you to do whatever you wanted?
Since I’m the one who writes the music—I come from a way more technical background, playing with death metal bands and playing a lot of shredding music. But since I have complete freedom, it’s a new band, and we can literally do whatever we want. Especially Howard and I, and Ryan, we were all on the same page in terms of sound. We had an idea of what we want. I guess it was just natural. It felt like the next step should be that.
But same time for me, since it was the first time putting together a record with a different sound, especially coming from more technical music, so that was definitely a big challenge. It’s a creative process, but you also sit down and start analyzing structures and songs—a lot of that. There’s a lot of rewriting, arranging parts five different ways and then on and on. That was definitely a challenge. For me, it made it more interesting, and I felt more inspired doing it.
Do you feel like this is the way you will continue in the future?
Do you have any favorite songs on the album, ones you’re especially proud of?
Well, “Die Alone” is the first single that we put out. During pre-production, basically the idea was let’s put together as many songs as we can, but let’s also try to finalize at least three or four demos that sound finished, polished, to show to the label and people in the industry. “Die Alone” was the song that everybody responded to with very positive feedback. I’m really proud of that song. I think it’s a well-written song.
Right now, my main goal with writing music is to write well-written songs. It’s more of a songwriting aspect instead of just focusing on a riff and then I’ll let the other guys deal with my riff. I try to write for all the instruments just ‘cause at least for me, it’s the only way to really show the finished idea that I have in mind. If I don’t do bass, drums, synth and do all that stuff, that’s still not my idea yet.
But I’m not saying the other guys were not involved—Howard, obviously, with vocals and everything, and it’s a given that you’ll end up changing parts or rearranging structures, because once you have a certain kind of vocals, then you want to work with the structure.
I think my favorite song is “The Safety of Disbelief,” and I can hear what you’re talking about, writing not just for yourself. The bass sounds amazing on that song.
Yeah, I love that. A song like that, I gotta be honest, when we were working on it, I was not expecting, especially me 10 years ago—I had no idea I was gonna end up writing music like this. (laughs) It just sounds a lot more commercial. To parents and a lot of older people, it’s probably very brutal and heavy. But it’s one of the songs I like to play live the most, because that’s what we were talking about—it’s the groove. It’s so easy to listen to that song, the melodies, and it’s on purpose done so it will be an easy piece of music to listen to. And now, I find it’s more fun trying to create that.
I’ve done so much music just thinking about what’s good for me or what I like, and then hopefully other people will like it. This time, it was more like do what I like, but I also want to kind of get in people’s heads before putting out the music to kind of understand what works well live, for example. Something that you can only learn doing a lot of shows. And then you see the one song that you thought maybe was gonna be the big song maybe doesn’t work well live.
Have you had the opposite happen, where you played a song you weren’t sure about and people really reacted to it?
Right away, we knew “Safety of Disbelief” was one of the songs that’s definitely a single. Everybody liked it at the label; we liked it a lot. But even when we were rehearsing, I had no idea what to expect, in terms of live. And it works. It works—from the tempo, the type of groove, the vibe of the song—really well. That’s why it’s one of the most fun to play live. I was totally not expecting that, especially with ballads or slower songs—not that that song’s a ballad.
Compared to what you used to do it is. (laughs)
Yeah, exactly. I think it was on the first tour we did, we started playing some of the songs, and even “Die Alone,” playing it live felt slow, ‘cause again, I’m used to playing faster music. But we play with a click, and the click is the same that you have on the record—same tempo. But now, I’m really getting used to slower tempos, and I enjoy it. It’s just fun. You see more people moving and getting into it. Even the people who don’t know us, it’s easier for them to get it and start enjoying it.
On this new album, Howard’s lyrics seem maybe even more personal than they have been in the past, and he’s been very up front about health and mental health issues. How important do you think it is to address things like that?
Very important, especially now. It’s constant. Every couple months, you hear about an artist ending their life. It’s definitely a thing that is part of reality. Growing up, if I were to hear of an actor killing himself or something like that, I would’ve been one of the people, saying, “Man, why would he kill himself? He had everything. He had money, fame.” ‘Cause you don’t understand what depression and anxiety can do to a person.
They don’t care about how famous you are.
Yeah, yeah. When I started touring and started seeing people from other bands who are people that you see a certain way on stage—let’s remember that the stage is kinda part of the act, and a lot of singers are acting. When you meet them backstage or you’re hanging out, drinking coffee, they’re very different. Mostly singers, I’ve gotta say, than other band members. That is something that makes you think. It is a big problem in the entertainment industry. It’s everywhere. I think the past few years, more and more people are talking about it, and I think it’s a great thing.
How’s this tour going with Trivium and Avatar?
Amazing. We were hoping for something this good. We obviously knew this was gonna be a good crowd for us, and it’s better than we thought. So far, every night there’s a lot of people singing our entire set. It’s—for being our second tour with a new record, new name and all that—a big surprise.
This tour goes into next month, so what’s the plan after that?
We have a break until the new year, and then next year we’ll start again. There’s gonna be Europe, there’s gonna be States. And now everything’s getting finalized, booked. It’s gonna be a busy year. Definitely way busier than this year.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Honestly, it’s been a really big surprise for all of us. This is so refreshing. Obviously, I love what we were doing with Devil You Know, but it got to a point towards the end where it felt like this might be the end. When you start dealing with lawyers and all you talk about is lawyers and problems and business managers and all this stuff, instead of music being the main focus, it drives you crazy. So now, finally, feeling this way—it’s such a good feeling. I feel like we did a lot of right things, things that happened like we planned. We planned to have certain things happening, and things are going that way. It’s a great feeling.