The Fire Inside: An Interview with Righteous Vendetta's Justin Olmstead

We recently had the opportunity to interview Righteous Vendetta's guitarist Justin Olmstead just as the band's new album was released on October 8. Justin was super gracious with his responses and here's what he had to say.

Playing With Chaos (PWC): How did the song-writing process take form for this album?

Justin Olmstead (JO):We have had a pretty consistent formula for writing our tracks. I will usually just take a riff or a general idea of a song and kick out a rough version of it the whole way through. I'll then let Carl take some listens through it and hear his opinions and ideas on what we can do to make it better. Once we are happy with the song as a whole, we hand it on over to Ryan and Isaiah to let them begin their processes. Ryan will write all the vocal melodies and lyrics, and finally we all come together with our producer and write the chorus hooks together.

PWC:  What Inspired the title track and the name for the new record?

JO: The record was named after the track "The Fire Inside." That song was released on our EP "Volume 1" and it ended becoming our second single from the EP. Ryan felt that song best described the overall heart-attitude throughout the writing process and decided to make the remaining songs match that general theme. The song is about overcoming all the evils in your life through the power of the Holy Spirit, declaring to those evils that there is nothing that we will fear fighting for what we believe in.

PWC:  What gear does the band use in their studio/live rigs?

JO: For guitars live, we have been using the PRS Mike Mushok signature baritone guitars with D'addario Baritone Light strings. I am running a Marshall JCM2000 DSL 100 and Carl is using a Peavey 6505. We both run through a Mesa 4x12 and 2x12 each, Sennheiser wireless, Boss DD-6 and Boss TU-2 stomp boxes powered by One-Spot, and Dunlop 0.73 guitar picks. In the studio, I ran my PRS through a Randall RM series head equipped with the Chupacabra pre-amp from Salvation Mods for the massive dirty tone we were able to get on the record. I also went through a Blackstar HT-100 for cleans, and a Peavey 6505 for leads. The heads all went through Mesa 2x12 loaded with Celestion G12-H30's. As for drums, Isaiah uses a 4-piece Tama Silverstar with Evans EC-2 Clear heads, Zildjian cymbals, Pro-mark 2B sticks, and Iron-Cobra double bass pedals. Our bass gear is just a Fender P-Bass, a Peavey solid-state head into an Ampeg 8x10, with a majority of the sound coming from a Bass Driver.

PWC:  Rock Music stations seem to be disappearing in cities across North America. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing rock bands/musicians right now, especially Christian metal bands?

JO: Rock music is an interesting genre when it comes to its role in the mainstream market. Alternative music, Country music, and Pop music all stay in pretty consistent demand as the artists comprising those genres are always at the forefront of modernizing the genre as a whole. The Rock scene seems to come and go in waves of certain bands. For example, once Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace took over that particular sound in the early 2000's, bands began mimicking that sound rather than attempting to push forward. The result is a stale period in the scene, and it takes a band/bands to break the mold and bring something fresh and exciting into the scene. With such inconsistent growth and interest in the scene, it's difficult for Rock stations to stay afloat. Therefore, the challenge for Rock bands both secular and Christian, is staying relevant in the scene regardless the success/struggles radio is having. The reason bands like All That Remains and Avenged Sevenfold have been killing it for so long is because they are the complete package and have something more to offer than just certain radio hits, and can keep listeners interested in their band exclusively.

PWC:  What bands/artists influenced you growing up? What bands/artists do you respect for remaining true to the art of rock'n'roll?

JO: Artists that influenced me once I started taking a serious interest in playing music were bands like Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, Avenged Sevenfold, For Today, Mark Tremonti, Richie Kotzen, Spoken, and Impending Doom. Bands that I respect for staying true to the art of Rock are honestly any bands that can continue pursuing their musical careers while writing the music they love. People seem to think there are only two extremes, being successful or staying creative. Bands that can achieve a successful career while continually pushing themselves creatively and loving the music they write have every ounce of my respect.

PWC:  What are your plans for touring for this album?

JO: We have already started our group of tours pushing the new record. We started out in June/July touring with Hurt and Smile Empty Soul, did September with 10 Years, currently on tour with Taproot, start with Trapt in November, and finish out the year with a Hed PE run. We will also be hitting the road hard early next year.

PWC: We are real guitar/music nerds here at Playing With Chaos. Some bands tell us they go through scales or super strict practice regimens every day, while others only play when they're on stage. What school of thought does Righteous Vendetta have in terms of how they approach their instruments and playing as well as they do? Is anyone in the band classically trained or is everyone self-taught?

JO: While we are on the road, most of our playing is onstage. We all like to get a good warm-up in before we go onstage, which usually consists of playing tougher sections from our songs or other songs that gets are hands loose. I am quite particular when it comes to practicing and furthering my skill as a guitarist. I have gathered a decent amount of knowledge about theory over the years, and I have a pretty solid foundation in it, but there came a point where I realized my writing process began taking more of a technical approach as opposed to a creative approach. At that point, I put scale study on the back-burner and tried to go at it from a different angle, focusing more on melodies and grooves rather than scales. Don't get me wrong, I love learning all about scales and voicings, but I made the decision to base my playing on what I hear, not what I've memorized. We do make sure to stay very technically sound as far as playing technique though, and always push to execute everything as tight as possible. Everyone in the band is self-taught and has similar views as I do on this subject, and I think that is one of the reasons we have such great chemistry both live and in the studio. We aren't afraid to take risks and go a little outside of the technicality box to create something exciting.

PWC:  The music is no different than many non-declared Christian metal bands, but they often get labeled in a negative way. Why do you think "Christian metal" is often given a hard time by various other metal sub-genres or the rock music press?

JO: There are a few different reasons it gradually started becoming looked down upon. One reason is that the Christian community went through a stage where they would accept any type of music that had a Christian message. With this being the case, the standards for the skill-level of a band were very low, and solid, innovative Christian metal bands started to become harder and harder to find in rapidly growing sea of less appealing groups. That being said, I believe that the Christian Rock/Metal market has a lot of momentum right now, and the new generation of self-proclaimed Christian bands actually have a lot to offer. The other reason is there are so many 'Christian' bands that have labeled themselves as such just to take advantage of the market. We do not call ourselves a Christian band because we have one or two members who believe in God. We are all Christians who actively live by the gospel we believe in, and that is why our band stands for what it does. Not because it is a new market to promote to, not because fans are vulnerable to anything labeled as Christian, and most certainly not because there is money in it. We proclaim ourselves as a faith-based band because that is who we are. Unfortunately, there have so many bands over the years that have just falsely put that label on themselves to further themselves personally with alternative motives than to bring glory to God. After playing so many secular events and meeting so many non-believers on tour, I have found out that most people don't have a problem with Christian-themed music, they have a problem with people being fake. They want to hear music that is passionate and most importantly, true to the members that are making it.

PWC: What message or parting words do you have for your fans?

JO: All I can ever say when I get the opportunity to is THANK YOU to everyone who has ever taken the time to listen to our music, come to our shows, and spread the word about us! The only reason we have been able to make it where we are is because of your support. It is because of you that we can continue making music in hopes of making an impact in people's lives! Please contact us on our Facebook or Twitter, we want to meet every one of you that makes this possible for us!

Be sure to pick up Righteous Vendetta's new album The Fire Inside.