For a band that's spent seven years plugging away in the Richmond metal scene, This Time It's War is seemingly just getting started. After forming in high school, the three original members — guitarists Justin Lawson and Alan Simpson and drummer John Gammon — stuck together through ever-evolving aspirations and lineup changes. In 2007 their diligence paid off when they found vocalist Scott Quigley and bassist Jeff Jennings, and the band went to work on the debut album it had always wanted to record.
Produced and mixed by Chris Dowhan at Planet Red studio in Midlothian, "Terror Plots" is like a retrospective of This Time It's War, containing fleshed-out versions of songs drafted in high school and songs written just before they recorded. With a head start on newer material, the band hopes to have a follow-up release out this summer.
Style: Tell us about that one song. ...
Jennings: I had some lyrics that I'd been kicking around for while and didn't know what I was going to do with them. Then we started demoing "Unslaved," so I reworked them to fit the song. Right before we went to the studio, we put the chorus together, which is the only part of the song that repeats. "I've found direction based on choices I have made, stand without instruction, I alone decide my fate." The chorus defines what the song is about, not submitting or bowing. ...
Simpson: Thinking for yourself. The lyrics are based on something personal to Jeff, but can apply to anyone's life.
Jennings: We have keyboards on the new album to fill in the space and create more atmosphere. But we wanted to make sure that what we were doing on the album we would at least attempt to pull off at a live show.
Simpson: Some bands will have keyboards on an album, but will play them off of a laptop (when they perform live). Jeff has this Roland PK5 which has these pedals that plug into the keyboard and he plays them with his feet. We kind of borrowed that from Rush.
Jennings: "Unslaved" is the first song where we tried that out.
What's been your most memorable show?
Simpson: We opened for Lamb of God in November 2008. We were acquaintances with those guys and we got a phone call one day from the promoter and she was like, "Hey do you guys want to play with Lamb of God at the National?" It was sold out. It was an awesome set and by far the most people we've ever played to.
Lawson: The audience seemed to be into it.
Jennings: They weren't there for us, but we like to pretend.
What is your most outrageous story from the road?
Simpson: We had this [do-it-yourself] disastrous tour that a friend booked for us. We drove across the country and we didn't play a show from St. Louis to California.
Jennings: Day by day, each show would get canceled. We'd drive all night and get there and there'd be no show.
Simpson: We thought, "We have these shows in California, we can make our money back." But then we got to California and some of those shows were canceled too. We had a couple of good shows here and there, then we went home. Jeff wasn't even a full-time member of the band yet, he had just joined. We were like: "Come on this terrible tour with us. That's about as bad as it can get." It's a good way to get to know someone, to be stuck in a van with them for three weeks.
If you could play one festival in the world, what would it be?
Simpson: Have you ever watched "Metal: A Headbanger's Journey?" There are crazy German open-air festivals where there's a mass of people camped out for five days just to see metal bands.
Lawson: I'd like to do something in Japan.
Simpson: [Japanese audiences] sing to guitar solos.
Jennings: And then silence between songs, after clapping.
Simpson: They're very polite.
Are there any metal riffs out there that are just impossible to play?
Simpson: There's this German band called Necrophagist. I don't even know how they write [their riffs] for one thing or remember how to play as many riffs as they play in one song. They have this weird interplay between the two guitar players where they're almost never playing the same thing. You'll listen to them with headphones and there's notes being traded back and forth, like 16th notes at 200 beats per minute. It's really fast.
Lawson: The right hand of the guitarist is always skipping strings and alternating between up and down strokes.
Simpson: And he never looks at his guitar and he's singing at the same time. [The band's album] "Epitaph" is probably the most ridiculous metal album I've ever heard.
What do you do if a fight breaks out during your set?
Simpson: On his keyboard, Jeff has this goofy, ragtime piano music. So whenever there's a fight, we'll just stop and push that button.
Lawson: It makes whoever's fighting feel like such an idiot.
Jennings: You can't fight to ragtime. S
"Terror Plots" is available via iTunes, Bandcamp, or at thistimeitswar.com. This Time It's War will perform March 29 at Alley Katz, 10 Walnut Alley, along with Former Thieves, Fixtures and Postcards. $8 admission. Show starts at 6 pm.