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We as Human Frontman Talks Debut Album, Touring, Success of ‘Strike Back’ + More

We as Human Justin Cordle
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

It’s been a breakout year for We as Human, who’ve emerged from Idaho to become one of the hottest new rock bands in the land. The group is currently promoting their self-titled debut full-length album, which was produced by Howard Benson, and they’ve started building their fan base while playing shows on the Carnival of Madness tour with Shinedown and sharing stages with the likes of Skillet, RED and Filter.

Loudwire had a chance to chat with frontman Justin Cordle about the band’s banner year and he opened up about his close connection to their songs, the group’s tight relationship and love for the road and their special guests John Cooper from Skillet and former Flyleaf vocalist Lacey Sturm, who both turn up on their self-titled disc. Check out our interview with We as Human’s Justin Cordle below:

I know it’s been a whirlwind for you from getting discovered to working with Howard Benson on this new album. Can you tell me if it was everything you expected or was there something that surprised you along the way?

It’s definitely not what I had envisioned, no. I mean, I always believed in my band and knew that if we just persisted and worked our butts off that we would appeal to [people] and see something happen with our career, but I never thought that from being signed to Atlantic Records to even before that, being discovered by [Skillet's] John [Cooper] and doing some of the tours we’ve done with Shinedown and RED and Filter and Papa Roach, man, I just didn’t think anything like this would ever happen. It’s my entire life’s dream times 100. So it’s incredible. I can’t dream this big and I’m not a big dreamer. I’m more of a go getter kind of a guy and I’m just going to go out and see what happens and this has been outrageous … absolutely outrageous.

Tell us a bit about your bandmates and your relationship with them?

Sure, it’s a whole life that we go through together. There are times that we want to strangle each other and you just have to walk away, but we’re together so much we see each other more than we see our own families. So first we had to learn to be friends and get along, cause if you can’t do that you can’t write music together. I know there are stories of bands that hate each other, so maybe you can make music, but from experience I know I don’t want my life like that.

But the guys in my band are so different. They’re all so dynamic and have such varied tastes. We love everything from death metal to country … There are times I’ll hear the radio go from Kesha to bluegrass to something gospel to 2Pac to Mumford and Sons to Switchfoot to Nirvana and I mean it’s just all over the place. And I just love that diversity that the guys bring.

I think about Justin Forshaw and the way he plays guitar and Steve Vai is his hero, so to play guitar the way he plays guitar you have to be extremely dedicated and there’s rarely a time when I don’t see Justin with a guitar in his hand. He’s just always playing and is a masterful musical technician like that. All the guys bring their own style. Dave, he’s more old school. He’s a bass player. He’s not a bass player that wants to be a guitar player. He’s a bass player. His heroes are the bass players of the past from Tower of Power to Queen. And he just loves that big fat groove. And each of the guys bring something special to the table. So when we all write a song together, there are things that come from each guy individually and then the band as a whole.

It’s funny, for the tour, we were talking about splitting it up and going on two different buses for the tour and we all just nixed that idea, cause we don’t want to be apart that much (laughs). We still like each other’s company, so that’s gotta be a good thing.

Absolutely. ‘Strike Back’ has been the breakout hit for you. I know it came late in the process. Can you tell me about how the song came together?

We had been writing a lot and we were at the end of the process and I was in California with my buddy Scott [Stevens} doing some co-writes and I told Scott, 'Man, I don't know if I have any words left.' And he said that we should spend the last couple of days writing songs. So the last two days, we were in the studio in Hollywood and we wrote 'Strike Back' and 'We Fall Apart' together.

'Strike Back' really kind of came out of desperation. Growing up and learning how to be a musician, I kind of felt like an outcast in my town to be honest. I was a weirdo, and I just had a lot of people who didn't understand what I did or why I loved music so much or why I wanted to do that. So I faced a lot of kickback from people who thought I should just knuckle down and get a real job. But I couldn't just let it go. So there were a lot of guys who were musicians and talked about our guys behind our back and we've all had that. Or there were people who just think you should do more with your life and I don't know why, maybe they didn't get enough hugs, but they just want you to fail. So I just took all of that and decided to write a song to empower people that were going through hard times like that and let them know that you can get through no matter what you're facing, you know. That's kind of the story behind 'Strike Back' lyrically. And then the music track was just Scott and I throwing down some guitars trying to create the most in-your-face, kicking rock tune.

Another thing with 'Strike Back,' it got nominated for a Dove Award. How awesome is that right out of the gate?

Incredible! Our debut album with our first single and it gets nominated for Rock Song of the Year. That's incredible and I didn't think that could happen. It's just a huge, huge success for us and we were up against Skillet and RED, and so just that fact was enough for us. That's incredible.

And we actually found out through Twitter. Our manager was going to call us when the nominations were revealed to let us know we were nominated, but somehow the fans beat him to it. We started getting a couple of tweets congratulating us on the nomination and I called our manager and was like, 'Did we just get nominated for a Dove award?' And he was like, 'Oh man, I was just sitting here finishing my cereal, I was going to tell you when I got done.' (laughs) So it popped his bubble a little bit, but we didn't care. We were excited about it and it was quite an honor.

John Cooper from Skillet has been instrumental in your discovery and getting you signed, but how awesome was it to get him on your record on the song 'Zombie'?

John is something special, man. I've been a fan of Skillet forever and in fact, when we did our very first shows, we didn't have enough original songs to do a full set, so we used to do a couple of Skillet songs before we ever knew them. So to have him on a song was just incredible.

And he's the executive producer on our album, so he came in with us. He was in town with Skillet, so he swung by for a couple of days and did a track with us and I thought it was great. He let us pick the song and said, 'Tell me what song you want to do' and we picked the arrangement and as soon as I got to 'Zombie' it was a no brainer. Plus, they have a song called 'Monster' anyway, so it just seemed like a good fit. And when I got the track back, I was just so excited to hear his uber raspy rocker voice on a song that I wrote. That's kind of a dream come true to have John sing on our album. And to have Lacey Sturm from Flyleaf sing on 'Take the Bullets Away,' I don't even have a category cool enough to put that into.

Speaking of 'Take the Bullets Away,' I know you've said you envisioned having a female voice on that song, but how psyched were you when Lacey was the one you were able to get?

I was really torn about it actually. I absolutely love her vocal, but her screams were so good that she made my screams sound feminine. So I wasn't too excited about that. [laughs] But she did awesome, man. Her screams still give me goosebumps. When I listen to ‘Take the Bullets Away,’ she absolutely killed it on that track.

I was just sitting at my house waiting for a response and hoping she likes it and she called me. We’d known Lacey for a couple of years at that point and loved everything she’d done with Flyleaf and when she called me back she had nothing but great things to say about it. And we were actually in the studio when she recorded her part. She actually flew from Pittsburgh, where she lives, to L.A., for one day, just to do that song for us and it was really cool for her to do that for us. And I think ‘Take the Bullets Away’ is probably my favorite song on the record right now.

Is there a favorite song for you in terms of the live show?

I have a hard time picking a favorite live song. I can pick a favorite song from the album, but live they’re all so different. But I think on this tour were on now, we’re out with Family Force Five, and this tour there’s two songs that every night — for one, ‘Take the Bullets Away.’ I love doing ‘Take the Bullets Away.’ It’s just super emotive and I can’t help but feel the emotions that I felt the day that I wrote them. I can’t just sing through it like it’s another day at work, you know. So ‘Take the Bullets Away’ and equally I look forward to ‘Strike Back.’

‘Strike Back’ is that song that even if people don’t know our band’s name, it’s like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that it was these guys that did that song,’ you know. It’s just getting played so much right now and it’s just really doing well and so when ‘Strike Back’ comes on it’s just really going well for us and the crowd gets into it and it’s the last song in our set. So we can go out there and just leave it all onstage. So those are the two songs that I’m just loving performing right now.

You mentioned the emotion that goes into these songs and I know ‘Sever’ is really close to your heart. Are you able to separate when playing that song or do you feel it like it’s the first time you wrote every time you play it?

I do wish that I could separate myself from these songs a little bit more than I do. As a songwriter, you can be vulnerable, but you’ve got to believe what you’re writing. You’ve just got to have an experience on something that you’re writing on some level. And ‘Sever’ is one of those songs I wish I could separate myself a little bit more from it.

I remember, I always think of Tyler and losing my 3-year-old nephew to cancer whenever I play ‘Sever.’ But his mom, my sister-in-law, actually came to one of our shows when we were playing with Shinedown and she was standing right there in front and just crying while we were playing the song, so anytime there’s something like that, it just impacts and I carry it with me. And as soon as I hear the intro or start to sing those words, I’m just right back in the spot where I was when I wrote it. There’s just plenty of nights where I get over emotional. And I have a hard time singing that man, it’s not like the notes are that high or anything, but I’m just trying to get it out without breaking up.

But it’s a blessing and a curse. I love it because it helps me to enjoy the music, but there are some nights where I could just go out and sing and not worry about whether my heart is going to jump out of my chest.

With the tour with Skillet coming up, will that offer more opportunity for a bigger show?

Yes and no. I think a lot of people, and I’ve not heard anybody say it, but I would imagine there are a lot of people who think we’ve gotten where we’ve gotten because of Skillet. But we’ve been a hard working band long before Skillet, but they did come along and they’ve helped us a ton in our career. They want to take us out on tour and we love to tour with them. And over the last two years we’ve done just about every tour that they’ve done with the exception of the European tour they’re just finishing right now.

But we’re getting into it. We’re gonna do videos, we’re going to have a light show with LED and all that kind of stuff, so this will be like the biggest production that we’ve ever done … So we’ll do more lights, more video and all that good stuff. And it should be a really good time. I know there’s some great bands on it.

Our thanks to We as Human’s Justin Cordle for the interview. You can pick up the self-titled We as Human debut disc via iTunes here. For their upcoming tour dates, check the band’s website here.

Watch We as Human’s ‘Strike Back’ Video:

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