Music has brought a lot different things into my life. Some good, some bad. Who would have thought that a friendship with someone in one band would bring another character into my life. Don’t remember who followed who first on Twitter, but here came the madness of Josh Willis. Never heard someone shred on a guitar with such fierceness before and what made it even better, he’s local. Nothing like your local music scene, I’m telling you! He so graciously granted me access into his crazy and sometimes hectic life, although I consider him my friend, I was honored when he said yes. So fasten your seatbelts, put your tray tables into their full upright positions because ladies and gentlemen…. I bring you. Mr. Josh Willis….
ME: Instead of me giving an introduction to who you are, why don’t you take the podium? Tell the readers your name rank and serial number…
JW: My name is Josh Willis, I play guitar for a metal band called Unparalleled Height. I don’t have a serial number; I’m like an unregistered gun in the state of California – I’m lethal and everyone wants their hands on me.
(This only touches on his humor, I could elaborate but then I’d have to kill you…)
Back to Basics:
ME: So we became friends via Twitter, and that’s when I found out you were from the same area of Pennsylvania that I was from. You are in school right now, how you do balance school and all the music projects that you are doing? How do you keep everything at a stress level that you can tolerate without losing it?
JW: I’ve always been the type to purposely keep busy with an overwhelming amount of tasks. Balancing all of this keep me busy and keeps me happy and makes time go by fast. While I do operate at a high stress level a majority of the time, I wouldn’t trade my lifestyle for anything. There’s something I enjoy about always having something to work on. I’m used to the concise clockwork of doing schoolwork, progressing my band and music career, and going home to work every weekend. The one part that’s new to me that I still have to adjust to is how frequently I’ve been going out of town. That’s more difficult to coordinate with school. Even though I am really stressed a lot of the time, I’m good at keeping it contained and I love the million-miles-an-hour life I have.
ME: Since a young age, as far back as I can remember, music has been a huge influence for me, it’s a major part of my life. Can you remember back to when music made an impact on your life that you said “Yeah this is what I want to do!”?
JW: Ever since an extremely young age, music has fascinated me. I grew up surrounded by a family of musicians so I was able to pick up on things and learn to play early on. I always messed around with guitar and drums without really knowing what I was doing. The turning point in which I realized “Yeah this is what I want to do!” was when I heard Bat Country by Avenged Sevenfold on the radio back in like 2005. I heard that guitar solo for the first time and decided I want to do that and be like them.
(Check out one of Josh’s many covers, The Wake by August Burns Red
ME: Musical influences, what bands or artists do you listen to that help you develop that music you make?
JW: As a metal artist, and in terms of musicianship, my biggest influence is Avenged Sevenfold. However, I’m a firm believer in taking influence and inspiration from every type of music that’s out there. I can appreciate and learn from the songwriting and arrangements of classical music, the technicality and heaviness of metal, the catchiness of country songs (although I’ll admit I hate country music and would be okay with never hearing another country song again). I can learn something from literally every single piece of music and song I hear.
ME: Some people have humor, some people are MacGyver in the kitchen…. what do you feel you bring to the table when it comes to music? What would you call your style?
JW: I’ve always taken pride in my unique song-writing style. I kind of do everything backwards. I usually have titles for songs before I even begin to write them, then I picture a scenario or scene and put music to it. I like to sonically paint vivid scenes for listeners so that the feel and emotion is tailored exactly to the type of song I want. I would say my style is just attention to detail, putting in little “easter eggs” that I only explain to a small amount of people, my unique backwards writing, and doing things in a way I’ve never heard anyone else do.
ME: I have to admit, I listen to A LOT of music during the day. The 8 hour shift I work I sometimes need it to get me through the day. I love your albums and EP’s. Amazing work! Two of my favorite songs are Grenade from Absolute Zero and Sleepwalker from Pitch Black. Anything on the solo front coming soon? Where do you get your inspiration from for your songs?
JW: Thank you for the kind words! This past May, I did something different and out of my element by releasing an all-acoustic album called Diamonds and Skylines. Initially, this was intended to be a mini-album just to experiment with simpler acoustic songs that I wasn’t going to put in the same time and effort I put into my two previous full-length records. Unexpectedly, it became my top-selling album that I received the most positive feedback and hype on. I’m slowly but surely in the process of writing the follow-up simply called “Diamonds and Skylines II”. I have no way of predicting when this will be released because of how busy I am with the other bands I am involved with. As far as inspiration, I write about things I see in the world and phrase them in ways that I’ve never heard anyone else do, and I write about personal things that I go through but shape them in a way that they are more generalized and more relatable. One of my routine writing rituals is to purposely and temporarily bring myself down to a rock-bottom/depressed mindset, which probably isn’t healthy, but some of my best songs have emerged from that. The Diamonds and Skylines album tells a huge story that is modeled off of some things that I’ve personally went through and overcome. The first song is called Diamonds and the last song is called Skylines, and those connect at the end and bring the whole story together. More specifically on that album, “Dance on the Sun,” is about an end of the world/apocalypse situation that is intended to make listeners think about what they would do in a situation where they suddenly find out they have an hour left to live, and “Desamor Café” is about a certain hardship in life that feels like a routine I’ve become too familiar with as a result of trusting what people say too easily. It’s all about writing something that listeners can relate to and take something from.
(Check out Sweet Dreams from Pitch Black by Josh)
ME: What kind of gear do you use and what is your dream guitar to own? When did you pick up your first guitar?
JW: I use Schecter and Ibanez guitars. My custom seven-string Ibanez that I used in a Star Wars music video I’ll talk about below is my pride and joy. As far as amplification, I have a Hellwin 100 half stack and absolutely love it. Hmm, my dream guitar…I’d love to have a custom seven-string Keisel built for me. Those guitars are beautiful and are built to unfathomable standards and quality. I picked up my first guitar in either kindergarten or 1st grade, and finally got my own in 3rd grade.
ME: I think we can both agree, Metal does not get the attention and respect that it deserves. It often gets pushed aside with the pop music, your Swifts and Lovatos, Do you agree? Do you think Metal will ever have its moment to shine again?
JW: I agree entirely. Generally, the most popular music is the most overproduced and synthetic music. However, I was pleased to see certain artists get well-deserved attention at the Grammy’s this year. Sevendust, who are great friends of mine, were nominated for Best Metal Performance, as well as August Burns Red. D’Angelo, an R&B artist I recently learned about, won best R&B album. So it’s nice to see a wide array of genres receiving attention and respect at a much higher magnitude. I’d love to see metal have it’s moment to shine again. I think if we really want to see metal truly shine again, I need to start a Christmas-themed 80’s hair metal band called Mosh Pit on 34th Street. I’ll be the lead vocalist and wear candy cane pattern leggings and a red leather Santa Claus coat with nothing else under it, not even underwear. I’ll tease my hair up like Nikki Sixx and we’ve got the next legendary metal band. Christmas is coming early this year!
(Side Note: read this part above at 6am, pretty sure I woke people up with my laughter)
ME: So aside from your solo projects, you are also a part of the amazing group Galactic Empire. Being a huge Star Wars fan, the remake of the theme song kicked major ass! It was great to see the video go viral. Epic idea!
How did this come about? and how did you get ahold of those costumes…. think you need to steal the Darth mask for me…. *just saying*
What is in store for the fans this year from GE? If you can say……
JW: I think Galactic Empire was the most unexpected successful moment I’ve ever seen. Our producers are Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak at Atrium Audio. They’ve produced bands like August Burns Red, Texas In July, Black Crown Initiate, etc. Grant and Carson have been working on this Star Wars project with Chris Kelly that involved transposing the exact Star Wars score note for note onto metal guitars and drums. Grant reached out to my friend and fellow guitarist CJ Masciantonio and I and asked us to get involved back in October. I had not met Grant at this point, and I woke up to a text from him, which took a few minutes to sink in for me that this was all happening. We talked on the phone later and he filled me in on all the details and it just took off from there. We actually got the costumes on Amazon! They’re categorized as the “Supreme Edition” line, which is the theatrical quality collection. And no, they’re not comfortable at all. What’s in store for fans of GE this year? We just filmed another music video that’s bigger and better than the last. I just learned tonight that we’re going to be a part of something incredibly huge that I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about yet. Stay tuned for details though. We’ve got the full-length album coming out this spring, as well.
(Check Josh out as the Red Imperial guard in the Galactic Empire Star Wars Theme video, if you missed this going viral, time to come out of the cave)
ME: While we are on the subject, it was just announced you are now a member of Unparalleled Height, Congrats on that! Another amazing band with some pretty kick ass guys! It seems like you are all over the map now, was this in the works for a while? Tell me about the merger with the band.
JW: It was an incredibly huge honor to join Unparalleled Height. I knew CJ (lead guitarist) for a while, and always secretly wished I played in that band. I was a fan of their stuff and CJ was a fan of my stuff, and I’ve always admired him as a guitarist. One night I was driving home from work when Dave Kelly (UPH’s lead vocalist) reached out to me on Twitter asking if I had time to talk to him. He told me they’re talking about adding a third guitarist that can play some of the more difficult parts on their new record and mentioned that my name was the first that came up. This was Tyler’s (rhythm guitar) idea, so I’m very blessed that he brought that to the table. I was flattered and shocked. This was back in July, and I’ve been in the band since August, they were very thorough with taking a sufficient amount of time to try me out as a member, and fortunately I passed the test and was officially welcomed into the band a few days ago. We’ve got some huge plans for this year, so I’m very grateful to be a part of this.
ME: You all just recently got back from California, which I’m still jealous about….. you all went to NAMM. How was that? Did you return back home with valuable knowledge to help you through your future endevours? For those that don’t know, explain what NAMM exactly is.
JW: NAMM stands for National Association of Music Merchants, and put simply, it’s the biggest music trade show in the entire world. They hold it in California every year, and it is a chance for professional musicians to come in and get an exclusive look at new products from all of the guitar, drums, piano, amplification, and symphonic companies, all of which have their own booths throughout the convention center. In other words, it’s a private event you sort of have to get invited to, so I felt very blessed and honored to have the opportunity to attend. It was fucking incredible though. Hands-down the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life. We met a lot of amazing people, made a lot of valuable connections, and had a lot of fun. During that week, we were floating around the Los Angeles, Huntington Beach, Hollywood, and Anaheim areas, and had an absolute blast. We attended NAMM and stayed professional during the day, then went out and partied with VIP access, red carpets, and all at night. I’d move to Southern California tomorrow if I could.
ME: Even with all these projects, so many things in the works. Was there ever a time you looked at everything and said “Fuck it I can’t do this” and put music to the side?
JW: There were times when I would get into weird funks and think things like “why am I even wasting my time doing this, no one cares about it, no one wants to listen to my music, it’s not going to go anywhere.” Then I imagine the vision I’ve always had of where I see this ending up, I let all of those feelings rush back and remember why I started doing this. People will tell you that you can’t do this or can’t do that because we live in a time where deviating from the norm is frowned upon. You gotta tune those people out, tell them to fuck off, and do what you love and love what you do.
Ok, since Josh is what I consider a big, in less words, a dork *and that’s putting it nicely lol*…. Here comes some random blurbs (aka the parts you are NOT prepared for):
ME: What song would you want to cover? Any song…. any artist?
JW: Probably Hit Me Baby One More Time. I’d say that song brings back smooth and scaly memories of the pet Iguana my cousin Danny had in 7th grade, but I don’t have a cousin Danny and have never touched an Iguana. There’s just something about that song that makes me feel like a heat-seeking jaguar with an appetite for destruction.
ME: Live without sight or without the ability play music, which would you pick and why?
JW: Hmm that’s tough!! I honestly would probably keep my sight and lose the ability to play music because I love listening to music just as much as playing it. There are too many things in life that would make me very upset to never see again.
ME: Favorite GS cookies *you know, for the kids* lol…. Thin Mints, SAMOAS……which?
JW: Thin Mints tickle my fancy the most I think. I can’t do SAMOAS because it just reminds me of our singer, Dave, who could pass as a middle-aged Samoan man going through his mid-life crisis. And since you said this is for the kids: hey don’t do drugs, you little shit heads!
ME: Dead, Alive, Fictional characters, superheroes…. Pick 3 people you’d want to have dinner with and why?
JW: 3. Nicolas Cage in hopes that he wouldn’t speak at all, just make a variety of facial expressions at me for the entire duration of the dinner.
2. Synyster Gates (Avenged Sevenfold) because I have so much to ask him and so much to learn from him.
1. My grandma Carol, who passed away in 2013, because the past 3 years have been incredibly life-changing, exciting, and stressful, and I’d give anything to tell her all about it, hear her wise input, and ask if I’m on the right path.
ME: Everybody has something they fear, some kind of phobia. I’m not telling you mine because you’ll use them against me…….haha. Do you have any kind of fear? Any phobias?
JW: I’m terrified of the dark. My imagination goes crazy and I picture all of the worst things lunging at me. There’s a movie I saw recently called The Pact that is about a killer that lives in this secret room in a house that no one in the house knows about. He crawls out of a trap door under a bed and lurks around the house, and for a while I was imagining him coming after me in the dark.
(Me too Josh, we will be the two in a haunted houses punching everything that jumps at us)
ME: JUST FOR YOU: Nicholas Cage knocks on your door and says he will give you $3 million dollars but in return you have to instill into him your musical abilities and talent……. what do you do?
JW: Probably take my pants off and scream like a star-struck 12 year old girl, forget what the question was, pee myself, then give him $3 million just for knocking on my door and live a long life of bankruptcy and debt with a big smile and awkward half-chub permanently frozen on me from meeting the man that said, “NOT THE BEES!”
(My friend Josh Willis everybody….. at least he didn’t ask us to put the lotion in the basket)
ME: 5 random Josh facts: list some things people might not know about you, hidden talents…. if you can’t list 5 just give a few (although i’m sure you are just full of secrets) lol
1. I make some really fucking good margaritas. It’s my signature recipe that’s on the fruitier side, but still kicks your ass.
2. I still play Pokemon and love it like I did in elementary school.
3. I’m a huge clean freak. My apartment always looks like a pristine hotel room, or a demo model in a housing showroom that is cleaned to perfection.
4. I enjoy music by *NSYNC more than I’d like to admit.
5. I’m secretly a little bit girly in certain aspects, as well as sappy and sensitive. You’ll never see that side of me unless you get to know me pretty well.
Few last things…
ME: With everything happening with Galactic Empire, Unparalleled Height…. what do you see for 2016, in music and life?
JW: I have a really strong unexplainable feeling that this year is going to be fucking huge. I feel like everything I’ve worked for and everything I’ve done up to this point is starting to align to make the path to the big picture. First of all, my plan with absolute certainty is to finish college; I won’t drop that. Then I’ll just see where this crazy road takes me and not have to worry because I’ll have a degree just in case I need it down the road.
ME: What advice do you have for those who are trying to find their path to where they want to be?
JW: We live in a world where people are taught there’s only one acceptable way to go through life, only one way to do certain things, and that being different is bad. I think that you will never be where you want to end up without taking calculated risks and stepping outside your comfort zone, which is what many people today can’t do. If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough because we’re all given one chance to do something incredible with our lives. Personally, it just doesn’t make sense to me to spend my life getting up for work everyday, putting my button down shirt on, going to work my corporate America boring fucking job, going home, and repeating that until I retire. I’ve been lectured and lectured by dozens of people to just put the guitar away, focus only on school, and graduate and get a “real job” like everyone else. Not only is it not in my nature to live a life like that, but also it’s not in my nature to just settle for something while I have a burning desire to do something else. What it comes down to is that you have to do what YOU want to do. The other people telling you what to do with YOUR life will not have to live with the feelings that you do if you’re not happy with what you do. If you have faith in the fact that you can go out there and become the biggest metal band in the world, go out there and fucking make it happen.
ME: Any closing thoughts? This is your open mic, just let it out. anything you want to put out into the universe Josh, this is the time. Go for it! Even if you just wanna cuss….. have at’er!
JW: Hi mom!
And there you have it ladies and gents. He came, he conquered, he owes me a Margarita. That is just a little tiny bit of what makes Josh Willis such an amazing and talented artist and a kick ass dude. And like he says, if you want something, make it happen!!! Thank you again Josh for your time for this interview.
If you want to learn more about Josh and his music and follow him as he continues into the great wide open world of music. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshWillisUPH, Facebook find him under Josh Willis, check out his Instagram account @joshwillisuph or find him on Youtube.
Leave a comment in the comments section and let me know what you think. Let him know what you think as well.
More interviews coming very soon………………………..