Growing up in the Canadian Prairies in the ’90s, Jonny Hetherington was inspired and elated by the energy and realism of alternative rock bands that mixed equal doses of aggression and melody. However, he didn’t really relate to the dark, negative energy and sometimes pessimistic lyrics of many of his favorite groups. So when he and guitarist Greg Bradley formed their own band, Art of Dying, in 2004, they made a conscious effort to be as sonically dynamic as their influences, but approach their songs with a greater sense of optimism.
“Most of our songs speak of hope and perseverance,” says Hetherington. “There’s an element of honesty and strength in our music that really comes through.”
On the surface, the name “Art of Dying” might seem to contradict that ethos, but Hetherington says the phrase describes the band’s life philosophy. “From the moment you’re born, you’re on an eventual path to death,” he explains. “We all embrace life and enjoy it and make the most of every minute. Our art of dying is living and doing it with as much enthusiasm as possible. That’s sort of our code.”
The band’s major-label debut, Vices and Virtues, expresses their energy and vitality with a blend of urgent, blaring guitar rhythms, atmospheric and transcendent counter melodies, and vocal harmonies that complement the heaviness of the music. Uptempo songs like “Die Trying” and “Straight Across my Mind” reverberate with the triumphant spirit of a raised fist, while tracks such as the acoustic-based “I Will Be There,” “Best I Can,” and “Raining” (which features guest vocals by Three Days Grace frontman Adam Gontier) are more reflective and vulnerable, revealing the pain of imperfect relationships and the redemption that lies within their repair. Hetherington wrote one of the most poignant and sonically turbulent cuts on the album, “Get Thru This,” almost immediately after finding out his father had been diagnosed with cancer.
“It was a crazy day and making that song was very emotional for me,” he says. “I was at my day job at a small futon store in Vancouver when I got the news. I locked the door, put up the ‘Back in 5 Minutes’ sign and let it all pour out. It’s a really special song now because it turned what felt like a nightmare into this real celebration. Now that my dad has survived his battle with cancer it’s become a song of triumph.”
Making the most out of difficult situations has become a modus operandi for Hetherington and his bandmates. Exhibiting determination in the face of adversity has allowed them to excel and succeed. In fact, it was Art of Dying’s persistence and relentlessness that first attracted Disturbed guitarist Dan Donegan to the band four years ago. It all started when a radio promoter in Boston suggested Donegan check out Art of Dying’s 2006 self-released debut.
“One day I got a phone call from Dan saying, ‘Wow, I really like your band, music, and work ethic,’” Hetherington says. “We chatted for an hour about what we were doing and how we felt about our music and he said he’d love to help us out and offer us any opportunity he could, which was very cool. We didn’t hear from him for about another year, so in the meantime we just kept doing our thing.”
The second time Donegan called Hetherington, it wasn’t just to talk. The guitarist invited Art of Dying to open for Disturbed on 12 U.S. shows. While the Canadian band didn’t know how they were going to pay for a tour across the U.S., they accepted the offer anyway because they knew playing for thousands of Disturbed fans was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. What they didn’t know was that Donegan and Disturbed frontman David Draiman were silently courting Art of Dying to be the first band on their label Intoxication.
“At the time, we had no idea they had a label,” Hetherington says. “We knew they were watching us every night, but we didn’t know they were thinking of signing us. It’s kind of comical because we actually invited other labels out to some of the shows to check us out. And it was a real nice surprise for them to offer to do an album with us.”
Intoxication isn’t exactly a new venture. Donegan and Draiman co-formed the Warner Bros. Records subsidiary seven years ago, but never found the right band to debut – until they heard Art of Dying.
“In years of searching for a band to begin the saga at Intoxication Records, we finally found the fiercely talented boys of Art of Dying delivering uncompromising, harmony-filled anthemic rock moments fused with the right amount of attitude,” Draiman says. “They won over our fans time and time again, and we are betting that they will win over the world.”
No one can say Art of Dying haven’t earned the support of Disturbed through hard work and painstaking perseverance. Even in his youth, Hetherington was determined to reach his musical goals, busking in the streets of Vancouver for spare change and singing songs he’d written since he was a teenager. He was actually standing on a street corner, guitar in hand, when he first met Art of Dying’s other founding member, guitarist Greg Bradley. “I was trying to learn how to sing and play at the same time and Greg was playing with some friends he’d been jamming with for a while. They heard me from a couple blocks away and followed the sound of my voice. The guys were looking for a singer and asked me if I wanted to get together and try rehearsing with them.”
The next day, Hetherington met Bradley’s band at their rehearsal space and the musicians immediately vibed off each other. “We plugged in and I started singing melodies and humming over this musical jam that was going on,” Hetherington recalls. “We actually wrote a song that day. We could tell right away we had something real, and over the years Greg and I steered the music through the different band names — Pan, Sun Like Star. We finally decided on Art of Dying as the music evolved.” When they had enough original material they recorded an album, formed their own label (Thorny Bleeder) and released their self-titled debut in 2006. They sent the disc to radio stations and promoters across the country, and before long their efforts were rewarded with a nomination for a Canadian Radio Music Award. They also won the prestigious Seeds radio contest from Vancouver radio station 99.3 The Fox for the song “Get Thru This.” Past winners had included Nickelback and Theory of a Deadman. The Seeds victory led to numerous tours and eventually an offer to play the third stage at the Download Festival in England.
“Greg and I made a pact a long ago to never say no to an opportunity, no matter how lofty it seemed,” Hetherington says. “So we went over to England and that led to our being invited back for a tour of the U.K. with Seether. We’ve gotten good at making miracles come to fruition. It’s like, ‘Okay, how are we gonna do this? Beg, borrow, and steal and do it all again.’”
After going through a variety of players, Art of Dying cemented their lineup with guitarist Tavis Stanley, bassist Cale Gontier (cousin of Three Days Grace’s Adam Gontier), and drummer Jeff Brown. Cale and Tavis spent years growing tight in Ian Thornley of Big Wreck’s solo project “Thornley,” and had known Jeff from a young age growing up in Ontario. Jeff brought the five musicians together at a Toronto watering hole where an instant connection was made over pints of Guinness. Without even stepping into a rehearsal space, the newly formed group’s first note struck was on stage together on the first date of a Canadian tour. It was that night that they discovered a common musical thread that ran through each of them and began to hone their signature three-part harmonies.
By the time Art of Dying were signed to Intoxication, they were jonesing to start working on their second album. Hetherington presented a stack of songs he wrote at home to his bandmates and the group took a hiatus to work on the tunes and write additional material together. “We made songwriting a priority and actually went on some writing retreats with each other,” Hetherington explains. “The five of us would get together in weird locations and just lock ourselves in a place with gear and try and make whatever we could come up with in that five or seven days. That’s where several of the songs for Vices and Virtues came from. In the end we had well over 50 songs to choose from.”
By the time they entered the studio with veteran producer Howard Benson (Papa Roach, Three Doors Down) in October 2009, Art of Dying had narrowed their repertoire of new tunes down to 18 songs. They spent the next three months at Benson’s studio in Los Angeles tracking the first batch, then, after taking a few months off, they traveled to Chicago to finish the album with Donegan.
“It was really important that we had this balance between L.A. and Chicago because I think environment plays a key role in your sound,” Hetherington says. “We definitely ended up with the perfect mix of L.A. shine and Chicago grit. It was a golden middle ground.”
While Art of Dying worked on Vices and Virtues for over a year, they were never overwhelmed or frustrated by the recording process. Although they were putting in long hours and recording multiple takes, they remained excited and composed throughout. “It was super natural — beyond easy,” Hetherington says. “The caliber of musicianship in this band is extraordinary. Everybody’s got each other’s backs and when we go, we just go!”
Even as Vices and Virtues was being completed, Art of Dying were picking up steam in the media. The WWE played “Get Thru This” in their Survivor and NXT programs. The track was used in several Canadian TV programs and was the theme music for the hockey reality show Making The Cut.
Now that the complete album is finally ready for release, the full scope of Art of Dying’s musical diversity and artistic vision is swimming into focus, and it’s as clear as Steuben crystal and as euphoria-inducing as a runner’s high. “Sorry” is a beautiful song about a broken relationship that starts with a pensive, acoustic arpeggio and soaring vocal harmonies, and peaks with an anthemic mid-paced chorus. “Whole World’s Crazy” kicks out the jams with a propulsive riff and minor-key hooks and builds into a rousing refrain, in which Hetherington sings “I don’t want to believe there’s no way out, is the whole world crazy now?” Then there’s the start-stop barrage of “Completely,” which punctuates each yearning phrase with a musical exclamation point and the defiant, tuneful thunderstorm of “You Don’t Know Me.”
“It’s a middle finger in the air to everyone who judges others,” Hetherington says. “You know that feeling when you’re in a crowd and certain people might be looking at you a certain way? It’s a horrible feeling, but it’s empowering to say, ‘Fuck you! You don’t know me.’”
On first single “Die Trying” Hetherington sings: “If it takes forever, I will die trying,” reaffirming his commitment to attain happiness through his music at all costs. At the rate the band are going, Art of Dying won’t take forever to reach their goals, and they’re determined to enjoy every minute it takes to get there. Right now, the band is excited to take part in the Avalanche tour with Stone Sour, Theory of a Deadman, Skillet, and Halestorm. The tour launches March 24th in Chicago and runs through May 1st in Uncasville, CT. After that, Art of Dying plan to play other major support tours and summer festivals, as well as headline clubs.
Art of Dying are especially excited to meet the “Die Hards,” as they consider themselves at one with their audience. “Since day one we have embraced our fans and included them in our world online and off,” Hetherington says. “We are known for being the last people out of the venue at the end of a concert because we’re so busy talking to the fans. The countless stories of how our music touches their lives is something we don't take lightly and has become inspirational in our own lives.”
Hetherington pauses, then concludes with a statement that clarifies their belief in the power and spirituality of their art. “We believe in the circle or circuit of music that is closed only when it flows through the listener and back to the artist. It's an ongoing cycle, and being a part of that has been one of the most rewarding aspects of what we do.”