Howerdel playing piano during APC's show at the Showbox at the Market in Seattle, WA, on November 12th, 2010. Photo by Jenny Jimenez

How did you go about writing the new song, “By and Down”?
Howerdel: I was in my studio with my 3-year-old son. I plucked around on the keyboard with him and made up some funny songs. As he was pounding on the low keys with his fist, I just came up with the riff for “By and Down.” I thought, “This sounds interesting.” I recorded it on my phone, and then put him in front of the TV or something so I could start working on the song right away.

Iha: We played it for a long time before it got recorded. That almost never happens in APC.

Did road-testing it lead to changes for the studio recording?
Howerdel: The feel of the breakdown drum part got a little dynamic’d up, but that’s really it. It’s nice to know that our instincts were pretty close to what the final song became.

What is the usual APC writing process?
Howerdel: I write the music and Maynard does the lyrics and the melodies.

James, are you involved in writing?

Iha: I haven’t been. When the band first called me, the second record was already done. I played on eMOTIVe, the record after that, but that’s been it.

APC’s music is quite involved—it can’t be easy to fit melodies over it. Does Maynard have any difficulty working with your music?

Billy Howerdel's Gear

Gibson 1960 Les Paul Classic reissue

Amps and Cabinets
Dave Friedman-modded 1978 100-watt Marshall Super Lead
Marshall 1960AV 4x12 with Celestion Vintage 30s
Marshall 1960AV 4x12 with 25-watt Celestion Greenbacks

Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II

Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball strings (.013, .017, .020P, .032, .044, .056), Dunlop 1.0 mm picks, Mogami cables

James Iha's Gear

Late-’80s/early-’90s Gibson Les Paul Custom
Early-’80s “grayburst” Gibson Les Paul Custom

Amps and Cabinets
Matrix GT1000FX power amp
VHT 4x12 cab with 25-watt Celestion Greenbacks

Fractal Audio Axe-Fx II

Strings and Picks
Ernie Ball strings (.013, .017, .020P, .032, .044, .056), Dunlop 1.0 mm picks, Mogami cables

Howerdel: Listen to Tool—it’s insanely complicated prog rock! I’m still amazed by Maynard. How does he fit “The Hollow” over “The Hollow”? Even though it’s kind of a structured song, it’s still very complicated. Any other singer would say, “Take out that busy guitar part.” He feeds off it and somehow makes it work. He has this great sense of rhythm, the way he fits things together.

Billy, you also have another project—Ashes Divide—and James, you recently released another solo album, Look to the Sky. Are you guys totally invested in APC?
Howerdel: I’m totally invested in both. The way you have to approach things being a singer in a band, and the way you have to approach them as guitar player/songwriter, are very different. It’s much easier with APC in a way. What it takes physically to be a singer is not to be underestimated. It takes every single calorie you have to burn to put on a performance if you’re doing more intense music. When I’m singing with Ashes, I have nothing left. I’m completely spent.

Can you give us a rundown of your gear?
Iha: Oh god, I’m terrible at this shit.

Howerdel: I was the guitar tech on a Nine Inch Nails tour and one of the guitars that lasted the longest—a cinnaburst 1960 reissue Les Paul—is my main guitar now. It got broken all of the time—all the guitars did. They had headstocks off, necks off, just shattered. I fixed this one so many times, and then one day it got thrown into the crowd and somebody in the audience ripped the headstock off. It was sitting headless for a while. I had trunks and trunks of guitars, probably 50 or 60 of them that I traveled with and tried to fix to get ready for a show today, tomorrow, two weeks from now. A similar cinnaburst guitar got broken, and I kept that headstock and tried to marry the two. It got put back on, but at sort of the wrong angle—because, of course, the wood type didn’t match. It’s a little less angled than normal, but it’s the best-sounding and best-playing guitar I’ve ever used. It was a happy accident. I talked with Gibson several years ago about doing a signature model with the same specs. Even if it’s not for mass production, I just want some duplicates in case something ever happens to it.

Iha: My gear is similar to Billy’s. I play Gibson Les Paul Customs. We changed out the pickups, but I don’t remember the name of the pickups. I’m into gear, but at the same time, I’m not into gear. [Ed. note: According to APC’s techs, both guitarists use Tom Anderson pickups.]

Did you update your rig for the album tours?
Iha: We started using new effects. We’re both using Fractal Axe-FX IIs. We wanted to get some of the original sounds back, but also see if we could make things bigger, crazier, or more exaggerated than the original effects.

Howerdel: I turned on my rig with all the patches for APC, and it just didn’t work. Even in 2004, my stuff was kind of old and not working correctly. So I just scrapped it all and started from scratch. I’ve got my Fractal, but I also kept an older box that’s barely working: the Lexicon MPX G2. I still haven’t heard anything that sounds quite as good, but it’s just so unreliable.