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Jonny Hetherington of Art of Dying BestCigarPrices Exclusive Interview

Art of Dying is an up-and-coming rock group from Vancouver. Aside from having shared the stage with the likes of Tool, Metallica, Disturbed, Seether, and many others, they’re also big cigar fans, especially Jonny Hetherington, the group’s vocalist. Hetherington was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with us, and we’re very pleased with the following interview. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

Will: You guys have probably heard this before, but what are some of your major musical influences?

Jonny: Oh man, there are so many. We come from pretty broad backgrounds, but I think we draw from what happened in the 90’s, when Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, and Stone Temple Pilots, and Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains—I could go on [laughing]. When those bands all kind of erupted, it changed everything for me personally. It really felt like I was a part of something real, and music never was the same after that for me. Those are the biggest influences for me. I’m starting to check out some older stuff, like Aerosmith and bands like that, and it just never gets better. When we’re sitting around playing poker and smoking cigars and whatever we’re always listening to Aerosmith, and it just feels right.

We’re actually playing with one of our influences at Rock on the Range on May 21-22— what an honor it is to be opening for A Perfect Circle. It’s a dream come true to be even in the same area of the world as Maynard, and those guys are just awesome. I had a chance to meet him once when we played this festival in England called Download. It was really funny, because I didn’t know it was him for about 10 minutes—we were just chatting, and after about 10 minutes of this conversation I realized, “this is Maynard!” I had to turn around and bite my knuckle for a second or I would’ve exploded.

W: Were you in any bands before Art of Dying?

J: Our guitar player Greg and I started this band under the name Sunlikestar, and that was something we did for a few years. As the music evolved and changed, it started to become something different, and that’s how it turned into Art of Dying. We’ve always been on this musical path together, and at one point or another it has to change, so Art of Dying was born in 2004.

W: I noticed there are a lot more guitar leads on the new album—what made you decide to step it up?

J: It just feels right when we’re playing together. Actually, back to the last question, Tavis and Cale, who joined the band about 3 years ago, they played in a Canadian band called Thornley with the singer from Big Wreck, which is a band from the late 90’s and early 2000’s. When those guys joined Art of Dying, some major things really came together, like our three-part harmonies. That’s when we really started singing together, and that’s been our focus now, along with a lot of rippin’ solos between Tavis and Greg. They just look at each other and start a guitar battle anytime, and the best solo wins.

W: So judging from the title of our blog, you might’ve been expecting some cigar questions—what kinds of cigars do you smoke?

J: Cubans are where it’s at for me. I first discovered cigars when I was in Cuba. I’ve been lucky enough to have some friends go back and forth to Cuba and get some cigars for me. I think my favorite cigar in the world is the Montecristo Petit Edmundo. It’s fat, but it’s a little shorter, so it’s not a huge commitment. If you’re running in between things, you can just sit down for 45 minutes and have a cigar to get your thoughts back together. I smoked a lot of cigars writing this record, because things get a little crazy and that’s become a little bit of a sanctuary for me. I just take my notebook, a pen, and my iPhone and sit and smoke a cigar and be alone for an hour. That’s when a lot of the lyrics came together—I think most of those came together over Montecristos, like the Montecristo #2. I also love Partagas Serie D No. 4’s. I smoked a lot of those while writing the album. That’s not to say that there aren’t other good cigars from around the world—Cubans just have something to them.

W: That was actually going to be my next question—have you smoked any cigars from Honduras, Nicaragua, or the Dominican Republic? What do you think of those as opposed to Cubans?

J: I have—the Dominican one that I smoked a lot of was the La Aurora. They were a little milder, but the thing I noticed about those is that the ash is so perfect; it burns so white. It was a really nice smoke, and they’d never go out. Sometimes cigars go out on you and you have to relight them, but those Dominicans just burned white and burned clean. It was awesome.

W: Do you have any good cigar stories from the road?

J: Well, we usually travel in the U.S., so I don’t bring a lot of cigars down with me because they’re Cubans. It tends to get a little more experimental. We walk into whatever liquor store, stock up on booze and head into the studio, and I usually grab a couple of cigars if they have a humidor. It’s kind of a crapshoot, but I definitely enjoyed a few at Bay 7 in Los Angeles, where we recorded the new record. We filmed a video for “Die Trying” last week, and we had a poker scene where I was smoking a big stogie. It was really cool to have one of my personal favorite things in a video.

W: What’s the biggest crowd Art of Dying has played in front of?

J: We did a lot of touring with Disturbed, and those guys just bring out the people. We ended up playing to about 5,000 people at some point. I’m pretty sure we played to about the same sized crowd at Download in England, which was the first time we’ve ever played to that many people. It was really a shock to us. Being from Canada, and taking a crapshoot and flying across the Atlantic, showing up at a gig, not knowing how many people were going to be there. And we were one of the first bands of the festival, so we spent a lot of time on Facebook trying to let people over there know that we were coming. We didn’t know how many people were going to be there, but we walked out on stage and there were 5,000 people. It was unexplainable—that feeling, to walk out there and see a sea of people. It was incredible.

W: What would be your dream lineup for a show?

J: I’ve always wanted to open for Pearl Jam. I’ve never met those guys, but it seems like we’re on the same page musically. I think Eddie Vedder is a brilliant vocalist, writer, and musician, so it would be absolutely amazing to tour with those guys. We’ve been trying really hard to tour with another Canadian band called Three Days Grace that we’ve yet to play a show with. But it’s coming together—we’re actually doing a few shows with them this spring in a few different towns, and that will be amazing. The singer of Three Days Grace is actually our bass player’s cousin, so we know each other quite well. It’s amazing to me that we haven’t played together yet, but we’re both trying to, so that’s going to be a really special show.

W: Didn’t the singer from Three Days Grace do a guest appearance on one of your songs?

J: He did, actually—it’s called “Raining.” The stars aligned and Adam Gontier just happened to be in Vancouver on tour, and I invited him up to sing on a song. He came out, took the time, and the result is incredible, so I can’t wait for that song to be unveiled. It’s not going to be much longer—our record comes out March 22, and we couldn’t be more pumped.

W: As someone who’s played in a bunch of bands, I know that we all have our good nights and bad nights—what’s the best show Art of Dying has ever played?

J: The best show we’ve ever played was opening for Disturbed on Toronto. Something happened that night—I’m not sure what was going on in the air, and with the crowd. The place was absolutely rammed, and we jumped on stage. Halfway through the second song, I felt like I was floating about an inch off the ground. It was very, very strange, and I’ll never forget the feeling. It felt like the audience was totally on that trip with me—it’s tough to explain, when you’re in a room full of people and you start floating an inch off of the ground. It’s an amazing uprising kind of thing. That was our best show for sure.

W: How about the worst?

J: We don’t like to talk about ‘em [laughing]. Our worst show was when we were near Cale’s hometown, Peterborough, Ontario. We were playing with a friend’s band, and we love our Jack Daniels, and they love their Jack Daniels. The pre-show party went a little too far, so we ended up playing a little intoxicated. It was kind of a warm up show for friends and family, but we had a friend videotape it for us so we could see what happened that night. We grabbed the tape and jumped on it a few times, and it’s now in the bottom of a landfill somewhere.

W: Finally—what would you be doing right now if you didn’t play in a band?

J: It’s impossible for me to think about. Music’s been in me since I can remember. I had a funny experience with my high school counselor growing up—he asked me the exact same question. He said, “What do you want to do?” And I said, “I want to sing in a band.” He said, “Okay, that’s a great dream; what do you want to do if that doesn’t work out?” So I said, “You know what? I’m going to try to put all my positive energy into that dream. I’m not even going to entertain the possibility of it not working out.” He said, “That’s all good, I get it, positivity is great. But what’s your fallback, just in case? Something realistic that you can really count on.” I said, “Whoa man, I don’t think you’re hearing me.” I basically held my ground, and I think that experience helped me to see that you have to hold your ground, and you have to have a dream, and you have to persevere and not give up. I kept that with me all these years, and it’s been so far so good.

Be sure to check out Art of Dying’s new album, “Vices and Virtues,” which will be released on March 22. Thanks to Art of Dying and Warner Bros. Records for setting up this interview and good luck on the Avalanche Tour later this month! Please visit www.artofdyingmusic.com, or the band’s facebook or myspace pages, for the full tour itinerary to check them out live in concert at the venue near you.