When First Decree banded together in 2012, it was to the backdrop of a nearly non-existent Cheyenne music scene. Leaving the rolling plains of Wyoming behind, Dane, Isaac, Zach, and Travis embarked on the rocky road of tour life with nothing more than the instruments on their backs and a firm belief in the message of their music. The next three years would see First Decree sharing the stage with Smile Empty Soul, Deftones, Alien Ant Farm, (həd) p.e., and most recently, In This Moment. With a steady exposure to the ways and manners of various acclaimed musicians, First Decree rapidly evolved into a band on par with their musical peers –an evolution their tourmates praised. While the band has embraced the lessons learned in this crash course School of Rock, First Decree continues to uphold the message that initially inspired them to venture beyond their Wyoming boarders: in order to stand out, you have to do whatever it takes to rise above the crowd.
In this interview with Music Existence, First Decree bassist, Isaac Lopez-Smith, gives an in-depth account of life on tour as an opening band; the importance of setting yourself apart from the crowd; their newly released album, This is Our Rise; and their future aspirations
ME: You guys come from a small town in Wyoming. How is the rock scene there and how did you navigate through it when you were starting out?
ISAAC: It was kind of difficult actually because there really wasn’t much going on. We don’t really have a very good venue, so it was tricky finding shows to play at home and since they’re not very many people there, there’s just not as many bands for there to be a real hometown scene.
ME: Most bands rely on word of mouth to establish an early fan base during their come-up years, but if the Cheyenne scene is so small, what method did First Decree use to spread awareness of the band?
ISAAC: Since Cheyenne, and Wyoming in general, is a small place, we decided we needed to go on tour. Our first tour in 2013 was a coast-to-coast tour with Smile Empty Soul. We just went guns blazing right out the gate and tried to spread our music and who we were to as many places as possible.
ME: What has the reaction back in Cheyenne been like?
ISAAC: It’s weird because we started out playing local battle of the bands kind of shows, but we’re recognized a little bit more every time we go home, so we end up playing bigger home shows. Even when we go to Colorado people recognized us more and more. We’ll be out in public or at a local bar and people will tell us that they’ve seen our videos or heard our music. It’s been kind of crazy to grow out of playing small shows to have people actually recognize us.
ME: Like most artists, First Decree has its share of artistic influences. Is there a particular album that has had a significant impact on you and how has it influenced your own artistry?
ISAAC: The one album that I’ve probably listened to the most out of any other album is the Human Clay album by Creed. It’s still my favorite album to this day and was actually what inspired me to go into this direction. A Creed song was the first song I ever learned to play on guitar, so that album really impacted me.
ME: First Decree has done so much despite being a relatively new band. In your opinion, how has the band developed over the course of the few years you’ve been together?
ISAAC: We went from being an almost clueless, naïve, green band that really didn’t know anything. Being able to tour with some really experienced, veteran bands means we’ve gotten a chance to soak in everything from what the crew does to how a band carries itself on and offstage. We’ve really tried to adopt a little bit of everything we’ve seen, and it’s really helped us grow. I feel that we’ve become more of a polished, professional band and that has set us apart from local bands. Not to say that local bands are bad or anything, but there is a different approach to handling certain situations and how you present yourself when you’re a nationally touring band. I think that’s the one thing that we’ve gained with being on tour, and we’ve grown into it rather fast. We’ve only been a band for three years, and a lot of bands that we’ve gone on tour with jaws drop when we tell them that. They’re always like, “Wow, you guys are put together really well.”
ME: Recently, you’ve toured with some pretty big acts: Alien Ant Farm, (həd) p.e., and Deftones. How did First Decree find itself on the road with some of the biggest names in rock right now?
ISAAC: I have to give props to our manager. He saw something in us and was willing to help put us out there. I also have to credit my bandmates. We’ve really put in a lot of hard work, and, like I said, the first tour we ever did was eleven weeks and 55 shows straight through. That’s where we cut our teeth and that hard work paid off because we were able to hire a manager who has been able to hook us up with a lot of really good bands that we’ve been able to share the stage with.
ME: What would you say is the hardest thing about being on tour?
ISAAC: The hardest thing about being on tour: the diet. It’s hard trying to eat healthy on the road. The food we have in our RV right now is not very healthy and every morning I wake up, I feel like I just slept on a bed of rocks. But for the most part, we enjoy touring otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it as much as we do. We’re setting up tours throughout the rest of the year, so we’re looking at not being home until the middle of November now. Just looking into the future now, it’s like, wow! That’s going to be a long haul of time to be away from home (laughs).
ME: Your most recent gig was with highly acclaimed band, In This Moment. Of all the lessons you’ve gained from this tour, what has been the best advice you’ve received, and what have you learned not to do?
ISAAC: We’ve played in front of some of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had on this tour. Every show was 1000 to 2000 people a night, and it was a great experience to be able to be a part of these sold out, packed houses. One of the things we learned from In This Moment was more of a non-verbal kind of thing – when you get to that level of headlining, know how to treat the bands that are under you on the touring bill. In This Moment are rock stars and they could have treated us like we were beneath them, but they were super nice to us and really helped us out. The third night of the tour, Maria and the rest of the band threw a pizza party to get to know the other bands. They were all out there hanging with us and basically treated us like equals; that’s probably the best thing that I learned from In This Moment. As for what not to do, the only thing First Decree wouldn’t do for a long time is use the amount of production In This Moment has. They would show up like nine in the morning to set up the stage. Not saying that’s a bad thing, because it’s amazing the amount of production they put into their shows; it’s just something that doesn’t really suit First Decree right now, but who knows what the future will hold for us.
ME: Music Existence actually had the pleasure of interviewing (həd) p.e., and we got the inside scoop on what it was like to tour with Mötley Crüe back in ‘97. So far, what has been the craziest event First Decree has ever witnessed while touring?
ISAAC: The crazy things usually don’t happen with other bands. A lot of bands nowadays have figured out that you can’t live that 80’s rock life style and really have a long and successful career. It’s not so much the bands doing crazy things as it is the fans at the shows that are getting crazy. Some of the people that come to the shows and just the amount of alcohol those people drink and the things they do have been pretty insane (laughs). Every night, I’ve seen multiple people carried out of shows, especially for In This Moment for whatever reason, because they went a little too hard. There have been a few nights where there would be people who were almost completely naked who had to be carried out in that state. Things like that tend to happen when you mix alcohol with 1000 crazy people; you get some real characters out and about. (Laughs)
ME: Opening for a headlining band is hands down one of the toughest jobs, yet First Decree is often praised for its ability to capture an audience’s attention. What is your philosophy for commanding a crowd?
ISAAC: We like to take the approach that it doesn’t matter if you’re performing for an audience of five people or 5000 people, you give them the same show because if there’s only five people and you can captivate them with your stage presence, that’s five more people you’ve won over as fans. We’ve heard stories from our manager and other musicians of bands that didn’t really have that mentality, so if it was a small show and no one was really there, they wouldn’t really put much effort into the show. In the end, that way of thinking really hurt them because the people who are out there are fans, and they’re not dumb. They can actually tell if a band isn’t giving their 100 percent on stage. We just try to approach every show like it’s a sold-out house, and you really have to in order to really captivate the people in the audience.
ME: You’ve managed to captivate audiences both on and off stage with your behind-the- scenes YouTube series. I’ve seen many behind the scene band footage, but I don’t think anyone has come off as genuine as you guys. Whose idea was it to create the Day in the Lives series?
ISAAC: It was all of our ideas. We just bought a camera and were like, we need to document some things and just have fun with this, so what you see in the videos is 100 percent real; it’s not like a reality show where it’s all scripted. We’re all just normal people who just happen to play instruments and be performers. Obviously, we have management who want us to put more of that stuff out there, but it’s cool because fans get to see the behind-the-scenes life. Before social media and YouTube existed, there was more of a mystic about bands, which is a good and bad thing. These musicians were put on a pedestal, but you couldn’t really feel like you got to know them as people; this series allows us to be a lot more accessible to the fans, and I feel like people have really embraced that nowadays because they have more opportunities to get to know the bands that they like.
ME: Is there a particular favorite video that the band likes to go back and re-watch from time to time?
ISAAC: I like the one where we’re eating the canned tamales (laughs). That one always makes me laugh. The ones where we’re long boarding down in Florida, that one’s really good, but they’re all fun. I like to watch them all pretty much because they take me back to what I was doing and what I was thinking at the time. It’s kind of crazy to see things from then to now and to see how far we’ve come. Those videos are nostalgic for me, so I like to watch them from time to time and think back to if we could have only imagined at that point that we were going to do all the things that we’ve done.
ME: Your latest single, “Lost in the Crowd” has been very well received. What was the inspiration behind the song?
ISSAC: Our Drummer, Zach, wrote it. It was inspired by a lot of things, but as a band, we like to leave our music open to people to interpret their own way. For us, the song is about trying to find a way to stick out and rise above everyone else. There are a million bands out there that are trying to do the same thing we’re doing, and sometimes it’s really easy to get lost in the shuffle so to speak. The overall message comes across in the bridge of the song where we’re chanting, “This is our rise,” and we all really bought into that idea that what we’re doing right now, the way we’re living, and the shows we’re playing is our rise. Our ultimate goal is to be one of the biggest bands out there, to influence as many people as possible with our music. So, it’s called “Lost in the Crowd,” but it is really about getting out of the crowd and setting yourself apart and rising above the rest.
ME: So how do your singles like “Lost in the Crowd” and “Phoenix” encompass the overall message of the band?
ISAAC: That’s part of the reason we released those songs as singles, because we felt that they really did deliver our message and told our story the way we wanted it to be told. There are plenty of bands out there that write party songs that don’t really have deep meaning. We never wanted to be a shallow band that writes party music. We want to write music that people can really sink their teeth into, music that inspire people and lift them up. “Lost in the Crowd” or “Phoenix” or any of the other songs that we write and release, we just want them to be uplifting and inspiring and have some depth to them.
ME: On August 21st, you’ll be releasing your new album, This is Our Rise. What are you most excited for fans to experience with this new album?
ISAAC: We’re most excited for them to be able to know that we have a manager, and a marketing team, and more publicity. We have more push for fans, old and new, to experience the music that we have worked hard on, that we have poured our blood, sweat, and tears into. We just want them to be able to experience it all, to enjoy it, and to really know who First Decree is because we’re still pretty new on the scene. With every show that we play, we’ve had people that have told us that they’ve never heard of us but are down for picking up our album, or that we’re now one of their new favorite bands. It’s just exciting for us to be able to get our music out there, and to see new places and new cities, and to gain new fans.
ME: This September, you’ll be on a new tour with Avatar and Gemini Syndrome, what are you looking forward to gaining from this tour and afterwards.
ISAAC: I’ve heard a lot of good things about Avatar. One of the bands we’ve toured with recently, Red Sun Rising, told us some really great things about them and how they put on a good show. I’ve never seen it, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m also looking forward to hanging out with Gemini Syndrome. We’ve played a couple of shows with them in the past and they’re really fun dudes. It’ll be fun to be on a month-long tour with them and try to get to know them a little better and just have some fun on the road with those guys.
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