INTERVIEW: JT Tollas of Famous Last Words

Vocalist JT Tollas of Famous Last Words talks Twilight Zone, their new 1950’s era concept record, and why he never actually thought about what his own last words would be until now.

HXC: Congratulations on signing to Revival! How do you think the new label is going to impact your sound?

JT: [Shawn Milke] gives us full creative control so we’re able to really just do what we wanna do. He’s really supportive of the concepts we do, the story experimentation with the music and the sounds that we use. I don’t think it’s gonna change too much, it’s just gonna be us continuing to do what we love to do.

Since storytelling is a really big part of your music, what’s your favorite story personally?

I’m really into movies. I watch a ton of movies. And it’s kind of like music, I have to be in a certain mood to wanna watch a certain type of movie. Like music, I have to be in a certain mood to listen to a certain genre, so I don’t really have a favorite. Pretty much the way I figure out my concept albums is, I line in up to see if the story would work as a Twilight Zone episode (laughs). So if I can visualize a 20-minute Twilight Zone episode out of a story I come up with, that’s kind of my test to see if it’ll work as a concept album. Short, sweet and to the point, but interesting.

Pretty much the way I figure out my concept albums is, I line in up to see if the story would work as a Twilight Zone episode.

Do you think you’ll be doing any more film type projects in the future, too?

Yeah. Currently we’re working on a script for Council of the Dead, which was our last full-length album. I’m still working real closely with the director who did all of our music videos and our last short film. So yeah, I think there will be more projects like that in the future.

Is it the whole record you’re basing it off of or are you going story by story?

We’re writing a script for a full feature. We’ve been working on it for probably close to a year now. There’s a lot that goes into it. A lot of research to do. There’s a lot more that goes into it than I originally expected but it’s a lot of fun, so we’re just grinding away at it.

And you’ve also been working on a new record, right? How did you find the time to do all of this at once?

Actually, we finished the new record. I invited my sister who wrote the short story that we released with Two-Faced Charade, which was our first concept record, and she’s working on the script with me now. So we’re basically both just trying to bust out a rough draft. But I had to invite her to work on it because I needed to take a break to write the next concept record for our band. So it was really nice having her helping me out and that’s how I was able to find the time. I needed help.

Can you tell us a little bit about the new record?

It’s kind of a mystery, this one. With Council of the Dead, he sort of spills it out right in front of you in the beginning. And Two-Faced Charade you kind of figure out what’s going on in the middle, when he finds out that he has this split personality with this inner demon inside of him. So those, you find out the twist pretty early on. This one, the twist comes middle/end and it’s pretty crazy. The timeline is based in the 1950s–1953 to be exact–and the lead character is through a woman’s perspective. It just sort of reflects on a lot of women’s rights and how they were treated back then and how they’re treated now. I have a daughter. I found myself thinking about it a lot more. The more I thought about it, the more research I did and it inspired the story. She overcomes and she kicks some ass in the end so it’s pretty cool (laughs).

So if you could be any character from any one of your stories in your music who would you be?

I would probably be Eric from Council of the Dead, the one who has the daughter. I just put so much of myself into that character. He’s the one where the song is about him getting into a car accident and he’s driving with his daughter. And when he dies and he wakes up in the council and everyone telling their story…everyone’s saying how they care about their situation and how they felt personally, how scared they were about death or how accepting they were about death. But he doesn’t even think about his own death whatsoever. He’s just like, “I don’t even care where I am. I don’t give a shit. I just wanna know where my daughter is. If she’s okay. If she’s alive.” So I would closely relate to him the most.

I’m excited for people to hear the new record. It’s really different. We took some risks. We thought outside of the box.

You recorded the new record with Taylor Larson (From First To Last). How was that?

It was awesome. We would work until pretty late. We’d have to get in this vibe to really be able to accomplish anything. If we weren’t vibing it we just wouldn’t record. But I think doing that, you capture something really special.

Did you find any of his influence peeking through?

Oh definitely. He changed a lot of the drum beats I had. There’s not as much double kick as most of our records have. It’s still heavy but it’s not the metalcore heavy that people are kind of getting sick of. I’m getting sick of it. So I’m excited about it. I’m excited for people to hear the new record. It’s really different. We took some risks. We thought outside of the box. From the first song to the end, it keeps your attention. It’s really interesting music. It’s still heavy, it’s still catchy, but it’s got this new element to it that I don’t really know what it is.

I guess it’s part of the mystery.

Yeah! And I’m really excited to see how people perceive it because I’ve never heard music like this before.

So, kind of corny but I’ve got to ask: What would your last words be?

You know what’s funny? I’ve actually never thought of that. I feel like planning out your last words is kind of lame (laughs). I feel like your last words should be what you’re thinking in that last moment. So I have no idea what my last words would be.

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