He chuckles when asked about rebirth.
“Rebirth?” repeats Robert Ortiz, drummer for Vegas rockers Escape the Fate, interrupting himself with the knowing, slightly incredulous laugh of a dude whose luck has been hard enough to have been forged in a blast furnace. “Man, we’re on like our 15th rebirth.”
It hasn’t been all dark skies and inverted smiles for Ortiz and his bandmates, who’ve sold more than a million copies of their four records worldwide and built themselves into a solid live draw capable of headlining their own tours.
But with every new record, some fresh drama clings to them, practically cutting off their circulation, like a pair of jeans a size too small.
Essentially, Escape the Fate always seems to be trying to escape their fate.
Before the May release of its latest album, the equally fierce and radio-friendly “Ungrateful,” the group had to weather a split from their label, Geffen/Interscope, after but one album, as well as deal with the departure of bassist Max Green, who was wrangling with serious substance abuse issues.
“He’s my best friend, but I had to say ‘bye’ to him, because at that point, he was going to die he was so addicted to drugs,” Ortiz recalls, the sadness still audible in his voice.
This combination of personal and business struggles had Ortiz questioning the band’s future.
“You get to a point where it’s just like, ‘Dude, this isn’t going to work anymore. I’m miserable,’ ” Ortiz says. “The whole band was just unhappy. We basically hated life.
“We had to learn that we really want to do this,” he continues, “because given all of that crap, every person in their right mind should have walked away. But we don’t. We continue. That’s just what we do.”
And so they hunkered down and rededicated themselves to the band, going so far as to scrap the original recording sessions for their current album because they didn’t deem them up to snuff.
“We actually had an album completed about a year ago, 12 tracks, ready to go,” Ortiz says. “And we said, ‘No. This isn’t the record.’ So we went back and just did the rest of the album ourselves, rerecorded seven songs and everything was there.”
The band came up with an album that simultaneously captures them at their most pissed off and vulnerable.
The record’s album-opening title cut is a metallic gut check with heaving lungs, where frontman Craig Mabbitt sounds as if he’s about to pass out from lack of oxygen as he shrieks himself breathless.
But then there’s songs such as “Picture Perfect,” an aching power ballad with a bruised heart written with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.
It’s as unguarded as “Ungrateful” is vehement.
What unites these different moods throughout the record is the toning down of Escape the Fate’s party hard image of the past.
“It wasn’t like, ‘Let’s write all our songs about girls and drugs,’ ” Ortiz says. “It was like, ‘This time, what do we have right now? We have to be positive, basically, or we have nothing.’ ”
“Ungrateful” has gotten off to a good start for Escape the Fate, debuting in the top 30 of the Billboard album chart with sales in excess of 17,000 copies its first week out.
The band’s beginning to reclaim lost momentum, having landed a spot as direct support for fellow Vegas hard rockers Five Finger Death Punch on an upcoming tour of arenas and large theaters that launches in late September.
The group seems to be back on track, though Ortiz acknowledges that communication within the band could always be better.
“We’re too different. We just don’t open up to each other,” Ortiz says. “It’s just the way we are. We make these good records and then we (mess) it up because we don’t quite know how to get along. I sometimes don’t know what’s going on in the heads of my band members, and it’s the same with them and me. At this point, I’ve just got to accept it and not drive myself crazy.”
Ortiz doesn’t sound too stressed on this day.
If things were going to get to him, they would have gotten to him by now.
He’s been through plenty.
And as a result, he has plenty of stories to tell.
“I’ve seen some things, man,” he chuckles once more. “I’ve seen some things.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476.