For “Kill or Be Killed,” the last video from New Years Day’s new album Malevolence, the melodic Anaheim metal band went for the jugular, presenting images of a partially masked face drooling and spitting blood along with shots of the band rocking out in a scary warehouse. But for their new lyric clip for the title track, they took away the creepy sets, special effects, and even the musicians, revealing just eccentric vocalist Ash Costello singing, screaming, and sobbing directly into the camera.
“We wanted to show the evolution of someone going through sadness and anger. She’s starting out weak and coming out strong,” Costello says, shuffling a tattooed hand through the red half of her multi-colored hair (the other side is, of course, black). “I had to cry on cue for the first time. I called up a lot of the memories of what the song is about and concentrated on them before we started rolling and it worked. My eyes just welled up because those memories about betrayal and being cheated on are really powerful. But they’re things I got over and I came out the other end stronger.”
While Malevolence is the name of New Years Day’s third full-length, the song was the last one the band recorded for the record. And the group waited until the 11th hour to get it done. After 31 straight days of writing and recording, New Years Day left to play the Warped Tour with the vocals still unfinished, so Costello had to fly back home on days off to track the song with producer Erik Ron. “You can hear that I sound pissed-off and tired, but it works really well for the song,” says Costello.
A few days after the release of Malevolence, Costello spoke with Yahoo Music about the drama and trauma that led to the creation of the album, the personal and professional transformations she underwent, the skeletons that dance around her closet, and the bottle of teeth she displays on her wall.
YAHOO MUSIC: New Years Day’s music has been called hauntedmansioncore. Is that silly or irritating?
ASH COSTELLO: No, I love it. When I was growing up I was really into bands like Necromantix, AFI, and My Chemical Romance – bands that forged their own dark themes. I love when people call us something that’s different than what’s already out there, because I feel like it means I’m getting to do what I always grew up wishing I would get to do, which is to totally make my own thing. We also get called “new grave” a lot, which I also like.
Is there a theme to the songs on Malevolence?
I have gone through a lot of betrayal, back-stabbing, and frustration over the past year. I like to say a lot of my ride-or-die friends got out of my car. I really connect to the Disney character Maleficent because she starts out very innocent, pure, and in love with humans, but then humans turn her evil. That’s how I felt this year. It seemed like I was turned into this spiteful, bitter, vengeful, angry, shut-off, withdrawn person, but that’s not how I used to be. I became that way because of everything that happened in my life this year. So all the songs on Malevolence paint a picture of someone going through so much betrayal and being turned evil, yet rising above it.
What was the worst betrayal you experienced?
It was everything. Business relationships, family, friends. The band started to get some traction and we got taken advantage of by people I trusted. People’s true colors started coming out and I was so naïve and hurt every time something else would happen. My boyfriend cheated on me and my very best friend of over 10 years tried to steal money from me.
How did that happen?
I had been given a large budget for something business-related and this person said they wanted to help, but they didn’t really want to help, they just wanted to take the money. And then they completely disappeared with thousands of dollars. That was one of the most alarming life lessons. Over the year I’ve gotten down to my final friends, and I’ve realized you’ve got to keep your circle small. I used to think I have lots of friends and we all loved each other, but they didn’t love me, they just wanted to exploit me. But I’m still here and I was able to get out all that negative energy on this album.
Was it hard to stop writing about monsters and face your own demons?
It was the worst writing process ever. I hated every second of it because my producer Erik [Ron] knows when I’m not giving it my all. After doing three albums, he knows when I’m holding back, he knows when I’m not being completely honest and when I can give more. And he pushed me to face my fears and examine my past. That wasn’t easy. If you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t be easy, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. But facing what hurts you and getting it out is good. If you’re writing lyrics and it’s easy and you’re having a good time, then you’re probably not saying anything worthwhile.
You’re addressing difficult subject matter, but it doesn’t feel like you’re being dragged down by it.
I always ask myself what kind of positive spin I can put on a song. I don’t want to bum people out. I’d prefer to have them listen to it and feel it and think, “Damn, if she got through that, I can get through my own problems.” That’s always my goal.
Is there a big difference between who you are onstage and who you are when you’re out of the public eye?
There used to be a big difference. I’ve always been pretty powerful onstage, but I used to be timid, quiet, and shy offstage. Now I feel that person has become one and the same. I can kick ass all the time.
When did you first identify with dark themes?
I feel like I was born with it in my blood. My family is very eccentric. I was pretty much raised by my grandmother, who was a practicing Wiccan. If I had a problem with a girl in school we would take her picture, put it in tinfoil, and then put it in the freezer. She used to do props for horror movies and theater productions, so she had a box of severed heads and at a very young age she taught me how to make entrails out of nylon. We’d watch movies together, but instead of children’s movies she’d put on stuff like Candyman and Halloween.
Did she influence your musical tastes growing up?
I had two uncles who were in their twenties when I was a kid and they were totally Goths. They both looked like Robert Smith and they exposed me to Bauhaus, the Cure, the Eurythmics, Blondie, and NOFX. And they would put black lipstick on me and dress me up when I was 5.
Were you popular at school?
No, I was always the weirdo. I always looked different and no one else knew about the horror movies or music I liked. My grandmother gave me spell books and people saw them and called me a witch. But I always felt very cool being different, so I just latched onto my individuality.
Have you discovered gender bias in the metal scene along the way?
I definitely have. Not so much anymore, but back in the day when we were trying to get signed, someone at a record company would say, “Well, we already have a girl rock band.” I was like, “Really? Are you serious?” It’s not like they said, “We can’t sign another band with guys in it.”
Do you see yourself more as a metal band or a hard-rocking alternative group?
We walk the fence of both. We play Warped Tour and we’re welcomed with open arms, and we play with Slipknot and it goes extremely well.
You used to perform with lots of props and fake blood. Why did you drop the theatrics?
I wanted people to focus on the music and not be known as “that band with the blood.” Also, our music has matured a lot since then. It’s more personal, so it doesn’t need the extra stuff. And when we started getting offers to tour with bands like Otep and Motionless in White, we didn’t want to embarrass them or get everything covered in blood and have them running away from us so they don’t get blood on them.
Did the shows used to get messy?
All the time. We had people slipping and falling on blood. It got all over people’s hair and clothes and in their contacts. It was just a hot mess.
It’s October now. Are you a big fan of Halloween?
We’re usually on tour, so most of the time we’re playing a show on Halloween. We dress up, but the month-long leadup to Halloween is great. For about 30 days it feels like the rest of the world has caught up to us.
Do you visit haunted houses when you’re on the road?
Whenever we can. We take it very seriously. The best one, hands down, is Chamber of Horrors in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s the most f—ed-up, creepiest, scariest, most well-done maze ever made. I don’t want to give too much away, but the owner is really creative with his scares. I’ve been to literally hundreds of haunted houses and I’ve never seen one that’s so freaky and interactive.
You’re obviously the perfect band for Halloween. Why do you call yourself New Years Day, which isn’t a scary name at all?
We started the band when we were young and we were all going through breakups. One of the guys wrote a song called “Ready Aim Misfire,” which was essentially about murdering Cupid. And the song was so good we thought, “Well, we should start a band.” When we were thinking of a name we wanted something that suggested a new beginning or a fresh start, and someone said New Years Day. We all kind of liked it. I kind of wish we chose something which was a little bit more like us, but it seems to work.
Do you have any unusual collections fans probably should not know about?
I love voodoo dolls, and every time we’re in New Orleans I pick up at least one. I really like my human teeth collection. I ask all my friends if they have a tooth pulled or if they lose a tooth to give it to me – and they do. So I have this big jar of teeth, which is really inspiring for some reason. I also have jars of blood. If I go on a date with a guy I’ll ask him, “Would you ever give me a bottle of blood?” If he says no then clearly it’s not going to work out between us. But enough people have said yes. And I’m like, “You can give it to me however you want. You just have to fill the jar.”