Demon Hunter: Outliving Their Peers
From the beginning this band had something the others did not. While shrouded in a little bit of mystery, a little bit of hype and a few guest musicians that would make most all-star bands envious, Demon Hunter brought the dynamic twist of crushing, rapid-fire metal with sing-along melodies and fist-pumping anthems. And then there was the name and the iconic imagery.
Not many bands that started in 2002 are still around today, but Demon Hunter forges on. Demon Hunter is practically an American metal institution. For over a decade, Demon Hunter has weathered the changing tides of rock subculture, proving ever resistant to trends, and ever resilient, making music as determined and resolute as the men within the band. Demon Hunter’s dedicated supporters and allies around the world wear the group’s symbol, lyrics and album imagery on their shirts, denim vests, backpacks, and uniforms, and in many cases, on their skin. The band has engaged their fans in direct, authentic and personal terms for years, since long before such efforts were seen as a “branding strategy.” The group’s extended family around the world cherish the band’s songs as personal anthems, instruments of empowerment, using them to mark chapters in their lives both good and bad, in celebration and in mourning, from weddings to funerals. Songs like “I Am a Stone,” “Not Ready to Die,” “Carry Me Down,” “Collapsing,” “LifeWar,” and “Fading Away” continue to resonate with fans, even as each successive album elicits ever more fervor from the band’s fierce, loyal supporters. Even in the wake of the band’s greatest career triumph, the group’s members faced their greatest personal challenges. In the handful of years since Extremist enjoyed the band’s largest first week sales debut (at #16 on the Billboard 200 with roughly 18,000 sold) and produced the SiriusXM radio hit “The Last One Alive” and the somber “I Will Fail You,” Demon Hunter survived through nearly crippling adversity. But their personal hardship and private struggle resulted in a renewed strength, embodied in sound and spirit on their eighth album, Outlive. “In many ways, it feels like the five of us have done more living in these last couple of years than in the entire decade prior,” observes frontman, primary songwriter and founding member Ryan Clark. “Four of us became first time fathers and entering that amazing yet stressful phase of life together has brought us even closer, he adds.” Between the insanity of parenthood and a variety of other more difficult scenarios, all as the world-at-large seemingly crumbles around us, there was certainly no shortage of content to explore on this album.” Outlive tracks like “Cold Winter Sun,” “Died in My Sleep” and “Half As Dead” are among the latest melodic metal mission statements in an arsenal rich with sonic diversity, melodic depth, and authentic passion. As a headlining act, Demon Hunter helped introduce audiences to bands like August Burns Red. They’ve co-headlined with Red and toured as direct support for both In Flames and As I Lay Dying in the United States and parts of Canada. They’ve traveled to South America, Europe, and Australia, headlining major festivals and club shows alike. Ryan and his brother, former guitarist Don Clark, created Demon Hunter after the turn of the millennium, unleashing a self-titled first album backed by a still shadowy and enigmatic lineup in 2002, assembling a touring lineup that introduced Jonathan Dunn as bassist. Summer of Darkness broke through in the metal, hardcore and Christian rock scenes in 2004, with MTV2 rotation for “Not Ready to Die” and a spot on the Resident Evil: Apocalypse soundtrack helping push it to 100,000 in sales. Former Holland (Tooth & Nail) drummer Watts was a fulltime member by the time they released The Triptych, which sold close to 150,000 copies in the U.S.; 2007’s Storm the Gates Of Hell crossed the 100,000 mark as well. Judge toured on that record as lead guitarist, officially joining in 2009 with Live in Nashville. The World is a Thorn debuted with first week sales of 14,000, as “Collapsing” became their highest charting song at metal and specialty radio. True Defiance, cemented the current lineup with Scott’s addition in 2012, breaking into Billboard’s Top 40. In the wake of Extremist, Demon Hunter has sold roughly 600,000 records. Like Extremist, Outlive was produced/engineered by the band’s own Jeremiah Scott (Living Sacrifice, The Showdown) and mixed by Zeuss (Rob Zombie, Queensrÿche, Hatebreed), with additional input from longtime collaborator Aaron Sprinkle (Anberlin, New Found Glory). The record was made primarily in Nashville, home to Scott, Judge, and Watts, with additional recording in Seattle, home to Clark and Dunn. Demon Hunter’s musical identity is forged from diverse elements that coalesce into a singular electric charge, merging seemingly disparate sound with seamless agility: the energy of America’s thrash metal legends; the catchiness of Europe’s melodic death metal innovators; the gloomy atmospheric majesty of gothic rock; the song craft of dark romantic pop; and the fist-pumping aggression of Southern groove. Demon Hunter’s body of work is born from unwavering commitment, uncompromising creative determination, and stark recognition of the reality of an often-cold world tempered in defiant hope. It’s made up of smartly constructed, confessional lyrics; heady and catchy melody; monster riffs; bottom heavy grooves; the collision of meticulous production and urgent raw power; bold imagery and bolder themes.
Founding Heaven’s Metal Magazine editor Doug Van Pelt talked to Clark about Outlive. Check out the conversation below, leave your feedback below and share it in your social circles.
Tell me about the process of creating for this album. How has it deviated from the past songwriting sessions/how has it stayed the same. How have any group dynamics changed (or not) and how has that effected the creative process?
With increasing responsibilities for each of us, it was necessary that we approached writing and recording a bit differently this time around.
For the first time since my brother left the band in 2008, I realized I needed and wanted help with the songwriting. Patrick took that opportunity, guns blazing, and sent me nearly 20 incredible demos–five of which became songs on the finished album. In hindsight, I believe it’s one of the best decisions we’ve made. Not only has it helped take some of the burden off my shoulders, but with someone as talented as Patrick now exploring his own expression of DH, it’s uncovered a fresh new stream of inspired material.
As for the recording process, we really tailored the schedule around our lives. Instead of tackling the whole record in one large chunk of time, we broke it up into a couple weeks here, and a couple weeks there. The Nashville guys did their thing down there, and we decided to do vocals at my place in Seattle. Working on the album over a longer stretch of time came with its own set of stresses, but all-in-all it allowed us to thoroughly consider every possibility for each song.
What are some major themes or recurring themes that this album addresses lyrically?
I would say the most constant theme throughout the album has to do with fatherhood. 4/5 of us became first-time fathers in the past 3 years, so it’s a very common thread that we share. Bringing children into the world in this day in age can be terrifying, and it forces you to confront so many things in your own life. There are two songs – “The End,” and “One Step Behind” – that deal with this topic directly, but I think some aspect of parenthood exists in a handful of other tracks on the album.
Tell me about the sonics of this record and the instrumental side of this album? Tell me about any specific influences, stories about experimentation, happy "accidents," collaborations, how that felt, etc.
Outlive is the second Demon Hunter album produced and engineered by our own Jeremiah Scott, and mixed by Zeuss. To me, the sound of this album is truly unrivaled. It’s massive. Having someone like Jeremiah in the band gives us such an amazing advantage because he has a lot of experience and expertise. It also allows us to work incrementally, when it’s most sensible for us, since we don’t really have to book studio time.
As for influences, I think most of what inspires us these days is virtually the same stuff as it was 10 years ago. We’re not exactly in-tune with what’s happening in metal these days, but I think that serves us well. Ultimately we’re creating what we want to hear, and what we feel metal is currently lacking… trying to find that sweet spot between timeless and current.
Any thoughts on touring this album a little bit?
We only have a few one-off dates booked for the year, so I wouldn’t say we’re properly touring. We hope to fill out the year a bit more, but we’re not sure how that will look yet.
Tell me about this album's artwork and anything you'd like to convey about its themes or visuals. How is your career and business with graphic design going?
There is somewhat of an established DH aesthetic, as it pertains to album packaging. I like to start with a number of really strong assets–illustrated or photographed–and just let those pieces do the heavy lifting. Everything else is supplementary, but I like playing with the subtle details. For instance, each album has its own icon, commemorating that particular release. The icon for Outlive is an ‘8’ that doubles as an infinity symbol, comprised of the ‘V’ from the type treatment. It may be a bit of a stretch, but there’s also a 3rd read of both alpha and omega characters.
Design work is keeping me busy to say the least. I still do a decent amount of music-related work (album packaging, gig posters, etc.) but my job these days consists primarily in branding and art direction for non-music industry clients.
I'm going to ask you about the crowd-funding for this album, but first I want to get your opinion on the changing landscape for working musicians, record labels, graphic design and merch companies. How have the changes effected you and your peers? What other comments would you like to make about the music business, creating, selling and sharing art in 2017?
Where do I start? Everything is different now than what it was when we released our first album.
Without stating a lot of obvious differences, I will say that despite all of the pain points for the music industry through the last 15 years, there are some very exciting opportunities today. If you’re willing and able to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry enough to realize what’s happening, and have a bit of foresight to boot… you can really take advantage of the changing tides. Navigating the industry these days takes some creativity. The rules are still being written. The playing field has been leveled, in a sense… and if you’re smart, you can find unique new ways to build your own route.
How did the crowdfunding for this project go? Lessons learned? Why this route rather than sign to a label, get an advance, etc.?
As stressful as crowdfunding can be, the best part is how much you learn from it each time. I learned so much crowdfunding the NYVES album on Kickstarter a few years back, and I was able to apply some of that knowledge for the Outlive pre-order, but we’re continuing to learn each time.
There are really simple things that you would assume are obvious, but they can creep up on you if you’re not careful. One tiny piece of advice to anyone doing something like this is to consider shipping costs throughout every single aspect of the campaign. Despite all of the crazy stuff we created for this pre-order, our shipping bill dwarfed all of it combined. So simple things like autographing product can actually create a large expense–especially when you’re shipping it from the manufacturer to one set of band guys, then to another set of band guys, then to the fulfillment partner, who ships them out to the individual contributors. Initially, this seems like fairly “passive” income, but when you consider all of the details, it’s more than just a time commitment. There are dozens of little lessons like this throughout these types of campaigns.
After Extremist, we were out of our deal with Solid State. We’ve since re-signed with the label, but being free agents afforded us the ability to explore our options. We pride ourselves on being about as self-sufficient as possible, so the crowdfunded pre-order model was perfect for us. We were able to eliminate a lot of guess work, especially as it relates to ordering quantities for things like the deluxe box set. When you’ve got a certain number of people that have committed to buy, you can eliminate waste in major ways. Although I believe we did a good job of managing the pre-order, it's nice to have it behind us. As we began moving forward with the proper release, it just made sense to team up with a label again… and Solid State is family.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Thanks to everyone for getting behind Outlive. It’s amazing to us that we have such amazing support after eight albums. We are forever indebted to our fans.
Demon Hunter is:
Ryan Clark – Vocals Patrick Judge – Lead Guitar Jeremiah Scott – Rhythm Guitar Jonathan Dunn – Bass Guitar Timothy “Yogi” Watts – Drums, Percussion