DEMON HUNTER: Making War with Peace
Demon Hunter's simultaneous release of two albums - War & Peace - warranted a special interview. Prior to waking up, Ryan Clark lit up my iPhone to let me know that Icarus III, the Demon Hunter lear jet, was about to land at a nearby airport around Austin. I dropped what I was doing and got to the executive landing strip prior to touchdown. It was glorious to see the G6 adorned with the world renowned Demon Hunter logo. I was expecting to see the band's frontman in the rear of the plane, sipping on some expensive drink. Needless to say I was shocked to find out that he was piloting this thing solo.
I jumped in and we started this non-fictitious interview with my iPhone's voice recorder plugged into the jet's radio system. I tried to relax as he buzzed the local livestock with steep dives as he contemplated the deeper questions. I confess that I reached for and used the Mortification promotional barf bag midway through the jet-setting journey, so I'll just skip the narration from here on out and just pitch out the questions and answers below.
What are you trying to say with these albums? If you had to boil each album down to a theme, what would that theme be? Please elaborate.
Thematically, these songs vary just as much as any Demon Hunter album. There is no overarching concept tying the songs together outside that of musical style. It was important to me that these records show range in and of themselves with regards to their respective track listings, the themes of the lyrics, the overall mood, etc. We set out to create two albums that would showcase polarized song styles, but did not want to be bound to any concept deeper than that.
Have you read Tolstoy’s War and Peace? I’m curious what you thought and/or why you chose to name your two albums War and Peace.
I have not read War and Peace. I dabbled with a number of titles for these albums over the years, including “Hymn & Hearse,” and “A Blessing & A Curse,” but I felt “War” and “Peace” were titles that most simply and effectively represented what we were aiming for. As a designer, I’m always thinking about things like this very critically… I’m considering the amount of letters, which title comes first (the heavy or melodic), and how the words might lends themselves to symbolism, etc. Most of the time, I will opt for simplicity.
Some of the tunes sound like a person distancing themselves from the attitudes of another – whether that be the person one is recusing himself from or another’s grey viewpoint (vs. black & white, like in “Grey Matter”). What are the major lessons to be learned from these types of situations? How does one balance kindness, openness and humility with protection, frustration and even hostility? (Hope this question makes sense. I’m just trying to bring up the subjects that “Recuse Myself” and “Grey Matter” bring up.
This is territory that I’ve tread quite a bit throughout the history of Demon Hunter. Songs like “Not I” and “What I’m Not” talk about forging an identity not just from the things/people/beliefs that you align with, but also doing so according to those you disagree with. I find the things that I adamantly disagree with or find destructive are more clearly represented in today’s culture, therefore I often find it's more effective to decode the kind of person I am by establishing what I’m not. Resisting or opposing what I consider to be negative forces within culture will always be ripe subject matter for Demon Hunter, because it’s a constant. “Grey Matter” and “Recuse Myself” are simply further explorations of this mindset with a finger on the pulse of what’s happening today.
How important are lyrics to you? Who were some artists that spoke to you in your youth?
As pompous as it is to say, I believe my lyrics matter to me more than the vast majority of songwriters. I toil over them.
When I write lyrics I’m simultaneously trying to hit 5 or 6 targets. I’m trying to say something I haven’t before—or at least put a new spin on something. I’m trying to ensure that specific words are poetic yet digestible. I’m trying to form lines and phrases that are grammatically interesting by virtue of wordplay, rhyming, and the clever use of things like unexpected homonyms. I will purposefully avoid overusing certain descriptors, while leaning into repetition on others in order to make a point. Most importantly I’m trying to ensure lyrics connect with the listener on a very deep emotional or spiritual level—and I’m trying to do so while balancing a truckload of considerations both verbal and conceptual. I have an admittedly egotistical outlook on my ability to outshine other musicians in this regard—especially within the metal genre—and that mentality is the fuel that drives me to consistently toil over the things I write.
Ironically… stellar lyric writing is not necessarily a prerequisite for my love of another artist. There are some artists that I love all the more for their ability to write lyrics that I consider exceptional—band like Elbow, The Divine Comedy, or Depeche Mode—but many of my favorite artists don’t necessarily carry that expertise.
Does the Demon Hunter work ethic of smart touring (as opposed to non-stop touring and all the other efforts in a band “trying to make it”) work better for you now in this period of time (2010 to 2019) than your first decade as a band? Why or why not?
I’m not sure if it works better today than it did in the past, but we certainly more content with it these days. Before, our lack of perpetual touring came by way of our other careers and our want for a more normal life. As kids entered the picture, the unspoken decision to maintain this seldom touring model just became more justified.
It seems there are more and more artists these days that are playing infrequently, but back when we first started, everyone counted it as a detriment. Nearly twenty years later, I would argue it’s the only reason we still exist.
What’s wrong with the music industry? What’s right with it?
It’s hard to say what’s wrong with the industry exactly because it undergone so many changes in the past decade that we’re all still kinda trying to make sense of it.
Personally, I loved the old days. Sure, standard record deals were more often insanely disproportionate and unfair—and it’s good that a lot of that has been widely undone—but at least there was a defined model. These days I often compare music to bottled water, because that’s what it feels like. Sure, you can buy it if you want… but you can also get it for free. The lack of literal investment has only served to dampen the overall emotional investment. Young fans are more fickle and fleeting. There’s less pride in partaking in certain “scenes,” because they simply aren’t that special anymore. They’re easy to find, easy to learn about. You used to have to work at it… and that work made you appreciate it. Things are much different now. I feel bad for new bands trying to navigate what is still very much mid-transformation.
Why two albums at once?
Two albums showcasing polarized styles is something we’ve been considering for nearly a decade. We just had to wait for the timing to be right. With Patrick helping considerably on the songwriting, and Jeremiah as our in-house producer, we’re now in a place where we can not only handle the sheer weight of this many songs, but don’t have to worry about booking studio time or anything like that. We can chip away at the recording process in whatever way is most sensible for us at the time. Rounding out albums nine and ten at once was an added bonus.
What was the most difficult part of making this album? I’m curious if there were certain riffs, song sections or performances that were extra challenging. How’d you overcome these challenges?
We dove into writing these albums immediately following the recording of Outlive, so there were really no major hurdles in the process early on. With the volume of material necessary to fill two albums, we knew that it would necessitate a lot of flexibility throughout the process, so we’d all come to terms with the fact that we’d be chipping away on these records in a way that made sense for all of us. Jeremiah was still finishing building his house, and I had a lot of design work to navigate around on my end, so we were prepared to work in chunks here and there.
The biggest hurdle for me was finding the time to write lyrics and melodies for twenty two songs. Despite an extremely full workload, I was actually fortunate to be commuting to work at the time, which allowed me to focus on writing when I drove. If I hadn’t had so much time to myself in the car, I think it would’ve been much harder to find enough time to pull it all together.
All in all the process was smooth. It was lengthy for sure, but an enjoyable process overall.
What have you been doing lately with work?
I’m still juggling design work with music work. Lately I’ve been back to designing a lot of album packages. In the last couple years I’ve had the pleasure of creating artwork for Alice In Chains, Billy Idol, IAMX, Stone Sour, Starflyer 59, Evidence, and a ton of others.
The last few months, a ton of my time has been dedicated to generating content for the newly relaunched Blessed Resistance, which is the Demon Hunter fan community. It’s something we’d been quietly working on over the past 2 or 3 years, and now that it’s live, we’re very committed to showing it a lot of attention. That’s been super fun. I really think we’ve created something unlike any other band with TBR.
Where do you think metal is heading? What are some changes that you see on the horizon?
I don’t really follow metal very closely these days. I find I have less and less time to be quite as obsessed as I used to be with the latest and greatest in music overall. However, it seems like metal has been having some growing pains in recent years. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I find most new metal to be either too ignorant, too derivative, too one-dimensional, too cheesy, or all of the above. Many of the trends that have become en vogue just seem kinda corny to me. I think the bad parts of pop and rap have unfortunately infiltrated the attitudes of what it means to be a metal head. We used to stand adversed to all that, and now it just sorta blends in.
How has the compartmentalization of music and media impacted music? Do you think that has marginalized music? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Music has certainly been marginalized by all of the changes that came with the digital revolution. At least according to anyone who was active prior to its inception. (As mentioned earlier), I liken it to bottled water. These days you can buy music if you want, but you can also just get it for free. Add music videos to that scenario as well. And if you’re content with viewing it on a screen, you can also see them play live in dozens—if not hundreds—of venues.
All of this output still costs artists roughly the same amount of time and money… but the payoff is increasingly less. This makes it much harder to survive on any sort of feasible level—especially for indie artists and niche scenes. It was hard enough to make a living playing music in the “old days,” but now the divide between the superstar and working class musician is rapidly growing.
It’s certainly kept us on our toes. These days you not only have to pay close attention to the changing tides—and adapt to survive—but you have to be innovative in order to stay ahead of the curve.
That's it, folks! But remember, the details about the lear jet and all that - bold-face lies. Fiction. Fake news.