Interview with Gage Speas of To Speak of Wolves
Posted on May 24, 2012 - by Michael Duncan
For vocalist Gage Speas, joining North Carolina metallers To Speak of Wolves has not only been a dream come true, but the perfect outlet for dealing with his hardships. Soon after his parents' divorce, Speas dropped out of high school and became Oh the Blood's new frontman. Unfortunately, the group folded not long after their first tour, and Speas went back home without a plan. Things started to look a little brighter when Oh, Sleeper called and invited him to come on the road and do merch for them. For two years, Speas practiced his screams with Oh, Sleeper vocalist Micah Kinard, and picked up business tips from former bassist Lucas Starr. Then, unexpectedly, everything fell into place. To Speak of Wolves had an opening, Speas auditioned, and the rest is history.
Head below to read in detail how Speas became To Speak of Wolves' new singer, what it means to him to have found his niche, and what the band's sophomore album is about.
I heard that you had some minor surgery in March. Have you fully recovered from that?
Yeah, man. I'm good. I had gallstones, and then it developed into pancreatitis.
Yeah, I was actually dying.
You were seriously dying?
Yeah. I played South by So What?! like that. I walked off stage and just started throwing up everywhere. It was awful. I had to go to the hospital and everything.
Was it the best performance of your life at least?
It was awesome. I was like, "Well, I feel like I'm dying, so I should probably kick the crap out of this show."
You gotta make it worth it. I'm glad to hear you're feeling a lot better.
Thanks, man. I appreciate that.
So, take us back to the beginning. When did you officially meet the guys in To Speak of Wolves?
I met the dudes last January. It was January 6, to be exact. I worked for a band for a long time called Oh, Sleeper. I was with them for pretty much two years. I did merch for them. A buddy of mine from back in Albuquerque was like, "There's a band on Solid State called To Speak of Wolves looking for a new frontman." I checked them out, and I liked the music, and Phil [Chamberlain], our drummer, had actually toured with a couple of the dudes in Oh, Sleeper when they were in previous bands. Lucas emailed or called Phil and arranged a tryout. I flew out there and made it. It's been insane ever since.
Going from a merch guy to the frontman of a band sounds like a dream come true.
It's a huge blessing, man. I thank God for it every day. It's pretty incredible. Not everyone gets to do that. Oh, Sleeper's my favorite band. When they had called me to come do merch for them, I was freaking out about that. Then, they got me into a band, and I'm like, "Holy crap! This is insane." It's pretty phenomenal.
Now, you were in some other bands in the past, such as Oh the Blood.
[chuckles] Yeah, I was in Oh the Blood. I dropped out of high school to be in that band. We were working with Come&Live! at the time, which is a great organization, and I was 18 living in Albuquerque, while the other guys were from Kentucky. I flew out to Kentucky the spring break of my senior year and tried out. I flew back home and then they called me about a week later telling me that they wanted me in the band. I told my dad, "Hey, I'm gonna drop out of high school and join this band." It was just after my parents had gotten divorced, so my dad and I were on some rough waters at the time. He was just like, "You're 18, so if that's what you want to do, go ahead and do it." We did one tour and broke up. It was insane.
After we broke up, I was like, "Oh, man. What am I going to do now?" Maybe four months after that, Oh, Sleeper called me. It's pretty incredible how things fall into place. The last couple of years of my life have been a huge blessing. I can't even really believe it.
And so it's not like you had zero experience coming into To Speak of Wolves.
Yeah, exactly. When I was working for Oh, Sleeper, Micah would help me practice my screams. I was never really good at screaming high, but Micah is the king of that.
Oh, cool. He was giving you tips?
Yeah. And he didn't know how to do lows really well, so I showed him how to do lows. He'll never give me [credit for] that in real life if you ask him, but it's true. [chuckles]
Very nice. It sounds like those two years of doing merch weren't wasted.
Definitely. Also, Lucas was the business dude of Oh, Sleeper and he took me under his wing in that aspect as well. He taught me how to do business. It was awesome. Going into To Speak of Wolves, I could help Phil out with that stuff. He's the business dude in our band.
It seems like band members take on more roles than ever these days. It's certainly beneficial to know the business side of the industry.
Tell us about the audition process. Was it intimidating?
Yeah, man. It was rough. The dudes were great, though. When I got to North Carolina, we all just hung out the first night and watched South Park. Then, the next day, we went out and practiced. Our guitar player, Corey [Doran], has a horse barn where we practiced for like five hours a day, just trying to get all these songs down. There was this one song that I was having so much trouble with, but I just pushed through it. I flew out for two weeks. My dad had to help me out with the ticket. I told him, "Just give me a one-way ticket. I'm going do this; I'm going to make it."
We played our first show at this place called The Brewery in Raleigh, NC. Dude, it was awful. I did terrible. [laughs]
[laughs] What went wrong?
I forgot so many lyrics. I called Lucas from Oh, Sleeper and I was like, "I blew it, man. I'm not gonna make it into this band." I was so torn up about it because I worked so hard to get where I was. I thought I threw my shot down the drain. Lucas told me, "Hey, it was your first show. Everyone messes up at the first show. Oh, Sleeper's first show was terrible." The dudes were cool, though. They had some other shows before going off on a tour, so I just had to get everything down. Everyone helped me out a lot. Aaron [Kisling] would write down the vocal patterns and really dissect the songs for me. It helped me out so much. That was really the tryout process.
At what point did they say you made the cut?
They didn't give me any word about anything. I had been with the dudes for four months at this point. Then, on the last day of the Emery tour, they were like, "Hey, man. You know that you're in the band, right?" I was jumping up and down in the parking lot. It was a dream come true. Every show, every local band, every super long drive, and every night sleeping in parking lots had paid off. It was honestly one of the best days of my entire life.
Awesome. Let's talk about the new album. How involved were you when it came to the songwriting process?
Quite a bit. I wrote all the lyrics and all the vocal patterns and melodies. Musically, I can't pick up a guitar and play it -- I don't play any instruments at all. We had a long break before we went into the studio, so the other dudes recorded a lot of scratch tracks. And it was nice because even though I don't play an instrument my opinion mattered. When we were in the studio recording, it got kind of rough sometimes because everybody has their own vision of the song. I remember we were recording "Oregon," and Aaron and I were butting heads like crazy. I was like, "Dude, I hate that guitar riff." He was like, "Well, I think we should take this part out and you shouldn't sing there." So, sometimes it got a little rough, but in the end, we were like, "This song rules!" We eventually learned to trust each other. Anyway, I didn't write any of the music, but the lyrics and vocal patterns are mine, except for the song that Micah sings on called "Stand Alone Complex." He came into the studio, sat there for a good thirty minutes, wrote lyrics down on his phone, then he and I went into this back room together, he read me the lyrics, and I was like, "Dude, I love it. It sounds freaking awesome."
And the group was fine with the lyrics you brought to the table?
They gave me full reign of lyrics. It was pretty incredible. The whole record is about my parents getting divorced. My mom left when I was 18 years old. She walked out on my dad and took my little sister. That whole time in my life is really dark. After she left, I just went down a bad road, and my dad and I started fighting all the time. Sometimes I would just leave and not come home for weeks on end. The summer before my senior year I was never even home. There was also a week that I spent living in my car. I became an atheist at that point. I was like, "If God is real, he wouldn't let this happen to me." It was awesome for the band to be like, "Dude, if that's what you want to sing about, then you should sing about it. That's cool with us."
I would say that it's pretty rare to have a new member come into a band and take charge of what the whole album is essentially about.
Yeah, and to have it be so personal and hit home is just like -- I don't know. Not everyone's parents are divorced in the band or anything like that, so for them to support that was incredible. We're just about real music. We want to play passionate music. I know there's a million other kids who have had it way worse than I have. I still talk to my mom and see her once a year. For the record, I really dug down deep and brought a bunch of my old journals into the studio with me. I went back to that time when my mom left. Every song is extremely personal. I opened myself up and put myself and family on display. I talk about how my brothers don't really believe in God, how my dad is so lonely, how my mom hasn't really forgiven herself, and how my sister's confused about everything. We were raised in church, and once our family fell apart, I feel like everyone's faith did as well. It's all very personal. I think those are usually things some people don't want to sing about. I want to help people; I want kids to know that they're not alone. Even though you've been through these things, you can still do what you want and be who you want to be. And that's all regardless if you believe in the same God I do or not. You can still burn bright, rise above everything that's happened in your life, and do something amazing. I feel like our generation lacks that and any confidence in themselves. One of my best friends is adopted. His parents left him in an elevator when he was born.
Yeah. And still, his potential is through the roof. He's working on doing great things with his life. He has an amazing story. Anything is possible.
So, that's what the whole record's about -- my parent's divorce, how it affected my life, and everything I've been through.
What's the song "Dialysis Dreams" about? That's a great title.
Yeah, that's my favorite song on the record. It's about my grandfather. He died when I was 20, almost two years ago. He and I were really close. [pauses] Sorry, I'm getting kind of choked up. He had diabetes and he stubbed his toe one time and it never healed. Eventually, they cut his leg off at the knee. Then, his heart started to fail him. When he died, I was on tour with Oh, Sleeper. Everyone in my family was there at his side, but I didn't really get to say goodbye. That song is me making peace with my grandfather. That track just kills me, but I'm very proud of it. When I was in the studio, I actually had a dream that he came back to life and we were hanging out. He had this old '56 Ford, and in my dream he and I were driving it around and he was young, and all of a sudden he pulled an hourglass out and shattered it and started shoving sand in his mouth very violently. I got the song title from that dream and the fact that he had to do dialysis treatments.
I just realized that we haven't spoken about something. Who recorded and produced the new album?
Oh, man. Yeah, Matt McClellan, who works at Glow in the Dark Studios. We spent about three to four weeks out there in Atlanta, GA. It was awesome, dude. Matt was actually our first choice. We met him on the Emery tour. He was this random dude that walked into the green room and started talking to us, and he became a great friend. He's a talented dude. He killed it.
Nice. Anyone familiar with 'Myself < Letting Go' is going to hear how different you sound compared to [former lead singer] Rick Jacobs. Was that a concern?
Not at all. It was kind of tough at first because kids were like, "Oh, man. Who are you?" Of course, you still have kids who are fans of Rick. That's cool, though. I've personally never met him. But, yeah, we weren't worried about that at all. We're stoked on this new record. We believe in it really strongly. If you love To Speak of Wolves, you'll love the new record.
Before I let you go, tell us a little about the cover art. It's pretty cool, and a little eerie.
The record is really dark, so we wanted the artwork to portray that as well. Ryan [Clark] from Visible Creature [and the frontman of Demon Hunter] had called Phil to see what we were thinking for it. We told him that we wanted a symbol, something kids can draw in their notebooks. For example, HIM has that heartagram thing and Oh, Sleeper has the broken pentagram and Demon Hunter has that demon skull thing. To Speak of Wolves needed a face. Ryan was like, "Okay, cool." Then, he sent that back to us and we were like, "That rules!" We're super excited about it. So, that's really all it was.
Pick up To Speak of Wolves' new album, Find Your Worth, Come Home.
For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.