Interview with Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter
Posted on April 13, 2012 - by Judea Costes
Generally, every band has the desire to grow, mature, and simply get better with each album they release. Unfortunately, things don't always work out that way. As many fans know, some groups reach their expiration date sooner than others. But, Demon Hunter shouldn't be thrown into that category. After twelve years of activity, the Seattle-based metallers have no intention of simply dying out. The band's new record, 'True Defiance,' gushes with more complex melodies, thought-out musicality and lyricism, a heavier sound, a pure exploration of their metal roots, and a stray from previous hardcore influences. In other words, it's another helping of in-your-face aggression infused with technicality and poetry. According to frontman Ryan Clark, this upward movement for the quintet was only natural. In the past few years, Demon Hunter may have lost some highly respected and valued band members, but they've also gained a lot from their newer members, enough to continue to propel Demon Hunter in a strong direction.
In the following email interview, vocalist Ryan Clark answers our questions about 'True Defiance,' his relationship with Solid State Records, the band's struggles, and their logo. Check it out below.
How would you describe the shift DH has gone through from the first album up until now, musically and lyrically?
The easiest way to explain Demon Hunter's musical progression over the past decade is this: If our first record would be considered new metal or metalcore, we've been chipping away at the "new" and the "core" over the past five records. We've gradually incorporated more thrash influences, more grind and groove influences, etc. I think we've evolved into something that's actually hard to explain other than to just say, "it sounds like Demon Hunter."
My roots are in hardcore, and that's something I'm very proud of. It was essentially my music education for many years. There's still an element of that in DH, but the more we grow, the further we stray from a stereotypical metalcore band.
I don't even take issue with a lot of new metal. Korn was an important band for me. I love the Deftones. But again, there's a lot less of this style in our newer material.
How would you describe working with Aaron Sprinkle again? How do you avoid making the same record twice?
At this point, working with Aaron feels not only natural, but like a necessity. We've recorded more than 90 songs over the past decade, and every one has been with Aaron. He's truly like the sixth band member when we're in the studio. He fully understands our vision, and we have a lot of trust in his abilities and ideas.
With each record, we make a conscious effort to push things a little further. Sometimes that comes through in the technicality of the guitar riffs, sometimes it's the speed and technicality of the drums, sometimes it's in the diversity and range of the vocals, and sometimes it pertains to the overall structure of the song. We take all of these things into account, and do our best to crank everything up a few notches from the previous record. Keeping that mentality is the most important thing for us if we don't want to be writing the same record over and over.
What sort of struggles have you run into while putting this record together?
Well, the initial struggle was to stop obsessing about riding my motorcycle and buckle down to songwriting. [laughs] But when Seattle ensured that I'd be taking a break from my two-wheeled excursions with heavy rain and snow, I was able to really dive into the writing process. I've always been comfortable writing a lot of material in a short amount of time. That's the way most DH records have been written in the past.
Honestly though, I would say the biggest hurdle was in writing the lyrics. Not only did I want to write about subjects I haven't tackled in past songs, but I've always toiled over the minor details in my lyrics, so there were times when writing three to four lines seemed to take days. I tend to scrutinize myself pretty heavily when I'm writing lyrics, but I'm usually very pleased with the outcome.
What sort of struggles have you run into being part of the band?
Every band has struggles, especially if you're fortunate enough to be around for 10 or more years. There have been a few personality clashes between members, some dramatic situations that arose over the years, but that's all part of any tight relationship. All the guys in the band have grown really close over the years, and it's important that we show love and support to each other through our issues and struggles — even if that comes after a couple hours of kicking and screaming.
All in all, the hard times we've had as a band serve as a lesson, so it's hard to see it working out any other way.
To what extent has your spirituality, morals, and/or beliefs (individually as well as collectively as a band) impacted this new record?
I've found it easier to be more forthright with our beliefs on each record. We've always been pretty bold in our stance, but there's a growing sense of "don't care what others think" the longer we do this.
People have expectations when it comes to Christian artists — expectations from those that agree as well as those that don't. The assumption is that you have to be talking specifically about Jesus or God in everything that you create, which is an unfortunate misconception. No Christian artist wants to feel trapped in that box. Instead, we want to convey our world view just as anyone else would, but we may see things differently through the lens of our spirituality. Although I do believe Christ to be the only true solution for a broken world, and the things I address in some songs may be about that specifically, they also might just speak to the human condition, coming to terms with mortality, losing a loved one, feeling depressed or alone, doubt, fear, hope — things that will likely relate to most people.
Do you feel that your purpose as a band has changed since you first started out?
We've had the same purpose from day one, but the importance of that purpose has been magnified over the years by our fans. They allow us to see and understand the reason for what we do, and that's constantly growing.
You guys have been with Solid State Records for around a decade. It seems like the band and Solid State have always had a good working relationship. What do you attribute that to?
I was actually working as a designer in the Tooth & Nail/Solid State art department when we started the band, but our relationship with the label spans back about six years before Demon Hunter. My first (real) band, Focal Point, actually released our first and only record with Tooth & Nail before the Solid State imprint existed — in 1996. Solid State came about in '97, and by that time Focal Point had broken up, and my brother and I were playing in a band called Training for Utopia. TFU released 2 EPs and 2 full-length records, all of which came out on Solid State.
When my brother and I decided we wanted to start playing music again, about two years after TFU had called it quits, Solid State was the obvious choice. Today, after more than 11 years, I still work in the label's art department, so the connection we have with the label goes far beyond the relationship most bands have with their label. I've always been very particular about the way the band is represented, and being here at the label allows me to give extra attention to each and every aspect.
"Someone to Hate" and "My Destiny" are far more aggressive and technical with more intricate melodies than what we've heard on past albums. What was the process the band had to go through to get to this point? Or was it less process, more "This is what we have to do, so we're gonna do it"?
To be honest, going into a more technical territory isn't really discussed as much as it just happens naturally. There's a level of playing ability displayed in the current members of DH that we haven't always had in the past. Having a guitar player like Patrick, who is definitely one of the best musicians I've ever worked with, opens the doors to be able to push things further, technically. The same goes for Yogi. Although he's been in the band for four records now, his abilities as a drummer have made huge strides from album to album.
The increased aggression probably comes from getting older. Not only are we pushing back against the current "lame-ification" that's engulfed so much of today's metal, but in a broader sense, as the state of the world quickly declines, it gets easier and easier to be angry at something.
From my understanding, you've always considered yourself a Christian band. What do you think separates you from bands that may talk about God and touch upon Christian themes but don't want to necessarily be considered Christian?
What separates us is a grasp on the reality of these things. I've been playing in bands that would be considered "Christian" on a record label that is considered by most to be a "Christian label" for nearly 17 years.
The bottom line is that, if you're going to address Christian beliefs and themes in your songs, someone (if not most people) are going to label you a "Christian band." If that's what you choose to do, there's nothing you can do about it. Bands that started out with Christian leanings and later decided to do everything they could to shed those assumptions have found themselves in a fruitless, pointless, never-ending battle. I could name at least five of them right now, but I don't want it to seem like I'm calling anyone out.
Not only are we in Demon Hunter very receptive to the term "Christian band," and we talk about our faith in nearly every interview, we still find ourselves defending every word of every song to overly-scrutinizing Christian fans with every record.
You cannot and will not appease everyone, so stop trying so hard to choose your classification and just be great at what you do. Let the people that need to put a label on you do so. Don't sweat it.
Your logo has always been a little controversial, and yet your album art has gotten progressively bolder and almost more sinister with each album. What sort of statement are you trying to make with your album art? Why the progression towards bolder graphics?
The bolder graphics pretty much go hand-in-hand with the evolving direction of the music.
I don't mind a little controversy, as long as there's a legitimate reason for it. I admittedly like to poke people a little bit, and maybe make them uncomfortable. I think comfort can often be a killer.
The Demon Hunter logo is and always has been the portrayal of a demon skull, split in two, with a bullet hole right through its forehead. It's pretty self-explanatory, but we get a lot of questions about it. It's essentially a literal manifestation of the band name. People assume that since it's maybe gruesome or aggressive that it holds negative connotations, but that's a very short-sighted analyzation. That's like saying that a cross, inverted, is still a cross, so it must speak positively towards Christianity. Adversely, a demon skull with a bullet hole in it must be evil.
Again, you can't win them all. Some people read too far into things, and some don't like to read at all.
The answer: maturity and discernment.
To wrap things up, it looks like you guys have a few upcoming shows. Which song off the new record are you most excited about playing live? And, can we expect to see you touring the US sometime soon?
We're definitely lining things up for some US dates, so stay tuned for that.
I'm really excited to play anything from this new record. I love playing new material because it makes the show fresh and exciting again. I'd say I'm most looking forward to "My Destiny" and "God Forsaken."
Pick up Demon Hunter's new album, True Defiance.
For the band's upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.