Demon Hunter’s Ryan Clark Writes to Loosen Grip on Christian Fundamentals
Demon Hunter singer Ryan Clark was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He spoke about the band's two new albums, War and Peace, which place a focus on the heavy and lighter sides of the band respectively. Clark explained the decision to make them separate albums rather than a double album, how the band's younger members keep him inspired, being a Christian group and more. Check out the chat below.
We're here to celebrate the two new Demon Hunter albums that are coming out. One is called War and one is called Peace. They're being released simultaneously on the same day. Why are separate releases a better listening experience for this music rather than all together as one album?
Well doing a pair of albums or kind of playing with the polarized styles that we do. Heavy and then kind of a super melodic "ballad" style songs that we do. It is something we have talked about doing for a long time actually. We didn’t want to do it too early in our career just because it felt like a lofty sort of endeavor. So we didn’t want to get carried away too early. So now kind of rounding out our albums at No. 9 and No. 10 seems like a really good time to do it.
But in terms of not packaging them together as a double album. Honestly, the idea there was — I think double albums are too hard to digest. Of the ones that have been released from bands that I really like, I never really found myself diving into them and fully really soaking them in just because it’s quite an undertaking. So I wanted this to almost be two autonomous things that are meant to be listened to. And I know coming out on the same day and everything they might as well be packaged together but the idea of them being separate is that they - it might not be so burdensome to consume.
Demon Hunter tends to credit songs to the entire band. What do you like most about a collaborative process that includes several people?
Well I mean these days - I have been getting a lot of help from our guitar player Patrick. He has been in the band since 2008. But up until 2015, after my brother quit in 2008, I was pretty much handling all of the writing. Both music, lyrics and melodies. The only real additions that I needed help with was things like guitar solos and lead things.
Things that were beyond my playing ability and also just for some outside perspective in those regards but on the last two albums I kind of realized that I needed the help by virtue of time management and just kind of needing some fresh perspective on things. So it is great to have Patrick because not only is his playing ability like 10 times what mine is but writing songs is a newer thing for him than it is for me. I have been writing and recording albums for 25-something years.
And so the well that I am pulling from is - I wouldn't say dry but it has gone to 100 times. So getting someone that is young and hungry and where this is a newer experience for them, has been really beneficial for the last couple records. I think it really breathes new life into the sound.
Demon Hunter has a pretty extensive catalog starting with the first album in 2002. What's evolved most about your approach to making music over the course of all those albums?
Well when I started, it was my brother and I and we were just kind of writing together and there was very little expectation. But also, we had kind of a low ceiling in terms of our playing abilities and what we were able to pull off. So as things kind of progressed and members changed. We started to bring people into the fold that were much better players than we were.
I think the technicality aspects, just being able to play riffs that are of a certain caliber much beyond what me or my brother at the time were able to pull off. I think what you hear over the course of the last 17 years is an increase in that technicality, a maturity of that sort of riffing and sort of - for the early years it felt like we were more of just a straightforward groove kind of band, writing riffs that would be heard on a Korn record or something like that.
Whereas a lot of the bands that we were into whether it was In Flames or Soilwork or bands like that, we weren't really able to attain that sort of sound until we brought people in that had that sort of playing ability. So i think that would be the biggest change over the years.
You sang on a track on Nate Burke's new album. How do opportunities such as that in other musical projects and collaboration enrich your creativity in ways that ultimately benefit Demon Hunter?
Well that one was a really cool opportunity, I have known Nate for a long time. He comes by way of the band Frodus in the '90s. And my old band Training for Utopia, we use to play with Frodus a little bit. Nate ended up moving up here to Seattle so we have gotten close. We actually played in a very short-lived band together, that never quiet practiced enough to do much with.
But he has been doing really cool single man electronic stuff for a number of records. His last release had Sean Ingram from Coalesce do a song, and Dustin Kenser from Thrice do a song so I am definitely in good company on this new one. He has really good taste, and doing something like that, something that is really downtempo and atmospheric is cool for me.
I have played a little bit in that world with a side project that I did called NYVES - it is another one of my loves, old school electronic stuff in the vein of Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. That's definitely right up there with metal stuff for me. So, it's a world I am familiar with and I really like exploring that.
Ultimately I think that what helps Demon Hunter stand out, is the fact that I am pulling from those sort of worlds when I am thinking about even if it's just the vocal melody or the way that someone phrases something, or the way that a pattern of cords will work together, something like that. I will kind of pull from worlds that are our outside the metal world and somehow put them into the blender of Demon Hunter. I think that's one area where we have really been able to stand out because we're not just guys listening to metal records and pulling our inspiration from strictly that.
Ryan, the Christian music community is very passionate about their bands but they can also be demanding in terms of expectations. How do you convince artistic exploration with the needs of your audience?
That’s a good question. For us we are guys that are all in our 40s or nearing our 40s — we are grown men. So, the idea of being held to some standard by fans by virtue of belief system or something like that is something I don't try to really keep at top of mind when I am writing an album or writing lyrics. If anything, I like to challenge people that would want to put us in a box or put parameters on the sorts of art that we do.
Poking at that bubble is something that is more interesting to me than appeasing the people that would be there doing that sort of thing. It’s a good question. It's not that it doesn’t exist at all but for us I don’t want to alienate fans — that’s definitely not on my agenda. But what can we do to possibly do to loosen the grip on some of the fundamental ideals that unfortunately, a lot of the time, go along with Christianity?
Especially in this day and age and this political climate etc. What can I do to hopefully open people's’ mind to things that are not so quiet rigid and, like I said, fundamental?
Can you tell us about your plans for 2019 and the rest of the year?
We are gearing up for these records and we've got a lot in terms of just getting the songs out there and people's ears and eyes on things. We hope to play a few shows - we don't tour a ton, we don't play a ton of shows. We do a handful of flyouts every year but we're hoping to do more shows this year, obviously with the records coming out. So be on the lookout for that.
Other than that, we've just launched our fan club The Blessed Resistance which has been in existence since 2007, but we did a huge relaunch just this past December and it's got content on there — daily basically. Everything we do there will be up there early. Tons of stuff that we've never given anyone, exclusive stuff so that now is a monthly membership and we're putting a lot of attention into that. That'll be a model for us that's going to require a lot more attention and I think people will get a lot out of it. Again, it's called The Blessed Resistance.
Thanks to Ryan Clark for the interview. Follow Demon Hunter on Facebook and get your copy of 'War' and/or 'Peace' here. The albums arrive on March 1 through Solid State Records. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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