The Big Über Rock Interview: Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter) Print E-mail
Written by Jonni D   
Sunday, 30 April 2017 04:30

It’s not often that you find a metal album reaching as high as #25 on the Billboard 200 these days. It’s even more of an impressive feat for a band as late as eight albums into their career to achieve such an accolade. However, such was the reception to Demon Hunter’s latest release ‘Outlive.’ Heavy rotation on MTV’s Headbangers Ball and a spot on the ‘Resident Evil: Apocalypse’ soundtrack helped the band’s name become more widely known in the mid-Noughties. Since then, Demon Hunter has managed to retain their core fan base whilst continuing to grow in popularity, with a continued dedication to frequently releasing new material. In my conversation with front man Ryan Clark, he explicates some of the lyrical topics on ‘Outlive’, as well as the band’s evolving sound and their longevity in the industry.

 

Demon Hunter Outlive header

 

Given the depth of the lyrical content on 'Outlive', can you discuss the significance of the album title?

 

I had a short list of potential album titles, but ‘Outlive’ seemed to work on so many different levels. In one sense, it sums up where we are as a band, having weathered the music industry storm long enough to exist 16 years and 8 albums later. We’ve seen many other bands come and go throughout our existence, so it seems we’ve truly outlived the life-expectancy of a band, generally speaking. Most importantly though, it embodies the more existential questions that we’re being faced with as people in a certain stage of life. The majority of us have recently had children, we’ve dealt with our own personal health issues, and have had to face things like mortality in a much more impending fashion. ‘Outlive’ is the summation of all life’s trials and triumphs.

 

While the album is emotionally multi-faceted, there's a real aggression behind songs like 'One Less' and 'Half as Dead'; who exactly are 'the others' to whom you refer in these tracks, and why do you feel they warrant this anger?

 

“I”, “we” and “they” are essentially the three categories of which most of our songs are divided. ‘I’ is pretty self-explanatory. ‘We’ is specifically those who would consider themselves like-minded; people who align with my worldview. “They” is a bit more open-ended, although it usually has to do with some variation on the opposite of ‘we’: people that hold to an opposing perspective. This could be as general as the world at large or as specific as those that would consider themselves anti-Christian or, in many cases, "Christians” who I don’t align with at all. There are varying degrees, which of course depend on the song.

 

On ‘One Less’, “they” refers to legalistic Christians. There are many factions within modern Christianity that I personally do not subscribe to. There is a populous of what I refer to as “bubble Christians” that sit on the polarized end of things–touting exclusivity above all, blindly brandishing Christian rhetoric, and giving the rest of humanity all the reason in the world to oppose them. In this song I distance myself from this version of the faith. I constantly need to remind myself–and others–that these people don’t speak for us all.

 

 

“They” in ‘Half As Dead’ is much more general. You could feasibly understand this song in two different ways. One, as being half-as-dead as anyone living a stunted life, be it spiritually, emotionally, etc. Another, as it relates to life after death; that in death I still live, therefore the dominion of death resides over my flesh alone.

 

You've previously commented that you consider there to be a lack of genuinely inspiring lyricists in contemporary metal. Has there been any turnaround on this issue for you?

 

I still believe that metal is, generally speaking, devoid of deep, thought provoking lyricists. Admittedly though, I don’t pay as close attention to the metal scene as I used to. Lyrics are not the only area in which I’ve been extremely underwhelmed by today’s metal.

 

Given the band's family ties to hardcore, regarding your time in Training for Utopia, do you feel Demon Hunter has more of a kinship with that genre rather than modern metal in terms of lyrically conveying a particular message?

 

I almost feel like these two scenes (metal and hardcore) have somewhat merged in this area over the past decade or so. When I was coming up in the hardcore scene, it was the place where your views would likely be met with a certain degree of respect, regardless of whether or not you were preaching to the choir. At the same time, metal seemed less inclusive; less inclined to be accepting of decidedly "non-metal" views. As time passed, and the lines between scenes began to blur, I believe metal began to adopt some of these more diplomatic sentiments. Even so, I think it is our roots in hardcore that have given Demon Hunter the passage to approach our lyrics in this manner. As cliché as they are, I believe in the concepts of ideas like “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” and “If you’re not making enemies, you’re doing it wrong.” I have no aspirations of being a neutral entity.

 

Opening the album with a song called 'Trying Times' is rather telling of how you view the current state of the world, and yet 'Outlive' does seem overall to be a hopeful record. Can you talk about that dichotomy?

 

‘Trying Times’ is a short and sweet statement about leaving our mark on the world. It’s a reminder that despite the insanity of these troubling times, we have the ability to create an impact that will live beyond our years.  I wouldn’t say the album as a whole is more hopeful than critical. I almost see it as equal parts. Yes, I always intend to incorporate some element of hope into every song, but that may come in smaller doses depending on the subject matter. There are a number of songs that take more of a jaded approach to modern life. But to offset these cynical ideals, there are also a handful of songs that address the idea of being a first-time father. These songs can be critical and introspective in their own right, but are primarily hopeful.

 

Sonically speaking, this is the band's most expansive album to date. What was it that influenced the symphonic elements on songs like 'Died in My Sleep', 'Slight the Odds' and 'Patience?'

 

 

I never want to arbitrarily decorate a song with instrumentation, but if it can serve a purpose, then I love having the ability to work outside of the standard guitar/bass/drums limitations. Sometimes the best instrument or sound for a particular part might be something less typical. Piano and/or symphonic string instruments can be emotive in very profound ways. In the same way that we span moods throughout an album, we also like to explore stylistic possibilities within every song. I don’t listen to much metal these days, so most of what inspires me musically is outside of this realm. I think when these influences come through in a Demon Hunter song, those are the aspects that really keep things interesting.

 

Did the foray into more synth-based music of Nyves bear much of an impact on this fuller sound we find on 'Outlive'?

 

Not at all. It’s an interesting comment, and I’ve seen a number of fans say essentially the same thing, but I would argue that previous Demon Hunter albums actually feature more keyboards and samples than Outlive. Additionally, most of the songs on this album that feature prominent keyboards (‘Died In My Sleep’, ‘Raining Down’, ‘The End’ etc.) are all songs that Patrick wrote, and he had written those keyboard parts within his preliminary demos.

 

You guys collaborated once again with Aaron Sprinkle as a co-producer. How integral has Aaron's contribution been to the signature Demon Hunter sound over the years?

 

Aaron has definitely helped us shape the Demon Hunter sound over the past 15 years. Although his involvement on more recent records is more limited than it was in the past, the things we’ve learned from him are still being considered even when he’s not actively producing or engineering. We worked together so closely on the first six albums, it’s impossible not to channel his expertise when we’re writing or recording. I almost consider our years with him as a kind of apprenticeship.

 

Demon Hunter has been a remarkably prolific band in the last fifteen years, and the fan base clearly appreciates it. Do you think significant gaps between albums are a dangerous prospect in today's music industry?

 

 

I really think it depends on the band. Too long of a gap between albums can be detrimental to some–especially indie bands whose album makes a huge industry splash. It seems to have taken forever to get follow up albums from artists like Lorde, Haim, etc. It may or may not hurt the success of their follow up albums, but I think it’s a much greater risk in more fickle scenes. I’ve seen this happen within the metal scene as well, but I’ve also witnessed the opposite for other, more timeless bands. Bands like Metallica and Slipknot can practically wait a decade between albums and the anticipation seems to work in their favour. Personally, writing, recording, and designing albums is my favourite part of being in a band, so I like to release records as often as possible.

 

Obviously, you guys have been somewhat limited in terms of touring due to the professional commitments of band members. Despite this, you guys have still amassed a sizable following here in the UK and Ireland, so what do you think has been the catalyst for you guys maintaining such a strong audience?

 

I believe our strengths are quality, consistency, and a true understanding of what it takes to build and maintain a brand–not just for the music, but for everything surrounding the band as well. It’s a healthy split of “give them what they want,” mixed with “give them something new and exciting.” The trick is to know when and how far to push the boundaries… or when to stay in our lane. It also helps to have a firm foundation; something to stand on and defend. The goal is not to appeal to everyone, but to pinpoint those that will align with us. If we consistently go above and beyond to champion our fans, they will continue to stand by us.

 

‘Outlive’ is out now.

 

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