Demon Hunter Interview
by Mark Hensch
Formed in 2002, Demon Hunter immediately proved to the masses that spirituality could sell mass qualities, lay down copious beat-downs, and carry honest legitimacy all at the same time. Now, in 2007, the band is carrying their furious energy and epic sing-alongs to new heights. "Storm the Gates of Hell" is nothing less than a call-to-arms for the faithful and the very essence of God's righteous fury.
Mark Hensch for Thrashpit: First off, thank you so much for doing an interview like this right before the holidays when things are hectic and crazy. I really appreciate it man. Now onto the questions! First things first---Storm the Gates of Hell is quite the ambitious title. If you were to sum up the mission statement of this album in your own words, what would you say?
Ryan Clarke: The purpose of the album would be to communicate with people and bring a sense of hope to people conflicted with certain things in their lives.
Thrashpit: They say a musician's best critic is himself. What is your favorite song off Storm the Gates of Hell and why?
Ryan: My favorite song is "Lead us Home," which is the second track. I really like the structure of it. I like how it flows. I think the sections are pretty tasteful in terms of what happens and where it happens. I'm into the chorus and I think it is one of the catchier songs on the album in terms of how the chorus goes. This is the one I've been telling people is pretty much my favorite.
Thrashpit: Forgive me as I haven't heard the new album yet, but how would you say your new album sounds in comparison to your older works, like 2005's the Triptych or 2004's Summer of Darkness?
Ryan: I would say that we definitely didn't change the formula from our previous stuff very much. We did try and throw in a few new and interesting ideas. The guitars sound a bit different for example---I'd say they're fuller. Vocally, I definitely wandered into areas I've never necessarily been to before. I did some higher singing and higher screaming, and just kind of played with my range a little bit more than I have in the past. That's something I've kinda set out to do from the get-go and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Song-wise, there are definitely the heavier songs but we also have more melodic songs throughout. We still have the peaks-and-valleys that most of our albums do.
Thrashpit: Storm the Gates of Hell will come in three versions, each with unique bonuses for the fan. Why do you guys choose to release the album in such a way?
Ryan: For the last record (2005's the Triptych) we originally did three different album covers. Eventually, we had a chance to tour and create the little tour documentary and a few acoustic songs which made their way onto an edition of the last album. For this one, we have the standard record with just the 12 songs, the special edition which is basically beefed-up with two extra studio songs and a DVD. The art-work for that is also beefed-up. Finally, we have what we're calling the fan edition. That one has a box with postcards, stickers, a big booklet of exclusive footers and some linear notes I wrote, the DVD, and a necklace. It is basically the diehard fan edition.
Thrashpit: The first video off Storm the Gates of Hell is the driving melodic barnstormer "Fading Away." What is it about this song that made you guys choose it as the first video and how was the recording process for it?
Ryan: We went back-and-forth on picking it at first. Eventually, everyone decided that it was the best as it still had the heaviness to it that our fans had come to expect from us and we wanted to cater to the heavy side of what we do as well, but we wanted to introduce not a more mellow side per se, but more singing perhaps too. We normally have a ballad and then a really heavy song on each album and this one falls somewhere in-between. The chorus is something we're all very pleased with, as well as the hooks and the timing and the structure of everything.
Thrashpit: The song "Sixteen" features a guest appearance from legendary Living Sacrifice guitarist/vocalist Bruce Fitzhugh. How did you guys net him for the album and what do you think of the final result?
Ryan: We love how it turned out! He's basically been a friend of ours for awhile. Previous bands we've played in have played with Living Sacrifice and we've gotten to know him over the years---we've probably known each other for a decade now. We kept in touch with him here and there while talking about how we'd want to do a guest spot on the album. He was one of the people who came to mind and so we brought it up to him about six months before the record. He expressed lots of interest and we just kind of took it from there. He's been a hero of ours since Living Sacrifice and he's always kept us pumped on Christian heavy metal, especially since Reborn came out. They've always been a huge influence on what we do, both musically and spiritually.
Thrashpit: The last two albums prior to Storm the Gates of Hell sold large quantities in the mainstream. What do you think it is about you guys that makes your music so successful commercially?
Ryan: I think there's accessibility to our band that other metal bands don't really tread into. The fact that we do have melodic singing in every song helps it be more accessible to more people. Besides that, we have a lot of quality control with what we do and what we put our name on and how we're marketed. We have a pretty heavy hand in everything we do. We write our press statements, we are in charge of photo shoots, we style the band, and we set up the entire stage. As far as designing and thinking it up and putting all the pieces together, everything you can think of is very much dealt with by us, and we have a standard we like to maintain. I think that it shows in the final product and our fans can count on that when something comes from Demon Hunter it is going to be quality stuff that looks good and sounds good. Quality goes a long way and I think people like to skimp on that a lot. More than that, I think our music isn't appearance metal that some metal heads will simply want to hear. For us, we take our influences, metal or not, and put them together to make something is a bit more broad in sound I think.
Thrashpit: Your band (along with others such as Underoath) helped make Solid State Records a house-hold name in the heavy music underground. What thoughts can you offer on the journey the label has provided you with?
Ryan: On the label side of things, it's great. I work as art director for Solid State Records and I do most of the designs for both Solid State Records and (parent label) Tooth & Nail Records. Because I am here and have a lot of pride in the label, I do some A&R on the side for them too outside of my design duties. It has given us the ability to do things how we want when we want, and on our terms. It has helped maintain the stability of the band and our ensured sanity within it. We're real busy guys aside from the band and so on our terms it really helps the band's longevity.
Thrashpit: You and guitarist Don Clark are brothers. What can you tell us about how your relationship as siblings affects Demon Hunter?
Ryan: We get along real well. There's no sibling rivalry thing going on at all. In terms of the band, we're very much on the same page in terms of how we view the band and what we want for the band both musically and professionally and spiritually. Every facet of the band is what I and my brother collectively want. There's no tug-of-war in that area. As far as the writing goes, we feed off each other very well and we're at a point now where we've been writing music now for the past decade and we really know what to expect from each other. We can sit with no ideas at all and flush out an entire new song in a couple hours, a process which is actually pretty common for us by now.
Thrashpit: Your band's iconographic logo (a demon with a bullet through its head) is just one of the many art projects you've done. You've even been nominated in the album art category of the Grammies twice (Fair's The Best Worst-Case Scenario and Norma Jean's O God, the Aftermath)! How do you approach your art and create such memorable pieces?
Ryan: My brother and I just take it one project at a time. We have lots of influences in terms of the art that we're into, the design that we're into. My grandfather was an artist and has been a huge influence on both me and my brother when doing this. We like to cover a broad range of styles from illustrative stuff to vintage to very modern stuff that is heavily based on Photoshop. For that, we try to make the pictures very photo-realistic and have lots of post-work on that. Basically, we like to explore all facets of design and typography. It is just a matter of plugging yourself in and getting acquainted with all that stuff, be it by books or the Internet or friends that are designers. We've been doing it full-time for about eight years now and we've been really blessed. My brother was even nominated for a Grammy again this year! We keep things pretty exciting.
Thrashpit: It is no secret that Demon Hunter is a Christian band. How do you guys convince more secular heavy music fans that you're the real deal and every bit as brutal as the other guys?
Ryan: First of all, I think the music just speaks for itself. When we came out and did our first record, we wanted it very much to be the real deal. We're music fanatics and metal fanatics and we know our stuff. Our influences aren't strictly Christian and that really helps broaden our spectrum in terms of the music we write and what kinds of influences we allow to seep in. It is also in the way we carry ourselves---how we package and market the band is aimed at being a legitimate name. That's something we've set out to do from the very beginning.
Thrashpit: What would you say are some of your band's influences then?
Ryan: As far as strictly musical influences, most of it comes from early to mid 1990s Roadrunner Records bands like Machine Head, Sepultara, and Fear Factory. Obviously there are some non-Roadrunner bands as well, from Prong to Helmet to the Deftones and Slipknot. We also all like Metallica, At the Gates, In Flames, and Soilwork. We like the mellower stuff in Cold and Amorphis too.
Thrashpit: Inversely, this is music that might be too aggressive for the stereotypical Christian. What would you say to people who think that you're furthering the work of the Devil by playing loud, violent music like this?
Ryan: I would say that there's no way to logically prove that music in-and-of itself is inherently evil. There's nothing evil about the guitar put through an amp and played loudly. There's nothing evil about loud drums or double-kick or even screaming. Evil is purely based on content. That's obviously something we don't have and we instead have very hopeful content and a content that can really be a weapon for young people in their daily life. We offer them (hopefully) a solution to some of the things they're going through. Maybe its stuff their parents or friends don't understand or those they don't want to deal with in terms of their parents or their friends. Whatever it is, we're hopefully connecting with them on that level where other people can't reach them. I think we have the ability to reach kids on that level and give them something positive rather than negative. Just from the slew of e-mails we've gotten from people who've said our music has helped them through this or helped them through that, those are the things that people who are skeptical of what we do don't see, and if they did see, they'd definitely change their minds about how our music sounds.
Thrashpit: For someone not familiar with the Christian faith, what would you say is the most important part about being a Christian?
Ryan: The way that you live and treat other people. The way that you carry yourself is important. There's the basics of Christianity---obviously the beliefs and faith in those beliefs and a relationship with Jesus Christ---but the most important thing after that is the way that you live and maintain relationships with others.
Thrashpit: What kind of touring plans do you have in the future (if any)?
Ryan: We're setting up tour plans right now for next year. We're going to support this new record and we're definitely excited about it! We don't have any concrete plans in terms of the line-up of the tour, but we're getting really close. It will be cool, exciting, and really unexpected for a lot of people. We're almost ready, so we'll be announcing that soon after Christmas.
Thrashpit: Last question! What does the future hold for Demon Hunter?
Ryan: We're definitely one of those bands that, unless there's some kind of unforeseen tragedy, are going to be around a long time. I know a lot of bands say that, but the way that we've started and the way we continue to maintain our sanity just by doing things a little bit differently from lots of other bands makes me think we're going to be around for awhile. We're going to keep doing records and keep doing tours and finding cool, new, and exciting ways to reach out to fans.
Thrashpit: Thank you so much for this interview. Best of luck to you and your band!!!
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