Seattle Christian Metal band, Demon Hunter, are pioneers when it comes to expressing the fleeting velocity of life and the idea of an afterlife. Delivering authentically rich lyrical content over fifteen years of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, Demon Hunter is back in full strength over their highly-anticipated seventh studio album release, ‘Outlive’. I caught up with lead vocalist, Ryan Clark, to discuss bringing ‘Outlive’ to live, his perception of the current state of Christian metal, tattoos and more.
You guys are gearing up to release your eighth studio album, ‘Outlive’. Tell us about how the creative process was unique this time around.
The process for writing and recording Outlive was quite a bit different than any record we’ve done before. Just prior to our last album, Extremist, no one in the band had any children. By the time Outlive is released, there will be seven little ones between the five of us. As we all venture into parenthood together, there are many factors to consider. Finding the time to devote to writing and recording an album can be tricky when we’re all navigating these new waters. Add to that your garden variety of life issues (medical drama, house fires, etc.), and you could say the last few years were interesting, to say the least. For us, this meant piecing the album together in more convenient, bite-sized chunks over a longer period of time. The music itself was recorded through various sessions at Jeremiah’s home studio in Nashville, while the majority of vocals were recorded at my house, just outside of Seattle.
The most noticeable change is in who shouldered songwriting duties. For the first time since my brother left the band in 2008, I opened the door to allow someone to write material with me. Patrick wrote 20 demos for Outlive, resulting in 5 album tracks. At the time, it felt like a necessity for me. In hindsight, I think it’s exactly what we needed to keep things fresh. Patrick’s songs are my favorites on the album, and it’s been very exciting for me to have the assurance of an extremely talented co-writer.
Your latest single, “Cold Winter Sun”, is full of lyrical depth and really spins the mind of listeners. Tell us about the songwriting process and conception behind this track.
“Cold Winter Sun” treads very common territory for a DH song – having mostly to do with the state of this broken world as a whole. What gives the song substance are the specific occurrences that took place throughout the past few years – events that only served to justify our longstanding world view. At the root of it all was the attack at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. Being that this tragedy took place at a rock show, it hit incredibly close-to-home. The truth is that events like this scarcely surprise me anymore. I have a very bleak outlook on the human condition. Even so, there was a more personalized element to this event for me. It was as if a part of my own life was violated by association.
Any upcoming tour or festival appearances that you can fill us in about?
We’ve just started looking at our live schedule for the year, so we’ve yet to finalize all the dates we will be playing. We have two festival dates booked currently – Chicago Open Air in July, and Uprise Fest in Pennsylvania.
Let’s talk tattoos. Tell us about some of your favorite personal pieces and the artists that brought them to life.
It’s been awhile since I’ve had any work done, but I’m also running pretty short on space. The last truly legitimate piece I had done was a traditional eagle on my head. This was done by Dave Quiggle. I’ve known Dave for a while, but this was the first time I had been tattooed by him. He did an amazing job, as is apparent with the amount of compliments I receive. Granted it’s extremely noticeable, but it doesn’t hurt that the work is very clean and expertly drawn.
Despite being an artist myself, the draw for me is really in the story – the time and place. I try, whenever I can, to get a piece while traveling. I’ve been tattooed in Tokyo, London, Texas, California, Washington, Arkansas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Tennessee, West Virginia, and New Mexico.
How has your relationship with your higher power influenced your artistry as a musician?
The two biggest factors my faith has played in my being a musician and songwriter are:
1.) The platform upon which my worldview is shaped. I see the world with the same eyes as anyone else – the difference is the lens through which it’s perceived. My faith provides a shift in perspective that brings a sense of peace in an abyss of perpetual decline. The details of our existence will ebb and flow, but unrest is inevitable. Everything that I believe becomes more clear every day – the ideals that I subscribe to are constantly justified. This gives DH a unique voice. We don’t fall into a typical faith-based box, but we certainly don’t pull any punches. I believe we represent a lot of people who feel like they don’t fit perfectly into any one, rigid category.
2.) From the very start, it’s has been my goal for DH to stand above the rest. It’s no secret that Christian music has been setting a low bar since its inception. I don’t mean to make a blanket statement here because I believe there are a good number of artists that have helped chip away at this issue… but the truth is that Christian bands have always been sprinting just to cling onto the coattails of their non-Christian predecessors. I believe the goal for most Christian bands has been to either provide “almost-as-good-as” entertainment for fundamental believers or to obscure their message just enough to gain acute acceptance from the larger industry. I believe we’re doing our part to change that perception of faith-based artists. I have no aspirations of being the best Christian metal band ever. To me, that sounds like a consolation prize.
What is your perception of the current state of Christian Metal?
I wish I knew enough about the current state of it to have a decent answer. I’ve been predominantly underwhelmed with metal as a whole for years now… so my attention on what would be Christian metal is fairly non-existent. I do believe there was a heyday, which is long behind us… but in turn, I believe Demon Hunter has an opportunity (or obligation) in light of what I would consider a drought in quality metal – not just for the Christian segment, but for the genre as a whole. I’ve always seen DH as a band that exists to fill a much-needed void. As this void seems to get bigger and bigger, it’s all the more vital that we bring our A-game.
What do fans of Demon Hunter have to look forward to in 2017?
I think fans are pretty anxious for the new album. We started the pre-order way ahead of time, so I think the anticipation is getting pretty intense. Outside of playing live, we’ve actually got a lot planned for the near future, but it’s a little early to announce anything at the moment.
If you could share any words of wisdom with kids intrigued by Demon Hunter and influenced to start a band, what would you say?
For aspiring musicians, my advice will always be: What else you got?
I could give an hour-long lecture on this, but I’ll attempt to put it in a nutshell. I’m all for working hard to achieve great heights in your goal to be a professional musician, but in the 99% chance that it either doesn’t work out, or it works only long enough to get you through your 20’s (maybe your 30’s), you’d be very wise to simultaneously cultivate another skill set. If you want to remain at least adjacent to the industry, you’ve got plenty of options – merchandising, management, law, design, accounting, engineering, programming, etc. – and these are ALL skills that can transfer over into other worlds. In the event that the music industry suffers at all, you can pivot and stay on your feet.
I know a lot of people that have had quite a successful run in music. Every single one of them had to diversify once things started to fizzle, in order to make ends meet. I know guys whose albums debuted in the Billboard top 3, sold millions of records, played in front of thousands of people every night – all of whom had to do something else eventually.
Whether or not you know it, you have the capacity for more than music. Especially if you’re young and single without kids – you have NO excuses. Get really, really good at something else. Even if that’s just leveraging your people skills or organizational skills. Find a way into something ELSE.
What hobbies do you guys engage in outside of music that fuels your creativity?
I’ve been fortunate enough to build careers around my passions. By day I work as an art director and designer… so for me, free time is more about decompressing and not having to be creative.
These days I don’t have as much free time as I used to. Any spare time I get, I try to spend with my family – we love going on road trips, getting together with friends, eating good food. Simple things.
Last but certainly not least, any closing messages for your fans?
As always, thank you so much for standing by us for over 16 years. We’re able to keep this thing going because of you, and we are eternally grateful for the opportunity you’ve allowed us.