Hardcore quintet Gideon has grown into one of the bigger bands of their genre in recent years. With a new release under their belt, they’re currently touring alongside Being As An Ocean and Fit For A King in hopes of spreading their message of hope and strength through hard-edged breakdowns and screams. The title of the album, Calloused, which means “hardened skin”, emphasizes the need to be tough through trials and tribulations — something drummer Jake Smelley can attest to. Staffer Tim Dodderidge talked to Smelley about the topic, and the musician gives some additional insight about the new record as well.
MEB: How’s the tour been so far?
Jake Smelley: This tour’s been awesome. We did a tour last year with two of the same bands, so it’s been really cool to see familiar faces. It’s been like summer camp, so it’s been really cool hanging out with everyone.
What’s it been like touring this new album and playing new songs to these crowds?
It’s actually shocked us. It seems like people are really catching on to the new songs. It feels really good to come out with new material not really knowing how people are going to react to it — knowing that some people are going to like it, and some aren’t going to like it so much. But yeah, it’s been cool to come to shows and music that hasn’t been out long at all, people are singing along to. It makes you know you have people out there who really care about your band. It’s cool.
On to Calloused: there’s been a lot of anticipation and excitement building and after a lengthy writing and recording process, it’s now out. Physically and emotionally, how does that feel?
That’s a great question, because going into it we were all kind of anxious and a little nervous. We only had a certain amount of time to get everything written and recorded and everything, so we were kind of nervous about how it was going to turn out. And it was also our first time going with Will Putney, so we were going to a new producer. We’d heard great things about him, but we weren’t sure what to expect. I feel like going into the studio was very interesting, seeing how he works — how he would sit down with our songs and give us advice on different pieces and parts of the songs. There would be songs where you feel like there are some pieces missing, but you’re not really sure what it needs to bring the song to life, and Will’s really good about sitting down with your songs, and it almost feels like he’s a part of your band, being like, “Pull these pieces apart and put something right here”. That was really interesting, to see how that fell together.
Once it was all done, I know for me personally I was so emotionally attached to the album. And just being there, it seemed like forever, but having to just drain every little piece of you out into writing drum fills or whatever, when it came time to leave the studio, I felt like I was leaving home. I was still in writing mode. It’s actually weird because when our record came out on the 14th, I remember sitting there and being like, “Wow, it’s here now”. I felt like I had waited forever, but at the same time, it feels like it was just yesterday when we left the studio. I definitely think it’s a huge stress reliever now that it’s all done, but at the same time it’s interesting because you get to see what people think about what you’re releasing. There are a lot of new things we tried on this record — a lot of different styles and things we try to progress in our music. It’s cool to see how people react to it.
You guys have grown substantially over the past few years and you went with Will Putney on this record, but you stayed on Facedown to make it. What influenced that decision?
Actually we had a three-album deal with Facedown, so this is our third record with Facedown. Really, we’re still on the label. And I mean, we love Facedown, so we would’ve chosen to release it on there.
Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of bands that start on that label and eventually get big and leave.
It’s true. We’re really thankful for how far Facedown has brought us, though. The fact that they have brought us to this part of our career, that we could release Calloused on their label, it’s an honor because we consider them family.
Yeah, I hear that from a lot of people. So just to get a grip on the themes, I mean, Gideon itself means “warrior” or “destroyer”, and the lyrics on Calloused talk a lot about spiritual battles and fighting to overcome struggles. You guys always seem to discuss those kinds of things, so why do they tend to come up?
I feel like, personally, music is a great way to express yourself — as is any kind of art. I guess as a Christian band, people expect us to release songs talking about our faith and everything. But I feel like you’d be writing the same song over and over again. When I sit down and write a song, I write about whatever’s going through my head at the time. And there’s been a lot of struggle going on in the band — not necessarily our band, but each one of our families, or something each one of us had to go through at some point. I feel like you also have to consider the listener as well. Can they relate to what I’m talking about? I feel like if there’s one thing that keeps popping up through life, it’s that hard times happen every single day, and it all depends on how you handle that situation. The last few years were pretty tough for me, and that led to writing a record dealing with struggle and how it influenced me in growing into the man I am today, and the same with everyone else. When you’re a kid, life’s innocent, but the older you get, you experience a bunch of different struggles and things, and it kind of molds you into who you are depending on the way you handle the situation. You can kind of sit there and cry about whatever’s going on with you or you can stand up and face it. And it’s going to make you a stronger, wiser individual in the future.
I feel that’s also a very “Christian” way of looking at things — acknowledging that the world’s broken, and that we experience struggle because of it. So where has God come into play, then? How has he intervened in your guys’ lives and music.
Well, for one, I feel like He’s the being that’s brought us out of those trying times. He’s also placed things in our lives to help us get through what we’re going through. For me personally, after the last three years, he really put weightlifting in my way as a way to relieve stress and kind of like a therapy-type thing. And I’m so thankful for that. That kind of helped with the theme for the album as well because I feel like it taught me a lesson. It’s hard to explain, but the pain you go through when you’re weight training, you almost have to teach yourself when you’re on the second-to-last rep or whatever and it’s really hard and you feel so much pain, but if you know I can make it through this last painful set I can come out stronger. I feel like God really helped me in that situation. He gave me tools to re-evaluate my life and teach me ways to take a negative and turn it into a positive, and really open my eyes and open my mind. Pain’s not always a bad thing. A lot of times it’s just a chapter in your life that you can either look at as negative or you can use to become a stronger person. I feel like that’s something God really opened my eyes to.
Caleb Shomo of Beartooth is featured in “Survive”. Did you have him in mind when you wrote the song? How did he you get him on there?
It’s crazy because we actually had been listening to Beartooth for a while. We were really amazed by how much Beartooth was growing. They have killer melodies, and Caleb’s such an awesome lyricist and writer. So going into writing the song, when I was writing it I didn’t really plan to have Caleb on the track, but afterwards, we were like, “Who should we ask to be on this part?” and then were like, “What if Caleb would do it?” We were all fans and super into what those guys were into at the moment. That’s kind of what led to it.
Coming from Alabama, I assume you guys are big Alabama football fans.
Oh yeah, Roll Tide, man.
So how’s it been this year, then? I know the Mississippi schools are doing well…
It’s been rough, man. Well, it’s always rough when we’re not home and it’s football season — especially with my dad, he’s always like, “You’re not home to watch the games or anything”. No, this season’s been kind of scary because we’re usually just mowing through teams, and this year’s been kind of tough. It’s been unexpected. There have been a lot of teams rising, like Mississippi State, out of nowhere and smashing people. It’s definitely been a scary year, but we’re still die-hard Crimson Tide fans no matter what happens.
It’s like the opposite here. We’re used to the Royals losing every year, and now they’re [at the time of this interview] two games away from winning the World Series. It’s crazy.
We passed the stadium on our way here and it’s massive.
Oh yeah, Kauffman Stadium. It’s great. The games are so much fun even when they’re bad. To sum it all up, then, where do you hope this record will take you guys?
We definitely want to keep progressing and keep moving forward, and I hope it sets us up to do bigger and greater things, and hopefully keep maturing as a band and keep growing. That’s what everybody wants in a band — to progress and keep growing. Hopefully, more than anything, though, it will reach someone who’s going through trying times. I’ve already talked to several people on this tour, whether it be them or their parents, like, going through some type of sickness. I talked to one guy who’s dad was blind and in a wheelchair, and they had to move to a different state just so he could have a job. And I remember talking to him and being like, “Your dad is the strongest person you will ever meet”. The fact that he has all of these disabilities and he still chooses to wake up every morning and face life with a smile on his face.
I feel like if this album does anything, I would really love it to get into the hands of someone who is not really sure why they’re going through what they’re going through right now. But I want them to hear the songs and be like, “You know what? I’m going to stand up, and whatever’s facing me right now, I’m going to overcome it. I’m not going to let it keep me down forever. I’m going to look it straight ahead and I’m going to blaze right through it”. That’s what I want the record to do more than anything. But yeah, we want to keep pushing forward and hopefully do better things in the future as well — just keep it going.
Anything else you have to say to your fans?
Thank you so much for everyone who bought the album, who pre-ordered the album. If it wasn’t for fans and friends and family, we wouldn’t be where we are today, and we wouldn’t have left Alabama. So thank you to everyone who continues to support us, and God bless all of you.