MEB staffer Austin Gordon recently got a chance to speak with vocalist Gage Speas and guitarist Aaron Kisling of the Solid State metal outfit To Speak of Wolves. They talk about their progression from their debut record Myself < Letting Go, to their new record Find Your Worth, Come Home, to country music, to over-saturation in the music scene and more.
MEB: So let’s start with your progression from Myself < Letting Go. How has your sound developed from that record, to gaining Gage and Seth [Webster, bassist] as band members, and then moving into recording your new record Find Your Worth, Come Home?
Gage: You might say that I’m different from what Rick [Jacobs, ex-vocalist] was singing about. Rick had his own passions and stuff like that, I don’t really have much of an opinion on that kind of stuff. It was awesome to come in and put my heart in and write my lyrics, things like that. Seth has been awesome. He’s been a really, really big blessing to the band.
Tell me about the process of recording Find Your Worth, Come Home. Who ended up being your producer of choice? Was the process any different from recording your last record?
Aaron: Yeah, we talked about it for a long time. We had a lot of different people we were kicking around and wanted to go with. We ended up going with Glow In The Dark [Studios] and Matt McClellan. He was just the guy who we felt was the right choice. Like in the last question you asked about how the sound has progressed; it went from a record that came out two years ago, that we played the songs live so many times that they took on a life of their own and a sound of their own that was a lot different than the record. We wanted to find a producer who would be able to take the intensity that we have live and translate it into a recorded work as well. So, the way that we ended up deciding on Matt was, we’re just playing a show in Atlanta and he came out, and we went back to Glow In The Dark and hung out with him after the show. We stayed up hung out with him until like five in the morning, talking about what bands suck and what bands are awesome and stuff, listening to some stuff they had recorded there. By the end of it we were like “this guy, he gets it.”
Judging by the title of the new record, it seems the theme is truly dead-set on positivity. Are there any underlying themes hiding on the new record?
Gage: I really don’t think so. Yeah, it’s a really positive record, but you have to go through a really dark road to get to the positivity part. You know what I mean? I think overall, Find Your Worth, Come Home, it sounds really positive. Then you listen to it, it’s a lot of sad stories. Every song is something I’ve been through. That is my life; I put my family, my relatives, and my friends on display. This is what I’ve been through.
You just compartmentalized everything and just shoved it all onto it. You really tried to get it out.
Gage: Yeah, exactly. I wanted it to be open. I just want people to connect to it, you know? I wouldn’t say there is any underlying thing, I just want to let people know that they’re not alone, really.
Are there any bands that you guys had been jamming back around that time that influenced the overall feel of the new record?
Gage: Yeah, yeah. What were we listening to?
Aaron: I actually wanted to make sure that it was still smart, but still really heavy, and fast. So, I was listening to a lot of major label stuff. Nine Inch Nails, Tool, stuff like that. I also listened to the contemporaries on our label that we like a lot – The Chariot, Norma Jean, Underoath, bands like that. I personally really tried not to overdo it with those, because I knew that we were going to get compared to them anyway – so we could keep our signature sound. Other than that, I listened to a lot of records that have been around for 20, 30, 40 years and still hold their water today. I listened to some David Bowie records a lot, and some more classics like that. Stuff that stands the test of time.
Gage: I was listening to Oh, Sleeper. I was listening to Hundreth, Pianos Become the Teeth; and then if I’d get really, really stuck on something I’d listen to a couple country songs. To help me write that chorus-verse-chorus.
That’s a little left field.
Gage: You can ask Aaron, it’s all I listen to.
Aaron: He listens to a ton of country music, it drives everybody else insane.
Gage: I mean, in country music they write awesome choruses. Aaron would be like “What are you listening to?” “Rascal Flatts.” He goes “chorus sounds good!” and he’d just walk out of the room (laughs). You can only listen to so much heavy music before your brain explodes, you know what I mean? That’s for us at least. Hearing the same thing over and over again in the music scene, it’s just like “this sucks so bad, I need something new.” So, we all kind of went back to listening to older, different stuff. I listened to a little NIN too, a little Nirvana, stuff like that. That’s about it.
If this new record has an intended goal, describe that goal in five words or less.
Gage: Rock and roll stage dive.
It seems these days everyone has a message they want to give with their music, especially in the metal scene. Do you think that’s because of the probability of such over-saturation in the scene today, messages are less likely to get truly heard?
Gage: Yeah, definitely. I think if you have five christian bands on stage and they’re all saying the same thing, then kids are going to be like “well, this dude just said the exact same thing that this guy is going to say. I don’t really care to be honest, I’ve heard this before. I heard this last week when I went to a show.” Yeah that totally happens, for sure.
Aaron: Yeah, when we did this interview before we had just played a show with a “beatdown” style band. They were doing the “calls” and everything from stage where they want you to beat people up and things like that. I then heard the band talking about it afterwards and they were confused as to why people were leaving. I think if you’re into a certain type of music and that’s what you listen to and you don’t go outside of that, you get used to hearing these things that are said from the stage like ‘beat somebody up” or “we’re up here for Jesus and there’s no other reason.” Whatever it is, the words tend to lose meaning to not only the audience but to the people who are saying them from stage as well. I think their mentality is “this is what all of my favorite bands are saying from stage, so this is what I’m going to say too.” Yeah.
That makes perfect sense.
Is there a particular fan or person who has approached you guys and told you about how much of an impact your music has made?
Gage: Yeah. I do our band’s Tumblr. I was putting some pictures up and I was just like “I’m going to search our name.” I found this thing that this girl wrote, which was like a four or five-paragraph/page thing. We have a song on the record that’s called “Dialysis Dreams,” it’s about my grandfather dying. He had diabetes, and in the song it talks about how he lost his legs, and his hair fell out, and his heart just gave up. What this girl wrote was this thing about [how] her grandfather died of the exact same thing. She was like “I’ve been crying for the last hour, this song is amazing, I love this band, etc.” That was really cool to see that, because with that one person right there, I was like “the record did what is was supposed to do – it affected someone in a positive way.”
Not only that but it was so relatable that someone was able to latch onto it and find exactly what they were looking for.
Gage: Exactly, exactly.
Aaron: Even for Seth who wasn’t in the band yet when we were in the studio, he flew out from Texas to try out for the band. While he was waiting for us to get back, his dad passed away. I think for him especially, after hearing the record and hearing what the song “Rearview Memories” is about, I think that he was a little surprised at how relatable that was, even just for himself.
A lot of people can relate to that.
Getting back to the topic of over-saturation, what do you guys think it takes to stand out in the crowded metalcore scene today?
Gage: Being passionate and being honest, because I think kids are just tired of the whole “get on your knees, breakdown” bull-crap that everyone’s doing right now. Nothing is forever and everything comes to an end, you know what I mean? Back in the day, there were all of those crappy hair metal bands and then Nirvana came and killed everyone. They were like the last real “rock and roll” band. I think we feel that way too, because we don’t do breakdowns and we don’t care about anything like that. We just want to play rock and roll, you know? I think we’re just kind of picking up where Nirvana left off to be honest.
Honestly I can agree with that, because ya’lls style is very different comparatively to other bands in the scene that you play with.
Gage: Thanks man. That really means a lot to us.
Yeah, I can say that definitively.
Aaron: I think also for a band to stand out, it takes a little bit more thought and a little bit more patience than most people are willing to give it. It is refreshing when a band knows how to play their instruments, and they know how to write a song, and they know a little bit more about what’s good and what’s bad, the quality of music. People tend to forget that the whole point is to write good music.
It’s music, you know? You’re not supposed to make it to, suck.
Aaron: Yeah, it’s not meant to make you famous either.
People are attached to this genre of music for many reasons (myself included), what do you think those reasons are? What is the substance we have found that everyone is so desperately clinging on to?
Aaron: I think especially with heavy music, it’s been around for years and years and years, and it’s always people of about a certain age who come to it at a certain time. I don’t think it’s any one specific thing, I think it’s just a general sort of feeling. You could say that these people are angry and they need something angry to listen to, but not all heavy music is angry, you know? It’s just something about the rawness of it and the extremeness of it. Something that when you hear it for the first time you’re like, “I’ve never heard anything like this, this is the heaviest thing I’ve ever heard.” It sends chills down your spine and stuff. That’s something that we can all relate to, you know?
That’s something I can 100% relate to.
Gage: What got me into heavy music first was Refused. They were just like anti-capitalists, vegan dudes, screaming their heads off because they were just passionate about something. It’s awesome. I was like 14 or 15 and I was like, “I’ve never heard anything like this before, this is the most amazing thing.” You know? I think people like that too. I think it’s lost its touch a little bit. It wasn’t always like that.
What do you guys think is going to happen this genre eventually? Do you think it could just implode when it becomes so cluttered that everyone abandons it? Or do you think people will constantly find ways to try and keep it above water with some new way to keep it fresh?
Aaron: I think it’s kind of in the process right now, it’s really reaching the peak of over-saturation. I personally don’t see things going how they’re going for too much longer, but I don’t think that heavy music will ever go away. I think that there will always be some way for it to survive, like with what we were talking about earlier, people want to hear it. We need it. I think it will be a little bit of both.
Going off of that previous question, how do you guys intend to stay relevant in this genre?
Gage: Doing what we’re doing, I think. I think we have a good thing going right now. We’re always accessible to our fans. Kids can always get a hold of us. Whether it’s at a show, on Facebook, or Twitter, or Tumblr, or Instagram, whatever it is. Kids can see us. They can always do those things. That’s the main thing, because obviously you can’t tour, you can’t sell records, you can’t play shows without your fans there. That’s one thing we really pride ourselves on: we’re always there for our fans, our friends, people that like our band, whatever you want to call it. We’re always there for those people. I think we’re just going to keep doing that.
Aaron: I think writing the record and being on tour for this long has made us stay humble, and made us always stay in touch with the point of it. Everything that we wrote for the record came from a very pure place. It came from real, true desires in our hearts to write good music and sing about the things we sing about. I think that’ll be one of the main focuses for us – always staying in touch with that. Never copping out, never being fake. Trying to stay relevant that way.
It has been said that the music industry is starting to go backwards, while others have said that is completely going sideways. Minus all of the puns, what direction do you all think it is going in?
Gage: I think it’s going up, man. Last night, our tour manager shared with us this really crazy fact: the first week Lil’ Wayne sold 14 million? Was it 14?
Aaron: No, the first day the day Tha Carter III came out he sold 435,000 or something like that. His first week sales were over a million, like 1,005,000.
Gage: I was wrong, not 14 million. That’s big. (laughs)
Aaron: He might’ve sold 14 million by now, yeah.
Gage: I mean, you look at stuff like that – that’s rap, yeah. Music will always be there. People will always need record labels whether they say that or not, because for even the most DIY band, if some record label was like “Alright man, I’ll give you guys a million dollars. You guys can keep your same image, we just want to put your record out in more stores.” They’d be like “okay.” Not saying that’s like selling out or anything because it’s not, that’s just making a living. There will always be a need for that, there will always be a need for record labels. A lot of people are like “our label sucks, that label sucks, whatever, those dudes are douchebags”…(Sighs). We love our record label. We are very proud, and very stoked to be on Solid State. They do nothing but take care of us. It’s awesome.
Aaron: I think too, going back a little bit to the question. For every obstacle that the music industry has hit, for every wall that we as an industry have hit, it always takes the wind out of everybody’s sails for a little while, a couple of months or a year; but we’re all really creative people. I can’t speak for everybody, but most of the people who are in the music industry enjoy a challenge and they want to be creative, and they want to figure out solutions. So with all of these downloading websites and being able to pick anything off of the internet that you want to get for free, the music industry has compensated with Spotify and iTunes sales and things like that. As long as you can hear music, you’ll be able to steal it. The technology will keep changing, and the technology to combat it will keep changing too.
It’s really just going to back and forth forever, probably.
Aaron: Probably so, yeah.
Looking towards the future, what is the next step for To Speak of Wolves?
Gage: Just touring like crazy. After this tour we have like 12 days off I think. Then we have a bunch of festivals that we’re doing. Then we have the second half of Scream The Prayer. Then, after STP we have this other tour, but I don’t know if we’re allowed to talk about it yet, but it’s going to be sick.
Aaron: I think just keep expanding, keep reaching as many people as we can. Hopefully one day go overseas, go international. All that stuff.
Gage: Then be burned out in a year and a half, (laughs). I’m just joking.
Any last words out there for any fans listening to or reading this?
Gage: Thank you, thank you for coming to shows, hanging out, believing in us, and picking up the record. We hope you like it. We love you, and we believe Jesus Christ loves you too.
Aaron: Come to a show, come hang out with us, come stage dive and have a great time. We’ll always be here for you.
Thanks again to these fantastic musicians. Make sure to go check them out on Scream the Prayer as well as their new record Find Your Worth, Come Home!