On the day their first album, Pain Again, came out, Varials frontman Travis Tabron sat down with Mind Equals Blown to discuss his band’s journey from the Philadelphia metal scene to national recognition. Before their show in Merriam, KS opening for Wage War, the vocalist explained everything you need to know about their sound, Fearless Records debut, and musical counterparts (a.k.a. Knocked Loose). Living out his description of “metalcore done in a hardcore way,” he would later front his group’s energetic set before moshing to Gideon himself.
How’s the tour been so far? You’re playing with two established metal bands, and you came out with your debut album — was it today?
Yeah, so what’s that been like?
The tour has been hands-down a dream come true. This is our first metalcore-tailored tour, and it’s very cool. It’s a very interesting dynamic because a lot of our fanbase is hardcore kids that also f*ck with metalcore, or metalcore kids who also f*ck with hardcore. So it’s very cool being on this tour because most of these kids don’t know anything about bands who are heavier than us. They’ll come up to us and they’ll be like, “Wow, that was so incredibly heavy. I can’t believe you guys are that heavy.” And I’ll be like, “Dude, what do you listen to?” And they’ll give me, like, more lighter heavy bands, and I’m like, “Dude, you’ve got to keep digging.” There’s so many heavy bands that would put us to shame. It’s cool, though. I like being, like, a gateway band for younger kids and stuff. I’m a metalcore kid at heart.
Same. I think we all are (laughs).
I just got done talking to Wage War, and it’s interesting, I was talking to them about how they’re playing a more hardcore-style tour than their sound.
Oh, they think is a hardcore-style tour?
Well, I said that. But it’s interesting how, from Wage War’s perspective, it’s more hardcore of a tour, and for you guys being more of a hardcore band, it’s more of a metal or metalcore tour. But I mean, you kind of bring both.
Yeah, it’s funny you say that, because every hardcore tour we do, we’re a little too metalcore, and for every metalcore tour we do, we’re the hardcore band. Personally, I don’t care. I don’t care what people call us. I market us as metalcore because, in my opinion, metalcore bands have screaming vocals, breakdowns, and distorted tones. Our production is so metalcore, but it’s not conventionally, like, super polished, very overproduced metalcore. It’s metalcore in a hardcore way.
Yeah, it’s very raw.
Very raw, yeah.
Can you tell me a little more about your album, Pain Again, which came out today?
What would you like to know?
Just the background about it. Maybe talk about you guys making this album to people who might not know about you?
Sure. Well, I didn’t have the concept 100% down, but I did know what I wanted the record to feel like when I was starting to write the riffs and the lyrics and stuff like that. Thematically, there’s a lot of motifs, which are reoccuringly used themes for people might not know that word, that kind of repeat themselves throughout the record. There’s a lot of references to Failure and Control, which is our old EP, because I kind of touch on some of those topics. On the old EP, I was kind of opening myself up a bit. The new record is 100% open door — like, all of the things I’m feeling and thinking and reflecting on are out there with a lot of surface value to them. It’s very blunt, but it also has a lot of deeper metaphorical meaning that a lot of people can draw a lot of different things to it, which I think is really cool.
That’s interesting for a hardcore band. Usually you only get that first part of what you talked about — it’s straightforward and in-your-face.
There’s very, very few bands, I think, that are as open as I try to be on the new record. But I mean, I listen to rap 99% of the time, or indie music like The Strokes or Interpol or f*cking, like, Nas. I listen to everything.
The first thing I noticed when I went to your Facebook page was that your bio had a reference to Kendrick Lamar.
Yeah, I was surprised — we didn’t write that, a publicist wrote it for us, and I was surprised he put that in there, because he did ask me what I listen to, and I told him all I listen to is rap…
…so he’s like, “Well, Kendrick Lamar” (laughs).
Yeah, I recently did an interview where I had to choose 10 songs that I was listening to a lot that influenced me lyrically for the new record. And I did choose a Kendrick song, it’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” That song is crazy, crazy powerful. It’s almost insane how soft the song is but so hard at the same time.
Well, it’s about death, right?
Yeah, there’s a line where he’s acting like he’s someone else talking to him, and he says, “If I die before your album drop, I hope…” and before he can finish, three gunshots ring out, and you hear a body hit the floor. Then there’s about five seconds of empty space and the chorus comes back in, and then, like, it’s over with. Stuff like that is super powerful in a straightforward way. That’s why I definitely idolize a lot of rap music and a lot of older hip-hop music and stuff like that that has meaning to it. Like, that’s the shit that hits me the hardest, so I try to take that from hip-hop and bring it to what I do.
Then another thing I noticed on the new record is that you leave a lot of room for other things. Like, you use a lot of drawn-out instrumentals and sound bites and stuff like that. So it sounds like you drew that from hip-hop as well?
Yeah, the record is super dynamic in that respect. There’s, like, five or six short 15-second interludes and stuff like that. But they’re not interludes just for the sake of noise. They’re meaningful, and they’re tasteful, and I think, personally, that they’re very, very well executed as far as the dynamic emotion goes. There’s a spot after the song “Colder Brother” when you hear a very burnt-out, reverby clean guitar that sounds almost like an upright bass. It’s a very, very jazzy, sad, somber tone. Then it builds a little bit and goes right into “Pain Again”. I think it’s important that those kind of things happen on this record because 11 songs of the same thing — or arguably the same thing — of just heaviness over and over again is not what I want to hear, personally. I don’t want to listen to 11 ass beaters. If I do, I would want to listen to, like, No Victory, because that’s just ass beater music. But I wanted to be able to feel it, you know what I mean? Those interludes definitely brought a different atmosphere that I don’t think anyone really expected.
Yeah, and then you also had a couple of guest vocalists on it as well: the vocalists from Knocked Loose and For the Fallen Dreams.
My f*cking guys.
What was it like getting to work with those guys?
With Chad [Ruhlig], it was super funny because the studio that we went to to record records all his stuff there. And one day Josh brought him up in conversation, and I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You know Chad?” And he’s like, “Yeah, that motherf*cker’s supposed to be finishing painting my studio this week. I was like, “Can you get him over here?” And he was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll just text him or whatever.” And I was like, “Text him and ask him if he’s down to do a guest spot. We’ll send him a song.” And 20 minutes later before even hearing the song, he was like, “Yeah, I’d love to do it.” So that means he had kind of heard about us before, which is cool.
Later that night, we got an email in our inbox, and it was like, “Hey, would you like to open for For the Fallen Dreams as direct support on their tour.” So it’s so weird that was asked them to do guest vocals and get a tour offer the same night, because we weren’t even going to see him in the studio for two more days. So the first time he came into the studio, he was like, “What’s up, boys? I hear we’re going to be doing some touring.” And I’m like, “Dude, this is so insane. This is the first time meeting you and we’re going to be touring and you’re doing a spot on our record.” I blew him up. I was like, “Yo, I wanted to be you so bad when I was growing up, dude. You were one of my favorite vocalists.”
Then Bryan [Garris] — he’s been our boy for so long. We toured together at the end of 2015 — it was us, Adalia, and Knocked Loose. That was back before anybody cared much about us or Knocked Loose, and it was a smaller tour, so it was very intimate. So it’s super cool that his band is blowing up, and we just got signed and dropped a new record today. It’s just very cool. Bryan’s voice is awesome, and I’m very glad he layered this vocal with me on “Empire of Dirt”. My voice is kind of lower mid-range, and I purposely did that part that I wanted him to layer a little bit lower in hopes that he would know to layer it, and he did. The combination of my voice and his at the same time is evil, straight evil. I love it.
So what’s it like, I guess — I assume you’re getting a lot of comparisons to Knocked Loose? What’s it like being compared to them? They’re kind of a more straight-up hardcore, almost beatdown-type band.
Eh, I call them metalcore too. If you’re going to compare us to Knocked Loose, then you need to compare us to Left Behind and Kublai Khan and Two by Four and…perhaps Jesus Piece. Like, all five of those bands I just named are part of a new wave of heavy metalcore, in my opinion. It’s metalcore in a hardcore way — it draws the best of both.
I mean, that’s what metalcore is: metal and hardcore.
Exactly. If you think of the word metalcore, it’s literally metal and hardcore smashed together, and you’ve got metalcore. I don’t really care that people compare us. I understand it completely — we’re both heavy, mosh music metalcore bands. People always try to pit us against each other on the internet, and they don’t understand that we’ve been bros for years now.
It’s funny that people come up with those matchups.
We laugh about it, too. Like, Bryan texted me earlier today making fun of it. Everybody wants there to be beef or something like that, or, like, compare us or say one is better than the other. Honestly, vocally, no comparison. Instrumentally, I can see it, but only because we’re two metalcore bands who palm mute, and every band palm mutes, so I get that.
We have one song that has those dissonant, like, disembodied panic chords, if you will. And today, somebody said that if you mute the vocals, it would sound like a Knocked Loose song. I think, like, five people crapped on him, saying, “Well, if you mute your f*cking comments this thread wouldn’t be so stupid.” It’s, like, a dissonant, driven two-step riff. Obviously Knocked Loose is using that a lot right now, and that’s obviously their sound. So we’re not going to bite their sound, especially when we’ve been good friends with them for so long, and they’re killing it. We don’t want to be Knocked Loose and Knocked Loose shouldn’t want to be us, or Left Behind or Jesus Piece. Everyone is in their own lane in a broader spectrum, you know what I mean? So everybody should be doing their own thing.
Let’s talk a bit about your song “Anything to Numb”. With the music video, I noticed some criticism on both sides, either people who didn’t like that it had a “trigger warning” or people who thought the content went too far. How do you respond to the issues they had with it?
I had a phone call with the videographer, Max Moore, who is amazing at what he does — I had been wanting to do a video with him for years, and I’m so glad we got to do two of them. He was telling me what he wanted the imagery to be, and I was like, that might be going a little too far and I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings or instigate anything. I was worried about it when we dropped the video, and luckily, I didn’t see much distaste for it. I saw a handful of people speaking their piece about it.
For sure, there’s always going to be people upset one way or another.
It was very cool, though, because when the minority group would speak their opinions on it, there would be 100 comments in response that are like, “No, dude, you’re missing it. It’s not about that. It’s to portray this, or explain this.” Everybody that liked it and understood it easily was able to stick up for it, but not in, like, a rude way — not a, “F*ck you, you’re missing the point.”
It’s more just, like, “Hey, this is what they meant…”
Everybody respected the meaning enough to kind of stick up for itself.
You guys are from Philadelphia, so what was it like working your way through that scene? I can’t think of a lot of hardcore or metal bands from that city currently.
Right now, it’s us and Jesus Piece. We’re the ones doing a lot, I think. Philadelphia’s always had hard ass bands. Always. The scene is way different than when I first got into it. It was a little more metalcore — kind of Gideon-sounding without the clean vocals. And all of the hardcore kids now used to love that stuff, too, and I still love it…
…and Gideon’s on this tour too.
Yeah, exactly. From, like ages 13 to 17, the scene was really prominent, and then it died off for a couple of years. I stopped going to shows. Then actually, I heard about Varials, and that was what brought me back to start seeing shows. Before I was in the band, the four of them without me brought back our local scene like two or three years ago. Then their singer got booted, and I hopped in because I was friends with all of them since the old scene days. It really took off from there. Where we did our EP release show a few years ago was a spot called The Legion. Those 200 kids that would come to every single Legion show for every single band moved from The Legion when it got shut down to the Philly venues and stuff like that. They recruited more and more people from New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia. Now the scene is one massive Northeastern collective scene. It’s absolutely insane…
God, I’m jealous of you guys. Living in Kansas, if you’re out in the country, you’ve got to drive several hours to get to a show sometimes. It must be great.
Dude, it’s amazing. Everybody knows everybody. Everybody really likes everybody for the most part. Honestly, anybody that’s even remotely heavy could play Philly and have a great time. Everybody pops off for everything.
Now that you have a record out, where do you hope to go from here?
I write the vast majority of the riffs and instrumentals for the band and obviously do vocals. I kind of set the band on a path musically with this first record, so I definitely kind of a have a zone that I’m trying to get to. There’s a song called “Abacus” that’s a more experimental song that we have on the record, and I’m definitely trying to combine that with the heavier sound we have now so that it’s more mixed, it’s more dynamic. That way, we can just get weirder. I hate bands that don’t progress. I hate, hate, hate when a badass band puts the same record out two or three times. It’s like, I was in the place where I heard the record originally, and that’s why I liked it. But that was two years ago. I’m not in the same place anymore, so I don’t want the same thing. I want growth.
That’s a great ambition considering the state of metalcore right now.
Exactly, there’s not much striving to jump out of the box. I’m not saying we’re doing anything amazing at all. I’m just saying, personally, we’re trying to push it a little bit.
Anything else you have to say to your fans?
Listen to Deftones and smoke weed (laughs).