Rocker. Christian. ‘Murican. They go by many monikers, but none so well recognized as their name: Demon Hunter. Incepted by brothers Don and Ryan Clark, these Washington natives have sold over half a million albums to date, and should well exceed that with the recent release of their eighth studio album, Outlive. The band took some time to speak with Shockwave Magazine about the release of the new record, their time on the road, their attitudes towards being a Christian band, and a possible appearance on an upcoming episode of Sesame Street. At a minimum, at least three of those things are true.
Shockwave Magazine: Congrats on the new album, Outlive! We at Shockwave Magazine love your embrace of the Christian Rock label and the refusal to “ride the fence.” Do you feel the new album continues with the same path, message, and feeling that your prior albums have had, or is there a thematic change you were veering toward?
Ryan Clark: In terms of the big picture, the songs on Outlive cover very familiar territory for us – the overarching theme having mostly to do with the volatile state of the world and the lens through which we view it. However, there have been a lot of changes in our personal lives over the past 3 years, so many of the songs deal with how these larger themes are processed through very specific instances.
Four out of five of us have recently become first-time fathers, so that puts a lot of things into perspective. It’s one thing to survey the world as it relates to you directly. It’s something else entirely to consider how this relates to your children.
A common criticism of mainstream Christian rock, and a criticism I wholeheartedly reject, is that by avoiding (or rarely mentioning) the invocation of Jesus’ name and overt holy cross references you aren’t achieving anything by being a “Christian Rock” band. Noting your second track on Outlive is “Jesus Wept,” what is your opinion on this? Other than making amazing music, what is your angle by being a Christian Rock band? Or is it simply how you’d prefer to be known?
If the purpose of faith-based music is to spread a particular message, you’d have to be extremely ignorant to think there was a one-size-fits-all approach to “reaching” every kind of person on a deeply spiritual level. Though blatant Bible-centric lyrics may resonate with some people, they are undoubtedly an immediate turnoff for others. The world of metal is a fickle one to begin with. Add the concept of Christianity into the mix, and you’ve got a lot of nuts that are hard to crack.
At the end of the day, we will continue to do things in a way that is sensible to us. I believe in respecting listeners. That means I believe not all listeners are not oblivious. If that is the case, then it’s not necessary for me to stupefy the message for blind consumption. I can and will assume people have brains, and they’re listening intently to what’s being addressed in a Demon Hunter song. People don’t like being advertised to – especially in overt fashion. If you want to resonate with someone, you have to find a real connection.
To be clear, I’m not in love with categorizing music by its subject matter. Christian music is, from what I can tell, the only sub-genre to be treated in this manner (and I’m sure that’s the fault of its own creators more than anyone else). Every other genre is appropriately categorized by style. I’ve said many times in the past that we don’t get hung up on this categorization, but that’s because I think it’s an endlessly convoluted discussion. At the end of the day, I’d rather not waste any breath going down that well-tread rabbit hole. For better or worse, I’m fine with the “Christian band” label.
You all have had lead-singer collaborations from other impressive bands like Trevor from Thousand Foot Krutch and, my personal favorite, Howard Jones previously of Killswitch Engage. Of all your collaborations, which would you say is your favorite? With whom would your band’s dream collaboration be?
The most exciting guest for me, personally, was Speed Strid from Soilwork on “Collapsing.” We’ve all been massive Soilwork fans for a long time, so that was huge for us.
The “dream collaboration” is a hard one, because I’m not sure if any of my favorite vocalists would actually mesh well with a Demon Hunter song. For instance, my all-time favorite vocalist is probably Dave Gahan from Depeche Mode, but I don’t know if that would work. It’s actually hard for me to think about who that person would be in the metal world. Maybe Chino from Deftones or Robb Flynn from Machine Head.
You’re known for your lyrical music videos that have incredible art and symbolism contained in them. The music video for “I Will Fail You” feels incredibly cryptic and turns from this style, turning to horrific at the end, but its minimalist approach feels so visceral. What gave you the inspiration for such a shoot? Are you considering a similar video for a song on the new album?
I definitely like exploring concepts that might seem a bit left field for us. To me, videos can serve a variety of purposes. Ordinarily, when we release a new album, I like to lead with a performance video. I think it’s good to show the band playing the song, just to reestablish the look of the band after a span of time has passed. But as an artist, it’s fulfilling to play outside of those bounds from time to time. The videos for “LifeWar” and “I Will Fail You” are much more concept-heavy. Much of the time, the lyrical content and vibe of the song will lend itself to something more artistic by nature.
In your 2013 interview on Loudwire, it came out that your music was used for enhanced interrogation techniques used by the US Military after Metallica withdrew their permission to use their music for such a purpose. While you say you didn’t volunteer your music for that use, you didn’t outright condemn it, either. Do you think you may have missed a key opportunity to use Christ’s message of ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘love they neighbor’ and condemn the act? While you didn’t volunteer your music for this purpose, you didn’t speak out or withdraw it’s use for interrogation techniques. What was the thought process or motivation for your silence on this issue? How does it play into your faith walk?
I never did an interview with Loudwire about this. When the Esquire story was published, we were besieged by multiple requests for comment. We decided to issue one statement to address the various aspects of the story to the best of our ability, and let the matter rest there. The statement was picked up by Loudwire and most major outlets and is still available online.
You asked how it relates to my faith. I’ll have to admit, though I wholeheartedly agree with the teachings of Christ as they relate to forgiveness, I’m also a very flawed human being. If you know anything about Demon Hunter’s lyrics, you know that my thoughts and actions are a far cry from what I aspire to be.
Many of us at Shockwave recently enjoyed the performances and killer atmosphere on Shiprocked. You all just finished with Axes and Anchors late last month. What is your favorite venue or Charter Cruise to perform? Would you consider joining the Shiprocked cast?
Axes and Anchors was pretty fun. I don’t know if a cruise ship is necessarily my cup of tea, but it was a pretty cool experience. I’ve heard great things about Shiprocked.
We’ve played a lot of great venues, so it’s hard to pick one. We really love playing any House Of Blues. Those are always really nice venues. I think if I were to chose something more specific, it would be the Norva in Norfolk, Virginia. It’s a great place to play, good people, and the amenities backstage are unrivaled for a band like us. Massive dressing rooms, laundry, showers, a hot tub… and they keep it nice and clean. Those are the kinds of things you really learn to appreciate on tour.
What’s something you wish more magazines and interviewers would ask you about? Feel free to elaborate on it.
Personally, I like talking about things outside the realm of the band. Interviews can tend to touch on the same few pieces of info – recording process, meaning behind song lyrics, touring plans, etc. As the guy answering the questions, sometimes it feels like I just have to rephrase the same answer a dozen times. I think it’s interesting for readers/listeners to hear about more peripheral things like interests outside of the band – movies, TV, hobbies, etc. Or things that are maybe more introspective or psychological in nature – childhood, fears, etc. My favorite interviews are usually ones that uncover something totally unexpected about someone that I thought I knew a lot about.
Tell the fans what your plans are through 2017, and if you plan to release another album in the coming year or two?
We’ve got a handful of one-off dates on the calendar, but I’m sure we’ll fill in the gaps a bit as the year progresses. No plans for a solid tour, but we’ll see.
It is our goal to get back into the swing of releasing albums around every 2 years, so with that said, it won’t be too long before we’re back at it. I’d rather not wait as long between Outlive and whatever’s next.
There you have it, metalcore Christian music fans who are, statistically speaking, probably good people. Catch the newest album Outlive, along with previous ones you may not have in your collection, by visiting www.demonhunter.net and grab the album along with some sweet Demon Hunter merch. Keep riding the Shockwave!