This interview previously aired on idobi Radio and is for everyone who was too lazy to tune in. Enjoy!
By now, we’d like to think you have all been absolutely mesmerized by the magnificent musicianship of Silent Plant’s hard-hitting work of art When The End Began. Thunderous and thought-provoking similar to 2016′s critically acclaimed Everything Went Sound, Silent Planet’s latest is yet another brilliant concoction of their progressive spoken word-like metalcore.
Speaking with vocalist Garrett Russell about the pressure of living up to their previous release, the honest and outspoken frontman admitted it definitely got to him saying, “Recording this album put me in a really hardcore depression. I literally woke up and my body ached. It was nuts. It was the worst few months of my life, for sure.”
As if the pressure of surpassing their previous record wasn’t enough, the band was also faced with the difficult task of replacing their guitarist and main songwriter Spencer Keene. Turning to their “wild genius” Mitchell Stark to take over, Russell credits Stark’s quick learning with not only saving the new album but also the band’s career.
“If you take almost any other guitar player in our music scene, anyone who can play technical heavy metal riffs, if you make them our guitar player instead of Mitch, our band would’ve ceased to exist,” Russell said. “When Spencer stopped writing music [for us], most bands would have stopped being a band.”
To read more about how Silent Planet broke through their adversity and came together to release one of this year’s best metalcore records, be sure to read our interview with Russell below. Afterward, make sure to not only grab a copy of When The End Began but also pick up tickets to see Silent Plant out on tour with The Amity Affliction, Senses Fail and Belmont here.
Everything Was Sound was obviously a big record for you guys. When it came to working on this new album, was there was a little pressure?
Garrett Russell: There was, to be honest. In the past, there really wasn’t and just recording this album put me in like a really hardcore depression. I literally woke up and my body ached. It was nuts. Like, it was really shitty dude. It was the worst few months of my life, for sure. I literally had nightmares sometimes that I’m back in those few months where it felt like I was in a prison and it was really not awesome. I don’t know how much of that came from pressure I made up in my head or me just getting out of surgery and my body reacting pretty weird to some of what they did in the surgery and some of the medications I was having to take. Some of that might have been probably part of it. But all in all, yeah there was pressure I think for the first time. I think too, we wrote this album with a slightly different – like the process of writing was slightly different. So I think we weren’t really sure how that would come out. But I’m really proud of the record, which I know sounds strange to say after saying all the stuff that I just said because those things would probably sound like contrasting facts. But I am proud of the record, but to be honest, I’m still mentally recovering from it.
When The End Began is the first record you’ve done without guitarist Spencer Keene. Do you think that had to do with the added pressure?
Yeah, certainly. Mitch [Stark, guitarist] and Spencer are definitely different musicians and how they approach music is slightly different. I think honestly if our band didn’t have Mitch – like if you take almost any other guitar player in our music scene, anyone who can play technical heavy metal riffs, if you make them our guitar player instead of Mitch, our band would’ve ceased to exist. When Spencer stopped writing music [for us], most bands would have stopped being a band. Bands in our situation would’ve had to stop. Our music – if you break it down, like the structure and some of the weird tuning we use and just like the weird ebb and flow of the songs, there just isn’t really a lot of bands that are sounding like us, which could be good or bad. Maybe we suck and we’re doing a thing that’s kind of pointless. But regardless, to be Silent Planet wouldn’t have really been possible [without Mitch]. The weird thing, we kind of randomly had Mitch join the band a few years ago and he is this kind of wild genius. He’s really sweet and he’s humble. He would never say this but like, I mean, he taught himself Russian for fun when he was 16. We went to Moscow and he was just talking to people in Russian. And his Spanish is so good. We played a show in Mexico and people asked him if he grew up in Spain or something because his Spanish is just there. And he’s one of those rare people that is able to learn stuff just way faster than normal. Like I’m still working on Spanish and I stuck at it. He mastered it when he was in high school. He’s kind of an abnormal guy. So he was able to join the band (his previous band was like an indie band) and kind of figure out how to play these weird metal riffs and then figure out how to write Silent Planet albums to where people will hear a [slight] difference when they hear the album – he obviously wasn’t trying to mimic Spencer, he was trying to just be himself but he also kept the style and I think our album still feels uniquely us and that’s kind of the whole weird thing about all this. You know, I’ve seen a lot of bands lose a primary writer who has a strong identity and those bands usually stop. They just kind of have to call it or they just go without the person and usually people are super pissed because they’re like, “Wait, this isn’t the same band I signed up for.”
That’s interesting. To us, there doesn’t really seem to be a drastic drop-off from Everything Was Sound to When The End Began. If we didn’t know about the lineup change, we would have never guessed.
I’m glad to hear that. I think that’s definitely the goal. We believe in everything we’ve done. I guess one thing that makes us slightly different than a lot of heavier bands that you might hear is a lot of times the first album these bands put out, they’re like eighteen. They’re still just figuring out their own selves and their own personalities and what they like about music. For us, what’s kind of a little different is that it took us a really long time to sort of grow to where – I mean, granted, actually, Spencer was quite young when he wrote our first album. I was 24 when we put it out. Like, I’m old. I’m definitely older than most of the people I meet who are in this genre of music. I think most people kind of get older and they think “Oh, I gotta stop playing heavy music. I got to either get a real job or go play like Coachella rock.” So I guess that’s kind of a unique thing for us is we stand behind our old stuff just as much as our new stuff. We don’t roll our eyes when someone’s like, “Oh play that old song.” We’re like “Oh, cool!” We like that. We believe in this. We haven’t really gone through a thing where we feel like, “Oh, that’s ‘the old us.’” It kind of all of us, you know? I remember Underoath talking about when they put out Lost in the Sound of Separation after Define the Great Line. I remember them talking about like, “Oh, it’s kind of interesting because we finally put out the record that we really believe in. You know, with Define the Great Line, we were like, okay, where should we go from here? Because we already like what we’ve done.” And that’s kind of where it’s been for us every time we write. We like what we’ve done but we also want to grow. We also want to be open to change. And so that’s kind of, I guess, that’s where we are.
Aside from Mitch taking over a lot of the writing responsibility, is there a defining moment on the record you can point to and say that’s the newer Silent Planet?
Yeah, certainly. I would say “The New Eternity.” It has kind of a big chorus: “Strange fruit is growing on the vine beneath a bright synthetic sky. I fear we’ve sealed our fate. There’s no escape - there’s no escape.” It’s a big chorus, like a chorus that was really written with a lot of intention, which it was. And that’s one of the unique things about this album is we spent a lot more time on song structure and choruses. Because when we play our old stuff, it’s pretty clear to me that our chorus moments weren’t really the parts people were holding their breath for. It was more likely a certain lyrical moment or a certain musical part. So obviously, we didn’t change anything about our style or our approach or the kind of music we want to write or the stuff we want to talk about. We just really focused a lot more on the melody. In the past, I’ve written most of the melodies and I don’t even sing them and I don’t even sing well so it was like, “Okay, let’s write these melodies with people who are great at melodies.” So we had our buddy Steve Cobucci from Wolves at the Gate help us with some ideas, we had our buddy Ryan Leitru from For Today help us with some cool ideas and Will Putney, who was actually there producing all of the record this time unlike the last one. So we really spent a lot of time figuring out singing stuff and I think that’s one thing that kind of shows through on the record. I also think that Mitch’s approach to songwriting is a little more direct where he’s not going to quite make you wait through like 30 seconds of almost silence for something to come in. He might just do it right away and hit you with that. I think one thing I talked to Spencer and Mitch about is, Mitch is a little more rhythmic with how he perceives music and Spencer’s always been so thematic in almost like a film scoring thing. And it’s funny, now he’s doing film scoring and that’s totally what he should be doing. I mean, he was great at writing band music, of course. But that’s really his calling, I think.
It’s interesting because there’s such a gray area when it comes to choruses in heavy music. Some fans just want heavy breakdowns and others enjoy being able to sing along. Being that you aren’t signing the cleans for Silent Planet, do you enjoy the new choruses?
Oh, I love it. One because I love a good chorus [and] it’s fun for me as someone who just wants to listen to the band. Obviously, it sounds weird to say, but I’m a fan of the band. I enjoy listening to [Silent Planet]. So I love listening to the singing especially because it gives me a break from hearing my own freaking voice and it lets me do something else. But I think, too, I really like the singing because I think we want to be a metal band that takes risks and doesn’t go the easy route and isn’t trying to say like, “Oh, you know, three albums from now we’ll be a rock band and we’ll be the biggest band.” We’re really challenging ourselves and really doing things for the sake of the music first instead of for consumption first. But also, we want to write great things because I think the problem with sort of, like, the “sell out metalcore idea,” I think it’s so much more just the lack of creative imagination than it is necessarily wanting to write infectious big chorus moments, you know what I mean? And so I think those definitely have a place in our music. I think what doesn’t have a place in our music is saying, “Let’s not do that thing that we’re more stoked about because, you know, people might not be able to follow along.” Or “Let’s not do that one. Let’s cut out these five because that’s less popular now.” You know, every band sounds like thrashy, kind of 2002 metalcore now – which is cool, but we’re not going to do that just because we’re aware that’s the trend or the vibe that’s going on. And no offense to the bands that are, they can be super what they love, but obviously we’re just going to keep doing what we think we need to do because at the end of the day whenever [Silent Planet’s] done and whenever not a single person in the world cares about us, we want to have a discography that we feel we’re proud of and that’s exactly what these are. The songs we needed to write, you know? That’s really our goal and our passion right now.
That’s refreshing to hear in this world of copy-and-paste. Speaking of your lyrics, which you always leave footnotes for, do you enjoy giving people so much background into the ideas you sing about?
I do, I do. But it’s funny because [”In Absence”] has no footnotes. The reason I didn’t want to put notes for that one is because it’s really emotional and it’s just, I think too the lyrics are so clouded, I just felt like it didn’t really feel right for that song. I could have had some. It wouldn’t have been a ton, it probably would have been like eight or nine, and I already had some written out but I just kind of deleted them. It’s funny because the song’s very different than anything we’ve ever done. It’s pretty much a rock song and so it’ll be interesting to see what people think about it. Hopefully someone calls me a sellout. I want my money back if no one calls me and a sellout [laughs]. I think most level-headed people will be like, “Oh, this is just one of many songs on the album” but I’m sure there will be a few people saying “I can’t believe you went rock man, I believed in you.” It is what it is and musically it’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
In previous discussions, you’ve talked about how you don’t think Silent Planet will ever be a huge band, to the likes of say, Lamb of God – which, who knows if any band can reach the level of fame anymore. But was that an idea you came to realize early in the band’s career?
Oh yeah. super early. I’m surprised that we got to where we are where we can do an American headlining tour. For me, connecting with our listeners is one of the biggest reasons why I do this. I don’t know, I always just felt like the Lord would keep us small enough. Of course, I’m not speaking for my bandmates I’m just speaking for myself, but I always felt kind of like God would keep us small enough and humble enough that we can focus on what’s really important which is people who are at our shows and are hoping to talk and are going through some stuff. Just seeing life-giving moments and transformation happen in people’s lives is definitely [important] for me as far as doing this and I imagine if you were way, way too big – it might be hard for Randy Blythe to just walk out in the crowd and start talking to people and have a genuine conversation. No offense to Randy Blythe, that’s how popularity works.
It’s interesting you mention God keeping Silent Planet a smaller band. Our scene has certainly seen big religious acts like Underoath and August Burns Red. Do you think popularity diverts from faith in a way?
I think that speed and busyness diverts you from faith. I read a book like five years ago called Living Gently in a Violent World by a philosopher and theologian named Stanley Hauerwas who’s a really fascinating fellow, very anti-nation, very anti-war. He moved to France and lived in a l'arche community, which these communities are really unique because they were started by a nun and they were started with the belief that people with disabilities, like intellectual disabilities, should take care of one another. So people with intellectual disabilities – that aren’t high [functining] enough to live with their families or live alone are sent to these places. [The idea is] they shouldn’t be in hospital settings where they’re put into separate rooms or even have a roommate – it’s kind of a similar model to the hospital or prison system – but [the idea is] they should actually take care of one another and they should help one another and that all humans are created for intimacy and for community including people that maybe have had disabilities that make it hard for us to really understand what they’re thinking.
So [Hauerwas] did that and he wrote this book about how he realized that their speed is just different and to really love these people and to understand them you have to really slow down. You have to calm your mind, you have to be present and it really made me examine the speed at which I live my life and I still live my life with a constant “what’s next?”. When we wrote this album, I was so hung up on like, “Okay, well this is a good line but what’s the next one?” I couldn’t even enjoy what I was writing. I couldn’t even enjoy the moment I was in because I was just obsessing over the next moment. It’s in my prayer system to, you know, keep me gentle with myself and with time. I don’t want to be this guy running around hoarding time. I want to be present. I know that sounds like some surfer-hippie stuff, especially coming out of my stoner-sounding mouth. But you know, I think popularity probably often leads to busyness like, “Oh, I gotta do this and that and this” and I don’t want to be too busy to notice the one person that needs to talk. I hope God has grace for me [becuase] I’m sure there will be many times in my life that I don’t make time for other people. You know, maybe it’s out of desire to do the right thing but I want to notice things, you know. I’ve been speaking to other bands and how they do things and stuff – because keep in mind a lot of people with being a Christian band are like, “Oh, I believe these things and I gotta give JC a shout out on stage” and that’s not really my relationship with Jesus. My understanding of Christianity is kind of different than that. Not better, not worse – maybe it’s worse, I don’t know. It’s just not how I see it. But for me being a Christian, we don’t consider ourselves a Christain band, but me being a Christian “person,” I guess a Christian artist, whatever, that means I want to find something beautiful and I want to be excited about the mystery of what’s to come in every moment and really just be consumed with love for people and love for myself and love for my enemies. And so I guess for me, busyness and speed are probably the two primary enemies of really pursuing my faith. My enemies aren’t atheist or whatever they would tell you what your enemies are at certain churches. My enemies are myself, my desire to always live in the next moment and to be gone in this moment.
That’s a really interesting point of view. We appreciate you sharing that. It’s also interesting to hear your viewpoint on faith considering your recent tour with Stray From The Path. While they don’t openly speak out against religion, they don’t exactly seem like a band that’s pro-faith.
Yeah, they don’t like cops that much [laughs]. I mean, it’s funny because they have friends who are cops. They mostly mean police brutality and a lot of what happens with cops.
Right! So being that they might not be the most friendly to the church, did you have to reconsider things when the tour was pitched?
I mean, [the tour] really came from us. It really came out of my relationship with Tom, who is the guitar player and kind of the “band dad” – as much as I’m like the “band dad” of my band, he’s kind of the “band dad” of his band. So the two “band dads” talked and we’ve been planning it for a year, we almost did it earlier but some stuff came up. But Tom likes our music, he listens to it. I thought it was really cool because most bands are just so concerned with like “who’s who” and being cool or whatever and they usually don’t take time to listen to a band and subjectively decide how they feel about it. So that was cool, he was jamming us like four years ago and encouraging his listeners to check us out well before we were really on any kind of radar. I really respect that Stray talks about real stuff. I think more bands need to talk about real stuff. I, with Silent Planet, try to speak about specific things. Some of them might be controversial. Some of them might not be controversial. Some of them might be kind of gross like, “Why’d you write a song about that?” But regardless, they’re all things that I think need to be talked about, things that I’m passionate about talking about and I want to be specific. Like, the thing that I really kind of grew to loathe about most bands in our world is just the lack of – I have trouble engaging with stuff if it’s not about anything.
There’s no substance.
Yeah, and I see that in a lot of the religious bands that try to give low-key references to what they believe but don’t even really go fully into it. I like that For Today was super straightforward about what they believed about stuff, you know. It’s just because they were saying something. I don’t even agree with a lot of things they said theologically, I just like that they said stuff. In the same way, I like that Stray is saying stuff. You know, I like bands like Rage Against the Machine. I like Kendrick Lamar. I like people who really, like Eminem, people who have something to stay and really say it and take a chance. Instead of being a politician just saying like, “Oh, how can I obtain the maximum amount of fans and minimize my alienation? The only people I’ll alienate are people that would make me more popular in my process of alienating.” There’s this libertarian rap metal band called BackWordz and I honestly don’t really like them musically but I noticed the dude’s like crazy opinionated. He’s on Twitter just arguing with people 24/7 – and I wouldn’t approach things that way, arguing on Twitter, that’s fun, I’ve done it a few times, I’m kind of over it. But I think it’s cool that the dude has something to say and that’s cool.
So as an artist who speaks up for important subjects, is it frustrating when you see musicians with zero substance in their music become popular?
Oh no. Being frustrated at their success would be like accidentally kicking a table when you’re walking. Oh god, it’s the worst when you kick it with your pinky toe and your barefoot. But when you kick a table, you could be mad at the table but the table is just a table. What I mean there is, I’ll say explicitly: One) that music is just dumb, it’s just stupid and, like the table, just has really nothing to offer. But there’s a function for it like the table has a function in a room. Those bands have a function in society which is to perpetuate the myth of greed, to perpetuate the myth of power, to perpetuate the myth of violence and whatever. It is what it is. I wish the bands who talked about partying or whatever would at least have good music when they do it. Typically they don’t. I wish they were musically progressive or cool. Say a band like The Contortionist, they don’t talk about this, but if The Contortionist talked about all the money they make and how cool their shoes were and stuff like that, I feel like I would listen to it. I’d be like, “Sick! I don’t agree with this, but dude your music is tight!” [laughs] Of course, they don’t talk about that stuff. But just for an example, you know.