Features, Interviews

Panopticons and Metalcore Book Clubs: A Conversation with Silent Planet’s Garrett Russell

garrett2If you never thought you’d see discussions about Goya on a music video, you clearly don’t know Silent Planet. In fact, melding philosophical and literary theory with mind-melting metalcore and religious ideology is only the tip of the iceberg for Garrett Russell, enigmatic frontman and screamer of the group. The band’s creative approach on their 2014 debut album The Night God Slept drew them a cult following in the genre, and now in just a few short weeks, he and the rest of Silent Planet will be setting out on the Vans Warped Tour to spend two months alternating between the pleasant AC of a tour bus and the scorchingly hot blacktop of Warped venues. Before he and his bandmates set off, I asked him about philosophy, misogyny in metal, and his take on concept albums (the newest of which will be out July 1st).

Ruby Johnson: For your EP lastsleep (1944-1946), did you set out planning to write a concept album? How did that concept really emerge?

Garrett Russell: We had stories written about different women throughout time who have overcome all these incredible kind of evil forces to bear life through the world. We were writing a full length at the time, but we really wanted to get some of the music out there because we weren’t able to release the full-length quite yet. So we decided to take two songs off of that full length and release them individually, and those two–musically and lyrically–are kind of interesting in that those two specifically had to do with 1944, 1945, and 1946. We kind of released that little window of time from the upcoming album [on the EP lastsleep].

RJ: I did notice that about a lot of the songs on The Night God Slept are about women which is really unique, especially from a band involved in the alternative and metal scenes, since there’s sometimes a lot of misogyny in those scenes. Have you witnessed a lot of misogyny? Do you think it’s a big problem for the community?

GR: So much misogyny. I guess a lot of people wouldn’t think it’s a problem, but I think it is, and I think that maybe it’s just an American problem. I think that in metal, a lot of bands that are popular write about women in a degrading way and sometimes it’s a very categorical way to think about women’s lives, like the idea that she’s always there for you when you need her and stuff. That in itself is a bit sexist too, having women function on your terms rather than viewing them as people. A lot of bands in our music scene market to that, going out of their way to justify [their treatment of women in music] to try to get popular, and it’s gross, and it sucks, and usually the bands that do that suck. But they’re popular, and somehow got a foothold in the music scene. But I do think we’re changing [as a scene]. I see a lot of bands here challenging that, especially bands that have females in their bands that are just incredible, like Abby from Household, and people at the top like Kevin Lyman who are trying to change that. I do think things are changing, hopefully.

RJ: Your new song “Panic Room” addresses PTSD and issues that affect our veterans. For your new album Everything Was Sound [out July 1st], should we be expecting a concept album revolving around issues with veterans and/or war?

GR: It is a concept album. The concept is the idea of the gaze of society and social control and dealing with mental illness. The first song is that I’m looking for shelter and I wander into a panopticon, which is a sort of prison of the mind. And I go through each door of this prison, and every door leads me to a new person’s story. Each song deals with a different person’s reality. I kind of struggle with [defining] what is mental illness–are people “sick” who have an adverse reaction to a sick society?

RJ: There’s a lot of discussion about dealing with mental illness in the scene and organizations like To Write Love On Her Arms. Have you worked with organizations like that?

GR: Most of the time they [organizations like TWLOHA] deal with more of self-harm, depression, and anxiety, which is all good. We’re also cognizant of mental illnesses that have a little less visibility like PTSD, which you don’t hear as much about because it’s not quite as common among the teenage kids at Warped Tour.

RJ: Some bands will hesitate to label themselves as “Christian” music, specifically because they don’t want to pigeonhole themselves. Your music is very spiritual; you reference the Bible a lot. How do you feel about the label of “Christian band”? Do you consider Silent Planet a Christian group?

GR: I think that in the terms of the Christian market and the genre of Christian “whatever [genre],” I don’t want to be labeled a Christian band because it’s a really corrupt, really gross industry, and I don’t want anything to do with it. However, in the interest of me following Jesus and then writing songs that kind of talk about that, I would want us to be a Christian band in that sense, where we are about redemption, about faith, and in that we believe that love conquers hate, and conquers fear. Maybe in a different universe where Christian music wasn’t such a superficial thing I would be glad to be a Christian band. I think that would be an honor.

RJ: In addition to referencing the Bible, you also talk about classical literature and philosophy, Voltaire,  Jean-Paul Sartre. Are you a big reader yourself?

GR: Yeah, I like to read. I just kind of [got into reading while] going to college, so maybe that shows. It shows because then in that setting, we have to read, we have to grow. And I often encourage people who are driving to a university setting to choose a major, or a study or focus that will grow them as a human and help them navigate the rest of their lives as best as they can, instead of just thinking, “what’s going to get me a job?” because it’s hard to get a job in general right now. I think if you can grow as a human, that would be better for you.

[Reading is] kind of your job when you’re in college, and now that I’m out of school, I have to be more willful about reading. I kind of read a little, but it’s not my job anymore. I still want to read.

RJ: I was looking at some of the comments on Silent Planet’s Youtube videos, and instead of the regular, dumb Youtube comments, there are actual discussions about literature, which is really cool.

GR: I feel so stoked when I see that, you know? I also think that the core people who believe in our band and who have supported us and have been there with us for so long…we have the honor of playing music for some pretty amazing world-changers. I guess the more popular we get, the more people might listen to us just because it’s something they want to listen to, and that’s totally fine. But we know for the people who have followed us for a long time it’s a little bit more than just the music, it’s this relationship and this story that we’ve developed together.

RJ: And through your music you’re probably introducing a lot of these fans to new authors and literature.

GR: Yeah, absolutely! I have a friend named Christian who came to a show in October when we played the Gramercy Theatre. He brought his copy of I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by René Girard, and we discussed it a little bit. I had read it probably four or five years ago and he had just read it, and he was on it. He kind of re-taught me the book. Moments like that that just blow my mind.

RJ:You’ll be starting your first summer on Warped Tour in about a month. You’ll probably be ready for the heat since you’re from LA. How are you guys preparing for the summer?

GR: We’re trying to play a few new songs, which will be fun, seeing as we’ve been playing songs off The Night God Slept for the last few years, so it’ll be really fun to do that first of all. The next thing we’re doing, kind of on the boring side of things, is having to take care of some money stuff. Most importantly, we’re getting spiritually focused on what we need to do and how we are going to bring who we are to a festival that, I think, a lot of people would associate pretty differently. I have so much respect for Warped Tour, too. Kevin Lyman started it a long time ago. I love how non-elitist it is, it really helps get the bands out there.

RJ: It’s been about a year since Igor Efimov, your old guitarist, departed. He was with you for a while, so has it been a big change touring and writing without him in the band?

GR: He joined the band after our last album was done. He’s a great friend of ours. In a record sense, he wasn’t a contributor to the writing process, just because he joined after the last record, and then exited the band right before we started writing for [Everything Was Sound]. He’s an amazing guitarist and was so awesome to have in our band, but with regards to the writing it wasn’t a huge change.

RJ: Did you listen to metal, rock, or hardcore growing up?

GR: I started listening to it when I was about thirteen. The first record I ever bought would have been Underoath’s The Changing of Times, that came out in 2002. They had a song called “When The Sun Sleeps,” and I started listening to it on repeat. It was kind of early metalcore stuff that I’d listen to.

RJ: What are some bands or albums that you’ve been listening to lately?

GR: I’ve been listening to the new mewithoutYou record that came out, it’s called Pale Horses. I’ve been listening to that a lot. I’ve listened to Household recently, which is really cool, fun…. rock? I don’t even know what they’re called. They’re a band from Minneapolis. I’m listening to new Polyenso record, Polyenso used to be Oceana, they kind of changed their genre and have a new record which is really good. And then some old hip-hop stuff.

RJ: You have a nice variety there.

GR: Yeah, we actually don’t listen to a lot of metal in our spare time. There are some really cool metal bands but we’re not huge metal and hardcore listeners personally. I guess if you play it and you hear other bands playing it, by the time you get home, it kind of helps you decompress just listening to other genres.

May 27, 2016

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Ruby Johnson Ruby is a semi-reformed emo kid who believes that you're never too old for mosh pits and metalcore. 84% of her time is devoted to playing with her 12-pound rabbit, Toby.

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