Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Spotlight: Run With the Hunted's "The Sieve and the Sand"

Stoked to say that this is my first ever repeat interview, and it’s with one of my favorite artists, Drew Wilkinson from Run With the Hunted. Anyone who knows me has heard me gush about them elsewhere, so suffice it to say they are one of hardcore’s finest.

They have a new record called “The Sieve and the Sand” coming out next month on Panic Records, and over the course of its seven songs, the band cements its status as one of the most musically powerful and lyrically poignant bands around; all while pushing the boundaries of their sound into interesting new territory.

My last interview with Drew was a more comprehensive look at the band, its history, etc., so this conversation focuses strictly on the creation of the new record, especially exploring its lyrical content. Enjoy, and be sure to pick up a copy via pre-order (link at the end) or when they come through your town.

So first things first.....it's been a couple years since we've heard any new material from RWTH. The last time we spoke it seemed like the ball had started rolling a little bit on new material, and now six months or so later, boom, new record is done! How was the writing process this time around, how do you feel the material compares to your previous efforts, and how was recording with a new producer?

I think we all enjoyed the writing process a lot more this time around. For one thing, we didn’t have any deadlines forcing us to have it done by a certain point; so we really took our time. In a lot of ways we were unsatisfied with the previous record and wanted to avoid repeating mistakes. We also just kind of let go on this release; I think in the past we had a tendency to put ourselves into a box sonically. 

After the LP we realized we didn’t want to be a one dimensional band so we just allowed ourselves to be more free with how we approached songwriting. Individually, we all listen to a lot of music outside of hardcore and I think that will be immediately apparent to people when they hear the record.  Without a doubt, we all agree this is our best material yet. I know every band says that when they release a new record, but this record really pushed the boundaries of what we thought we were capable of.

We recorded with our good friend Alex Estrada in Los Angeles, which was a departure from the engineer we used for “Destroy All Calendars” and the self-titled LP here in Phoenix. The experience was really different and awesome; Alex knows our band and genre intimately and had really great ideas; he even sang on a few tracks (check out his band Silver Snakes - they’re incredible). The record most definitely wouldn't be what it is without him.

Yeah, I was definitely pleasantly surprised to hear some curveballs sonically, and I guess the most obvious step out of your comfort zone is the presence of acoustic material. I heard (I think Steve told me) that song was written in the studio....did you guys know going in that you were going to take that route or did it come about sort of spur of the moment while you were there?

Also, as someone who absolutely loooooves the self-titled LP, I’m curious to hear what some of your qualms are with that record cuz it fucking rules!

We tried to take a different approach to songwriting with “St. David”. Normally we have a song thoroughly planned out by the time we get into the studio to record it, but with this one, we wanted to try and finish it collectively in the studio as we went. We had a few riffs, the lyrics and a few experimental ideas for how we wanted to let the song come together so we just went for it and tried to let it develop organically. We’re all really happy with how it came out.

As for the LP, we are our own worst critics and most of the things we’re unhappy with on that record are nitpicky things like too much compression or too many layers of guitar tracks - things I highly doubt the average listener would pick up on but things a band of anal retentive dorks continue to obsess over years later.

In both "Mea Culpa" and "Over the Footbridge" you seem to be wrestling with ideas of romance, companionship, etc. but there is a tension that’s present. On the one hand there is a longing for deep connection ("I’m looking for a hand to hold, a warm body to thaw my freezing soul"), but on the other hand a sense of resignation that you are somehow unable to find or foster it ("Loneliness is the human condition, love is a sickness"). Flesh out those competing thoughts for us; is Drew Runted looking for cupid or taking some sort of vow of bachelorhood, haha.

I would say neither, at least not consciously. Like most people, I draw a great deal of self-worth and happiness from my relationships, especially romantic ones. But I feel a constant push/pull internally where I find myself torn between the desire for true connection and companionship and the need for solitude and isolation.

Simone de Beauvoir said it better than I could ever hope to: “Because we are separated everything separates us, even our efforts to join each other.”

Bringing together those songs about romance with the prospect of family, "Line of Dissent" raises the specter that parenthood is out of the question for you; on the one hand as an act of defiance to carry on the family line, but on the other hand once again sort of embracing loneliness, singularity. Would you say those lyrics represent a sort of "in the moment" expression, or a more enduring commitment not to procreate?

“Line of Dissent” came about because of a conversation I had with my father in which I was told that if I didn’t have a son by the age of 35, I would be written out of his will. I’m not categorically opposed to breeding but I really resented the idea that my main purpose in life was to continue the family line like some kind of medieval kingdom. And then it got me thinking about why people have children in the first place; is it because they think that their genetic contribution to the world is so important that it’s their duty to continue it? Do people stop and consider the world they are bringing children into? Because by all accounts it’s a pretty fucked up place that seems to be getting worse all the time. 

I do believe that loneliness is the human condition; nearly everything we are hard-wired to do seems to be aimed at alleviating it but at the end of the day, I believe, it's all in vain - we only truly have ourselves. Embracing that seems terrifying at first but then you learn how to make yourself enough it becomes empowering and liberating.

I’m not trying to say that pursuing meaningful relationships with other people, or even your own children, is in any way a negative, impossible or undesirable thing - the happiest and most profound moments of my life have come through relationships with others - but I think that if people spent half as much time getting to know themselves as they do others, the world would be a much better place.

"Red Queen" captures your growing frustration with the state of hardcore in 2014. In your assessment, if this thing is a movement, what direction ARE we headed in, and what direction SHOULD we be moving in?

I don’t know if I still believe hardcore is a movement honestly. I know I did at one point, but time and experience have changed a lot of my opinions. To me, a movement necessitates direction, purpose and a sense of community, of solidarity and most importantly - of sacrifice. I’ve experienced a lot of hardcore scenes around the world first hand at this point and sadly very few have these qualities. The majority of what I’ve seen is focused on superficiality, violence, hyper-masculinity and exclusion. It breaks my heart to see the potential we have as a community squandered so casually but I can’t lie to myself about what I see and I’m tired of not saying anything.

I think we are headed for total absorption into mainstream culture eventually; the distinct characteristics that made hardcore unique and dangerous in the first place - questioning authority, critical thinking, an emphasis on personal choice and a strong DIY ethic are slowly being watered down and squeezed out of our community. It seems like each successive generation cares less and does less.

I’m sure I just sound like a jaded asshole but I think we can do better. I think we should strive to be a counter-culture - not just a subculture - where all are free to challenge, question and explore ideas that are otherwise ignored in mainstream culture (animal rights, feminism, anarchism, for example). I want hardcore to be a safe haven for radical ideas, a safe haven for personal self-expression and an enclave of punk ethic where people actually DO something to better themselves, their community, their scene and the world around them. Hardcore is about so much more than just the music to me; getting involved in this scene drastically and permanently changed my life - music alone couldn't have done that. It was the ideas and the relationships behind them.

I want to make it clear that there are plenty of people, bands and scenes around the world who live the ideals I described above and I don’t mean to diminish the work anyone contributes to their scene. I just think we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard if we want to truly be a movement.

I definitely couldn’t agree more with you on the direction hardcore seems to be headed in. I’ve wondered aloud to a few people about the possibility of almost trying to kick start some sort of "Revolution Summer 2.0" just to completely call out all this image driven, completely hollow bullshit that seems to be dominating so much of our scene and re-emphasize hardcore as a community oriented around ideas, around substance. I guess I don't want to resign myself to the idea that nothing can be done, haha. What do you think it might take and what would it look like for things to be turned around?

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and to be frank, I don’t know what the answer is. You can’t force people to see a new perspective or change their minds and you certainly can’t force people to care. I think the key, again, is choice and to maximize choice people require information. So the best thing I know how to do is to inform people, to hopefully educate and inspire them. I have enough faith in people to believe that given the information, most will make the right choices.

Look, all I know how to do is be myself, all we know how to do is be the band that we are and while that has never been a popular or desirable thing, it’s honest and reflective of the values we hold as individuals and collectively as a band. I’ve never put more of myself into something than I have this band; I’ve invested every ounce of blood, sweat and tears I have into Run with the Hunted and I’ve tried to not only vocalize (literally) my hopes for what hardcore can and should be, I’ve tried desperately to create a free space where everybody feels welcomed, safe and valued. But it’s an uphill battle; people tend to value short term pleasure over long term progress and let’s face it, hardcore is a youth culture. Most people move onto something else in a relatively short amount of time so progress and continuity are difficult. 

For those of us that remain, we’re often left grasping at the shreds of what remains of the scene we were a part of when we first got involved. It’s unrealistic and foolish to dwell too heavily on the past; yearning for “what it was” is a waste of time. Instead, we should be actively trying to make it “what we want.” But if we can look back and bring the best parts of that into the future with us, then I think we have a shot at turning this around and making it a movement again.

The title track is probably the best summation of the old cliché "the personal is political" that I've ever seen. In it you seem to be declaring a personal responsibility not just to yourself but to the world, to others. Talk a little bit more about the sentiment behind that song and what inspired it.

The entire record was spawned from that declaration actually. The past seven years in Run With the Hunted have been an intense personal journey for me - through my own questions, fears, doubts and beliefs. I felt like I needed to attempt to document what I had learned along the way and “The Sieve and the Sand” both as a song and a record is my attempt at that, an attempt to say “I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers, but I am willing to struggle and sacrifice to grasp whatever truth I can in this life and share it with others." I believe that the pursuit of personal truth is one of the most important tasks we as human beings can attempt in our brief time here. I also felt that it was important to make myself accountable to the world at large and I wanted to express my beliefs and what I have learned along the way as clearly as possible.

The song itself took two years to write actually; I would write a little piece at a time then sit on it, digest and come back. I had a lot of really important conversations with friends that inspired parts of it along the way; a lot of conversations about philosophy and existentialism actually, and I realized that better minds had grappled with these same issues before. People who buy the record will notice several quotes from philosophers in the liner notes and this is why.

As far as I can discern, the overarching tension within the lyrical content of the record revolves around the notion of individualism. So many of the songs deal with loneliness, not necessarily in a negative way, but in a way that almost celebrates the primacy of the individual. At the same time, some of the content seems to be crying out for connection to others, for relationships. Then in the title track many of the things you scorn (exploitation, suffering, etc.) seem to me to be the bi-products of a culture that's oriented around hyper-individualism, that elevates personal gain above all else, etc., so there's a definite push and pull going on. I guess that brings me full circle to where our last interview ended and again, to a phrase you use in the lyrics, that of the "authentic human being". How would you define what it means to be an authentic person, and what do you see as preventing people from achieving that sense of authenticity?

Part of the reason I love doing interviews with you (on top of the fact that you’re an amazing person) is that you can read between the lines and discern things about our music or my lyrics that I’m not even fully aware of. It’s easy to get so close to a piece of art, to get so invested in it emotionally, you can’t see the bigger picture you’ve painted. But I think you’re exactly right, so many of my lyrics deal with these extreme dualities - and that’s totally in line with how I feel. I feel conflicted and torn about so many aspects of my beliefs, morals and the way I live my life. Which seems ironic for someone with such strong and developed beliefs but I have a very critical and skeptical mind. I can see the merit in several points of view at once and am not easily persuaded of anything. This duality I think keeps me in check; I never let myself get complacent, even with my beliefs. This all ties in with what I think makes living as an authentic human being so very, very important.

Authenticity, to me, is deceptively simple: it means being true to yourself and living in a way that is consistent with what you believe and how you feel. It means questioning the world around you and not accepting things at face value. It means asking difficult and painful questions to get uncomfortable answers that clash with your sense of reality and call into question everything you thought you knew. It means being honest - with yourself and others - and open to acknowledging your weaknesses and being willing to change them.

There are so many barriers in place that prevent people from self-actualizing and becoming an authentic version of themselves; religious institutions that assign value and dictate morality, educational systems which enforce hierarchy and teach white-washed, watered down versions of history; even culture, language, societal constructions like gender, race, socio-economic status, etc. The list is endless but it’s always the same story - people in power attempting to deny choice to the rest of us and enforce conformity, obedience and control by any means necessary - especially through violence. I want people to have agency and choice more than anything else. Without choice, we have nothing.

So the record drops in June on Panic....what does the rest of the year look like for you guys? I know your drummer got married recently and everyone is getting up there....will there be any significant touring on this record and if so, who might people be able to catch you guys on the road with?

We have some record release shows planned in Arizona and California with Bane, Dangers, Seizures, Silver Snakes and La Bella (all incredible bands, please check them out if you aren’t familiar with them) and we’ll be doing some touring in the Fall to support the record more, maybe even Europe again. Everyone is getting older and more settled into real life responsibilities so it’s not as easy as it used to be, but we always find a way to make it work.

If there was one thing you'd say you hope people take from "The Sieve and the Sand", what would you want that to be?

That there are no universal truths; there are only the ones you allow yourself to believe. Don’t let other people dictate that for you; all we have are our choices.


Pre-Order the Record: http://panicrecords.net/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=1516

Stream the track "Mea Culpa": http://www.metalinsider.net/new-music/exclusive-premiere-run-with-the-hunteds-mea-culpa

Stream the track "Silent Spring"http://runwiththehunted.bandcamp.com/track/silent-spring

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