On their new album, Only Death Is Real, the men of Stay From The Path have delivered a message the whole world needs to hear.
In 2017, standing on the sidelines and watching while the world tears itself to shreds is no longer an option. With headlines flooding into our lives through news and social media faster than ever before it takes a very cold-hearted human to go on acting as if none of the madness happening all around us impacts their individual course in life. Whether you’re fighting for the things you believe in or simply trying to raise awareness and for those in need of help, there are actions that must be taken on a daily basis if we hope to ever create a world better, more communal world than the one we know today.
Only Death Is Real, Stray From The Path‘s first album since 2015’s Subliminal Criminal, masterfully takes in the woes of the world and addresses them with common sense and empathy. It is both a political and deeply personal album that strives to find common ground in the places where those two themes collide. Stray From The Path take aim at the dotards in power who on a daily basis seem to be purposefully steering us closer and closer to world war, but they also think on a far more local (or basic) level. The band recognizes that as much as we may want to change or save the world at large there is also a lot that must be accomplished on an individual level. We have to address our own prejudices and fears, sharing them so as to vanquish any power that our silence may grant. We have to learn to accept one another and do what we can to make life enjoyable in this brief time we have to exist because the fact it will one day end in death for us all is the only possible outcome.
Stray From The Path did not necessarily set out to become the so-called political rock act they are today. In fact, they are doing the same thing today that they did with their earliest material, which is telling their story in a way wholly unique unto them. Their exploration of political themes arose from those efforts as they continue to do to this day. The band writes the songs they need to create in order to deal with their own experiences on this planet, and lucky for the music community at large they never shy away from the tough material. This is what makes Only Death Is Real, as well as their other records, stand out from other releases in their genre. To hear Stray From The Path is to know their truth as told without restraint. It is loud, catchy, and full of emotions too numerous to count that tap into the same feelings experienced by millions all over this spinning rock we call home.
In the days before Only Death Is Real hit stores Stray From The Path guitarist Tom Williams spoke with Substream about the creation of the record, comparisons to Rage Against The Machine, reactions to “Goodnight Alt-Right,” and much more. You can read highlights from our near hour-long conversation below.
SUBSTREAM: Hello, Tom. How are you doing this afternoon?
Tom Williams: Doing okay, just found out that I think a batch of our CDs that were made for England are like kinda fucked up which is annoying but that’s my day so far. Yeah.
Release week woes?
I can’t imagine what like huge bands do, like bands like fuckin’ Coldplay and stuff that ship like a million units or whatever, like must be the worst thing in the world.
I like that. Well man I appreciate you taking some time to talk to me. Sorry I was a couple minutes late, it’s been a weird day.
Oh no it’s all good, I was expecting you so it’s all good.
Well how are you feeling about everything? I mean, we’re a few days out from the album, I’m always curious, like, does it still feel as exciting as always or do you feel differently this time?
Yeah, I mean definitely it was exciting- I mean just a fucking nerve-wracking time for me personally man. I can’t stand it until I know that people love it. I mean, the record leaked like a couple days ago, and from what I could tell people loving it, y’know that aren’t racist, they love it. You know, but it’s a crazy time. I just want to start playing shows again. I mean, we’ve had two and a half months off, just kinda chilling and getting this ready so I’m ready to start playing shows and start seeing like the reactions. Who likes what songs, that’s the fun part to me, but the releasing and the marketing and all that stuff is very frustrating and stressful for me.
With the last record, a lot of listeners took notice of your political leanings. I recall hearing a lot responses like ‘Stray From The Path got pretty woke.’ for lack of a better young person term. So when you go into a record like this, how does it work with the band, did you feel like ‘okay we have to try to go deeper into the political stuff’ or was that kind of like naturally where you were already headed?
Here’s the way I always put it, I understand the label of being called like a political band and whatnot, but we’ve always just been a band that writes what our world is, you know? And if the political climate is gonna get worse, then that’s what our stuff’s going to be about. Maybe early on people didn’t really get the sense that we were a “political band” but to me we always were. We just write about shit that we care about whether that’s personal shit or whether that’s political stuff. And now as everyone knows you can’t fucking do anything without seeing something insane, whether it’s deporting immigrants or if it’s Nazi rallies or weather, or it’s personal shit, you know what I mean? Like everyone’s going through such crazy shit. I mean, even stuff from the hurricane that’s about to come to Florida now, all that stuff affects us. I take that shit very seriously. And when stuff affects people that I care about, whether it’s just the human race which I want to see do as good as possible, that stuff’s gonna affect us so we’re gonna write about it. So, if people say to me they think on our last album we got “woke” — only using that term because you did — we always did, I mean, the record before that was called Anonymous, a lot of that was inspired by someone from Anonymous who did something that kind of changed my life and the way I looked at wanting to help people and stuff like that. It’s always been there, and it’s just if we get criticized about it more so now than ever it’s because there’s more stuff to criticize about and because there’s more crazy things going on and we’re gonna talk about it and people sometimes don’t want that involved in their music and that’s fine. Sometimes people want to listen to bands that they can just turn on and kind of forget about stuff like that, but we’re the opposite, so we’re used to if some people hate it, it just comes along with the territory.
Well, I agree with you. I feel like especially the first couple of records there was definitely… you guys have always kind of had that world view. I guess the best way for me to say this is that I felt like on the first couple of records there was definitely a sense of better understanding who you are and then accepting that and putting it out there for the world to see, like kind of ‘fuck what everyone else thinks, you have to figure it out for yourself and take pride in who you are’. And then, especially from Anonymous onward, it’s the same idea, but I felt like the world view kind of expanded. Whereas we’re going to take more almost topical things and then put them through this idea.
Absolutely, and what you gotta understand too is when we were putting out records like Villains or Make Your Own History or Rising Sun, that’s the course of me being 20 to 24 years old, and now I’m 30. A lot changes when you turn 30. So definitely it’s growing as a human. I care more about that shit than I did when I was 20 because when you’re 20, and it reflects in our songs, what you care about it fighting at shows and how we hated that and fucking religion and I was waking up to the fact of how corrupt that is. And then even like working 9 to 5 jobs, like you could see on Make Your Own History we had songs like “Comrades” or “The Things You Own End Up Owning You” and stuff like that. We were kind of just waking up stuff like that and how much of a scam life was because when you’re 20 to 24 years old that’s when you’re supposed to be figuring out your life and what you want to do and that’s when we figured out we wanted to be in a band because we found out how much of a fucking scam everything else was. So we wanted to work for ourselves, we wanted to be our own bosses. That’s what we’ve done. The last time I’ve worked for anybody else besides myself and my bandmates, I mean I can’t even remember. And that’s the thing, you’ll see the growing up progression, at least I see it because of course I know it, I was there for writing it and stuff, so now I care about this because every time I look it’s all political stuff and social stuff. Not to say there aren’t personal songs on the album, because there’s definitely plenty of them, whether it’s being like losing somebody that you care about which there’s a song about that and even just like a perspective on life in general and how life is short. It’s like a huge theme of the album too and there’s a lot of stuff going on in my life. We’re all like 29, 30 years old and our lives are changing and the world is changing and we always write to what we see and when you were talking about us being super literal and just kind of being topical, that’s just the way we write. Maybe we’re not the most poetic stuff and maybe other people have a poetic fucking nice cryptic chorus where you have to decipher it and interpret it your own way or sometimes it’s just you just got knocked the fuck out and that’s our chorus because that’s us. We write songs that we like too. We always wrote music that we like and we just got lucky that other people started to like it too and that gave us a career, you know?
Absolutely man, and I’m right there with you because I’m about to turn 30 in three months now so I’ve definitely been giving a lot of thought to that idea of how your perceptions of the world changes in basically ten years. Can you think of a moment or event that really alerted you, because I’m of the belief that once you kind of see the matrix for what it is you can’t unsee it. Like you said how it’s like once you figure out all the bullshit then you’re set on “I’m gonna do the band thing” or “I’m gonna do something that can hopefully make me self-sufficient so that I kind of live on my own terms.” Do you remember a starting pistol experience for that moment in your life?
If I had to think impulsively off the top of my head, I would say I don’t even know how old I was but I was definitely pretty young when I first saw the movie Fight Club, and it made me appreciate things. I think a lot of people saw that movie as a cool action movie or a funny comedy and I saw it deeper than that, and it affected me early on that I didn’t want to be caught in that trap and that was important to me. And then like I said before, as we grow and as the world grows and gets crazier, that’s going to develop to who we are now. I think with getting more involved in the political social climate in my life, a lot of that goes to when this guy, his name is Deric Lostutter, he was a part of Anonymous and he did this thing where exposed this huge rape scandal in Ohio for a high school football team that went from a bunch of high school players to the district attorney of there and he outed all of them. And then he’s now ending up serving more prison time than the rapists themselves and to me, i just thought that was so unjust and so bullshit and I admire the fact that this guy put himself on the line to help someone else. And that’s kind of what we do. I mean, we do it to a much smaller scale but I mean if we can go out and write a record and sing songs about shit that is important to us, and we think people need to know, like sometimes they will hear things and not want to talk about it, but sometimes people hear things and it makes them want to be involved too. They could help make a change and that’s kind of what we see our purpose as. We do what we do best, all of us are musicians, all of us – that’s what we do. We’ve done that for 15 years now since we were playing in local bands and shit. So we wanna just do what we do best and do it as good as we can.
Well you say you do whatever you can, but you are putting your livelihood out there, it is literally all you have, because you guys kind of write songs where you say the things that people would maybe say you aren’t supposed to say in songs, or at least that you should think twice about saying in a song.
Yeah, that’s true.
Maybe that’s not the right way to say it, but I guess if you had the team of people around you that a lot of artists seek to have around them there would probably be a few more suggestions of “maybe we don’t say that.” You know what I mean? “Maybe you reconsider ‘welcome to the melting pot, motherfucker’, maybe we just revisit it.” But I think that’s what attracts me to it, because I’m always like “they say the shit that everyone’s thinking” rather than what you said, a distilled version of that.
For sure, that happens to us all the time where people said “hey, you shouldn’t say that” whether it be our label or producer or whatever. The last record, Subliminal Criminals, we wanted one of the singles to be “First World Problem Child” which starts with “every rich white kid’s got something to say, shut the fuck up” and they didn’t want to and we ended up not doing a video for it and we ended up putting the record out as is and it’s now the biggest song we’ve ever played. Ever. No song has ever even been close to a reaction like that. And people say “oh you shouldn’t say that blah blah blah” but it’s like, first of all you gotta understand that even though this is very important to me and to us, even though everything we say is important and does influence people to an extent it’s still fucking entertainment, you know what I mean? And even going from anything like “First World Problem Child” to “Goodnight Alt-Right”, it’s still fucking entertainment. Like that video too, everyone freaked out about the video, and when I mean ‘everyone’ I mean the people that we were talking about. Everyone freaked out but I’m like, yo it’s just a video, we didn’t actually do this! You know what I mean? It’s just a form of expression. It’ll always be that our art is a perception of our reality but we also like to write songs that are fun and entertainment and they’re fun at shows and fun to listen to and shit like that. It’s definitely serious stuff and we definitely take ourselves very seriously but sometimes you can’t be too serious.
It has been fun for me watching I guess ‘outsider’ music journalists discover you guys this year because I felt like “Goodnight Alt-Right” hit at the exact perfect time. You couldn’t have planned it any better as unfortunate as it is why it felt so right.
That’s the thing, I honestly can’t stand talking about it being perfect timing because someone lost their life.
Yeah, it’s unfortunate timing, exactly.
Yeah, because people always would hit us up because since we put the song out for weeks we would get all those people and their bots or whatever the fuck commenting and whatever, saying whatever the fuck they want, and like whatever, I don’t care. We expected it to an extent, maybe not as crazy as it got. Like, we didn’t think it would reach Richard Spencer but it fucking did which is nuts. So everyone was commenting on stuff and then the whole Charlottesville stuff happened and people were like “oh man, you must be relieved because that stuff’s over with now and everyone loves the song.” I’m like, no fucking way am I relieved! That was terrible! Someone fucking died, 20 other people got injured… It’s insane. People have said “oh, perfect timing” or “oh, Stray called it” and stuff like that. I almost wish we were wrong. I mean, that sucked. For like a month straight even besides Stray you couldn’t go on the internet or anything and not see something about Nazis and it’s like they completely consumed my whole fucking summer where every day I thought about it and every day I was seeing more stuff and it’s wild man, it’s crazy. It’s a lot to take in.
I guess in a perfect world, your songs would come out and they would not be topical because that problem would be solved or at least not as serious as it seemed when you wrote the song.
Yeah absolutely and the only time we’ve ever done it is because with “The House Always Wins”, we put out that single and the video on election day because we knew that’s what we felt no matter which way it went. So that was the only thing where we were like “okay, now we’re definitely right about this” because this is the way that we feel, and if it’s Clinton or Trump, you and us are fucked. Couldn’t have two worse candidates. I mean, I used to say I was more scared of Hillary than I was Trump because Trump is definitely like a nut but Hillary to me is like the Joe Pesci in GoodFellas nuts. You know what I mean? Like someone will say something and then that person will end up dead kind of thing. That shit is scary to me. But now, the way things are going, it’s crazy. Really crazy.
Absolutely. Is it weird I guess- I noticed this a lot last year during the election cycle that we hit this point where I saw a lot of kids being like “is Stray going to release an album this year?” Is it weird to kind of almost feel like there’s now this community that’s looking to you guys to be like “what are they going to say about this?”
No, I love that. It’s awesome, and not even just us. I mean, Architects, Stick To Your Guns, there’s a group of bands with people being like “holy shit this just happened, I need the new Stick To Your Guns, I need the new Stray From The Path, I need the new Architects.” I like that responsibility. We’ve always wanted to be that band. Once we started getting into this, we were like, “okay its either going to destroy us or people will find more of a connection with us” because again, I understand…. I’m not trying to take a shot at anyone at all, but there’s a reason why bands like fucking Asking Alexandria or bands like that– people like music where you can just turn it on and it goes in one ear and out the other and then they go home and then they start their day the next day. They like that. That’s why bands like that are big. That’s why bands like Nickelback are big or Disturbed or any other bands that just don’t really wanna push things, you know? And that’s why I think Rage was such an anomaly because they pushed the envelope all the time and they’re one of the biggest bands in the history of music. But people like shit that it just doesn’t mean much. They like that. So that’s why we thought that as we’re writing songs and we’re like “oh is this a good idea?” Who cares? If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You know what I mean? We always had a very Entourage like Vinny Chase kind of look at it where we’re like “it’s either meant to be or it’s not. We’ll figure it out and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Whatever.” So I like being that band, I like that people care about it because whether people care about it or don’t care about it I would’ve written that music anyway. But now that people care about it, it feels good and I like the fact that we spend half our life on the road now because people care and that shows that people are caring about issues that we care about, and that makes me feel like we’re doing a good job.
Are the Rage comparisons weird for you? Because that’s like even when I was on the phone in our editorial meeting this week and I was like “well I’m working on this feature for this new Stray album” the first thing someone said was “well I think they’re the new Rage Against The Machine” and I’ve heard that from a lot of people. How does that make you feel?
Okay, this is gonna sound stupid but when I hear it in a positive way I like it. Cool, you’re comparing me to my favorite band and the best band to ever live. That’s great. But I hear it in a negative way and I’m like “are you fucking deaf?” To me, like… You’ve heard the new album now, the first track, the second track, I mean, the song They Always Take The Guru is 230 BPM. I’ve never heard Rage play that fast before. The whole song, there’s like blast beats in it, there’s breakdowns, the songs are fast. Like, I get the influence. It’s for sure there. I’ve never hid that, you know what I mean? And the way I’ve always looked at it is: that’s my favorite band of all time. They haven’t put out music in 17 years now, and I need that music in my life. That’s what’s good to me. And that’s why I always wrote riffs that I like and because I don’t have that in my life, I put it there. So it’s definitely there but I also am very influenced by Converge and Refused and Glassjaw and Deftones and shit like that. But I’m also like, I feel like we have our own sound. I get the Rage comparisons and it’s definitely there because of the way Drew is as a vocalist but when I hear it as like, “oh they’re just a Rage rip-off band” I’m like, yo, have you ever heard “Damien”? Have you ever heard “They Always Take The Guru”? Have you ever heard “Snap”? Those are not songs that Rage would ever play. And if they did, all their fans would be like “what the fuck is going on?” So I definitely get tired of it because i just don’t see the comparison that much. But when people want to say it as a good thing, I love that.
You’re into it.
Oh, of course. And it’s not because I can’t take a negative criticism. I’d rather someone say “I can’t stand them, they’re fucking terrible.” That’s fine. But when the people say “they’re a blatant rip-off of Rage Against The Machine” I’m like, what Rage do you listen to and when did they put out songs this fast because I want to hear it. You know what I mean? So, I don’t know, it definitely gets annoying at a time but I just stop. The people that say that shit, they didn’t really give it a fair listen so I just kind of dismiss it, you know?
Well I think they go “well it’s political and it’s heavy, so… Rage Against The Machine.”
Exactly, yeah. But that’s fine because I get the comparison there but when people say like “ugh, this just sounds like Rage” I’m like… did you fucking listen to it? You know what I mean?
Yeah like, at best it’s like The Battle Of Los Angeles Rage with a little bit of Renegades at times. Like, that’s the two albums.
You know, I definitely feel that and I’ve always had this comparison too to that band Turnstile, like if you had Rage Against The Machine in the middle and then you go left and it’s weirder faster Rage Against The Machine, that’s us, and then if you and it’s just stripped down of the weirdness Rage, it’s like Turnstile. To me, like everyone’s favorite Rage album is self-titled, but to me it’s Evil Empire and The Battle Of Los Angeles are the best and even Renegades because I love how weird it gets, like songs like “Mic Check” where that shit is like the fucking strangest, strangest music you could hear and they made a fucking song out of it that sold millions of copies and I always thought that was so cool so I definitely agree with that assessment of it.
Is it weird for you to have an album coming out right now that does address so many things? There are a lot of world views on the record as well, but there’s a lot that feels very close to what’s happening in the United States to be releasing this album at a time when you’re about to go overseas for three months.
No, because I mean that’s what people like to hear overseas and that’s honestly why we do better overseas than we do really here.
That was gonna be my next question, how do guys do overseas.
Yeah, we do. We do. I mean, I just get like the ticket counts from our tour that’s happening now, like our entire UK shit is almost sold out. We go to Australia and it’s nuts, we go to Canada, it’s crazy. We go to Texas and no one kinda cares anymore. That’s not that much of a surprise to me. You know, we did that tour with Architects in the states in April and that was like one of the greatest tours we’ve ever done because we played New York, we played Denver, we played Chicago, we played California, we played Seattle, we played all these places and they’re incredible. We went to Texas and it wasn’t very good, for either band. There was a big dude, there was a guy screaming “Trump” during our set or whatever that actually ended up getting jumped by kids in Dallas which I’m not for at all. It sucks. And then like the owner of the club in Houston was like screaming at us when we were packing down. It’s just… it’s a bummer. People look at America like a reality show now, and those people that are looking at it is everywhere overseas. And they’re all just like, “wow thank god we don’t live there” kind of thing. And then Americans tell me, “oh well if you don’t like it why don’t you fucking leave?” And I’m like… I don’t leave because I do love it here and this is something I care about and if I didn’t care I would move to another country and start singing songs that didn’t mean shit. But because I care that’s why we’re still here and that’s why we still do it and that’s why we still care. But overseas man, it’s insane. We did Slam Dunk Festival and I didn’t know how that was going to go and our stage was indoors and every show was to capacity with a line of people waiting. That doesn’t happen to us, that’s not a normal thing. But overseas, that’s where we’re starting to sell out shows and stuff. It’s awesome and that’s why we love it but we’re never gonna give up on America, I mean we still do very well in America but it depends on where you are.
Yeah, that was gonna be my next question. I imagine that it’s definitely less divisive overseas than it would be here where you kind of run the risk of someone could just be an asshole and show up to cause trouble here.
Yeah I mean, there’s really no divisive things in those scenes at all. But in America, it happens a lot. But I mean, I feel like they just don’t show up. I don’t think it’s a thing where people will come and just cause problems. So I don’t know, it remains to be seen, and also we aren’t coming to America first because we have a tour that’s pretty special that can only be done at a certain time frame which is January-February of next year so that’s like our American tour that we’ve known about for a while and we knew it couldn’t be earlier so we’re just going to Europe first. So it’s not like a “oh we’re releasing a record, we’re going to Europe because that’s where we do well”, it’s because of the scheduling. That’s what we’re doing.
That’s exciting, man. But you guys do have a few stateside shows, you got the Self Help Fest this weekend, right?
Yup, we got Self Help on Sunday. We have two just small record release shows with some local bands that we’re looking forward to, just kind of getting ready for our Canadian tour and our Europe tour, something to do for our hometown and some places we’ve gone to a lot. Like Connecticut has always been like a second home to us and Long Island is a home for us. It’s cool, I’m psyched to get out there and start playing some new songs.
I’m curious, do you have a current favorite song on the album or what you feel is maybe the most important song going into Friday?
The first and second tracks are my favorite on the album. They were personally songs that I wanted to put out first because I liked that they kind of had a different musical edge to it. I maybe wish that we had “Loudest In The Room” kind of go out first just because I feel like we could’ve eased into the theme of the album better, but I love those songs. It’s tough to say because there’s so much different stuff on there, like I really like “Strange Fiction” which is a really weird song for us too. Again, another that doesn’t sound like a Rage Against The Machine song.
I was actually gonna pull that song out next because it’s a song that’s immediately you’re like, this is different. It just feels different, especially even from the rest of the album. I mean, it fits, but it’s a little bit different.
Yeah, for sure. I mean look, the first track, the second track, “Strange Fiction”, the last track, the title track, they’re all pretty dark to me. And to me, that’s not like a mood that we’ve really had before. So that’s why those I kind of gravitate to, because there’s a very dark ominous sound to the whole album and those represent them the best to me. When the songs we put out like “Goodnight Alt-Right” or “All Day & A Night”, they’re very kind of Stray, you know? So that’s why I’m excited for and that’s why we put out “Only Death Is Real” the video which is definitely this weird kind of dark difficult kind of stuff that we haven’t really done before. That’s why I’m very excited for people to hear the whole thing in context.
I am as well, and I was actually going to bring up the darkness because when I was listening to the album last night as I was driving home from a show for like the dozenth or whatever, it did dawn on me as I was getting to the end of “Only Death Is Real” that I was like this- it is dark, that’s better, because my first thought was this is kind of a bummer of a record. Like you get mad, but then you get to that last song and it’s not the release of like “but it’s all going to be okay”, it’s like “nah man, it all goes to dark at the end, so…figure it out.”
That’s what I fucking wanted, man. Like when people say, this is just a weird example but I’m sure it’s happened to everybody, if you ever say something out loud in front of your parents or something and you say like “oh, I could get in my car and die in two minutes” and then people say “oh! Don’t say that!” Because they don’t want that negative energy out there and to me it’s not a negative thing to say, that you could die at any second. To me it’s like a positive thing in a way, where you could be like “you could be dead at any fucking second” and to me that’s an important thing and you know, we could care about all of these political and social issues and personal issues and we could care all about the fucking television or sports or fucking music or whatever, you could care so much about this shit, but in the end of the day the only certain thing in life is death. That’s the only thing that we all know is going to happen to all of us. And we wanted that last track to be a fucking bummer, for lack of a better term. That is kind of what we wanted to have on it, that’s a thing we’ve never done before and that’s a thing that a lot of bands don’t do. You always have that storybook, turn the page, it’s dark, there’s conflict, then you resolve it and then you rejoice. Like, no, it’s dark, there’s conflict, still conflict, and it sucks. That was kind of the vibe behind the whole thing. So it’s definitely not something you probably want to listen to when the sun is out and you’re going to the beach, but it’s definitely something that if it’s midnight and you’re driving home and you have 30 minutes, it’s a record to put on and kind of put some shit into perspective.
Yeah, and then it leaves you to just be like “well, fuck.”
Yeah, left me like that many times.
I can imagine! Is it weird to want to do an album that way? Because I guess as an artist, you’re always trying to express yourself but you kind of want to leave people with something that they carry with them, and a dark ending like that is something that they’ll carry with them in a different way. you know what I mean?
Sure, I think it remains to be seen how people will react to it, I mean hey everyone could fucking hate it come Friday, I don’t know. They could love it. It’s hard to say. But all I know is we made the record we wanted to make and as long as we keep doing that, that’s what we’ve always done and that’s what’s always got us to where we are.
Is there a collaboration you wanted for this album you didn’t get?
No, actually. The biggest one that was kind of out of reach was Vinnie Paz, and we got him.
You’re one of the few bands I think utilizes guest vocalists really well, especially on this record, the Bryan Garris (of Knocked Loose) feature for example really makes the song and it doesn’t feel like “well we wrote a song and then we left a chunk where this guy kind of did his verse.”
They’re put in mind when going into it. The only one that was kind of different was Vinnie because the way I looked at it was that Taylor Swift put out that song “Bad Blood” and then re-put it out with Kendrick Lamar. And to me I was like, okay, we put out “The House Always Wins” I want to put it on the record again but I just don’t want to throw the same thing on there. And then we know that he’s very involved into that whole thing, and I mean his verse is fucking insane so it’s like that made that song better than it ever was and now it’s cool that you can still get the original version and have the new version on there. And yeah, I mean with the guest vocal thing I think maybe some people are insecure that they say a “oh, I wanna do it on my own” kind of thing, like I mean look, those guest vocal spots don’t help us sell records, it just makes it more exciting. Like if you watching fucking Interstellar and they go to that planet and they wake up Matt Damon, you could just put a no name actor in there and it still would’ve been cool, but it was cool that it was Matt Damon! Like, that’s fine, it’s not that crazy. Or the end of 12 Years A Slave when the guy that frees him was Brad Pitt. That’s cooler than it being a no-namer. It’s cool when people collaborate. To me, it’s exciting. I liked that when I heard self-titled Rage and then you hear fucking Maynard from Tool on it, that was cool. I love when you hear White Pony and you listen to Passenger and you hear Maynard from Tool on it. That shit was always exciting and that’s stuff that when some of your favorite bands– because a lot of people who like Stray like Knocked Loose and like Every Time I Die so why wouldn’t you want to hear those two collaborate? This was done many times when bands get to do that.
Well let me ask you this, in your mind, what makes this album a success for you at this point? You guys are so good about putting yourselves out there and saying what you want to say that I imagine just being able to keep doing that is an accomplishment but for you, what do you look at this record as like “I hope this does _____” or “this makes this impact”?
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I just hope it turns more people on to what’s going on. I feel like that’s already done because of other people. When we put out “Goodnight Alt-Right” and we were under that Internet attack from those people, a lot of people did kind of back away from it. Not that they hated it, but it was just a crazy thing to just kind of oversee where people kind of just didn’t even really know what was happening. And then when people would hit me up and be like “yo the new song is sick!” I’d be like “thanks!” He’d be like “what’s up with the dislikes?” Then they find out, they could look in to what happened and see that Richard Spencer tweeted it our and told people to troll it and that’s exactly what happened. So people then didn’t know what was going on and it was a thing that you didn’t want to touch because we were under this crazy Internet ridicule and whatnot but then when everything happened it turned to people like “holy shit, this is real” because a couple of people would say like “why are you guys talking about Nazis? This isn’t a thing.” And then it was a thing and now it still is a thing. So I think that definitely worked. I definitely want people to see that there is a personal side on there, whether it’s like losing someone that means a lot to you and not like a grieving like “I’m so sad that you’re gone” way but like with that song “They Always Take The Guru”. We all lost someone that was very important to us and that was one of the greatest people we’ve ever met and will ever meet and he was this very enlightened wise person, and then he died at an early age and the way that we dealt with that was “why the fuck did he die when all these people that are fucking scum of the earth live every day and he’s the one who died?” And it was like that’s mad about him being dead, which I don’t think a lot of people do that and sometimes it’s okay to feel angry when someone dies. So it is a lot of stuff on this album and in the end of the day sometimes I don’t even really know what I want but from people to take from it because again like I said many times over this interview and other interviews is we always wrote for ourselves, we never wrote for like “oh this would be good for the shows and the kids would like this.” We never have done that, we’ve always wrote for ourselves and we’re just always lucky that people related. So, I’m confident that the true Stray fans will still relate and if more people do then that’s awesome. Only time will tell, because sometimes one person thinks one way and then something could happen and then they think another way. I mean, look at “Goodnight Alt-Right”, people may have listened to that and said “what the fuck are they doing, this isn’t a real thing, this is a waste” and then what happened and now they’re for it. You never know. Life changes. Something could change where it contradicts a song that we wrote, you know? You never know, and I don’t really know what I want people to take from it, I just want people to take something whether it’s hatred, whether it’s love, or whether it’s confusion, you never know. I just want them to feel something. There’s too much music that makes you feel nothing, you know what I mean?
Has there ever been a breakdown moment in one of your songs where you guys are working out the lyrics and you’re wondering “maybe we can’t get away with this, or maybe it’s too silly.” For instance, the first time I heard “the price is wrong, bitch”, I laughed so hard that I imagined you giggling in the studio while asking “can we make this work?”
I mean, it definitely happens sometimes.
I feel like you hit this perfect bar that’s like just ridiculous enough to be memorable but not so much that it ruins the point that you’re trying to make.
Yes, that’s perfectly said. Again, we write songs that we like and we’re very serious people but sometimes we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we like to have fun. And there’s certain things where like, “Let’s Make A Deal” is a very important song to me and it shows a lot of how corrupt politics are and how anyone with money can buy anything. But, we also do love Happy Gilmore and we love Friday, and you know, we used fucking two comedies that we love and the choruses are from those movies with “you just got knocked the fuck out” and “the price is wrong, bitch” because it’s fun. Again, we want to have fun, man. The music is supposed to be fun at the end of the day no matter how dark of an album we write or how political it is or who it pisses off or who it makes excited, it’s supposed to be fucking fun. Who wants to listen to a record and not have fun with doing it? If you want to do that you can listen to fucking Red Hot Chili Peppers if you want to have a miserable time listening to a record. But for us, we want it to be fun and always will be that way and that’s why “Let’s Make A Deal”, that is a kind of a fun song and it has a Happy Gilmore chorus that people will probably laugh at but they’ll remember it and if they like it they’ll fucking sing it.
Yeah, that’s the thing, even though the album gets a little negative, you guys always include a sense of levity where it’s like, “we take it very seriously but we can’t take it too seriously.”
Yeah because in the end of the day we’re all just a bunch of fucking 30 year old kids that never grew up from high school and still write music. No matter what or how fucking smart we try to be or how important we try to be or whatever the fuck you want to call it, we’re still just gonna be the same people that we’ve always been, we’re just four people writing music that they think is good, singing words that they believe in, and then that’s it. And if people like it, then we’re lucky. You know, that’s it. If people don’t like it, I still wrote the same record I would have always written even if we were just a fucking local garage band or not. That’s the way you gotta approach it. If you start catering shit to people, it’s gonna come out like shit. It’s gonna suck.
No, I agree man. I know you’re busy so I don’t want to keep you much longer but I do thank you for chatting with me for a while about this.
I appreciate that you have a good interview and you didn’t just pound the “Goodnight Alt-Right” video right into my fucking brain.
Only Death Is Real is available now wherever music is sold.
*Special thanks to Alyssa Nicole Carroll for helping with the creation and transcription of this article.