March 1, 2019 Interview – Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter
Within all the nooks and crannies of the current Metal scene, there lies a little gem known as Demon Hunter. Together for nearly twenty years, the band has quietly been one of the most prolific producers of original, new music of any band of their ilk – on average putting out a new full-length album every two years dating all the way back to their 2002 self-titled debut. Not an easy accomplishment for any band, through it all they have built a very formidable name for themselves, sold a ton of albums, and forged a bond with fans that cannot be severed. Now they look to up the ante, doing the unthinkable, releasing two full-length albums simultaneously on the same day.
Titled War and Peace, the records are completely independent of one other, showcasing both sides of what makes Demon Hunter who they are, and the results are nothing short of impressive. Excited about it all, band founder, Lead Singer, and Lyricist Ryan Clark broke down the story Demon Hunter has forged, the idea behind releasing these two new albums, plus a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – Demon Hunter has a history that dates back nearly 20 years now. In that time, the band has attained a great deal of success. Before going any further, how would you describe the journey of the band?
Ryan Clark – When we started out, we had been doing some bands in the ’90s that were signed and we had done a little bit of touring. My brother and I both relocated from Northern California to Seattle basically with the hopes of taking our design and illustration careers more seriously in a place where we felt those things could flourish. We knew Seattle was more a place where that could be a possibility. After we lived in Seattle for about a year, we talked about the idea of doing another band; our previous band Training for Utopia disbanded right around the end of the century there. We casually started to talk about doing something, it started very humbly and without really any expectations. As time went on, it became more and more a serious endeavor, especially with those first three records. It went from being, “Let’s do this to have some fun and do something that we really did that hadn’t done before,” and then it became clear there was a real response to it. Taking that and treating it as more of a serious thing over the next few records was really what was happening.
It started out with really no expectations. Anything that was going to happen, we would be stoked on. We could have sold a thousand records, and we would have been stoked. When we went on our first little tour and every show was sold out, and we were headlining, it became clear that there was something kind of awesome going on. In a nutshell, it started out of a desire to want to do something that we had always loved. We had played in Hardcore and noisy bands in the past, but in the ’90s we were always simultaneously into Groove Metal like Pantera, Sepultura, Fear Factory, and stuff like Deftones. We wanted to do something more like that, something that was maybe a little bit more polished, had some hooks, and more a Pop sensibility in sense of structure and songwriter. We kind of just went for it and it has kind of evolved since then.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting, and what would you say has been the biggest change with Demon Hunter since then?
Ryan Clark – The biggest change was when my brother Don quit, which was totally amicable and totally fine. He’s been a professional designer and illustrator since the ’90s. Running his own company, it got to be a little bit too much to put things on hold on that front in order to tour or do a record. He was also having kids at the time, so it became more of a stress for him. When he left, I took the reigns in terms of the songwriting and leading the band.
Over the next few years, we kind of built the band back up to what it is today. Now I have my core group of guys and it is exactly what I would want right now, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have a lot of help with Jeremiah Scott and Patrick Judge – Jeremiah being a producer and Patrick being an amazing songwriter. Doing records as consecutively as we do now, and the amount of songs that it would take to do something like we are doing right now, is only really possible with those guys.
Cryptic Rock – The band has been rather prolific through the years releasing a lot of material. For the most part, Demon Hunter have averaged a new album every two years throughout the band’s career. Now you are back in 2019 with two full-length records! Is it a challenge to produce that much material in such short spans of time?
Ryan Clark – The writing and recording process for us is the most fun. It’s something that is more feasible or us to be able to do that than it is for us to be on the road. Where we are potentially lacking in terms of what a normal band would do on a the road playing live, we try to make up for it by putting out albums more frequently or interacting with fans on a very consistent basis. We all have different things going on. I’ve been a professional designer for pretty much the same time Demon Hunter has been around. That keeps me very busy and the other guys have their other things going on as well. What we can’t do, and don’t necessarily want to do, is be on the road all the time. What we can do, because we can do it remotely, or whenever we get free time, is write music and record.
With Jeremiah being a producer, we have the luxury of not needing to book studio time – we record in his home studio in Nashville, we record at my home studio here in Seattle. We have the flexibility to do things a week at a time. We can do a week here or there, we can take a break for two months and get back to it. When we came off the heals of Extremist (2014), we pretty much started writing immediately. Then, all of us started having kids, so the biggest stretch between records was Extremist and Outlive (2017), which was only three years. That was just by virtue of introducing seven kids I think at the time; from zero to seven kids in about two years time, that obviously slowed things down a little bit. When we kind of hit this point where our kids were old enough not to be in the throes of new parenthood, we got back into the swing of it.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds as if everyone in the band have taken on important and distinctive roles that keep the machine running smoothly.
Ryan Clark – Like I said, with Patrick writing and Jeremiah producing, we have this ultra flexibility. When we were about to put out Outlive, Patrick had already written around ten demos, and we ended up doing thirty. We just never really stopped writing and recording since we were recording Outlive, we just kept going. We actually were planning on putting War and Peace out at the end of last year, which would have been three records in two years. We realized that idea of doing that was more to just be like shock factor, but it didn’t really allow us have the kind of setup time that we wanted to, so ended up pushing them back a little bit.
We’ve just been in the groove of writing for the last couple of years. To be honest, prior to War and Peace, we already had probably fifteen songs written for something else. (Laughs) We have the ability to do that now and it’s our favorite part of doing the band. That, and interacting with fans. I know Demon Hunter doesn’t function like a normal band, but it’s the one thing that we can deliver on as consistently or more consistently than other bands.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, that is really impressive to hear you have even more material in the works. War and Peace are out now – two full-length albums, independent of each other, released on the same day. One record is a little heavier, but both are extremely melodic. Tell us about the concept about the two albums.
Ryan Clark – Demon Hunter has always balanced a number of a different styles. Our albums are usually somewhere 80/20% of heavy to extremely melodic. From the very first record, it was important for us to put on that record what we consider ballads, which are just kind of more down tempo songs – some of which are still heavy, some of which completely stripped down, and don’t really sound much like a Metal band at all. We like to be able to have that range to play in. I don’t necessarily just want to play melodic songs that sound like a Metal band trying to do a stripped down thing. I want the flexibility to be able to do anything within that realm of a stripped down piano ballad to an Electronic number like “Rescue Myself.”
Throughout the years, we have been kind of introducing these different styles of songs – you look all the way back to The Triptych (2005), “The Tide Tide Began to Rise” was kind of a key/string based thing. We’ve been introducing these different kind of styles into the Demon Hunter, granted those songs were an exception to the rule of what the Demon Hunter sound, yet there were a few of those songs peppered throughout each record. Those songs really ended up being fan favorites. If you look at statistics on what people listen to the most, it’s the really melodic stuff. A matter of fact, the number one song by a long shot on Spotify is a B-side called “I Am a Stone,” which is just strings and vocals. Knowing that people really dig that stuff, we’ve always thought it would be a cool idea to exactly explore doing a fully heavy album or a an album that basically allows us to explore all those types of styles that are not necessarily like Metal styles.
War is supposed to be like a Metal record. Yes, it has a lot of melody still because that is kind of where we’re going and where we’ve been for the last few records, it’s what we enjoy doing more. There are a lot of heavy songs that have a melodic vocal, and I still like to incorporate the screaming stuff – I think there is a place for that. I don’t think it belongs everywhere, and it’s a little bit tiresome for me to hear bands that just scream. I like to hear a little more variation.
Then you have Peace, which is kind of an exploration of every type of style that we like to play outside of pure heavy. It has everything from kind of acoustic songs, to piano songs, to straight forward Rock songs. That for us was definitely more of lets take the two sides, polarize them a little bit, do everything heavy over here, and do everything that is basically not there. We didn’t want to do a just a completely stripped down acoustic record for Peace, we wanted it to feel like a Demon Hunter record and not so left field. We did want it to have the overall vibe that it is more melodic and more down tempo for the most part.
Cryptic Rock – They both work exceptionally well and they are both strong records on their own. That in mind, did you ever consider holding off one or the other album and releasing them at different times, or did you have your heart set on releasing them on the same day?
Ryan Clark – It was never a question that we wanted them to come out on the same day. Obviously we talked a little bit if they would be packaged together or whether they would be separate. For me, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a double album that I was actually able to digest, for me the idea of a double album is a little exhausting. This might as well be a double album, but the idea of doing them separately is in an effort to give people two separate things to digest, opposed to one big piece.
Pretty early on, we knew that is what we wanted to do. We knew we didn’t want to put the albums out at different times, there are plenty of bands that have done that, and some of it I think is political, some of it is just because that is what they want to do. There are very few bands that have done them on the same day. It felt like they needed to be a pair to a certain degree, We didn’t want them to be a double album, but we did want them to be a pair.
We knew it was a risk to ask people to buy two albums or digest two albums at the same time, it is definitely asking a lot. We understand that. The concept of doing them on the same day was pretty early on set.
Cryptic Rock – It seems like the right decision, because while the albums are independent, they do feel like they go hand in hand. As you mentioned, yourself and the other members of the band are busy with family and other endeavors. Can we expect some live shows in support of the albums this year?
Ryan Clark – Yea, we do plan on this year having more shows than we’ve had in the past two or three years. That is still in the works, we don’t have anything currently slated, but we have plans to do a few different chucks of shows that will definitely be a little bit more robust than what we did for Outlive and probably even more than what we did for Extremist.
Cryptic Rock – That is exciting to hear. Listening to both albums, is there a little bit of an intertwined theme with them?
Ryan Clark – Not so much. I didn’t want to be bound to something that was more somatic that joins them together. I like the freedom of whatever subject is hitting me, or whatever inspiration hits me for a lyrics. I like to be able to run with that. I didn’t like the idea of being tied to an over-arching concept, that didn’t appeal to me. There were a few times, when writing lyrics, where I found an opportunity to maybe pull a line of words that exist on the other record and throw them opposite on another song. There are a handful of things like that.
There is a title-track on Peace where there is not one on War, that wasn’t necessarily intentional. I had an idea for a song called “Peace,” I didn’t have one for a song called “War.” I didn’t want to be too rigid about what the lyrical structure and what the themes of the songs where. There are a couple of little gems if you listen pretty intently where you can hear I’ll say, “Death is on my side,” which is off a song from War, and there is a song called “Fear Is Not My Guide” on Peace. There are a few little things like that, but not super deep in that regard.
Cryptic Rock – Understood. Last question for you, if you are a fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Ryan Clark – I’ve never been a big Horror guy, I am a moderate Sci-Fi guy. Of late, Interstellar (2014) was a favorite. That might be my top pick over the last handful of years.