September 28, 2018 Interview – Spencer Charnas of Ice Nine Kills
If you know anything whatsoever about Ice Nine Kills, then you know that they love themselves some Horror – whether it be in the form of literature or film. Known for their cinematically-inspired songs and Horror movie-themed merchandise designs, the band have been consistently making an impressive name for themselves since 2002. This October, the boys are poised to deliver their fifth full-length release, the career-defining masterpiece The Silver Scream. Conceptually-based on Horror classics and fraught with references to everyone from Freddy Krueger and Leatherface to Jason Voorhees and Eric Draven, the album is a must-have for heavy music lovers and Horror lovers alike.
On the eve of such an exciting release and with so much to talk about, we had the chance to sit down with the band’s pensive and candid Vocalist Spencer Charnas to talk all things The Silver Scream – from guest appearances to Easter eggs – along with Pop Punk favorites, the upcoming Atreyu tour, and, of course, Horror.
CrypticRock.com – Let’s just dive right into the forthcoming The Silver Scream, because it’s a truly awesome album. What made you decide to follow-up 2015’s Every Trick in the Book, an album based off literature, with an album based off film?
Spencer Charnas – I’ve always been a big fan of Horror culture and Horror films ever since I was a little kid. My earliest memory of loving Horror is, when I would go with my mom to the grocery store, to kill time I used to check-out this VHS video store that was actually within the grocery store. So, I would be in there waiting for my mom to do her shopping, and for whatever reason, I was drawn to the Horror section. I would look at the covers of these VHS tapes – you know, the classics like Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) – and I was just enamored with what this whole thing was about and wanted to learn more. My parents were cool enough to let me rent these videos at a super young age, I’m talking like seven or eight-years-old. I think they’d assumed that I’d grow out of it but, you know, twenty-five years later I’m talking on the phone with you about an album based on these movies. (Laughs) So, I guess I never grew out of it!
The band has always been very Horror-centric. As we’ve delved into albums, we’ve always sort of touched on Horror – whether it was the concept of music videos, or dark lyrics here and there, or the merchandise design – but we had never really done an album that was really inspired by Horror. This was the time to do it! We got a lot of praise from our fans on the last album that had a solidified concept with the literature. We definitely chose a few books that had been made into Horror movies, so we sort of touched on it already, and we thought the time is now to do this. We deliberately planned to release the album in October to have that spooky feeling of the fall and Halloween around it. We’re really excited about it!
CrypticRock.com – To rewind for a second, if you were watching Horror movies that young, was there a movie that scared the crap out of you? (Laughs)
Spencer Charnas – I was definitely scared by Michael Myers and Jason, but I think the movie – the first Horror movie that I ever saw in the theater was Scream in 1996. I was eleven at the time and I was already a huge fan of the genre, but I’d only seen the movies on video tapes that my parents would rent me. So, that was my first experience in the theater and I remember sitting there during that opening scene, and just being absolutely shocked, scared, and in love with it all at the same time.
I had never seen a Horror movie that referenced the Horror films that I loved, and I was just like, “This is going to be my favorite movie of all-time!” And it really was, at the time, very scary, and I remember having trouble sleeping after it. Of course, the franchise was sort of bastardized because it became so popular and the Scary Movies came out and sort of made the whole thing less scary – but that initial film was really amazing and scared me!
CrypticRock.com – To go back to the album, you’ve said that you were very particular, and the songs had to live up to their namesake films.
Spencer Charnas – Yes. One of the most challenging parts of doing this record was respecting the films, because I love these films so much and they’re classics. I wanted to make sure that whatever we released did the film justice. That included, I had to throw out some songs that I didn’t think were good enough; I just really wanted to pay homage to these films in a respectful and elegant way.
CrypticRock.com – Were there any films that you really wanted to include that simply didn’t inspire a “worthy” song?
Spencer Charnas – Yeah! As I said, Scream (1996) is one of my favorite Horror films and I just wasn’t in love with what I was writing for it, so that, unfortunately, had to go by the wayside. But I’m hoping that, maybe on a re-release or a bonus thing that we’ll do down the road for The Silver Scream, we’ll get a song about Scream out there.
CrypticRock.com – That would be a lot of fun! Now, you recorded some of your vocals in some famous Horror locations. Where did you get to record and did just being in those locations inspire something extra special?
Spencer Charnas – So, I’m originally from the East Coast, but about a year ago I moved to Los Angeles. You know, there are definitely a lot of locations just down the street from me that are based on, houses involved in the production of these films. I thought it would be really cool, sort of in the post-production time period, to go to those locations and track some vocals.
What I did was, I brought a bare-bones set-up to the original house used in Halloween – that was the Michael Myers’ house – and recorded some vocals on the property of that house. I also did the same thing with the iconic house from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), which is in Hollywood. It’s the same address: it’s 1428, well, it’s not Elm Street, but it’s 1428 just like in the film. I just think that there’s something really cool about getting audio recorded from those vantage points.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that adds such authenticity.
Spencer Charnas – Oh definitely! So, I was really excited about that. I’m the kind of guy that loves hearing about stuff like that. You know, just bands I like, if there’s some sort of Easter egg, or even in films where there’s little hidden gems for the really hardcore fans to kind of geek out over.
CrypticRock.com – Anything extra like that makes the project even more special, certainly. So, speaking of your hardcore fans, have you read any of the guesses online as to what movies go with each of the tracks on The Silver Scream?
Spencer Charnas – Yeah, I have! One of the things I consciously did was, I didn’t want to put it out too early, and I think we might not even release the breakdown of which song is about which movie until the album comes out. It has been really fun to watch online! I know there’s a whole Reddit sub-forum, and people are commenting all over our social media. What we did was, I released the track-listing and, from the back of the album, the song names on a movie marquee. They’ve just been guessing and, some of them are really close, but I haven’t seen one person get all of them correct.
CrypticRock.com – There have been quite a few that are so way, way off that they are kind of funny! Okay, so “Stabbing in the Dark” feels like a stand-out, vocal performance wise. Did you do anything different going into the recording of that song?
Spencer Charnas – Thank you! One of the things I really wanted to channel on this album was the different characters that permeate through the films – not every character would have the same voice, because they’re all based on different movies. So, I really tried to give each song its own flare and its own sort of distinct vocal performance. That one being about Halloween, I had to think about if Michael Myers was a singer, what would he sound like? I had to sort of get into the mind-set of what he is and he’s just, as Doctor Loomis said, he’s just pure evil. And yeah, I tried to deliver on that, so I’m glad you liked it!
CrypticRock.com – You definitely did deliver, and every single song definitely has its own vocal personality. In fact, “Rocking The Boat,” in particular, is so much fun! What inspired you to name-check all of your older albums throughout the lyrics?
Spencer Charnas – Oh! I’m glad – you’re the first person who has mentioned that, I don’t know if anyone else picked that up. My friend and producer, Steve Sopchak, him and I always write the lyrics together, and we just have a ton of fun when we’re doing the lyrics. One of us had mentioned, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we said ‘Every Trick in the Book’ here,” because it sort of rhymed perfectly with the line that comes right after. Which is also kind of a funny line because it says, “It’s time to set the hook,” right before the chorus – which, you know, is a hook, and obviously the double-entendre of fishing and the water and sharks, with a literal hook.
Then it became, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we actually name-dropped every single album into this song?” It just became another fun thing for us to do while we were putting those together. I remember when we were done with the song, I thought, “Oh my god, we forgot to include ‘The Burning’!” I literally wrote a vocal melody and added a part that wasn’t there in the song, added an entire section of vocals just to get that other reference in. It turned out really cool! It’s cool to know and to think about that melody wouldn’t even be there, that part of the song wouldn’t even be there had we not had the idea to include all of the albums in there.
There’s also another Easter egg in that song, or, not so much of an Easter egg, but a cool, sort of, trivia for the band: the original singer of Ice Nine Kills, when we started, it was myself and this guy Jeremy Schwartz – it was like a dual lead vocalist thing originally – and we had him sing on the song. It’s pretty cool!
CrypticRock.com – That actually segues us into the next question perfectly. There are a handful of guest appearances on the album, so how did you decide which guest to put with each track?
Spencer Charnas – That’s a good question! So, I’ll just go through it. That one, in particular, with Jeremy, we had been talking about collaborating on a song, and he came up with some ideas for the song that would turn into “Rocking The Boat.” I thought that would be a cool one to include him in because, obviously, he had a hand in writing it.
Then, in the song “The Jig Is Up,” we have my friend Randy from Finch, which has always been one of my favorite bands from this world. When I was writing that song, the chorus had this Finch vibe. They are an influence for me: they are one of the bands that bridged my love for real Pop-Punk kind of stuff to darker-sounding imagery and darker-sounding music as a whole. I thought, “I’d love to get Randy on this album. Let’s get him in on this song!” What’s a more perfect song than a song that was clearly influenced by his own band?
So, on that song we did that, then we have a cameo from my friend Tony from Mest. Mest is a band that I grew up loving, a great Pop-Punk band, and I just thought his voice would sound really cool on that song. He happened to be at Warped Tour in Chicago and he was hanging out with me on the bus, I was showing him songs. I was like, “Let’s get you on this album, man!” He really liked that one, so that’s how that one worked out.
On the song “Love Bites,” I knew that I wanted to include a female vocalist and I’m friends with Chelsea Talmadge, this great actress – she did some parts on Stranger Things and she’s been in a number of other television shows, I think one on the Country Music Network actually. She was hanging out with me in L.A. and we happened to be in a karaoke bar on the Strip, and she sang a song – I think it was an Alanis Morissette song – and she just blew me away, she was just amazing. I thought, what a cool thing – not only does she have a great voice and it would be a cool collaboration, but she also has that sort of Horror tie-in, being associated with Stranger Things. That’s what this album is paying tribute to: that kind of film and that kind of TV show and that kind of culture. So, that one worked out great!
When we were doing “IT Is The End,” I wanted the song to have this eerie, kind of circus-carnival vibe, and when I was writing it I heard in my head – wouldn’t it be cool if there were horn parts like a band like Less Than Jake would do? I had this wacky idea – what if we actually get Less Than Jake to play horns on this? I was thinking there’s no way they’re going to want to do it, there’s no way it’s gonna happen, but through our manager and our booking agent, we got in touch with them and, low and behold, they loved the idea. They wanted to do it, they killed it, and they were super excited to be on the album; they said they’d never been asked to do anything like this for a band that had heavy music. So, that was great!
Then another cameo on that same song is from Will Salazar from Fenix TX, one of my favorite Pop Punk bands growing up. I listened to them all the time, and, like most people, discovered them through Blink-182. We met Fenix TX at a festival in the UK that we did last summer, hit it off with those guys, and I told Will, “Let’s write some stuff together!” We got together in San Diego and we ended up writing the chorus together for that song, and I thought, “Man, wouldn’t it be so cool if we get Will to sing on it?” – and he did.
CrypticRock.com – That is awesome! To go a little left-field for a second here, what is your favorite Finch song?
Spencer Charnas – I would say probably “Insomniatic Meat.” Most people associate Finch with What It Is to Burn (2002). I think it’s a great album and it got me into the band, but I think that their follow-up, Say Hello to Sunshine (2005), is a really unbelievably underrated album. It came out and it really pissed off a lot of their fans. I understand that it was different, but I think if you give that album a chance, it’s vastly superior to the first one in almost every way! It’s just really creative and, maybe on the surface it takes a little bit more time to get into it because it’s not as immediately catchy, but it’s really, really great stuff.
CrypticRock.com – On a similar note, do you have a favorite Mest song?
Spencer Charnas – Oh, that’s a tough one! My favorite Mest song is probably “Opinions” or “Drawing Board.” They’re a great band!
CrypticRock.com – They are an awesome band, and it was a wonderful surprise to see Tony on the album.
Spencer Charnas – Yeah! He was real excited about it! For me, these collaborations, for the most part, are very random and unexpected for a band like ours – which makes them even cooler to me. I mean, it would be more expected for us to try to get someone from Bring Me the Horizon, or some really popular band in this world, on the record. I wanted to get people who influenced my band, even though they weren’t necessarily in the same genre.
CrypticRock.com – It’s more meaningful to go that route versus just bringing in some big-name. To cycle back to The Silver Scream, do you have a favorite lyric on the album?
Spencer Charnas – For me, the whole idea of using “Thank God It’s Friday,” and that saying to relate to the Friday the 13th franchise, was really cool and I was so surprised when I thought of it – “How did this franchise never use that saying?” The way that we set that lyric up, the way that it’s Mrs. Voorhees delivering that line, there’s something that really hits me in the right way about that lyric and about how it’s set up. I’m trying to think of exactly how it’s set up: “She raised him right and he’ll come out to play when mother whispers, ‘Thank God it’s Friday’.”
That’s also tying in the fact that he’s wearing a hockey mask, and it almost sounds like a line where a mother’s talking to her innocent kid; you know, “he’ll come out to play.” In relation to the subject matter, we’re talking about something so sinister: this guy hears voices from his mother telling him to obliterate anyone who decides to come near his turf. So, I think that one’s cool!
CrypticRock.com – You can’t love heavy music and Horror films and not love that song! Now, Ice Nine Kills has this wonderful cinematic quality to the band and you are a very charismatic and dramatic frontman. Which makes one wonder – have you ever considered acting?
Spencer Charnas – Yeah! With the new music videos we’re putting out, it was my first time really getting on film and delivering lines. I really had a lot of fun with it! Obviously, there’s still so much I have to learn about it. Watching the videos back, I like my performance, but I can obviously see things like, “Oh man, why am I doing that? That’s a weird thing to do – I need to stop that!” So, I tried to learn from that. I did some acting in this new video that’s going to come out this week, and I thought my performance was better.
I actually am really interested in doing that kind of thing, because, obviously, I am not only a huge fan of music, but I’m a big, big cinephile. I love film! I am always the guy that knows the dialogue from the films. If you ask my friends about me, they’ll say, “Spencer, he can recite every goddamn line from that movie!” So, yeah, I’d like to pursue it!
CrypticRock.com – So, if there is a director reading this that is looking for cast members, there you go! But to get back to the band, you have a bunch of shows coming up in early October around the album release, and then a tour with Atreyu this fall. What should fans expect from these runs, and what new songs will you be adding into your set?
Spencer Charnas – We’re doing a bunch of really cool events in October, everything from a listening party at the Michael Myers’ house in Pasadena; to a Blackcraft wrestling event; to some appearances on the East Coast; to the Salem, Massachusetts’ Horror Fest – we’re going to have people from the music video and film there doing a panel; a bunch of really cool stuff. We’ll be playing some of the songs live, obviously for the first time. We’re still tinkering with the set-list and we’re interested to see what songs people are reacting to most, to make sure that we customize the set-list to fill those needs and specifications.
CrypticRock.com – Last few questions and they’re about movies. Obviously at CrypticRock, we cover music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Very clearly you love Horror, but do you also enjoy Sci-Fi?
Spencer Charnas – I was never really a huge Science Fiction guy. I like Spaceballs (1987), I don’t know if that qualifies? I’m trying to think – Alien (1979) is a Sci-Fi movie, isn’t it? I like Jason X (2001)!
CrypticRock.com – Those are good choices! Now, as far as recent Horror movies, have there been any that have caught your attention?
Spencer Charnas – I’m trying to think if there was anything provocative that – the last one that I saw that I thought was really great, well, I thought the new It (2017) was really good. I also liked the movie, I think it was You’re Next? (2011). That was a great movie! I recommend that and I’m very excited for the new Halloween. I thought Split (2017) was good, though not necessarily completely Horror but definitely in that world.
CrypticRock.com – Okay, so let’s end on a fairly tough question – what do you think it is about Horror that is so magical for so many diverse types of people?
Spencer Charnas – Horror, in general, is one of those platforms, like music, that people can go to escape from the everyday mundane lives that we have. For everyone, life can be very challenging – relationship problems, problems at work, depression – all the trials and tribulations of life. When you put on a good song, you can drift off to a different world and escape that! To me, that’s what good Horror films do: you can escape your own reality and drift to somewhere where you’re not thinking about your problems at work or your problems with your girlfriend. That’s a really important thing!
I also think that, in this world, there’s so many things that happen – there’s death, there’s tragedies all the time, there’s war – and the Horror genre allows us to enjoy safe scares. The movies can be depicting gory and really gruesome, disturbing things, but it’s not really happening; it allows you to have the fun and thrill of being scared without the consequences that those things would have in real life.