Metal-Roos: Thanks so much for giving me some time today! I read in an interview that you had the image for the front cover of Death Atlas three years ago. How important is the imagery of the artwork and album to your personal inspiration or song-writing process?
Travis Ryan: Well, the cover, concept and stuff come in at different times. With Death Atlas I had it figured out a while ago but with Anthropocene I didn’t have anything. I mean, we were in the studio in January and I didn’t have the idea or the album title, cover concepts or anything ready until it went out in September. It’s always rather organic like that, sometimes I come up with an idea a year or two in advance but then it ends up changing drastically when go time comes in. I’m pretty sure I have the concept and everything ready for the next album already which sort of plays off of this one. So, this release will be pretty calculated, very similar to how Death Atlas was. I had the idea a while ago a year or two after Anthropocene, I decided what I want to do with this one. I think having that much time actually helped us have a more grandiose style album. You know, there’s a lot of big open passages, a lot of melodic stuff, but really heavy as well, heavy on the depressing side of things. I guess, the sombre side of things. Some of the songs that are “epic” have much a grander scope to them than I feel the last couple of albums. For some reason, people are really hung up on Monolith… but I think it’s because it happened at a certain time in people’s lives. I’ve been calling it the Doom E.P. phenomenon. Job for a Cowboy comes out with this demo or whatever it was and even though everything that came after that was musically superior people wouldn’t let that f***ing demo go because it hit them in a certain time of their life. It came in angularly at a certain time in a certain phase of modern metal development. I think that’s the long and short of it. It’s this amazing piece of art but it’s just timing really. It was a good record and that’s great but if you asked me Demonocracy is way better and the new one destroys both of those. Obviously, the artist’s going to be more into what they’re doing now. Luckily, we a project like Death Atlas, which we were really into, the whole project, this isn’t releasing something just to release it and tour, we really believe in this album and project.
M-R: When approaching a song you have so many tools that you can use to mould the song vocally; how does the song usually speak to you for what to use where? Can you give me an idea of your usual writing process?
Travis Ryan: The guys write the music, you know, but the lyrics do tend to dictate whether the song will change. Whether there will be a repeat here or getting rid of this section entirely. The one thing that has differed over the years, since, I’d say on Harvest Floor, I started trying to integrate some melodic vocals in there but very far in the background. Then on Monolith they are in the foreground. It was pretty new for us, and the demos were awful. It was hard to convince people, but we kept saying, trust me this going to be sick and it was. After that, they were like “okay, now we have this”. So they started writing music with that stuff in mind with melodic passages in mind. That’s one of the reasons why Death Atlas has more melodic passages. It seems there are a lot of people saying we have too much or there is way more melodic stuff in the new songs. I personally don’t think it’s dissimilar enough to the last two records to make that statement. I think this material is better than the last two albums it has a lot more substance, but I don’t think it’s dissimilar enough from the last two to worry about those complaints. I don’t force anything, if it feels right, it feels right. There are times they were I wanted to do something, and it got shut down either by the band or Dave Otero and that’s fine. We just come up with something better and that’s it. I haven’t walked away feeling slighted. I mean there have been parts where Otero says “Yeah, we should’ve done this differently” and I’m like “You’re crazy!” and vice versa, and we’re cool with each other like that. We have a semi-perfect working relationship to be honest.
M-R: I read that during recording you have had songs that worked during the demo process but during recording, for whatever reason, just didn’t work and you had to work on the fly. How do you work through that situation and did any song present such a challenge on Death Atlas?
Travis Ryan: Well, you know, for example, I come in and I’ll have a part where my gut reaction is to do this really high pitch thing or a really low pitch thing when really, there’s a middle ground there that I didn’t really think about. But Otero did, you know, that kind of thing. We’ll have a little back and forth. He’s like our sixth member, and that’s the mark of a true producer, not just a guy hitting record and going “I think you can do it better”. He brings ideas and it brings ideas out of us. The majority of it is us, but there’s a reason why we keep going back to him. We just have a really good positive working relationship everybody’s cool with each other. We’re cool with him he’s cool with us, there’s no drama. It’s awesome, he gets us, we get him and it’s only getting better, which helps. Their stuff like working on challenges always happens. No choice is here or registered idea here or octave choices there you know as far as focus and stuff go you know I can only speak for myself I’m not even in there when they’re doing their shit. Haha.
M-R: Your vocal ability is one of the more celebrated in the metal community, how important do you think the fact that you began learning to scream with a microphone and an amplified sound to your personal tone?
Travis Ryan: So, the words “learning experience” aren’t quite right. It was more like an evolution, where, playing different sized rooms, opening for massive bands or playing tiny little rooms with 100 people and a shitty P.A. and everything in between. It really just comes down to experience and learning what not to do, then what to do. Kids blow out voice because they hear someone sounding like an absolute monster. So, they assumed they have to be a monster when they just don’t. There’s a technique to it. My shit is all technique-driven and I learned that shit 30 years ago when I started doing vocals. Anybody can sound like a beast if they cup the mic which creates this big room inside of the mic. Being able to use the P.A. to your advantage and having an understanding of how a mic works and holding the mic. I shouldn’t be talking coz I’m one of the offenders, I sneak up on to the ball of the mic but that just comes up naturally and instinctively. I come up the side of the mic the top half of the ball is open but their bottom half is gripped by my hand and it sometimes creates just a little area that the mic and picks up my voice. Especially on SM58 which is what I usually use. I just switched to a Sennheiser 500 wireless setup coz I’m sick of tripping all over the place, but I hate wireless, I need something in my left hand which just isn’t there anymore. It feels weird and I find myself doing hand movements that other people do. But I don’t care how I look, I care how I sound. You know, doing six to seven vocal styles at any given time one or two of them are going to suffer. It is how it is, you’re gonna get what you’re gonna get and I don’t really give a fuck. Its extreme metal you’re meant to be in the moment. No one’s coming to our shows writing citations, go to a show stay off your phone and enjoy it, man, enjoy the intensity…
M-R: Word’s to live by…thanks again for your time!
Travis Ryan: No problem, man, thank you!
Interview Date: 2020-02-08
Interviewer: Jonathan Hurley