Ryan Clark of Demon Hunter
At times the hardcore music genre can seem like a state sponsored fishing hole, with an annual stocking of nameless bands drawing both avid fans as well as the fresh-from-Walmart posers looking for the next big catch only to find that soon after opening day the crowds die down and many of those dream catches were less than advertised. Demon Hunter continues to break the mold both musically and creatively, each year further endearing their die hard hunter-core to the mission of “storming the gates of hell” while simultaneously expanding their fan base by blowing the minds of those joining the hunt for the first time. With a complexity to their music that bears the edge of projects long deceased (note Training for Utopia) they continue to wrestle the sharpest melodic elements and fuse them with components that are just plain brutal. Demon Hunter has forged a sound which causes listeners to sing along, enticed by a depth in content, conviction and tonal package that will keep pits circling long into the night. To a large degree, Demon Hunter is a reflection of its lead singer and founding member, Ryan Clark, who is both a dominating presence as a creative mastermind as well as a man of clear convictions yet also a very private and humble individual. The Clark brothers have crafted a brand in Demon Hunter that serves as a model for successful marketing in the indie music scene without selling out your personal or musical values. Ryan continues to carry the mantle after his brother Don decided to step away from his role within Demon Hunter at the end of 2009, but this “newly” formed Demon Hunter will continue to challenge, inspire and motivate global hunters to carry their convictions forward, cowering to no one.
Are you originally from Seattle? How much do you enjoy local culture there and how has the local scene helped you get to where you are today?
RCI was born in Southern California, raised in Central Oregon and Northern California, and I moved to Seattle almost exactly 10 years ago. I love Seattle. Not every aspect of it, but it’s certainly my favorite place on earth. It’s an incredibly diverse city, and there’s never a shortage of things to do. Mountains an hour away, on the ocean, Portland and British Columbia 2 hours away, thriving arts and music scene. On the other side of the coin, I do hate the bleeding-heart hippie culture (which is massive here) and all of their phony compassion (honestly, they’re like the angriest, coldest people on earth), but truly, living in a city with such adversed ideals to my own makes for great lyrical material. I don’t have to go very far to see and understand who my enemies are.
If I recall correctly, you were raised as PKs (Preacher’s kids), what was that like growing up? Your music has never been “church music” by any stretch, were your parents always supportive of your music or have they grown into Demon Hunters?
RC Yea, that’s correct. When we were growing up, it was a love/hate thing for sure. Especially in our teens, we were probably more uncomfortable with the idea that it wasn’t cool or whatever. That’s just how kids are… some of those kids take that mentality into their adulthood and stay bitter at the church, and some are able to see it for what it is. I think that usually comes down to two factors: how your “church” experiences were (how great/terrible the people of said church were), and the effectiveness of parenting. If you attended a legalistic, judgmental church… chances are you are going to have a very jaded view of church or Christianity in general.
Our parents were awesome. They instilled values in us without being overbearing. It took them a little bit to get used to the style of music that we became so involved in, and the aesthetic that followed, but their real concern was in regard to our character. They’ve come to really appreciate our music and they’re extremely proud of what we’ve done.
The metal power duo of Clark & Clark (Ryan & Don) have been together since birth, how did this evolve into your earlier musical ventures such as Training for Utopia?
RC Well, our musical tastes progressed at a very similar pace… we liked old hip-hop growing up (Beastie Boys, Grandmaster Flash, Run DMC, etc.) and when we were in our young teens, we were turned onto punk rock by some friends (Pennywise, Bad Religion, Face To Face, etc.), around the same time, we were also getting into metal (Pantera, Sepultura, Metallica). Punk and metal gave way to hardcore… and that was really the scene that we dove into.
I started a hardcore band called Focal Point in 1993 and we were signed in 1995… shortly after, Don started a noisy hardcore band called Training For Utopia. After one tour, Focal Point was ready to hang it up, and ironically TFU had lost their singer at the same time. I assumed the vocalist position in TFU, and that was the start of about 15 years of doing music together.
The Clark brothers have a deep portfolio of music, especially when it comes to styles as you’ve ranged from hardcore, industrial and now metal. While Demon Hunter retains a thread of heavy lyrics and music with an edge, each progression seems to have a dynamic sound all of its own. What is different about your perspective on life and music that has come to craft the sound for Demon Hunter?
RC I would really chalk it all up to a disinterest in being “cool” or “current,” by way of maturing through a vast number of flash-in-the-pan trends. In the past, we were definitely wrapped up in whatever was happening at the time, and that was fine. However, from the very beginning with Demon Hunter, it was our goal to do something that didn’t fall under the umbrella of a fleeting scene. The fact that Demon Hunter happens to have a broader appeal than our previous projects has nothing to do with selling out our own musical tastes. Our influences are almost solely from the 90′s. The music that we create with Demon Hunter is out of pure love for a particular sound and style. The progression that you hear from record to record is just a natural maturity process- finding our style, and honing it, building upon it.
There was a hiatus from music, at least front-lining in a band, between Training For Utopia and your resurgence as Demon Hunter, was there some burnout in performing and touring with music? What got the wheels turning for Demon Hunter?
RC The biggest factor was moving to Seattle. TFU was kind of falling apart, due to a shift in priorities… and we really had to wait to get our feet planted in Seattle before feeling comfortable enough to start playing again. The desire to write and play music was/is always there.
You’ve been successfully involved with several facets of music outside of performing, from Asterik Studios, to Invisible Creature and art direction for Solid State and Tooth & Nail. Did you set out to be involved with graphic design professionally or did this aspect of your creative nature develop more organically?
RC The visual art career for me was a very organic thing. I’ve always enjoyed drawing, painting, etc. but when I got to be an adult, I didn’t really know what to do with any of it. My brother had been designing for a number of years… and when we moved to Seattle, I really started taking an interest in graphic design. Shortly after I’d really started dabbling in design, a job opened up in the T&N art department. Although my knowledge at the time was VERY limited, Brandon Ebel (owner) took a chance on me and gave me the job. I’ve been the art director here for over 9 years now. Asterik Studio and Invisible Creature both happened while I’ve been here at T&N… they’ve all kind of coincided together.
Demon Hunter takes a pretty balanced approach to music, you guys hit the road hard, but you seem to take your time between tours. Is this a calculated approach to music or more a reflection of your other commitments?
RC Our lack of constant touring has everything to do with our non-band commitments, however, this schedule really worked in our favor. I think a lot of bands tour too much and become somewhat played out. Kids get tired of seeing them every few months and they lose interest. With us, it’s become such an event when we play live, because it’s so seldom. And this means that a lot of fans show up when we play, because if they don’t, it’ll be a while before they get another chance. I don’t think it would work for every band, but this has been a really successful formula for us.
Aside from your hands-on work with art direction at Solid State, you’ve been personally involved in recognizing and developing upcoming bands such as Becoming The Archetype and The Ascendicate. Do you seek out these relationships or as a fan of music are there bands that just grab your attention and you can’t resist promoting?
RC There are a few bands over the last 10 years that have really grabbed my attention… and I felt that if I didn’t reach out and make something happen, nothing would. So despite my job not being that of an A&R rep here at the label, I’ve kind of assumed that position from time to time, in order to work with these bands that I’ve really believed in. Brandon (Ebel) being so cool and trusting, has allowed me to wear that A&R hat from time to time. All-in-all, I’m just a huge champion of the label, and I love the ability to contribute in any way.
This album and tour will showcase a revamped Demon Hunter, most notably the absence of Don, what has been the biggest impact of this transition musically and how hard was it to fill the voids? We definitely want to respect your privacy, are you willing to elaborate any on why Don chose to step away?
RC Absolutely. Don’s reasons for leaving are not necessarily a private matter. It was essentially a shift in priorities. He runs Invisible Creature, and it was getting harder and harder for him to close up shop to tour or record. For me, I’m able to take time off from work, and come back and jump right back into the saddle. For him, it was a real risk when he left each time, hoping that the phone would start ringing the day he returned. Add 2 kids to that equation (the only kids of anyone in the band) and his decision had become a really clear one.
You’ve noted that The World is a Thorn explores greater depths in both technicality and brutality, even elaborating earlier this year, “We’re definitely still working with the DH formula of groove-oriented heavy mixed with melodic… but the heavy is usually faster this time around. And the melodic tends to be a little darker, little moodier.” (Interview w/ Indie Vision Music) What excites you most about the progression in sound that will be heard on this album?
RC I feel like this album is a very natural progression for the band… but in the least boring way, if that makes sense. In other words, we’re a band that isn’t going to stray terribly far from the overall style that we’ve created over the years… but at the same time, we obviously like to keep things interesting with each record. I thing the songs on this record are extremely solid, well-written, well-executed, and are the best version of Demon Hunter to date.
You’ve crafted a PR blitz with 50 Days of Demon Hunter and a tour that includes As I Lay Dying and War of Ages, 2010 is looking like a big year for DH, does the band have any more tricks up their sleeve?
RC Well, at this point we’re just anxious to get out on the road. That’s all that we have on our radar at the moment… but I’m sure we’ll be brainstorming some new ideas very soon.
From The World is a Thorn your song “LifeWar” is basically an autobiographical retrospective on your life, yet most of your music is very personal, is there a song that stand out to you from this album?
RC That song stands out a lot to me, actually, because it is a little more personal and autobiographical. Songs like Tie This Around Your Neck and Collapsing are also stand-out tracks to me. I feel like those songs were maybe more inspired than others.
Your beliefs as a Christian have always come across in your music, what do you do to keep your faith fresh?
RC As for my faith, I do my best to read as often as I can. I get a lot from the Bible and a handful of other books. The last book I read was called The Mortification Of Sin, which was great. I also like to surround myself with like-minded people… but I have a lot of non-Christian friends that, believe it or not, really allow me to understand why I believe what I do.
“Collapsing” shares some of your perspective of living and sharing the gospel with others, in a sense you admit that many are not receptive to the truths that you hold dear yet you believe it is still important to be active in proclaiming truth. How do you approach sharing your faith as an individual (outside of Demon Hunter) and as an artist (through DH)?
RC With DH, it’s easy… I write it, sing it… you can listen or not, but I’m going to wear my beliefs on my sleeve. That’s my platform to do so, and that’s what you’re going to get. That’s the beautiful thing about being in a band- No one has to ask your opinion and you can give it anyway.
With daily life, it’s much more about getting on a personal level. I’m usually not one to speak directly into someone’s life before knowing them. I think people see that as intrusive, and are easily turned off by strangers telling them how to live. Now, I do believe in a generally black and white guideline for living… but if you have a relationship with someone, then you may gain their trust, understanding, respect… and I think you’re much more likely to meet them on an effective level.
Demon Hunter > Metal/Hardcore > Seattle, WA > Solidstate Records
The World Is A Thorn available now nearly everywhere – Solidstate, Best Buy, Hot Topic, iTunes…Currently on tour with As I Lay Dying, Bless The Fall and War of Ages (see DH Myspace or DH Website for more info and tour dates)
Demon Hunter is: Ryan Clark – Vocals; Jonathan Dunn – Bass; Yogi Watts – Drums; Patrick Judge – Guitar; Ryan Helm – Guitar
OREGONIANS – Demon Hunter w/ As I Lay Dying, Bless The Fall and War of Ages on Tuesday, May 18, 2010 @ The McDonald Theatre. May 16 @ The Knitting Factory in Boise, Idaho and May 17 @ The Knitting Factory in Spokane, Washington.
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