VIRTUE ... AND MORE VANS BREAKING
An Interview with Jonathan Hunt of DEAD TO FALL
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - February 2005
I met the lead singer and ringmaster of the quickly rising metal band Dead to Fall, someone who appeared to have more weight on his shoulders at age 23 than others carry in half a lifetime. Preoccupied beyond words, Jonathan acts as tour manager for his band, handling virtually all aspects of the band's business. When I spoke with Jonathan at Baltimore's Ottobar, the young singer was the kinetic center of activity. It's no wonder he literally explodes on the mike when he takes the stage. What follows is a very game interview from an anxious singer whose band is obviously his entire universe.
RoughEdge.com: You guys have gained a new drummer,
Tim Java. Where have I heard his name before?
Jonathan Hunt: He was in a band called With Dead Hands Rising.
RoughEdge.com: All right, cool. I thought I recognized the name. So instead of Evan (Kaplan) being on board … it seems like this band has had its share of obstacles and trials, you know? What happened with Evan?
Jonathan Hunt: Evan just didn't want to tour anymore. His life was taking him in a different direction; it's kind of happened with all of our members. Life starts to take them away from touring. It's kind of a hard life. You don't get paid a lot. You don't get to be home a lot. He had a girlfriend he was pretty serious with, one he wanted to be serious with, just one of those things. Then as he quit, more things started coming up about him, and his drumming wasn't quite up to par to what we wanted, so it's kind of a mutual thing. We were ready to find someone else and he wasn't willing to put in the work that it took to be better and to tour full time like we wanted him to. He was kind of holding everybody back, but it was his idea to leave and we were fine with that. Tim was already kind of ready to go, per se, Logan went to high school with him, I think, so they knew each other and they practiced together for awhile and then we started touring with Tim in October.
RoughEdge.com: Cool. Now, "Villainy and Virtue" has gained Dead to Fall some notoriety even as you've faced the adversity we've just discussed. Since our culture is so damned reality-based, this changing of the guard in the midst of success kind of shows that it's tougher managing a band—especially now that you told me you're also the band's TM—people have the disillusion that bands are all fun and games.
Jonathan Hunt: Oh yeah, it's definitely a lot of work. It's a lot like a game between knowing people and figuring out what's the best step, what tour should we do, where should we play, should we do this, should we spend the money on this, and there's a lot of stress with money and none of us ever have any of it! (laughs)
Jonathan Hunt: And then more expenses keep coming up, like we just bought a new van and our guitar player's head broke yesterday, so we had to buy him a new head or get the head fixed. At the same time, the notoriety helps because then we're starting to make a little bit more money. We just got a couple of sponsorships that are helping us out with equipment, so you know, it's still pressing on. It's kind of the goal level, the level of what I've always done with this band. I just kind of pushed on and kept going. As each person quits, one obstacle hits me and I just keep going and pushing on through it. I'm not ready to give up yet.
RoughEdge.com: Definitely. You're right there, man.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah.
RoughEdge.com: Now, sorry for the length of this question …
Jonathan Hunt: That's cool.
RoughEdge.com: Dead to Fall, in many ways, has a metalcore sound, but there can be some European death metal influences found in there, I think.
Jonathan Hunt: Mmm hmm.
RoughEdge.com: Like the synth fadeout on "Blood of the Moon" or the mini-instrumental "Little Birds." I understand you write most of the music and lyrics?
Jonathan Hunt: Most of the lyrics. Very little of the music. I write breakdowns and the real simple, like, chug parts?
RoughEdge.com: All right.
Jonathan Hunt: Because I can't play guitar worth a fucking shit.
Jonathan Hunt: So I just kind of sing out the part and the guitar players … like, if there's a couple chords or something like that, I'll be like, 'Try this instead.' Arranging stuff I can do, but I don't do a lot of the music writing. That's half your question.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Well, even "Cross Section" has that European textured sound, I think. Lately, the European metal bands, like Enslaved, Yyrkoon, Impious, bands like those, they're kind of showing the way a little bit, so I think it's good that your band is pulling some European influence to compliment your agro hardcore structure. So after all that, my question is, is this intentional?
Jonathan Hunt: We all pretty much listen to metal more than we listen to just straight hardcore, I think. I think the hardcore stuff we'd listen to would be like Bury Your Dead, the more moshy stuff, but as far as old school hardcore goes and that stuff, I think I'm the only one who ever listens to any of it. So definitely the metal sound comes through because that's what we listen to most of the time now. A lot of us are newer metalheads, you know, like in the last five years we're getting into metal. It's not like old school … obviously I listened to a lot of Metallica and Pantera growing up, but I think every kid who listens to heavy music listened to that stuff when they were younger. I don't really know where our stuff comes from, like, stylistically?
Jonathan Hunt: I can't really tell if it's intentional or not. We try to write music that we like. If we play a riff or a play a song that we like, then it's 'That's good, let's keep it,' but there was probably a song or two on this record with a ton of riffs that we're like, 'That's shit, toss it!' you know? We'll write it out and experiment with it, pull it until we think it's done and if it's shit after it's done, then it's shit and we toss it out, you know? It's definitely a band decision most of the time. Sometimes one person will be like, 'That's a horrible riff!' and everybody else will be like, 'I don't care what you think, it's sweet!'
Jonathan Hunt: So then we take it to a vote. Most of the record .... Antone (Jones), the guy who helped write this last record and the first record, actually … It's a long story, but he's been in the band three times.
RoughEdge.com: Wow! (laughs)
Jonathan Hunt: He's an original member as well. He listens to … he's just a straight metal kid. He wrote a lot of the more Swedish stuff on the CD, while Matt (Matera) listens to … I think he has a lot more death metal influence on this CD as well as some of the more melodic influence. Kind of both sides on that spectrum. "Cross Section" was just something I came up with and I arranged it. They wrote the parts and we just arranged and layered it. There's like 26 tracks … like, it starts with one track and it just layers track-on-track on top of each other until there's all the vocal tracks. There's like four or five guitar tracks, two drum tracks, a million tracks by the end. We wanted something that started out kind of simple and then just built and built until it just sounded like a clusterfuck pretty much.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) How hard was it putting all of that together?
Jonathan Hunt: That was all pretty much studio in putting it together, because it was a matter of recording each part then figuring out where to place it. When we record on Pro Tools, you can see just the patterns of all the waves and stuff, and so we could see it get bigger and bigger and how we wanted it to grow. Our producer, Eric Rachel, lets us experiment with stuff like that. We didn't have a lot of time to experiment because we had some problems. We always run into problems in the studio, so we took more time than we thought. But yeah, Eric's pretty awesome; he lets us do that kind of stuff, to just try stuff out, so it's pretty cool.
RoughEdge.com: Now, you guys kind of benefit in a small way from the sudden success of Lamb of God or Shadows Fall, who are being hailed as ambassadors of this newly-coined New Wave of American Heavy Metal tagline, versus British.
Jonathan Hunt: New metal, N-E-W? (laughs)
RoughEdge.com: Right, as opposed to N-U. (laughs) So what are your thoughts on all of that? If you listen to "Epilogue" from "Villainy and Virtue," you guys do kind of fall into it by association.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I thought Lamb of God when they first came out, were amazing. Well, Burn the Priest was amazing before Lamb of God.
RoughEdge.com: Right on.
Jonathan Hunt: Same as Shadows Fall. So it's cool those bands are starting to get some recognition and I think people are starting to realize it's like that style of music is just a little more real and a little more down to earth than nu-metal with a 'u' instead of an 'ew.' With all the face paint and the makeup and stuff like that, some of those songs were pretty good from the nu-metal bands, but most of them were just doctored-up label bullshit. At least that's what I felt like listening to it, you know?
Jonathan Hunt: So yeah, I'm really happy those bands are starting to get some recognition, and if our band gets some recognition, that'd be cool. If not, then whatever, you know?
Jonathan Hunt: We'll still be doing it, so …
RoughEdge.com: Let's talk about "Epilogue" a little more.
Jonathan Hunt: Okay.
RoughEdge.com: The lyric "A virtuous mind dreams what a wicked man does."
Jonathan Hunt: Uh huh.
RoughEdge.com: It's the only lyric of the song but it kind of states clearly the hypocrisy of self-righteous people.
Jonathan Hunt: Right.
RoughEdge.com: So simple a statement but powerful and thought-provoking. Tell me where you came up with that.
Jonathan Hunt: It's actually the guy who's doing our artwork; me and him were talking about the title "Villainy and Virtue" while we were recording and we went around back and forth a little bit, and he was watching the biography of Ed Gein, I think?
Jonathan Hunt: A similar line was in that biography and he was like, 'This is a cool line, what do you think of it?' And I was like 'Yeah, it kind of relates to the whole album, that's kind of cool.' I was still trying to pen something for the last line of the CD as well, so that's kind of where it came from, me and him talking in a conversation like that, but it kind of sums up exactly what you just said there, hypocrisy of the self-righteous, and sometimes being so righteous that it's in fact a villainous deed instead of what you're intending for. Which is what "Villainy and Virtue" the song is about.
RoughEdge.com: Cool. Now, "Torn Self" is kind of like an extreme self-help message, I think. It kind of evaluates one's self, opting to remove the dirt and grime from the soul. So what exactly prompted that song? Obviously you don't come up with lyrics like that unless you're confronted with some sort of darkness.
Jonathan Hunt: It's more like just understanding what you do and why you do it and knowing your intentions for things. People do stuff not knowing why they're doing it sometimes. I think that's unhealthy. They should know why … if you're acting in a vengeful or spiteful manner, you should have a reason for it and know why you're doing it, not just act on impulse. Kind of think things through, so it's more like kind of letting your actions speak for your mind kind of deal.
RoughEdge.com: Right on.
Jonathan Hunt: You know, let your actions speak for themselves, but think things through before you do it or before you say it. I don't think there was a specific thing for those lyrics, but it's something I've been dealing a lot with in life too, like … you've got to understand. Your mind's got to understand why you do certain things.
RoughEdge.com: And if they're good lyrics, then I think it leaves itself open to interpretation.
Jonathan Hunt: Right, I try to write lyrics like that, that leave for open interpretation. Like, a lot of times people will come up to me and you know, certain songs I was out here with it, and they've gotten something completely different out of it and I'm like, 'Cool, yeah! That's awesome that you got that out of what I wrote and I didn't even intend for it!'
RoughEdge.com: Right. Now, "Villainy and Virtue" is more bare-knuckled than your last album "Everything I Touch Falls to Pieces." Perhaps "Villainy" is a bit more brutal, I guess? Is this an amalgam of the new members and new ideas and reflections as to the direction of the band?
Jonathan Hunt: I think so. I think part of the problem with the last record is that it was overproduced. The production on it was too clean and too nice. We wanted something a little more … that's why we chose Eric to do it. We knew he could go that … what's great about it is that he did Atreyu, which is really clean and really produced, the first record they did, but at the same time, you can do stuff that … and God Forbid's pretty well produced on some of their songs. We knew that Eric could do heavier stuff as well and obviously he can do it to make it sound dirty or make it sound … not overproduced but still well-produced. So that's pretty much what we were going for at least on sound … heavy. We wanted to be a little less "nice" on this record. Put quotes around that. "Nice."
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) All right, now the cover art of "Villainy and Virtue" with the Japanese influence depicting the serpent and eagle in good versus evil combat in samurai armor …
Jonathan Hunt: Right.
RoughEdge.com: So tell me more about the artist's concept.
Jonathan Hunt: We had a couple meetings with him (Paul A. Romano) and we were talking about the title of "Villainy and Virtue," and different forms of artwork that portrayed that theme quite often, good versus evil or however you want to say it, but two ideas that came up that we both were into were comic books and Japanese woodcarvings.
RoughEdge.com: Nice, man.
Jonathan Hunt: So we were like, 'Let's just take a Japanese woodcarving theme, but make it a bit more comic booky.' So it's not straight comic book and it's not straight Japanese woodcarving, so that's where the cover art came from. It's kind of like the epic battle because the cover folds out into a mural, which we wanted, just like a five-page … one big piece of artwork. And Paul Romano, the guy who did the artwork, he's amazing. He did all the Mastodon stuff and he's doing the new Red Chord and the new Life Once Lost, so he's doing some really good stuff and everything I've seen from him is just amazing, so we were definitely stoked that he wanted to work with us.
RoughEdge.com: Do you still read comic books?
Jonathan Hunt: Do I read them still?
Jonathan Hunt: I barely have any money or time to read them.
RoughEdge.com: Yeah, I gave up on them too. Way too expensive.
Jonathan Hunt: Right. I've still got my box of old ones. I go through them when I'm home, that's about it.
RoughEdge.com: Now, Victory Records has seemingly taken pretty good care of you. If for nothing else, the nice packaging for "Villainy and Virtue" and the restless advertising I've seen on Headbangers Ball, it's been going on for months.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah.
RoughEdge.com: So many bands want the fast track to success but Victory kind of shows that you can build yourself with patience and hard work while they market you aggressively. Your advice to new metal bands who might be seeing today's metal market as a potential fast lane to the top?
Jonathan Hunt: It's not! Pop punk is where is it's at. That's where the money's at, I'd say. If you're looking for money, don't play metal because you think about how many big metal bands there are versus how many big pop punk bands there are. Obviously you're more likely to get big in a pop punk band, at least remotely big. Plus, I don't want people in our scene that are in it for money, you know? You have to be into it for the right reasons. But for a young metal band that wants to try to build a following—because that's crucial, you have to have some sort of following and build it up, because I think if you come to a city and all of a sudden you have a thousand fans and they're all kind of fair weather fans, they're there to see that one hit single, like that band Lit for example?
RoughEdge.com: Right, right.
Jonathan Hunt: Their last record sold less than ours did because they had that one hit wonder that sold a million records but now they play to four hundred people every night, you know, and they had a one hit wonder, which is cool if you get it, but at the same time, just tour. Play everywhere you can. That's what I was trying to get to in the advice! (laughs)
Jonathan Hunt: When we started out we played birthday parties, we played basements, we played cafes, you know? We'd play and everyone would leave!
Jonathan Hunt: But everywhere you can play, any open mikes, anything you can get. And people who want to put you on shows, set them up yourself. Put your friends' bands on it, and charge three bucks to get in, as long as you cover the hall or cover wherever you're playing at. We were constantly just looking for any place to rent out to do a show, any place that would let us play, we'd play. Eventually it caught Victory's eye and since that point we've pretty much toured nonstop. I think from last April to this coming April we'll have been gone 285 out of the 365 days.
RoughEdge.com: Wow, dude. So you haven't had much of a break since the last tour.
Jonathan Hunt: We had one month off and that was the biggest break for us since last April, it was for Christmas. You know, you can tour around Christmas; some bands do but we need some time to just not be by each other. When we're home we all pretty much live together too because two of the guys are from Minneapolis, two are from Milwaukee and I live in Chicago, so it's like eight hours for everybody to go home, so they all just stay with me in my house and sometimes we hate each other a lot.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) It's like the Ramones theory, you know, Joey and Johnny hated each other but they kept that thing going.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah, just keep it going.
RoughEdge.com: No doubt. Now, with that theme, as we discussed, you come from Chicago where you and your local bands built a scene out there. How important do you think for the scene as a whole is it to remain true to your own scene?
Jonathan Hunt: As a scene throughout the whole country, you mean?
RoughEdge.com: Yeah, like the whole metal scene in general, to stay true to your scene. I guess the theory I'm posting is by staying true to your scene, it'll pick up and grow into other cities and you can build yourself an entire scene. At least in the interim before you hopefully get signed nationally, you know?
Jonathan Hunt: Right, right. We definitely try to play Chicago as much as we can but at the same time, we try not to play too much there now so we're not playing there every other day, because we've definitely built a following there. I don't really know how to answer it, because it just builds naturally. Hopefully you play a good show if you're a good band, a hundred kids are going to see you, they're going to tell their friends, they're going to be like, 'Oh, man, you missed this amazing show!' If there's only twenty kids at the show, or say there's only five at the show, you just keep coming back and keep going to the cities. Northern Indiana now we have a pretty good following and in Milwaukee we do pretty well, because I think it's also kids from Chicago who just drive to see us if we're playing within three hours away. We played on the border of Illinois and Iowa and all these kids from Chicago drove all the way to see us!
RoughEdge.com: Wow, that's very cool.
Jonathan Hunt: I don't know how much your hometown scene would affect, like … being true to the Chicago scene wouldn't affect the Boston scene, but as a metal scene as a whole, word-of-mouth spreads pretty quickly and that's really the only way to do it. Every band, Shadows Fall or Lamb of God, probably Metallica when they were starting out, they were way before my time, but I think people just saw them and were blown away when they saw them and were like, 'You need to check this band out,' you know? That's the best way to get fans. Granted, MTV advertising and putting your ad in Revolver and stuff will get people to know the name but they may not come see you until they hear about it. Their friends who they trust, they're going to tell them to come see us. Does that answer the question?
RoughEdge.com: Yeah, perfectly. Totally fine.
Jonathan Hunt: The scene is such a … there's not a definition for it because everybody defines it differently, so answering questions about a certain scene, like, different people define the scene differently, I guess is what I'm trying to get at.
RoughEdge.com: It's cool, man. Now, "You've Already Died" really intrigues me with its live now while you can message.
Jonathan Hunt: Mmm hmm.
RoughEdge.com: I've seen heavy metal rise and fall once already. I'm 34, so I've been through the original scene and it's pretty unique to see your own scene return.
Jonathan Hunt: Right.
RoughEdge.com: Which is cool for me, but it'll eventually happen again when the scene will die off, not that I'm trying to be a downer; it's just a fact of life. Ideally we want it to go on forever, but taking "You've Already Died," would you say it tells people to enjoy the scene while they have it?
Jonathan Hunt: That song was more like, you're only young once kind of stuff like … so many of my friends that I grew up with who I went to high school went straight to college and now I'm at the age of 23 and every one of my friends have graduated college and they all have jobs. They're tied down to their jobs and they've never left their home area, they've barely traveled, you know? I think it's a case of … don't give into the message that our culture tells us that says you need to go to work right away. Just hang out, you know? Have fun while you can. Live life while you can before life passes you by. I mean, me too, I had a little temptation, like my parents and people would tell me, 'Quit that stupid band and go get a job!' I wanted to for a little bit, especially when we lost three members at once about two years ago. It was tempting, you know? I could get a real life, but then I said, 'Fuck real life!' (laughs)
Jonathan Hunt: I have the best job in the world. I play in a fucking rock band, you know? I don't get paid much, but I play in a fucking rock band! (laughs) You can't get any better than that pretty much!
RoughEdge.com: As long as you're happy.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah, exactly, as long as you're happy. And if it becomes a job, then you might as well go get a real job.
RoughEdge.com: Now your van, "Vanosaurus…"
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah!
RoughEdge.com: It died in November? This is one of my favorite topics to discuss with bands because it seems like there's common ground that everybody's van dies.
Jonathan Hunt: Yeah, eventually.
RoughEdge.com: Especially anyone who has any kind of rep on the road. So tell me about the demise of Vanosaurus.
Jonathan Hunt: Oh, God. All right, so we bought this van with barely ten thousand miles on it, a really good deal. We drove it for, I think a hundred and forty thousand miles, we had it? So a sparkplug shot out a cylinder. Luckily our bass player now is a mechanic, and he had to drill out the cylinder, insert a part and rescrew the spark plug into the insert, because for some reason the V-10 engines didn't put enough … so anybody reading in Internetland, if you're going to buy a van, don't buy a Ford V-10 from '94 to '98 or '97 because they don't put enough threads in the sparkplugs and the sparkplug just shoots out. Might've been '97, but I've heard of it happening in other cars too. So we fixed it and that was the tour we did with A Life Once Lost in May, and then on the Martyr A.D. tour we did in September, it happened again and we're like, 'Shit!' and we got home and found out it was a different sparkplug!
RoughEdge.com: Crap, man! (laughs)
Jonathan Hunt: What happens is the whole van sounds like a train engine, like chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh-chuh! super loud, so we drove for like five weeks in this van with this fucking really loud noise.
Jonathan Hunt: If you don't disconnect the fuel injector right away, you just get fumes coming into the van and everybody's high as shit the whole time on gasoline fumes!
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Oh, man!
Jonathan Hunt: So we fixed the second one, we're driving to Cleveland? No, we're driving to CMJ Fest in October, Evan's last tour. The first sparkplug shot again, so we're like, you can't drill it out again, you're fucked, you just have to deal with it. So we decided to deal with it until this van dies then get a new van. Then we're driving on the tour we did in November and the second sparkplug we fixed shot out.
Jonathan Hunt: Same tour, we get down to Florida, and the transmission just fails! It seizes up completely, and I'm like … first off, it's my new engine head, like a cylinder head, which is twelve hundred bucks just for the part.
Jonathan Hunt: New transmission, twenty-five hundred. The battery already has a hundred and ninety thousand miles on it, fuck this, this van is done! It would've cost at least five thousand bucks just for parts to fix it, you know, something ridiculous. We called everyone we knew, and our old drummer, who works at Mercedes in Tampa and was twenty-five miles away from where the van broke down … we were like, 'Where are we going to bring this van?' you know, so he was like, 'I'll take it and I'll work on it.' He's a mechanic too, so that was awesome. He came and picked it up, we borrowed our friend's band's van, a band called A Game of You in Florida? You probably never heard of them, but …
RoughEdge.com: That sounds like it's related to Neil Gaiman somehow.
Jonathan Hunt: I don't know who that is.
RoughEdge.com: He wrote The Sandman comic book series, and "A Game of You" is the title to one his storylines. Oh well, sorry to interrupt.
Jonathan Hunt: Okay. Well, they're called A Game of You and they had just bought … they had one van and they bought another van the same day that ours broke down!
RoughEdge.com: You're kidding! Must've been fate.
Jonathan Hunt: They let us take their new van that they'd driven maybe a hundred miles on it and they're like, 'All right, you guys can take it to fucking 81' with like, 60,000 miles on it, and we're like, 'Awesome!' It's one of those vans that nobody ever used in Florida before somehow, so they're like, 'Take it to Chicago, get a new van,' and we were coming back about three to four weeks later on the Peta2.com Compassion Over Fashion tour with Remembering Never and Most Precious Blood. So we're like, 'We're coming back in three weeks, we'll return your van then, plus five hundred bucks for letting us use it,' you know? So we get home and we're driving back to Nashville on the day of the Peta tour and the van we're borrowing's engine seized!
RoughEdge.com: What? No way!
Jonathan Hunt: And that van is toast!
Jonathan Hunt: So we were driving two vans at that point because Matt knew some girl who let us borrow her van, some strange deal. I don't know how he worked it out, but he's a master with the ladies, I guess!
Jonathan Hunt: (laughs) This is turning into a fucking book interview!
RoughEdge.com: Fine by me, man.
Jonathan Hunt: So we're driving a third van now and we had to give them the money that they bought the van for, we were out fifteen hundred bucks and we still didn't have our new van yet. So that van, now we're borrowing three, made it the rest of the tour, so we bought a van and that made four. Since November … it's now February … we've been through four vans!
Jonathan Hunt: Now we have a nice Chevy and it runs good so far. It's a heavy duty transmission, sixty thousand miles, and hopefully it'll run until we're big enough to get a bus! That's what I hope, but we'll see. We're getting a bus when we go to Europe in March, so we'll see. It should be cool.
RoughEdge.com: I know it will be. Well, let me let you get back to it, man. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me.
Jonathan Hunt: No problem.
Jonathan Hunt - Photo by Ray Van Horn Jr.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:11 -0400.