Thy Art Is Murder

To say it has been a big 12 months for Thy Art Is Murder is a gross understatement. The release of ‘Hate’ and a host of local and international tours, the band are one of Australia’s metal leaders. Heading into their headline national tour with Cattle Decapitation, sat down with frontman CJ McMahon for a refreshingly candid chat about the genre, surviving as a band, and what it means to be ‘swagcore.’ 

Hey CJ, how’s it going?

Good brother, how are you?

Yeah, not too bad thanks. Thanks for doing the interview today.

No worries, anytime.

It has been a big year for you guys so far, but you’ve got a bit of time off now between shows. What are you doing to keep busy at the moment?

Me personally, I pretty much spend my days as a house wife (laughs) – cooking, cleaning, running, going to the gym, playing FIFA on PlayStation 3. I’m actually at a factory at the moment where I work every now and then casually when they need someone to work. Just chilling and trying to enjoy the finer things in life and the simple things of home I guess.

I saw you just got pipped for the Summer Slaughter voting, but I see you’re playing some shows there. Tell us your thoughts on that?

We’re doing the whole tour.

Ok, cool.

We are really stoked. The guys from Sumerian and the guys that put on Summer Slaughter got a lot of feedback, both positive and negative, about us that the fans want us to play regardless and they said they could get us to be the opening band on the tour package, and then there’s about one or two bands that are local supports that are on before us. Yeah man, definitely psyched to do the whole tour, really pumped for it.

The bands on the tour, obviously they are quite heavy and diverse, what do you anticipate playing with some of those guys?

I’m stoked. Back in the day, I still do love, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Norma Jean even, their album ‘Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child’ was one of my favourite albums back in the early 00’s. Even now, the new bands like Periphery and Animals As Leaders – I like both those bands, I listen to them every day. I’ve heard Rings of Saturn a few times, they’re not too bad – pretty crazy tech. They are going to be big shows, all around the States and all around Canada as well.

Just on touring overseas, I know you had to cancel your Russian shows because of Visa issues. How much of an eye opener is it when you go overseas and tour?

It is hard man. We were on tour in Europe and had a four-and-a-half week tour there. We were still trying to figure out everything with the Russian promoter, it was hard. We had to get the Visas done and when you’re on tour you are never in the one space for more than 12 hours, and we had to drive to London to one day and get our Visa applications in before 3 o’clock and then go back to London two days later to pick up our passports and working Visas. We missed the gate at this place, the place was still open, but we missed it by 10 minutes and the guy was like, “No, you can’t do it.” And we were like, “what do you mean?” And he replied, “yeah, but you missed the gate by ten minutes.” We couldn’t come tomorrow because we were going to be in Scotland and he was like, “But we can’t do it.” We were like, “Fuck, this bloke.” It was just a massive headache and all we needed to do was print out something from an email. A whole bunch of stuff didn’t go down. It just wasn’t going to happen, we tried our best but it’s just hard man. People think when you come home, your friends and family are like, “oh man, you’re a big rock star touring the world.” It’s not what people seem to think it is. It is fully busy. Sometimes you sleep on the floor of the promoter’s house or at the venue or you might get some really cheap hotel, and you might get like four hours sleep and you have to wake up and drive seven hours to some other country with a different language and a different currency and completely different climate. It’s really tough, but at the end of the day, you’re touring the world with your five best friends and you just have the time of your life getting your music out there and talking to fans and making new friends. It’s fucking awesome.

Like you said, about how it is cool touring with your mates, when did you notice the change to Thy Art Is Murder becoming a 24/7-type set-up?

I think we’re pretty grounded as dudes and as a band. We don’t really think about it too much. We all have our own lives outside of the band and we do our own thing. We are fully stoked to be at the level and position we are at as a band, but we don’t really think about it too much to be honest. I hope one day that the band gets big enough for us to have a proper career and get paid a wage so we can survive in the real world and pay rent and mortgages. That’s definitely not at the level we are at now, which a lot of people think it is. It’s tough. You go away home for three or four months on some crazy tour and you come home and you don’t have a job because your job has let you go and you can’t pay your bills, and sometimes your relationship suffers because you don’t have enough money to support yourself or your partner. People keep forgetting these types of things. It is not as easy as they think. It’s not all getting drunk backstage and fucking groupies, and playing sold-out shows (laughs). None of any of those things happen, except [sometimes] shows sell out and we get drunk (laughs). People have this stigma and theory on what people in bands do and it’s totally not how people that aren’t in bands see it. It is great, but it is hard.

That was actually going to be one of my questions later. People see you guys touring overseas and think it’s the best thing ever, but the fact is, like you said, managing the budget, how hard is that?

It is heaps hard man – especially overseas. It isn’t too bad in Australia because we are pretty big here and we get paid pretty well. So, we are one of the bigger bands out of Australia. But, when you go over to Europe and as big as we are, and as good as the shows are, we are still a little fish in a big pond. We could go and play some really solid shows through Europe then we could play some really small ones – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – in Austria and Switzerland and stuff like that. It’s super hard, the pay isn’t as good as we can get in Australia and your expenses are five times higher because you’ve just spent $15,000 in flights. You need a bit of an nest egg saved up over a couple of months just to pay for your transit costs – your flights, your bus, your drive, your tour manager. Then you have to buy merch, then you have to set aside money for petrol and hotels when you need them. We get a bit of food allowance too. When we come back, dudes are like, “we saw photos, you guys killed it, did you make money?” We are like, “Well it’s none of your business for a start” (laughs). And, it’s hard to break into a profitable type of thing when you’ve got $20,000 – $30, 000 in expenses.

This upcoming Australian tour is really cool. I know there was a bit of discussion when it first got announced about local bands headlining over international bands. But, I think one of strengths and testament to how good Australian music is at the moment is you guys and bands like you and Northlane are headlining and it’s the internationals that are supporting.

Yeah, man. I actually have a couple of theories on it and all of them are factual information about why it is possible. When Northlane go to Canada and America they will play underneath Structures and Stray from the Path because those bands are from there and they do really well there because it’s their home countries. Obviously, when they come here, Northlane have just exploded in the last 12 months and Northlane are one of the bigger bands in Australia and this is their home soil. Without sounding cruel to the other bands, Northlane don’t need those bands. Northlane could just chuck on a couple of locals and it’s the same with us. We could take one decent friends band from the country and still pull just as many people. I’m sure Cattle Decapitation see it the same way, they’ve never been here. Yes, they are doing quite well and are a bigger band in the death metal scene, but factual information is in Australia we are bigger than Cattle Decap. However, when we go over and do the Summer Slaughter dates in America and in Canada through July and August obviously they’ll be higher up on the bill because that’s their country, they do well there and they always tour there because it’s home and easy for them – that’s what you do.

The thing that pisses me off about all is most of the people putting shit on the tour about Cattle Decap not headlining are Australians. You’d think the people that are complaining would be more on our side because we share the same nationality. Because we have breakdowns in our music a lot of these death metal Nazis think we are not fucking death metal. At the end of the day, we are not trying to be anything. We are not trying to be death metal or deathcore or hardcore. We are just tyring to do what we do. If that entitles us to have breakdowns or sweeping arpeggios, we are going to do it. I think people get lost in this whole pigeon holing of genres and they over look the talent that is in the band. They are like, “Well this band is not this style, so fuck them.” I’m like, “well if you’re going to base your likes on one style of music, you’re fucked! You are more narrow minded than people that you epitomise through politics and religion. You are more narrow minded than these people because you are saying because we are not fitting into this group 100%, you think we are shit because of that?” It doesn’t upset me, but it pisses me off and confuses me because you think you’d want to be backed by your own country and you’ve got these death metal Nazis that just put shit on us because we have breakdowns and we are reasonably young. It’s stupid.

That is a really interesting point you bring up because obviously it would be good to get your opinion as a musician, because as a fan, I think the same, I get the sense there is still that divide. There is still those, for a lack of a better word, death metal purists, that just think any band that has breakdowns they automatically lug into one category. Is that the impression you get?

Yeah, you do. We had a couple of run in with fans in Europe on two separate occasions – both Germans. We love Germany. Germany is the best place for us in Europe and our shows are always killer. But, some of these guys were talking to Sean [Delander] and I at a show, saying we were disrespecting death metal and that we were not real death metal. We were like, “what the fuck are you talking about?!” he was like, “you have breakdowns and look at the way you dress.” I was like, “What the fuck man?!” We are not saying we are going to be the next Cannibal Corpse. We are not saying we are death metal. We are deathcore because that’s what people suggest we are. We are a death metal band with breakdowns, so that has the ‘core’ element, so boom, deathcore. Because we think the whole genre pigeonholing is a joke we’ve created our own genre, and some of my friends give me shit about it because it’s fucking stupid, but we’ve called ourselves ‘swagcore.’

(laughs) Ok.

People were giving us shit about dressing like rappers because we wear Nikes and we wear tracksuit pants or And1 or Nike basketball shorts, and some of us wear hats. And we were like, “fuck it! Fuck all those haters, we are going to call ourselves swagcore.” We’ve got a bit of swagger and we’ve got breakdowns. Swagcore. Done. It is stupid and we’ve created something different, and if people think it is fucking stupid, well good on them because at the end of the day if we are going to be death metal or deathcore people are going to hate on us either way. I think people just get lost in this whole genre. I listen to rap, hip hop, electro, house, fucking death metal, hardcore, pop, classic, fucking everything. I love all styles of music and for people to just sit there and judge us because we don’t 100% fit into one pigeonhole I think it’s stupid. I feel sorry for these people because they are so narrow-minded in not just music, but probably life.

At the end of the day as much as it sucks you can’t control what some fans are going to think, but I think in some respects how your peers view you and how the industry views you is probably more important. The fact that you got the signing with Nuclear Blast that is a big deal – good recognition.

It is a big deal for any band. They are the biggest metal label in the world and always have been. They treated us in the UK and Germany, and Europe so well. They told us we are apart of the family and want to work with us closely. I can’t wait to meet the Nuclear Blast reps in the States because they have been pushing us hard. It has just been a dream. The last six to nine months of the band has just been up and up and up. Every couple of weeks goes by, something else is added to the list. Ok, we’ve got this tour…oh, this band wants to talk to you. The singer from Hatebreed tweeted about us the other week. Katy Perry was tweeting about us of all people. The dudes from A Day To Remember when they were writing their new album over the last couple of months, when they were in the studio they have been listening to ‘Hate’. A Day To Remember?! A pop punk band listening to us? What the fuck?! (laughs). Good things are happening and we have a bright future. I guess that is another reason why I don’t let haters put shit on us and bother me because I know put the facts on the paper, everything is there for us to have a bright and prosperous future. Some people are just narrow-minded (laughs).

One of the cool I noticed when I saw you at Push Over back in March was there was so many youngsters getting into your music and the other heavy bands on the bill that day. That must be good seeing young kids coming up and getting familiar with metal quite early?

Yeah, it’s awesome. I think a lot of our younger fans especially [sometimes] get deterred, they like our music, but we’ll walk out and hang out in the crowd like normal people and some of them won’t talk to you because they think you are a death metal Satan worshipping dude (laughs). They are really stand offish at first, not all of them, but some of them. Once they come up to you, I’ll crack a lot of jokes and if a dude wants a photo I’ll pick him up like a big fish and have him swinging in the air, and just do stupid shit like that (laughs). I love my fans man, we’ve had six year olds [come to our show]. I’ve got photos on my Facebook of parents brining their kids to the shows. I get the kids to crowd surf to me and if they come up and hi-five me I give them a shirt. I just want to have that element of fun but also respect within the shows. I don’t want people because we are anti-politics, anti-life kinda band it doesn’t mean we hate and want to kill everybody. At the end of the day, we are just normal guys. We respect everyone for who they are and their views, morals and ethics. It doesn’t matter if you’re six years old or 60, if you are there to have a good time, enjoy the time and come up to us and say hello at the end of the show. We are just normal dudes. We just want to write the most heavy, crushing music that we can possibly write. Fuck man, the fans are the reason we are still doing this. If we didn’t have our fans, we wouldn’t be able to travel the world, live out our dreams, and play these amazing shows. We owe everything to them.

Very well put. I saw on your Facebook page recently you put a link to The Black Dahlia Murder’s new song. On other bands, are there any albums coming out this year that you are keen to hear?

The new Behemoth album man…fuck (laughs). Out of control. I haven’t heard a single from it or anything about it. But, when we were in Stuttgart, Germany, just before we flew home from our last European tour we went up to Nuclear Blast and they were giving us the rundown.

Really appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today and really looking forward to your shows coming up.

No worries, thanks so much for your time, it was awesome. presents Thy Art Is Murder on their ‘Hate Across Australia‘ tour. Dates and details here.

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