Formed in 2001, Stray From The Path have been consistently releasing music. ‘Subliminal Criminals’ is the band’s latest record and eighth studio album to date (or, fourth depending on whom you ask), and it’s arguably the tightest and most cohesive representation of Stray’s sound. Killyourstereo.com sat down with Tom Williams to discuss it all.
Hey there Tom, Alex from KYS here, how are you doing today?
Hey man, I’ve been good thanks. It’s midnight over here and I’m just winding down. I’m always happy to take some time off for Australia [though].
Right on brother. So, my first question – is the album artwork a real dead bird or not?
That’s definitely a real photo. You wouldn’t have seen the full booklet yet, but each photo in the layout is real – nothing has been doctored or anything like that. We wanted to make sure everything was an actual photo, as what we’re trying to portray is stuff that not a lot of people know about. Hence why it’s all over the artwork.
It’s a graphic image, and I figured that would be on a Slipknot cover or something, but as you said, it’s the stuff that no one talks about. Over here, we have the groups like the ASIO, our own version of NSA for instance, do you think that a song like ‘Eavesdropper’ some people forget that yes, we do have Big Brother like figures watching us.
Yeah, and it sucks. What opened me up to it was that news show with John Oliver where he went to Russia and did an interview with Edward Snowden [find here]. He asked him [Snowden] if he thought people would remember what he did for the people, and he said yes. So Oliver plays him this video of him walking through New York City asking people about what Snowden did, and some people weren’t sure, and others thought he sold documents to the “enemy”. And he was so bummed out, as people just don’t know, and that’s why we took that route with the song and why we got Rou [Reynolds, Enter Shikari] on it.
There was this big thing with Citizen 4 with Edward Snowden, as it was technically illegal for the NSA to gather intel on its own citizens, but what it was doing was acquiring information on the U.K.’s citizens. The U.K. was then also gathering info on U.S. citizens, so that’s why it was so cool to have an English person on the track. The first thing Rou says is ‘From the GTHQ to the NSA’. I’m sure it goes on in Australia and Europe [too], and I hope that we can hopefully open some minds to it.
Well said man. I’m curious, was ‘Badge & A Bullet Part II’ planned, or was it a decision to make this “sequel” last minute due to this epidemic of alleged police brutality?
I thought about it when Michael Brown died, and then when Eric Garner died, we knew we had to write another one. It came in steps, as I was cautious about writing another one because I could already [tell] what people would say. But we don’t write music to cater to other people; we write what we want to write about, so why change that now, you know? The best way to put it was when we played a show in California a couple weeks ago. It was the first day that that song came out, and Drew [York, vocals] said on stage about people who asked why we wrote another song about cops, and he said, “If cops are going to keep killing people, then we’ll keep writing songs about it”. That’s the perfect way to put it, cause if you’re tired of it, then how tired do you think we are of hearing about cops killing people and abusing their fucking rights?
A good friend of mine lives in Boston and he told me that there are so many more incidents he hears about that no one hears outside of the U.S.
Oh yeah, it’s insane. I follow a few sites online about this, Cop Block, Policing The Police, Free Thought Project; they’re all really good at getting on top of events that the mainstream media doesn’t follow. People know Freddy Gray and Eric Garner, but some may not know Danielle Maudsley and Walter Scott, or Tamir Rice, and people still don’t know about it. We wanted the video to be more honest and brutal, instead of Drew being beat up by two members of The Ghost Inside for a petty crime. If you’re tired of the cop songs, then we are tired of people getting killed.
Exactly man, it’s disturbing. I think the song says it best with its opening line – ‘It’s not about race but it is about colour’. That’s the most prominent line of the song I think.
Yeah, the interview I just did before, that was his first question actually, about that line. I’m glad that it’s being portrayed well. But I was really worried about the line, ‘Red hands on a white man in blue/the streets are looking Germany of ‘42’ [laughs]. I thought that was going to go over really badly. When we were in the studio and I told the guys that they just stared right at me and didn’t say anything [chuckles].
I don’t know if you saw this, but right after you released ‘D.I.E.P.I.G.’, the former live guitarist for Owl City was recently charged, like actually charged, with trying to lure in a 14 year-old girl to a hotel room to allegedly have sex with her…
Oh, I actually saw that today. When that news got out, Stray’s Twitter feed just blew up about it, as we had just released a song about that, and it’s a big problem.
I agree man, it’s disgusting. As Stray From The Path have been on Warped Tour, no doubt you’ve seen Buddy Nielsen from Senses Fail lashing out at younger bands for these issues, the Front Porch Step bullshit, and then having Slaves booted off because of Johnny Craig’s actions. What are your thoughts on all of these continually rising allegations against bands and groups?
Yeah, it’s fucking gross man. When we did the AltPress interview for D.I.E.P.I.G. I said something about Johnny Craig and all of his fans came out and started freaking out at me. Then it all died down, and I’m glad it did, because it was a battle he was going to lose, he just was not going to win. They said, “Well, why bring him into all of this?” Well simply because the guy doesn’t deserve to be a musician anymore. He’s been in countless bands, he’s ripped off thousands of dollars from his fans for drugs, and now he’s been kicked off Warped Tour. I was actually on tour with him when he was singing for Dance Gavin Dance, and he hurt Suicide Silence’s bassist’s knee, so much so that he couldn’t walk. He tried to start fights with Telle [Tyler Smith] from The Word Alive, and there was all of this other shit too. Look, if the guy’s trying to improve his life and make the right steps, that’s awesome, and I know there’s probably some dark things in his life that he just doesn’t want to talk about and that’s why he’s so fucked up. However, he doesn’t deserve to have what he has, as I know so many more people who are far more deserving of the fan base he has, because he just shits all over it.
Of course man, it’s messed up.
Yeah but look, he’s not what the song is about, it’s about Front Porch Step and Ian Watkins [Lostprophets] and when writing the song we heard so much more about it. As more and more people get ousted for it, hopefully these people will stop what they’re doing and the song does its job.
Yeah, hopefully. I was wondering if you could elaborate on one song in particular, ‘First World Problem Child’?
On the record it’s the fourth track, right after Badge & A Bullet Part II, and it’s there because when all of these white kids, sitting behind their computers, say shit like, “Oh, I hate when black people pull the race card”. Like, if you’re tired of making it a race problem, then think about how tired they are. To me, that’s the biggest issue. This kid is sitting at home with his parents, on his MacBook computer and he’s there complaining about black people always pulling the race card. He doesn’t know a fucking thing about what’s it’s like to live in a city where the unemployment rate is 70% for African-Americans, and the police force is 90% white or higher. So don’t sit there and think you know what’s it’s like to live like they do, and I’m not saying you should feel bad for not living like them, but you should understand when you have a fortunate life. You should understand that some have it worse off then you.
Exactly, appreciate what you have, not what you don’t. Now, you’ve been in the band since the word ‘go’, since ten years ago, so does ‘Our Oceania’ feel like a lifetime ago for you at this point now that you’re dropping your eighth record?
To me, I’d call this our fourth record. Back then we were a whole different band. to me, I think it truly started when it was Drew, Dan [Bourke, drums] and I. But as for the name, I’ve been in it since I was 14, and I’m 28 now so that’s a long fucking time. I do think we’re in our prime right now and that we’re playing our best music and we’re giving our best live shows, so it’s good. That’s why we still do it. I consider Make Your Own History our first, then Rising Sun, Anonymous, and now Subliminal Criminals. I’m proud of the old stuff, but I wouldn’t put it in the same league as now.
It was a shock at first when I went from your last five albums to back to songs like Our Great Exodus and hearing the clean vocals.
Yeah, honestly we wrote a lot of that stuff just so people could hate us. Whenever there was whacky shit going on in the songs, we literally did it so everyone would hate us. But then people started liking it, so we decided to go see if New Jersey liked it, then to Vermont, and then we started touring everywhere. Now I’m here still doing it after playing 30 something countries. Pretty wild.
Well Tom, thanks so much for your time tonight, I’ll let you get on to the next one dude. But hey, while I’ve got you here, I just wanted to say thank for your writing ‘Damien’, heard that about five years ago and I still love it to this day.
Aw fuck yeah dude, thank you so much.
‘Subliminal Criminals’ is out August 14th via UNFD.