Silent Planet are quickly becoming staples of the American progressive metalcore scene. With the release of their second album, the phenomenal ‘Everything Was Sound’, the band’s finally starting to make huge waves on the international circuit. And rightfully so! Right off the back of their first ever Vans Warped Tour appearance, I spoke at length with vocalist Garret Russell to discuss mental illness, religion, their acclaimed new record, and so much more.
You have been warned, people, this is a long one!
The record discusses mental illness, both in the form of one’s individual psyche but also those brought on by social constructs. The basis is you walking into a room known as a panopticon. Can you please unpack this idea?
Yeah, absolutely. This record starts out where the previous record left off, in a forest clearing, and I eventually wander into a panopticon room or prison, and within this room is 11 doors, each being one of the 11 main tracks on the record (there’s 13 in total). The final track is the culmination of the story. The prisoners of each cell who represent different archetypes and different mental illnesses kind of come out and collapse together and the panopticon is destroyed. That’s sort of the meta-narrative of the record.
That’s a really interesting concept, so what exactly inspired it? As it’s quite original in my mind.
I knew that I wanted to talk about mental illness on this record, and while studying I started thinking about how all these different disorders are connected, and how archetypes are connected. A panopticon is an interesting device. A utilitarian, modernistic philosopher Jeremy Bentham created it as a perfect prison because it was a way to make people more individual and less communal by putting them in different rooms. What you do is you put every single prisoner inside a cell by themselves and then create a system in which one prisoner is in the middle of a room with the light shining away from them towards you, so you can barely see a shadowy figure watching you. So you think this person is watching you when in reality they’re standing in a massive rotunda of cells, so there are a lot of prisoners around you but you don’t know it. Then this person says things like “prisoner X slept for 4 hours, prisoner Y scratched their arm” and they narrate your life until you lose the ability to feel healthily autonomous because of how disconnected you’ve become from everyone else. You’ve been disconnected from your own psyche, based on this person telling you who you are and how your life is. So basically, this gives us an idea of the stigmatisation of mental health and the way that we understand disorders.
Regarding mental illness being at the forefront of the album themes, was this inspired by the prevalence of mental illness discussion in this day and age, and your desire to have some input? I know you were a therapist a few years ago; did that maybe provide some inspiration too?
I studied psychology at grad school and was also doing therapy for college students who would be seeking out some sessions. I definitely wanted to connect and integrate what I was learning and experiencing with the band ‘Silent Planet’. We were just kinda finishing our previous record ‘The Night God Slept’ which deals with a lot of social issues throughout time, primarily about women and mothers. In this record, I wanted to integrate what I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. I feel like mental illness is discussed in a way that I wouldn’t say is in a pretty regard, but usually its overly simplified. It’s like “Hey don’t give up, things will get better”. I don’t think it really takes seriously both the people suffering mental illness as well as the varying perspectives that it yields. Trying to speak about these things in the first person was obviously challenging and I fell short because I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences, but I seriously looked at mental illness, not just as like a phase for someone to get better but also what can sometimes be a sickness and a death.
I completely agree! I feel like those with mental illnesses struggle to speak up and when they finally have the courage to, they’re told “You’re doing well, do this, do that and things will get better”, rather than digging deeper. I feel like this is just a lack of education in how to deal with these issues, rather than a lack of caring.
Yeah, I agree. I think a lot of people are really uncomfortable with the idea that things may not get better. You know, I think everyone likes a sick person who’s on the mend. It’s a lot more difficult and challenging emotionally and theologically to deal with someone who will struggle until they die but as a Christian, I don’t want to be someone who looks away from that when I believe the Christ I follow dealt with that very seriously.
So basically it’s less about simply saying “It’s going to get better” and more about a push to help them get better through understanding and love?
Absolutely. There are a lot of constructive things in the process of getting better and there are a lot of avenues for healing in life but I once again, believe taking mental illness seriously is looking at taking a look at where the person is and not so much focusing on where they will be. Actually looking at the person as they are and treating this moment that they’re in as sacred. It’s a difficult and scary thing to do, though.
For sure, there seems to be a very strong correlation between positive mental health and being present and “living in the moment”. Now relating back to mental illness and the panopticon, how does this relate to the colour wheel on the album cover?
That’s a good question. So basically the colour wheel is the hope of the album. If the idea of the panopticon is the hopelessness then the colour wheel is the hope. I imagine the room is massive with black stone walls and circular, and I saw little faint colours above every door. The idea of the colour wheel has always been very interesting to me and I forget the name of it, sort of a diagnosis for someone who doesn’t see words but sees colours instead. Anyway, I have a friend with it and we’d always talk about it and mental illness. The colours show how all mental illnesses are connected, but if you’re talking about someone with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or depression, a lot of people understand them as vastly different experiences and the colour wheel challenges this.
So I would be right in saying that the black triangle directly in the middle is the culmination of all these colours/illnesses, as all colours mixed amount to black, and your lyrical content leans towards mental illnesses being more similar to each other than modern society believes.
Absolutely right, I’m so glad you recognised that!
Thanks! ‘Inherit the Earth’ and ’Inhabit the Wound’ start and end the record respectively, with ‘Redivider’ being directly in the middle. It’s as if each side of the middle is a mirror image of the other, with ‘Redivider’ lyrically also being a mirror image lyrically, even the title is. So basically an A to B, then a B to A. Would I be correct and if so, what was the motive behind this?
It kind of plays on the idea of being the one who sees, and then being the one who is being seen. It’s like the never-ending gaze when you look at someone. You look at them, they look at you. Like a mirror, it’s hard to distinguish who’s looking at whom, if you’re looking at yourself. So ‘Redivider’ is the middle and as you know, in the very middle the song flips and goes the opposite way lyrically. At the beginning, it’s stumbling into something and then at the end it’s realising, “Oh, I am the harm” and everything collapsing on me. ‘Redivider’ is the bipolar song. It’s quite important to me because of my experience with bipolar disorder, as well as it being my attempt to write a song that was literally a bipolar song, more so than just a song about it as I tried to do on ‘Depths II’ on our previous record.
I’m speaking for myself here, but I feel like it’s safe to assume the same for many of your listeners. Each song’s lyrical content doesn’t always necessarily relate to me or my circumstances, but the way in which you cleverly and creatively articulate your ideas very much inspires me to better educate myself. Not many bands within the heavy music scene have that particular impact on me, is that your intention when penning your thoughts? I’ve also noticed you use a lot of footnotes and sources in the lyrics, which obviously helps the listener/reader dig deeper.
Absolutely. I’ve actually met some people that have read through the sources of my lyrics and ended up teaching me. They’ve just learned it so it’s fresh for them, and it’s been a fun dialogue that a lot of songs have created. I’ll be talking about one thing and all of a sudden people will start teaching me all about it because they’ve encountered it and they see it in their own way. So I’m of the belief that a lot of people who are writing have the desire to be the most original and for everything to come from them. It’s a really weird thing because obviously, we represent everything we’ve ever seen and heard and read. So I try to invite many authors and different people who have inspired me and friends of mine to read the lyrics, so if someone takes anything away from the lyrics they won’t be like “Whoa, he’s so original” and more so them being inspired by the same things that inspired me. Eventually, I want this to become more and more of a collaborative effort.
Again, that’s not something that many heavy bands tend to do. You truly go the extra mile and I’m sure that’s another reason why Silent Planet is so respected. Now, you started this band about seven years ago at the age of 19, with the intention of being based on your faith. Has your mindset and perspective changed since then?
Yeah, it has. I feel like the mindset always changes a little bit as you grow. I definitely see the idea of Christian music in our scene in a different light. To be honest, I see it in a much more negative and jaded light than I think most people do, I see how the CCM works and it’s sketchy as hell you know, there’s really no other way to put it. It just really doesn’t seem to be something that is heavily influenced by the life and death and teachings of Jesus, I’ll put it that way. So I think, you know I definitely have a lot more questions like “what is it to be a Christian band and what does that mean?” Do I have to care about that? Life has put me into greater awe of Jesus and I think I’m more dedicated and I think I have a slightly better grasp of what it means to follow Jesus, in my opinion. I think I take it a little more seriously now. Things have shifted but for me, it’s a way that resembles growth toward what it means to follow god.
We always want to move forward, to live and learn, that’s ultimately the goal, right?
Exactly!We have a tee that we sell at our shows that states ‘heal us of our homophobia, addiction, religion, sexism, racism, war’ and in the middle is religion. A lot of folks ask me what that means. This is a very simplistic version and everyone sees religion differently but I’m pretty fascinated by how Jesus interacted with religion. You know to be a Christian is to be a little Christ or a little Jesus so my idea of being a Christian is to follow Jesus and be a part of that story in a way that would resemble Jesus, but in also growing and changing the dynamic. Religious figures killed Jesus, who had a view and relationship with God that was considered blasphemous by some because Jesus knew god as father and then Jesus invited us into that and created a means by which, a system like organised religion, was less emphasised and more so emphasised a personal relationship with God instead. It’s funny though because to this day you still see a lot of systems built around that and I’ll leave people to decide why that is and why that came to be. You could spend a whole lifetime researching, reading and writing about that. But whatever the means is, it seems like most religions were created in the name of someone who was killed by religious figures, someone who was seemingly at odds with a religious system that he was a part of. So that’s lead me to my own view of religion, what that is and how people define it in my world of the music scene. People within it might think of religion as hating gay people, really only having certain friends, walking into the same building for a few hours or just anything that has little relation to the message of the gospel.
I know exactly what you mean, and although some religious folk are amongst the best people I’ve ever met, unfortunately, some of us have also had very bad experiences with the religious. I feel as if some people use religion as a vehicle to satisfy their own desires.
Absolutely, especially in America. I’m sure you know that. We have someone like Donald Trump, for example, saying “I’m a Christian”, but what’s the logical connection between what he does and what Jesus does, you know what I mean? There is none. He just finds it helps him to get the votes that he needs. For the sake of simplicity, when I talk to people I do invite them to talk to God immediately and intimately and freely and experientially. Typically I think that’d be at odds with how some people view religion being carried out.
Yeah, I get you. So when people are, shall I say, sceptical about religion, in a simplistic form the original idea was to see Jesus not as master or boss, but more so someone to look up to? More a role model and someone you’d wish to emulate?
Yes, I agree with that. I do personally see God as my lord and as over me, but the hierarchy is so turned on its head. Jesus was so leant toward serving and educating those who follow him. It’s saying you’re going to follow him and tell the world his story, but in a way that is humbling. That’s why I’m suspicious of American Christianity. You see billion dollar churches, politicians and large entities that have a lot of power over people and use that power to get what they want, and that seems to be at odds with how Jesus was teaching us to follow him. I even see this in our music scene, unfortunately. I’ve seen it up close and personal and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that.
Anyway, let’s move on to something a little lighter. As for the sound of the record, I feel as if it’s more cohesive as a whole in comparison to ‘The Night God Slept’. Rather than that “clean part, heavy part, clean part”, everything is smoothly interconnected. Was this a conscious decision, or just a product of what your band came up with?
My band mates would be chuffed to hear that, so thank you! But yes, it was a conscious decision; we wanted to create something like a story, something that could be listened to front to back seamlessly. Our last record was full of singles because most of the songs were written here and there, whenever we could fit it in, whereas, this record was written and recorded in a finite time span, so we paid more attention to the flow from song to song. It’s really weird having ‘Panic Room’ as a single because I feel like it along with the interlude preceding it are both the one song, rather than two separate ones. I think we took a risk by doing this when we live in a world of singles and quick, easy access, so we hope people like it.
That makes perfect sense and honestly, for me, it was the right decision. I feel as if listeners of your band appreciate the extra effort put in, they tend to be the people who want to delve deeper and relish in the attention to detail. After all, you’re not a pop band; you’re a heavy band so more substance is an expectation of sorts. Plus, at the end of the day, although your fans keep you alive, you’re writing what you enjoy, not just regurgitating what you assume others want to hear. You’re staying true to yourselves, which I believe is very important, especially in our scene.
I really appreciate that, thank you, Corey. We’re very proud of this record, and hopefully, it shows.
It sure does! Now something that also shows is how organic Will Putney has made the mix sound. It sounds very much like a live recording, rather than a “produced” record. Again, was this a conscious decision?
Yeah for sure, although honestly, Will was already going in this direction on his own, anyway. ‘Node’ by ‘Northlane’ is a prime example of this.
I was actually going to bring up that exact record, the mixes sound very similar!
For sure. We also wanted the record to sound so organic because we pride ourselves on being able to hold our own in a live setting. We want to be the band that can actually play our instruments live and sound like our recordings, and I think we achieved that with ‘Everything Was Sound’.
That’s awesome to hear, I’m glad to see bands are still around that don’t rely on just backing tracks.
I agree, we see too much of that.
Also regarding the sound, you seem to have moved a little further away from the straight, modern metalcore sound, into one more so in the vein of mid-2000’s metalcore. Would you agree?
Yeah for sure, we were definitely attempting so, I agree.
While on that topic, Underoath is back and I’m sure you’re stoked to about it? They’re seen as one of the best heavy bands of the modern era and while I’m not agreeing or disagreeing, I’m curious to know why you believe this is such a popular opinion?
I love that band, definitely a massive influence on me. They’re up there and I feel like it’s because they genuinely wrote good records, especially their last three. Not just good songs, good records from start to finish They also went from pop-driven albums to very aggressive ones, and pulled it off with ease. Every song on those albums was extremely well executed, they never wrote a bad song. Spencer Chamberlain lives and breathes music, and it truly shows. He’s just so talented.
Definitely. I’m noticing that a lot of mid-2000s metalcore/post-hardcore bands are making a comeback. Underoath,Saosin, etc. A lot of bands are also taking massive influence from them. Capsize seem to have taken a lot from The Used. An up and coming band also from the US called Picturesque are sounding a heap like Saosin and Counterparts and are bringing back the Misery Signals metalcore sound. Why do you think this has started happening all of a sudden?
Yes, I have noticed that, and I think it’s just to give the people what they want and make some money. I wouldn’t say it’s a trend or a resurgence, but more so the artists and promoters seeing the demands and fulfilling them. You see, promoters in the states can sometimes have a lot of money and can make these things happen so for the bands; they could put one of their kids through college for doing a few shows here and there.
I get you, I don’t blame them! My only hope is that all these bands do themselves justice, rather than possibly tarnishing their fans’ positive memories of them.
I agree, luckily they’re all killing it.
You were on Warped Tour not long ago, on the same stage as fellow Aussies ‘With Confidence’. Firstly, I read quite a while back now that you believe you’re not a “Warped Tour” band. What did you mean by this exactly? Was this from a musical standpoint, or maybe a cultural and moral standpoint? Do you feel any differently now, after being a part of it?
I definitely feel different. From a sonic point of view, I still think we stand out, we don’t really sound like any of the bands on the line-up. We’re kind of outcasts in that way. As for the festival as a whole, I’ve actually grown to respect the culture of it and what it does for local communities. Kevin Lyman does an incredible job of collaborating with charities, some of which my band has also worked with and is still working with.
As for With Confidence, they’re some of the best dudes we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, along with their merch guy too. They were actually the first band to introduce themselves to us on the tour.
That’s good to hear! There always seems to be huge controversy surrounding the festival, which is kind of disappointing considering how positive it actually is in reality. Would you say this is because Kevin Lyman doesn’t want to sound ‘morally superior’ and like the ‘good guy’, or more so just because the immaturity of certain bands tend to take over the headlines?
Both, definitely. The media is always looking to report on negativity and controversy, rather than positivity. It’s an unfortunate reality.
I’m sure it was quite a rewarding experience regardless, though, considering that you probably wouldn’t have played to 90% of those people on any other tour of yours?
Yeah definitely. What stood out to me was that we played a few shows after we finished the tour to get home and the venues were packed out. They were headlining shows and some were on a Monday and Tuesday night, but the venues were filled to the brim. We’ve never experienced something like that before. A lot of bands are very comfortable with fitting into a stacked line-up, but not many can be comfortable and confident with being able to fill a room with people coming to see their band only, but we’re getting there. The change was very noticeable and also very humbling. We remember the names of everyone we talk to and to have an opportunity to talk to a growing audience was encouraging. We really want our fans to know that we don’t see them as numbers or nobodies, not even as fans really, but actually as our friends. We truly do remember all your names and we are eternally grateful for the support you show us. We have friends who let us sleep on the couches of their parents’ living room, friends who bring us home cooked meals at our shows and we don’t take for granted any of it. We hope that we can continue to make more friends along this journey, and collaborate with more of you along the way.
I really respect that, that lack of hierarchy within your mind, that you believe in collaborating not only with other artists but also with those who appreciate your art.
Thank you, it means a lot. That’s definitely a recurring goal of ours.
No worries. Now, I’m going to backtrack a little bit. So you’ve toured with ‘With Confidence’ who are Aussies. I’m curious, what’s your perspective on the Australian scene and the bands hailing from it?
We’re jealous of them honestly, they’re killing it. Bands like Northlane and In Hearts Wake are really breaking into our scene. I don’t think show goers think too much about it but I know that bands are really jealous. Apparently, the opening bands at your local shows can sometimes be just as good as the headliners?
Yup! Over here, there seems to be a lot more competition because well, we have a tight-knit, oversaturated scene that simply doesn’t accommodate for every band playing decent sized shows. There’s just not the demand for it, punters seem to be ‘gigging’ less and less, instead opting to save their time and money for stacked lineups instead. This means bands really need to up their game if they’re going to score a slot on a decent bill. Only the absolute hardest working bands seem to catch a break, and it takes years and years of touring nationally before most can go overseas. This isn’t always the case, but it is for the majority. So yeah, they really have to hone their craft if they’re going to have a chance. It has it’s positives and negatives obviously.
That’s awesome. You see over here, they’ll chuck anyone and everyone on a show. A lot of bands can’t even really play their instruments [laughs].
Well, maybe you should come to Australia then. Hint, hint!
Oh man, we’d absolutely love to! We’ve been to South East Asia and Japan before but we’ve never had a chance to come to Australia. Trust me, though, if a promoter contacts us we’ll be on it straight away, we’d love to come to your country.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been listening to your band since before the release of ‘The Night God Slept’, but not many people down here knew about your band at that point. Ever since the first single from the new record ‘Panic Room’ was released, there’s been a huge buzz surrounding your band, so I’m sure you’ll be contacted soon enough. You’ve actually become a lot of Australians’ favourite bands, which is cool to see.
Really? I didn’t realise. Thank you for telling me that, that’s awesome. We’d love to come over as soon as possible. We’re fully booked for the rest of the year, but next year is wide open.
I’m looking forward to it. Anyway, I think we’ll wrap it up there Garrett, we’ve been talking for ages now! Thank you so much for your time, it’s much appreciated!
No, thank you for your time Corey, I actually really enjoyed this interview, in particular, you definitely did your research.
It’s my pleasure, hopefully, we’ll be talking face to face very soon!
‘Everything Was Sound’ is available now via Solid State Records. Read our review of it here & cross your fingers that we’ll see the bnd on Aussie shores soon.