You know what’s hard? Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy, what with the edited hitboxes and changed collisions in the remaster making Crash handle like a fuckin’ ball, infuriatingly sliding over edges to his own stupid death. But hey, you know what goes even harder than that? The new album from Justice For The Damned, ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’. Simply put, the Sydney bands debut LP is an absolute monster! Yet what’s really heartwarming to see is how adored this band is becoming here in Australia in the lead up to their full-length album’s release next week. Recently, during a nostalgic trip through Crash Bandicoot himself, guitarist and songwriter Nick Adams talked to me about getting their lyrics (and pit-calls) right, hectic touring schedules here and abroad, what drove ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ into life, its raw sound, and the insane hype that’s hanging around Justice lately. Read the full interview below.
Starting off Nick, and I’m not trying to take the piss here as I’m genuinely curious: but who in your life died or who hurt you or the band that’s resulted in the emotion, tone and lyrical content of ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’?
[Laughs]. Well, no one actually passed away and that’s the one thing we haven’t written about on the album – there’s not much about loss on it. I’m just a bit deranged when it comes to lyrical writing. Without going heaps deep, I write about a lot of harsh times in my life; when I’m just very mentally and emotionally down. It’s all about getting your heart and soul being dragged through the dirt, hence this new album’s name.
Right! So, if we look at the two singles so far – ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ and ‘It Will Always Be My Fault’ – the former is about parental issues and home abuse and the latter is more about one’s own deep self-loathing. So, as you yourself say, those two songs are specifically all about experiences in your own past?
Yeah, they’re all bad experiences from my own past. They were times where it felt like the best way to deal with it would be to put it down on paper and into music. When I wrote the lyrics for ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’, I wrote about things that had happened with my mother and me in my past. I do try to write in a sense that’s not alienating to other people, as I try to make sure it’s broad enough for the bigger picture that the song’s talking about. That song [‘Please Don’t Leave Me’] talks about violence in the home. It’s not something I’ve written about before but it felt natural as the song itself expressed those feelings. And it’s the fact that despite those things happening, you can still come good. Because a lot of our songs have very dark overtones but that one becomes more hopeful towards the end about moving past it all.
Of course, and in keeping with the dark overtones of Justice’s music and moving on from past trauma, do you ever feel… restrained in what kind of topics you can talk about? Because heavy and violent music like the kind your band plays often begets that very approach to song themes.
Yeah! Sometimes it does pop into our minds. There are bands like Nails – who are a band that we all really love, obviously – who just have these aggressive lyrics. It is a bit of a challenge, but the lyrics I want to put on the paper are a bit more vulnerable and emotional, and that’s something that makes us stand out if I do say so myself. That’s what you’ll get when you come to Justice For The Damned’s music. Writing angry lyrics isn’t off the cards for the future, but here, it just felt right to open up lyrically. It does feel daunting when you come to a new song, and you think “What I’m going to write about with this song?” and you hear just how heavy the music. It may seem like a bit of a contradiction with the lyrics on this album as opposed to the actual music but I am very proud of it.
You should be! I think it all works and it’s what helps to make ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ the great record that it is. I personally like a lot of these song’s lyrics, as a line like “Please don’t leave me/I love you dearly” isn’t the kind of lyric you chuck on the back of a shirt with a crowd shot…
[Laughs] Definitely! It just all felt so natural. It’s a classic trope of heavy music that we have to be heaps tough and always angry, and while we love that music, we want something that’s more lyrically emotional.
Of course, and you guys really nailed that here. Plus, you always gotta pick just the right lyrics for the pit-calls.
Oh, dude, that’s something that you gotta think about at all times in a band like this. [Laughs].
My favourite pit-call is easily the short-lived one on ‘Demon’ where Boback screams “I have been slipping through the cracks“. Best shit.
Nice, that song is mad. I do love that part, and I really do hope that it catches on live at least half as much as the other’s do!
Me too! I really wanted to talk to you about the production and the mix of this album, as the way that the album sounds works really well for the tone and aesthetic of the Justice I think. Yet I had a fellow writer/media friend say to me that he thought the album was near-unlistenable and that its tone was just definition-less. What are your thoughts on that?
Interesting. Yeah, our guitar tone is very scratchy as we do use HM-2 pedals, and while we’re not strictly a HM-2 band, we’re about the sound and it works well for us. With the guitar DI tracks, Sam [Bassal, producer] and I listened to one of the tracks without it and we AB’d between them. And if you could hear it, when you take away the abrasive, wall-of-sound that is our guitars, there is something “missing”. But it works a lot for us. Though, I get what your friend said as I was also really worried about how the album would be perceived as I thought a similar thing about how it sounded at one point. Then when I took a step back from it and came back to it with fresh ears, it’s got the dark, abrasive sound that I really wanted.
Well, look at this way, if you guys had gone to Bassal and had gotten a much cleaner sounding mix from him, and that’s the album that Greyscale had sent me, I’d still have enjoyed it. But nowhere near to the extent that I do now as the record currently stands. As that particular production style just works so well for your sound and genre.
That’s it, man! You definitely get what we’re about.
Of course, was there ever any plan to go back to Kurt Ballou again after he did ‘Deep Rotting Fear’?
It was a really funny how that came about. When we were talking about the album, we were looking at getting Taylor Young [from The Pit Recording Studio, who has done Outright, Self Defense Family, Twitching Tongues and more]. Halfway through writing up an email to him to propose him mixing the song and we thought why don’t we just hit up Kurt – the big cheese himself. Like, just email him and see if he even replies. Soon after we emailed him, he got back to us and he said was down, saying it was something he really wanted to work on. After that, for a long time, we were thinking about getting the album recorded it here. With Kurt, he likes to be involved from the get-go and if he can’t be there, he’ll send all of these instructions to the engineer. With Sam, it was already kind of on the cards that he’d record it as he had talked with us about it. We went to play a show in Adelaide early last year and wanted to make the trip more worth it, so we stayed down and recorded a song with Sam. What was to lose, you know? But as we should have expected, it came out amazing. It all came together so well; it was easier for us to come down to Melbourne to record and Sam was more within our budget too as while Kurt’s great, he’s also very expensive.
I can imagine old mate was pricey, but you don’t get to be cheap with the bands he works with and you know, playing in motherfucking Converge. But maybe with the next one?
Oh, dude, we’ll be keeping him in mind for the next one for sure!
Nice! Also, what was the go with the album’s little piano track, ‘For Your Eyes Only’?
Our other guitarist, Nathan [Kershaw], he used to live with me and my parents for a while. We have this piano here and every now and then, he would just sit down at it and play that song over and over. When it came close to recording the album, I told him to finish the piece and record it for the album. I love that song!
This next question I also plan to ask Jazmine or Kieran from Cursed Earth when I get interview time with them eventually as they’re in a very similar position to you guys. And that’s with all of the hype and attention that Justice has been getting lately, and in coming from the local underground scene, how does that kind of hype make you feel? Does it rub you the wrong way at all?
As far as getting all of the attention for such an underground scene, we’re really happy about it and we’re very receptive to it. As we all want to make this band our career choice and we want our music that’s accessible to as many people as possible. Now, we don’t just want to be a metallic hardcore that plays with bands like Harm’s Way and Nails, as do listen to a lot of stuff that isn’t that heavy. But when it comes right down to it, we’re just so happy that we’re getting this attention, as we may not have gotten it if it wasn’t a different era.
Well in saying that, why do you believe Justice For The Damned has received such traction and attention lately? Just having the right songs or as you hinted at then, just being in the right place at the right time?
Well, being in the right place and the right time is always an important factor. If we were dropping this album a few years ago, maybe we’d have more buzz around us or maybe we’d get less? Who knows. I guess it would be an amalgamation of everything that we do. With songwriting, we must be hitting the mark as when we play shows, people get really into it. Back in the day, we had a member who wasn’t as keen on certain merch items and since he’s departed, so we have a lot more creative freedom now with what merch we print. And I think the live set is what’s worked in our favour the best. We put a lot of effort into sounding tight, well-organised and just ensuring that we sound good live. That’s a big part of it, I feel.
Well, I remember seeing you guys play at Invasion Fest 2016 and ‘Deep Rotting Fear’ and ‘Please Don’t Leave Me’ sounded so authentic live. You aren’t one of those bands that when they play live, they sound nothing like their album(s). Which always irks me a little when I see bands like that.
Well, that’s good to hear, because that’s exactly what we wanted!
I also think that there is a real ebb and flow of musical tastes and maybe people nowadays are growing more tired of metalcore and deathcore and want something rawer, perhaps why Nails, Code Orange, Cursed Earth, and bands like yourselves are on the rise.
Yes! A lot of those sounds are becoming much more prevalent in the norm of heavy music. Like, Nails were pretty underground only a couple years ago but it’s very cool to see this sound come out the way that it has. A band like Code Orange is definitely paving the way for other bands, so too are Kublai Khan to a lesser extent; their beatdown sound is really growing now whereas a couple years ago, it would’ve been much more underground.
Another thing with the band’s warm response lately, is that your pre-orders, especially the vinyl ones, are just selling like crazy right now. [The vinyl pre-orders sold out last week actually].
Oh dude, we never expected anything like that. We hoped that we’d get some good numbers but nothing at all like this. It’s all exceeded so much of our own expectations. Ash and Josh [from Greyscale Records] have put so much into this release and not just so much for myself and the band that it would go well, but that it’d work out for all of the people around us who have helped us get to this point.
Dude, the response from the second you announced this record was fucking mental. Was so great to see!
Oh my god, I tried to buy our three vinyl pack pre-order after we announced the album and the pre-orders and the first batch of them were already gone within half an hour. My girlfriend was able to get one but I couldn’t even buy my own band’s pre-order! [Laughs].
Gnarly! In terms of touring, you guys have the Ocean Grove tour happening real soon. Which is an odd fit with yourselves supporting them (alongside Broken and The Beverly Chills) but then again, that’s just OG’s vibe; getting someone different for contrast sakes.
We’ve been friends with those guys for a very long time, both collectively and individually. A tour has been on the cards for ages. Stylistically, back on the ‘Black Label’ EP, it may have worked a bit better but even now, they’re still happy to take someone much heavier along. Which, as you said, is their vibe lately and that’s being diverse.
Exactly, which is why I love that band, actually. Now, another big touring related manner for Justice that’s coming up, and I know you know what I’m going to say Nick, and that’s you dudes supporting Thy Art Is Murder in Eupore. That’s fucking massive!
Man, we are just speechless about that. That was something that all of us had dreamed about since we were picking up our first guitars, and to do it with such a band like Thy Art Is Murder is amazing. Every one of us has a personal love for that band and we look up to them. For me, to go to one of my first ever heavy shows and see them play back in 2011, just made me want to do heavy music as much as possible. And to do that with them, overseas, is just the craziest thing we’ll have done so far.
It’s a great opportunity for the band. I’m just looking at the dates now on my phone, and it’s a long tour too, Nick.
Yeah! We get a real run with that band in Europe. We’ve got the headline Perth shows in September than our East Coast dates afterwards and then not even a week after those shows, we go right into this tour. I just love Oceano and while I do like After The Burial, I haven’t sussed them that much. I just really hope I get to spend a whole month watching ‘District Of Misery’ live.
Solid song, for sure. Personally, I’d just love to watch Adam [Warren, Oceano vocalist] do his vocal thang every night. His voice is fucking hectic.
Oh, same. I’d also love to get a video game chat going with him at some point, he seems like he’s right into it.
I swear that the whole sci-fi theme of their past two records has a couple Halo-like references in there so I reckon you’d do well on that. And with that, that’ll be all for this interview, Nick. Thanks so much for your time tonight and I hope the album’s release goes off even more than it’s announcement did.
Awesome, thank you so much Alex. Hope to catch you at a show!
Photo credit: Nick Hargans (of Vitals). Find more of his work here. ‘Dragged Through The Dirt’ will fuck up your world on Augst 11th when it drops via Greyscale. Pre-order it here. Keep your eyes peeled for my review when it lands.
Justice is touring Australia this month with Ocean Grove at the following dates:
FRIDAY, AUGUST 4 – WOOLY MAMMOTH, BRISBANE 18+
SATURDAY, AUGUST 5 – OXFORD ART FACTORY, SYDNEY 18+
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11 – FOWLERS LIFE, ADELAIDE LIC/AA
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12 – CORNER HOTEL, MELBOURNE 18+ (sold out)
There’s no rest for the wicked and Justice will also be doing their own headline run in September with Hindsight, Staunch, and Honest Crooks. Deets below:
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 1 – YMCA HQ, Perth AA*
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 2 – Amplifier Bar, Perth 18+*
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 15 – Crowbar, Brisbane 18+
SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 16 – Hamilton Station Hotel, Newcastle 18+
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 17 Red Rattler, Sydney Lic AA
MONDAY SEPTEMBER 18 – RAD Bar, Wollongong Lic AA
FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 22 – Enigma Bar, Adelaide Lic AA
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 24 – Phoenix Youth Centre, Melbourne AA
*Justice For The Damned only