Politics, online abuse, Paul Joseph Watson, rappers, guest vocalists, ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’, drummers, their new album ‘Only Death Is Real’, Will Putney, and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – my recent chat with Stray From The Path guitarist, Tom Williams, has it all. Or, at least, a whole lot of something! Take a read below on what has been my favourite conversation with the guitarist. Third time really is the charm!
First off Tom, and because I’m sure THAT FUCKING NO ONE has asked you about it, let’s talk about ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’.
[Laughs] sure man.
Cool. I wanted to ask about the band’s intent and perspective of it. Cause the thing is, I doubt Republican/right-wing and even actual alt-right people would even listen to Stray From The Path. Let alone ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’. So, obviously, you were expecting to receive such backlash and publicity from it?
Sure, yeah. We were expecting a backlash. If you kick the hornet’s nest, a few hornet’s will come out, you know? But it got all the way to Richard Spencer, and we never thought that would happen. We knew the song would piss off some right wing people, and let’s face it, a lot of right wing people don’t listen to Stray. The song and video first went live in England and Europe and the reception was good, because why wouldn’t people outside of America hate racism. And we were psyched. Then it got to America and it got shared and Richard Spencer tweeted the video out saying to troll it, and it was like pouring gasoline onto a fire. Shit got crazy! So yes, we expected the hate but nowhere near on that scale. I understand why it pissed them off – we called them out by name.
The music video didn’t help that either. And that’s the one thing I really regret from the video, that sometimes you forget and you give people too much credit to figure it out and pay attention. Everyone took it so emotionally and flipped out that we supposedly kill a random Trump supporter in the clip. But no, it was clear to us as well as our record label in the song’s clip that this isn’t just some random Trump supporter; it’s a right wing terrorist who is planning to carry out a terrorist attack. But, of course, they don’t ever paint white people as terrorists in America so that didn’t pan out for us. I do wish we had made it clearer and I wish we had learned from our last record, ‘Subliminal Criminals’, where we had a song called ‘D.I.E.P.I.G.’, which is about sexual predators in the music scene. But some people actually thought it was about us killing cops. Like, really? You think we’d write a song about actually killing cops? And that’s another thing – it’s just a music video. We didn’t actually kill someone, we didn’t actually hurt anybody or act violently. We’re not violent people – the people being violent are the ones you saw this past weekend at Charlottesville. The video was just an artistic portrayal of our reality and that’s all it was. So, some people liked it and had our backs and others hated it. So that’s where we’re at with all that.
Crazy times, man. There are a couple things I wanna take away from what you said there. One: I don’t know how the fuck anyone could misconstrue ‘D.I.E.P.I.G.’ as a cop-killer song, especially when you name drop Front Porch Step and Lostprophets in the lyrics!
[Laughs] I know! That’s my main point. You can give people too much credit. A lot of people just saw the name and lost their shit. Here’s an interesting thing, man, the ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’ video has 350-400K views now. And Sumerian was able to look at the video stats and see that over 30,000 people – 10% of the whole viewership pretty much – didn’t make it past five seconds. Like, they didn’t even hear Drew’s vocals! People just went to the video because they were told to.
Exactly right, and very interesting about the viewership there, too. Another thing about Stray is that you definitely aren’t a right wing band, politically speaking. That’s quite obvious! But you also aren’t a fully left wing leaning band either as on this very same new album, you have a song called ‘The House Always Wins’, a critique of the two-party system and the ridiculous election campaigns; for both Democrats and Republicans. So when I see people saying shit like “I don’t see them criticising Hillary or the left“, I just think that those people barely or have never listened to the band and don’t know what they’re talking about.
That’s just it! Whenever people talk to me about ‘Goodnight Alt-Right’ they say “Wow man, that got crazy“. But it wasn’t by people who actually like and support the band. Even if we look at the like and dislike ratio on YouTube – and in my opinion, what kind of adult actually likes or dislikes a video on YouTube – the video has had more likes on any other video we have. Which includes videos that have been out for years. The people who hated this, they weren’t going to like our band anyway, and if it wasn’t this, they’d hate something else from us in the future.
To touch on ‘The House Always Wins’ part, we actually don’t identify as any political spectrum. If Donald Trump was to say something that I liked – which may only be when hell freezes over – then I’ll like it. I’m never going to not like something that someone says because of whatever label they’re under. I’ve gone on record saying this, but Hilary Clinton was scarier to me than Trump. Cause that guy will say shit to your face whereas as Hilary will shake your hand, smile, and then kill you in your sleep. I don’t fuck with either one of them, as well as neither party. When people ask me about voting, I say that I don’t vote and I never will vote. Because when you vote you send a message that it’s okay for this system to continue. I’ve seen so much shit about uncounted votes for Sanders and you see how he was pulling Metallica-like crowd numbers, and Clinton was pulling Stray From The Path crowd numbers, it’s whack. That’s like saying that Stray makes more money than Metallica, and people would say that that’s fucking outrageous and not true. But no one said that for Berne and Hilary. Yet she won. Tell me how that works?
Politics is fucked, man. That’s all I got, really. Here in Australia, you have to vote, it’s mandatory. You can still just hand in an empty ballot paper or just draw over it and whatever, but you can get fined for not voting. Then there’s our weird preference voting system where you have to preference who you want from your main party pick to your last party choice. And those preferences, the ones you list lower, can affect who gets into power and who doesn’t. It’s rather ridiculous.
Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s really interesting. But yeah man, it is ridiculous. That’s the point of ‘The House Always Wins’ – no matter who wins, we lose. I wanted Bernie to win and I had a swindle of hope for him, but I couldn’t vote for him so I donated to him. That’s like being vegan and wanting to help a local pizza shop so you donate to them as you can’t eat the fucking pizza. I was trying to help a cause as I felt like my money was going somewhere. Whenever I went to a voting poll, it just felt wrong, and I felt I had more to offer by making a song like ‘House Always Wins’.
You know, my favorite TV show is It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and while it’s a comedy show, they said it best: “Who am I suppose to vote for? Am I suppose to vote for the Democrat who’s going to blast me in the ass or the Republican who’s blasting my ass?” To which Mac says, “…politics is all just one big ass blast“.
A classic line from that! Man, now that you’ve said it… I’m gonna have to rewatch that show one day.
Oh, my man, you have to. If you ever asked my wife – not that you’d ever talk to her – she’d tell you I literally have it on loop 24/7. I start from season 1 and go through to season 11, then restart it all over again. Even if I’m not fully watching it and just listening to it, it’s always on as I find real comfort in it.
My brother does something similar with How I Met Your Mother – it’s actually pretty nuts how many times he’s seen it!
Pulling away from politics ever so slightly, did you see the Paul Joseph Watson video the Info Wars pundit did on you dudes?
I saw it got posted but I haven’t seen it as by that time, I was so over everything. That dude is backpedaling after this weekend’s events and that he doesn’t talk to Richard Spencer, that he doesn’t associate with the Alt-Right, he back pedals a lot. I don’t really care either way, I wasn’t even really aware of him prior to his video on us, and I don’t care to get to know him after this year. He was pedaling his video to people who wouldn’t even like us anyway. My summer has been consumed with racism and Nazis so I wasn’t interested in dealing with more of that kind. But I imagine that he just used the clip to make fun of us a whole lot?
Yeah, pretty much. He made the whole autistic screeching meme “joke”, riffed on Drew’s image, jokes about being triggered, and I think he even calls you guys “SJWcore” or some such drivel at one point. Again, not someone who has listened to Stray before that song/clip it seems.
Oh yeah, right, so just what I expected from him, really.
Basically! Moving away from old mate PJW, with ‘Only Death Is Real’, the album deals with some pretty heavy topics. So I find it very fitting that it’s all been matched up with heavier, darker songs, almost like a mix of your last album and ‘Rising Sun’.
Yeah, I feel that. We had the album title, the artwork, and the theme before we had the music written, which was a first for us. Normally, at the end of a record’s writing process, we then think about the picture we want to paint. This time, we had the image done first and then had to work out what kind of story we wanted to tell.
We went through some shit – like most people do – and you lose people in your life and it makes you reflect on your life in general. When doing so, you realize that we often get caught up with elections, alt-right, movements, nationalism and then at the end of the day, the only thing we know to be true is that we will all die one day. That’s where ‘Only Death Is Real’ came from, from there being this hierarchy and coming from a civilian’s place in society. It was a dark theme and the music came naturally dark from us. Normally, I write the music on my own and I bring it to the other guys and they’d add to it. This time around, I wrote a lot but then I’d go to practice and we’d use none of it. We have Craig on drums now, which is a blessing for us and our band chemistry now, and we did this record so quickly as we were just flying through it. We finished this album in 12 fucking days and most bands I talk to go there for over a month. It felt so organic.
That’s cool to hear Tom! You guys went with Will Putney again, yes?
Yep! I don’t think we’ll ever change that up. Putney’s like a band member at this point and he knows just as much about our band as much as I do. He did this and he’ll probably do the next one [laughs].
Sounds good! That’s the same thing with Thy Art Is Murder I feel, as he’s worked with them since ‘Hate’ and there’s some other crossover with you as well due to your work in Trade Wind.
Yeah, Trade Wind was done with him too and that’s how we found our bassist, Randy, he works there with Will. Counterparts go there all the time now too. A lot of bands just keep going back, as it’s really special there. But I don’t know what it is, as the studio isn’t even that nice looking, it’s just the vibe and the sounds coming from it.
That’s a good point, Graphic Nature isn’t that great looking of a location but the quality mixes, recordings, and productions that come out of there are nearly second to none. Will just does some great work, that’s the long and short of it.
He doesn’t waste his money on collecting that glitz and glamour shit. Like, you go to studios that look so gorgeous and the people there don’t know how to mic a fucking kick drum. He spends his money on things that will make him produce better-sounding work.
And that’s where it really matters. Aside from the production, I can easily imagine how you guys got both Keith Buckley from Every Time I Die and Bryan Garris from Knocked Loose to feature on this album respectively. But how did you get Vinnie Paz on the album during ‘The House Always Wins’?
Dude, it was crazy. We didn’t have a back up if he couldn’t do it, as we wanted a hip-hop artist on the track and we wanted him as he’s about the same things as we are. I follow him on Instagram and he’s posted in the past about how he doesn’t collaborate with anybody. But it was Will who had met him before and knew that he was into hardcore and metalcore. So he showed him our band and we showed him the track and said “Second verse, it’s all yours dude” and he killed it. It’s definitely one of the biggest honors we’ve ever had. We’ve had some great people work with us – Sam Carter, Jesse Barnett, Bryan Garris, Keith Buckley. But Paz was a whole other thing, as we’re not ever friends and we’re from a very different genre. It was awesome!
Very cool, mate. I remember you and I did an interview ages ago before ‘Subliminal Criminals’ came out and you told me you had planned for Immortal Technique to guest on the song ‘Future Of Sound’ but you ended up going with Cody B. Ware, which was all for the better I think!
I agree, he nailed it. At that point, we were trying so hard for a big name but ended up going with a dude who would do it so well. And Cody killed it and we’re still good friends with him. We’ll always be fans of his music too.
Glad to hear it. To help bookend this interview, with the heavier lyrics and the music behind ‘Only Death Is Real’, you’ve had this kind of sound since ‘Anonymous’ and I think it’d be safe to say that you’ll always have this sound, correct?
For sure. We’ll always sound like Stray because of Drew, as he doesn’t sound like anybody else. This one sticks out the most to me as being the most different.
Why is that? Is that because it’s the freshest one in your mind right now or just the topics it deals with?
…It could be that. I feel like we’ve been through so much this past summer that I’ve forgotten the whole creation of the record. But a lot can be attested to Craig, as I went in with a whole album written and we used basically zero of it. The only thing we kept was ‘The House Always Wins’. We came up with whole new shit as even Drew and Anthony [bass] were filling on all cylinders, and Craig was so stoked to be on his first album with us. When you change a drummer from Dan [Bourke] to Craig, it’s definitely going to feel and sound different. It’s more aggressive, darker, even more… metal. If you take the title track and out any other vocalist over it, it doesn’t sound like Stray, but with Drew, it sounds like us yet not us at the same time. It’s one of my favorite songs off the album, easily. That song was the most out there for us.
I love the bluesy end of the track and yeah, Craig holds his own really well and does a lot of great things much like Dan did.
You can’t take away from Dan, as he was fucking awesome and he was a very big reason as to why we got to where we are. But Craig fits really good with where we’re going on the next record, and that release will be even crazier.
Sick! With Drew’s vocals, he makes Stray’s sound almost unmistakable in a way. The only other three vocalists that are in that ball park are Bryan Garris from Knocked Loose, Andrew from Comeback Kid, and maybe JP from Get The Shot, who are fucking sick. Not sure if you’re familiar with them…
No, I know Get The Shot. I am actually surprised that you know who they are [laughs].
[Laughs] Well hey, I try to keep up with new stuff! And on talking about a band that you’re not even apart of, I think that’ll be a good spot to call time on this interview, Tom. Cheers for your time today man, it was so great talking with you.
No worries at all Alex, this has been one of my favorite interviews. I love it when interviewers know what’s going on and keep a close eye on us. Thanks!
Stray From The Path’s ‘Only Death Is Real’ is out now – get it here and/or read our review here.