Harm’s Way | Chris Mills

With the impending release of their long-awaited fourth full-length album, and debut for new home Metal Blade Records, Chicago bruisers Harm’s Way are set to hit 2018 like a sledgehammer to the temple. Finding time between the band’s heavy schedule, drummer Chris Mills took some time out to answer our questions about everything ‘Posthuman’. We discuss the musical evolution of Harm’s Way, label changes, recording with renowned producer and engineer Will Putney, and the importance of a hardcore ethos.

For those following the band since the beginning, there’s been a gradual shift in the sound of Harm’s Way; a through-line that extends from ‘Isolation’ and ‘Blinded,’ into ‘Rust’ and now ‘Posthuman’. How do you feel the band’s sound has evolved over time, and where do you (and perhaps other members of the band) draw inspiration and influence for the band’s material?

The band began back in 2006/2007 as more of a power-violence/grind inspired hardcore band. Being a band for over a decade now, the sound has obviously become more refined with metal and industrial influences. I feel this refinement took shape in 2011 when we released our second LP, ‘Isolation’. That record is characterized by many of the industrial and metallic elements that I mentioned earlier… and we’ve kinda been evolving in a forward-thinking manner with these elements ever since then. Those who have followed us since that release can probably track this evolutionary progression.

From a socio-political side to a musical side, we are very much influenced by our environment and the city of Chicago. Whether it be hardcore, metal, noise or industrial, our sound pays some homage to the influential predecessors that have been spawned by our musically-rich city. This city is obviously an insane place as well, so I can say we draw influence from our current cultural climate, and a feeling of detachment and disassociation from it.

Walk us through the songwriting process for Harm’s Way: how/where do songs originate? Is the process collaborative, or driven by any one member? As a drummer, how do you bring your contributions to the group, and how do you channel your ideas creatively into the band’s compositions?

The breadth of our songwriting typically happens in an organic and collaborative fashion.  Someone will bring a part or loose structure to a song, and we’ll jam on it and construct the piece together. Including our new guitarist, Nick [Gauthier] into the writing process was great for ‘Posthuman,’ as it helped progress our songwriting to a new level, in my opinion.  Some of the more industrial aspects of our sound [are] done secondary, in an isolated environment after the structures and skeletons of the songs have been established.  Our new bassist, Casey Soyk, was also a great addition in helping to further refine and incorporate these electronic and industrial elements that we’ve come to be known for over the years, given his extensive programming knowledge. This can be heard in tracks like ‘The Gift’ on ‘Posthuman’.

As a drummer, I approach contributing percussion to our songs in ways that complement the songs structurally and drive them rhythmically. I also play guitar and contribute to the songwriting process in that aspect as well, so I try and always see songs holistically, as opposed to taking an ego-driven drumming perspective, that over-complicates and distracts listeners from the song as a cohesive piece.

How did the connection with Will Putney (Every Time I Die, Thy Art Is Murder, Counterparts) come about for the recording of ‘Posthuman’? In what ways was the recording process different for the new record, compared to your previous sessions with Andy Nelson (Lord Mantis, Like Rats, Weekend Nachos), and what do you feel Putney brings to ‘Posthuman’ for Harm’s Way?

When brainstorming producers and engineers for ‘Posthuman,’ Will’s name came up from our manager as he had expressed interest to him on working with us on our next effort after the Metal Blade signing. I had scheduled some calls with a few producers that we had interest in working with, and Will was one of them. After chatting and just having a conversation about our vision for the record, it became apparent that Will was going to be a good fit for us. had a totally cool vibe from Will, and felt it would be a great space to create a record in.  From our experience working with him, we couldn’t have been more right.

We basically made a three-week pilgrimage to Graphic Nature and did pre-production and tracking.  It was an amazing environment to make this record and we had full reign for continued exploration with the songs to get them to the best place possible. Will was also huge in getting the best performances out of us, and helping us flesh out the songs to be as expansive as possible.  With all our previous efforts, we typically would record on weekends or late nights/early mornings when we were off school and work.

So, recording could never [become] our prime focus when we were home recording in Chicago with Andy because we still had so much to balance. For example, recording ‘Blinded,’ we would work/go to school all day and spend from 6PM-2AM recording. I was working on my finals for grad school in between drum takes. It felt insane [laughs]. But still, Andy did a great job of getting the best that he could out of us in those instances.  I will say that ‘Posthuman’ was a fully immersive experience and record for us—and that felt right. I can’t imagine ever creating another full length for Harm’s Way any other way.

The move from Deathwish Inc. to Metal Blade is a huge one for Harm’s Way and has the potential to expose your band to a different audience. How did the Metal Blade connection come about?

After the release of ‘Rust,’ we garnered attention from a few different labels. It felt wild, as we weren’t really expecting it, and had no intention of leaving Deathwish at that time, but we began meeting with these labels to see what they had to offer and if they understood our vision as the band. One of those labels happened to be Metal Blade, and after multiple meetings and getting to know the staff, we felt they brought the most to the table for us as a band.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s always important for the labels we work with to understand our vision as a band and where we come from. We’ve been super fortunate to work with incredibly focused and attuned labels like Closed Casket Activities and Deathwish that have helped us grow our band in a forward manner. Metal Blade understood that as well, and our place as a band connected to underground music and the sub-cultural components of punk and hardcore. They were open to our ideas of keeping ‘Posthuman’ collaborative and including our previous labels to release exclusive vinyl for the release (CCA and Deathwish). With that in mind, it felt like the next logical step after ‘Rust,’ as we could still maintain our integrity and be the band we wanted, but also continue to grow and expose ourselves to a vastly new audience that Metal Blade has established over the years in the world of aggressive music.

In terms of narrative and tone, what themes are discussed and explored sonically on the new record? And in what ways does ‘Posthuman’ represent the future for Harm’s Way?

Thematically, there is a general re-evaluation of contemporary ideas of ‘human nature’: the ‘self,’ techno-scientific development, ethics, etc… The record also explores ideas of transcendence, progression, and self-awareness – and to us, those themes represent the future of Harm’s Way the most.  We always want to be moving forward and we use this band as a vehicle for that. This record is very much a culmination of what we’ve experienced and how we’ve grown as a band over the last few years; of taking this thing head on and pushing it to, what we feel, is the next level.  We feel this effort continues in pushing ourselves as individuals, in addition to pushing the preconceived boxes and boundaries of musical genres and sub-genres put on artists.

On that notion of boundaries and musical genres, in watching interviews with Bo [Lueders, guitar] and James [Pligge, vocals], it’s clear that the mindset of Harm’s Way is still very much that of a hardcore band, which is a term that’s become more fluid now in 2018 than ever before. Contemporaries like Nails, Title Fight, Code Orange, Knocked Loose and more, along with Harms Way, continue to redefine and push the boundaries of what a ‘hardcore band’ can be. With the band’s origins rooted in power-violence and straight-edge, what does being in a hardcore band today mean to you personally? And how do you feel this applies to Harm’s Way, both musically and operationally within the larger community?

I feel that to be a hardcore band today is more of an ethos more than anything.  As you can see, stylistically, this music is very wide-ranging – many have no problem calling the bands you mention hardcore – and knowing the individuals in the aforementioned bands, I’d have no problem either viewing them or calling them hardcore bands either.  This ethic or ethos is one of no fear or subscription to boundaries or borders. To take a creative approach to your band, to value individuality and to challenge your listeners or peers, that’s hardcore and punk to me.

I feel this ethos carries over into everyday life as well, in our decisions and how we carry ourselves in a larger cultural context—it’s just as applicable. I think we [Harm’s Way] will always view ourselves as hardcore band to degree, no matter how much our sound changes or deviates from what a larger sub-cultural community may label ‘punk’ or ‘hardcore’. To us, hardcore is progression in sound, mindset, actions and behaviours—and that is something we will always carry as a band. If that forward-thinking or progressive mentality would cease to be, this band would cease to be, because that is essentially soul-crushing and the antithesis of what this band was built on.

I know 2018 has only been around for a few weeks, but what are some new/recent records that have grabbed your attention? Any bands that are under-the-radar, local or otherwise, that you feel are doing something fresh and innovative?

Hardcore is in such a cool place, and there are so many bands doing refreshing things that people seem open to. Vein are about to drop one of the best records of 2018 and will be releasing it on Closed Casket Activities in the first half of the year.  I’m also excited for our brothers in Twitching Tongues to release their new LP [‘Gaining Purpose Through Passionate Hatred‘] on Metal Blade Records. It’s awesome and inspiring to see them back and in full swing. On a totally unrelated note and much larger scale, I’m excited for a new Ministry record in 2018 and whatever that may entail as well. I’m also excited for new music from Youth Code, Jesus Piece, Tribulation, Hop Along, My Bloody Valentine, etc.

‘Posthuman’ is out February 9th through Metal Blade Records. Stream, pre-order and download the record here.

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