Silent Planet // Garrett Russell

An intrinsic part of why Silent Planet are such an exciting, incredible band is the personality and lyricism of their frontman, Garrett Russell. The kind, well-spoken and poetic vocalist lends so much weight, depth, honesty and spirituality to the powerful music that Silent Planet creates; all through his passionate vocal performances – screamed or spoken – and his thoughtful lyrics. This was true of the metalcore group’s first two albums, and it’s a factor that’s absolutely true of their upcoming third LP, ‘When The End Began’ (out November 2nd via UNFD). All of this extends to how he invitingly and warmly interacts with not only fans, but anyone else in general – Australian interviewers included. As such, hanging out at the Unified offices prior to the band’s Melbourne gig at Corner Hotel with Make Them Suffer in mid-August, Garrett’s honesty comes across immensely so in our conversation together. In fact, just as Garrett says himself, the singer feels like he’s going to have a very weird, grey-area relationship with the creation and themes of ‘When The End Began’. And thus, our deep dive begins.

Let’s start off with an easy first question for you, Garrett. How has the first ever Australian Silent Planet tour been so far for you?

The shows have all been really good so far, man! We’ve been told that all the shows will be really good. Though, I think tomorrow’s won’t be as good, that it didn’t sell well, which is what we’ve been told by people. Tomorrow we’re playing… yep, Adelaide. In America, I guess we’d call a show like that an Albuquerque.

[Laughs] Adelaide is “the Albuquerque of Australia” – love it. But hey, let’s talk about the new Silent Planet record, ‘When The End Began’. Firstly, I really like it! One thing I noticed about ‘When The End Began’ is that the album cover is like a crumpled up, distorted view of the Earth itself.

Yeah! That’s because this new record deals with the apocalypse, with paradigm shifts. The cover is actually kinda weird, as I had dreams of barren planets when we were in the studio. I think it was maybe a manifestation of my depression that I was going through at the time. Anyway, the artist we had pitched a bunch of ideas for the album cover, and when he pitched us what would be the cover, I said, “I’ve seen that before…”. It was pretty weird! So I had the task of knowing that it meant something but that I was also delving into my subconscious and working it all out. As this record deals with black holes, with time, a lot of it is our world warped; seeing our earth through a different lens.

And that fuels back into the record’s whole doomsday scenario, yeah?

Exactly, man, exactly!

On this apocalypse narrative and how it’s all connected – that they aren’t singular issues – do you know the band Foxing? Foxing put out a record this year called ‘Nearer My God’, named after the piece that played when the Titanic sank, as well as the video Ted Turner wanted CNN to play when the world ended. It’s a great album! Yet their recent interviews are really interesting, as the band, especially singer Connor Murphy, speak about how depressed they were whilst embedding themselves in this record. My question is if you also felt drained in having to stay within this record’s dire headspace whilst creating it? As you said, you were already having issues with depression at the time?

Yeah, for sure. One thing I was already going through was that I went into surgery right before we started the record. As all surgeries do, it kinda knocked me on my ass for a bit. But I do think that, furthermore, delving into some of this stuff – especially our newest song ‘Share The Body’, which is about addiction – was all really heavy. With this album, I will always have the weirdest relationship with it. As I’m still sorta figuring it out myself and it was painful going through it. I would love to tell you that I had a lot of fun on this or that song, but honestly, it was pretty torturous for me. It was all difficult, man.

Do you think another hard part is that when the album comes out in November, or even when you play tonight here in Melbourne, you’ll have to put on a smile for the fans? That people will come up to you and say “Garrett, I love Share The Body, it’s so sick!” And you just have to stand there, shake their hand, smile, and say “Thanks!”. Because you cannot tell the average person that what they love was hell for you to make. 

That’s exactly it, man, that’s exactly it. If someone tells me that ‘Share The Body’ is the best song we’ve ever done, I don’t wanna say to them, “I wanted to die when I did that”. One of the primary themes of the record is alienation, is losing track of ourselves, and that shows up in ‘Share The Body’ with losing yourself to drugs. Even in our previous song about losing yourself to consumerism [‘Vanity Of Sleep’]. Even the way we do war now, it’s not just two just pick up a weapon against each out. People make financial deals based on what’s most lucrative and they let people die. Which is what happened in the Spanish Civil War [‘Northern Fires (Guernica)’]. The ironic thing is that I feel really alienated with this record. I’m proud of it, and I know there’s a lot of good material there, but I don’t feel the same warmth that I did in the past with our other two albums.

That’s really interesting, and I appreciate that honesty. So much of the time, it’s bands saying “we love this new album” or even “we were born to make it”. So I really do respect you telling me this album will actually be quite a weird one for you.

It’s a grey area for me, for sure. It’s not black. I don’t dislike it – it’s exactly what it needs to be. I don’t know if a year from now if I think I was just going through some trial by fire moment and I feel great about it then, or if I will still feel weird about it. It might be my black star forever. I’m not really sure. But at the same time, we put some really good work into the album and the topics here are very personal for me.

Well, like the last two Silent Planet albums, there’s a lot of variation in the themes discussed. Even with the detail of your lyrics and how you link back to them for others to discover and learn about; showing the references and the quotes. I’m a big fan of that! But I did want to ask about a few specific tracks. The first one is ‘Northern Fires (Guernica)’, which you alluded to earlier. For those who don’t know, it’s about a Spanish town that was bombed during World War II; also acting as an inspiration for one of Picasso’s most famous paintings. While I love the track, I just find it super interesting that you put that event into a Silent Planet song.

I like to think of these apocalyptic moments in history. Ones that I feel are often over-looked but moments that tell us a lot of really interesting stuff about how the world has changed. I first learnt about the bombing of Guernica while I lived in Spain and at that moment in time, I knew I was going to write a song about it one day. The Spanish Civil War too, but also that town’s bombing. When we were in the studio in January, I even quoted Picasso in a tweet but that was about all that I hinted at.

Nice, leaving the breadcrumbs months in advance! Another song is ‘Share The Body’, dealing with the heroin and opioid crisis in America right now and how people get addicted to painkillers and then it spirals out of control from there. One of the best doco’s I’ve seen on that was actually a Netflix one titled Heroine. Have you watched that? 

I’ve seen that one! That film’s woman, Jan Rader, won a prize for that. Her goal was to get more Suboxone, right? For the people in a town in West Virginia. It’s the stuff that helps stop withdrawal symptoms and reduce the high.

Yeah, that’s it! It’s important yet still harrowing stuff to watch. And I see a lot of that with the video for ‘Share The Body’, and how you’re in these old prisoner clothes being subjected to drug abuse and how you can’t escape it. With ‘Everything Was Sound’ being centred on mental health issues that you saw in others, is that the case here with this song? You’re talking about something that you’ve seen destroy other people?

Yeah, that song is like my “Panic Room” of this album. It was inspired by conversations with other people. I actually just before got a text from one young person who is 18-years-old, who is going through this stuff right now, and he said he saw the video and that he wants to talk. That song was written for that very person, as well as a few others I know who are dealing with heroin addiction and I want to bring it to light. I really want those people to be encouraged to save their lives. I think a lot of the goal of Silent Planet is to help people empathize with situations that they previously wouldn’t have. It’s not to just say “Oh that person is just an addict”, but to see them like an actual human being; that their life has meaning and to understand how they got there. We’re no different. It’s possible, and I’ve thought about this a lot, when I had my surgery and went into the studio and my depression kicked in, I had my pain pills. I could’ve easily gotten addicted. It is a hellish addiction, man. Just hellish. The video isn’t just some scare tactic either – “don’t do drugs, kids” – but to show what some people deal with and maybe as a society, we shouldn’t treat them as criminals but as actual people who are sick and need help.

Agreed! America’s war on drugs solved nothing – it failed. It just demonized these people. Also, I feel that even Silent Planet’s mission statement of empathy and understanding comes down to how you guys even label your listeners – “Lovers” – instead of just simply calling them fans. That’s a trickle-down effect of your ethos, I find.

Absolutely! That’s the intent. I hate the word fan in the context of our band. What I mean by that is when someone says they’re a big fan I just wanna say “Well, dude, we could also just be friends”. [Laughs]. It’s not that being a fan is lame or uncool – I’m a fan of certain things myself. It’s more that when the artist wants to have a genuine connection and have it go further, why just be a fan? I say ‘Lover’ as to say we are the extent of what we love. So why not call someone a lover as what we love defines us? It’s what I literally say on ‘Vanity Of Sleep’ – “all we are is all we love”.

I love how genuine that is, Garrett. It’s not just some silly nametag for you and the band. I really like Twenty One Pilots but their fan base is called the “Skeleton Clique”, and that’s just super cringey to me. 

It’s so cheesy. It’s like right out of a branding textbook, isn’t it? “Step 3: now create a name for your fan club!” God as my witness, I never thought of it as about branding our fans, though. I just read a book by a Canadian philosopher named James K. A. Smith who talked about how we’re the sum of what we love, so I started calling people that. I wasn’t gonna call them “Maggots” or anything… even though I do love Slipknot! [Laughs].

Oh man, me too, I love Slipknot! So one thing about ‘Northern Fires (Geurnica)’ that I really liked was this reference to ‘There Is A Presence Here’, the newest album by Many Rooms. I actually went and checked out her album and all I can say is: fuck, it’s really good!

That was really one of my goals here, to just get people connected. Not just because her art inspired me by but because if my lyrics inspire someone, maybe these references will also. People have said that I’m the greatest lyricist ever, and that’s not some awkward brag on my part, just something that I’ve been told. When I get told it I’m like, “here are ten lyricists are better than me!” Because why read that dumbass atheist guy Richard Dawkins when you can read Nietzsche? Why obsess over my lyrics when you can obsess over Aaron Weiss’s from Mewithoutyou? Just superior!

Fair enough! But dude, did you like their new single, ‘Julia (Or, ‘Holy to the Lord’ on the Bells of Horses)’? It’s actually one of my favourite Mewithoutyou songs!

Man, I haven’t even heard it because I’m in Australia right now. I’ve read the lyrics five times already but haven’t heard the actual song yet. I can’t wait to hear it!

It’s so good. The line “who do you think needs who more” just wrecks me. Anyway, one thing you’ve said before about Nietzsche in this album’s bio is talking about this idea of eternal return; Amor fati, the lover’s fate. Pertaining to the philosophy of the record, when do you think this “end” began? Do you think it’s here or that it’s yet to come?

In Eschatology, the idea of the end and how it all translates, I discovered a guy by the name of Albert Schweitzer, who once said: “It is, and it is yet to come”. I believe that on a religious level that the kingdom of God is here but how also not quite here. We’re in a grey area right now. And maybe that’s a non-answer, or maybe it’s the best we can do. It’s really hard to speak in a binary about this.

For sure. It’s not black and white. I personally believe that the end will happen one day but not in the way that people expect. That we’re in this horrible limbo between it all.

And it’s also a matter of how long is ‘soon’ too. If our universe is however many billions of years old, what is soon?

Exactly. It’s all bigger picture. I also wanted to ask about the song that closes the record, ‘Depths III’. I find it very cool how you can almost plot the course and sound of Silent Planet as a band via these series of three songs, and I love how they all re-use certain motifs and lyrics. Do you feel this series will keep going or if this will be the last one?

Honestly? From where I’m sitting right now, I think it might be the last one. That might be it. The beautiful thing about Silent Planet is that so much of it is influenced by the conversations I have with people. I never want Silent Planet to ever just be about me, I want it to about us. So I dunno, someone might say something and all of a sudden, Depths IV is an idea for me. I think it’s the end. But I think it would also not be true to form to say that it’s completely the end.

Silent Planet, 2018. Photo credit: Jonathan Mazaltov.

Much like this whole album’s theme! Also, I loved how the intro track, ‘And Thus Spoke’, has the lyric “On the night God slept, everything was sound”. Loved those two references. I immediately knew it was going to be a solid record, and it was.

Thank you so much for listening to it, man! Can I ask you, what are are some of your gut reactions to the album?

Well, ‘Everything Was Sound’ is still my favourite, but this one’s solid; still has plenty of merit and depth. ‘Visible Unseen’ is probably one of my favourite Silent Planet tracks. ‘Lower Empire’, with those vocoder effects, is an amazing song. I also enjoyed ‘In Absence’, because it’s Thomas [Freckleton, bass/vocals] for most of it, then you come in towards the end for that contrast. That dual vocal dynamic is executed so well there; that whole light-dark vibe.

I agree! And man, ‘Visible Unseen’ is probably one of my favourite tracks that we’ve ever written too. One song that I do think will really grow on people is ‘Afterdusk’ [the fourth track], but that it will take a long time. It’s kind of a strange one but if people can connect with it, it could go really far for people.

I think that’s a big part of Silent Planet, how people impart their own experiences onto your music. Like how people who know military personnel or who work in politics may be hit harder by ‘Northern Fires (Guernica)’, or someone who has battled drug issues will latch onto ‘Share The Body’. With the last album, I gravitate towards ‘Psychescape’, as I have someone close to me who’s had horrific schizophrenic episodes in their life. While this new record may not personally reach the same peak the last one did, it’s still a powerful listen.

No, I get that. Thank you so much for being honest. I believe a lot of people will get this record and realize that it’s a slightly different Silent Planet release for us. I think it’s a bit more to the point with the songs, whereas ‘Everything Was Sound’ was maybe a bit more explorative. It’s almost like a combination of our last two albums in some way too. As a band, we’re gonna keep growing, and we’ll keep evolving and changing. So well see!

‘When The End Began’ arrives November 2nd via UNFD. 

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