Donovan Melero, the drummer and vocalist of the always-impeccable Hail The Sun, is an emotional surgeon of sorts. He takes an introspective scalpel, props himself on the gurney, and begins to cut into himself and his life; exposing his innermost thoughts, anxieties and ideas – on both internal and external matters – and expressing it through the band’s intricate music. This has been true of previous Hail The Sun records, but it reaches its summit with new record, ‘Mental Knife’ (out September 28th). Through creating a “best of” release that touches upon every style aspect of where the band has been before, but still being exceptionally well-written and executed, I have no reason not to label ‘Mental Knife’ as the band’s finest work. It’s built with real care, features their usual high-level of musicianship, and is arguably the most honest sharing Donovan has ever presented the world with yet. Seriously, it would not at all be a stretch to label this album as: “Selt-Critical: The Musical”. So, of course, I had to ask Donovan about all things pertaining to ‘Mental Knife’. Thankfully, he was more than happy to indulge me!
I instantly noticed how darker in tone and heavier musically this record was from past Hail The Sun work, but also how it retains the melodic and technical sensibilities too. It’s kinda like a “best of” release for the band; taking elements from the past albums and forging them into one really strong, cohesive whole! I’m wondering if that was the intent, or maybe at least how you’ve come to now view the sound of this new record, Donovan?
I love to hear that. Thank you! We didn’t intentionally plan to make a darker or heavier record. We just really love to play that type of music, and it translated into this record.
Yeah, as you said, it translated really well. So what happened in your life to create this “mental knife”; to do this kind of deeper self-reflection on yourself? Was it something sudden or perhaps something that’s been a long time coming for you, personally?
Regardless of how I may act or seem on the outside, like many people, I am very self-critical. I will obsess on things I say or do throughout the day, and it leads me to wish I wasn’t a certain way. I think many can relate to this, I’m not one out a million or anything, but I decided that’s what I was feeling at the time so I wrote about it.
Well, what have you learnt about the band or maybe even yourself since writing Mental Knife and having sat on it for a while? Do you feel any different about the songs you’ve written and lyrics you’ve penned now that the album is almost out?
I’ve learned that we are extremely efficient under intense pressure [laughs]. No matter how much we are stressing, we will never release music we don’t like and approve of ourselves. This has been seen time and time again. I have learned that I also need to give myself a break during the process as well.
Of course, burn out is real and it hits hard. Likewise, what do you hope people can take from this new record? To learn more about you as a person and as an artist, or to learn about themselves? Perhaps both?
Both would be great, but honestly, I just want people to think critically about everyday life happenings.
With a song like ‘The Strangers in our Pictures’, I’ve been thinking about what your close friends and family might have said to you about these new songs? Do they understand what’s been struck at here with your lyrics or are they maybe indifferent?
They do understand, they just might not all relate. This experience has been open to everyone I love and trust for a long time already. I’m just already able to reach back and pull from it. They really like those songs.
At least they dig the tunes! I find it very interesting how at the start of ‘Suffocating Syndrome’ you refer to God as “it”. Whether it be in Hail The Sun’s lyrics or in your own personal life, what role or meaning does faith and religion have to you, if any?
I wanted the beginning of that song to immediately get someone to think – exercise their brains. No one knows what or who God is. God could be in all of us, or some of us, or none of us. I have to have faith in a higher power because while I take credit for my accomplishments, there have been times in my life where I had to lean on something bigger than myself because I felt defeated and didn’t have the foresight to think that this could all be what is supposed to happen. I am constantly counting my blessings and grateful for whatever force is out there.
So with the same song, and with lyrically stating that it’s better to live for now than any kind of potential afterlife, is that a perspective that’s changed over time for you or one you’ve always held? Is that maybe a part of the growth and self-discovery behind all of ‘Mental Knife’ as a record?
I’ve actually always felt that way. I am NOT anti-religion. Some of my good friends are very religious and it can be a great thing. This is more for the lives that, in my eyes, are not used to their full potential because they are living how they think they should live, not how they want, to get into an afterlife. If that is how it winds up in the end, well then… I’m fucked!
With both drumming and doing the lead vocals, are you cautious of what you write and create in the studio, knowing that when the band tours, you have to re-create what you’ve tracked? Technical or otherwise?
I write them pretty separate from each other and just end up punishing myself if it’s too difficult. We also have a touring drummer play a lot of our set live now, and he can take over on some of the songs where I want to be in the front, and the drums are their own monster.
Hey, whatever works best for the show, I suppose. Other than the band’s logo appearing on the new record’s front cover, I’m wondering what the intent of that image is? If I had to take a hunch, it’s like your searching for a signal or a frequency of sorts to find your way, and the path you find is via the work of Hail The Sun.
Correct! Its a hospital setting to illustrate the surgical lyrics of ‘Mental Knife’, and we also just really think that the image looks cool too [laughs].