Trap Them Interview Exclusive with Ryan McKenney
Blow The Scene Editor, Joshua Cohen caught up with Trap Them vocalist Ryan McKenney on Friday, Sept 10, 2010 at God City Studios on the third day of recording as the band tracks their highly anticipated full-length debut for Prosthetic Records. This unnamed, forthcoming release, comes on the heels of 4-song E.P. Filth Rations, released on Southern Lord Recordings this past Spring. Filth Rations serves as a tasty appetizer for what is yet to come as Trap Them compels ongoing praise from both aggressive music fans and critics alike. This acclaim surrounds their last full-length L.P., Seizures in Barren Praise, released in 2008 on Deathwishinc. Trap Them have been refining their punk-infused metallic onslaught since 2006, having toured and drawn recognition from powerhouse groups, such as Napalm Death, Converge, Extreme Noise Terror, and countless others. Trap Them’s sound combines elements of Swedish Death Metal and d-beat punk with buzz-saw guitar work, thick poly-rhythmic drumming, and an uncompromisingly brutal vocal attack. Trap Them is a breath of fresh air for those looking for the next level in aggressive, d-beat-oriented metal and punk infusion. Trap Them singer Ryan McKenney gives BTS readers a no-nonsense look into the band’s current influences, recording processes, upcoming tour plans, and offers additional thoughts on his epic blog post heard round the music world, and more in this full-feature interview. Enjoy!
Joshua BTS: Trap Them has had quite a prolific run since your inception, two full-length releases since you settled on the name, and four EPs, all of which, I might add, are solid contributions the extreme music corpus. Is the prolific output of material one of the main driving factors for the band?
Ryan McKenney: Yes. Its intentional. We like to go in at least once a year and alternate between between a full-length and an E.P. It seems like a more obvious choice for us to do. We’re at the point where we still really haven’t run out of ideas. Some bands take like two years to go back in and they record like two songs and leave it at that. I think once you latch on to exactly what you like playing, it becomes something that isn’t that hard to do as much as possible. I think as the well starts to run dry we may take more time between each release, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Joshua BTS: For anyone that really knows anything about the current punk, hardcore, and metal scene – Kurt Ballou is very much known for being able to capture a fantastic sound at God City Studios. The albums that come out of God City are consistently rich with an analogue feel. I feel that Trap Them really exemplifies this sound with each release. Would you say its fare to say that Trap Them and Kurt share a common vision and sound preferences of what you are going for?
Ryan McKenney: I think so. The first time we came in it was just Brian and I and the songs were written with a drum machine and then replayed in a live atmosphere by a drummer we just had do it. We came in and played Kurt demos of what the songs were and he latched on right away. Obviously him being in Converge, he is familiar with a lot of the bands we’re taking influence from and he can also pinpoint the influences that no one still seems to figure out are our main influences. He latched on right away. He got it. He knew this was going to be a dirty band and that there was never going to be a polished pro-tools sounding album from us, and that’s been consistent every time we go in. He knows our sound, he knows what we are going for, it’s a good relationship.
Joshua BTS: That’s interesting that you say he can hear certain influences in your music that no one else can. What were some of those influences that Kurt pulled out?
Ryan McKenney: As far as heavier stuff – there is obviously a Swedish Death-metal influence but it’s not even close to [Random dude tries to bum tries to bum a smoke from Ryan] I don’t have a smoke dude -sorry..God’…
Joshua BTS: (hahaha)
Ryan McKenney: Ya we take a little bit of that sound but as far as song writing and structure we take more from a lot of rock songs. Brian and I love Hot Snakes and things like that. What people don’t realize, that’s more what we pattern what we do, it’ more of a rock feel. Kurt noticed that right away. There was a couple times he pulled out Queens of the Stone Age and stuff like that and we were like ‘Ya. We like em. Of course we like em.’ And of course that different stuff influences us, it’s catchy and there’s no compromise in the song writing just for accessibility, that’s kind of how we take our song writing in this band.
Joshua BTS: Very cool. Is there anything drastically different to your approach to this record as opposed to the ones you have done in the past there?
Ryan McKenney: This one is a lot more focused and fully realized what this band has been gearing itself towards and think when it comes out, a lot of people are going to realize that. We’ve hinted here and there about progressions in the sound we are going for and I think on this record it’s being fully executed. It doesn’t hurt the fact that we are a full band now. We are a consistent, solid lineup and as far as songwriting, we were way more prepared for this record then we have been for any other one so far. There’s always a spontaneity when we go into the studio. We keep at-least part of every record something we do on the spot because it enhances what we always go for anyway, which is a little bit more of a free punk and rock influenced metallic sound.
Joshua BTS: I can definitely here that in all of your music and that’s very interesting. To focus on your lyrical content and your actual writing. One aspect of your writing that I find particularly interesting is the fact that each song title since the release of Sleepwell Deconstructor is delineated by day. What originally sparked the idea for this running motif that you’ve had throughout your writing and do you have any plans of straying away from that for this forthcoming record?
Ryan McKenney: No straying away, definitely. It’s actually increased and the days are numbered again. What it basically comes down to is that I had an older band that was way more influenced by blunt reality as far as lyricism goes. It was something more where I dealt with political and social issues in a straightforward way and what I was trying to say, I absolutely said. I feel like the last record I did with that band I couldn’t say anything more in a blunt way like that. I felt like I had said everything I really wanted to and I had to look at a different approach. I’ve always respected fictional writers and creating stories and story-lines and novels around a specific idea and having them reflect into something recognizable and comparable in real life. And that’s kind of the influence I took when I started doing this. I started immediately with the days being numbered and things like that because I knew what I was gearing towards. It’s been a progression. Each release is sort of a different thematic element of the same storyline. After a while it just became much more liberating to write in that way than a verse-chorus-verse-chorus type of lyricism. I’ve never been good at that and I’m probably never going to be that good at that. I have to write in a paragraph. I’m not a catch phrase guy, I’m more of a couple sentences guy.
Joshua BTS: Right. Very Cool. Can you briefly touch on this running motif as it seems from song to song there is some bend, and the specific themes switch a lot. Are you touching on any new themes within this context?
Ryan McKenney: None that are going to be blatantly recognizable. It’s the story of a small town world full of depression and everything that everyday life in most places deals with. Anybody who’s grown up most of their life in a suburban or straight up smaller town life can recognize stuff here and there from what I’m saying. I’m not attacking anything even further that will be very obvious and that’s part of the fun I have with this – is that I’d rather be a little more cryptic and leave the readers and the listeners to have their own conclusions to as to what exactly I am hinting around at.
Joshua BTS: Now what I’d like to do for a few minutes is shift gears into some sociopolitical topics. I know your musical tastes and obviously the history of the bands you’ve been in and Trap Them, I would say is definitely rooted and based in punk culture. From that epic response that you had to the blog that posed the question “Are Corporate Fest Killing Underground Live Shows?” It’s obvious you have no shortage of opinion. I’d like to touch on that for a second. To me, in this context, it seems almost obnoxious to even pose the question in the first place of “Are Corporate Fests Killing Underground Live Shows” because every show is corporate sponsored in some way or another. For instance; How do you get to the show? You fill up at BP. Who made the rock T-shirt you’re wearing? Haines. Who made the chucks we’re wearing when we go to these shows? It’s converse. The question I want to pose to you is this – Is there truly anyway to be off the grid? How do you deal with and rationalize the inherent hypocrisy that all of us who go to punk shows, go to metal shows, and the underground scene..How do deal with that?
Ryan McKenney: To be honest, I stopped caring about it years ago. I mean it’s one of those situations where it is unavoidable. Strait up, if you’re going on tour you’re going on tour in a van that was built by Ford or Chevy or something like that. It’s literally impossible to avoid corporate America and I don’t even try anymore. There are still little things that I have in my mind. I don’t really go out and buy a new pair of Nikes or anything like that. I don’t really go to Walmart and certain things, but what it comes down to is I have a change in opinions. When you first start going to punk and hardcore shows and you’re influenced by what’s being said and you take that word as law. A lot of younger, impressionable kids just take that and go for it for a while and believe in it. And to a certain extent, I still believe in certain punk ethics and punk values. But quite honestly, times have changed and the speech is about that and the attempts to accomplish certain things in that aspect are just null. I’m in my thirties, I have my opinions, I have my values and they’re rooted more in and around the people I love than attacking corporate worlds. Who’s to say Converse sponsors something like that, you know why I’m getting a free pair of shoes out of it. Whatever. You know I just..We stopped caring about it and that’s just what it comes down to. I’m not going to deny it. I’m not going to be a hypocrite about anything. A lot of kids who might have had something negative to say about what I said, they’re probably posting on a message board from their iPhones. So right there they can go fuck themselves.
Joshua BTS: (haha I agree. Well said ) So kind of on a similar note – Are there any activist or social organizations that have your interest and you really support right now?
Ryan McKenney: To be honest man, I stay away from politics as much as I possibly can at this point. It was a lot easier when I was younger and I was single and I had a focus on more modern topics and things of that nature. As I’ve gotten older my priorities have changed. I focus on the things that directly relate to me in an everyday emotional and visual level. I’m more focused on supporting my wife as she goes to school or taking care of my dog or that making sure when I’m home from tour, I’m working fifty, sixty hours a week so that rent is paid, bills are paid, and I don’t have issues to stress over. The world is too large and too overwhelming for me to able to focus on all of these things that I know are wrong. I read a lot of books and still read a lot of newspapers and Internet sites that address current affairs and current issues, but I read it more just to feel like I’m informed, but not to have an influence my way of life.
Joshua BTS: Interesting. So to shift gears and get back into the music.. Yesterday it was announced that Trap Them is going to be doing a US tour run with Every Time I Die and Howl, which in my opinion is a sick lineup. Pretty stoked on this. How did this tour come to be? Are you guys all friends? Or is this something out of the blue?
Ryan McKenney: I’ve been a fan of Every Time i Die for a long time. I love what they do. I thinks it’s a very creative approach to aggressive music. Andy from Every Time I Die was an enthusiast of Trap Them and originally last January we were going to go to Australia with them, we got offered to that and we were stoked but certain things happened and we weren’t able to do it and we just kept in touch over this amount of time. And the opportunity finally came up this time around and we were free, was perfect, perfect timing for us and of course we’re going to do it. That’s a great band to watch every night. Same with Howl. These are the types of tours you hope you get.
Joshua BTS: Absolutley.
Ryan McKenney: We’re glad to be able to be on it. And hopefully by the end of it we all fuckin’ love each other’s bands and have a great month.
Joshua BTS: Awesome. Do you have any prospective release dates of when this record you are working on is actually going to be out?
Ryan McKenney: Probably going to be late February, early March. Originally it was thought to come out in the fall, but when it comes down to it – you want to be on tour when the record comes out, so honestly, if that thing came out in January or February which is sooner – that would be great but I’m not in the mood to die driving through the Rockies in Denver during a snowstorm in the middle of the dead of winter.
Joshua BTS: [Laughs]
Ryan McKenney: Ya, it seems a little bit smarter to wait and March is a perfect time for us. We have it all mapped out. Pretty much through the beginning of March on – we’re going to fill up the rest of the year with tours. Just makes sense.
Joshua BTS: Rad. So as far the artwork or the title of the album, have you guys thought that far ahead yet? Or is it something that is still developing?
Ryan McKenney: We’ve got everything done, title and layout, stuff like that, but we’re keeping that all secret for a while longer.
Joshua BTS: Got ya.
Ryan Mckenney: I love teasers.
Joshua BTS: Right on.
Ryan McKenney: I think this time around we can finally do that. Prosthetic is very much behind us – kind of just hinting around at everything we want to do and what the record is based around, everything about it. Slowly but surely information will trickle out.
Joshua BTS: I know you touched on this earlier in the conversation you’ve settled on a solid lineup with Chris from Coliseum joining on drums. For the foreseeable future, do you see this remaining the core of Trap Them?
Ryan McKenney: Oh absolutely. I mean this is a perfect lineup for us, as far as everything concerned. Chris and Brian’s chemistry as far as song-writing together is just..awesome. I mean when they started sending me demos I was just like fuck – you guys were separated at birth and finally found each other and fit so well.
Joshua BTS: [Laughs]
Ryan McKenney: And as far as touring goes we’re all in sync with each other. It’s four dysfunctional dudes having a good time playing music. If one dudes’ acting crazy for a couple days, depressed and hates the world and wants to shoot everything, the rest of us are ok with it. And you know he moves on from that and the next one has their meltdown. No one ever hates each other and no one ever gets sick of each other..it’s just good. We’re all understanding, we’re all older guys with the same motives and it just fits.
Joshua BTS: Here’s where we’ll segue into the close – this is the point where I ask you if you had to shake that magic eight ball and try and look into the future what do you see the future holding for Trap Them both short term and long term?
Ryan McKenney: I see us finishing recording, taking a couple weeks off and going on tour. Coming home, busting our asses working until we can afford to go on tour for the rest of 2011. We have basically ironed out what we consider an 18-month plan as far as touring and shows and all that. We’re giving this a full record cycle, I think we’ll probably promote and tour on this record for a good 18 months. And then once we get the inch again, we’ll head back here.
Joshua BTS: Right on. Very cool Ryan. Really appreciate your time and we look forward to keeping up with your future endeavors and doing some follow-up interviews for the readers.
Ryan McKenney: Absolutely Man. I fully appreciate you giving me a call for this.
Photos Courtesy of BrooklynVegan Adam L. Murray (header image and Live Ryan McKenney Photos), Nathaniel Shannon, Dave Killebrew, Trap Them.