We are pleased to offer Blow The Scene readers around the world an exclusive interview with Die Young vocalist and front-man Daniel Austin as the release of band’s latest full-length, No Illusions, is now imminent on Good Fight Music. For those just tuning in, Die Young has been a staple of the Texas hardcore scene spanning back to 2002 with the release of band’s first recorded effort, Songs For The Converted– complete in CD-R form. Through years of commitment and numerous releases on some of the most sought-after underground labels, touring around the world, appearances at staple festivals like the annual This is Hardcore fest in Philadelphia, and now through band’s most recent signing with Good Fight Music– Die Young has carved a permanent niche. Aside from the dedication the members commit to instrumentation and craft, they are able blend exciting elements of hardcore and metal. The lyrical content focuses on a range real-world humanitarian and social issues with a penchant for spreading the good word of vegan culture. Without further ado, let’s hear directly from Daniel Austin and be sure to stream the sample tracks from No Illusions below the interview.
BTS: When people say vegans ‘aren’t healthy’, or ‘don’t get enough nutrients’, or ‘can’t compete with meat-eaters in sports like powerlifting, boxing’, and so-on..You are are always one of the counterpoints I think of. Vegan, power-lifter, well-educated on the facts and not afraid of a debate… You have a video channel ‘Vegan Meathead‘ where you discuss and post videos on a number of vegan nutritional points and muscle building… Do you view veganism as a movement and something that should be forwarded as such? And what do think are the biggest hurdles to bringing veganism to the masses?
Daniel: There are definitely a million different ways to promote veganism. First and foremost for me, it is an ethical decision that comes from the rationale of not killing and not paying for killing to be done because killing is no longer necessary to health and survival. And I think that’s the kind of point I try to drive home on my Vegan Meathead channel and page: you can thrive and build strength without killing so there is really no reason to kill anymore. I have been able to consistently build strength for years now–as a vegan–to the point where I’ve reached a competitive level and am stronger than a lot of meat-eaters who train just like I do. I am by no means the best lifter out there, but I am still improving all the time–on a vegan diet.
I am of the opinion that animals do not care what reason a person uses to motivate his or herself to stop killing and eating them. If someone stops eating animals purely for self-interested health reasons, that’s great. If someone goes vegan out of ethical principle to try avoid causing violence, environmental damage and suffering, that’s also great. I tend to think the people who stay vegan are the ones who do out of those kinds of ethical principles, but the result is the same to the animals. Whatever works.
With my Vegan Meathead page I try to show that veganism is easy, convenient, tasty, colorful, and yes–you do stand to gain from it personally as well. You can become as strong or fast as you’d like as a vegan if you learn to take your training and eating habits seriously–just like non-vegans. It is a win/win for everyone when you go vegan. But just as there a million ways to promote veganism, there is much infighting among advocates and activists about whose methods are the best methods, and due to that I think the biggest hurdles veganism faces are vegans themselves. I know people who would otherwise be vegan if it wasn’t for finding outspoken vegans annoying…which, to be fair, is silly because it disregards the ethical dialogue that is the basis of trying to not cause more suffering in the world, but I get it, and that is the reality the movement faces. Some vegans are a real pain in the ass. They’re sometimes whiny, or weak and reactionary, nothing is ever good enough for them–not even advancements in animal welfare, their sense of humor often sucks, and they often hysterically post 10 things a day about animal suffering on social media and drive their friends and family crazy… So quite simply, vegans often need to try to gain some objectivity about their own behavior and then try to present themselves to everyone else in the world as personable, well-balanced, likeable people. I’d dare say it that vegans ought to take some special care to get in shape and get strong to show people that a vegan diet lacks nothing nutritionally–which I try to do as a powerlifter. The greater population is never going to emulate a minority of people they find impossible to be around, listen to, or look at. And that is just the sad reality of it. People, for the most part, most people are superficial and shallow in their justifications for the things they do and find it easiest in life to just go along with groupthink (trends, religion, traditions, customs, etc.) so it stands to reason that advocates just need to accept that use it to the animals’ advantage.
BTS: What’s it like being a vegan in the deep South- specifically Texas? I feel like here in Philly and other East Coast cities like NYC, B-more, Brooklyn, DC, etc we’re fairly spoiled with amount of vegan options and general attitudes towards veganism. Are you finding it easier and more convenient to be a vegan in the South as well?
Daniel: You know, I lived in Philly for a year, and I have been fortunate to spend most of my adult life traveling too, so I have a good idea of how accessible vegan options are just about anywhere. Comparatively, I can honestly say being vegan in Houston, Texas, or in any other big Texas city is not difficult. When it comes to dining out, yeh, Philly and NYC and California cities have Houston beat in terms of specific vegan menus and restaurants. Philly’s vegan bar food options are pretty fucking unbeatable, but Houston is actually the most culturally diverse city in America, so the vegan dining options are ample here even though there may not be as many specifically-vegan restaurants as in NYC or Los Angeles. Instead we have a ton of ethnic varieties to choose from–Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian, Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, and more–all of which have tons of vegan options by default, and then we have a few vegan/vegetarian places here as well.
And when it comes to cooking at home, we’ve got Whole Foods and Sprouts, as well as a ton of conventional chain grocers like Kroger, HEB, and Randall’s (Safeway) that typically carry all the alternative meat and dairy substitute items one can need (like Tofurky, Daiya, Field Roast, Gardein, Silk, Beyond Meat, etc.), and I see those kinds of items are only becoming more popular–even in Texas. My lady and I recently bought some property in nowhere, West Texas, near one town with a population of 6000, and another with a population of less than 100, and in both towns you can get at least some of those same kinds of items I listed. If you can be a vegan in West Texas, you can really do it anywhere. There are really no excuses for privileged Americans anymore.
BTS: To jump into the music now- I hear a lot of metal influence on this debut record by Die Young for Good Fight Music. Despite this being your Good Fight debut, Die Young has had a long history of releases prior and is renowned among the hardcore touring circuit. That said- No Illusions is not exactly what I expected from the band, more metal and thrash influences rising to the surface than previous efforts and the record sounds great. How did the song development of No Illusions compare to your prior works? It seems both vocally and musically the band was inspired by a lot of ‘golden-era’ metal like Slayer and hardcore crossover, such as Cro-Mags. Is that a fair assessment? And how do you all manage to craft and develop songs? What does the writing process look like prior to entering the studio?
Daniel: I think Slayer‘s influence in metallic music is almost unavoidable. You can make nods to Slayer without even intending to, and I think it is fair to say this is not our first release where we were pulling from Slayer in the riff department. The breakdown to the song “The Trail of Tears” back in 2008…yeh, Slayer. The song “Conditioned” on our previous record, Chosen Path...more Slayer. Just about any breakdown or mosh part we’ve ever written with triplet picking on an open note…Slayer, Slayer, Slayer. The Slayer influences have been there for a long time for us, as well as for our subgenre and most any band we grew up listening to. All Out War, Ringworm, Integrity, In Cold Blood…all Slayer-worship bands, and those are all bands we essentially worship and borrow ideas from too. I’d say there are three bands whose influence is unavoidable in most good metallic hardcore bands: classic era Slayer, classic era Metallica, and Motorhead. You typically can’t write fast, thrashy music without making nods to those bands, even when you don’t mean to, but even considering that, I’d say the main influences that made this new Die Young record different than our previous records were not those bands, because Slayer, Metallica and Motorhead have been influencing my songwriting for a long time now. I’d credit the new elements to this record more to bands like Behemoth, Crowbar, Carcass, and At The Gates. We put in a lot more dark guitar harmonies and a lot more grooving parts that are unlike thrash metal completely. So while there is a lot of fast thrashy material on this album, I’d say there is a lot of slower, chunkier material too. It’s by far our most dynamic and musical release. There honestly wasn’t too much hardcore source material we pulled from on this album, but there are a couple nods to 90s era bands we love like Indecision, One King Down, and Undying (to name a few).
For the most part I came up with songs on my own starting with guitar parts and lyrical ideas. We did try to collaborate a little more on this album, but when I get spurts of creativity I end up writing nearly half an album at a time. They are big spurts, and it is hard for everyone else to keep up once the material starts flowing out of me. We ended up with more material for this album that I intended to have. We started a private Soundcloud page where I uploaded everything I had written and tired to get the guys to give me input on the riffs. We’re spread out out between 3 different cities, so sharing ideas online was essential to making this album happen. I am the kind of person who imagines what kind of drum beats go to each riff as I come up with it, so for other guys in the band listening to bare guitar riffs on a Soundcloud was unproductive, because they could often not hear the drums as I was hearing them in my head. Then Mike (our drummer) and I would get together a couple times a month to start fleshing the songs out and add the versions with drums to Soundcloud so everyone could get acquainted. Mike and I live 3 hours apart, so we’d have to plan our practices out weeks or more in advance. Often I’d drive out to San Marcos on a Saturday night, wait for him to get off work at midnight or so, and then we go practice in his practice space until 3 AM. Or he’d drive to Houston in the middle of the week and we’d practice when I got off work. We’d try to flesh out one song per practice, and then get feedback from everyone the following week once they could listen to it on the Soundcloud. Our lead guitarist at the time was not digging the process Mike and I had going because he typically could not attend the practices or writing sessions, so he ended up leaving the band.
Then we found our new lead guitarist, Allan, soon after, and he was a great fit from the start. By the time Allan joined the band, the rest of us were in basic agreement about the songs Mike and I had put together, so I basically just had to sit down with Allan a number of times and help him produce the solos. I’d be like “this part needs a Jeff Hanneman style solo, or this one needs Bill Steer type solo, or this one needs some Kirk Hammett type action,” which was all great, because even though Allan is the youngest guy in the band by more than half a decade, he is into classic metal influences and almost always knew exactly what I was going for. He is also a guitar nerd and knows all kinds of scales I don’t even have any clue about. I told him the solo in the song “Automatons” needs to sound “robotic” because it a song about unthinking people who commit acts of violence in the name of power, and he did some magic that totally sounds robotic and mechanical, but also fits the song really well.
BTS: How did you come to link up with Good Fight Music? And do you feel it’s been a good fit for the band thus far in the relationship? How does this current relationship and promotion process compare to previous record cycles?
Daniel: Rick from Good Fight actually came to the last show we played in Philadelphia (the one with Catharsis and Die Choking in August 2015). It was a great show, and he bought a couple records from us, so that was when the conversation started about working together. We kept in touch about doing a record ever since then, and about 4 months later we finally finalized a deal to go forward with this album. I am big fan of what Good Fight has going on right now–they’ve got a lot of my current favorite bands like Axis, Of Feather and Bone, Hollow Earth, and more. It’s a great fit for Die Young, I think, and it’s even better that Rick has a such a down to earth approach about working with the bands, and it’s awesome that you can tell he really loves the bands Good Fight is signing too. It’s not just business. I’d say it feels like a labor of love with the vibe they have going now, and that is the kind of vibe that is important for Die Young to work with. So far I’d say it’s the most involved a record label has ever been with us, and it’s a relief to me that what I feel like is our best record will get more attention than any record we’ve done before simply because the label is so invested in it.
BTS: Take us through the recording process for No Illusions with Craig Douglas (Bitter End, Venomous Maximus) at Origin Sound. Being that you’ve worked with Douglas before- What does Douglas add or draw from the band that inspired you to work with him in the first place and still keeps you coming back?
Daniel: Craig is an old friend who has been recording for nearly as long as I have been into hardcore music. He really got my attention as an engineer much later with that first Bitter End full length, Climate of Fear. So we did our 2008 EP, Loss, with him, and it was the first time we ever worked with him. The cool thing about Craig is that he grew up on all the same kinds of metal and hardcore we did–old 90s Roadrunner Records stuff like Machine Head or Sepultura, and a lot of the other kinds of metal and hardcore bands I’ve mentioned in this interview, so he almost always knows our points of reference as soon as we start talking about them. He was the first engineer to help me capture my voice on recording in a way I like to hear consistently, so after the Loss EP some of us formed a new band, Band of Mercy, and we have done all the Band of Mercy records with him as well, but those were all short EPs–in and out in two days. Then Mike, Eric, and I also play in Will To Live, and we did the last Will To Live full length with Craig, too. At this point working at the studio with him is just like hanging out. It’s practically a home away from home, and there’s no pressure. We’re all friends working on something we love together. He brings a lot to the table creatively, like he did on the Bitter End full length Guilty as Charged. For me it is their best record with their best production and a lot of the ambience, tones, and extra musical touches that took the album to the next level of production and musicianship can be credited to Craig’s guidance and ear in the studio. It made me wonder what we could do with him doing a proper full length on a full-length proper budget, so I am glad we got to put in solid time and work do this record with him.
BTS: Take us through average recording session with Douglas from front to back.
Daniel: It all depends on what you’re working on for each session. In years past we never had much of a budget to work with so we’d be in and out in two days and follow up with a quick mix that same week. But on this record, we spent one evening setting up drums and getting drum sounds. Then we spent two solid days of Mike laying down takes for all the songs. He was annihilated. 16 songs in two days is a lot, especially for how hard he plays. Mike is really picky about his craft, so even though some takes were great, he often wanted to do more takes for good measure. We did all the drums the first weekend, but then when we did guitars and bass Eric and I would go up to the studio after work on weekdays. Sometimes traffic would be so bad getting to the northern burbs where the studio is we wouldn’t get there until 8pm or so, so we’d work sometimes until 1am, and head home to get some sleep and go back to work early the next morning. It was a solid week and a half of that, and we’d try to fit vocals in here or there so that I wouldn’t have to do more than a couple songs at a time. Craig’s attitude was always casual, but he has a good ear for the small details, and let’s us know when we need to do something better. His assistant, Mark Lopez, is the same way–their both seasoned metalheads with an ear for precision. If I said I wanted to take a break from guitars and lay some vocal tracks down, Craig would say “sure, whatever you want to do.” Shit got crazy though because we had barely finished tracking the record and went on tour with Madball, so we weren’t present when he started doing versions of the mix. He also had a bunch of other mixes for other bands due at the same, like War Master, who had a deadline right around when we had a deadline. That probably would have all been just fine, but Houston experienced some insane flooding this past Spring, and his studio actually got hit pretty hard a couple times. There was no major gear damage or anything, but his floors got messed up, and in parts mildew started to set in, so he had to tear a lot of the floors out, and it made it really hard for him to finish the record for us at the time. I felt bad for the dude.
BTS: What’s your take on the current political climate in the US? Incredible times we’re living in. Historic presidential race, social and racial unrest domestically, foreign issues such as Brexit, the refugee crisis, the attempted coup in Turkey, to name but a tiny few… What role do you see the music community playing in all this? How does this social and political climate play on roll in your lyric development and theme development as a band?
Daniel: Fuck. Well… in some ways it is an incredible, almost unbelievable time to be alive, but historically we can see that we’re somehow in a comparatively peaceful time of human tenure. Somehow we’re living longer than centuries past. Perhaps we just have more access to vivid information about what is happening all around the world, and it makes us more sensitive or volatile in response. For me, just trying to keep up with the news is overwhelmingly painful in a mental and emotional capacity. There is so much suffering to consider–so much so that it is hard to know the most efficient way to do anything about any of it. I can’t fathom what girls and women are enduring in war-torn Syria or Pakistan, or central and eastern Africa. I can’t fathom what it’s like to be born into a situation where you’ll likely have no future to look forward to, so in an effort to escape your hostile environment you end up drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. And that’s just a taste of how awful things are for some people, let alone animals. For now, just so I don’t end up writing a novel here, let’s not talk about the billions of animals living the most miserable lives imaginable on feed lots and factory farms…it’s just too much for me sometimes.
Just living in the neighborhood I live in–in south central Houston, I find stray dogs and cats malnourished and wasting away from internal parasites on a weekly basis. There are uneducated people in my neighborhood who leave their dogs outside all year on a chain, which is legal, unfortunately. In the cases where it may be so neglectful that it is illegal, the law is rarely enforced. One dog from the neighborhood, Betty, now lives in my house and has a deep scar all around her neck from where a chain became embedded in her neck or got so hot that it burned her. Or both. Her ears were cut off, and when I first took her to the doctor she was prescribed ear drops for an ear infection she had, but when I tried to apply anything to her ears she would panic and run away. She was traumatized from what people did to her before we found her in the street outside our house.
Nearly every dog I find has heartworms, and I wonder what it would feel like to have your heart and lungs eaten from within by worms, and to die from it slowly and painfully through the course of years. I have seen people in my neighborhood try to hit stray dogs with a shovel, purposefully hit stray cats with their cars, and even in the case where I have talked to anyone about these problems or have given them literature about spaying/neutering, or treating and preventing heartworms, I’ve just been treated like weirdo or pain in their ass. One guy told me I am the one who needs to be neutered, simply because I wanted to help him get his dog treatment and get fixed. When my partner confronted the neighbor who tried to hit a dog with a shovel he raised the shovel at her and threatened her to stay away. So forgive me if I’ve become more misanthropic with age. The misanthropy is rampant on this album.
Likewise, you ride the bus around Houston and you see people whose minds have been wasted by the elements, from living on the streets and living under a haze of addiction just to physically survive the nightmare of their lives. I’ve seen some crazy shit on public transportation–in both Houston and Philly. You wonder what the point of life is once you see people existing like that–animals too. I saw a crazy guy once threaten a bus driver who told him be had to pay the bus fare. He was an african immigrant who barely spoke English. He started casting curses on the bus driver and told him he’d put a curse on his whole family, so the bus driver called the cops. The cops came and tried to taze the guy, but he started fighting back, and he eventually wound up getting tazed and falling and splitting his head open on a bus seat. Blood was spurting everywhere and bus had to be evacuated due to the biohazard. Last year I encountered a crazy white guy on the bus missing all his front teeth telling all the black people on the bus to go back where they came from, so I told the guy so sit down and shut up. He threatened to kill me. He said he was the second coming of Christ, and since I had already seen him “it was too fucking late” for me. When he got kicked off the bus he started yelling at everyone on it and kicking the bus and spitting on it from the outside. You have to wonder why people exist. People are always looking for some universal meaning to life–some purpose for being here, for being conscious, and some purpose for suffering. I’ve concluded that it’s a fruitless search. There is no reason and no purpose. People are evidence enough for me. So many people would have been better off not being born–animals too. So many people would be better off being euthanized.
I think about all these current events, global and local, and then I think about the kinds of leaders we have in Texas like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick–the lieutenant governor who believes God is trying to have a dialogue with America via Duck Dynasty. Everything is absurd and pointless. Insane people have power. Power is corrupt–look at the fucking DNC. But life goes on somehow. For some reason everyone thinks it’s a good idea to keep bringing more human beings into this mess, like it’s all fine and dandy. It’s not, and it’s never going to be. I don’t know what role the music scene is supposed to play in this shit anymore. Just like there’s no obvious purpose for life, there’s no set role for the music scene. I used to think it is a a place of refuge, but for me, at this point, the only refuge I get from music is the rapture of creativity I find in performing and expressing myself. And maybe on level there is the community aspect, too. It’s nice to be insulated by some people you can relate to. That’s something.
BTS: Can you take us through some of the lyrical motifs in No Illusions?
Daniel: I draw a lot upon the kinds of subjects I just illustrated. The album title itself is about seeing the underlying, objective truths about human behavior, as well as the idea that maybe, just maybe, the universe wasn’t created for humans like we prefer to think it is. The artwork features Abraham and Isaac from the book of Genesis. It’s one of the most absurd stories I’ve ever read, yet it is a basis for most of the world’s most popular religions. A father is told by God to sacrifice his own son as a test of obedience to God, and the father decides he needs to go through with it. And this is something celebrated by billions of people around the world? That’s insanity. If you saw your neighbor raise a knife to his son’s throat, you’d intervene, protest it, or call the cops. Because the father who does that is an insane person–not a hero, not an idol. And what does it say about the God who would test a man like that? To me, that story illustrates the malleability of the human mind. As creatures starved for symbolic meaning to our cosmically insignificant lives we become victims of suggestion–like the cops in Ferguson and Baltimore who raise their guns and threaten to shoot at reporters and protesters, like the Islamic State, like the Israeli government, like the zealots in North America who try to write laws based on their own religion. Those are just a few examples that illustrate varying degrees of insanity, but what they all have in common is that they are people willing to subject others to harm in service of something greater than themselves–just as Abraham was willing to slaughter his own son. This album takes inventory of these kinds of social and cultural problems, and then poses that life as we know it is most likely sad and meaningless with no redemption at the end of the gauntlet. People are going to rejoice when they get this thing, let me tell you. Honestly, and maybe this is just me, but listening to sad, nihilistic, heavy music helps me lift heavier weight in the gym.
BTS: What should DY fans expect as far as a touring cycle for this record? Any bands you’re looking forward to linking up with?
Daniel: We will tour when we can. Up next is a short West Coast run with Wake of Humanity in October which will feature the Himsa reunion show in Seattle. We will play Sound on Sound Fest in Austin, Texas, and we will of course play regionally close to home as often as we can. Maybe Europe next year. We try to get out as much as we can, but most of us are old men by punk standards now, and we have real responsibilities to tend to first.
BTS: What does Die Young have on the plate for rest of 2016 and beyond?
Daniel: Really, we’re just going to do everything we can to put this album in everyone’s fuckin’ ears.
Pre-order No Illusions at Good Fight Music
Digital versions at Good Fight bandcamp
Die Young on Facebook
Die Young on Bandcamp
B&W Live Pictures by BTS’s Anne Spina
Color Live Picture by BTS’s Dante Torrieri
Interview by Joshua T. Cohen