The early days of fall in Oregon’s Willamette Valley are often the best of the entire year. This particular day in early September was no exception, the evening replete with unseasonable warmth and a crisp blue sky overlooking Portland’s Hawthorne District. One day after the release of Artifex Pereo’s newest full-length album, Passengers, it couldn’t be a better day to catch the band live.
Tonight, as I’m joined by vocalist Lucas Worley and guitarist Jamie Davis before their set, I’m introduced to the spinning wheels behind the album’s complexity and mission. The band is seeking to find their own selves within the scope of their respective lives and in the industry they’ve chosen. Worley details what it’s like to be on a primarily Christian label (Tooth and Nail) but not be a faith-based artist. Worley and Davis — who is also a co-lyricist — weigh in on Artifex Pereo’s musical journey as well as what can be done to mend the fractured social infrastructure they believe we all inhabit.
It was an honest conversation with more questions than answers, an open invitation to speak candidly. The class and kindness exuded in our short discussion foreshadowed their live show, the second stop on a five week tour with I The Mighty, Dayshell, Picturesque and Grizzly.
I’m a strong believer that accolades bare more meaning when used sparingly, so it was an honest realization I came to after I stuck around for the band’s set: When their set was over, I told my best friend it was easily the best set I’ve seen live. I still mean it. It wasn’t the greatest audio — the sound system was lacking. It wasn’t the crowd or the venue — both of which I feel were smaller than a band of their quality deserves. It was about the competency and prowess of the music the six piece unflinchingly performed. Worley proved to be a fitting front man with his controlled but confident stage presence. Whether standing on the speakers or catching a fans hand in a quick grasp, he was present, a young-but-seasoned leader. Every band member contributed, finding their own groove but ultimately playing their role to create the cohesive sonic assault.
The appetizing and dense versing on Passengers has hit home with fans on social media already. It’s the kind of record that induces an all-but-impossible debate about choosing a favorite track, and it’s understandable. The album is an intellectual listen, full of smooth transitions bridging each of the eleven alluring and socially conscious tracks. It’s not your typical album; you don’t listen to it once and fully comprehend it. Before the band’s show, I try to unravel and understand some of the thoughts and concepts behind the work.
Danielle Martin (HM): This album is really heavy in concept. The content is very honest.
Lucas Worley: We tried to get a little intense with it. I think we’ve always done a little bit of a concept idea. The last record, I feel like, is almost hashing out this one; it has similar thoughts and feelings. But this one is a little bit more concise, I think.
Typically there’s two of you that do the writing. Was it a similar balance to Time in Place with the writing?
Yeah. For the most part, it’s still split pretty much down the middle as far as who takes what songs. After everything is said and done, we sit and work on each others stuff, too. So, there’s always that last filter of someone else dissecting what the other person did and making sure it’s exactly what we all want it to say.
And then you present it to the band and create music based on the lyrics you already have?
For the most part the songs are there first. There was a bio that got written, and I think (the author of the bio) misunderstood and kind of got it turned around. For the most part most of the music is there first and then lyrics and themes come afterwards.
What would you say is your favorite song that you created on the album, lyrically?
Lyrically speaking, probably between “Paper Ruled All” and “Static Color. ”
Two of the heavier concepts?
Yeah. “Static Color” was mostly done in the studio. That was one that was kind of an unfinished song, so the melody and all the lyrics were written in the studio, which sometimes can be a good thing and sometimes can be not so good. But I feel like it helped me get out what I wanted to say by being put on the spot and having it be last minute. Making sure that “this is it,” you know?
They’re kind of in two completely different directions, but those are two of the songs that really got my attention. “Paper Ruled All” is more political. Is there any coincidence that it’s an election year and that was a topic you broached in that song?
Not really. For “Paper,” it was kind of our “money” song in the fact that human beings as a society value pieces of paper over the lives of other people. As far as the political stuff, I try not to involve myself too much in it because I think it’s all silly anyway. There might be nods to that, but I don’t know that we were really trying to tackle politics. That’s almost a symptom of the problem instead of the whole problem, you know?
If you were to summarize it in one statement, what is the problem with the U.S. right now?
It’s so broad. I don’t know that it’s just the U.S., I think it’s the entire world. We’re sick as a society. I don’t know that there’s one specific thing you can point a finger at and say, “This is the main problem.” But a lot of it just has to do with not realizing that everything is everyone, and we are ruining each other and the planet very quickly because of this separation that everybody feels. Everybody is way more concerned about “Me” and “My Life.”
“We’ve always been a band that wanted to talk about something. In my mind, that’s kind of what art does. It’s a commentary on the current time in current society.”
You talked about that in “Age of Loneliness,” how there’s basically an aversion to human interaction.
Right. That was kind of the “ego” song, like living in their own head and feeling like their “nest” matters more than everyone else’s “nest” instead of realizing that you can’t have one without the other.
Do you think technology is a reason for a lot of that, or are we just inherently egotistical?
I think a lot of it is cognitive programming at this point. It definitely wasn’t always that way.
Not even when we were young; things have changed a lot.
Right, and it’s definitely getting worse. But you take it way back to tribal societies and everybody really had to look out for each other in order to survive, and now it’s not that. Everybody gets way, way, way wrapped up in their own lives and turns a blind eye to everything else.
Jamie Davis (to Worley): A lack of altruism, that’s one sentence that could be said to sum it up. That’s what I got out of what you just said.
If we were individually able to do one thing to make society better, what would be that one thing?
LW: Care a little bit more about other people. It’s hard to say one thing to just change. A lot of people have been like, “Okay, this record’s got all the problems, what’s the solution?” I don’t think we have any of those answers yet. I think all of us in the band, as people as we grow and get older realize that — it’s kind of cliche to say, but love is all there is. The more you can spread that around and the more you can really truly try to care? At that point you can bring that (mentality) to the small acts that help and spread goodness. It’s hard to be like, “Alright, let’s all go and volunteer and help people and provide clean water to people who don’t have it” and all that kind of stuff — there’s all kinds of tiny little things you can do about that. But if you start everyday more worried about all of us than yourself, that’s at least a good start.
Do you think it starts with accountability, identifying that, “Oh, I’m part of the issue!”
LW: Yeah, or again, just realizing that as a whole, we’re all the same thing.
JD: Just like any other problem, identifying that there is a problem is half the battle most of the time. So just not living in denial and at least taking a step back and acknowledging it I think is a great step. Which is kind of the idea of Passengers…
It’s a great album. I was surprised by the fact that it identifies issues and puts them out there instead of hiding them, and — like you said — denying it. I think our society kind of lives in that denial: “Oh, no, everything’s going to be just fine if I just pretend and ignore it…”
That’s what we do. Everybody is happy and satiated and can have their Facebook and their McDonald’s — and there’s really not a whole lot to want for if you’re a person in the Western world. Even if you are at the bottom of the income class, it’s pretty easy to just be a person and get along. Realizing there is so much more to being a person than that is it.
It’s been two years since Time in Place came out. What changed for you as a band and individually to bring you to this place? Passengers has a heavy concept to carry out. It’s an important one, but not one that a lot of people are not really willing to approach. What allowed you to do that?
I don’t know if there was a specific thing. We started talking about this record almost right after Time in Place was finished, and it just seemed like a natural progression. We’ve always been a band that wanted to talk about something. In my mind, that’s kind of what art does. It’s a commentary on the current time in current society. The fact that nobody can look back and be like, “What is going on here? Why are we cutting off our nose to spite our face constantly,” it kind of felt natural to to be like, “Let’s talk about that…”
It’s your second full-length album.
At least with label support, yeah.
And both were with Tooth and Nail. The relationship there’s still really good? What do you have to say about them?
They’re awesome. They’re absolutely amazing.
That’s what I’ve always heard about them.
Our A&R guy is our best friend. It’s always good to have a team behind you. You hear so much stuff about labels and how they treat bands and that kind of stuff, but we’ve definitely been a) really taken care of, and b) always allowed to say what we wanted to say.
That’s really cool. Do you guys feel you have the creative freedom that you want? Do they have any say so over the music you put out?
No, not the music. As far as them being a Christian label and us not really associating with religion or anything, as long as we can conduct ourselves like gentlemen (which we all kind of are anyway), they’re pretty down to let us go (make our music). “Static Color” is about woes in organized religion. Writing those lyrics, in the back of my head, I was like, “Is anybody going to say anything about this coming from that standpoint?” And it was a non-issue all the way through. It was never even brought up whatsoever.
The “Christian Label” has changed over the years, too.
Right. It’s not the ’90s anymore. You can’t really make as much money by saying you’re a Christian band.
Exactly, it’s a totally different thing. So, do you think that freedom of writing from Tooth and Nail says something about about the Christian culture, or does that just say something about Tooth and Nail?
I think it’s more so from them. Right before we got signed, they dropped from Sony BMI and were trying to restart the label and do the indie thing and rebrand what they were wanting to do. They still have their whole worship side of things; that’s big for them. But I think Tooth and Nail, in general, and (Tooth and Nail imprint) Solid State — while I’m sure a lot of them are subscribed to, “I’m a Christian” and that kind of stuff, that’s not really the vein they’re trying to push as far as music that comes out for them.
Maybe your experience was different, but growing up when I heard about bands that were signed, it was just like, “Oh, they’re signed? That’s so amazing!” That’s a misconception now or at least it has changed. Tell me what it means to be signed to a label now. What does that mean as an artist?
There’s always going to be that connotation that’s like, “They’re signed, so they must be doing something.” But, in deciding whether we wanted to go down that road, it was like, alright, we can either do the same thing we have been doing and do the DIY thing. And probably be about at the same level that we are and try and make those connections ourselves, or… (The label) is a shoulder to stand on, it’s being able to see above a little bit and have connections and people to go to for help and distribution and being in contact with managers and booking agents and all that kind of stuff. It’s a team that’s backing us, really. At this point, it’s a financier.
The type of things that will sink you if you’re on your own.
Right. And it’s instead of having to do a GoFundMe campaign, which a lot of bands are doing right now and are doing really well.
For fans, has the responsibility changed? Everything is so accessible for free now, do you think that they need to step up and say, “Hey, I’m going to support my favorite band and I’m going to buy their album”?
LW: I think people still don’t understand the importance of buying a record and the importance of coming to shows and supporting bands. I mean, realistically, the only way that we, as a unit, ever make money is by touring. It’s just showing up. Also, buying merch, I think that’s the main thing they could do.
JD: The responsibility definitely has changed, though. A lot of people get it, and we’ve been overwhelmed by the amount of people that have gotten it with the release of this record and bought it more than once to give to their friends. Or that preordered it and got it but came to the home show and bought it anyway. I’ll be honest, I have to remind myself a lot of times to buy music. I’m doing my best not to be a hypocrite. I’m out there struggling to pay bills, and I have all the excuses, but I’m like, “You know what? I need to buy more music more often and go to shows more often.” I’m trying to get better about that.
LW: You always think, “That band is big enough, they’re doing okay. They don’t really need me to buy that. They’re doing fine.” But every single band — it doesn’t matter if you’re Radiohead or if you’re The Dear Hunter — you’re still hoping that that one sale makes a difference for you. I think that’s something for people to really think about.
Where do you want to see Artifex Pereo going in the next couple of years? Are you looking for another album release in two years, follow the same cycle?
LW: I think, ideally, we’d like to get a new record out before then. These last couple years have been tough on all of us as far as the grind of touring and feeling like there’s growth but not really seeing it. Still showing up to small little headliner shows and there not really being a whole lot of people. I think we want to try and figure out where our place is within the industry. Being the band that we are, we don’t write radio-friendly songs. I don’t know that we’ll ever cater to that and try and write “hit” songs. That wouldn’t be true to ourselves.
JD: We’re still trying to find our medium somewhere between our artistic integrity and being sure (the music) is attainable and (something) people can latch on to. I the Mighty is a good example. I feel like they really found their medium of progressive rock and hooks that really stick with you.
LW: (Laughs) We keep saying we’re on this tour so we can learn how to be them. We get compared often, and for the past two years, every time somebody asks us who we want to tour with, I the Mighty is always listed in there. We’ve been trying to make it happen for a while, so we’re definitely very excited (about this tour).
Being associated with Tooth and Nail, if you were asked to do something like Joshuafest or Creationfest, would turn that down or would you do it?
LW: It’s been a fine line at this point to try and figure out where we fit in to that kind of stuff. I don’t know that we’d turn it down solely based on the fact that it’s Christian.
JD: We wouldn’t. Because we’re not “anti-” any of that, just like we would expect anybody not to be “anti-” us because we’re not Christian or whatever. I really think it just depends on the festival and what their expectations are. If it’s just about good people coming together to spread positive vibes, then we definitely would be more into that.
LW: I don’t know if we’d want to lead a prayer circle or start a worship thing or anything like that. We always come to it thinking anybody can believe whatever they want. We respect that — as long as it’s good, and they’re trying to be a good person about it (laughs).
I was talking to our press guy the other day and submitting album reviews, and there were a couple spots that were solely Christian review websites and on one of them — for the last record — we got slammed a little bit because the lyrics weren’t Christian. We don’t want to push anybody away for anything. It’s music, you know what I mean? We’re good dudes and feel like we have a message that can be relatable to people that have a Christian faith but also don’t want people to think that we are something we’re not.
I saw a Reddit argument between two people literally arguing, “This is why they’re Christian, look at this lyric…” Lyrics can obviously be interpreted any way, but I’d rather have people really understand what we’re talking about instead of having the interpretation of, “This song is about Jesus, and that’s why it is.”
I think it’s good that you guys are open about that because being associated with a label like Tooth and Nail, I’m sure you get pigeon-holed into the Christian music scene.
Quite a bit.
We cover a lot of Christian bands — and there are a lot of fantastic ones out there — but it’s interesting to have a non-Christian band on that label and have them stand up and say, “I don’t know if that’s necessarily where we fit…” It’s important to be open about that.
It’s something I think, as we go on, will keep getting talked about. We can bring it all together and be like, “Listen, it’s okay that you believe that, it’s okay that we believe this.” We’re all in this together. We’re all trying to be good, happy, healthy human beings, and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a disconnect there. It’s a little awkward when people come up to us at shows assuming we’re Christian and want to pray with us. I think that’s happened to Cory a couple times, and he’ll sit there and hold hands for a minute and be like, “If that’s what you want to do, I’m not going to tell you to shoo off.”
Is it pretty accurate to say that individually you guys are not necessarily Christian, or you don’t identify as that openly ?
LW: I don’t think any one of us has a religious standpoint.
JD: Everyone (in the band) is still on their own journey of figuring things out.
LW: I know a few of us probably grew up in the church, but I wouldn’t say any of us openly associate with being Christian.
The song “Static Color” — is that pretty much where that came from, growing up in that culture and knowing what the expectations are associated with it?
Kind of. At first, it was going to be about the problems of “for profit” religion, like the megachurches and these people that capitalize on people’s need to believe in something. Then those pastors end up being horrible people in the meantime and have nothing to do with what Christianity actually stands for. And that’s been happening for a long time, like in the Catholic faith.
The song came more from the standpoint of you believe whatever you want to believe. But, when someone hands you a book and says, “This is the truth and you can’t think anything else, and if you do think anything else,” you’re shutting down your mind to any other question. Faith is a great thing, but blind faith is so dangerous, and nobody really wants to take the time to realize that. Especially people that are incredibly into their religion and, “This is what has to be.” There are a lot of good things that come from religion and organized religion, but I think there are almost more problems that come from it, from people who can’t step outside of it and let someone else believe what they want to believe and then have an open conversation about it. Instead of just completely shutting down and being like, “You’re wrong. Your God is not right.” I think that’s more dangerous than a lot of the other problems we talked about on the record.
Do you feel like there’s a difference between religion and faith?
It’s a gray area at that point. Someone can believe in something and know that’s their truth, but one of my favorite quotes is, “My know is different than your know.” There’s some people that are color blind. I’m not going to tell you that red isn’t red; you see it that way. Let’s talk about it. I’ll tell you why it’s purple to me, instead of the argumentativeness that comes from people not being willing to see things from a different perspective.
I think people shy away from the hard subjects. Talking about how our society is pretty corrupt and we have a lot of issues — and a lot of the issues are our fault — that’s a little bit harder to do.
Music is such a powerful tool, and if we feel the way we feel about these things, there’s no reason to not use it.
Right, use it as a platform for change.
Without trying to be preachy about it (laughs). That’s always a fine line, too. That’s why we’re kind of coming from (the perspective of) we don’t have solutions to any of these things. It’s just shining a light on the fact that those problems are there. The human brain and all of us together is the most powerful thing we have to solve those problems, so the more people that realize, “Wow, that’s messed up,” the more we can try and figure out how to change it together.
Artifex Pereo was posted on September 22, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle Martin.