When it comes to the biggest forces in Christian metal, Gideon has, without a doubt, worked their way into the upper echelon. Recently, the Alabama boys released yet another outstanding album on their new label, Equal Vision Records. However, since Cold has hit the shelves, fans can’t help but feel that Gideon is digging miles beneath the “Christian metal” stereotype and striking gold with their newfound sense of identity and musical stature. The powerhouse hardcore band is bursting with an absolute honesty and more muscle than ever before.
The band’s raw output is a bare picture of the growing pains of navigating society – the good, the bad, and the ugly. There’s the music, which serves the lyrics, oscillating between dense walls of sound and a clean atmosphere to draw the listener closer. Guitarist Tyler Riley is stoked about the growth in Gideon’s sound and the hardcore elements they couldn’t incorporate last time around. He describes Cold as an “elevated version” of what the band has put out in the past.
Cold, the band’s fourth full-length release, is packed with personal significance for Gideon, comprised of Riley, vocalist Daniel McWhorter, and drummer Jake Smelley. Not only do they allow themselves to be vulnerable both musically and lyrically, it is also tied to the potent honesty of their hearts, something their last album may have been missing. Once they decided to write from passion instead of purpose, the music seemed to write itself. There’s no doubt Gideon has solidified their place in the hardcore scene. But now, they represent more than the genre or the scene that birthed them. Now, they’re working to represent the people and fans who find truth in their music.
HM: Let’s talk about Cold. It’s Gideon’s fourth full-length album. Can you tell me about the album process this time around?
Tyler Riley: Yeah. This time, we had a lot more time to write the record. After we finished the previous record, we started writing immediately and spent a lot of time on the songs. Also, going into this one, we knew the producer from doing the record before, so we kind of knew the deal going in. We got to do everything the way we wanted to with track instruments and all that. We took that first week for pre-production and just polished up the songs, started tracking, and wrote lyrics as we went.
Our drummer writes lyrics, which is a little odd. But he’s really good at it, so we let him do all of it. We were there for about five weeks. It was cool. We were really happy with how it came out; we actually wanted to do more. So we had planned to go back and record a couple more songs to make the record longer and put some more of our ideas to use, hence the long time between recording and releasing.
But there ended up being some personal family issues with our vocalist, Dan. We decided that it didn’t make sense to take him away from his family to schedule more studio time, and we decided to button it up, and, from home, we would communicate with the producer back and forth. We figured that out and got it wrapped up as quickly as we could. But we also wanted to shoot videos before it released so we’d have more content for everybody. That pushed the release a little bit. But it’s out, we have two videos, it all worked out, and we’re really happy with it.
You said your drummer (Jake Smelley) writes most of your lyrics. What does the rest of the songwriting process look like for you guys?
Well, it varies. Sometimes I’ll write a song and record a demo on my computer at home by myself. Then I’ll bring it to Jake, our drummer, and say, “Hey, what do you think? Let’s write some lyrics to this.” Or we’ll be sitting in a room together and Jake has an idea for the whole song already mapped out, and I’ll write riffs to whatever ideas he has. He’ll basically have the drum parts and mouth out a guitar part for me. We’ve put a few songs together like that. One time we even took a trip to California to stay with our old guitar player for about a week just to get his input on some of the tracks. So we’ve done a bunch of different things, including writing a few riffs in the studio with the producer, Will Putney.
I found it really interesting that the title track is instrumental. Did the album title come from the song? Or did the song come from the album title?
It was more like the song coming from the album title. I sat down and wrote that track in the studio. The track that comes after that is called “Watch Me Sink,” and that song was already written. So I knew I wanted to use the same kind of notes that were used in the beginning of that song to shift the mood of the album halfway through. We knew that it encapsulated the meaning of the whole record or, at least, the feeling of it. So I just sat down and kind of thought about the deepest emotional stuff that I could think of having to do with the record. And that’s how it turned out.
Yeah, I loved it. I loved it a lot.
Thank you. I also knew that I wanted to do a clean guitar solo somewhere in the record, and it worked really well there.
Yeah, there’s so much more texture that way.
Yeah, for sure.
This might be a strange question, but I was wondering about the album art. I love it. Can you tell me more about it?
Yeah. The album art came from the song “Champions,” which is the first track on the record. It was about how you grow up, and how there are certain things in life that society tells you, and you believe it because you’re still learning about life. You don’t really have any place to form your own opinions on things. And you’re, you know, having to deal with a wide range of topics, and you accept it blindly. That’s what we kind of went with on the album art. That, and the feeling of realizing it when you get older and feeling cold to the people and society that have taught you how to feel. It’s like you’re not feeling anything because of it, you know? We just wanted to visualize that and put that into the album.
So we thought about a kid pledging, with his hand over his heart, swearing to something but with a blindfold because he can’t see. We were also fans of the guy that shot the picture, Matthew DeFeo. He shoots various different kinds of photography, and we were fans of his work. We had never met him in person but he has taken a lot of pictures for our friends. So we were like, “Hey man, we want to set up a shoot for something for our album art?” and he was totally down.
In your opinion, what makes a good record?
What makes a good record mostly has to do with how much thought you put into it and how much of yourself you put into it. With this record, we knew that people would relate a lot better if we were a lot more personal. For us, that just means really pouring ourselves into the actual music itself and making sure we had enough time to do that. When you tour a lot, you get on a weird schedule, and it’s like, we have a month off and then we need to record a record. So we don’t usually really have a ton of time to think about it.
But we made sure that wasn’t the case for this one. I think just being personal and actually trying your best makes a good record. I mean, you have to do it for yourself, for the integrity of the music and just hope that people like what you like. You have to be honest with yourself when you’re writing, be willing to say, “Well that part was okay but it could have been better.” There was a lot of that – we tried to do that as much as possible.
“It felt like it wasn’t fair to everybody as a whole to be fully associated and under the scrutiny of Christian metal. It’s a weird place to be. You start feeling weird when you play Christian festivals and people start looking up to your band and to you as people, only based on that fact alone.”
It definitely shows. This is a loaded question that kind of bounces off of that: What is your philosophy on being labeled a Christian band? Do you set out to make Christian music or is the music you write just an overflow of your faith?
When we started playing together, we were all teenagers, and we didn’t really think about what it meant to be fully a part of that scene. Going into this record, we were a lot more conscious about being as real as possible with ourselves. Over the years, being super-involved in the whole Christian scene, the festival runs and playing only Christian shows was a lot more limiting to us, to our music, and even to us as people, in general. So we decided to write about whatever we wanted and not be fully associated anymore.
That’s not to say people don’t have certain beliefs within the band, but it felt like it wasn’t fair to everybody as a whole to be fully associated and under the scrutiny of Christian metal, you know? It’s a weird place to be, believe it or not. For example, you start feeling weird when you play Christian festivals and people start looking up to your band and to you as people, only based on that fact alone. I feel like it has its place, because, when I was a kid, I was the same way. I would go to the store and be like, “Which bands are Christian? Let me check this out.” But as I got older, I realized there are bands that have very important things to say that aren’t Christian bands at all. We wanted more people that didn’t have that positivity in their lives to have a positive outlet. We’re very conscious of trying to help people figure things out, but we also want them to figure it out themselves and not just believe whatever we write in our music, you know?
Exactly. I completely identify with that. You want to be an artist. You just want to be a good artist.
Yeah, and if you have a passion for music, it puts you in a very weird place as an artist and as a person, because there’s so much scrutiny on you. And there are different levels and different belief systems even within Christianity. No matter what we did, it didn’t matter; somebody’s going to like it and somebody’s not going to like it. We decided that, if we wanted to write about something, we would write about it. But, ultimately, we’re going to write about what we’re really feeling and go from there.
This (album) was 100% like that, as compared to the last record where we were like, “Well, let’s just try to make sure that we keep a foot in the door for those people.” It got away from us in that way. We didn’t connect as much to the songs, and we felt forced to insert things like that. We thought it was a lot more conducive for a productive environment when someone is listening to our music if we were fully engaged in what we were talking about.
“We spent a lot more time on everything and put more thought into it. We were also able to incorporate more hardcore style than we were able to on the last one, which we felt we were kind of missing. It’s an elevated version.”
How did you personally break in to the heavy music scene?
I was going to a church and my church used to do shows. I remember helping with something at church. Also, I already leaned toward rock music, in general, at first. And then I started going to this church where a lot of kids were into metal. I remember I had listened to just about everything that was Christian and heavy.
Really, when it gets down to it, I was listening to Linkin Park when I was really young. I was into hip-hop at first, and I think it was my mom’s ex-husband who showed me something more rock ‘n’ roll. He bridged the gap because they rap but it’s also heavy rock. So he burned me a few CDs — and this was before burning CDs was really a thing. He burned me a Sum 41 CD, a Linkin Park CD, and even a System of a Down CD. Then, at church, I felt weird listening to that music at the time, which is why I understand how kids are in the Christian music scene. I felt the same way.
Then some people at my church were like, “Hey, you know there are Christian bands who do this.” That’s where I really got into underground metal music. I went to a show for a band that I actually ended up playing with for a long time: As Hell Retreats. They were playing this show as a younger local band. I played guitar at the time, but I didn’t know how to play metal. I was just playing in the church band, and I thought these guys were rippin’ up there. So I got to be friends with them and eventually joined the band. We started doing stuff, we got signed to Facedown and put out a record on Strike First (an imprint of Facedown Records), then put out a record on Anger, which is what Sleeping Giant and The Great Commission were signed to. So that kind of took me into a whole new world with heavy music.
What is one piece of gear that you just can’t live without?
Oh, man. I’d say, right now, the amp I use that does everything, every noise you can possibly think of. I use a Line 6 Helix, which is their version of an Axe FX. It came out a year or two ago. I could go on all day about that thing. It does all kinds of crazy stuff. I get really nerdy talking about that. That thing is the core of all my gear. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without it. But, luckily, it’s a pedal version so I can travel with it in my suitcase to other countries. That’s definitely my answer.
On that note, what areas of your music (the sound) do you see the most growth from Calloused to Cold?
With me — maybe I’m only saying this because I’m the guitar player — I do know I got to spend a lot more time focusing on the meat of the songs and the riffs, the main riffs in the verses and stuff. I tried really hard to focus on those. If I try to go through and play the record stuff, sometimes I think maybe I did a little too much because it’s difficult to play, whereas before it was like, “I can jam through these, nothing too crazy.”
Looking back at Calloused, I was kind of like, “Man, if I had more time to focus on these riffs, it would have filled in the gaps and made this record even more than it was.” It was still the biggest thing we put out and gave us the biggest opportunities we’d ever had. Before Cold came out, our other guitar player, Daniel, stopped touring with us, and the pressure was more on me. I was going to have to write the majority of the riffs. And if I’m going to be associated with it, I want to do the best I can. So, for me, the biggest stride, the biggest difference between that one and this one, was how much more involved I was able to be. And, really, we spent a lot more time on everything and put more thought into it. We were also able to incorporate more hardcore style than we were able to on the last one, which we felt we were kind of missing. It’s an elevated version.
And you think people are responding well to it so far?
Yeah, definitely the best response we’ve gotten on anything we’ve done since we started. It’s been surprisingly good. You know, you do your best and you think hopefully everyone can tell that we tried really hard and actually did our best. And sometimes you put it out and maybe they didn’t get it or whatever. But I feel like everyone gets what we were doing. It had been a year between recording and actually releasing the album, so you can imagine the nervous thoughts. It’s been very relieving and good for all of us. The response has been great.
Gideon was posted on July 22, 2017 for HM Magazine and authored by Nao Lewandowski.