Silent Planet's New Reality

Silent Planet vocalist Garrett Russell ushers the band into a new era of expectation with their sophomore album, Everything Was Sound

Photo by Jonathan Kemp

Their intense, transparent live show. Deep, meaningful fan interaction. Silent Planet has become an explosive presence in metalcore since the release of their first EP in 2012. The band has left a permanent, heavy footprint in their time since that has led to the Los Angeles-based band taking up residence every hardcore playlist. Everything Was Sound,  their second full-length album, is greatly anticipated after the success of their acclaimed first record, The Night God Slept; HM named EWS one of their Top 25 Most Anticipated Albums in 2016, and is already being praised in the social landscape. A number of singles have been released over the last few months, including “Panic Room,” “Psychescape” (which features Underoath and Sleepwave frontman Spencer Chamberlain) and “Orphan.” And the forefront of it all is Garrett Russell.

Russell lives and breathes the philosophy of music. He is always exploring thoughts and ways to do music justice. Intellectual conversation is his native language, as he is a student by nature. He holds a master’s degree in clinical psychology, which played a significant role in the writing of Everything Was Sound. Each song depicts a different character living with a variety of mental illnesses. With their new record approaching, Russell openly shares the raw edges of his lyrical content and is more than happy to break down the writing process. Gentle and genuine, he speaks with grace about the heavy music scene and its place in the current generation of music. Approaching midnight in their van driving to the first date of Warped Tour (which they’ll be on all summer), he talks with me with unhindered attention and heart.

Our conversation quickly dove into personal philosophy, passion and faith. As faith-driven and passionate as Russell is, there was no doubt there would be more to discuss than riffs and gear. Silent Planet is much heavier than that — lyrically and sonically — setting them apart in their genre. He remembered detailed conversations he had at shows and even the local bands he played with in small, dark venues. Garrett Russell is certainly a different breed of leader, marked with compassion and humility.

Though the band has not been in the limelight for very long, Silent Planet has swept the scene like a tidal wave. It is near impossible to attend a show without spotting merchandise with their lightning-crosses circle merchandise somewhere in the crowd. With eclectic lyrics and a seamless performance, the crowd is drawn into their story with unbreakable force. Silent Planet has turned metal shows into an experience that captures you and stares you down until they’re done. Russell describes the live performance aspect of heavy music as essential for understanding the genre. With a demanding tour schedule, Silent Planet is making their way around the nation as post-hardcore’s most-wanted band. The band is about to take the stage almost daily on Warped Tour, the biggest set of festivals they have played to date. With their biggest release looming on the horizon, Russell welcomes the challenge and the expectations, just as they always have.

People are already calling Everything Was Sound the album of the year. How do you feel about that?
Well I feel honored, obviously. I guess that is literally premature in the sense that we’re not quite at the halfway point of the year. Honestly, I appreciate that. I’ve seen some people post that stuff in comments, but I guess we’ll see when they’ve actually heard it.

Compared to The Night God Slept, how did you approach this new record? Did you do anything differently?
Yeah, it was definitely different. As a band, we were on a timeline. We went into the studio for 35 days to record it. That was unique because The Night God Slept was recorded over the span of a year and a half. Whenever we had enough money to pay the dude, we’d do a couple songs here and a couple songs there. So it was more pieced together. This record is different than our last record, but it definitely feels more musically cohesive. And as far as the lyrics go, there’s a more cohesive central story line on this record, at least in my imagination. And there’s kind of a physical location where the record and the stories happen, if that makes sense.

This album is extremely heavy in content as well as sound. Are these stories of your own experience? Can you tell me more about where that content comes from?
Yeah, it’s definitely eclectic. Some songs were inspired by people that I saw in therapy. Some songs were inspired by people I’ve met at shows. Some are more abstract or historical things. And finally, one of them is pretty inspired by my own experience. It is eclectic. I guess The Night God Slept was more based on things that I had researched and read about and wanted to talk about. This album kind of came to me, as far as the people and the stories.

What kinds of mental illness do you address on the album?
There’s a song for schizophrenia. There’s a song for bipolar. One of the tracks talks about eating disorders, primarily anorexia nervosa. One is about suicide. One is about bereavement, or learning how to grieve. One is generally dealing with depression. There’s a song about the illness of marginalization in America. There’s one for PTSD. There’s another one about the remnants of war. I think that’s most of it.

You’ve been touring a ton lately, where do you find time and space to write?
You know, that’s the ever-changing thing. I can’t say that I have a formula or that at this point in my day I go to this place. Being a smaller, DIY band, we have to learn how to adjust to the things thrown at us. Sometimes, days go smoothly and other times we’re just sitting in a hot parking lot, and that’s led me to kind of adapt with it. The goal is to get in a creative place and talk to God and try to find some sort of space every day, even though sometimes the space varies and the length of time varies.

Do you write as a band?
From the time that the band started until now, I think it’s been moving toward being a cohesive process, which is cool because it’s kind of the opposite of most bands who start out in their garage playing music together. Now, everyone in the band is very capable of writing and very interested in writing. It used to be one dude writing the music and me writing the lyrics and vocals, kind of like peanut butter and jelly get slapped together. Some of the guys definitely do more writing, but everyone is playing a part at some point. On this last record, (guitarist) Mitchell (Stark) and (Underoath vocalist and guest vocalist on the album) Spencer (Chamberlain) did all the primary writing and song structure, and I did all the lyrics. But in the studio everyone has creative input, which is cool.

Right, for the arrangements?
Exactly. And in the future we want to go even further. Before we go into the studio to do our next record, we want to just jam together like our friends in Norma Jean. They always do that for their records.

When you aren’t writing or performing, what do you enjoy doing?
It’s funny to adjust because there’s this weird sense when I get home from tour and I’m alone. One thing’s for sure with touring, you’re never alone. You’re either with the band in the van, or you’re in someone’s house with them and all their children, or you’re in a venue with a bunch of people. Getting home is always interesting because it’s like, “Oh, I’m a person. I can do whatever I want with myself right now.” It’s pretty strange but also sometimes confusing for me. I like to go to the ocean. We’re not typically by the ocean when we’re on tour. But when I’m home, I’m by the ocean, so I try to take advantage of that as much as I can.

You wrote “Psychescape” with Spencer Chamberlain, right? Tell me about that process…
It was super fun. He showed up and we spent the first few hours talking about the idea of the song and his part and how it related to what I had. It’s very cool to say that we collaborated because it would have been easy for him to show up and say, “Hey, I have 45 minutes, what am I doing?” But he was really invested in the process. Honestly, he’s such a musician. He just loves music. The moment he’s in the studio, he’s playing and trying new guitars. You can tell he’s a dude that, in every universe you put him in, he would be playing music. He loves it; it’s in his blood. It’s pretty inspiring for all of us to see someone like that, who, despite all his success, never lost his love for music.

“I mean, the only way we can afford touring is by calling Chick-Fil-A for free food. So I called this Chick-Fil-A and one of the guys was a huge fan of us. So I gave him the new record. I’m really surprised that there’s someone in a Chick-Fil-A that listens to us.”

Do you feel like you have high expectations to live up to something with this record since the last one blew up?
It’s weird. The longer we do this, the more I get surprised by things. It’s a cool thing because it keeps me from being jaded. I mean, the only way we can afford touring is by calling Chick-Fil-A for free food. So I called this Chick-Fil-A and one of the guys was a huge fan of us. So I gave him the new record. I’m really surprised that there’s someone in a Chick-Fil-A that listens to us. I guess it’s because it has taken us so long to build this, but I definitely don’t expect anything. And it’s not so that I don’t get disappointed, it’s just been hammered into me over the last seven years of doing this.

There’s a good chance that you’ll work really hard and make something that you’re personally proud of — and maybe no one will ever see it. I think that’s something you need to be okay with. The moment you start making something for other people, you lose the initial integrity of making something you want to do your best at. I know that people are going to hear this record, unlike the last record when we wrote it. I was literally like, “Is anyone but my mom going to hear this?” But I still have no idea what to expect. Whatever happens next, I’ll be as surprised as you.

Tell me about your fans. How do their stories motivate you in Silent Planet?
Honestly, showing up at a Chick Fil-A and seeing this young man who listens to our music — that is motivating. I think we’re all motivated to write the best music we can. Someone said something on my Twitter; it really stuck with me because it was a very nice illustration of what he thinks we are and how I would like to be — not in a prideful sense, but in a vision sense. He said: “Metalcore is a 4-year-old child on vacation who just wants to watch DVDs all day. Silent Planet is the cool dad who puts him on his back and makes him try new things.” If I could quote that kid’s tweet and put it on our album, I would. I never thought of it that way.

I would love to be the band that believes in the intelligence of listeners of heavy music and strives to do the genre justice by not trying to fit in with the craze and be the next fad. Instead, wanting to be people who write heavy music, but also think very seriously about what we’re saying and what we’re doing musically and lyrically. What is this we’re putting out into the world? It’s just challenging ourselves. I mean, we’re a little older than people playing heavy music now; I’m 26. But I’d like to think what we do next would reflect that we’ve grown up a little bit and show our desire not to completely abandon heavy music but grow while we’re doing it. The few bands that have done that — like Underoath — have really done a lot of special things for people. If we can do that, that’d be really humbling.

“I love that the heavy music scene is a community that … is mostly a positive influence in young peoples’ lives.”

Speaking of that, in your opinion, what does the heavy music scene need? What can younger bands learn from your experience in music?
It’s hard to say in total, but I’ll tell you one thing. I want to say that I love that the heavy music scene is a community that for sure has a lot of fault, but is mostly a positive influence in young peoples’ lives. That goes for secular or religious. It’s mostly a positive subculture. It’s one that teaches people that you have to invest yourself in relationships to get it. I like that it’s so embraced, that it’s not something that people can just put in their pocket and keep going. You either get into it or you don’t. I like that hot or cold vibe.

As far as what heavy music does need, I think it need diversity. You can never force diversity, but I definitely think it can be a very sexist place. I think it can be very racially blind, and not in a good way. Sometimes it can be openly ignorant and encouraging people to just be frustrated or complain without being constructive. I think as far as bands go, I think heavy music does lack artists that respect themselves, see themselves as artists and believe that they’re capable of doing more than rehashing the same breakdowns.

How important is your live show to your music?
The folks who introduced me to this kind of music told me this, and it’s so true. You definitely can’t understand this genre without the live music aspect. Some genres, like most hip-hop in my opinion, usually make sense on a recording more so than live. I would say this genre of music we’re in is really hard to understand without the live component. Every time we play shows, people are grabbing the mic or I’m so out of breath from having fun that I can’t even say the next word or something randomly breaks on someone’s pedal board. It feels like the human qualities and emergent properties that come out of people playing music in a hot, sweaty venue really make it fun and breathe life into songs.

Like any band, we want to give people a better live show than the record can do. Those rare times when people have told me that that’s what happened at our shows, I was just like, “Wow, thank you.” Now that we have a new record that sonically, in my opinion, is quite a bit better, we have a new bar set for us. We definitely want to give a performance every night that isn’t necessarily matching the record, but better and more emotional and evoking than the record.

So, how do you get that emotion in your vocals?
I’ll tell you what: usually it involves horror stories the next day. If I imagine all the paths I could have taken with my life, I think a lot of them would have involved falling away from my faith and God. Thankfully, what I do involves so much of me physically and emotionally on a daily basis. I usually spend an hour or two before we play warming up physically, emotionally, in every way, getting in a headspace where I’m thankful and I’m feeling free. The way I conduct myself during the show will hopefully lead other people to join me in that space — because it’s not mine, of course, I think it’s something only God can give. I think if I’m participating in that then perhaps it’s more tactile or more tangible for other people to see and say, “Hey, I want that.” Vocally, it’s a lot of trusting God. It’s going to be what it needs to be, even if it’s a hoarse pile of crap. Maybe that’s what it needs to be that day.

Is that why you think people connect so well with your music? Because of that headspace?
I think it’s a big part of it, for sure. I’ve always struggled to understand how music and worship and God fit together. I never want to be a part of something that manipulates people into feeling a lot of emotions, where they make decisions when they’re in a less-than rational state. But I do think something pretty special and unique happens when music is being played. And frankly, we love playing music in small, dark floor shows. A small, dark living room is the best place, in our opinion, to play music. I’m a little nervous about Warped Tour coming up because that is the opposite.

What’s next after this record drops?
A lot of tours. It’s funny, I tell a lot of friends of mine who aren’t part of this subculture that what we do is the most blue-collar form of music. If you want to grow, then you go play a ton of shows for no one. Just like if you wanted to start a construction business, you just take some boards and start building. For our band, it’s a lot of touring. Obviously, we’ll do a fun creative thing here, a fun merch thing there, a fun video thing here. But touring sums up 90% of our life. It’s what we do.

Silent Planet was posted on June 28, 2016 for HM Magazine and authored by .