It’s 1:50 p.m. on the West Coast, a humid Tuesday afternoon. Though the sky is stained with a copper overlay from the surrounding wildfires, it’s otherwise clear and far warmer than an Oregon summer should be. Finding refuge in my car, I struggle to find a balance between sweating profusely and attempting to mute my blowing air conditioner while I’m on the phone with Garrett Russell, the venerable frontman for Silent Planet. I’ve been told he is spending a few days in paradise with the band after a show before jetting off to their tour in New Zealand and Australia.
I’ve seen his interviews, have their preceding album essentially imprinted in my car’s aging CD player, and – yet – I feel wholly unprepared for talking to him. Russell and the members of Silent Planet – guitarist Mitchell Stark, drummer Alex Camarena, and bassist Thomas Freckleton – have created a culture of intelligent compassion in metalcore that places them in the upper echelon of the scene. They don’t have fans; they have Lovers. They trust the Lovers will not only comprehend but contribute to this evolved way of interaction. Because of this maverick approach, they have become an inimitable source of entertainment and community.
As I review my notes, I begin to think of why Silent Planet became a musical mainstay in my own life and how their music dug me out of one of the darkest times in my life. I look at my first comment on the wrinkled yellow steno pad in front of me, four excitedly scribbled words that had been jotted down: “WTEB” – When the End Began, the name of the band’s latest album, their third full-length release, provided to me earlier in the day. Finally, I think to myself, the new chapter is here.
Suddenly, I realize the cords that bound my nerves are beginning to loosen, and I know without a doubt I will have the opportunity to discuss Russell’s compassionately complex viewpoints, gracious appreciation for his band and career, and his psychological references I’ve long forgotten or never quite gotten to since my days in college as a psych student myself. But, most importantly, I realize the eagerness every Lover feels in anticipation of Silent Planet’s new album.
HM: How’s Hawai’i treating you?
Garrett Russell: It’s quite incredible. We never imagined we’d be able to come to a place like this.
Have you ever been before?
I actually have been with my high school basketball team. We advanced really far in a competition, so we actually won the ability to go play a game in Hawai’i. But no one else in my band has ever been here before.
Tell us a little about the new album.
The album’s actually coming out on November 2nd. … We’re going to come out with the first music video we’ve had in two years for a song called “Share the Body.” It’s pretty graphic; I just saw the first cut. It’s black and white, super dark, super weird. Musically and lyrically – and in general – because it’s written directly from my inspiration of seeing people struggle with heroin addiction. I think it’s accurate and I think it’ll help people, but there’s definitely some portrayals that are likely to offend some people and be traumatic, so we’re going to put a warning on this video.
That’s so relevant. I can’t think of a region that hasn’t been incredibly affected by either the opioid epidemic or heroin addiction. It’s just taken over.
Yeah, it really has. I meet so many people who have been affected by it, and I just pray for people that are addicted. I try to get people plugged in. I know someone who’s young, addicted to heroin, and homeless. It breaks my heart. I cry when I think about them. (This person) is so isolated and is transgender and their family doesn’t want anything to do with them. You meet these kids, talk to them, and want them to get help, but sometimes I think they don’t think they’re worth helping. They don’t even think it’s worth it to help themselves.
You’re in a really unique position because you have been a mental health professional. Does that experience come into play when you meet people that are affected by all these heavy things?
Yeah, it does. For example, statistically, I know what is the best treatment for this individual I was referring to; I know that they need to go to Narcotics Anonymous for 90 straight days, to have a sponsor, to go through the steps. After they go through that, I want to literally pay for their residential treatment. I know that they need to break up with their significant other and to ideally get somewhere else and get a fresh start because, where they are, they’re surrounded by heroin.
It breaks my heart that one day I may go to where they live and they might not be there. They might be dead. Because, statistically speaking, they have maybe five years of life left unless they make a significant change. Heroin is an epidemic and it’s destroying communities. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on that subject lately. So we shot a music video about it.
This album, so far, seems dark. It kind of feels apocalyptic. Is that where it’s headed?
The album’s called When the End Began, and it’s about apocalypse. We understand the word apocalypse as Armageddon – or, the end of everything – but the word in greek comes from “new vision” or “revelation.” So, as I understand it, apocalypse is the end of everything, but it’s also the beginning. Apocalypse is a moment where everything in our lives has to change; everything shifts because of what we’re encountering. These songs are about moments in history, moments in the lives of people I’ve met where when I’ve learned about these things. It’s about when I met people and heard about their pain and I was changed as a person: the old me had to die to make way for what was to come.
In the Bhagavad Gita, which is a sacred text from India, there’s a verse where a lot of people think that Nietzsche, the atheist philosopher, got this idea of “the eternal return” from. It’s the idea where they say, “Every morning light is born, every night light is annihilated.” I believe that every time we see an end, there’s also a beginning. We need to have hope so we know that this end isn’t the end of everything, that this isn’t annihilation – this is a new beginning, as well.
I think the album is about love and loss simultaneously, and, that when you’re facing apocalypse, how will you find hope? Where will you find hope? There’s a variety of topics from aliens and language to… it’s every scenario I’ve ever imagined where my gut reaction was, “This is the end of everything.” It’s only when I was able to find hope that I was able to see the beauty that there’s something else here, that there’s a deeper story. We need to have that imagination to find hope in the middle of apocalypse.
At the beginning of Silent Planet, did you guys think, OK, our albums are going to be titled A, B, C, and D and they’re going to flow together into a consecutive statement? Or are you just winging it as you go? The three of them together now say, “The night God slept, everything was sound when the end began…” Do you know what the next one’s going to be?
I would say it’s somewhere between there. With Silent Planet, I sort of know what’s immediately in front of me. I can’t claim to be a genius and have had it all worked out from the start, but I would say I can usually sort of see a step around the corner. Lord willing.
“That’s the goal. Connection at any cost, because I believe that God works where we are willing to be intentional and where we are willing to be used. Because I believe that God is sovereign, I believe that God will use that space that I hold sacred to impact people’s lives.”
I’m just so stoked that you guys have a new album coming out this year. I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to Everything Was Sound, but it’s a lot.
I’m really thankful that there are people out there that want to listen to our band. This is probably the weird thing for a person in a band to say, but I’m genuinely surprised that anyone ever wants to listen to our band.
Why is that?
Because of 95% of the metalcore bands I see that exist, if they get popular, it makes sense. What I mean by that is, I see a band get popular and look them up, and they’re really heavy and the guy says, “Eff my life, eff everything, eff you, eff him.” And kids love it. They’re like, “Yes!” I understand, it’s cathartic and it’s angry. It’s like McDonald’s fries with McDonald’s nuggets. People have seen this model before; Carl Jung would say that these are archetypal things. These things resonate, and it makes sense that they resonate because this is exactly the formula that people have been – I don’t want to say indoctrinated but conditioned almost like Pavlov’s dog – to be like, “Oh, he curses and the breakdown happens.” That’s what rings the bell. People love it, they respond well to it.
It’s almost like we play these roles. I’m an angsty kid so I listen to angry music. A lot of it has to do with in-group and out-group and evolutionary behavior, but we live our lives in a very predictable manner. At first, I was offended when I heard that every single neuropsychologist and everyone who studies free will believe that free will doesn’t exist. Literally, the smartest people in all these institutions that study the brain, I would say about 90% of them would tell you that free will is a myth.
Wow, that’s very offensive.
It’s terrifying. It’s like they’re saying that the things I believe aren’t really choices because I don’t really have choice; I’m just this bed of electrical impulses that are moving, and, ultimately, this is all quantifiable and completely predictable behavior. They would say, “We don’t quite have the tools, we’re still primitive, so we can’t fully measure it,” but they do believe it’s measurable. They don’t believe any of it, there are no emergent properties, there’s no actual love – love is, more or less, a myth.
I don’t believe that. They’d probably say, “Well, that’s because you’re an idiot. You want to believe these things,” and that could be true. But, my point is, you see this predictability and it makes sense, and then Silent Planet make these songs. I’m not trying to say that it’s musically the most unique thing ever; not even close. There are different artists, like Bjork, where you’re like, I don’t think anyone’s ever thought this before. We’re not that band; but, we are attempting to do something that definitely doesn’t fit the narrative of what other bands are doing.
The content we’re writing and the way that we’re writing and using footnotes is done to get people to dig deeper. Metal dudes constantly can’t stand me, because it’s like, “I like that because it’s metal, but then he starts talking. I hate this! This isn’t my world. I want a guy screaming. I want him mad. This isn’t okay. This ruins it for me.” I don’t think less of them for doing that.
But what I am surprised by is the fact that anyone wants to listen to us, because it’s almost like our band would make more sense if it was a rock band or something. We would be accepted in that world. Almost everyone I know 22 or over, if you were brought up on metalcore, they’re like, “Oh I never liked it,” or, “Oh yeah, I used to like that stuff when I was a kid.”
Right. That’s what I always get.
They’re essentially inferring, “Well, I grew out of it.”
And you’re immature for still listening to it.
Exactly. It’s almost like you failed to take a step in maturity by listening to this music. Frankly, if all they’ve ever heard is a lot of the standard “heavy stage on Warped Tour” music, I guess you could say that’s fair, to be honest. I can understand why they’re saying that because these bands are not being progressive in any way, shape, or form. They don’t challenge anything; their point isn’t unique. Most bands use the same four producers who write so they all sound the same, and that makes sense, because it came from the same person. And, unlike the hip-hop, EDM, or pop which is on the radio and all sounds the same, metalcore is not really that accessible. You’re sandwiched to where it’s not creative, so the indie folks don’t really want to get into it, and people can’t dance in a club to it, so that doesn’t work. So, all in all, I’m pleasantly surprised when people actually want to listen to our music because we’re somewhere between all of that.
You’re in your late twenties, right?
Yeah, I am 28, and the concept of being in this band at 30 is a strange one for me. I started it when I was 19, and I thought, “Let’s see what happens…” So it’s funny to think that if I am still doing this when I’m 30, I’ll have been doing it for 11 years.
What have you not gotten to do that you want to do before you turn 30?
If you didn’t say before I turned 30 – if you just meant in general – I would say get married and have a kid. I would love for that to happen before I’m 30, but I think it’s unlikely because I’m currently single. But I feel like I’m right where God wants me to be. I mean, there’s some stuff I want to do: I want to record a rap album, a death metal album, a chill ambient indie music album, and I want to write a book.
I think that’s what’s great about you guys, though. I’m probably one of the weirder listeners. When I first got into Silent Planet, my favorite band was Hanson and I was getting tired of there being no substance to what I was listening to. The first time I listened to “Panic Room” and heard you scream I was like, “Holy shit…” That was the first time in my life I ever really connected with metal. Reading your lyrics and seeing the density and complexity behind them? Other artists don’t take the time to do that. It is different, but that’s why people are drawn to what you’re doing.
First of all, thank you for that. I just want to hug everyone when I see that they’ve bought a shirt of ours or listen to our music for the first time because I’m like, dude, there are so many bands, there’s so much you could be doing, and that stuff’s an extension of us. Literally, every t-shirt we make, it’s gone through me. Things don’t come out of our band that we don’t have control over because we’ve always wanted to keep it personal, like a family-owned restaurant. When people listen to our music or buy our shirt, it feels like an extension of myself that they’ve accepted into their lives. It genuinely means a lot.
There’s not really any barriers between you and your listeners. Is that something you ever see changing?
No. That’s the only thing I know about this band. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be alive, I don’t know how many albums we have left, I don’t know much. But I know for a fact that there will always be connection. That’s the goal. Connection at any cost, because I believe that God works where we are willing to be intentional and where we are willing to be used. Because I believe that God is sovereign, I believe that God will use that space that I hold sacred to impact people’s lives.
What I’ve noticed about your band is that you care a lot about each other. I don’t think that’s unique to you specifically, but what is unique is the amount. I mean, if you just look at your Twitter recently, you’ve said that Alex is the best drummer in the world, Thomas is a hot awesome bassist, and Mitchell is a genius.
It’s so weird to me to be in a band with Alex. Do I think Thomas is really good at singing and he’s a good bassist? Yes. But I actually think Alex is the best drummer in the world. I’ve seen the drummers in our genre that have drums named after them and watched as they’ve watched Alex, and their mouth is open. They realize that this guy could move the whole concept of drumming to a different level.
Every once in a while, in life, you get someone who’s doing exactly what God made them to do; for him, that’s drums. It’s really weird being in this small metalcore band with this guy that, if everything works out the way that I think it might, he’ll probably be a world-famous drummer long after everyone’s forgotten about our band.
These are the great things you repeatedly say about these guys. But what do you hope they say in your absence about you as their friend and frontman?
I hope they think I’m a servant, and I hope they would be able to say, “He is a lover. Behind closed doors, he loves as much or more than someone might think he does on stage.” I hope I am who I am.
Silent Planet was posted on October 28, 2018 for HM Magazine and authored by Danielle McCallister.