Recently, Los Angeles-based melodic-metalcore outfit Silent Planet released an EP that garnered immense praise from HM Magazine’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief, David Stagg, who gave it a perfect five-star rating, saying it was “hands down, one of the best five-song releases I’ve heard, a perfection of the metalcore genre.” He went on to say he hasn’t heard anything like it since some random band called August Burns Red released Messengers.
Silent Planet’s EP, lastsleep (1944-1946) documents the true stories of three female protagonists that survive immense suffering during three theaters of war in World War II (France, Russia and Japan). Lead singer and writer Garrett Russell, in an interview with HM, explains the musical and lyrical inspirations of the EP, some exciting news about new music and why he wants to offend the church.
So catch us up with what Silent Planet is up to right now.
We just got home. We had, like, two different three-week tours. We got home exactly a week ago from our last run. Our first tour was with Everyone Dies in Utah. And this last one, five days of it was with two bands that are kind of regional to the Georgia area; one is called Me and the Trinity and the other is called Skyburner. They’re both really awesome. It was a pleasure to headline that little run. It started in South Carolina, and it was definitely not a local tour for us. It went very well; it was very fun. It was a blessing to know we could go out without any kind of bigger bands pulling and still (be able to) pull and still have ministry opportunities.
Let’s talk about your new EP, lastsleep (1944-1946). I was really excited when I learned it was about World War II. It has always been my favorite time period in history and to think a metalcore band put history into song is an amazing idea to me. You must be a history fan?
I do love history. It’s sort of a hobby of mine, to exchange history books with my dad, who actually did study it at the university level. My undergraduate degrees are in English and Philosophy. Obviously, history is kind of planted at the center of those two (degrees) and I think (it’s) the most common factor between the two studies. I’ve always been pulled into (history). I decided not to go into it at a grad level because I wanted it to remain sort of an artistic interest and hobby. Sometimes when you’re getting paid to do things, it’s just not the same anymore.
What lastsleep is, is it’s a small chunk of a greater album that we are working on. We are nearing completion. Lastsleep is a certain time period of the larger theme of our larger full-length. Our full-length has different clumps of time periods and follows these female protagonists throughout time. I believe they’re kind of sisters and are kind of linked by their Christological functioning of their story and their particular time period.
So we have plenty more of this kind of stuff to come! Could you explain more the idea that these women serve a Christological function?
Yeah, they’re all stories from throughout history, and I guess there’s the particular theme from (these songs) is these women who kind of suffer in the world against some kind of dominating forces of evil. They’re very much the likely underdogs, they overcome evil with their love, they literally give life to our world and they make life possible for us. Their bravery in the face of evil (makes them) the polar opposite of the war that was just taking life, really for no reason whatsoever. They represent life and they literally give life to the next generation.
Their Christological functioning, I was saying, is how, like Christ, they overcame death to give life to this world. These women fulfill the same function Jesus does in the Gospel narrative but in the World War II setting. That’s to give a prophetic vision to the church in America, and to possibly offend the church in America by saying the very least of these remind us of Christ in this day and age.
The other reason why I think that offends is because we have a very male-dominant society and a very male-dominate picture of theology and of who God is. It’s my hope that we can offend people and make them rethink gender and God and gender and Christ. Obviously, we do believe that Jesus was a male as a human being, but Jesus as Christ was much greater than male and that God is not male, but that God represents both maternal and paternal aspects throughout the Biblical narrative. We wanted to write a feminist-Christian narrative. Not feminist in that women are greater than men, but that women are equally important to the Kingdom of God.
The stories that you did choose, were they things you had heard of throughout your education or growing up, or did you search for these stories?
Some of them are definitely stories people are acquainted with. Some of them are more obscure stories, and the more I read about the stories I kind of wonder why they aren’t as well known.
One of the songs (“Darkstrand”) deals with one of the atomic bomb explosions in Japan. There has long been a debate about whether or not the U.S. should have dropped the atomic bombs on Japan. Regardless of one’s stance on the subject, there is no doubt that tens of thousands of complete innocents died by a result of U.S. soldiers during those two bombs. Furthermore, the victims in the songs are all suffering at the hands of a powerful empire, one of those being the U.S.
With “Darkstrand,” are you trying to say something, or do you seek to bring out the humanity of these situations?
When we released that song, I expected some people getting upset and maybe some backlash. I really didn’t see that much of it, actually. Maybe a couple comments here and there, a couple messages. It actually opened up a dialog with one particular man who we’ve actually since become very close with (he is serving in Afghanistan). Both sides asked questions and both sides learned. We kind of learned about what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be an American. It’s cool to see that it led to not a debate but a dialog and a close relationship.
I would say we believe that we can find the heart of Christ with those who suffer. The Japanese government was committing terrible atrocities, killing more Chinese people in that time period that I believe some people estimate that Hitler killed Jews. I have no doubt that dropping the bomb had resulted in fewer casualties than an invasion of Tokyo. With that being said, it was definitely a dark point in humanity that we had come to such an incredible creative power that we are able to make something that actually on a cellular level completely destroys and creates sort of empty voids on the earth. And now we have the ability to do that and wipe out everything immediately. It’s definitely indicative of something really fascinating – that we could create “uncreation.” We are America that dropped the bomb, we are people.
I think if we all serve Christ, we are kind of called to be a part of a unique group of people and we’re uniquely called out from this earth and so I really wanted people to examine who is their in-group and who is my family in this situation and who is not.
Let’s move onto something more related to the music in the EP. One of my favorite aspects of the EP were some of the instrumental songs, “From Tides” and “To Caves.” I got sort of a creepily, relaxing feeling after the intensity of the lyrical songs. Was there any symbolism with the instrumental songs?
Yeah, there is symbolism behind them. I guess the goal we are trying to do there… One of the reviews said it kind of gives you time to reflect upon what you are hearing and thinking. We are, as I think are a lot of artists, big believers in people listening to the whole EP as a chunk, as a unit. We would love for people to grab the whole thing and hear it as a narrative. “From Tides” and “To Caves” are obviously geographical references, and geography is the main inspiration behind this whole thing that we’re doing, which has different regions of the world and different languages which kind of shows the commonality of each other despite everything that makes us look different. If you read the parentheticals (in the titles), they kind of say something else. ‘Au Revior’ means ‘farewell’ in French. ‘Hibakusha’ is Anglicized Japanese that literally means “the burnt ones.” It’s a term that became used to denote the stigmatized people that were affected by the nuclear bomb. Often they had genetic affects, especially in their children. They became known as the ‘Hibakusha.’ ‘Vechnost’ is Anglicized Russian for ‘eternal.’ (Editor’s Note: For the lyrics and a detailed description of the lyrics visit Silent Planet’s YouTube channel.)
You’re no stranger to using calmer breaks in between your music. I also noticed from 2012-2013, many metalcore bands featured several acoustic breaks in between their music. What do you think about the idea of incorporating calm breaks in metal albums?
We love it and it’s been a primary part of Spencer’s musical taste. I remember meeting him when he was 17 and he gave me a pre-pro. I remember listening to it and it had just ambient tones. I had never been so emotionally affected just listening to music. I always just thought of heavy music just being heavy.
When I heard (Spencer’s pre-pro) I was like, this is fanatic-emotional, like the stuff that maybe Death Cab for Cutie does for me, and it’s still heavy. We started doing that, and obviously we’re not the first band to do that. We’ve been kind of having that interest in going for that for really quite some time now, and I guess when you hear that stuff it’s kind of bringing in together music that we hope is dramatic and rises and falls just like any good story should.
What is your writing process like? Does everyone play a part or is it just one person?
I’d say everybody plays a part. So much of being in a small band is just not musical. Everybody in our ministry contributes. We believe that foremost we need to love each other and be able to live together (all of us have lived together at some point) because we believe it’s not real love if we just talk about it on stage or on Facebook and if we’re not actually eating together and getting mad at each other and laughing.
Someone like Spencer has a huge hand in the musical writing. He’s one of those gifted dudes and we all know it and we all celebrate it with him. He was one of those kids who was three and stared playing the piano and his parents were like, “What is happening?”
We have a new guy coming in. I think God’s finally told him to be a part of (Silent Planet). That should make the (musical) writing process easier because he’s a really great writer and there is a lot more material that is yet to come.
Lyrically the majority of it is me. Our other vocalist, Thomas, is very gifted lyrically and had some phenomenal bands he wrote lyrics for. We’re still learning how to work together lyrically and incorporate each other’s stuff.
This sort of sounds cheesy, but we want our Facebook posts and our Instagram pictures and everything we do to sort of be a part of the larger art that is Silent Planet. We are convicted that the people who listen to our music aren’t fans. We really don’t like the hierarchy. We call people lovers to get away from fans or anything like that but we’re not a cult. We’re not trying to bring people out to a forest and drink punch with us.
All these songs deal with incredible amounts of death and utterly tragic circumstances. Stories like these are often times the reason for people rejecting God. What would you say to people who would say something like that and what is the Christian message in these stories?
I’m so glad you’re asking that. We believe in a God who suffers with humanity, who feels our pain, who has felt our pain on earth, as Jesus. People in Western society have that leisure of saying, “I don’t know if I could believe in a God that allows such atrocities to happen” – but they don’t experience the atrocities themselves, they’re just saying that as a third party.
I don’t think Jesus is for them. I don’t think the Gospel is for them.
And that’s not to say that I don’t hope that they know Jesus, but I think when you read the gospel accounts, Jesus is like, “Hey, if you have your life figured out, if it’s that easy for you to say and then go on with your life of leisure and excess, if that’s your paradigm – then great. I’m here for the broken. I’m here for the fringes of society.”
I do believe Jesus met people on the fringes of society and that’s why we love this genre because we really get to interact with some of the fringes of American society. We want to tell stories, I guess, from the outskirts, from the people who saw what we just talked about from the comfort of our homes.
We will never be able to live out their stories, and I don’t really know what it’s like for those people, but I still feel like it is my gospel function to search for their stories. I hope we do respect to these people, it’s definitely not my goal to say as a 21st century man what it was like for these 20th century ladies in World War II, but I do believe they are my people, my family, because of Jesus.
And I really don’t believe women have a voice in the music scene that we’re in. Women are either temptresses that need to be fought off, or they’re like the woman you should go for. I feel like women don’t ever get a voice, which is weird because Jesus gave women a voice. Jesus treated women like people; nobody was doing that. It’s one of the primary reasons why I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I’ve always been intrigued by that.
What’s up with the album art? What is its significance?
Our album art, which my girlfriend Melissa Quinn (marissakathleenquinn.tumblr.com) drew, is very feminine in origin, the idea of the lunar being feminine and the solar being masculine in the archetypal history and legends and mythology. It shows, basically, a bird that has died very gracefully and beautifully in kind of a sad and tragic way. The beauty of a bird dying. The idea is that the moon continues to cycle and that the life cycle continues to fight this tragedy.
What about your band’s symbol?
We call it the broken planet. It’s the idea that the earth is torn and there is something that is torn between us as humans. There is a rift; there are two sides to it. That’s kind of you and me, anybody and everybody else. We are on these different sides of this chasm created by our selfishness; we don’t believe that we can fully communicate; that our words render us not quite able to connect with one another – and that’s the basic tenant of existentialism.
But we believe we were created to be completely, wholly aware of one another. So there is a very thin circle that surrounds the torn circle, and that is what we believe is God’s desire: to make this earth we live on whole again.
Silent Planet was posted on February 3, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by Jordan Gonzalez.