Interview: Trap Them’s Ryan McKenney on Crown Feral, Non-Musical Influences and Technology

Trap Them

Since 2001, Washington’s Trap Them have cut their own angry path through the hardcore/crust/metal landscape. Early on, the band became extremely reliable for anyone looking for an aggressive outlet to turn to. Later this month the band’s fifth full length Crown Feral will be released and their tried and true reliability hasn’t changed one bit — if anything it’s possibly one of the darkest and best written albums of the band’s career. On the heels of the album release is a continent spanning back to back tour so their next few months will be hectic to say the least. Vocalist and founding member Ryan McKenney was kind enough to give us a few minutes to discuss all this and more. Read all about what he had to say after the jump…

With two teaser tracks, Crown Feral due out later this month, a European tour in October and a stateside tour in November, I have to believe you’re glad to get back in front of the fans on all accounts?

Yes, it’ll be nice. Once we step back from touring a ton it’s nice to revisit it again after a long length of time off. With us it’s never a go out for three months, have four days to yourself then go back out for another two months because when we feel like going we know it’s time.

Trap Them - Crown Feral

Have you had any opportunities to play songs from Crown Feral and if so how has the reaction been?

We did two shows a couple months ago and played one of the new songs just to have a feel of it live. I think even when people know this band their reaction of watching us live is more…it’s not like dead stares but they kind of really zone into it and you can never really tell if they’re confused or if it’s “oh cool, this is a new song”. We’re not one of those bands that people are all “OH SHIT, it’s a new song I’m gonna go stab someone”. But it was very cool. The bummer was, we were doing these two shows — the way we wrote this whole album was for something we could play live — and we really wanted to just confuse people and play the entire album beginning to end. We were stoked to do it but Prosthetic wasn’t big on it because everyone has a phone with a camera and the whole record would’ve been online in less than an hour which makes sense now looking back on it.

And that’s one of the downsides of this day and age, technology is good but it hurts at times.

In a way I wish this stuff existed twenty years ago for the bands I love from that time that I’ll never be able to see footage of them, ever again. But maybe in twenty years I’ll be stoked to watch a band that someone taped on their phone. So it really is a catch 22 sort of thing.

You’ve got amazing support for these two upcoming tours, Venom Prison and Yautja, how did that come about?

Brian (Izzi, guitarist) was familiar with Venom Prison. He had talked to them a couple times when they had passed through Boston and it kind of made sense with them being on Prosthetic as well. We enjoy the opportunity, every time we go out, to bring another band we don’t normally get to do stuff with. In that aspect it was cool to be able to have Okkultokrati and Venom Prison do Europe with us. With Yautja, we knew one of the guys that was in Coliseum (Kayan Vaziri) and we had done a lot with them on our own terms, so we knew him pretty well. Another band like that where we never really get to do anything with outside of  our own choice so it was cool to be able to do that.

Your album and song titles have always been creative and thought provoking, what’s the creative process for you going into a new album and likewise for naming the albums and songs?

Before we ever write the music I have titles and lyrics done, it’s just the way I approach it. As far as my part in the band I don’t write the music as I have no musical ability. I have full trust in those guys to do that. I feel like, being a boring, normal, run of the mill type of lyricist and writer – vocalist where you just do things by the numbers doesn’t do justice to the guys making the music when you really respect what they’re doing. For me, since the start of this band, I wanted to approach that type of stuff in a different manner, being blunt and linear when writing lyrics and song titles. My brain is so scrambled that it would make sense if I tried to be blunt anyway. Trying to ask me a yes or no question turns into a weird Dennis Miller joke that goes sideways for ten minutes before someone looks at me all confused and wondering if that was a yes or no. But it’s something I really enjoy doing. If I’m going to invest my time in it I want it to be something more important than being able to sit down and write something in five minutes and be done with it.

You touched on this a little but when the writing starts for a new album does everyone just trust each other with their respective parts or is it only one or two of you that write the music?

Since Blissfucker it’s been the same band and even on that one Brian had such a high opinion of Galen (Baudhun, bassist) and Brad (Fickeisen, drummer) and their musicianship that I think it was the first time he was able to present somewhat fleshed out songs to those guys and they were able to add additional elements. They were able to fully round it out from Brian’s vision. As far as doing it for Crown Feral there wasn’t any worry about having any new members and reintroducing songs or anything like that. In between these two records they’ve gelled so much and they have such a good understanding that when it came time to write this new record Brian brought in a skeleton and those guys were able to build on most of it together. In Brian’s mind, he always has the song and in that aspect he’s the songwriter but this time especially, it was the first time he had the freedom to know he has two other guys that he could depend on to help him out and make it a fully realized piece of music. By the time we went in the studio all four of us knew we didn’t even have to be there when someone else was doing their part. We sliced and diced for a part here and there but mostly it was insane. This was the first time we’ve shown up at the studio with the full record ready and all the songs were written. It was such a refreshing way to go into the studio for us as a band because that never happens.

Trap Them

You’ve got Prosthetic Records who you’ve been with now for three albums and of course Kurt Ballou who has been with you since the beginning. One has to assume this makes things even easier as well because as you said you’re not working with unknowns and you know going in what you’re getting.

Yes, totally. The thing is, Kurt — at this point — is and has been an unspoken member. There’s an understanding between the band and him where he knows he will be the one doing the records. Oftentimes, between albums, he’s been the one to say “Brian, when are guys coming in, when is this happening, have you started writing yet?”. It’s nice to know a guy, with such talent and such an ear for this type of music that has created such amazing records, values what we do in a way where he’s excited for us to come in. So that’s great and made it even easier this time because we came in prepared. By the second day he said he felt guilty because he didn’t really have to do anything with this one other than pressing the button. We were ready. Which for him it was a shock, a complete shock. Prosthetic has been great. With them, on both sides, there was a feeling-out process when we first signed and did Darker Handcraft because I think they had never worked with a band like us. We are older dudes that do not give a fuck and we are going to do what we want to do. I don’t think they were really used to that. It’s not a knock on them because they obviously were and are a well established label but I think they signed a band of guys in their mid thirties that had already done a ton of touring and recording and were completely fed up and frustrated with the world. They would ask us to do a certain thing and we would just say no. Of course they would say “what do you mean no” but at that time we didn’t want to do it. At first they would wonder what our problem was but a year later they got it and got us. Probably for the first year, if you asked them, they would have said “what a bunch of dickheads” and we would have said the same about them. But it’s like being thrown into a big brother house together and all of a sudden one day you say “holy shit I totally get where you’re coming from now”. Truthfully since then it’s been awesome.

When Sleepwell Deconstructor came out it was, for some, the first chance to get to hear just how aggressive and confrontational you guys sound. Fast forward to now and that template is still loud and clear but you’ve tightened up tremendously and each album, particularly the last three, has gotten darker and darker. You manage to stay grounded to your original vision, how do you manage to do this so well? Some bands come out with a ripper of a debut then with each follow up they change so much that they lose their way and not to mention their fans but you guys have not done that.

I think it’s because from the very onset Brian and I both had the same understanding about the music we liked and, as you just said, there’s bands that release their follow up and don’t even sound like the same band and don’t sound anything close to what I may have liked before. The purpose of us starting this band was that we wanted to, with each album, make progress without amnesia. We didn’t want to forget who we were but we wanted to be able to present further extensions of what we always intended to do. If you’re a band that is into doing stuff like that you don’t ever want to alienate yourselves, you don’t want to alienate the sound that you originally wanted. It’s a pretty easy thing to do if you’re not trying to please someone else. At the end of the day we would know if we made a song or record where there was an inkling we weren’t going to be happy with it and in that case we wouldn’t do it. That’s why we took our time with the last couple of records and as time went on we had a better understanding of what we wanted to be able to do and what we were comfortable in extending as the overall feel of what the band is. As far as my approach, I’ve gotten better and better so it’s easy for me. Every time Brian sends a new song it’s like christmas morning. He knows what I like and I know how he writes so it’s always fun to hear something new because I know that he’s on the same plane. As he gets older more ideas go into his head. For some people they just get tired out and want to write the same record over and over and for some, their mind is scrambled and they keep having new thoughts so with that, we might as well make a new record with those thoughts.

There’s always that one song that has an upbeat rock type of vibe to it. It comes out along the lines of an Every Time I Die track but harder and nastier. “The Facts” from Darker Handcraft, “Gift and Gift Unsteady” from Blissfucker and now from Crown Feral it’s “Revival Spines”. Is this a conscience effort to give the listener a short, fun break or something else entirely?

We couldn’t write an entire album that sounds like that because of how we want to come across but we hinted towards this type of stuff as far back as Sleepwell Deconstructor with “Digital Dogs” which was pretty much a rock song. I think with every record we didn’t want to over saturate it with stuff like that but you’re definitely right. Especially on Crown Feral, “Revival Spines” was exactly what we wanted it to be which is a death-punk rock song. People would be pretty surprised if they knew what the influences of this band are, even going back to Sleepwell, 90% of the record was blast beats but half that record was “what if we played Hot Snakes on 45 rpm instead of 33, how would that sound?”. That’s the type of shit certain listeners were able to tap into right away but there’s also others that heard the HM2 and all of a sudden figured all we were doing was playing Swedish death metal but blast beats or not, this band has always been influenced by dirty rock-n-roll as the very precise middle ground of what Brian and I both love. He grew up with metal, I grew up with punk and hardcore but we always had that total understanding of gnarly rock-n-roll so we were able to make an aggressive band where people can’t pinpoint exactly what the influence is and that made it even more fun. We always try to do it on every record, we try to do a couple of those type of songs without making it sound like it doesn’t fit. I feel like it fits in a way that everybody kind of expects us to do one of those on every record and then we do it and say “there you go”. Likewise for the one furious blast beat song on every record where we say “there you go, there’s the blast beats. You want to fucking complain about no blast beats on the record, there you go”.

You mention the shock of most people in your influences which in turn speaks volumes of the catchy and memorable songwriting. It’s there but not in your face, the aggression is what hits you initially but the catchiness is what makes it stick.

Thank you and that was kind of the plan, we don’t need a billboard to say follow along and latch on to this. Our music is based in violence and anger, we can’t do a whole record of catchy stuff, I mean what’s the point when you’re pissed off you don’t want everyone to know what’s going to happen next. You want that element of confusion, danger, anger and frustration to where people have no idea what the next album is going to sound like but they know, beyond any shadow of doubt, it’s going to sound pissed.

What or who inspires you guys as artists?

As far as our main influence it wouldn’t even be music related. I think after you create the type of band you want to create and you know what type of sound you’re doing you don’t intentionally try to hunt down any influences, you’ve already created your own feel. For us it’s movies and for me I read a murder novel a day. There’s so many other avenues besides music itself that can influence a band like this that there’s no one that we hold as an overall icon that we could try to reach towards. It was a lot more understood for us that the feeling and essence of what we wanted to do comes from influences far away from music related. It was more of me and Brian going and seeing horror movies every other day or weird stuff like that. Getting an inflatable pumpkin and setting it on fire would propel us to write a song.

Trap Them

Good to hear something other than music as a listed influence.

You could probably ask the other members of the band and they’d have an influence they would tell you is a part of this but for me, I can’t even wear headphones and walk down the street anymore. All I have is circus music in my head. It’s hard of me to think of music that influences me or pushes me towards doing a certain thing as far as this type of artistic output.

Speaking of horror movies, is it true the band took their name from the late 70’s movie Trap Them and Kill Them?

Yes. That was the original idea but then we had to drop the ‘and Kill Them’ because basically if you call your band Trap Them and Kill Them everybody pretty much thinks they have a predetermined idea of exactly what you sound like. We had to get rid of that, it just made sense to. Without the word Kill in the title it seems a lot less cheesy.

Many thanks to Ryan for his time.

– Josh

Crown Feral will be available September 23 on Prosthetic Records. For more information on Trap Them visit the band’s Facebook page.

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