Exclusive Interview: Scary Hours talk writing and recording “Symptoms of Modern Hegemony”!
If you’re anything like us then from time to time, perhaps at the recommendation of a friend, an article on your favourite webzine or magazine, you’ll put on a record you’ve never heard before with zero expectations… and then it slaps you in the face and screams “wake up!” at the top of it’s lungs because for however long that record has been out there, you’ve been missing out… and it’s that good. For us one of those records is “Symptoms of Modern Hegemony” by Scary Hours, a blistering collection of cuts that not only combine a myriad of diverse influences but leap genres with death defying regularity while still making perfect sense when it shouldn’t. So it is with great pleasure that we bring you the second of two interviews with mastermind Ryan Struck!
How did your previous experiences writing and recording help to smooth the path for “Symptoms of Modern Hegemony”? “Maybe I’m jaded or something, but my understanding is that artists and engineers have respective headspaces they need to occupy while they work; often, these headspaces clash which leads to frustration and burnout. When I’m recording with an engineer, I get so self-conscious about not pissing them off, but I also beat myself up over my own performance. What should be an interesting and cathartic experience is often very uncomfortable for me, so this record was 100% written and recorded at home. I also had the pandemic keeping me from going to a studio or working with other musicians. I learned a lot over the years from sitting at the board and asking lots of questions while recording with other projects, and I had taken some college courses on audio engineering which gave me some basic knowledge. I need to mention, I couldn’t have mixed without pointers from my friend Pete Zengerle at Landmine Studios. He basically gave me frequency guidelines for each instrument and provided a lot of feedback. I deviated from some of his advice. In retrospect I know it would have sounded way more killer if I’d just passed it off to him to mix. He’s such an incredible talent, I can’t recommend him enough to anyone looking to record. Thanks so much, Pete”
How does the writing process of a new track start? Melody, riff or rhythm first? How does it evolve from there before you consider it the finished article? “More often than not, I come up with an idea for a track when I’m not even doing anything musical. I’ll just get a rhythm that pops in my head and record it in a voice memo in the bathroom at work and hope nobody hears me, then I’ll put chords to it later on when I have time to pick up the guitar. Sometimes I just plug in and tinker til something comes out that I can build off of. Or, I’ll hear a song that utilizes a cool musical tool and figure out how to build my own song around it. So, if you’ll come to Mars with me right now, I’ll give you an example (Here’s where everyone clicks out of this interview, sorry Michael). “Kiss From a Rose” by Seal uses modal interchange by swapping out the tonic chords between major and minor. I thought, “wow, that’s so cool, let me try.” “Behind” bounces back and forth between D major and D minor. I used a kind of drawn-out chromatic run in the verses with parallel minor third intervals to disorient the key a bit in between, but it makes those melodic choruses pop and the key changes sound natural. Once I get some semblance of structure of the music, I’ll start just making weird embarrassing sounds and testing out phrasing over the track. When I get a rhythm that sounds cool, I record those weird gibberish sounds and sub in lyrics later on. Once I get a solid structure in, I’ll record all the final tracks over my scratches. I’ll usually text my neighbor to let her know I’m just recording and not to be concerned with the screaming coming from next door”
The record is incredibly diverse – in fact, we described it in our review as being “schizophrenically diverse” to the point of being avant-garde – with everything from the blast beat surges of Black Metal to a Trip-Hop instrumental, some Deathcore vocal moments, Punk riffs… and yet all being wrapped in this Melodic Metalcore style. Was there ever a point where you looked at each other when writing some of the songs and said “we need to dial this back a notch” or did you just write for yourselves first and hope that people got it? “Well, full disclosure, I didn’t have a band when I wrote and recorded. I am working with an awesome band now for live shows, but it was written and recorded in such a stream-of-consciousness that I didn’t really even stop to think if they all worked together and nobody was there to tell me otherwise. I also grew up on Leftover Crack who had ska, death metal, thrash, skatepunk, and melodic hardcore all on the same records, sometimes in the same song, with violins and pianos in there, too. I don’t want to get on anymore tinfoil-hat artsy-fartsy shit and scare off anyone who might have stayed after that “Kiss From a Rose” stunt I just pulled, but I almost feel like when I pick up the guitar to write, it’s like, I’m just doing what it tells me to do. There were a couple songs/moments where I knowingly exercised my own take on another sound. “Sackler Street” was like, “ok, I want to write a Knocked Loose song but do some dark melodic Black Dahlia Murder tremolo picking and ramp up the double bass.” I went through a point where I was diving deep into thrash bands I had never given my full attention to (Exodus, Sodom, Testament) and I got so fucking stoked that I wanted to try a song like those guys and that’s where “Blinded by Mundanity” came from. I knew I wanted to cover as much ground as possible for the closing track, and I turned to “Full Collapse” by Thursday for inspiration, and that post-rock intro is what I channelled. But for the most part, I just took all of what I felt were the coolest sounding riffs and ideas, and made songs into them. “Daily Grime” needed to be there to break up the structure a little bit since there are so many fast songs on the record. It has a trance-like effect to it which serves to refocus the listener. I also think hardcore and hip-hop evoke similar feelings and I wanted to take a stab at my take on that menacing, dusted, crate digger sound of 90s boom bap. It was fun”
Guest spots are all the rage so if you had the option to bring in a guest to work on a track in the studio with you, who would you like to bring and why? “I mentioned Sierra from No Right. Jess from Mortality Rate and World of Pleasure. Ben from Such Gold. They each have incredible voices for hardcore and I respect each one’s lyrical approach, especially Ben’s lyrics on personal shit. He can write hardcore attitude, life experiences, and intellectual philosophy and it always hits me hard. I don’t know how I didn’t mention him last time, but Zach from PEARS can fucking rip on the mic as well. Can I be really nerdy again? The verses of “Sackler Street” were written with Bryan and Isaac from Knocked Loose in mind. The verses of “Suffer Peacefully” were written for Zack from Rage Against the Machine. So if I had celebrity status, I’d ask them to come do the parts I wrote for them since they stood me up the first time around! Hahaha”
For us gear nerds out there, can you tell us what you’re using gear wise (pedals, strings, drums etc) to get your sound? “For some of the defining sounds on the album: The guitar I wrote and recorded with is a Melody Maker with a Lollar P90. It belonged to Joe from Pyrrhic Victory Recordings who let me borrow it to play with sounds. He gifted it to me for my two year sobriety date. I love that guitar so much. The bass sound was really important to me on this record. I wanted it to sound as much like the bass on Daggermouth’s “Turf Wars” album as possible (that shit sounds incredible, go check it out). I used a p-bass special with both the J and P pickups activated, through a SansAmp pedal into a GK800RB and out of an Ampeg SVT. Big, bright, rattling fucking buzzsaw sound coming from that thing. And I always use stainless steel strings on my guitars and basses, preferably DR. In a pinch, I’ll use GHS boomers or Ernie Ball cobalt but they’re not my first choice. The thing that pops most in the drums is a 14″ Pork Pie Little Squealer snare. I really wanted to go for that Snapcase or Joey Jordison “ping” overtone, and this snare gave me some of that crack I wanted but I dialed back the long sustain on the top head since the songs are so fast”
What difference would it make to you as a band if you could land an endorsement from a gear manufacturer? “It would be nice to get free stuff to save money, but I don’t think, at least not at this time, that we are a band that other bands want to sound like. Growing up on punk, we all wanted our band’s name on the back of that Ernie Ball package. It would be great for everyone in the band, though, for real. The songs are all in drop tunings so it’d be great for everyone to just have extra guitars that live in drop-c for this project”
“Symptoms of Modern Hegemony” by Scary Hours is out now via Pyrrhic Victory Recordings