After nearly four years since their last album, Michigan’s Chiodos have returned with their fourth album, Devil. The band’s long-time loyal fan base have been ravenous for this record since news had broken that former members Craig Owens and Derrick Frost were gracing their return to the band. This record, being their first record together in almost seven years, both brings new ideas lyrically, vocally and instrumentally. Newest valuable member to the band is Thomas Erak, whom stakes his claim within the band as both a mentor and a storm of fresh ideas. Devil has surprises in store for fans, both with the band’s sound entering bold uncharted territories and with touching roots back to 2007’s Bone Palace Ballet.
Devil marks Chiodos blossoming into their mature sound while opening new horizons for the band. Craig Owens’ voice displays new-found confidence, while the rest of the talented sextet have created an intricately-crafted sound-scape that is easily the band’s most intriguing and inspired work to date.
Cliché’s Heather Glock sat down with Craig Owens, Matt Goddard and Thomas Erak in a local café in New York City to discuss the writing process for Devil, Craig’s love for encompassing literature in his lyrics, and coming together as a band as they set their sights on what should be a very exciting 2014.
Cliché: Craig, you have stated in previous interviews that the title Devil is not defined by the physical form of Lucifer, but rather the word is a manifestation of temptation and the gritty effects of life choices. Your portrayal of these thoughts in the album compare to the allegory of the “Everyman.” This is a protagonist that represents all of humanity as they undergo trials in search to find their true path in life. Was this intentional to help fans relation or help them reflect on their life choices?
Craig: Originally, you just do what you do. I just wanted to write an honest record and then the name popped into my head randomly and I said, “I don’t know that has a lot of negative connotation attached to it. I don’t know if I want to back that. Will people be open minded enough to understand that?” Then, things sort of started showing up that reaffirmed it and I think Pat, posted that Taro card thing and that reaffirmed it. It wasn’t as intentional as one of those accidental moments of…it’s hard to say accidental, it was something more subconscious than a conscious decision, I think it was an indirect thing that I didn’t understand until I had gotten some perspective on it.
Would the lyric, “Dogma? I am God.” In Expensive Conversations in Cheap Motels, give into the perception that most of humanity are under the false pretense that they are infallible to the consequences of their desires? Perhaps due to excessive hubris?
Craig: I think that is what basically ego and aggression bring out in people and that song I wanted to hide a palindrome in. The Dogma I Am God is a palindrome right there and I think there is a lot to be said for that. So, the hidden meaning in it is very out in the open it is very honest and forward, it is not me saying that I am in any way; it’s saying that that is where that aggression and emotion can take you. When you are blinded by such aggression and greed and whatever it is you are going through, or anger, it can lead you to moments of grandeur in a weird way that makes you feel like you are larger than life.
The cover art is intriguing with the child on the ladder clutching a red balloon. I also noticed on the flyer for the Devil’s Dance Tour, that in the ‘O’ of the band name, there is also a red balloon. May I ask what the symbolism is?
Craig: I think the red balloon symbolizes who you are. I think the red balloon symbolizes your individuality, who it is you are as human being, your vulnerabilities, your flaws, imperfections, the things that you love about yourself and the reason it is being held up against the storm is because it’s learning to kind of live with that and be comfortable with those things even though they are so fragile in the chaos of life.
I noticed that in some songs, there was an almost lighter hearted feel as well as some Cinematic Sunrise influences. Did you all feel that the album needed to be broken up in terms of tone?
Craig: Not really. How we do it, is that we get together and someone has an idea and then we chase it. Someone champions the song and is the leader of the vision and everybody kind of gets their hands on it, does their thing to it and we move forward. This is only rock and roll and it is a lot more simpler than I think it can be perceived as. I like to hide things lyrically, and Thomas likes to add crazy things in what he does and Matt likes to do intricate parts in what he does. It’s really just a group of friends getting together and making music and the album is just the collection of songs that we think that best represented what is that we experience together.
With the addition of Thomas Erak, has the writing process been different from albums previous?
Craig: I think so a bunch. It’s been interesting and different. It’s like throwing a new person into your relationship. We are married to 5 different guys basically. So, it does add a different dynamic but it has been a pleasure working with Thomas. [turns to Thomas] What has your perspective been on writing this record?
Thomas: It was a lot different for me probably than anyone else even though I think everybody kind of had to relearn each other in this band, but they had worked together before and I never worked with them, so it was my first go at it and you know there is definitely a learning curve, but I am definitely starting to get more comfortable in my role with the band. I definitely started to towards the end of making the record, when writing it sometimes seemed to be a bit of a challenge for me in certain areas, but I think it turned out really well and I am really happy with it.
You collaborated with the same orchestral team from Bone Palace Ballet for Devil. Have you ever considered touring with an orchestra to perform alongside with the band?
Matt: It would be amazing, but that involves a larger budget than what we are comfortable with right now. Maybe one day…not maybe…hopefully one day we can. That would be awesome.
Since the release of The Heartless Control Everything to the current record Devil, Chiodos has grown without sounding as though you are recycling its own sound with each new record. Would you say that Chiodos has blossomed into its mature full potential at this point in time?
Craig: Our focus is there, I think we always challenge ourselves, so I don’t know if there is a full potential for this band. All six of us are really really talented creative individuals and inspiration isn’t something you can really craft. It is not something you can say, “I’m going to be inspired today! I’m going to do this and do this!” It hits you and it hits you in different points in your life and I think each of hit strides in different moments in our lives, and the cool part is that we have so many creative people here that we are able to do it.
The visual choices for the videos of this album are quite alluring within its own chaos of black and white clips meshed together. Where did the inspiration for the collection of vintage film derive from?
Matt: Our buddy Kyle has a bunch of stock video stuff and just made these vignettes of it, pretty much just like ‘go to town and have fun with it!’ They turned out awesome and they are engaging and it is not like we released a song just to have a video to go along with it, so you are just not staring at an album cover. It not only listening to something, visually it keeps people involved and attentive.
Craig: My favorite one is Why The Munsters Matter, we gave him [Kyle] round about conceptual ideas and let him go because it is like going into a tattoo shop and saying I want this exact piece, but it is not going to be up to their full potential. You have to let them be the artist a little bit, so with him we gave him and idea of what we wanted and that is what it turned into, but I definitely wanted, I personally requested old horror movies for why The Munsters Matter and I loved seeing original Frankenstein, I love seeing Nosferatu, I love seeing The Creature From the Black Lagoon. There was a bunch of nods to the past. This band has always been centered around a lot of horror movies and our name comes from Killer Klowns From Outer Space. It’s something that we love.
As a band, you have journeyed from Equal Vision to Razor and Tie to work with David Bottrill. Has working with David help you settle in your niche of exploring new creative boundaries?
Craig: The best part about Bottril is that he helped us round out the songs in a focused way. He told us things that the songs needed to finish them without us even knowing or being conscious of. He gave us an outside perspective and helped us reached our goals. Also he, catered to everyone in the band to make sure they all had a voice. Bottril did amazing. He really helped us shape Devil into what it is.
Some of the past few records that Chiodos have done, had quite a few literary references such as Shakespeare and Charles Bukowski. In Devil, there are lyrics that bear a striking resemblance to Dante’s character and his emotional conflicts in The Inferno. Was Dante Alighieri’s work an inspiration?
Craig: Maybe a couple of them also, I don’t give it away cause I feel like people get it but not until 2 years after we release it and its funny because I think people like to say that they get it. There are some other ones in there two that I think people are overlooking so you should take a look a see if there are any sorts of nods to the past. I was definitely in a few different pretty weird books when I was reading it and weird movies and artists and things like that.
Was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House 5 influential on this record? If so, would it tie into the Sunny Days and Hand Grenades lyrical prose of how humanity is dissolving by our communal desires for conformity, thus creating artificial substitutes for our real problems?
Craig: Period. Absolutely. I was deep into Slaughter House 5, I was reading it when we were in the studio and I wanted to recreate a snapshot of this perception of society this suburbia home lifestyle, something that I never experienced. My family never sat down and had dinner together, but something that I have experienced through friends and things like that and I wanted to try to take snapshot of the night sonically of what it was like JFK was shot or the night that Marilyn Monroe died or what the dinner table setting was like. I know that is dark and I know that’s sad, but I think that there is tense moments like that of not communicating what the problem is and shoving other things in your life and that was heavily influenced by Vonnegut.
In commentary on a few of the tracks, Craig you had expressed that these communal outcasts are needed to inspire and color the world for society to move forward, which is the backbone to the lyrics of Why The Muensters Matter. Do you all have any words of wisdom to these outcasts?
Craig: That would be like telling myself something in the past ‘cause I felt like that for so long and I felt like that stopped my growth as a human being. I’ve always felt like an outcast, even in a room full of my friends, you just feel a little bit like an outcast.
Matt: Once I get it figured out, I will let you know.
Craig: I guess I would say look at the past because that is the best way to tell what it is that is going to be in the future. Look at the past outcasts of this world, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., I mean all these people that stood out and had a voice and point of view that were different from everyone else. Look how they stand to the test of time, look at everyone else that just blended in and look at their mark on this world. What do you want to be? I think that would be the best way, let them figure it out for themselves because outcasts are typically pretty intelligent people as it is. They have no other way of survival, right? So, I would say look at the past.