INTERVIEW: Hail the Sun chats Mental Knife, their Warped Tour Experience and much more!
In the aftermath of the last Warped Tour being finished this summer, it’s been sad to think about how it will no longer be a thing. Considering how many bands were given their big break, the relationships that were developed during it between artists and just the community it provided. So while it’s been a frequent topic, it’s also I think reenergizing bands to keep touring and work even harder to make an effort to be on the road and keep that community going.
One of those bands that jumped on the road pretty quickly again right after Warped were Chico’s Hail the Sun who are fresh off the release of their latest record, “Mental Knife”, and found themselves on tour with Polyphia. I was able to sit down with guitarist Shane Gann and bassist John Stirrat to talk everything from that Warped experience to how the album has been going over in their eyes and much more. Read through our chat below and keep your eyes peeled for much more from this talented group!
You guys have had a really crazy year. The new album came out this summer but you did a lot of the Warped Tour. You were out with Circa Survive all spring, how have these last few months been? Maybe the songs in particular on this album, how do you think they’ve been performing?
John Stirrat: Yeah the album, Mental Knife, it’s been getting a great response I think. With fans, old and new, we’ve heard a lot of newcomers coming in especially on this tour. Polyphia’s doing so well and bringing out so many people that maybe have never heard of Hail the Sun. We’re getting great responses from them. We’re playing four or five songs off the new album which is great for the first time going through it. And I think each and every one of the songs is doing great. So the last two months have been busy, just preparing for this tour and now we’re here and doing it. Couldn’t be happier!
And then just from speaking to a lot of bands recently that are on their next tours after the final Warped Tour, like Story Untold was in Boston last night. A lot of bands are making their returns to the places they hit on Warped. Maybe an experience that stood out on your Warped Tour dates, maybe friends you made on the run, bands people should be looking for?
JS: Yeah, definitely! Not, unfortunately, but we only had the first half of Warped Tour. We didn’t hit Boston which date we love. We hopped off in Houston but this year’s Warped Tour was great. We got to make friends with different bands on our stage, the White Lightning. Every Time I Die, we got to meet those guys who are so sweet.
Shane Gann: Senses Fail.
JS: Senses Fail, those guys were great.
SG: They were very influential for Donovan (lead vocalist) and a bunch of us.
JS: Everybody was really stoked to be on the last Warped Tour so the vibes were good. A lot of good conversations were had.
SG: Yeah everyone was taking advantage of just the moment. Every moment that we had. I think because we had done Warped two years ago, it was very immediately apparent that we had stepped up to the next stage. Literally, it was a bigger stage but we stepped up to it. But shows like Denver and I mean really everywhere, St. Louis, Kansas City, all the California shows, there were just more people, more excitement. More fun! It was absolutely a memorable, amazing tour.
There were moments on the date I covered in Hartford where there were bigger crowds for the Lightning stages then there were at the main stages.
JS: Definitely some big bands that have been around for twenty years. A lot of the diehards that have been going to Warped Tour or maybe they had been going earlier and stopped, and they came out. So those crowds were huge on some of the dates so that was really cool for us. Really fun.
That’s awesome! Then quickly right after the Warped Tour, the album dropped, ‘Mental Knife’. Obviously a pretty heavy album, not necessarily in the music but the messages that were brought in that album. Maybe when did “Mental Knife” start coming together? I know it hadn’t been too long prior since the EP.
SG: Honestly yeah! It was very shortly after the EP. We still had some riffs in our back pockets. We had some stuff we had held on to, out of “Secret Wars”. But I don’t think we really had a lyrical direction or a motive or anything going in at all. And for it to come together the way it did, it’s kind of a testament to Donovan’s lyrical ability to again be very in this moment and in this stage of his life. Those were all the words that he came up with for this album. So it was very personal and it was very timely. It’s just another footprint of where we are at as a band and it wasn’t exactly the same as “Secret Wars”. Five, six months later writing wise so the thoughts were different. The music is just slightly a little more ahead, more today.
JS: Yeah, we recorded “Mental Knife” in January and February of 2018. So the album was done but we were sitting on it for a while. Eager to put it out but in that time, we had a lot of good tours. We did a tour with Circa Survive and Foxing and then that went right into Warped Tour. Which was great and now we’re here so keeping busy! And trying to just get the music out there.
And I know it’s kind of a unique position where the lead singer is on drums versus the guitar or bass. So maybe when it comes to these songs besides the lyrics when writing these songs, is it something where you all write your own parts, do you collaborate in the studio? How does it really come about?
JS: It’s kind of a mesh pot when it comes to writing.
SG: A little bit of everything.
JS: Shane and Aric come up definitely with all the guitar parts. Ninety percent I’d say, maybe 98%, and that’s a pivotal skeleton of our songs. And then Donovan will come in with some drums and we also had help from our touring drummer, Alan Cancias, this album. He’s an engineer/producer himself so it was nice to have his help in pre-production for the album. It’s always different. It’s usually not one person doing everything. I’d say Donovan takes care of the lyrics for the most part but all of us get into it and put our own influence into it. Come up with something interesting, something different.
SG: Yeah we all had homework from Beau. Beau Burchell who did the record down in Hollywood. He would literally have us go one song at a time and it would be two to three days we would spend just on that one song. Making sure we had all the guitars in, bass, completely finalized. Make sure the structure was sound. So that gave us time to go home and work on our parts individually. So even though we met up before we went into the studio and we had hashed out basic structures where we had enough to go into the studio, we had songs, we still had time to finalize and finesse our parts. Which I think was very, very helpful. An idea of just focusing on one at a time was much more manageable then any of our other studio experiences.
Just sort of going song by song and putting all of your time into it?
SG: It was nice! It was like a song a day or a song every other day. So it was enough time for us to see it in it’s own essence, see if we had to change something up. Another thing we did differently this album was that we saved drumming for the last part of recording. Where usually drumming would go first, like normally it’s once the drums are on, it’s these album parts that become a whole section. So it was kind of different with bass and guitar going first because then during it, we could come up with different parts being like ‘Oh maybe change this here’ then Donovan could change the lyrics. It was a fun process.
Yeah definitely a different approach to it. It’s always this traditional process.
SG: Oh yeah, all of our albums had been like that before.
JS: Always the drums first. That’s been the way for 70 years, switching that shit up.
SG: We weren’t first but we went first.
Let’s just say that you were first.
SG: Your words.
My words here. Then you’ve been on this run since early October, you only have about ten days left on this. I’m sure a little break with the holidays maybe.
SG: Little bit!
I’m sure you can’t say much at all about 2019 because it’s under wraps but focuses or goals for Hail the Sun these next few months? Like maybe something you really want to work on or maybe something exciting?
SG: Well, we’ll say we do have four shows planned in December before Christmas. Our old record label, Blue Swan Records, they’ve been putting on a ‘Night Of the Blue Swan’ , I believe this is the fourth year. It will be our third time playing it. Other bands are The Fall of Troy, Icarus the Owl, a lot of bands so that’s really fun because it’s at the end of the year. We know all those bands.
JS: Feels like a holiday party.
SG: Yeah, it’s like the office holiday party! It’s a lot of fun and the people who show up just love music. So that’s always something to look forward to. Maybe we’ll do something special for those shows or something like that. But I think after this tour, slowly as these months go on, we’re going to try to continue to write music I’d like to say. So we’re not trapped in a corner before our next recording. So hopefully yeah a little bit of that, we’ll be playing shows. A little bit of relaxing at home of course. I got some cats to play with. Some very cool cats and my fiancee I guess I’ll hang out with her too. She’ll be there…but the cats.
JS: We definitely don’t have any plans to do any recording or anything. Since we put out an album this year and last basically. But we do continue to do more -er’s, adjectives with -ers. Bigger, harder, faster, stronger, better, sillier. Just pick a word. There will be much more in 2019. Stuff to come!
SG: There will be lots to come. I think we can expect more touring because we had to take a year off in our nine years of touring. So we’re just going to keep going.
JS: Keep pushing.
I feel like you’ve been in Boston so many times.
SG: Probably…like a dozen. At least ten.
JS: We’ve been touring nationally since 2012.
Well if you include Worcester.
SG: Yeah I would include that in the count. Boston, it’s actually newer like maybe five or six times.
Boston’s starting to get these shows here more.
JS: Middle East we’ve been at three times by itself.
SG: It’s a good city though, we like it. It seems to get better each time. And tonight I heard is almost sold out.
JS: Wherever I am in Boston tonight.
SG: Is this Cambridge?
This is Boston officially. Tours are starting to come here more often I think there are just more venues where it’s just the one.
SG: The Palladium yeah.
JS: Well we go wherever the people go. And people have been coming. Playing Boston now instead of Worcester is testament. It’s bigger though now, we have a chance to come to the real city. Keep coming to shows and we’ll keep being able to come.
Worcester’s still a good place, I like Worcester.
JS: Yeah definitely!