While driving down the mountain at Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, TJ Harris of Decyfer Down caught up with JesusFreakHideout's Christopher Smith to discuss their new album, their status as an independent band, and to share the vomit story...
This interview took place on: February 23, 2016.
Click here for Decyfer Down's Artist Profile page.
My perfect day would definitely involve my family and an awesome rock show *laughter*. It's far and few in between that I get both in the same day because I don't get to travel with them that often. I've got two kids, 10 and 8, and my wife's pregnant with our third child right now--so that would be pretty amazing.
TJ: Honestly I kinda laughed about it. We hadn't played in probably two or three years, and we didn't tour the Scarecrow record. Our drummer at the time, Josh, called me and he was talking to me about it and I just kinda laughed at him. And he went on to talk about it more, and I said 'Oh, you're serious!' I was excited. I believe we all were excited. Brandon and I had talked about it, but at the same time we were kind of freaked out and a little nervous because after being home for two or three years after touring for eight to ten years, you get settled in. It was just a normal 8 to 5 kind of lifestyle. The thought of leaving the family and starting off again into this thing where you're not sure financially where you are going to land and how often you'll be home was a little scary. But we just put our faith in God, and it was amazing. It was one of the best tours we'd ever been on and now this year is even better.
TJ: It's been awesome. But it requires a lot of time. Even the whole IndieGoGo crowdfundraiser, that portion of it was like a full time job on its own just trying to keep the word out there on social media and keeping in people's feeds. But it was great. The process of recording on an independent record was so liberating. There was no one to answer to for writing and recording, no filter. And when I say that, I mean nothing negative toward Fair Trade or the people that work at Fair Trade. We still have a good relationship with those guys--we love them. It's just that there's a certain part of the industry and a certain aspect in trying to navigate our style of writing that really sucks the creativity out of the whole process. It was really nice to be able to do it on our own and not have to worry about what anybody thought about what we wrote or the type of riff we came up with.
TJ: With this record, we want people to listen to it and walk away knowing that God is love and there is hope in Jesus Christ. We've always tried to relay that message to people and portray that in our lives. The message, in that regard, hasn't changed a whole lot. We've always written songs from life experiences, but at the same talk about how Christ has brought us out of these things. It's not so much that they're dark, but they seem dark when you listen to them. We just wanted to write about our lives and hope that there are people out there that relate to those things. We are not the only ones who have been through what we've been through, regardless of what it is. There's too many people in the world for that. We just want to bring a message of hope, as always.
TJ: It was kind of a mixture for us between End of Grey , progressing stylistically a little, and just honing our crafts. Joey West from Disciple played drums on it, so that was another thing that pushed us a little bit. (JFH: What tracks did he play on?) He played on "Nothing More," "The Other Side of Darkness," the first track "Rearrange," and one other song I can't remember off the top of my head. His aggressive style, his super heavy rock background, and his taste in music--which a lot of the riffs and things like that were already created when he came in--his style just added to that. It did make the music seem more aggressive, which is fine. Like I said, there was no filters and nobody to answer to. We just tried to create an album that we loved and hopefully our fans will love it too.
TJ: Crash for me as a vocalist was very rushed. Within 11 days I had signed a record deal, became a partner in Decyfer Down, did a photo shoot, and sang 11 songs. It was one of those things where it was like, 'okay, let me hear Caleb's vocal' and 'okay, hit record, let's see what mine sounds like.' It was really quick. (JFH: And you hadn't heard any of those songs before?) Well, I wrote "Moving On" and Despreate" on the Crash record. Those are two songs that I brought to the table that I previously had in Fighting Instinct that we had recorded demos of, and they ended up on the Decyfer Down record. And then with Scarecrow, it wasn't so much a southern approach as it was a tribute to a lot of the bands that got us interested in music in the beginning--things that we listened to when we were in middle school or high school. (JFH: Like The Eagles) yeah man, The Eagles, Lynard Skynard, and Led Zepplin being one of the first metal bands, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots, stuff like that. So it wasn't really a southern approach, but using lighter, less gritty tones, less low end riff and more high end like in the song "Say Hello" which was a big tribute to Soundgarden stylistically. Scarecrow was more a tribute to our inspirations, musically. With The Other Side of Darkness there was some aggressiveness when it came to writing the riffs and all that, but it was kind of built up a bit from 2009 until now, because we didn't release anything like that with Scarecrow.
TJ: It's been awesome. Just overwhelming, really. Our fans have really supported us all the way. Just comment after comment of people loving the song, loving the chorus and loving what the song stands for. It's just amazing. It really is. Awesome fans.
TJ: It is a love song. At the same time it's a song that has a lot of relationship subject matter that could be related to our relationship with God. That was actually a song that was written four or five years ago when we writing for our third record, Scarecrow. "Lifetime" was a song we wrote with Gavin Brown who did a couple of the first Three Days Grace records. Really cool dude. We wrote like 80 songs for our third record. It's one of the reasons we went the different direction we did for Scarecrow. We had so many songs that had been shuffled to the side because they just didn't think they were good enough or couldn't get past the powers that be.
TJ: Probably "Nothing More." Vocally it was pretty challenging. Not because was bad but because it was consistently three quarters of the way up in to my range. And not just that, but it was the first song that we recorded for the record. Chris brought the song to the table. The chorus was about half finished and we still needed a bridge. Ideas flowed. Like I told you before, there were no filters. There was nothing in the back of our head saying 'okay, are these people going to be happy with this song?' Alongside of my vocal performance, I was proud of it because it was a butt-kicker of a song. Just the whole process of writing this song and recording it and it being our first song recorded for our independent record was an awesome feat.
TJ: Cool man, thanks! We did the IndieGoGo on a crowdfund campaign, and one of the perks for contributing to that was a five-song acoustic EP. We were listening back and we were talking about what we want to do as the last song of the record, and we were like 'man, let's just put our acoustic "Burn Back the Sun" on there.' It felt right to end the album with a song that was just so honest and just between us and God. So we checked to make sure we could, because that song that song was recorded back in 2006 for the End of Grey record, but it all worked out and we were super stoked.
TJ: These kind of questions are better asked when they are present. *laughter* I think our personalities are all super different, but we complement each other whether it is on the road or in the studio. I can be a little apprehensive sometimes with style changes or doing something out of the box. Which is crazy, because I love stuff that's out of the box, but when I have to do it myself sometimes I can be like that. Chris Clonts is not like that. Chris Clonts comes up with a riff and he's ready to go, and I think that's awesome. Brandon [Mills] is kind of like that too. Everybody is super creative. It's just like what I was saying a while ago about "Nothing More," it just meshed. It was like the first time all over again because there was no pressure.
TJ: *Laughs* I can tell you throw up story. (JFH: Let's hear it!) We were on City RockFest tour last year and I really don't know if it was a stomach bug or food poisoning, but we were on our way back out from Canada and they stopped us at the border. It was like midnight or 1am and we had three guys who were just terribly ill. We're at the border, inside, and Border Patrol is talking to us and looking at our passports, and we've got three guys side by side in different stalls just throwing up and dying in there. And it was terrible cause it was two of my guys--Brandon and Chris Furr--and one of the guys from Disciple. It was rough. Then two more guys from Disciple got it that night or the next day. So you'd get out of your bunk and you'd see plastic bags hanging from people bunks. *Laughter* (JFH: That's some virus!) Tell me about it! But thank God I didn't get it and that it didn't spread much further than that. I hated it for the guys. It was pitiful, but we made it through.
TJ: That's on the spot, right there! Yeah there have been some difficult moments. A real difficult moment that I had as an individual was making a decision to join Decyfer Down back in late 2008. It was something that was really hard for me because I was in Fighting Instinct with my buddies, and I thought we had some good stuff. I had filled in four or five shows for Decyfer Down, then they asked me to join the band. It was hard. It was really hard. I love the guys in Fighting Instinct and they're still my buddies, though I don't get to see them as much as I'd like to because we all have families and careers. That was a hard time because I had to do not only what was best for my family, but it was also a door that God had opened in our lives and I just had to choose whether I was going to walk through it or not. And when I did there was a peace. It took just a little bit leading up that for me to feel that peace but I just keep praying and I believe that God just gave me a peace that I made the right call, and went with it. (JFH: That peace is definitely one of the best indicators of God's will.) Yes sir!
TJ: We're throwing some ideas around right now trying to figure out who we'd like to take out, so we're not sure at this point. We really do want to do a headlining fall tour. It may look like a month or a month and a half long, with 20 to 25 dates. (JFH: Where are you guys hoping to tour?) I don't know if we'll reach all the way to the west coast, but it would be awesome if we did. But when you do that, it feels better if you've got 35 to 40 dates to come all the way out to California and back. We're from North Carolina so we'd probably start in the southeast region of the U.S. but I'm sure we'd at least make it out to Texas or New Mexico.
TJ: I just want to say thank you! Thank you to you guys for putting our stuff out there all these years. Thanks to the fans for all their support. It's been so overwhelming, especially coming back after three years. I'm just unbelievably grateful for what God's doing in our lives and in the future for Decyfer Down, and who He is going to allow us to minister to.
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