I meet Chase H. Mason, growler for GATECREEPER, a few blocks from the Nile Theater in Mesa, Arizona where the group’s upcoming tour will end at the one-day fest, Within These Walls. It’s early September and in about a month on October 7, the metal band’s debut full-length album, Sonoran Depravation, will be released on Relapse Records. Until then, they’ll be on tour with Skeletonwitch, Iron Reagan and Oathbreaker, gutting through the South and back.
We discuss the origins of GATECREEPER, the evolution of their songwriting, life on the road, the sweltering sun of Arizona, the artwork for Sonoran Depravation and some other shit. Read on.
Independent Music Promotions: GATECREEPER came alive in September 2013. How did it all begin?
Chase H. Mason: Our drummer, [Metal] Matt, was playing with this band, Territory. The first time I met him we went down to Tucson to see Cannibal Corpse and Napalm Death. Pretty soon after that I saw him at a show up here—Rotten Sound at Rhythm Room [in Phoenix]. We just started talking about death metal and shit like that and discovered we had similar tastes. And I’d been wanting to start a band. I hadn’t been playing music for the past couple years and had just came out of my life problems. I was ready to do something. He was living in Tucson. I was living in Phoenix. We kept in touch and shot ideas back and forth. At the time our guitar player, Eric [Wagner], lived with him and they had done a couple projects together. Eric got involved and we just started writing. I met him for the first time and then we started writing together.
IMP: Right there on the spot, huh?
CHM: Yeah. Both of them were in Tucson, but I didn’t have a car. So, one of them would come pick me up and I would hang out for a couple days and just jam and write. We recorded the [self-titled] EP before we’d ever played live. And it was just us three.
IMP: Did you record it on your own?
CHM: We have a friend, Ryan Bram, [who] has a studio in Tucson. He plays guitars in Territory. We recorded everything that we ever put out with him.
IMP: Was that self-released?
CHM: We released it on Bandcamp [in] April 2014.
IMP: Then it was put out on vinyl the following October.
CHM: Exactly. We didn’t know what we were gonna do with it. When we were jamming we were, like, “let’s record these songs.” We weren’t sure if it was gonna be a demo, but we were like, “this is better than a demo.” If we called it a demo it’s not gonna be taken as seriously, so let’s call it an EP. We put it up online and it took off from there. Some websites picked it up really quickly. Then, the label that ended up putting out the vinyl, Kings of Monsters, is from Arizona. I sent it to [them] and I didn’t really hear back, but after a couple months [they] reached out and asked if we wanted to do it on vinyl.
IMP: Were there any expectations for the EP?
CHM: Not at all. Not at all.
IMP: You guys were just tooling around at the time, throwing riffs at each other?
CHM: We hadn’t played a show yet. We didn’t play our first show until July. Since it wasn’t a full band we had to get the rest of the band filled out. We didn’t have any expectation. I knew after we recorded it–maybe even while we were recording–we were like, “fuck, this is something.” We knew we had something special.
IMP: Then you released the song “Poisoned Mind” on a split 7’’ with Take Over And Destroy, also from Arizona, and toured the West Coast. How did that turn out?
CHM: We did that split and around the time [it] came out we did that tour. It was with a band from Boston called Fuming Mouth. It was weird because it was our first tour. It was pretty much Fuming Mouth’s first tour. They flew out here from Boston. We were all in the same van and they were using all of our equipment. It was interesting to do that for our first tour ever, but it was really fun. We didn’t know what to expect. But, the shows were cool. Luckily, thanks to the Internet, people knew who we were.
IMP: Trusty Internet. Then you toured the East Coast the following summer.
CHM: That one we didn’t tour with another band. We just went out on our own. We played with a couple bands, like, Outer Heaven, who we ended up doing a four-way split with. We played with Fuming Mouth out there. We played two or three shows with Primitive Man on their own tour. We played in Baltimore for our friend’s birthday party. It was cool.
IMP: Have you picked up on any differences between the metal crowds on the East Coast versus the West Coast?
CHM: I don’t know ’cause when we’re out on our own, it could be more of a hardcore crowd. It could be a metal crowd. It could be playing a punk house basement. On that tour we did an after show for This is Hardcore which is probably the biggest hardcore music festival in the country. We played with a bunch of other metal bands. There’s some other bands like, Genocide Pact, Outer Heaven, that kind of fit into that same category that played. Some of the people from Relapse came to that show. But, they didn’t say anything. They bought our record, watched us play and left.
IMP: How did Relapse get involved with Sonoran Depravation?
CHM: Right before we did that tour we recorded the song “Carved Into Stone” for the four-way split with Homewrecker, Outer Heaven and Scorched. [On] the East Coast tour we met up with Dom [Romeo] who runs the label, A389. He put out records for Full Of Hell. We played at Baltimore and he watched us. We talked to him and he said he wants to put out our record.
IMP: Your first, totally unwritten, full-length album?
CHM: Yeah. For A389. We ended up putting up the money for our recording. We got Kurt Ballou to mix it. The plan was to put it out with Dom. Once it was done I sent it to him. He was just like, “wow. This is really good. I don’t think I’m gonna have the time to put into it that it deserves. I’m gonna send it to Relapse.” I’d been following Relapse since I got into heavy music and I know Dom had built a relationship with them. Some other bands, like, Noisem and Ilsa, Seven Sisters of Sleep, all had records on A389 that had gone onto Relapse. So, he sent it and a couple days later I got an email from Dom introducing me to one of the label managers at Relapse. That’s when they told me, “we’ve seen you before. We came to your show.”
IMP: What artists do you listen to off Relapse?
CHM: Current bands that I really like: Incantation, they had records in the past with them and now they’re with them again. Obituary’s on Relapse now. Weekend Nachos, they just put out their record. Magrudergrind, Lycus; they put out Amorphous in the past. They do a lot of stuff. When I was first starting to get into Relapse, around that time, it was Dillinger Escape Plan, Pig Destroyer, Mastodon. That was the mid-2000s when I was first aware of it and I’ve just followed it ever since.
IMP: What did you learn from the process of recording the self-titled EP that you brought to the sessions for Sonoran Depravation?
CHM: I go back and listen to the EP and still think it’s pretty solid. We’ve been in the studio [since] ’cause we did those splits. We’d go back and it was different. The first EP was just the three of us. And then “Poisoned Mind” we did, there was other people involved. The four-way split was the first song we recorded [as a] full band [for] “Carved into Stone.” We’ve had different experiences in the studio. We were learning how to play together. Not only just playing, recording in the studio, but also playing live. Learning as we go. We’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Should we do scratch tracks this way? Should we play to a metronome? Just learning anywhere from the vibe of it to the technical. And just songwriting. The dynamic has changed.
IMP: When you set out to write a metal record where does the initial intent start? Are there concepts or ideas that are sought after? Lyrically and sonically?
CHM: For us, it’s definitely about the riffs first and foremost. One of the songs on the record was one of the first songs we ever wrote. [After] the EP, we had to write more songs before our first show so we would have a full set. So, it’s a span of writing [Sonoran Depravation] for at least two years. Some of the songs we’ve been playing live on almost every show we’ve played. And there’s songs we never played live ever before we recorded. [So], as far as the concept of it, it’s a little bit different than what our next record will be. But, I think we’ve always had a clear vision and understanding of what we wanna sound like. The song, “Desperation,” that we did the video for, it’s a short one and it’s probably the fastest more punk influenced song we’ve had. That was a conscious decision. As far as lyrical themes, that really comes last for me. I don’t really do a concept as far as the whole album. For me, it’s more about the riffs. It’s about getting every part of the song to be memorable and catchy and I feel like if I wasn’t paying attention to that first, then there’d be filler parts. Every single part—before the lyrics or vocals even come into play—every single part, just instrumental[ly], has to be cool. There has to be good riffs. It has to be memorable. Everything else gets cut out.
IMP: Once the song finally start to become concrete, do you then write lyrics in response to the sound?
CHM: It depends. On our first EP half of the songs were about drug abuse and stuff I had gone through and the feelings I experienced through that. I had just came out of a lot of stuff that I had been involved in for years. So, that was pretty fresh, pretty potent. Since then I’ve been trying to experiment, doing more role playing stuff, based on fiction, based on reality. Eric, he’s been doing this thing where he’ll send me a picture or a YouTube video—a war video or it could be just a picture. Or an old video on YouTube of a World War II dog fight, you know. Planes dropping bombs and he’s like, “This is what the song’s about.” We have an understanding.
IMP: Talk about the title, Sonoran Depravation, and how much living in Arizona has been an inspiration, for good or ill.
CHM: We’d been fortunate ’cause we can call Phoenix and Tucson our home town. So, we have twice the local fan base than a normal band. We had a shirt that said Sonoran Desert Death Metal on it. I think people related to that a lot. It kinda stuck. That shirt we did two years ago, but it’s probably one of [our] top selling things as far as shirts and shit. We didn’t go into the record with that title, [but] it’s definitely repping AZ. The Sonoran Desert reaches other places, but it’s primarily Arizona. Phoenix is the biggest city in the Sonoran Desert. I do think people from Arizona, people in the desert, I think it makes us unique. I think that maybe our brains are fried a little bit.
IMP: There’s some pent-up aggression always lingering.
CHM: You know, bands from Scandinavia and black metal bands from where it’s just fucking miserable and snowy all the time–it’s kind of the opposite of that. It’s miserable and hot. It’s an excuse to be inside and writing riffs in the air conditioning.
IMP: The artwork for the album shows this scorched mountaintop under a bleeding sky. Where is that from?
CHM: The album art was something we spent a while looking around and who we wanted to do it. The EP was black and white and the other stuff that we do, the merch or fliers or the visual stuff, is black and white, [too]. We wanted our first full-length to be colorful and eye-catching. We wanted it to be an actual painting. We didn’t want it to be digital. We wanted something unique. We found this guy that’s done a couple of record covers that we liked; his name’s Adam Burke. We lined up for him to do the art before we recorded and by the time it was mastered and the ink was still fresh with Relapse, we got the album art back and it was exactly what we wanted.
IMP: So he painted it just for the album?
CHM: It’s specifically for the record. We gave him the direction. We just told him we don’t want any sort of figures or any sort of central—oh, there’s a guy that’s holding a knife or anything like that. We just want it to be landscaped, fucked up and we gave him some references, like, old death metal covers by Dancing Grave and he was totally on board. The visual aspect of everything we do is something we’ve made a priority. It’s a lost detail now with everything so consumable. It’s easy to record something on your own and just put together some artwork. Find some old painting and just take it. Just fucking crop it, put your logo on it and throw it up online.
IMP: It’s sad to see that part of it go by the wayside. What’s your favorite spot to play in Arizona or outside the desert?
CHM: Favorite place to play in Arizona is in Tucson, Club Congress. We’ve played there a couple times. We shot that video [for “Desperation”] there, the live part of it. We’ve been getting in the habit of our tour kick-off shows starting in Tucson. It’s in the bottom of Hotel Congress, which is a historic hotel where John Dillinger was captured. It’s a cool room and small enough where you can pack it out really easily. The sound is really good. It’s just a cool vibe. Since I have to go two hours to go down I just stay at the hotel. The room right above where we played. That’s definitely my favorite place to play.
IMP: As the singer is there anything you do to get ready to perform?
CHM: Yeah. There’s some warm-ups that I do.
IMP: Do you just scream at the wall?
CHM: I watched the Zen of Screaming [by Melissa Cross]. And I thought it was the corniest thing ever. But, I tried those warm-ups out and I was like, “wow, these actually really work.” So, I’ve taken a couple of those techniques. It’s almost more just stretching. I have been doing some of that, [but] I think the way I do vocals, it’s just bad in general. Probably bad technique. When we’re on tour, for the first couple shows I’ll be all right. Then, maybe four shows in, I’m completely shot. Then a couple days into that I get calloused almost. And then I’m good to go.
IMP: Drink some hot glue or something.
CHM: I think there is a sound, a tone to it that is your vocal chords actually being shredding, being fucked up. I’ll taste the taste of blood in my mouth and I’m like, “alright.” There is this tea I get that has honey in it and I try to drink a lot of water before we play. I’ve learned some stuff as I go, but it’s probably never gonna be perfect. Probably some long-term damage at some point. (LAUGHS)
IMP: Do you have anything on your mind when you’re playing live or are you just focused word-to-word?
CHM: I’m blacked out. Sometimes, if there’s lights on the stage, you can barely see in front of you. You can see that there’s people, but it’s so dark and you’re blinded by the light. But, even if I can see the crowd, I can’t really pay attention. I just kind of black it out. I don’t even know what’s going on in my head. Honestly, I go into a trance and by the time it’s done, it’s over.
IMP: I’m sure it goes by real fast.
CHM: And you’re head-banging and you’re dizzy.
IMP: What’s your favorite song on the new record?
CHM: (SIGHS) That’s a good one. I think my favorite song is probably…I’ll say the fourth song, “Rotting As One.” It’s one of the songs that surprised me. “Stronghold” [is] another one and “Desperation.” People that’ve heard the record, whether it’s us, people from the label, friends, everybody has a different favorite song. Which I think is a good sign.
IMP: Which song do you think best represents GATECREEPER?
CHM: I think probably the first track, “Craving Flesh.” [It] encompasses a lot of different styles: [the] slower, doomy part, there’s faster parts. It’s a good snapshot of the band. What was your favorite song?
IMP: I definitely like the last two best. “Flamethrower” and I love the long fade-out of “Grotesque Operations.” “Patriarchal Grip,” too—the opening especially—but “Flamethrower” is probably my favorite right now.
CHM: See, that’s cool. That’s not what I would put as mine, but that’s fucking cool to hear. Having the long song with the long fade-out was planned. I wanted that last song to feel like a funeral procession. You’re just being dragged out.
IMP: It could fade out forever.
CHM: That’s mainly an Eric creation, [but] having that last part fade-out, there’s something hypnotic about it.
IMP: Especially on a metal record. It gives you this moment of—
CHM: Let’s you down easy.
IMP: The tour in support of Sonoran Depravation starts September 23 in Tucson and will take you through the Dirty South to Jacksonville, Florida. Who are you gonna be touring with?
CHM: This is our first support packaged tour. There’s four bands on the tour. Three core bands, then us opening for more than half of it. Once we drop off Homewrecker takes our place and does the Northeast. We’ll see how it goes. One of the bands is on Relapse, Iron Reagan. It should be cool. We booked our own shows on the off dates. After we play Seattle, there’s an off-day; so we’re playing Boise on the way to Salt Lake.
IMP: Then the tour ends at Within These Walls, a festival held at the Nile Theater in Mesa, Arizona on Saturday, October 29. GATECREEPER is on a line-up with over twenty other bands. When did the Nile start hosting festivals?
CHM: Within These Walls is a fest that [last happened] in 2011 and 2012. We tried to do a super diverse line-up. I was able to get some of my friends’ bands. Fuming Mouth are gonna come out from Boston. Of Feather and Bone, which we did our last tour with, they’re coming. There’s a lot of good local bands and some headlin[ers] like American Nightmare that haven’t played [Arizona] in a long time.