Lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dan Gapen granted me some time during a recent stop in New Jersey to talk about songwriting and the whole controversy surrounding Metal Blade dropping off Spotify. Gapen was very opinionated, and a few answers are quite explicit, but he comes off as someone with a general passion for metal music.
Dan Marsicano: How is the tour with Warbringer and Landmine Marathon going so far?
Dan Gapen: The tour is going good. It’s been fun. All the guys in all the bands are really awesome...and the one chick obviously (laughs). It’s been a fun time. A lot of great shows and a lot of cool people. It’s been real fun so far.
Do you still get the same feeling from touring that you did five years ago?
I’d say yes and no. I’m used to the traveling aspect of it. So I guess a lot of places, I wasn’t excited to go there, because I’ve been there before. A good show is a good show and it always feels good to play a good show.
When you go out there on stage and you play a whole set, what defines a good show for you?
A good show is basically defined by one of two things. I’d say a great crowd and a great energy or if a chick breaks out her boobs (laughs). That’s a good show as far as I’m concerned.
How was it to record the band’s new album, Black Rivers Flow, compared to the last album, The Onslaught?
It was a lot more rushed compared to the last album. That was because of Metal Blade and time constraints. It's kind of hard to say, because it happened so quickly and so much was going on when we actually recorded the album. All the songs came together really quickly in the studio. Literally, we finished writing the last song for the record the day before we had to go into the studio. It was all very quickly done. We spent a lot more time in the studio itself. A lot of the ideas on that record were conceived in the studio, rather than beforehand having everything laid out.
Do you think you work better in that type of rushed environment or would you rather have had more time to gather songs together?
I think it could go one of two ways. For us, we like working under pressure. I think we got a lot of great stuff out of it, but at the same time, sometimes I wish I could go back. Every artist listens to some of their songs and goes, “F--k me, I hear this part. Son-of-a-bitch.’ No matter how much time you have, every artist, from the basement to the roof, has complaints.
Do you think you’ll ever be completely satisfied with an album the band does?
I think I’ll always be satisfied to an extent, in that I’ll be proud of what we came out with or I’m proud of just being able to release the record and get it done, but I think we should always try to strive to write a better record. That way, you’re never satisfied. Once you’re satisfied, I think that’s when people start coming out with (crap).
How do you guys get new material together? Do you do it when you’re on the road or when you’re in a practice space?
I kind of almost find it impossible to write songs on the road. If I had a tour bus, maybe, but probably not. The way we write is I’ll get off work or something, I’ll come home and I’ll jam on my guitar, and all of a sudden, something cool will come out. I’ll bring it to practice and either it works or it doesn’t.
Do you find that the fans are really responding well to the new songs as well as the old songs?
It’s kind of weird. The first album was a lot more thrash. So all the super thrash kids, for the most part, love the first record. I’ve had a lot of response from people who like the new record, but it’s kind of like what you are more into. If you’re die-hard thrash, and you listen to nothing but thrash metal, grab the first record. If you like other elements in metal, like some groovier stuff, then check out the second one. It’s a little something for everyone.
Do you feel like you have to please both sides of the fan base?
Sometimes, it does come down to when we’re picking the setlist, we’ll look at the crowd and say, ‘Okay, there’s a lot of jean jackets out there’ (laughs). So we might play a couple more of the thrashier songs, but in general, it depends. If we’re doing our own headlining show, we have a lot more time. Tonight, we’re only playing for a half-hour/35 minutes. We’re probably going to do an even mix.
One of the big topics in metal right now is Spotify, the streaming music service. A lot of labels have taken their music off of it, including Metal Blade. How do you feel about not only that program, but other streaming sites?
I understand why the labels don’t like it, because they are not making that much money off of it, and we’re not making much money off of it, but we’re not making much money anyway. I don’t really give a f--k. Put my stuff out everywhere. I wish that we were on Spotify and Internet jukebox and all that stuff. Even though it’s mere pennies, we don’t make money anyway, so what the hell is the difference to us? Let’s get our music out there; I don’t give a f--k if the label gets screwed. They’re not getting screwed anyway. Worst-case scenario for them is that they make a profit. Worst-case scenario for us is that I’m digging myself a grave (laughs).
Do you think there are any changes that could be made to help a band out like yourselves that are trying to gain revenue not only from touring and doing shows and merchandise, but albums sales as well?
I don’t there’s any easy answer to that. I think right now we’re in a transition period right now. You got all these new apps, like Spotify, and all these different mediums, but there is a battle between the labels. The labels just need to give up some money; that’s what needs to happen. Those guys make way too much money and we can’t even afford a piece of (crap) minivan that’s going to last us three days.
Do you feel that’s how the music industry is these days? Unless you have a mainstream sound that people can grasp onto, you’re always going to be relegated to just barely staying afloat?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a mainstream sound. I think a lot of people listen to metal. They just get so consumed with the thought of being metal, that this is metal and if it not that, it isn’t metal, it’s like, ‘Jesus Christ. If there’s distorted guitars, it’s probably something close to metal.’ It’s one of those tricky things.
Do you think that kind of mindset is the reason why the band’s second album wasn’t as well-received as it should have been?
I think so. The first album, there wasn’t any preconceived notions of what type of band we were. It was like a surprise, ‘Oh, this is cool.’ With Black Rivers Flow, people were like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. Did they just play below this beats-per-minute? This isn’t thrash. I can’t listen to this.’ I love thrash just as much as the next guy, but there are other types of music - even within metal - that you can listen to. You know what I’m talking about. There are people that are like, ‘Oh, I’m more metal than you,’ like that Brian Posehn song.
Do you think there is any way to dispel that type of notion within metal?
That’s kind of like the Slayer mentality: the Gospel according to Slayer. I think it’s mainly the younger kids, which is what a lot of the fans of thrash are anyway. I know what they are like, because I was the same way when I was in high school. I was like, ‘If you don’t like metal, you’re gay’ (laughs). I think as time goes on, in order for metal to survive, it needs to keep changing and evolving.
That’s why metal isn’t as big as it has been in the past couple of years, because everybody is doing the same s--t. If everyone can shred and everyone can growl, then what’s special about it anymore? Metal is the only style of music where you can do pretty much whatever you want. You can do other styles of music in it, and I think as long as that happens, it will stay alive. If people don’t continue to musically advance and incorporate different styles of music and accept different styles of music, then what’s the point in listening to music in the first place?