With a bevy of new bands coming out left and right, none do metalcore music quite like Silent Planet. The band is poised to pick up the reigns of heavy music where Underoath left off, and BREATHEcast had the opportunity to speak with frontman Garrett Russell about using his education to craft deep lyrics with multiple meanings and also explain why Silent Planet is looking to push their music to new places.
Russell's band story is certainly more unique than most as he chose to pursue school and music at the same time. The well worn territory of finishing high school and hitting the road with a bunch of your buddies playing music trying to make it crossed his mind, but it wasn't necessarily the plan.
Garrett finished his undergraduate education and had a desire to keep learning because didn't want to deal with student loans. He applied and was accepted to the PhD Program of Clinical Psychology at Fowler Institute of Psychology in Arkansas. There he began his path to higher learning while still building Silent Planet and honestly did not know where it would lead because the band had not taken off yet. However, after two years of graduate school and a master's degree, Garrett ended his studies and is full time with the band now.
"I chose psychology because I wanted to take all these different ideas and philosophical principles and use it in one concerted effort to help people," he shared. "I feel like psychology deals with people whether you are writing grants, overseeing programs, or doing therapy or research - it deals with people, and I wanted to help people."
During his undergrad program he studied English and Philosophy but felt they were pretty disconnected from actual human experience. He admitted that studying psych was not very fun for him because it's a bit dry and filled with statistics. The part he enjoyed most was when he was actually a campus therapist which was "one of the most exhilarating things in my life."
Another reason why he was so interested in psychology is because of his own issues with mental disorders and instability. And while he did not divulge specific issues or instances in his own life, he does yearn to help bring it to light in the future. Mental disorders will be the theme of the band's next album.
"I guess our next album will answer that question..., the answer is yes, for sure. I think that the furthest I got into that in The Night God Slept is the last song ("Depths II")," revealed Russell. "That song was really the only one that sort of hit that personal level...On the next album I think it's going to shift a little and that's going to be a primary focus. If I'm being honest with you, I think my struggle to write about mental illness is what I'm working on, but I want to root in with particular people and experiences. I can't get excited and can't get direction just talking about an idea."
Just take a look at some of the lyrics of "Depths II" and try not to be excited about what Garrett will come up with.
"My trepidation reached threshold and my terror turned to madness/
When I awoke I was swinging at shrouded silhouettes and stumbled out the door where my anger was extinguished by this downpour/
Compelled, void of volition, my steps propelled through this chronic storm/
Where there in the clearing - throughout the gaps in the trees - dark smoke flickered from fire illuminating my unease/ Like clockwork, seven sisters turned together in a circle, autonomy abandoned/
They moved singular and perpetual around a dark blue flame where I heard you call my name/
'I am the fire that is never quenched, and I am the river that will not run dry'."
Garrett's lyric writing ability is impressive, but he admits it has more to do with storytelling than any musical gifts he has. "I think I kind of come up with lyric writing with the intention of creating a narrative. I'm not much of a musician at all, so I kind of come at this whole musical process just much differently than someone who has been raised in this world of music."
The frontman thinks lyrics that people write don't necessarily stick because they are not grounded with any particular narrative in mind. The art of storytelling is something that captivates an audience to further implore about what it is they are absorbing.
"We all have stories. When we experience break ups or we experience anything, we sort of draw a narrative of, 'ok, this is the good person, this is the bad person. This was the plot. This is the resolution'."
He continued, "Without a narrative you are just an isolated fragmented being talking about isolated fragmented ideas."
The argument can be made that intimate lyric writing has left in favor of catchy music and a beat. He spoke of the music you would hear on the radio as a perfect example. There is almost no lyrical content to be found at all, yet hundreds of thousands of people sing along.
"The reason why so many lyrics suck...people are becoming increasingly illiterate of history and sort of don't understand their experience is not really fundamentally grounded in a larger experience. The flaw of that all is that you stop sort of recognizing what influenced you."
Essentially what he is saying is that sometimes when looking for inspiration an artist should go above and beyond what they can observe around them. Garrett finds his sparks of inspiration from moments in history, war, books, and theology. (This will be approached more in-depth in part two of this interview). By highlighting these stories, it may lead people to do some research themselves and learn something valuable.
Garrett doesn't think he's the only lyric writer that couldn't say 'This idea comes from this...' He feels an artist could potentially point the listeners to something much bigger than themselves. "I don't think I could ever write something even a quarter as good as Edgar Allan Poe. So I want to point people toward him."
It is this attention to real life stories that elevates Silent Planet's music overall. They don't embellish the listener with "created studio chaos," they harness the craziness and use it to amplify everything they're doing.
Silent Planet feels the need to step up their game to be the shimmer in a sea of music. "I am constantly trying to balance creativity and fun. I don't want to settle on any part, even if I have to drive myself insane and keep writing the right words for the right parts," said Russell. "We are in a place of privilege. Almost anyone who's in a band in our genre has the ability to direct people's eyes to things that matter, and has the ability to do their best, and to do anything short of that is a crime."
It is for this very reason that Garrett and the rest of Silent Planet feel so connected to their fans. The effort they put is reciprocated by their audience, and they are very aware of it.
"We love you and we are utterly indebted to you that we are still alive and still a band. There is no real separation between the people who are in this van who perform in Silent Planet, and you who have chosen to align yourself with us whether it's pity or love," said Russell. "So thank you, we love you. You're our family. Thank you for taking us into your homes and bringing us food and listening to us even when we have an off night."
Stay tuned for part two with Garrett Russell of Silent Planet tomorrow, where he breaks down some of the band's songs and talks about the power music has on emotions.
Silent Planet's The Night God Slept was released on November 10 2014. Pick it up on their website here.