Gatecreeper on Death Metal and Heroin Addiction
In 2014, Arizonian death dealers Gatecreeper seized the underground by the throat with a self-titled EP that fused the old-school rumble of Entombed with a vague hardcore sensibility. It was also notable for vocalist Chase Mason’s bleak tales from his former life as a heroin addict. Freshly signed to Relapse, Mason and his bandmates — guitarist Eric Wagner, drummer Metal Matt and bassist Sean Mears — recently sawed off their full-length debut, Sonoran Depravation, which leans slightly more hardcore than their EP while maintaining a solid Swedish foundation, circa 1990. On a break from what we can only imagine is an incredibly soul-sucking office job at an online billing company, Mason recently spoke with us about death metal, drugs and why Gatecreeper aren’t just another HM-2 band.
Do people at your job know about Gatecreeper?
Yeah, some of them do. They’re pretty cool about me taking time off to tour. A couple weeks ago, we were in the Phoenix New Times, the weekly paper here, and a couple of my co-workers that I’d never even talked to before recognized me from that and started asking me about it, which was weird.
I imagine an office like yours is full of people who don’t listen to death metal. Do you ever find yourself having to explain the appeal?
[Laughs] Yeah, kinda. People who don’t have experience with underground music — normal people — hear that you play in a band that’s going on tour and think you must make a lot of money, that you must be partying and doing a bunch of crazy stuff. Like, “Oh, you’re gonna leave us soon because you’re making a bunch of money playing in a band.” No way.
Different sources say the band is from different Arizona cities — Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson. Which is true?
All three, actually. I live in Tempe, which is a college town and pretty much a suburb of Phoenix, so it’s pretty much all considered Phoenix. And right now two of our members live in Tucson, which is like two hours away. Because we’re spread out across the two cities, we can kind of call both our hometown, and while people will travel to one or the other, there’s two separate scenes and we’ve got a pretty good following in both — so that’s been cool.
How did you first get into death metal?
I think my gateway into death metal was probably At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. I’m 29 right now, so when I was in high school, bands like the Black Dahlia Murder were getting kinda big. I was into entry-level hardcore and metal type stuff before that, and when bands like the Black Dahlia Murder started showing up, I started digging a bit further to find out what bands they were influenced by, which was At the Gates and Carcass and stuff like that.
Were there a lot of kids in your high school who were into death metal?
No, not really. When I was a little bit younger, in the early 2000s, that’s when nü-metal was a big thing. I wasn’t into that — I was more into punk then — so I didn’t really associate with metal stuff until later on because I didn’t really identify with the nü-metal stuff that kids my age were into.
Gatecreeper started when you met drummer Metal Matt and you bonded over Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity. What other records did you find you had in common?
Bolt Thrower, both … for Victory and The IVth Crusade. Sentenced’s Shadows of the Past, Entombed’s Left Hand Path. But Massive Killing Capacity was the big one. Outside of the death metal stuff, we both like Crowbar a lot — and there’s a little bit of that on our new record, I think. Those are the main ones, I’d say.
You were in a band called Slut Sister before Gatecreeper started. Was that band still going when you met Matt?
No, I hadn’t been playing music for a while. Slut Sister ended around the time the other guys in that band started another band called Take Over and Destroy, which is still active.
Slut Sister wasn’t a death metal band, though.
No, it was more of a stoner / sludge metal band. We never really left the state. We put out a small EP, but we never really did much. I was pretty bad into drugs at that time. so I pretty much brought the band down. I was doing heroin.
It seems like addiction is one of the main themes in Gatecreeper lyrics …
Yeah. I got off drugs before Gatecreeper started. I actually just had my four-year sober anniversary on the 11th of this month [August].
Your “Poisoned Mind” video seems very much inspired by a drug experience. Is it autobiographical at all?
No, the concept for that video was sort of based on the lyrics, and the lyrics were based on a news article I read about some dude who was an MMA fighter or something like that. He took a bunch of mushrooms or drank some mushroom tea with his friend in a cabin somewhere and ended up killing his friend, ripping his heart out and taking a bite out of it. The video is kind of based on that, but we had fun with it.
Is it weird to be reliving your drug years when you’re writing or singing Gatecreeper lyrics, or is it helpful in a way?
As far as our new record, I didn’t put too much of that into it. On the first EP, there were definitely some songs about that, and I think that’s because it was the first musical output since I’d quit drugs, and I needed to get that out. There’s a little bit on the new record, though. It’s not as direct or obvious. I don’t really consider myself a lyricist, so I tend to fall back on what I know or personal experiences. But to answer your question, it’s kinda helpful, but I think that’s just because I’m talking about what I know. We don’t print our lyrics, actually — maybe because I’m not confident enough yet or maybe because I like to be mysterious. [Laughs]
You played some bass and guitar on the first Gatecreeper EP, but you’re just doing vocals on the new album. What’s the story there?
When we started the band, it was basically just three of us — me, Matt and Eric. We didn’t play any shows — we just wrote those songs and recorded them. We weren’t sure if it was going to be a demo or what. Initially, we were going to have someone else sing and I was just going to play guitar. But then I just did the vocals because we needed it. So, Matt played drums; me and Eric split the guitars and some of the bass, and then I did vocals. We put it out before we even played a show.
Was the idea that you would play guitar and sing or play bass and sing when you started doing shows?
No, because I played guitar and did vocals in Slut Sister and I didn’t wanna do that again. For the recording it was fine, but when it became clear that I was gonna do vocals I knew we needed to get someone else in the band.
I understand that the band name is unintentionally associated with the fantasy card game Magic: The Gathering. I bet that’s your favorite question, too.
[Laughs] It doesn’t really bother me. It’s better than having the same name as some other band from 20 years ago or something. We have the same name as a card in the game, but that’s by accident. I don’t play Magic. Our drummer Matt does some gaming, but it’s more like RPG, Dungeons & Dragons type stuff.
What inspired the title of the new album, Sonoran Depravation?
Well, we try to rep Arizona because it’s definitely not known for its death metal, or for a whole lot of music, really — and the Sonoran Desert is mainly in Arizona. The “depravation” part just kind of fell into it. But we know people are gonna misspell it because there’s the other “deprivation” as well. I’ve already seen it misspelled a couple times, actually. But it’s definitely a hard title, which is what we were going for.
The vocals on some of the new songs have more of a hardcore approach than on your previous material. Was that intentional?
I don’t think that it’s more than it ever was before. In my mind, there’s always been a little hardcore influence in there, whether people notice it or not. I mean, we all like hardcore for the most part. Eric and I — we write a lot of the stuff together — both listen to a lot of hardcore. Matt and Sean also play in a hardcore band called Territory, so it’s definitely in there.
Gatecreeper has been called an “HM-2 band,” a reference to the distortion pedal made famous by Swedish death metal masters Entombed and Dismember. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s a pretty lazy way to describe something. When I think of an HM-2 band, I think of a band that has no riffs, but they have that HM-2 tone — where the tone is the only thing that’s distinguishable about the band. So, I don’t like that term.
There’s been an old-school death metal revival happening over the last few years, which you guys definitely seem to be a part of. To what extent do you see that revival as a backlash against the more technical, modern style of death metal?
I think some might say we’re actually late on that train. I feel like Trap Them kinda broke open the HM-2 thing for the hardcore world, and that was maybe eight years ago. But I don’t think we’re crusading against anything. We’re just playing what we like to hear. I just prefer the simplicity of the more primal, old-school stuff. I like Suffocation, but I wouldn’t wanna play in a band like that.