EMQ’s with DARKENING SKIES
Hi everyone! Welcome to our new EMQ’s interview with Ashburn, Virginia, based Progressive/Groove Thrash Metal band Darkening Skies. Huge thanks to them for taking part.
What is your name, what do you play, and can you tell us a little bit about the history of the band?
We are Darkening Skies. We play thrash metal with a groove and progressive edge. We met February 2014, after I put out a Craigslist ad, and fate was on our side, because 1) we met our drummer, Germ, and 2) No one we met was a Craigslist psychopath (the weirdest people we met were consistently vocalists. Go figure.) We started out playing covers and just jamming, and because local clubs were only hosting metal bands who played originals, we got settled, got the writing bug, and it kind of took off from there. Writing lasted some time, so we stuck with it till we got it. Our setlist back them consisted of our first album. We started networking with other local bands and promoters and started playing out. We had a few members come and go, a few try-outs that didn’t work out, but that’s par for the course…there isn’t really a blueprint for success as a band, but we learned as we went. I moved to San Diego a couple years back, and we agreed to keep going virtually, via Zoom/One Drive, etc. We were pretty much doing everything online anyways before (writing in Guitar Pro, uploading the tabs for the other band members to Google Drive, outside of our weekly practice, which helped us have really efficient practices when we got together because each member had their timing and rhythm already down) because we loved writing and collaborating so much and still had plans. Actually, we didn’t get signed by Jib Machine Records until I moved across the country! Before I left, we had recorded all the tracks for the EP we had started working on in 2018. I actually had a cold when I recorded the vocals to ‘Swallow Your Soul’, which was the final take. We finished those in a final session we got in at Germ’s house, days before I headed to the airport.
How did you come up with your band name?
It wasn’t clever, or anything. It’s an allusion to the Blood Moon Philosophy from the Book of Revelation, “…and the sun became black as sackcloth, and the moon became as blood”. But in the moment, I was just driving through a thunderstorm on the way to class, and I looked up in the sky and thought, most days just feel like a gathering storm to me. And, if it’s not a storm you’re standing in, then you must be standing in the eye and waiting for it to hit again. It sounded like a good name to go with. Germ and I met up to talk shop, and decided to roll with it. Good decisions happen over beer and peanuts!
What Country/Region are you from and what is the Metal/Rock scene like there?
We are from North Virginia, just outside DC. The DC and Baltimore scene are pretty close. Germ didn’t grow up here, he’s from CT outside of NYC where the scene was great (So much music!) I was a Navy brat, born in Jacksonville, FL, and settling down in NOVA for about 27 years of my life. The DC scene is pretty cool, you might have to travel a bit for a show, but they are out there! There are some great bands here we’ve played with, or befriended: One Slack Mind, Omnislash, Rat Infested, Red Sword, Saint Diablo, Traverse, plenty more. Some great historical bands out of DC as well! Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Wrathchild America, Henry Rollins. Dave Grohl was from here, we periodically hear stories about him (His mom was a substitute teacher from Alexandria, VA, and even taught me in English class one day, at Centreville High School; swear to God. We got to ask her questions about Dave growing up [“Oh, he was always banging his drum sticks around when he was young, on the dash board of the car, everywhere. Drove me crazy!”] and she wrote “You guys ROCK!” on the chalk board before she left for the day). There’s another band, A Sound of Thunder (I love A Sound Of Thunder – Rick), a female fronted Power Metal band, and I’m friends with Josh, great guitarist and great guy. He’s always helped me with advice on how to be successful, and I’m really thankful for that, because they are a fairly successful independent band. They have an impressive following! Although calling them Power Metal is a bit constrictive, they really have a unique and powerful style all their own. Nina performed a theremin solo when they played live Rams Head in Baltimore! They’ve been really supportive of us!
What is your latest release? (Album, EP, Single, Video)
“Jump Off The Bridge… And Live!!!” our debut EP is available on all major platforms from Jib Machine Records: Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube Music, and if you’re broke just stream our EP video from our YouTube channel! (But maybe buy a shirt or shot glass from our MerchBucket, too?!) Despite the dark album title, there is actually a funny story behind the title. I used to play college basketball, and a teammate and good friend of mine, Kenny, and I were joking with each other about our musical tastes. I was hassling him about listening to Usher and smooth R&B before games (that slow, romantic soulful stuff), to get hyped. He responded with “Well, your music is so dark and angry! It’s like, “I’m going to jump off a bridge…and Live!!””. I always remembered that story and years later wrote a song about it, and it became the album title. I reconnected with Kenny on Facebook, years later, and told him that story. He loved it! One another note, we also just released a song on a Nihlistics tribute, covering ‘No Friends’. The Nihlistics are an old punk band from New York, where Germ is from. They just signed to Jib Machine, as well, and the tribute album is coming out this summer! It’s an honour to be on a label with them. They were really helpful during the recording of the song.; Germ sung that one. He couldn’t figure out the lyrics and didn’t know they were negotiating with the label at the time, so he looked them up on Facebook to ask what the lyrics to ‘No Friends’ were, and they were totally cool and sent him back the lyrics.
‘Organ Doners’ (Official Lyric Video)
Who have been your greatest influences?
Oh God, we have some huge influences. Germ loves Pantera, the big 4 of thrash and most major thrash bands: Exodus, Overkill, Testament, Nuclear Assault. Huge Influences! There have been many influences along the way, and I was more into Iron Maiden, Nightwish, Dream Theater, really progressive melodic stuff. I got introduced to a lot of thrash, after meeting the guys in the band. Then I discovered Death, and Chuck Schuldiner absolutely amazed me, especially with his later material before he passed; it was so technical and progressive! After Germ joined, I got him into Opeth, Nightwish and Mastodon. He got me into Fear Factory, DRI, Suicidal Tendencies, and Nuclear Assault.
What first got you into music?
A few things. When I was a kid, I remember driving around in the backseat of my parents’ car listening to all sorts of classic rock. Later, it was the local radio stations and MTV, especially Headbangers Ball. It was so cool to see these bands I couldn’t find anywhere else. When Germ went to college, he became a DJ at the radio station and did the metal show. Additionally, a friend of his there started up a magazine, and he and two of his friends did all the metal CD reviews, concert reviews and interviews. It was awesome, great experience in Florida in the 90’s during the height of the death metal scene! I discovered rock in 5th grade; some kid had brought in Bush – Sixteen Stone, and I got inspired to pick up a guitar and replicate that sound. I was also playing alto saxophone at the time, and played baritone sax through my freshman year of high school. After that, I quit to focus on learning guitar, bass, drums, singing, etc. I kind of fell into Nu-Metal in high school, and discovered heavy metal like Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath after that; it was a progression! After high school, I became a music instructor for B&B Music Lessons, which got me gas and textbook money during college, and kept me afloat during the recession in the 2010’s when I graduated and looked around for a job. Teaching for them, tearing around NOVA in rush hour traffic on my motorcycle, going house to house with a travel guitar on my back and teaching kids piano and guitar, was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
If you could collaborate with a current band or musician, who would it be?
Germ said Gwar! He wants to be a guest musician at a Gwar show and then have them slaughter him afterwards. If I personally could collaborate with anyone, I’d love to work with Opeth, Nightwish, or Ghost Bath; they just write such incredible music! I play rhythm guitar, so I don’t mind backing up anybody that I can keep up with, haha. I’m friends with Dennis from Ghost Bath, and been to a couple of their shows in Richmond, VA. He’s an incredible musician, and such a driven guy, but he’s always made time to talk with me about music and life. I’d be honoured to open for them anywhere, anytime. (I think Germ secretly wishes he was Mike Portnoy.)
If you could play any festival in the world, which would you choose and why?
All of them! Festivals all awesome! Probably Maryland Deathfest, a Monster Energy Music Festival, Hellfest, or DEFINITELY 70000Tons of Metal! The opportunity to play in front of all those people and with all those great bands, then hang out with them. I’d love to hit the festival circuit. You know, the big European Metal shows, not the county festivals where Hootie and the Blowfish or BTO play.
What’s the weirdest gift you have ever received from a fan?
From a fan? Nothing. Although Germs running joke is that one year, he got index cards for Christmas. Actually, that’s not a joke, it really happened. Sorry, no fans have ever given us anything other their cheers and applause, and a weird girl walked over to me to grace me with her attention, grabbing and admiring my Meshuggah t-shirt at a Rings of Saturn concert. We love the fans, its great hanging out with people and other bands at shows, and talking to/meeting new people over Instagram or Facebook.
If you had one message for your fans, what would it be?
Support underground music, never stop, never give up. Don’t let the scene die!
If you could bring one rock star back from the dead, who would it be?
I’d be intrigued to see what Jimi Hendrix would be doing if he was still with us. Kurt Cobain too, he was such an amazing song writer, I have to wonder what he would be writing now with the perspective of many years behind him. But hands down Dimebag Darrell Abbott. He was such a personable guy, and I have no shortage of second hand stories from buddies I know who were fortunate enough to meet him in person.
What do you enjoy the most about being a musician? And what do you hate?
I love the creativity, it’s such a great cathartic self-expression of my darker emotions, fear, anxiety, aggression, depression. The tools, hardware, and software available to write and record these days are so readily available and affordable to musicians, now! You can spend as much time as you want (or can) working on music! The downside…the music business is tough. Streaming, as a fan is really awesome to access all the music you could never afford to buy, as an artist, you really don’t make anything from it. And the recording process, grinding out multiple rhythm guitar tracks, it’s definitely work, and a labour of love. I’m not a great guitar player; I’ll spend 2 hours looping a single 2 measure lick at half speed in Guitar Pro, trying to get it down. It can be very frustrating, and has forced me to work on my patience and anxiety.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Tough call, I can’t say go back to the way it was, because I believe in progress. Music and entertainment will evolve no matter what anyone does and it can’t be stopped. How the Millennials and Generation Alpha gets music today is way different then how we did. Germ has kids, he said they just don’t hang out and listen to music like we did. They get it all through devices and headphones (none of our giant speakers anymore!) or as part of another medium for entertainment, i.e., songs embedded as part of a video, or a game or show or something. So, I’m not saying go back to the old way, but the music industry as a whole, and there are exceptions, hasn’t adapted to modern entertainment very well. The record industry really screwed up, and blew its opportunity to get out ahead of file sharing and MP3s. And in hindsight, Lars was right; file sharing and piracy are still a huge issue, and it costs musicians and record labels millions of dollars a year. Bands today are basically t-shirt salespeople, as a result. They make money mostly on merch, and playing shows, not record sales.
Name one of your all-time favourite albums?
Germ says Pantera, “Far Beyond Driven”; he can still crank that album all the way up! He’s an avid runner, several of the songs from that album are in his running playlists. I’d have to say Iced Earth – “Horror Show”, and then Death – “The Sound of Perseverance”. Those albums were my gateway to heavier power metal and later Death Metal.
What’s best? Vinyl, Cassettes, CD’s or Downloads?
Honestly, I’ve totally adapted to streaming. I listen to music these days 99% of the time on YouTube Music, and my wife has Spotify. It’s definitely pros and cons; if the wireless connection is weak, I lose access, and of course if a server crashes, there goes your digital stream…but that’s where we are now. “Jump Off the Bridge…And Live!!!” was released as a digital album as a result of this. Germ loves having his whole collection right at his finger-tips, and his collection is extensive…When my hard drive crashed, years ago, it took out a 40Gb collection of mine…I still have a small vinyl collection that I’ll play from time to time, though. I stopped collecting CD’s years ago, and only buy them from local bands at shows to show my love and support. Playlists are the best invention ever. Germ doesn’t miss having his CD’s scratched or melted in the car, and I don’t miss having the CD player not play it in the morning in the middle of a harsh NOVA winter because it’s too cold when the car starts up and the player won’t read the disk, or Germ pulling his tapes out of the tape player after it gets chewed up. Scratched records! He does have a few albums though that sounded better on the original analogue medium, old punk records for example.
What’s the best gig that you have played to date?
We played with a Baltimore thrash band called Omnislash at a small bar named Addy’s in Manassas, VA. Those guys are awesome and everyone reading this should check them out. They were really supportive of us, they stuck around for our set at 2AM, and they were totally into it! That was actually our 2nd show and they told us we sounded fantastic. They couldn’t believe it was only our second show ever. That was by far the most fun Germ ever had at a show. My personal favourite happened at a restaurant (that closed down afterward) named The Black Cat, in Alexandria. It was on July 13th, the night before my birthday, and many of my friends from the NOVA music scene made it out to support us and wear their Darkening Skies shirts. Most of A Sound of Thunder was there, and I got selfies with Josh and Nina. It was an emotional night for me, I thought I played the best I ever had, live, and it was one of our last shows before I took off for San Diego. With the pandemic, shows are starting up again, and one day I’d like to get on the road with Germ in a beat up van, travelling the West Coast, taking whore’s baths in gas station restroom sinks, etc. haha.
If you weren’t a musician, what else would you be doing?
Well, I’m a special education teacher, and it’s just a path I followed by chance. I have a real passion for it; the service I do is incredibly fulfilling. It, of course, pays for my musical career, but takes up a lot of personal time and energy that I have to prioritize over music right now, unfortunately. Germ would love to be a writer, and get into writing movie scripts.
Which five people would you invite to a dinner party?
Well, it would have to be someone who could cook, because I sure can’t. My wife is an incredible chef, she does it professionally, and would take care of the whole table with ease. Germ wants Gordon Ramsey. I would just sit there drinking and eating while I watch them work the kitchen. I’d say I’d want dinner with a bunch of dead people: Jesus, Jimi Hendrix, Dimebag, and then maybe Robert Downey Jr., and definitely Ryan Reynolds. The dude is hilarious.
What’s next for the band?
Great question! I moved to San Diego shortly before we got signed. We had over 50 songs written, and we both didn’t want to throw that away. We decided to do all our work online and share it with the world 100% digitally. We use tools like Guitar Pro to collaborate and write music (that’s why your music teacher tells you to learn to read music kids!). We also have a studio in Germ’s basement for recording. I’m house hunting right now, and plan to contract to build a badass studio in MY basement, next year. So, what’s next? We’re going to promote the hell out of this album first, and we have a few lyric videos in the works that you’re going to love. We have some merch ideas that will come out later on our MerchBucket, at www.merchbucket.com/collections/darkening-skies.
We’re mastering a special song for the holidays right now, and that will be out by Hanukah. Our next EP, “Demon Core”, will hopefully be out next winter. We’re going to take our time and get the recording the way we like it, then eventually have it produced and release the next album. I can tell you right now that the production and sound quality will blow our current EP out of the water. We’re more experienced with tracking, signal paths, etc., and Jib Machine Records has an amazing sound engineer, Brandon, who is gonna take care of us next year.
What Social Media/Website links do you use to get your music out to people?
Twitter and Instagram are our most active. Youtube for official videos. We have a Facebook page, but really haven’t seen much activity on that platform lately.
Jaffa Cakes! Are they a cake or a biscuit?
Um, yeah, I have no idea what that is. I’m kind of a bagel or English muffin guy.
Thank you for your time. Is there anything else that you would like to add?
First, thank you so much for interviewing us! There are a billion bands promoting their creative works on social media, and we’re honoured to receive your attention. Thank you for your time as well! We really appreciate you supporting us! I think what you are doing is great! You’re supporting bands who are working hard and love what they do. Please keep doing it! Please support local and independent bands these days as much as you can! Kids, take the time and have the patience to learn a musical instrument; it will change your life.
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