Matt Albers, Steve Kruczyk
Side projects are nothing new. As long as there have been bands, there have been opportunities for musicians to collaborate with one another. One of the most famous types of side projects – or infamous, depending on who you ask – is the “super group.” This is when each member of the project are from a pre-existing established or successful band. This concept has become cliché over the years, but in some cases, the project can really take on a life of its own.
One such example of a successful super group, is Devil You Know. After first forming in 2012 by technical guitarist Francesco Artusato – known for, among other projects, his work in All Shall Perish – and drummer John Sankey [ex-Devolved, ex-Fear Factory, ex-Divine Heresy, ex-Throne Of Ashes], a vocalist was recruited in the form of Howard Jones [ex-Killswitch Engage, ex-Blood Has Been Shed]. Rounding out the roster is bassist/backing vocalist Ryan Wombacher [Bleeding Through].
Devil You Know released their debut album, The Beauty Of Destruction, on Nuclear Blast in 2014. In just one and a half years, their sophomore release, They Bleed Red, was released. After several successful tours as a supporting act, Devil You Know embarked on a short headlining run this past spring, with support from Oni. When the tour stopped at Fubar in St. Louis, MO, we had the opportunity to talk to Francesco about his writing style with Devil You Know, touring, the identity of being in a super group, and comics.
Was the intention to start a super group, or did it just come from looking for musicians to work with?
Actually, that was not intentional. The drummer, John Sankey and I were just writing songs for fun. Him and I actually started working on stuff before I was in All Shall Perish. So, it was just friends writing some songs. Then I started [playing] with All Shall Perish and in the meantime, kind of between tours we’d still be writing or working on demos. I mean, we had a good amount of demos and songs that sounded pretty cool we thought, “Well, let’s try to find a singer.” And it was like “well, it’d be awesome to get Howard,” because we know he’s not busy right now so we got in touch and he was like, “Yeah, sure.”
That’s kind of how it started, and then after that it was, “Well, we need a bass player who can sing.” And then, everybody’s like “Aw, dude, the guy from Bleeding Through is incredible… He can sing like nobody else, while playing too”. And we thought, “Well, Bleeding Through is about to be done; it’s perfect.” The thing is you can get someone new who has zero experience or you can get somebody who has fifteen years of experience and knows what it means to be on tour, knows what it means to do all of this. So that was not intentional, as in ,“Let’s just put names together.” It just happened that way.
So, did it take off pretty naturally once you got the crew together? Were there any issues with any of the other bands still being in existence?
Well, on our first tour, for example, for one show we had no bass player on stage because Ryan still had a commitment to Bleeding Through. He had a festival on the East coast and we were playing the West coast, so he had to fly out the night before, play the festival, and then fly back to us, so we played a show without a bass player. But, other than that, for all of us, this [Devil You Know] is our main priority.
When you started Devil You Know and were working with John, what did you really want to do musically, including before you were in All Shall Perish? What did you want to bring to this project originally? Has that stayed the same or has it changed over time?
I think one thing I really wanted was music, and a band, with a lot of good vocal melodies. I was working with bands and playing with bands where it’s more [focused] on the instrumental part; which is cool and I still love it. But, I felt like if I wanted to start a band, I do want to have that space for great vocals. Other than, it was like, “Let’s do whatever sounds like fun.” And, even the first record [The Beauty Of Destruction, 2014] that’s how we put it together. It was kind of like, “Maybe this song doesn’t make sense next to the other songs, but it’s still cool; let’s do it”.
Your technique is very well-known, everyone knows how extensive your prowess is, both listening to All Shall Perish and your solo work. When you approach writing music for Devil You Know, what is different? Is it the same kind of approach, mental state or physical technique, or is it different from anything else you’ve ever done?
It is different, but it’s not one of those situations where it’s like, “Oh my god, what are we going to do now?” One thing I’ve learned from playing live is that certain things work in the studio, certain things work live better than in the studio. You can write some of the most technical and awesome, intricate stuff, but then maybe it doesn’t translate well live. The whole goal with this band is to write riffs and leads that will translate well live. So that was the whole point for me, from my part of writing.
This is our second record [They Bleed Red, 2015], and then we see more and more what works for us as a band live. So, we’re going to keep writing that kind of material. It’s not material that is overly technical or complicated; it’s just based on good groove and cool melodies like vocal parts… The catchy element needs to be there.
Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Your sophomore release is They Bleed Red was released only a year and a half after your debut album. How much of the material is “new,” and how much was stuff that you were pulling out of vaults, so to speak?
Totally new. Actually, the 20-30 second intro to the song “Stay of Execution,” that’s an instrumental part that we had from old demos, but that was just random. Like, “It’d be cool to have an intro.” And John was like, “Oh, I remember you did that thing,” and I’m like “Oh, put it on [the album]. Cool, awesome. Done.” That was like the only thing we used from the old material. Just because it felt like this is awesome, the more we were writing it keeps getting better.
So it was like, “Nah, I don’t want to use the old stuff.” Because we’re writing better stuff now. So, that’s what it was like for the second record. The first record, everything was an experiment. That’s why we had so much music, because we didn’t really know which direction we were going to go in the studio. So yeah, this one was all new.
Will we ever get a chance to hear any of the unused ideas at some point? Even if it’s like a “B-Sides” record?
I don’t know… Actually it’s interesting that you ask me that because just a couple weeks ago I was going through one of the old hard drives that I have with all those demos, and it’s been like years now since [I wrote] that stuff, and some of it is really cool. So, maybe it would be cool to re-visit some of those ideas and make them more like us now. But yeah, I don’t know. We’ll see…
I want to talk a little bit about touring. I know you guys are on tour, or were on tour, with Hatebreed… and DevilDriver… and-
Hatebreed is right after this one.
Ah, okay. So this is the pre-run for that.
Yeah. And we just finished a tour with Atreyu.
Oh, OK! You’re also going to be touring with another “super group,” Act Of Defiance with members of Megadeth and Shadows Fall… or are you rotating a slot?
Basically, we stop on that Hatebreed / Devildriver – we’re doing the majority of the tour – but then we stop on the East coast and we have our own shows. After that, they go to Canada for a few shows, like four or five shows, and that’s what Act Of Defiance is doing.
Got it, I was a little confused with all of the tour routings. What has your experience been as a headlining act, versus a supporting act? It looks like you’ve got a pretty good size
crowd on a Wednesday night at Fubar for this show. You played at the Firebird last year I think–
Yeah. Down there, right [points down the street, toward the direction of Firebird]? That was… about eight months ago? Something like that?
Yeah, I think it was summer or fall… But, what is your experience with getting acts to open for you as opposed to being an opening act for that band? Does that change the crowd reaction? Has it been completely the same? Is there no change whatsoever?
Well, I mean it’s different because on our headliner, we know that people are there and they’re already kind of fans. The cool thing with the direct support, especially if it is a good direct support like one-of-four or two-of-four slots on a big tour, if it’s the right tour you know you’ll get a lot more new fans. That’s why you do those tours, because you keep getting newer fans. Otherwise, I feel like everybody would just do headliners. So that’s the whole point. For us, you need to break it up and do both so you get new fans and then do another headliner with more people and then keep doing that.
Even when All Shall Perish did The Mayhem [Festival, 2011], just because we did Mayhem and after that we headlined some shows and so many people told us, “Man, I saw you at Mayhem and I didn’t know who you were, but I saw you at Mayhem.” That’s what big tours do.
Is there any kind of stigma around Devil You Know being labeled as a “super group” because of all of the members being known of other projects? Does that affect you from a perspective of being covered in media, getting on tours, or even from people approaching you as fans?
It really is not really affecting us. I feel like it’s kind of inevitable when it was started. Even the people at the label, they told us, “You’re going to need a second or third record to really have people think this is not a side project, this is a band.” Nobody’s really treating it like a super group. Obviously, Howard Jones is in the band and he is a really known singer. A lot of people think, “Oh, Howard’s new band!” or whatever, but that’s just how it is. It’s not really bothering us. It actually did a lot of good things because we got to start, not like other bands that start from zero. Our first tour was already direct support for a big act like Black Label Society. So it’s like, well that’s good for us.
Speaking of Howard, I remember reading not too long ago that he was in a pretty dark place when he was in Killswitch Engage and then quit Killswitch Engage. Did that have any effect on him coming into the band at all? Was there anything he had to get over or was it actually a positive thing for him to get back to singing again?
When we started this, when we got in touch with him, we didn’t even know this was going to be a band and we were going to tour or any of that. It was just Howard showed interest because he was like yeah obviously I love music, let’s have fun and do something. And I think that he needed those couple of years of not doing it professionally, not touring and all of that, and just give it a break. And then starting a new thing like this with us and being very mellow in the band, it was a very easy approach to get to do it again.
I think we got lucky with that, basically. It was not like we started with so much stress and everyone’s like, “Oh my god.” For us, it was like we’re gonna try to tour but if it doesn’t happen, we don’t have to do it. If we’re not having fun, if people don’t like the band well, forget it then, we’re just not going to do it. It’s not going to be desperately, “This is all we’ve got to do.” So that approach is more like, “Hey, we’re having fun”.
Good. Seems to working out pretty well for you so far; two albums already done.
Oh, yeah! It’s been good. Soon we’ll probably start writing the third one.
Cool. Again, new material or are we going to hear some old stuff? Some old gems dusted off a bit?
Yeah, probably mostly new material.
Okay, cool. Just don’t let that stuff go. I know I want to hear it. I want to hear the early stuff.
Oh, yeah. Some of the stuff is really cool.
Cool. I want to hear some of your observations, maybe even critiques, of the culture or metal right now. Since we’re in the social media age, we’re all on mobile devices on multiple media platforms, what do you think that does to the music, and to the relationship between bands and their fans so? Positive? Negative? No opinion?
Obviously, I have an opinion. That’s part of what we do. That’s part of the job now, and it’s not part of the job that I like, but you gotta do it. Howard does not have any social media, anything; no Instagram, Twitter, Facebook – nothing.
Yeah. The thing is nowadays for a band starting, you can be a super group or no super group, or you can have a few known guys, you still have to promote it. And the best way to promote it nowadays, music, is through social media, like Facebook, Instagram, and all that. So, you’ve got to use it. To me, I guess, I come from the previous generation, [where] there was this cool thing like I didn’t know everything about the band already.
Now, it’s like if they’re going to release a record, [it’s], “I’ve already heard half of the record, because they had a bunch of lyric videos,” and this, and that, and that, and that. Streaming the thing, and blah-blah-blah, and, “I saw them in the studio, and the guy was writing a riff. A year ago he was already posting the riff on Instagram”… To me it’s like, I would not post stuff that’s secret on Instagram, first of all. And it’s like, “Oh, working on new ideas,” no.
I always thought it was so cool when bands would release, with the album or later in the DVD, [footage] working in the studio. And I would watch it like, “This is so awesome,” after you’ve listened to that record so many times, then you’re so curious see how was it to record it. Now, even that is gone, because you’re already seeing the band recording before the record’s out. So, I don’t know, to me it has kind of taken all the magic out.
Also, I’ve never been like a super fan of people, in general. I have a lot of respect for even my favorite guitar players but I don’t think they’re special people. They’re just awesome at what they do, period, and that’s that. And I like the fact that I don’t know anything about their lives. I don’t care, honestly, it’s their life. And then, people now with the Instagram and Twitter, its like if you want to be successful then you’ve got to literally post whatever you’re eating for breakfast. So yeah, I don’t know…
You’re not alone, in that respect. So, I’d like to wrap it up with a fun question since Damnation Magazine covers not just metal, but nerdy stuff like comics and video games, and horror movies. The last question I’d like to ask is: Marvel or D.C.?
And why is that?
Just because of Batman.
That is everyone’s go-to answer – Batman!
Okay, have you seen Batman v. Superman: Dawn Of Justice yet?
That bad? That’s the reason why I haven’t seen it yet.
It’s not bad, it’s just really lame.
That’s what I hear, and it’s so disappointing…
I mean, see it eventually, but don’t waste your money on it.
My wife’s not really into the action movies, so… before this tour, I was actually home for two weeks, and it’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to go to the movies.” Nah, I’m going to do everything I can with my wife. And, now that we’re on tour again, I think tomorrow we have a day off. I’m probably going to go see it. But yeah, I’ve heard only bad things…
Sneak in some alcohol… that might make it go down easier for you. I wanted to like it, that’s all I can say…
They Bleed Red, the sophomore release from Devil You Know, is available now on Nuclear Blast Records.