Q&A: Dying Fetus
The American death metal band’s founding member and frontman John Gallagher on playing in India and how a Twitter hashtag got them a slot at UK’s Download Festival
Right at the beginning of the interview, American death metal band Dying Fetus’s frontman John Gallagher sounds like he needs some reassurance about his profession. The 41-year-old songwriter, who started off writing guitars, vocals and drums for the band in 1991, says over the phone from his Maryland home, “Death metal doesn’t pay the bills, you know?” when we ask him why their new album has been in the making for so long.
The band makes its India debut this month at the metal festival Rain Revolt: Shillong Open Air. Says Gallagher, “We just fly in and fly out of [one-off] shows. People always ask me, ‘Did you see the sights?’ And I go, ‘No, unfortunately not.’ It’s work, you know?” Gallagher formed Dying Fetus in 1991 in Marlyand and remains the only constant member in the lineup, which has seen several drummers, guitarists and bassists walk in and out of the band. Thankfully, Dying Fetus has gone past that phase ever since their 2007 album War of Attrition released, roping in Trey Williams on drums and cementing bassist-vocalist Sean Beasley’s position when he had joined in 2001. Says Gallagher, “Thankfully, we don’t carry that stigma of being a band that’s changing a lot. Like any captain of any team or any coach, whatever analogy you want to use, I have to find different members to keep the team alive. So that’s what has happened now.”
Dying Fetus was most recently in the news in November last year, when a social media campaign with the hashtag #WhyNotDyingFetus went viral as fans reacted to UK’s Download Festival lineup. Within two days of the hashtag trending on Twitter, the festival announced Dying Fetus for a slot. Says Gallagher, “I felt a bit bizarre and a little weird, thinking, ‘Wow there is really something going on for Dying Fetus’. I don’t take it lightly. I’m very proud to have loyal followers.”
In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Gallagher talks about his upcoming show in India and a lot more.
RS: Your India show will be mostly fly in and fly out for you, within a day or two. You go to Russia after that. What does rest and relaxation involve for you?
John Gallagher: Yeah. That’s it. We’re flying in from home, in America. And then we go to Russia. I’m not even sure how long we’re going to be there [India] — maybe two days? I’m probably going to be so jetlagged I won’t be doing anything else, except just worrying about the show. We’ll be as outgoing as possible and see what happens.
RS: What are you expecting from your India gig?
JG: I’m expecting to see some excited new fans. I’ve never been to India. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what the crowd will do, like headbang or slam. Typically, we get these violent slam kids but I have no idea, but we’ll see what happens. They might just stand there like statues, who knows?
RS: Do you have a standard setlist or will you be mixing up old and new songs for your debut India gig?
JG: No. Fortunately for us, a lot of the territories we’ve played are the ones we’ve been to before. It’s cool to play uncharted territory for us. We’ll play whatever – we’ll stick to the hits. It’s a headlining set, so it’s going to be about an hour or so, maybe an hour and 15 minutes depending on how the crowd goes.
We’ll play some stuff like “Praise The Lord (Opium of the Masses),” Grotesque Impalement, “Homicidal Retribution,” songs from Reign Supreme, our last album. We have eight albums – try to hand select the ones from the albums that we will like to best play for the India show and see how it goes.
RS: What’s the most funny/horrifying song title you’ve thought up but didn’t use?
JG: How about this one? “I Would Do Anything For Love, But I Won’t Do Crack.” I just thought of that one the other day. I think of a lot of stupid song titles, as we all do at some point [laughs]. It’s just stupid shit. I’m sure I have more, but I can’t think of any. I’ll leave you that one.
RS: On Reign Supreme, there was “In The Trenches,” which definitely brings your hardcore influences to the front. How often do you feel like mixing things up, as opposed to staying on the death metal page?
JG: It’s real important to me to switch it up as a musician and a listener. That’s the way I like music – with some dynamics and not just the same recipe. Hardcore has been one of my first interests – bands like [American hardcore bands] Madball and 25 Ta Life. I don’t know what’s going on with the modern hardcore scene that much, but I tend to like the Nineties style.
That’s the kind of hardcore that relates to metal more than the emo hardcore or stuff like that. I’m definitely more attracted to the heavier style of hardcore.
RS: Some people called Reign Supreme one of the most accessible Dying Fetus records yet. Do you agree with that?
JG: I don’t agree with that. I try to make it a little more open to people just getting into death metal. More than just constant blast beats, you might want to hear a bit of grooves mixed in — that’s our approach.
RS: After all those lineup changes over the years, there’s definitely some consistency with Sean and Trey, would you agree?
JG: It’s always good. Dying Fetus has had a lot of member changes but that was years and years ago. Thankfully, we don’t carry that stigma of being a band that’s changing a lot. That’s really important for the fans and the bands. The more a band sticks together, you build a better chemistry — you play better, you adapt better.
It’s been my band for the last 20 years. Like any captain of any team or any coach, whatever analogy you want to use, I have to find different members to keep the team alive — to keep the brand name alive. So that’s what has happened now. I’ve found the right guys and you can see what I’ve done. It’s not like I’m always looking to change members around or anything. Like I said with death metal, you need more income than just the genre. That’s been an issue for so long, for so many bands. You know how hard it is for bands to stay alive in this shit, with no money? You have to be lucky and just desire. You have to be obsessed with it. Pretty much anybody in their right mind wouldn’t do this shit [laughs].
RS: But Dying Fetus has the best fans in the world, apparently. You guys got selected to play at Download Festival after a hashtag went viral. How did that feel?
JG: I felt a bit bizarre and a little weird, thinking, ‘Wow there is really something going on for Dying Fetus.’ I don’t take it lightly. I’m very proud to have loyal followers. I realize we’re not the only ones out there in death metal and that we’re not really something special. Just to be a part of death metal in general is a cool thing for me. I felt really proud that people stood up for Dying Fetus. I’m pretty sure some people just went with the flow, like, ‘Oh Dying Fetus, it’s another trend on the Internet’. People are the sheeple. There you go.
Certainly, though, there are enough people who like Dying Fetus enough to make it their cause. It gives you more inspiration – you think, ‘I didn’t waste my whole life doing this shit for nothing’ [laughs]. Everything counts — from the smallest shows to Download. It’s all apples and oranges.
RS: You’ve mentioned in an earlier interview that you can write songs for other genres as well. There was the joke track on Grotesque Impalement which was in the glam rock space. Have you written any more of those?
JG: I have other songs. It’s kinda like a dilemma, because there’s this whole stigma to death metal — you have to be hard, be brutal. I’ve seen what happens to bands like Morbid Angel when they put out their album [2011’s Illud Divinum Insanus] — they took a chance, they put some techno in there. I’m ambivalent about this — I won’t say it’ll happen [with all metal bands], but there was a backlash. People were talking about it, but maybe bad media attention is good media attention, you know?
I have some pretty, “gay” songs [laughs].But I don’t know what to do with them. I might copyright them and sell them to bands. I’ve heard that Lemmy, from Motörhead, or [Motley Crue bassist] Nikki Sixx — they’re ghost writers or whatever they’re called.
RS: I think they just call them songwriters.
JG: Yeah. I might start a John Gallagher solo album, with different variety of songs. But then I think, ‘Okay, there might be backlash’. These death metal guys go, ‘Oh this is so gay. How could you do this?’ But I’m 41 years old now. As a musician you do start realizing, as you get older, that’s why bands start putting out different shit because you get tired of doing the same thing. Anybody with a brain can realize that. You can do the same thing over and over or try to do something different. We’ve only done a couple of joke songs — but you can see it’s a joke song. It’s not like we’re taking the band in a different direction.
Maybe I’ll ask the fans — do you want to hear some variety music from John Gallagher or just death metal? See what they say.
RS: What can you tell me about any new material you’ve got coming up? What is the timeline going to be like?
JG: It’s still at a slow pace. The other guys have stuff to do. We’re working around Trey [Williams], our drummer’s schedule. Death metal doesn’t pay the bills, you know? You have to have different sources of income. It’s kinda hard to get together, not just to jam though. I’m always sitting down with my guitar in my free time, laying down riffs. You’re thinking about music all day and if I come up with a riff, I always have my cell phone to record it real quick. Anything to capture the melody — I’m sure it’s typical of most musicians.
We have been working on it, don’t get me wrong, but it’s been moving along slow. It’s more important to spend time to make sure our next album is quality, rather than rushing out some bullshit. We have management and a record label – you know how it goes in the business of music — they always push you, ‘Oh we need the next album’ but we just say ‘You’re going to get it and it’s going to be good and in the meantime, enjoy some of our other stuff.’ But hopefully, we’ll banging out a new album soon on Relapse records — it’ll be everything you expect from Dying Fetus.
RS: How many songs have you got for your solo material?
JG: I have an album’s worth of material – all songs in different styles that go up to 25 minutes or half an hour. There are about six or seven open songs I’m still working on. I don’t want to worry about it too much or else people might say, ‘Oh why is he worrying about this stupid gay music? He should be writing death metal.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing all these cheesy songs all day. You pick up your guitar and play what you feel sometimes. Each day, I play multiple styles and kinda play just long enough to become rock ’n roll. Then you get pumped up and start playing faster and get into intricate tech-death stuff and mosh rhythms.
Most bands that I’ve toured with – even Cannibal Corpse, the most brutal bands, there are times when they lighten up and listen to different music. It’s not all brutal. You can’t live your life that way. You’ll die of an ulcer or something [laughs].
RS: What happens during one-off shows? Do you get a chance to unwind?
JG: We just fly in and fly out of shows. People always ask me, ‘Did you see the sights?’ And I go, ‘No, unfortunately not.’ It’s work, you know?
RS: But there’s still the fact that you’re playing to fans in a new country, right?
JG: It’s enjoyable work [laughs]. I’ve had worse jobs than this. I can think of worse things to do than that.