Metal Special: Stray From the Path
The American hardcore/metal band’s founder Tom Williams on American politics and addressing ‘touchy subjects’ on their upcoming album
The loudest words that you’ll hear at a Stray From the Path gig? “Every rich white kid’s got something to say/ Shut the fuck up!” Taken from their 2015 album Subliminal Criminals, “First World Problem Child” has the temper-soaked voice of Stray’s Andrew Dijorio meeting the indelible rage of UK metallers Architects’ frontman Sam Carter. Over the phone from New York, guitarist Tom Williams laughs about how it’s become a popular song, “We live in America, man. We start off the song with [those lines], we were expecting everyone to kill us. But honestly, it’s been awesome.”
The socio-political narrative in Stray’s music is not new, even if it’s only now getting them more ears and eyeballs. Since 2008’s Villains and when they first charted with Rising Sun in 2011 and earned more favor with 2013’s Anonymous, Stray From the Path has been taking a sledgehammer to every nail-talking about the abuse of power by those in authority (“Badge & A Bullet”), consumerism (“Black Friday”) and government surveillance (“Eavesdropper”).
Their latest single, which came out last year on November 8th, the day of the US Presidential Elections, is called “The House Always Wins.” Featuring voice samples from (the then) candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the song sounds like a quick, spontaneous gut-check. But Williams says it was written two months prior to November. “It was to express a disappointment that ‘the greatest country in the world’ has over 300 million people but the two people they came down to choose to run it were those two. That’s why the line ‘We’re all fucked no matter who we choose’ came in,” he explains.
The single is a part of their upcoming 11-track album, which is being recorded through February and slated to release in October this year. Knowing world events, there’s no dearth of inspiration for Stray. Williams says he read a tweet that said, “It’s like the world is writing the next Stray From the Path album for them” and had a good laugh. The guitarist adds, “There’s going to be a lot of touchy subjects on there like there always is, a lot of political, social issues that we always talk about. 2017 is going to be a pretty insane year, with Trump in office.”
“There are a lot of bands that don’t even write their own songs that are getting up on stages.”
You’re not wrong to think that the band’s major influence comes from American rap metal veterans Rage Against the Machine (RATM)—from Dijorio’s damning vocal delivery to the sort of funky, experimental guitar work, in between all the hardcore breakdowns. Williams says it’s no secret that RATM are a band they look up to. He adds, “One of the coolest things I ever saw was when Rage played the Democratic National Convention. I always looked up to stuff like that—they made a statement with the words they were saying, with the actions they did.” Of course, Stray From the Path are a lot faster, hardcore and metal-influenced than RATM, but Williams notes a definite lyrical influence. “We always want to be pushing the envelope and making sure that we’re saying something worthwhile.”
In the American metal scene that gets hyped on platforms such as the Vans Warped Tour, not many bands are as outspoken as Stray. Williams reels off just a handful of names who are spitting verses about societal issues, like U.K. electro-hardcore act Enter Shikari and Californian hardcore punk band Stick To Your Guns. “There are a lot of bands getting up on these stages that don’t even write their own songs, their own lyrics. There’s a lot of people out there just taking advantage of it [music] as a good business move, because they know kids buy a lot of merchandize or whatever. That’s why their merchandize comes before their actual quality of music.”
They’re taking aim at what’s wrong with the scene around them as well, calling out musicians who use their fame to prey on young females on “D.I.E.P.I.G,” which specifically targeted acoustic rock artist Front Porch Step over sexual harassment charges in 2015. Stray, who’ve written about police brutality and had off duty cops praise them at shows, have also had to face backlash. Williams recalls a show in Columbus, Ohio, “After the show, we had one kid come up to us and go, ‘Yo, watch your back if you’re going to talk shit about Front Porch Step.’We were like, ‘Right here, motherfucker. We ain’t going nowhere. You know where to find us.’”
In addition to finishing the new album, the band is also heading out to Asia for the first time, for a short tour in Japan. Williams says this is the first time he’s been contacted by anyone from India, but is amazed they have listeners. He adds, “To hear that we have a following in India is very exciting and we’re going to make sure we can come to India this year or next year.”