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Silent Civilian’s Jonny Santos Discusses the Band’s New Album as Well as the “Essence of the Shank”

Silent Civilian, the band that singer-guitarist Jonny Santos started after the disbandment of SpineShank, just released its second album, Ghost Stories (Mediaskare). Other than Santos, the band consists of all new members—and to make the genesis of the album all the more complicated, Santos re-formed SpineShank in the years since Silent Civilian's debut. Nonetheless, as proven with their lead single “Atonement,” the band hasn't missed a step. Here, Santos tells how the record was made and what lies ahead of both of his bands.

REVOLVER What did you want to do differently on this album from your last?
JONNY SANTOS I wanted to evolve. My mindset was much different from the last, and I knew I had to deliver a better piece of work. I challenged myself and let go of the reins a bit by sharing guitar work with Dave [Delacruz]. I wanted to create a record that would ultimately strike a nerve for better or worse, I wanted to piss people off as much as I was. I wanted to make a dangerous record. I feel we did so.

You have a whole new Silent Civilian lineup on this album. What happened to the Return of the Temple lineup?
Well, you are talking about a lineup that never had a chance. I think a lot of the guys joined the band thinking they were gonna be rich and be an instant rockstar because of my past success in SpineShank. That was not the case. I was starting all over with a new vision, a new band, and a label that nobody had ever heard of. There were a lot of fill-ins, but I will give most past credit to [drummer] Chris Mora and [bassist] Disco [Daylen]. They are still great friends of mine, and we keep in touch. Hell, Chris and I still hang out. They just had other things going on in their personal lives that prevented them from continuing on with Silent Civilian. The new lineup isn't so new. We have been solid for two years. We have just been writing, and everyone is in other projects as well. I support that kind of creative behavior.

You formed Silent Civilian when you thought you could do everything you could with SpineShank. What freedoms did you exercise on Ghost Stories?
I exercised all demons. This band has been such an outlet for me and what I always wanted to do. I have had total freedom to write what I wanted to. I was even allowed to produce Ghost Stories. The shoe fits differently in this band as opposed to SpineShank, in the sense that I have a bit more of a hold on things. Not to say that I am a control freak by any means, but Silent Civilian is my brainchild, so I watch over it closely. It has grown in the last four years, and I feel it has the right lineup now, the members of whom share the same vision, so I dont have to be as cautious. These guys know what the fuck is up, and I love it. It finally feels like a band.

In 2008, you re-formed SpineShank and toured on Music as a Weapon the following year. Why did you decide to revisit that band?
SpineShank will always be my firstborn. The reunion comes down to two things—friendship, and chemistry. [Drummer] Tommy Decker and I were children together and started something 14 years ago that will never die. Mike [Sarkisyan, guitar] and Rob [Garcia, bass] joined in our teenage years, so it’s safe to say that we all grew up together. We have never changed members and never will. That is just the essence of the Shank. Wierd, but true. We were friends before a band, so in my mind that changes everything. After the last tour in 2004, we decided it was time for a break. A much needed one, I might add. What it really comes down to is that we buried the hatchet, like many bands do, and got back to doing what we do best. We just finished the record and I am very excited. Its been six years since the last release, and I think people are ready for it. Music as a Weapon proved that we still have a solid fanbase and it was great to be back onstage with them. SpineShank killed it like we never left.

How did having SpineShank active while writing this album affect the music you were writing with Silent Civilian?
It didnt affect it at all. Two different animals. The writing process for me as a vocalist-guitarist is so night and day when it comes to both bands. I understand the difference in the two, and I obey the guidelines. I actually wrote Silent Civilian material while touring with SpineShank, and vice-verca. I actually feel lucky and blessed as a musician to have the opportunity to be in two completely different bands with two completely different styles of music. It’s like being married to two really awesome, beautiful, talented women. You just don’t get a day off. [Laughs]
What are your plans to record new music with SpineShank?
No plans. Already done. We just finished the new record. It has been a long process, but we wanted to make sure it is all substance. Over the last two years, we have written well over 35 songs. Fifteen will make the record. We figured that if we were gonna put a new record out, we needed to make sure it was the best thing we had ever done. We are talking about SpineShank six years later. We are different people with different mindsets now, and we wanted that to be evident. I love the anticipation. I’m excited.

You let premiere “Atonement.” What are your other favorite songs on Ghost Stories and why?
I love “Cast the First Stone” because it has an anthem feel to it. It is a song about unity and friendship when times are bad. It is a song about true colours and what a person is made of. It reminds me of being 16 years old with my best friend stuck in an alley in L.A. getting ready to fight seven guys and knowing that we might die fighting side by side. I love that feeling. It makes you appreciate who your true friends are. Even if one of you goes down, You will die trying to pick the other up. It is a song of loyalty, respect, and love for a friend. My other favorite is “The Phoenix,” just because it is heavy as fuck, and has a very nostalgic thrash feel to me in a wierd way. I feel like the metal community needs a few songs like that these days.

You recorded 15 songs for the album, but only 11 made the album. What’s going on with the other four?

Well, we had the same issue on the last record. To be honest, we are not sure what will come of them. What we are sure of is that they didnt have their place on this record. Maybe someday we will put out a record of all the songs that didn’t make the record. But dont hold your breath. We are not in the habit of putting a bunch of filler on our records. If I thought for one second that they were good enough to be on the record, they would be there.

You titled the album Ghost Stories. What’s your favorite ghost story?
The one where I come back from the dead and haunt you.

Interview by Kory Grow

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