Ask Gatecreeper vocalist and mastermind Chase Mason about his life on Planet Virus, and he'll tell you this: "There's a lot of boredom, but I've tried to stay busy — and this record is one thing that I've kept myself busy with."
The record he's referring to is An Unexpected Reality, a surprise new offering — written, recorded and now released during the pandemic — that features seven short, lightning-fast rippers on one side and a single 11-minute funeral-doom dirge on the other. Partly inspired by Black Flag's polarizing 1984 album My War — which included uncharacteristically long, slow and sludgy tracks on its infamous second side — An Unexpected Reality is an explorative detour that is specifically not the follow-up to Gatecreeper's lauded 2019 full-length, Deserted. Mason recently explained everything to Revolver from his home in Arizona.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO MAKE THIS RELEASE A SURPRISE?
CHASE MASON I think with everything that's been going on in the world for the past year or so, people are just kinda fried. For years, social media has been making our attention spans shorter, so I wanted to see if we could make it work without doing the traditional rollout. Also, I thought it'd be cool to do it as a surprise rather than tell everybody our every move: "Hey, we're going into the studio," or "Hey, we're working on a new record. It'll be out in three months." I just wanted it to be exciting and take people by surprise.
THE TRADITIONAL ALBUM ROLLOUT USUALLY INVOLVES RELEASING SINGLE TRACKS BEFORE THE RELEASE DATE, WHICH IS ALSO SOMETHING YOU SPECIFICALLY DIDN'T WANT TO DO. YOU WANT AN UNEXPECTED REALITY TO BE LISTENED TO AS A WHOLE, RIGHT?
Yeah, that's part of it. Since this record is different for us as far as how it sounds — it's a little bit of an exploration for us — and because of the specific format, which is a fast A side and a slow B side, one being a group of tracks and the other being one long track, I didn't wanna break it up. I wanted to present it in the way I wanted it to be listened to, which is the whole way through.
YOU'VE GOT SEVEN SUPER SHORT AND FAST SONGS ON THE A SIDE AND ONE REALLY LONG, SLOW TRACK ON THE OTHER. WHAT INSPIRED THAT FORMAT?
Black Flag's My War has the legendary slower, doomier B-side — I always thought that was a cool idea. Since we're doing two different kinda styles, I wanted it to feel like we're almost doing a split with ourselves — two opposite sides of the Gatecreeper sound. Maybe to some people it'll sound like two different bands.
THIS IS A NEW GATECREEPER RECORD, BUT IT'S NOT THE NEW GATECREEPER ALBUM. CAN YOU BREAK THAT DOWN FOR US?
Part of the reason why I wanted to do this record was that I wasn't motivated creatively yet to do the next Gatecreeper full-length. At the point of writing this record, Deserted had only been out a couple months. I wasn't ready to sit back down and create a new full-length because there's obviously a lot of expectations, internally and externally, for our next record. Deserted did pretty well and we want to continue to top our last album. So I wanted to do something that was a little bit different to motivate myself — almost putting more restrictions on us, by making music in a specific style. Those restrictions brought out a little more creativity.
So the reason it's not the next Gatecreeper album is because I don't want it to be seen as, "Oh, Gatecreeper are changing their sound." It's not that. It's more of an exploration. We're putting some stuff out there that is not traditionally what we would be doing. Maybe some of those new things will trickle down and we'll use some of those tools for our next full-length, but I don't want people to see it as the new Gatecreeper album. It's a detour.
IN ADDITION TO PUTTING MORE RESTRICTIONS ON YOURSELVES FOR THIS RELEASE, YOU ALSO LIFTED A RESTRICTION: GATECREEPER USUALLY HAS A "NO BLAST BEAT" RULE, BUT THIS RECORD HAS SOME BLASTS.
Yeah, it's almost kinda like a joke in the band. Usually blast beats are not part of the formula when we write Gatecreeper songs. But part of the idea for this was to write songs with blast beats in them. So that's a new tool we're using on this release: We specifically wrote songs with blast beats, which we've never done before.
AN UNEXPECTED REALITY WAS WRITTEN, RECORDED AND NOW RELEASED DURING THE PANDEMIC. HOW DID THAT PLAY INTO THE PROCESS?
In early 2020, Deserted was still pretty fresh and we had a whole year of touring lined up on that record. Once everything came crashing down and live music was put to sleep for the foreseeable future, that album cycle got cut short. I'd had this idea to record something a little bit different, but I didn't think we'd be able to do it for a while because of all the touring we'd be doing in 2020. Once everything got canceled, I thought now would be a good time to do it.
THE PANDEMIC SEEPED INTO THE LYRICAL THEMES, AS WELL. "SUPERSPREADER" WAS WRITTEN WHEN YOUR HOME STATE OF ARIZONA WAS THE LEADING COVID HOTSPOT IN THE WORLD.
Yeah, and I think we're back to being No. 1 in the world right now.
IS THAT FREAKING YOU OUT?
It freaks me out, but here we are in 2021 and this has been going on for quite a while now. I think myself and others are pretty desensitized to it. I spend most of my time inside. I'm not out there doing anything too crazy or irresponsible. I'm not putting myself in contact with a lot of other people. So it doesn't freak me out too bad, but it's kind of embarrassing to be from a place that's handled it so poorly.
THE SONG "SICK OF BEING SOBER" IS A REFLECTION OF YOUR OWN PERSONAL PANDEMIC EXPERIENCE.
Pretty much all of the songs were influenced by feelings that came about personally while all of this was going on. "Sick of Being Sober" is asking why I'm being sober during all this when lockdown would be a lot more fun — or at least less annoying — if I had some sort of chemical buffer. But it is what it is.
EARLIER IN THE PANDEMIC, I WAS TALKING WITH AN AA GUY WHO POINTED OUT THAT THE LIQUOR STORES ARE OPEN BUT YOU CAN'T GO TO AN AA MEETING. THAT SEEMS LIKE A SIDE EFFECT OF THIS SITUATION THAT'S NOT BEING WIDELY DISCUSSED.
Most AA meetings turned into Zoom meetings. I tried out a couple of them, but they just didn't do it for me. I didn't feel like I was getting anything out of it. That goes back to the attention thing: It's different when you're physically there. You might be bored, but at least you're in the room. If you're sitting on your computer, it's just not the same.
"EMPTINESS," THE 11-MINUTE FUNERAL DOOM TRACK ON AN UNEXPECTED REALITY, IS AN AMBITIOUS PIECE OF WORK. WHAT WERE THE CHALLENGES THERE?
It's definitely the longest Gatecreeper song ever, and it's the longest song I've ever written personally. There's a lot of new stuff that went into writing a song that long. I had to write it in different movements. The typical Gatecreeper song structure is very rock or pop-based — verse/chorus/verse. And we're usually all about trimming the fat. Any part that we can distill and make as potent as possible is usually our M.O., so this song was a break from that.
I knew I wanted to write a long song, so the challenge to was make it interesting and keep people's attention. There's clean guitar on that song, which is the first time we've ever done that. We've explored death-doom and funeral doom influences before, but it's definitely an expansion on that. And with funeral doom, all those songs are long. And then there's a mid-tempo black-metal part where I did some black-metal vocals that I'd never done before, so that was fun. There's some church bells in there, and a Tom G. Warrior-style whisper part. So we changed up the songwriting arrangements and threw in a bunch of stuff we've never done before. I think it turned out really cool.