“The last few days were a bit ‘How you going’.”
Thy Art Is Murder’s guitarist Andy Marsh sounds laconic back home in Minneapolis, reflecting on the end of the band’s US tour.
“We’ve been loving Europe the last couple of years. I think we’ve played there more than anywhere else actually, which is a bit of a shift. First obviously was Australia, then the States just took off, and now it’s Europe. We’ve been having a lot of fun over there.
“I had to unfortunately play guitar for Parkway Drive, again. Terrible!” the guitarist and chief songwriter exclaims sarcastically. “They’ve been keeping me on the bench for the past few years and the foreseeable future.”
Marsh’s relationship with his fellow Aussie heavyweights is far from terrible though, of course, with him learning 15 of their tracks in just two weeks to fill in for Jeff Ling. As both bands would attest to, extreme music is “a struggling thing down here, and certainly not from a lack of bands”.
That’s a big reason why Thy Art aren’t around here so much these days. While Marsh is keen for the group’s ‘Death Sentence’ tour kicking off late this month, the guitarist muses, “Australia hasn’t been the kindest place for us.”
“There are many great ones, but with such a small population, that’s just how it is,” he says bluntly. “Hopefully we’re looking at five sold-out shows on our little tour in the capital cities, and we’re kicking off this album right by doing it at home.”
The band perform at Unify, after CJ McMahon was “backstage shaking in his boots”
The quintet’s fourth record Dear Desolation is certainly one to celebrate. After our chat shifts to Marsh’s feelings about the release, he says, “I’m very excited to have, hopefully, many satisfied fans. That’s always the biggest payoff for us, more than money or fame.”
At first glance, the five-piece seem well in their comfort zone, returning to production legend Will Putney (also Fit for an Autopsy guitarist). Putney is also one of Marsh’s best mates, and the musician says, chuckling, “I was literally on the phone with him for an hour before this call.”
Yet the album also marks a new turn for the band. Recorded at Graphic Nature Audio in Belleville, New Jersey, Dear Desolation marks vocalist CJ McMahon’s convincing return to the helm; that was after he left the band to focus on actually dealing with his alcohol and drug addictions.
Wind back to Unify Gathering in January, and you’ll find a terrified man about to walk onstage for the first time in over a year.
Setting the scene, Marsh begins, “For us, the performance part was business as usual, we’d just finished a couple of European tours, an Australian tour… But then it was all unfolding that CJ was comfortable, confident, off the drugs and we were like, ‘Okay. We’re going to do this’. It was that late in the game that we committed 110 percent, otherwise we didn’t have a fall-back vocalist to record the record.
“So we had our whole team with us down at Unify, and the walk onstage we’d done a couple hundred times in the past year, but CJ was backstage shaking in his boots. Sweating, running to the toilets after having a million sips of water… He honestly hadn’t performed in over a year, and we’d only rehearsed once or twice the week before, not for us but just to make him scream again and make sure he could do it. He wasn’t sure how long his voice would last. If you’ve seen any footage, his voice actually goes pretty bad halfway through,” he laughs, “but he got there in the end.”
“I’m very proud of him,” Marsh turns serious. “It was one thing that we weren’t sure he was committed to. I don’t know if he knew. It’s just one of those things, a day at a time. We started talking a few months after he left, and he said, ‘Yeah I’m trying to stop doing drugs, and do this and this…’. He’s made more self-improvement in his life and his family’s, and our lives in the band – as his extended family – in the last year than in the last decade that I’ve known him.
“That’s one thing that should be consistent, to enrich your life and the lives of those around you. Perhaps he hadn’t been doing that at all and actually made those people’s lives worse. I know he caused a lot of stress, tension and angst in the band through his destructive nature in the years leading up to his departure, but to undo all of that in one year… It’s inspiring.
“I mean he’s still normal CJ – he’s a very vocal, emotional, heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy – but he genuinely wants to make his life and those lives around him better. That’s impressive,” the guitarist finishes, the pride in his voice palpable.
CJ has turned a corner, and the band are back at the peak of their powers
Reflecting on McMahon’s studio dynamic with Putney, Marsh says, “Will really makes him feel comfortable and gets the delivery out of him that we need. When you have such an expert relationship where you’re drawing out very nuanced detail in someone’s voice… having that is important, and it’s often overlooked.
“It was my favourite music-making experience of my life so far.”
At the heart of the record is the exploration of what desolation really means, and after being asked exactly that, Marsh reflects, “I think it’s a concept that I’m conscious of, and I don’t particularly have any feelings about it because it is what it is, at least in my experience.” However, it’s not long before he elaborates.
“The idea is that when you die, you’re done. It’s pretty well known that I’m an atheist, and against essentially every religion that’s been created. I just thought it was time to lay down that sword just for a little bit and have a discussion about what that means. I’m very accepting of the fact that my expectation is that when I die, I’ll have no further experience. My brain will cease to function, there’ll be nothing…
“Just when that is your reality, what differences does it make in the way that you live your life or process emotions, seize the day and so on? I think that’s just as religious a discussion, but not so much picking up the sword across the table from the other party.”
That’s a measured mindset that often gets lost, but being open-minded certainly applies to many of Thy Art’s loyal fans. That’s been tested over the years, and Marsh takes us through the experience that set the band on their current path.
“We did this single ‘They Will Know Another’ on a split (with The Acacia Strain, Fit for an Autopsy) that we did eighteen months ago. That was a very big left turn for a lot of our fans, where we started again, creating a little more emotion. Not removing any heavy elements, but it was designed to engage the listener.
“Even after that – we were very proud of it and the reaction was amazing – we still didn’t know where that was going to direct us,” Marsh laughs. “We don’t really sit back and look at what people say about what we’ve done in the past.
“I think there’s this weird balance where that emotive quality was definitely present on a few on the album. Trying to tell a more genuine story in the lyrics rather than being so full of aggression is adding a new texture.
“We might explore those ‘pulling on the heartstrings moments’ a bit more in the future.”
Be ready when the ‘Death Sentence’ tour kicks off with Alpha Wolf, Cursed Earth and Deadlights in Perth on July 27 and continues across the country through August – dates below.
Thy Art Is Murder ‘Death Sentence’ tour
w/Alpha Wolf, Cursed Earth and Deadlights
Thursday, 27th July
Friday, 28th July
Saturday, 29th July
Max Watts, Melbourne
Wednesday, 2nd August
The Basement, Canberra
Thursday, 3rd August
Uni Bar, Wollongong
Friday, 4th August
Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Saturday, 5th August
The Cambridge, Newcastle
Thursday, 10th August
Friday, 11th August
Wharf Tavern, Sunshine Coast
Saturday, 12th August
Miami Tavern, Gold Coast
*Deadlights not appearing