Cult Leader Forging Ahead

Cult Leader Forging Ahead
As Cult Leader, the new band made up of three-quarters of Salt Lake City bleak-grinders Gaza, ready the release of their debut EP, Nothing for Us Here (on Deathwish Inc.), vocalist Anthony Lucero spoke to Exclaim! about the hard decision to end the previous band and forge a new path. Allegations of rape against former Gaza vocalist Jon Parkin left remaining members Lucero, Michael Mason and Casey Hansen with the uncomfortable decision to oust Parkins and move on. Shedding their former moniker, Cult Leader were born, bringing the three friends and new bass player Sam Richards (Lucero moved to the mic) to a place where everything was fresh and anything was possible. The result is hardcore-tinged grindcore with a newfound songwriting joy amongst all the pissed-off-ness.

How did the EP come together?
It came together really fast, actually. It was a lot faster than anything we'd put together before; it just came really naturally. Once we had everything, we decided to just record it ourselves so that we could figure out what we were going to do with it after. So we put the whole thing together in about a week and we were prepared to go DIY with it, but we decided to send it to Jacob [Bannon] at Deathwish, since we were buddies, and see what he thought about it, with no real expectations of him wanting to do anything with it. We basically just wanted to show it to him. But once he heard it, he said it was good stuff and suggested we work together. So it came together super quick; a lot faster than we expected. It's been awesome and a really cool, smooth process.

You guys formed Cult Leader very soon after Gaza dissolved. How did the change from the one band to the other happen?
I think once bands reach a certain point they either start to separate and the members start to pull apart or they get tighter. Gaza had reached a point over the last two years that we were together where there had been a lot of tension in the band between the three of us and [Gaza singer] Jon [Parkin]. It started to become really frustrating and tours were getting cancelled and all kinds of stuff was happening, so when that stupid, horrible shit blew up on the Internet, then it had reached the point where the three of us said that we'd had enough of this, it's done, and so we decided to actually kick Jon out of the band. Then we sat with Gaza for awhile, trying to figure out what we were going to do, and eventually it felt like the only right thing to do was just start from scratch.

We followed our guts through the whole thing and it just felt like that's what we needed to do, burn it all down and start completely fresh and build it again from the ground up, which was an extremely tough decision to make. But it's already been extremely rewarding and it feels really good. We all like the music more than anything we'd written in the past and everything about it feels extremely positive, so it's been a really great process building this new band up, as frustrating and terrible as it was to walk away from the last band.

What was your initial reaction when you first heard about the rape allegations against Jon?
It was crushing. It was devastating for everyone involved. It's not a situation that anyone should be playing with; it's just the darkest thing. It was just terrible when it all happened, but it was also the straw that broke the camel's back for all of us, just with dealing with each other on a personal level. That was where we were like, "Okay, we can't… it's just ruined." Everything that we had built, we felt like the reputation had been damaged, so there was no way that we wanted to carry that with us. It just felt like we had to start over.

Are you still in touch with Jon?
Not all at. No. We're not… Not one bit.

What was it like switching to vocals after playing bass?
It's definitely been a challenging transition. When I was 18 I was doing vocals in hardcore bands, but it was nothing serious. I've never felt like bass was my instrument anyway; I'm a guitarist, but when Gaza needed a bass player, I loved the band and wanted to be in the band, so bass became my instrument and I loved it for what it was, but it never felt like me. When this new band started, I decided that I wanted to try something completely new and challenging, so I approached the band and told them that I wanted to do it and they were all hesitant, and rightly so, I had not proven myself in any way. So it took a little while for them to sign off on letting me give it a shot, but once we played the first show everything really fell into place and locked in. It was the cementing moment for us to be what we are, and know what we were all doing and the direction we were going to head in. And being a guitarist, when we write songs I still have a guitar in my hands the whole time we're writing music together. So we're all contributing riffs and music, but once the song is pretty much nailed down I put the guitar aside and I start thinking more in vocals mode.

Because you had played with Jon so long, was it hard to develop your own style and did you feel like you were in a shadow a bit?
Not at all. I don't feel like it was a shadow at all. I really like it. It was a bit challenging at first, just because I had to be so experimental and find my range and the feel for everything. But everything came pretty naturally, which was great. I love doing it and I don't feel like I have anything to prove, which is a good thing. I'm just putting it out there and it is what it is, and if comparisons happen, they're going to happen, but it doesn't affect me at all. I'm happy with what I'm doing and, as long as the dudes in the band are happy, it's not going to matter.

How did it feel to put Gaza behind you?
It felt really good. It brought the three of us closer together, then bringing in Sam with a fresh perspective, and fresh blood, and a really great musician, gave us that moment of trying to write a song and as soon as we started it just felt natural. And we started writing stuff that put big smiles on our faces; we really enjoyed everything that was coming out of those first jams together. It was a great experience and I really enjoyed writing this record and we've already started writing for a full-length to record in the future. It's been really positive and much more natural than any of us expected.

Have your lyrics changed a lot? Have you changed your scope?
Definitely. Jon and I are two completely different people and what affects me, or what I feel like I need to put out there lyrically, is completely different from anything that was put out there in the past. I can only be honest about things that affect me personally. I have no agenda or political stance that I'm trying to put out there in front of everybody. I have my own political beliefs, but I don't feel that it's necessary at all to put it out there. I feel more of a need to just be really raw about what I'm saying about things that have affected me in the past. I tend to beat myself up a lot lyrically and it's really cathartic. I've never been the type of person to be the centre of attention or be a really loud, verbose person. I'm known for being a really quite, reserved person, but being able to pour all of these intensely emotional ideas and feelings into the lyrics and then put them out there, it's been really cathartic and it's felt really good. I just hope people can relate emotionally to what I'm saying, as opposed to just trying to preach to the choir about political ideas. I hope I can make people feel what I feel, and so far it's been getting a good reaction.

Have many people compared the new band to Gaza?
Yeah, people have talked about it a lot. It's the same core of guys writing the music, but I feel like our approach, and the feel, and the idea behind Cult Leader is drastically different enough that it's not like we're trying to continue on the same path. We're exploring new ideas and doing things we haven't done in the past, and that's speaking to a lot of fans. As long as it moves people, it doesn't matter what kind of comparisons we get.

Even a song like "Mongrel," you wouldn't have seen that on a Gaza album, so there's definitely been a shift…
Definitely. I feel that there's more of a hardcore/punk base to everything we're writing now. For the most part, the songs are shorter and more aggressive and there's a more open feel to everything. And then the last song, "Driftwood," I don't think that ever would have been anything that Gaza would have written. It's a long one and this record spans a pretty wide range of feels, but all of the songs fit in the same emotional place, which makes them more cohesive. We're open to all ideas, so it's pretty awesome.

Has the woman that made the rape allegations against Jon been in touch with you since you started doing Cult Leader?
No. There's been no contact with anybody involved since we decided to cut ties and start Cult Leader.

Were you afraid that it might all blow up again when you started the new band?
Not really, but we knew that once we entered the public realm again that people were going to start talking about those things. And it's irritating and it's dumb, especially because the three of us had literally zero interaction with anybody involved and had nothing to do with the situation. It's really frustrating for us because all we want to do is just get out there and play more music, and when those things are brought up it's just frustrating because we have nothing to do with it.

So you feel like you can put it all behind you?
Yeah, absolutely. That was the reason for starting a completely new band and really focusing on each other and moving forward. We wanted to continue writing music and ultimately we had nothing to do with anything, so all we want to do is continue writing extremely pissed punk music. And shit like that is terrible, but it ultimately has nothing to do with us.