Trap Them's Ryan McKenney

Trap Them's Ryan McKenney
Raucous and loud, malicious and insightful, as well as crusty and crushing, this is Trap Them to a tee. Since 2006, their sludge-dipped, buzzsaw-like, relentless hardcore assualt, coupled with fictional and misanthropic lyrical themes, has been the means of which Trap Them have been laying sweaty venues to waste. Front-man Ryan McKenney is no stranger to hardcore music or the scene, with time spent in Backstabbers Incorporated, and has used that experience to help tighten and focus Trap Them into the well-oiled killing machine they are today. Although no traditional concept surrounds past releases, Séance Prime and Sleepwell Deconstructor, or new full-length Seizures In Barren Praise, one can’t help but notice some type of connection between the two latter albums. McKenney spoke with Exclaim! to help clarify the connections, how he doesn’t feel his lyrics are apocalyptic and the one thing he must know before he fades into the afterlife.

Give a brief history of Trap Them and your past band associations.
Trap Them started about six years ago. Brian and I made a few songs and then kind of sat on them for a few years. Early in 2006 we decided to make this a full-time effort and write songs and records the way we've wanted. Not much more to it. This is what we like to do, so we're doing it. Past lives: I did vocals for Backstabbers Incorporated for about six years, Brian played guitar for a few years in the band as well. He's also the creative mastermind behind December Wolves.

Now that the members have had time to focus strictly on Trap Them, what has that done for the band and your music?
There's no real fucking around. We have a plan and a path with this band and we've followed it. We've never doubted the direction we want to take the band in. Everything is the way we want it to be and we aren't going to change that. We are able to tour and record whenever we want, so our focus and willingness has produced nothing but positive results in regards to anything we attempt to do.

I read that the band took their name from a film by Joe D'Amato titled Trap Them and Kill Them. Is there any truth to that and if so what made the title of that movie suitable for the band's name?
Oh, it is very true. The title worked for the band because 1) we're Euro-cult nerds, and 2) it's a pretty vague name. We didn't want the name of the band to pigeonhole our sound. That film is great.

What are the band's goals for this album? What were you able to do with Seizures that you were unable to do with Sleepwell?
The goals have always been the same. We want to record albums we're proud of and then play as many places as we can. There's not much more to it. There's no soapbox grandstanding with this band. We make the music and take every opportunity we possibly can. With Seizures... we took extra time in the studio to make the record everything we wanted it to be and I think it shows.

There's obviously a great amount of craft when it comes to the lyrics and art, especially with the new record. What are the band's goals concerning artistic expression?
This music is not a business entity to us. It's our artistic expression in its purest form. Unless you have complete control over the art you create, it becomes more of a product and less of an organic release. Lyricism is very important to me, in regards to this band. It's not something I want to shit out with slogans and billboard-isms. If there is ever a solid ending to this band, I want it to be remembered for great records and intense live shows and for never just going through the motions.

What are your thoughts on Seizures?
I love everything about it. I think it's the best songs we've ever written, both musically and lyrically. The layout Jake Bannon produced for us is absolutely perfect. We set out to make a dark and epic punk record and I feel confident we did just that.

Do you believe that more and more aggressive music is lacking a message and is it important to you to convey one with Trap Them?
Not really to both. I think there are still many bands with a message and they feel comfortable expressing it. I will say that there is a lot more blind sloganeering now, but, fuck it. If that's what you want to do, I'm in no position to question it. For me, though, I have no desire to be an educator or preach to the gospel in any blunt fashion. Trap Them is about artistic expression for me, and no matter how hard it is to avoid, social and political subjects will be touched upon. But rather than shove anything in anyone's faces, I'd rather leave everything open ended and let listeners and readers and watchers draw their own opinions and decisions.

The tracklistings on Seizures and Sleepwell read as if there's a theme or a journal. Are there any narrative concepts to the records? If not why did you take that approach?
There is an ongoing theme. Depression, desperation and blasphemy set in the small town of Barren Praise. As stated earlier, it's up to the listeners to interpret the lyrics in any way they seem fit. At the root, its still punk and it's still confronting and questioning modern day idealisms and values.

Seizures in Barren Praise, from a title track standpoint, appears to start off where Sleepwell Deconstructor left off. Was that intentional to bridge the gap between both records and maintain a flow?
The three releases are related. It's very intentional. If you're going to progress musically, you have to do the same lyrically, otherwise, you're just a glorified pied piper playing the same fucking song and looking for more naive children to follow you. Fuck that. There is a way to expand everything within a band without losing your essence.

What are Trap Them's processes for writing and recording an album? Was anything different this time around? For the better or worse?
Every band has their own formula that works for them. Ours seems a little unorthodox, but it works for us. I've written all the lyrics for the records far ahead of time before any music is written. Brian [Izzi] has written most of an album in his head before the guitar is actually picked up. When it gets to be crunch time, he'll start working with the guitar and feeling out the ideas into songs. Once he has a rough version of a song, he'll record it and email it to me, and then I listen to it on headphones, decide which set of words sync up and fit accordingly, and we take it all from there. The approach ain't broke, so we're not going to try and fix it. We've always written everything for Trap Them together and it's the route we feel comfortable with. There have never been any disagreements when we write the albums - we both know what we want. Brothers of distortion think in like minds.

Would you agree that lyrically, you come off as having a pretty bleak outlook on humanity? What gives you hope to carry on?
I'd have to disagree. I think humanity itself is rather bleak, so I'm taking a more realistic approach. I write fiction. That's what all of these lyrics are. But, with any given amount of fictional essence, there is almost always going to be a foundation built on non-fiction. It's hard to avoid. Darkness is real. Depression and alienation is real. Life and death are real. It's just a matter of accepting everything in face value and dealing with it however you want. For me, it's to create scenes of everyday life that may or may not exist in any given time or place. What gives me hope to carry on? I have a wonderful wife who supports my artistic endeavours. I'm making music with my best friend, and I have a puppy that needs a dad. That, and I can't die until I know how LOST ends.

This album feels like you've established a definitive sound? Would you agree with that?
We're getting there. There's really no definitive sound to this band. It will continue to expand and evolve. Every record will give us more of a chance to find new routes of expression and creation. We have our basis, which is to carry our brass balls of distortion and make dirty, dark songs that we're proud of.

I've read that Sleepwell was the band's favourite release. Why, and is that still the case?
Everything we've done is my favourite. This is the music I'd want to hear if I wasn't in the band. Every release has parts that make the record stand out for me, but I'd be hard pressed to choose one that I like more than the others. I have no complaints about anything we've ever written. That being said, I always look forward to creating new music.

Lyrically the last album, in my interpretation, seems to surround humanity's struggle for expression and individuality. Did you continue down that alley or decide to try something else with Seizures? If so, what?
I simply attempted to broaden the scope of the storylines I had written for the first two records. My life is immersed in artistic expression and creation and I just do my best to translate this into fictional anonymous lives. This is how Trap Them will always be represented. It's up to the listeners to decide how to relate, if at all.