Interview: Aryn Jonathan Black of Scorpion Child
Interview: Aryn Jonathan Black of Scorpion Child
I had the opportunity to talk with lead singer, Aryn Jonathan Black from the excellent Austin, TX band Scorpion Child. Aryn and I discussed Scorpion Child’s anticipated second album titled Acid Roulette set to be released on June 10th through Nuclear Blast Records. Scorpion Child’s first self-titled album was released in 2013 and thrust them onto the national rock scene garnering praise from fans and critics alike. Not only does Aryn come across as an extremely nice guy, but his passion about not only his, but music in general, is evident as we explore the themes that were the undercurrents and inspiration for the concept of Acid Roulette. We also get into discussion about his musical influences, preferences, touring, and lessons learned in the music business.
Tommy Leu: I want to jump right in and talk about biggest news right now, which is that Scorpion Child has a new album coming out on June 10th called Acid Roulette. How excited are you and the band for your second album to be released?
Aryn Jonathan Black: Well, I honestly couldn’t be more excited. I think that it’s the strongest material that I’ve been a part of writing in my life and I’m very proud to release this. I think everybody else kind of stands behind that. It’s definitely a very pinnacle piece of work for everybody involved.
Absolutely! I’ve gotten to listen to a few of the advance tracks so far, and I just really love it. Excellent stuff. Now, I have to admit, I’ve been a fan of the band from your first record.
I got your first album when it first came out 3 years ago now. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already. You guys recorded this new record last year and it was originally slated to be released then. Was there a reason for the delay?
You know how record labels work. If it were up to me, it would have been prepared much sooner.
So it’s been complete for some time?
Yes, they just take a while to launch a release, promote it, and to get it advanced. It just takes a long time.
Any band or artist’s second record is always a big one. Can you tell me a little bit about how the writing process and/or the recording process for Acid Roulette was different this time around than your first record?
The recording process seemed quite a bit different. Last time we had rehearsed the songs and demo’d them over the course of a few years before we actually got to record the album, so there’s significantly more thought or over-thought happening for that matter. I think there was some real grace in us all getting into a room for the most part with just ideas this time around, and really sharing the experience of writing and recording the album with everybody having microphones in the same room.
Was this album more of a collaborative piece, as far as the writing goes than the first album or about the same?
Yes, and no, I think the first album was a collaboration of more members. We had former members who weren’t even in the band anymore writing on some of those songs and on this one everybody was involved that’s in the band right now. We had one or two ideas that one of our former guitar players had written, and had some guitar parts and stuff, but it was pretty minimal. Frenchie actually helped write a song, too, so that was pretty cool.
Chris “Frenchie” Smith, produced the first album as well as the second one here, so there’s some consistency there. I hear that when I listen to the tracks that I have heard from the upcoming record. I hear that sonically there’s consistency, so that’s always cool. Let’s talk about song lyrics. Are you the primary lyricist of all the Scorpion Child material?
One of the things about your band that I personally really enjoy are your lyrics. To throw in some personal reflection here, I think you’ve got some lyrics that are the perfect blend of the more straight-forward and obvious, but then mixed with some that contain more obscure references, and you leave it up to the listener to interpret what it is that you’re communicating. Is that a fair assessment, number one, and is that by design?
Somewhat by design. I think that I definitely don’t want to be as abstract as I could be. I have to stop myself from being totally obscure because of the way that I write. The band I was in before this was a real prog-rock band and it was out there, so the lyrics were entirely art, super abstract. This was like in the early 2000’s, late 90’s. It was really art, so I figured I had to learn a way to really say what I’m trying to say in English, so that people understand, so that I can even understand it better, and make it convey to an audience who can kind of conceptualize what I’m trying to put forward a little easier than the way that I would naturally knee-jerk bring it across.
I’ve gotten to see a lyric video out there now for one of the tracks on the new record, called “My Woman in Black,” which I really like. There’s a line in that song that just stood out to me the very first time I heard it that says: “I’m wearing wounds in the color of rouge.” It’s great; and I love that reference. I love the visual there. A little bit later on you say: “Not that you asked, but you are the color of glass.”
Yes… “and I see right through your skeleton, won’t you kiss me now.“
Great stuff. Can you tell me about that song in particular and then tie that into the album concept, which is really ambitious from what I’m understanding about the whole record? Can you talk about that song and then tie it into the theme and the overall vibe of what this record’s about?
I know that’s a lot… (laughing)
No, absolutely. This question is actually asked quite often. To give the best answer, let’s start with “My Woman in Black.” “My Woman in Black” is basically this man: he lost his wife to another man, and his two sons when he was put away and he’s going through periods of reflection and recalling, trying to figure out what happened. How did everything I love just slip away from me? Where am I in this whole thing? He’s going back and he’s reflecting on the first time that he ever laid eyes on her; the very woman that he loved so dearly that he had children with. Still, even throughout his incarceration she is in the forefront of his mind. He obsesses over what happened on a daily basis because she’s the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. He first saw her when he was picking up a friend from the plane coming back from the military, and she got off the plane, too. He just struck up conversation, and the rest was love and marriage and children and responsibilities and pressures. It basically talks about how no other woman has ever measured up to his wife.
Where did this concept for the record come from? Where did you come up with this idea of the journey within these songs? I understand that the tracks represent time through the year; a month a song type of a thing?
Yes. It came up in a dream. I had several different dreams that picked up where they left off the next night, or a few nights later. I was able to get through this story about a man who was a travelling writer, and comes home to find out his wife’s leaving him and taking the two kids. This rich and powerful man in their village, in their town, or wherever they’re from was able to more or less get framed for a murder that coincided with his absence, so that he could be with his wife and take the children and at least then they would have money to support the kids. His love was kind of disregarded by his wife. A real problem, a very scary thing.
Definitely, it sounds like it’s a dark subject. Any connection to anyone that you knew in real life, or know in real life? Is there anything even remotely autobiographical in this for your personally?
I think it was mainly a collection of things that I was both dreaming about and certain things that were going on in my personal life that I think were bringing this new dream forward, like subconscious things. They were things going on like relationships, things that you think about, sometimes you think about things that you can’t really talk about, like murder, and there’s a lot of secrecy. Whenever there’s a love affair, there’s feelings and emotions that we hide and others that we harbor in the weirdest little corners of our minds. I think that brought on the story. The story just kind of fell together. When the music started really coming through, it was almost like the pieces of the puzzle were just naturally falling into place, and it just made sense to me, I was like, “Ah, yes, this is it.”
You bring in the story ideas to the band with the lyric ideas that you have, and the concept from the dreams that you’re talking about here, and then collectively the music starts to come together? And the band then helps you finish the ideas off, is that kind of what you’re saying?
Absolutely. Everything played into it, the melodies, just everything inspired this whole thing. It just kind of happened. I explain like: “It was this whole thing I had planned out. This book I had written a long time ago.” No, I think the album was written and maybe the book can be written later. When I do interviews, I hear different people’s various takes on the story, “Well, this is what I thought it meant.” I was like, “Actually, hold that thought because that’s a cool story, too.”
That’s a cool story, too, in and of itself.
I’m, like, learning. There’s like three different movies that you can make out of it, and they’re all completely different. Like an introspective one; there could be a political one. One guy thought there was a political leaning and I was like, “It’s not how I envisioned it, but that’s actually pretty cool.”
Yes, I didn’t hear that myself, but I definitely hear a lot of spiritual overtones in your stuff Aryn, and other things. Here’s a line from another song “Twilight Coven:” “Don’t want anyone else to see that God’s made a fool out of you.” Do I have that right?
Really neat stuff, you’re really deep there obviously with spiritual and religious types of overtones, and whatever that could mean for people. And I suppose that’s going to depend on whom you talk to, and where they’re coming from.
Yes, I was reading the Satanic Bible for like the 5th or 6th time in my life just because I find it interesting. Right now, I’m reading the Old Testament books of Moses, I have a really amazing copy that my grandfather gave me, so I’m enjoying these stories. I don’t observe; I don’t go to any kind of institution, but I’m fascinated with the occult, and all religion, and the masonic cult. I the like masonic ideal. It’s all in there, all these different clashings of God’s war in my subjects.
It comes through and then on top of all that, it’s all layered with this blend of the music. The heavy, yet hooky. Heavy, yet hooky riffs and melodies that run through the music with these lyrics of yours on top. The combination is so great, which is why so many people are responding to it. Backing up just one second, “Hole in the Sky,” the cover you guys did on the Black Sabbath Sweet Leaf tribute album, can you talk about that for a second? How’d that come about? Did you guys pick that song to cover, or was it picked for you?
No, we picked it. I was like, “I’ll do this tribute if everyone backs-the-fuck-up and lets us do “Hole in the Sky.” I feel like that’s the one Sabbath song that just really… it’s the height of Ozzy’s cocaine addiction and the band’s just having turmoil at the time. You can hear all these warring things going on in that era of Black Sabbath, so I really wanted to capture some of that raw energy, and I think that the Sabotage album has a lot of that to it as a record.
Your version of it, for whatever reason, is excellent. It’s got this warmth that sounds current, but it doesn’t abandon the vintage sound of the way the song was originally written. I think it’s the stand out track on that entire tribute record, in my opinion.
Wow, thank you!
Yes, absolutely and I have all of the Sabbath tribute albums over the years going back, since they’ve been making them. Within the first 10 seconds of your guys’ version of it, I thought, “man, this is right where it needs to be. It’s right in the zone.”
Wow, thank you, I appreciate that. I’ll tell you a little about how that ended up happening. We’d been hit up about doing a Zeppelin song and I was like, “Oh, absolutely not.”
I don’t know, I just never latched on to them the same way, but everyone just assumes that we’re supposed to do a Zeppelin song for whatever reason. We’re not Zeppelin. I want to do something that I want to do. I wanted to know what other compilations were going on at the time. They’re like, “Well, I mean, we’ve got this Black Sabbath comp, but you don’t really …” I was like, “Perfect, I sound nothing like Ozzy. Let me try to do Ozzy. Let me do my best interpretation of me doing Ozzy that I can do because everybody would assume I would do Dio, or Robert Plant.” That’s just the way my mind works, it’s like, “Let me take a challenge.” I’ve always wanted to do this.
You did. You threw a curve ball there and it works great, like I said. And I just don’t dole it out here for no reason, but as soon as I heard it, it was like, “Wow, I have to ask him about this.” And you’re right, I don’t personally get all the Zeppelin comparisons with you guys. I read about it here and there, and I guess there’s elements, but I really hear more of the other things. I hear more of the Sabbath and some Jane’s Addiction and Dio stuff. I hear a lot of that in your guys’ music.
Hell yes! That’s all really unique stuff. It’s just like Zeppelin is just, I mean, they’re great, don’t get me wrong. But they’ve never been my favorite band, or even a direct influence on my performance, or voice, or anything like that, or even my guitar players. I think John (our drummer) really likes Bonham a lot. It’s not his favorite drummer, but we all have a tremendous amount of respect for those players, and obviously they were the best. They’ve written so many great albums and taken music from a lot of different places, and I think that’s our similarity with them. We just like to explore a whole lot of different genres and go places that a lot of bands aren’t cool with. That coupled with whenever my voice raises, it apparently sounds like some sort of Robert Plant. I don’t know, I don’t get it. I have respect for it, but I don’t understand it.
I suppose there’s worse bands or guys you could be getting thrown in with, but at the same time, I hear what you’re saying and again, that’s why I think the strength of Scorpion Child is the blending of the various influences that give you the unique sound, the unique angle, and take on the whole thing. Which is what I picked up on right from the start. For those who haven’t seen Scorpion Child live yet, and you’re going to be getting out on the road coming up, what’s to expect? Do you guys sound like the record, or are you more improvisational?
No and yes.
No, not like the record?
We’re not like consistent in our shows as you hear on the record. We don’t really want to be. The show is not a divorce from the record at all, it’s just not like a replica. When you hear our live album, Live from The Good Music Club, it sounds different than our record. I honestly don’t want to go out and see a show, when I could have just stayed home and thrown on a record… If I go out to see Interpol one night, for as many times as I’ve seen that band, they always sound just like their record. I could have put on the record. There’s really no performance. I feel like there’s a lot of bands out there like that where they’re so good at replicating their record to a tee, it’s like, what’s the point? We definitely like to seek out more improvisational bits in our music. The songs have evolved since this record’s even been written, so when you see these new songs on this new album live, people might be like, “That was different than what I’m used to hearing on the record I bought two weeks ago.” We hope that they think it’s cool and understand that us as artists like to expand on the songs we wrote a year ago.
To tell you the truth, maybe it’s a blessing and a curse, because we’ve definitely gotten reviews, mostly really good reviews, but we’ve definitely gotten reviews where people have kind of bashed us for not sounding just like our record. And then other people will defend it and be like, “Who wants a band that sounds like their record?” It’s just a personal preference. Some people want to hear the record perfect when you see a band live. I don’t know, I don’t.
I’m with you. I don’t either. I think there needs to be a bit of unknown when you go to live show or a concert. You wonder, “What’s going to happen? What’s Aryn going to do tonight? What’s it going to be like?” That’s kind of the excitement of it. I’m a photographer as well and I shoot a lot of live shows and that’s great from my standpoint that way, too, because you don’t know what you’re going to get and it’s exciting.
One more thing here Aryn before I let you go. If you could come up with one thing, I mean it’s been three years since the first record, what’s one big takeaway, or one thing that you’ve learned since the first record came out? Something that you’ve figured out now that you didn’t know back then from all the touring and everything that you’ve been through and done?
There’s so much that I’ve learned. I think just like many other people; you have to go into this without any kind of money in mind. I want to say that I never did. I’ve always done this for the love of the craft, but you get to a certain point, you get to a certain age where you’re like, “This band’s pretty good.” You have members in your band getting stressed about how they can’t pay their bills because they had to go on tour and all of a sudden they have kids. We don’t have anyone in the band anymore that has children, but it’s definitely a responsibility that needs to be adhered to. When you have a child, that makes it very difficult for you to go out and do the same things that you were doing, and you have to really be there for your child. That priority was eventually adhered to and was a learning experience that I’ve never had because I don’t have a child that I know about (laughs). I’m kidding. I really understand, and I totally do understand that responsibility even though I’ve never experienced it, I’ve seen it. You make things happen as long as you can, until you can’t anymore.
I learned that it’s really hard to make money, it’s got to go out of your head for the most part. It’s a business in a way, but you try to keep as much of the business away from the art as possible. That’s what I’ve learned and sometimes that’s difficult.
That’s an interesting perspective. You hear that, there’s the music and then there’s the business; there’s two parts there and keeping them separate can be difficult. It’s an interesting distinction.
Finally, I see here you guys are going to the UK next month, you’re going to be at the Download Festival, is that right?
Have you played that festival before?
No, we’ve never.
You’ve got to be pretty stoked about that. Download is a big one.
Yes, we’re tremendously excited about it.
When will Scorpion Child be back in the States?
I think they’re working on something for the U.S. I don’t really know what it is yet. The U.S. is kind of hard for us I think because we haven’t focused on it.
Well, we will look forward to you out on the road once Acid Roulette is released on June 10th through Nuclear Blast Records.
Aryn, I really want to thank you for your time here today. Lots of good stuff here, I could talk to you for another hour. Maybe we’ll get a chance to do so down the road. I really appreciate your time, and I’ll look forward to seeing you guys out on the road. Hopefully one of these days I’ll be able to get out and shoot you as well.
Yes, absolutely, it was good talking to you Tom.
This piece was originally published in AntiHero Magazine, May 2016.