Life In Death
While Death Therapy may seem, on the surface, to be a contradiction in terms, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, Jason Wisdom (ex-Becoming the Archetype), the creator/songwriter/bassist/vocalist of this more recent musical incarnation, points out in a recent interview that in fact, quite the opposite is true – that in dying we live, something that resonates deeply with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and his followers. I was recently able to catch up with Jason – amidst his recent touring and traveling abroad – to find out what he’s been up to in recent years and to discover more about his latest musical output – Death Therapy.
Formed in 2015, Death Therapy is largely a solo artist/band, but Jason is accompanied by a drummer in the live setting. Additionally, he employs the help of Brian Wages with keyboard programming. The debut album, The Storm Before The Calm (2017), featured an almost industrial/electronic heavy rock vibe with a mixture of Wisdom’s insanely precise death growls and melodic vocals. Most significantly, there are no guitars (other than bass). Jason worked with producer Matt McClellan on the debut, but on the 2019 release (Voices), out now on Solid State Records, he is working with Nate Washburn. Brian Wages once again handles the keyboards and Blake Aldridge joined to track the drums. In addition, he has employed a few guests to record melodic vocals on several tracks. Read on as Jason discusses more about Death Therapy, life after BTA, his approach to song-writing, spiritual warfare and even the cult-comedy classic (Bill Murray) What About Bob.
Doc: Death Therapy has been a musical entity for a few years now. Some of our readers may not be familiar with your story and how this all came about. If you will, give us a brief synopsis of the events that led you back in to music (after the dissolution of Becoming the Archetype), and some insights into the genesis of and motivations behind Death Therapy.
Jason: It’s a pretty boring story actually. Haha. Maybe even a predictably common one. I was in a really small metal band in the mid-2000’s called Becoming the Archetype. I had some unforgettable experiences in that band, but unfortunately, it never really took off. So in 2010-11, I had to step away from it in order to pursue a “real job” in attempt to provide for my family (I have been married 12 years and have two children 7 and 4). After 4-5 years completely out of the music world, (I didn’t even touch an instrument), I found myself needing a creative outlet. It’s just a part of me that I can’t avoid. Death Therapy is that outlet. Don’t misunderstand me though. Death Therapy isn’t simply a hobby band. It may not pay the bills, but I am not a person who can do anything halfway. We are trying to stay on the road as much as possible, and I hope to keep writing new music as long as possible.
Doc: In as few words as possible, describe the core sound of Death Therapy.
Jason: I have called Death Therapy everything from “industrial groove metal” to “experimental metal” and even “electronic bass and drum metal.” I suppose that some combination of those is probably what the band actually sounds like. Haha. It’s really not easily defined, in part because I have not set out to fall into any specific genre. Rather, I have always just wanted to let the music flow organically – almost stream of consciousness style. So I am often surprised by where it ends up.
Doc: And what’s with this band name? Does this have anything to do with dying to self for the purpose of healing? Inspirations?
Jason: The name has two origins – a superficial one, and a spiritual one. Superficially … there is an old movie with Bill Murray called What About Bob. If you’ve seen it, you already understand. [Ed. – yep, got it! Great movie!] If you haven’t seen it, you’re likely too young, and it wouldn’t do much good to explain it. Just watch the movie. Thank me later. The spiritual origin of the name has to do with the Christian belief that life ultimately comes out of death. First of all, the death and resurrection of Christ. But also, the daily dying to self that we must all undergo in the Christian walk.
Doc: I must confess, that as a physician, the whole concept of “death” as therapy is quite fascinating, but it makes total sense from a Biblical perspective. We spend so much time every day focused on “self” and the endless preservation of “normal life” that we have actually become dead to living. Forgive me for digressing, but feel free to comment.
Jason: You got it! I didn’t even need to explain it above. Haha.
Doc: You strive to be “different” with Death Therapy, and for that I applaud you. What influenced you to move in this direction? I know you worked with Devin Townsend on 2009’s Dichotomy (remains my favorite BTA release, by the way). Devin is a musical visionary and an extremely talented artist. Did any of his influence factor in to your decision to experiment with industrial/electronic elements mixed with metal? Or have other bands such as Nine Inch Nails, Circle of Dust and Muse had their sway?
Jason: Devin is definitely a musical hero of mine. He had a huge impact on me as an artist and person. But really, as I mentioned above, my direction with the band has been largely just something that happens along the way. Sure, I am influenced by bands like NIN, Manson, Muse, Rage Against the Machine, etc. However, I didn’t ever sit down and intentionally say “I want to sound like X.” It is more just that these are the things I was listening to (along with bands like Extol, Dream Theater, Living Sacrifice, Project 86, etc.) in the late 90’s and early 2000s when my tastes in music were being shaped. So when you turn on the faucet of my musical mind, it sorta comes out sounding like these.
“At the ground level, we are just a band that wants to play some music folks can bob their heads to, and have fun singing along. It’s just rock-n-roll underneath, even if it seems a little strange on top.”
Doc: So, it’s been a few years since the release of The Storm Before The Calm, (great title by the way) so the musical direction is familiar at least to many of your supporters/listeners. Also, you’ve done some touring with Death Therapy. What kind of reception are you receiving these days and in what ways has this motivated/challenged you to modify or change the approach and musical direction on Voices?
Jason: We get a lot of comments like “this really isn’t my style, but I love you guys.” And that really sums up our reception as a band. The people who give us a shot, seem to really dig it, even if they didn’t expect to like us. But it’s difficult to get past that entry barrier when seeking to tour with other bands or get promoters to book you. I think they are overthinking our “uniqueness.” At the ground level, we are just a band that wants to play some music folks can bob their heads to, and have fun singing along. It’s just rock-n-roll underneath, even if it seems a little strange on top.
Doc: In listening to Voices I’m hearing more melodic vocal input. There is less of an industrial/abrasive edge in the music, as well, compared to the debut. What made you decide to progress in this musical direction and include 3 melodic vocalists as guests? Tell us about their contributions.
Jason: It’s interesting you say that. See, I thought this album more abrasive than the first. I’ve had several folks tell me, “I love it, but it’s not as heavy as the first one.” And I have to do a double take. Because on the other hand I have folks telling me, “This one sounds more like Becoming the Archetype.” It’s a conundrum. Haha. But I will say this … I think this album FEELS more like BTA. That is to say, it is more progressive overall. The songs are not really alike in any way, but there is a consistent theme throughout. That’s very BTA-esque. As for the melodic vocals, that’s something I have always wanted to experiment with more, but I never really had the courage. Devin Townsend (going back to that discussion from above) told me all the way back in 2008, that I needed to have more confidence in my melodic vocal ability and try new things. Well, here we are, 11 years later, and I took his advice. Haha. Finally.
The guest vocalists on the album are very special to me. Not only do they lend their “voices” (which plays into the theme of the album), but they are all musicians I look up to. I am honored they agreed to be a part of my little, largely unknown, project.
Doc: Do you have a favorite song/track on Voices? If so, what is it about that song (or songs) that inspires you?
Jason: It’s difficult to point to a favorite, but I guess I will go with “Darkening Counsel” (which is one song spanning 2 tracks on the album). It’s something I’ve had in mind for a long time, based on God’s response to Job (in the book of Job). I have always thought it would make a great metal song. Hopefully I did okay with it.
Doc: It sounds fantastic. Also, I am fascinated by the lyrics from “It’s Okay.” Can you expand upon the phrase, “I’m telling you that it’s okay to not be okay?”
Jason: To say “it’s okay to not be okay” isn’t to imply that we should grow content with our flaws or something like that. It’s the voice of Jesus in that song, coming to the person (the first voice in the song) who is sick of being told by superficial religious people to put on a fake smile and that if you do that “God will make it all better.” Jesus comes to this person and says, “I came for people like you. You don’t have to clean up your house for me to come in. It’s okay to not be okay.” In that sense … that’s what it’s about.
Doc: The final track is quite a departure. How do you get the bass guitar to sound like a guitar, and from where do these crazy “chip-tune”/video game keyboard passages originate? I really like this song because in some ways it reminds me of the progressive insanity of the first BTA album. For me, this track is clearly the highlight of Voices.
Jason: Well, the “guitar sound” is pretty simple to explain. I am just using effects pedals on my bass to give it an octave up sound, and then running it through a guitar amp. But I am simultaneously running that signal into a bass amp. So, it sounds like I am playing both at the same time – because it’s just one instrument. The samples and keyboard stuff is something that I work on with several super talented folks, including the producer of the album. I am glad to hear that you agree with me about your favorite track on the album. Haha.
Doc: The design and layout of the CD release screams Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter). In addition to his graphic design skill set, Ryan writes the most incredible lyrics. I have long been a fan of your lyrics as well with BTA (and with Death Therapy for that matter). What is your approach to lyric writing, and in that regard, what sets you apart from the average metal lyricist?
Jason: Ryan is a genius. That’s all that needs to be said. Everyone already knows that. As for how I write lyrics … I wouldn’t say I am doing anything unique or better. I am probably right in the middle of the pack as far as my abilities with lyric writing … (with musicianship, I am close to the bottom, there are 4-year old’s who can whoop me on the bass guitar). But my process for Death Therapy is different from that for BTA. With BTA, I usually came up with a concept first and then wrote around that. With Death Therapy it’s virtually the opposite. I am just writing, as I said before, stream of consciousness style, and then I sort of “discover” the concept (if there is one) as it unfolds. It’s a challenge for me to write this way, because it’s very vulnerable and doesn’t allow me to cover up things with as much artistic flair. If that makes any sense.
Doc: On a more personal level, I’ve heard you state in other interviews that you tend to “over-analyze” things. As most of my colleagues will attest, I am cut from that very same stock. Of course, the music of BTA was incredibly and wonderfully complex and intense, but in some ways the “analysis paralysis” that can sometimes take place in crafting that kind of art can be overwhelming and, at times, restrictive. In what ways has Death Therapy been “unbinding” for you in that regard. And in what ways has this season of your musical career enhanced your artistic skill set?
Jason: It’s like you read my mind from the above question. Yeah, Death Therapy has allowed me, in a lot of ways, to get back to what it was like when I first began playing music (and even being a fan). It’s a shame to be the guy at the concert who is bored in the back, arms crossed, critiquing every little detail. And I was that guy for a long time. Music had become more scientific than experiential for me. And Death Therapy has definitely peeled away a lot of those layers and let me just have fun with music again.
“What better way could there be to spiritually and morally bankrupt a society than to drive people to extreme polarity where they can no longer even communicate with one another without accusing the other of being the Devil (or Hitler)? The Devil himself must be very amused.”
Doc: I realize that it is politically incorrect to discuss “faith-related” matters these days, but I think that our readers will be interested to hear your answers to a few of these questions. Bear with me, if you will…
To what extent, if at all, do you attribute the increasing polarization we see today in just about every aspect of our society – views of government/politics, religious convictions, media reporting, art/music, educational focuses, etc. – to spiritual warfare?
Jason: I definitely think spiritual warfare plays a huge role in the way society is going these days. “Divide and conquer” is a simple formula. What better way could there be to spiritually and morally bankrupt a society than to drive people to extreme polarity where they can no longer even communicate with one another without accusing the other of being the Devil (or Hitler)? The Devil himself must be very amused.
Doc: And as a follow up to this question, to what extent do you discern or feel that these “voices” in your head and in your lyrics might represent a spiritual battle for your very own heart and mind (a struggle we all face)?
Jason: That’s absolutely what it’s about. And it’s not just voices in my head. It’s voices all around – within and without. Voices of culture, voices of the past, voices of my own insecurities, and that’s just to mention ones with a negative spin. There are also countless voices coming from the positive side, warring for the attention of my (and all of our) heart, soul, and mind.
Doc: On a lighter note, the million-dollar question … when is the BTA reunion, LOL? In all seriousness (because I understand and know that life, family and practical matters are paramount) is this even a consideration, and if so, is this something the original members have discussed? You guys were blessed with a chemistry, gift-set and power that few enjoy.
Jason: Only time will tell. I think it would be fun, but I don’t know if it could really work out.
Thank you, Jason, for taking the time to respond to these questions. I would love to meet up with you at some point in the near future and check out a Death Therapy show.
Thank you for giving me a chance to answer these questions! The pleasure is all mine. Hope to see you soon!