Interview

w/Garrett Russell of Silent Planet

                                                                   Silent Planet -Garrett Russell third from the right (hmmagazine.com)
Lisa Sanchez

Silent Planet, a six-piece California metalcore band, have been rambling across the United States for the better part of 2015 in support of their album, The Night God Slept, released in November 2014. While on their way to Cleveland, Silent Planet's vocalist Garrett Russell took time to speak to me about the state of western civilization, why he chose to use female narratives in the band's music, and how the idea of "Christian" music is utter bullshit.

"We really are homeless, sir-crazy guys. I feel like when I get home, I want to be at the beach, get a tattoo, eat out of a dumpster. Then I realize, 'why don't I eat out of a dumpster in Pittsburgh instead of L.A.?' If a dumpster is cold, it will keep the food better," Russell said about the band's constant touring schedule. When asked to clarify if that was a matter of speech or if Russell and his band mates led a forager lifestyle, procuring food where they could, the singer confirmed that was simply his lifestyle.
    
The singer continued, "Our goal is to stay on the road. We released an album almost a year ago. We're finding other people are passionate about it. What I love about our genre is it is one where musicians and listeners, or transmitters/receivers, are equally passionate and equally work hard. What's been going on is that we feel a moral obligation to work as hard as we can."
    
Silent Planet is currently on tour with For Today, Fit For a King, Gideon, and Phinehas. Russell spoke highly of the tour and the bands on the bill, "It's been really amazing. This is a very strong tour. Every band has been doing what they've been doing for a very long time. No band has become incredibly popular from one hit. There have been no lucky rises to the top. They have been tour warriors for five or ten years.”
    
Although the band are on tour with acts that have Christian members and sing about moral dilemmas, Silent Planet set themselves apart with their unique perspectives and piercing beliefs about human equality. Russell explained this idea in the context of the band's most recent album, The Night God Slept, "Elie Wiesel wrote about his time in concentration camps in the book Night. He talks about the death of God. Another influence was As Cities Burn's "Coma Sleep." They have a lyric, ‘brother you say take a look around because if there is a god he must be asleep.’ I think a lot of people have felt that way. An atheist might feel that way. How do you justify what we see on Earth? There is incredible evil and I think everyone knows that," the singer said.
    
Throughout The Night God Slept Russell speaks from the perspective of various women protagonists throughout history, including a woman affected by the nuclear bombing of Japan in "Darkstrand (Hibakusha)." Russell explained, "It's a collection of stories about women who have been victims of misogyny and war, patriarchy and evil, as Christ characters that fit within the narrative of the gospel, which is overcoming violence through peaceful measures. Fighting death with life instead of fighting death with death."
    
Russell acknowledged and agreed that the title of the album appeared pessimistic, but responded with a thought-out answer as to why, "Maybe God isn't asleep, maybe as humanity we're given the ability to change the Earth and most of us have fallen asleep. I believe Jesus empowers the least of these, people who are transgender, people who are judged, kids who are bullied, people who are marginalized, those people are holders of and speakers of the gospel because they know what it's like to be at the bottom of society. It's in those people and in those stories we can seek actual help. I think we're all children of God...Seeing that there is hope that extends way past what we see on television when presidents debate, what we're buying and what we're being sold, that there is something a lot deeper. A lot of us have fallen asleep. We're the ones that fell asleep. Most people feel abandoned by God."         
    
The singer maintained this ecstatic, considerate banter throughout the interview. He had a lot to say and not a lot of time to say it, but there were many points in the conversation where he blew me away with his insight. When asked to expand on the reasoning for choosing to include female voices in The Night God Slept Russell responded, "Women ask me, ‘As a man, what give you the right to write as a woman?’ I respond, I don't have a right to write as a woman. The world of music that we're occupying...this world of music, heavy music, is very misogynistic. Women have a couple different roles within this genre. One, women are sexual items, sexual characters, two, the most common, is that women are objects of anger and frustration...or three, especially in the Christian world, women are objects of flat purity. Either way, women are objects in this genre. I think it's disgusting."
    
Russell continued, "Women I see getting popularity, it has to do with their tattoos or how pretty they are. I don't see women being respected for their stories or their art in this world. I find it very misogynistic. That runs counter to the whole idea of why this music started. It started with, ‘I'm sick of this advertising culture’ so they made a lot of loud music that subverted the world of Reaganism and Americana that they thought was bullshit. We've enacted our own materialism. Simone de Beauvoir said in The Second Sex that women  have become objects. Instead of women becoming human they are the opposite of men. That's what I see. I wanted to write from the perspective of these people. I know I fall short because I'm a man, but, I'd rather try and do something meaningful than be another band that writes about breakups and stuff."
    
Silent Planet deals with the issue of moral ambiguity and humanity's ability to commit heinous evil. The Night God Slept brings up these themes by addressing specific events during World War II, including the bombing of Hiroshima and the Oradour-sur-Glane massacre, as well as injustices that persist to this day, such as the victimization of Native Americans in the United States. Russell said, "Any time the world goes to war...I think when that happens we see exactly the levels of depravity that humans can sink to. Within that entire political theories and sociological concepts get changed. It's easy to forget how truly evil humanity can be to one another. It’s important to remember these instances of history when we define ourselves by race, nationality, gender; incredible violence can follow. When countries go to war it's for these little lines we've drawn on maps and then we kill each other. If we could grasp the idea that we're all human, not that 'I'm from America and you're from Germany,' that's never enough to kill one another."
    
Russell expanded the above idea into the ultimate goal of the album, to demonstrate compassionate love for humanity, "Realize our humanity is a gift and it's also a responsibility. I don't think people realize being human is a gift. A lot of people think we deserve what we have. To be human is this incredible responsibility. That responsibility is to uphold life no matter where you are . I am a Christian, but for a long time Christians thought the worst of other people. I disagree, Atheists, Buddhists, Islamic scholars agree we need to uphold life. Christians need to be a part of that message."

The singer continued, "If we're not able to look at suffering and look at sadness we're choosing to live in bullshit fantasy. Most music has absolutely nothing to give people suffering. Being human involves suffering. We need to be able to talk about that. Pop music is not going to talk about it. Pop music is going to get you to buy shit."
    
Russell and Silent Planet don't bring human suffering to light just to sell records. They are constantly working to better the lives of the people they can, including selling T-shirts that help to end human trafficking in the United States. "Every day I want to be a part of what we believe in instead of materialism. We can fight human trafficking and we donated $1,000 dollars to Shared Hope International. We need to be careful not to be hypocritical. Being the voices means you're not always able to be the hands. While we tour we can't volunteers at a shelter for people who have been domestically abused, but we can empower other people when we can," stated Russell.
    
Silent Planet incorporates this ethos in a number of ways, including taking the time to address tragic events that happen abroad and in the United States. The band recently addressed the mass shooting at the Umpqua Community College campus in Oregon on their social media pages. Russell believes that these events, and the subsequent media response, showcases how the country is not able to collectively grieve. The singer stated, "It's pretty sick to think when a college shooting happens the first thing that you see are companies protecting themselves or politicians saying ‘this proves my point,’ whether its pro or con gun control...You see different news personalities, or as they call them ‘pundits’, fighting back and forth, while people are still getting lead removed from their bodies in the emergency room. That probably points to a disconnect from our own humanity."
    
Russell continued, "Instead of mourning a life we have to come up with a headline for it. Instead of thinking of what people are going through, we have to think how to sell it. That goes back to being a consumerist society. How are you going to buy it. How are you going to sell it. We've lost the ability to mourn or grieve as a country, that would slow the wheels of capitalism for a day...It really strikes me, we can't even take an hour to mourn in America. There's a bit of a disconnect. That's not the way we were meant to be humans."
    
After another stoic, but enlightening point, I asked Russell if he agreed that Silent Planet was a "Christian" band and he laughed in response. The band has a strong set of beliefs, but Russell finds the definition as a tainted term. Russell explained, "I hope when you write this you explain the scenario as it just happened. Like, you asked the question and I laughed because that's exactly what I think of it. I'm sick of sugar coating how I feel about this subject. The Christian music industry, festival industry, label/music side, the Christian music world is the definition of when Jesus looked at the Pharisees and said ‘You are all like whitewashed tombs.’”
    
Russell expounded, describing his idea of Christian art. He stated, "I think Christian art should be art that is apocalyptic. Apocalyptic is not the end of the world. Apocalyptic means taking what we know and turning it on its head. Christian art should be like Banksy or Sufjan Stevens. The artist doesn't have to promote being a Christian or be a Christian. Like Christ, it gives flavor to a very flavorless world. Unfortunately we live in a world where Christian music means peddling bullshit to people and lying to their faces about it. We have no interest in being part of the Christian music industry. We don't make art for just Christians to listen to."
    
Russell stated that most of the people who are offended by Silent Planet's music consider themselves Christian. The singer mentioned that he often engages in conversations with people who take issue with the song "Native Blood" in particular. The vocalist said, ""Native Blood:" this song is about the myth we call American history and that we deserve the land... For me, as a Christian, that comes with a duty to fight for the truth. I'm a white male with a lot of privilege. I don't pretend I know how to speak for native folks of any tribe. But, I feel like something needs to be said."
    
Although the vocalist and Silent Planet prefer to avoid the "Christian" connotation about their music, Russell still has a very well-formed concept of what his devotion looks like and how it fits into the band's content. The singer remains deeply egalitarian and humble, but retains a fiery expression for his musings on human life and religious beliefs.
    
After Silent Planet's current tour with For Today finishes up the band is heading to the Machine Shop in New Jersey to record their new album with the legendary Will Putney. "Will made it clear he's very excited to get to work on this. We're really excited to work with someone of his caliber who shares the vision," Russell said. When asked about the motif of the next album, the singer offered, "The album is working through the mind of folks who suffer with different mental illnesses. It deals with human captivity, issues relating to racial, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination. The meta theme will be even stronger and kind of a puzzle to be solved."
    
Silent Planet will finish up their stint with for today by the end of October, then begin touring Europe in December 2015.