Wristmeetrazor & Knocked Loose’s Isaac Hale talk expansive new record: “This is a new benchmark”
Whatever you thought you knew about Wristmeetrazor, their new album Replica of a Strange Love is here to change that. "This is a new benchmark," said Isaac Hale of Knocked Loose, a longtime fan and friend of the band, and the producer (and guest vocalist) of this record. "It has influences from all the previous records but also pushes far beyond that. And I want it to be the record that kind of puts the band on the map."
That could come off as hyperbole, but in the case of Replica of a Strange Love, it feels like an entirely accurate assessment. Not that Wristmeetrazor were ever easy to pin down musically -- their 2019 debut LP Misery Never Forgets existed somewhere between screamo and metalcore without ever really fitting neatly into either category -- but Replica really breaks down barriers between genres in a way that very few bands are doing right now. It treks through At The Gates-ian metalcore riffs, atmospheric Deftones hooks, bellowing goth metal, hints of '90s Nine Inch Nails and other industrial bands, and a whole lot of other stuff, and it blends it all together in a way that feels natural and innovative. It pushes their sounds in all kinds of opposing directions, heavier and weirder and catchier than anything they'd done before. "As far as what we were setting out to create... anything and everything?" said frontman Justin Fornof. "If you listen to it, you're gonna be able to hear [the influences]," Isaac added, but he and Justin agree that they were thinking less about specific genres and influences, and more just about creating a record that showed off the truest version of Wristmeetrazor, without trying to fit into any boxes.
"One of our friends told me that they had talked to someone that thought it was like a gimmick band, and they had no idea that the band was like, a real, serious band," Justin said. "[There were people who thought] the band was our attempt at exploiting mental health, or exploiting self-harm -- things that are absolutely untrue. And I think, if anyone thought that, this record is out there to silence them in a lot of ways. And I'm not gonna say that that was a motivating factor, but I'm definitely happy to prove that we are here for the long term. This isn't some sort of gimmick that we were trying to do for a year and then move on."
Part of the reason Replica of a Strange Love is such a bigger-sounding, more varied record is that it marked the first time Wristmeetrazor wrote collaboratively as a four-piece, and also because Isaac proved to be the perfect person to help guide them in the direction they knew they wanted to go. But the record also stands out from WMR's previous work because of Justin's lyrics. The band had finished writing the music before the world went into lockdown, but Justin ended up writing his lyrics for the record just as the world shut down. With nothing else to do, he spent the first three months of lockdown penning lyrics alone in isolation, taking inspiration from what was happening in the world around him, and looking at it through a lens of classical philosophy, rather than paying attention to the chatter on the internet. "I don't think I'll ever have the experience in my musical or otherwise career ever again, to sit in my apartment by myself for three and a half months with literally nothing to do and just write lyrics in complete and total isolation," Justin said. "It made that writing process even more intense than anything else could ever be."
"The record is supposed to be its own look at what's happening, at ourselves, at myself, at just life in general," Justin adds, and when asked what he hopes people take away from it, he said: "open-mindedness and hopefully a cathartic release."
Replica of a Strange Love arrives this Friday (6/11) via Prosthetic Records (order yours). Ahead of the release, we caught up with Justin and Isaac to discuss the making of the record, Isaac's burgeoning production career, and all kinds of other stuff in between. Read on for the album's three music videos and our chat...
Just to start, can you each speak about what attracted you to each other's work, and how you came to work together on Replica Of A Strange Love?
Justin Fornof: I've always been a huge fan of Knocked Loose. The first time I booked Knocked Loose was in 2015 I think, and they're always doing really cool things. So it's definitely been a long time coming with that aspect of it, and I met Isaac a couple years later and we've become good friends -- he became good friends with everyone in our band -- and we look up to him as a writer and a musician. I think he's one of the best songwriters in that type of music right now. So, to me, it was really something we wanted over anything else. We were really looking forward to working together, so when he was down to produce the record and write with us, it was a no-brainer.
Isaac Hale: I had been listening to Wristmeetrazor back in the demo days, when their sound was a little bit different, and I was always a huge fan of the band, I've always enjoyed their progression. I was really, really stoked when they hit me up, because when you're someone who's writing songs all the time, you can always envision the path that a band could go and you're always kinda daydreaming about it, so when they hit me up I thought it was fucking awesome. And it had helped that over the years, I had gotten to know the guys. It was very much a natural, no-brainer thing, and the actual process couldn't have been smoother. It worked out that we already knew each other, everyone knew how to write songs, everyone knew how to link up and get the best out of each other. It couldn't have been more natural.
Isaac, what went through your head when Wristmeetrazor hit you up to ask you to produce, since this was your first real time producing another band's record?
Isaac: The only pressure that really came from me was just because it was a bit more professional in the way it was being handled. You know, like I'm getting paid by the label, and there was an actual business aspect to it. But other than that, I wasn't nervous at all, because despite this being my first time, I guess, "professionally producing" for a band, I've produced so many bands before. I've been writing music for years and years and years. I've been recording, engineering, and producing songs for local hardcore bands and out-of-town bands forever. So this was just something on a bigger scale I guess, and it was awesome, because instead of it being just like a couple tracks, I got to be involved with a body of work. So you could make checklists, like, what types of songs you want -- you could really just create a vision for the entire record.
Justin, what would you say that Isaac brought to the table that was different for Wristmeetrazor?
Justin: Well, to kind of piggyback on some of the things that Isaac was saying, being able to work with a much bigger goal in mind was really the most important aspect of this whole process. It's one thing to go into a record and have some ideas and try to shoehorn in some other ideas, and it's all kind of disjointed. But when we showed up to pre-pro stuff with Isaac, there really wasn't a set thing. So, to be able to go in there and have a real clean slate and be like, these are the ideas that we have, these are kind of the directions we wanna go, but there is no general thing that's already set in stone, like nothing has to happen. Like we could dump literally all of ideas and start from scratch, or we could use some of them. And what ended up happening was it became a mixture of both, and I think that's the best way to write music: to have kind of the things in your head that sound cool and that you want to put out there, and then you show up as a group and you have this... it's almost like a magic that happens, where you all kind of sync up in a very subconscious way, and everyone kind of gets on the same page for a moment. It becomes very clear, it's almost a musical clarity that happens where everyone gets it. And that's kind of what happened with us. A lot of the tracks on this record -- almost all of the tracks on this record -- were, in essence, completely written as a group. Me, Bryan, Jonah, Tyler, and then Isaac; we all put in stuff. The record wasn't exactly written towards one direction, it was very much an accumulation of different ideas. And I think that, as opposed to what the band used to do, is pretty different.
Just to give a little of backstory on what we used to do: typically, on the early stuff -- our demo and our EPs -- it was just Jonah and I. Jonah would send me different pre-pros that he had written on Pro Tools or whatever, and I would be like "this is cool, we should do something like this." Or, for the LP -- [2019's] Misery Never Forgets -- I flew out to Jonah's house, we sat around for a while, and I was like "hey we should write something like this." That was it. That was the entire writing process, just Jonah and I, always. And so, this album was so different because it was not that, it was completely different from that. The product, I think, speaks to that direction. But it also contains a lot of what the band did before. It added a lot, and I think people will be interested to hear the differences in that.
Like you said, the album goes in a lot of different directions. What would you say were some of the big influences on this record?
Justin: We always kind of were interested in doing a record like this, even before Isaac came into the picture. The idea of this record was always going to be a complete step-up from everything that we'd done before. And not to denigrate the screamo scene or anything like that, but we never really were a screamo band. Screamo was a hashtag that we used for Bandcamp, but we've always had a lot of different influences. We never really fit into any one kind of thing, we just kind of created the amalgamation of all of our influences, and whatever it ended getting labeled as is what it got labeled as -- it's still like that today. So, as far as what we were setting out to create... anything and everything? I don't know. There's a lot of different influences, I mean I think the metalcore influences are obvious. We obviously were really into the early 2000s Trustkill scene and a lot of metalcore bands of that time, but to say that was the only influence would be doing a disservice because it definitely isn't, as you can hear on the record. I'm real iffy on touching on exact influences and listing bands. In my opinion at least -- and I can't speak for everyone -- if you listen to the record and you think you hear an influence that's there, then it's there, you know? It's all what make you of it. I'm fine with whoever thinking whatever about what it is.
Isaac: I'm with Justin; if you listen to it, you're gonna be able to hear -- there's a bunch of bands in this genre and everyone's kind of listening to the same older stuff, 2000s metalcore or whatever. But I think when it came to this record, my M.O. was I thought it should be -- not even in a genre sense -- but just a bigger sounding record. I wanted it to have a larger sound, and I think that that's a way more effective way to describe it. It's not leaning more metalcore, it's not leaning more Deftones, or whatever. There's a bunch of stuff on this record. I think it's the biggest, I think it's the most conceptual, I think it's the most all-encompassing record that they've done. And I think that's a better way to describe it than naming specific artists that they were looking up to.
Did the pandemic have any kind of impact on the making of the record?
Justin: Yeah, it had an absolutely huge one. And what makes that question so interesting -- I've read and watched a lot of interviews over the last six months, and that seems to be a very common theme amongst all of them where it's like questions about the pandemic and what it did to your band. I think we might have one of the most interesting takes on that, because this record was pre-pro'd before anything was shut down. There were still touring plans for the summer, for the fall. This record was supposed to be recorded when it was, but it was supposed to be released way earlier than it is now. The original release timeframe was late 2020. We have a much more unique look at it because we pre-pro'd this record without any aspects of not being able to play it live immediately; we assumed we were gonna be playing a lot of these songs within a month or two. As a matter of fact, we had a tour planned in April 2020 and we were planning on playing at least one of these tracks on that tour. The way it ended up unfolding was we pre-pro'd it with Isaac, we went back home, everything shut down, our tour got cancelled, and then at that time -- since we already had scheduled time to record everything -- I had about three months or so to essentially write all the lyrics. The way that ended up going down could never be replicated again. I don't think I'll ever have the experience in my musical or otherwise career ever again, to sit in my apartment by myself for three and a half months with literally nothing to do and just write lyrics in complete and total isolation. It made that writing process even more intense than anything else could ever be. Misery Never Forgets was nowhere near as intense when it came to writing the lyrics as this one was, because it was all very real and happening in real time. Nothing was fabricated, as far as the emotional aspect of it. It was written in total isolation. So that -- as far as the pandemic goes -- changed a lot. But, besides that, the instrumentals were done. The videos were recorded later, but the concepts for the videos were already in place even before we pre-pro'd some of the tracks. There were some aesthetic ideas that were definitely already in motion before we started to even work on this record. So a lot of the record had been conceptualized before the pandemic.
Having those three months in isolation to write the lyrics, were some of the messages that you're getting across on this record impacted by living in isolation or seeing what was going on in the world?
Justin: Absolutely. I think I touched on this a little bit in our press release for the record, but there's a lot of philosophy on the record. I felt at the time, and now, that there wasn't very much context for what was happening. I don't think that the internet really gave much context for the reality of a lot of things. The more I read, especially from classical philosophers and people from different points in time who I thought had better perspectives on this than we do, the more it influenced what the record really meant. The title of the record, Replica Of A Strange Love, came to me years ago -- in 2019 I would say, probably right after Misery Never Forgets came out. I had been sitting on it for a while and I thought that was the title of this record since I first came up with it. The guys were into it so we kind of moved forward with that concept. But a lot of it made a lot more sense to me in isolation than it ever would have had we not had that opportunity to start drawing different parallels between past events, things that happened to me, and stuff that really resonated on a deeper scale -- a lot of the philosophy that I was reading and a lot of the things that were happening and a lot of the unfolding, bleak reality that I think enfolded everyone.
Isaac, you did the last Knocked Loose album with Will Putney, who's such a huge producer in this realm. What would you say you learned from Will -- if anything -- that you brought to this record?
Isaac: Will's a big inspiration, obviously, to anyone that's worked with him. Simply because, if you're going to Will's studio, you're obviously going to him for a reason, you want some of his ideas, you want to learn from things that he does -- if you don't, you're a fucking idiot. The way that he works is he's kinda given me an idea of how to better streamline the process, basically just like problem solving and if there's an issue, just cutting to the chase and trying to avoid distractions, and make sure that everything that needs to get done, gets done. It's more of a mindset that he's provided for me, because obviously he has much more macro knowledge with the technology behind recording music than I do, but that being said, the way that he's able to read a room and understand the dynamic of a band and find the best way to get the most out of every member is really, really cool and that's something that I've found myself looking towards a lot. To be with a group of people, realize who's doing what, and streamline the process and make it easier. You know, because, it can be aggravating when you're in a group of people and people aren't agreeing or people aren't communicating well. But when someone's there to kind of read the room and understand where everyone fits, it makes writing music a lot more fun. And part of writing music is pushing through rough spots and pushing to find that perfect part, pushing to finish that perfect song. Sometimes that can be difficult when, for example in Wristmeetrazor you have Tyler and Jonah who are both incredible at demoing music and writing music, and they both have their own unique style. Jonah is very fast-paced in his ideas, he's very loud with what he wants to do. He'll rush to an idea, and his mind goes to a lot of different places. And then you have Tyler who's the exact opposite. He wants to sit on an idea for an hour, and he'll spend an hour on an off-note. So just finding the balance between those two things and realizing how to make those two styles work together is the key to making a record like this work, which is awesome because now I feel like Wristmeetrazor has an incredible album. Everyone's benefited from it, and it's benefited from everyone. Everyone has input, everyone has a unique vision of what it should be. I think that everyone kind of had a shared vision by the end. Listening to the final product -- even listening to the demos -- I was so proud of what we made, because it felt like it had a little bit of everyone on the record.
Justin: Yeah and to piggyback on that, Wristmeetrazor is very particular with who we want to work with. We had many discussions about this stuff, like, "We want a producer, but we don't want a producer that's going to stifle our ideas or be critical of the things that make us who we are as a band," and Isaac very much was the perfect, bullseye, nail-on-the-head fit. He, as a person and as a friend, is someone who understands us as people, and as a musician is someone who understands the band. And it's one of those things too where -- and Isaac touched on this too -- creating music in a group, in a room, is a very particular thing. It has its own kind of vibe, emotions, aura, and once it goes sour, there's really two ways you can go with it. You can just completely trainwreck and just dissolve into arguments and do nothing, or you can kind of flow with it, kind of take a little bit more of a psychological approach, and Isaac was very good at meditating those kinds of things that aren't music-related, that are personality-related. He's great at that. There's a lot of people in the music industry -- and in life in general -- who don't understand that group dynamic the same way that Isaac does. We were very fortunate that Isaac wanted to do this, because I think out of all the people who could've done it, he's probably the most fit for it.
What would you say to someone going into this album that's never heard Wristmeetrazor before?
Justin: I would tell them that we're a very emotionally driven band that has a very eclectic view of the world, of music, and if you like heavy music in general you should check it out, if you like rock and roll in general, you should check it out, if you like theatrical aesthetics you should check it out. It's very much an open-ended thing. We aren't exclusionary when it comes to people or genres, we're very much about whoever likes it, whoever takes something from it. If you listen to the band and you like something about it or you take something from it, then we like you and you're one of us.
Isaac: I legitimately think that if you're a fan of heavy music -- if you're a fan of alternative music in general -- I think that there is a little something for everyone on the record. A lot of people say that, but even the singles that are out right now don't even really give the full scope of what the record is. It has so many sounds catered to so many different people. We were able to put a lot of different influences in there, we weren't gonna silence specific things. Anyone that's into heavy music at all, or even anything adjacent, you're gonna find something to enjoy about it.
Kind of on a similar note, what would you say that you most hope people take away from it?
Justin: I would say that my main goal for what I want people to take away from it lyrically is an open-mindedness and hopefully a cathartic release that hasn't really been available in heavy music to our extent. The record isn't just a sad record, it's not like Misery Never Forgives. It's not a record that's all about a traumatic response. The record is very aware, and it's very philosophical in its approach, and tackling some very deep topics that have been ingrained in us over the last year and have been kind of pummeled into us in a way that is almost impossible to fully understand. The record is supposed to be its own look at what's happening, at ourselves, at myself, at just life in general. Instrumentally I'm hoping that people take away that there's a lot more to what we do than just one genre. But again, whatever you take away from the record instrumentally, we are more than happy about it. If you want to say it's a scene thing, you can say it's a scene revival thing. If you wanna say it's a screamo record, you can say it's a screamo record. If you wanna say it's a nu metal record, you can say it's a nu metal record. You wanna call it metalcore? You can call it metalcore. We are more than happy to tackle any of those genres if that's what people want, but ultimately it's just us and it's just how we feel.
I'm almost about to wrap up, but is there anything that either of you wanna add that we haven't that we haven't touched on?
Isaac: I just wanna say that I think that this is a defining record for the band. I think it defines a new phase for the band. I think that the last single they put out ["Take Your Shot, Funboy"] before the new record cycle started was already a huge step up and added power that to the band, and I think that this is a new benchmark. In previous records, people could've been like "oh Wristmeetrazor, isn't that that screamo band" or "isn't that that band with that thing" or whatever, but I want people to understand that this is a step-up. It has influences from all the previous records but also pushes far beyond that. And I want it to be the record that kind of puts the band on the map. And when shows come back, I know that they're gonna go hard. I want it to be the defining moment for them, I want it to be a defining step-up, and I think that they did that, and I think it's only gonna go up from here.
Justin: To piggyback on that one, when we released one of our singles, one of our friends told me that they had talked to someone that thought it was like a gimmick band, and they had no idea that the band was like, a real, serious band. They thought it was just some sort of strange gimmick that we were doing. And while the band is obviously provocative in certain ways, like the name and some of the imagery, it's not a gimmick. We haven't created something that we're profiting off of. There's not one thing we fake in order to make music or make money. The band is entirely authentic, nothing that we do is something that we're forced to do, or something that we're trying to phone in for some sort of monetary or otherwise gain. It's all us. And like I said earlier, Isaac gets that, and we were very fortunate that he wanted to work with us. Because of all the people in the music industry and beyond, he's one of the few that I always felt got it, and understands what we wanted to do, who we are, and we're going, and I think that this record is all of those things.
Just before we go, Isaac - what would you say to anybody who are wondering when we're gonna hear new Knocked Loose music?
Isaac: We've gotten together, like for the livestream stuff, and to work on songs - it's kinda hard and difficult now that [vocalist] Bryan [Garris] is in a different city than us, we've all been pretty separated. But we've done our best recently to get together and practice. But I will say there are no plans, no date to release any music right now. Right now it's all quiet. As soon as we do have plans to actually release something, or are writing songs, people will know.