The roots of Unholy can be traced to lineage of guitarist Jonathan Dennison and his many years within the hardcore community. Unholy fuses those roots with classic metal influences into a volatile concoction. Scene Point Blank spoke with the guitarist about the band's new found life, lyrical inspiration, and much more.
Scene Point Blank: First off, please introduce yourself and what you do for the band?
Jonathan Dennison: My name is Jonathan Dennison, guitarist of Unholy.
Scene Point Blank: You've been out on the road with Earth Crisis for around three weeks now. Being one of the opening acts, what has the crowd reaction been thus far?
Jonathan Dennison: It's been great. We made a lot of new fans on the road. It's been a really good mix of crowds on the shows - both hardcore kids and metal kids. Some of the shows have been awesome. We're on the road with friends, so it's been good times.
Scene Point Blank: Because it is an Earth Crisis tour, have you noticed a difference in the crowd age verses other shows you've been apart of - say the Death Before Dishonor tour?
Jonathan Dennison: It all depends on where you play at. There are certain areas of the country where there is a little bit more roots as far as the kids that go to shows, so you see an older crowd there. The older crowd, the more matured hardcore listener, we do pretty well with them. It really depends on what areas of the country, like there have been certain areas where a lot of the crowd is new to Earth Crisis too. The bigger the city, the more roots there are, the more established crowd base is already there. But there is going to be more straight edge kids and hardcore kids because it is an Earth Crisis tour. Overall, it's been going over very well for us.
Scene Point Blank: You just dropped a new album, New Life Behind Closed Eyes. How did you team up with Prosthetic for that release?
Jonathan Dennison: On a tour maybe a couple of years ago, we met a guy named John, who plays in a band can The Funeral Pyre. Really cool guy and he definitely showed some interested in turning us towards Prosthetic. And when the time came for us to go label shopping, our management who also has ties with Prosthetic? between the choices that we had, they were one of the few labels that has a roster of well respected diverse bands. For a band like Unholy, we don't' exactly fit anywhere particular. We don't' sound like a lot of bands, so for us, we had to be very careful where we go so don't get stuck on a sinking ship. And Prosthetic Records respects originally in music and diversity. And we feel that we're well at home with the label.
Scene Point Blank: The band has worked its way up with an EP and a LP on smaller level hardcore labels to now being on the Prosthetic Records. In addition to your past band experiences, how rewarding is it to have earned your current position verses being handed something right off the bat?
Jonathan Dennison: What it came down to is, this record on Prosthetic might as well be Unholy's first record. Our past two releases were with a different singer that never really toured before. When we hit the first tour, things kind of fell apart. We've had Billy Price on vocals since then and from that point on things have been pretty solid. The way we're looking at it, the Prosthetic Records debut is really our first record in a lot of ways. There were a lot of mishaps with the first two releases as far as activity with the band. Granted, there is an EP and a full-length out on those other labels, but we weren't really an active band at that time, so it might as well have been a studio band. We meant with the Lambgoat Records album to go full blast as an active band, but the singer thing fell apart. Since then, we've had Price and done a number of tours with him. This record, in our eyes, then is our first record. With "New Life Behind Closed Eyes" we took the best of what we had in "Blood of the Medusa" and made them a lot more solid.
Scene Point Blank: Did you initial decide to carry on as Unholy after the departure of Danny prior to finding Billy?
Jonathan Dennison: Oh yeah. The past singer had nothing to do with the name. This is a project that I've been trying to get under control for ages. Never really had a solid lineup up until this point. It has been a project that has been flawed for a number of years, so everything kind of built itself to where we are at now. Lyrically and musically I've kept control over them, but everybody plays an import role at this point. It took a long time to get it to where it is today with Steve Caiello, our other guitarist, who does amazing lead work, and everybody else to be full contributors now.
Scene Point Blank: I remember, must have been four or five years ago, when the first Unholy song was made available online?
Jonathan Dennison: Okay, so you know the band from that point in time. Most people that interview me don't know anything about that shit.
Scene Point Blank: Right. When I saw the "members of Santa Sangre" mention I jumped on it. I mean it was a really raw and low quality record, but it still was amazing.
Jonathan Dennison: This record, the Prosthetic one, as opposed to anything else that I've done with Unholy, I put way more of Santa Sangre into it than the past two releases. If you dug that band you should definitely dig this record. I took the best of Santa Sangre and pushed it in this record. And, a year and a half or so down the line when we do the second Prosthetic record, that's where you're going to see us pull a lot of eggs out of the basket and twists and turns that will surprise some people.
Scene Point Blank: Did the lineup changes affect the songwriting process at all since Billy has a different vocal approach?
Jonathan Dennison: We did our EP. I treated that as anything else that I've done in the past. And I thought more about song structure on the full length, The songs are a bit longer and a bit more structured. But at the same time, because the singer we had, he wasn't very good at interacting with the crowd, he wasn't good at pushing songs. If you have breakdowns in the song, you've got to have a singer that plays the key role at? you know what I mean. So the flaw of "Blood of the Medusa" is the lack of breakdowns, the lack of a lot of things that I always had in my past bands. And with the new record, I put back in what should have been there in the first place. So its funny, and you look at reviews of the new album, "Oh there's all these breakdowns in there, it's not like Blood of the Medusa." It should have never have been like that in the first place. Had we had as singer that knew how to get the crowd going, I would have never had songs that really didn't breakdown.
Scene Point Blank: In addition to being involved with the writing of the music, you've also taken a contributing role in the lyrical writings for the albums. Is this always something you've done with your bands or is this the first time group you've done this with?
Jonathan Dennison: I did that in Santa Sangre as well. Santa Sangre was the first band where I handled everything lyrically and musically. Basically, what I wanted to do with Santa Sangre happened with "New Life Behind Closed Eyes." I wanted it be conceptual, lyrically and story wise. It's hard, you're writing ten songs. You can't wait until you have all the songs done before you start writing this big huge humongous lyrical story to go over them all. You have to write the lyrics as you write the longs. You have to have the story filled out before hand and make sure everything ends up being coherent.
Scene Point Blank: A lot of the lyrics are centered on very dark lyrical themes - human demise, apocalyptic imagery, death, etc. Some have said its similar to the themes of Holy Terror. Where do you draw your inspiration?
Jonathan Dennison: Nothing to do with Holy Terror. I would say, I'm a huge admirer of a lot of horror fiction, anything dark, between art, comics, literature, and movies. Most of the inspiration would come from sources that the typical metal or hardcore kid might not know of. To scratch the surface, a couple of bigger names as far as authors go would be H.P. Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti. As much as they are influences, there is only so much influence in the lyrics. It's basically a fantasy story. There's meaning behind the madness in the sense it takes us as humans and looks at it in a microcosm and sees us as spores and mold on the ground. And as important as people like to think we are, at the end of the day we're nothing. To sum it up, there are definitely a handful of characters that visual and poetically play a role, such at Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, and Joel Coleman. And then there is you being a thinker yourself? As much as someone might want to dismiss the lyrics as "he's drawing for this or that," if you read between the lines there is a lot more there.
Scene Point Blank: Over the years you have been a part of more than a handful of spectacular hardcore groups - Another Victim, The Promise, and my favorite Santa Sangre. How do you continue to maintain a fresh perspective on the music without getting burnt out?
Jonathan Dennison: All those bands, I never had to think about it too much. It comes out naturally. I might start out thinking; "I can't do what I already did." It's something that's natural for me. I might hear a really cool song and be inspired because they created a really cool mood. And in my own way, I would want to create that same meaning with the mood with Unholy. Basically, I just sit at home and write and songs come out and then I get them together with the drummer and everything else happens. Lyrically, the same thing happens. "New Life" is an effortless process. I just wrote one song after the other. That's the way it always works with me. I would never write to try and please somebody. There are a lot of bands that lose their grounding and start to shape shift. So many people behind them saying "You got to be successful. This is what is happening right now. You've got to have the pop song vocals in the metal part." But at the end of the day, nobody is making anything playing music, unless you are huge as fuck. We're never going to be that way. We know that. We're going to do what we do best. As far as touring, touring is depressing as fuck. I've been doing this for a number of years now, its something that we more than accept. And as bad as thing scan be on the road, its something that we love to do. We have amazing shows that make it worth it. Unholy, and anything music that I do, it will always be for the fun of it, as a hobby. If I could make a living off it, that'd be cool. But its never going to happen.
Scene Point Blank: I get a huge early 90's hardcore vibe from the music of Unholy - there is a definite Damnation A.D. feel at points on the records. Earth Crisis as well. How inspirational was the music of that era on the shaping of you?
Jonathan Dennison: Those bands, since some of my early days, have always had a huge influence on me. Earth Crisis is probably my favorite band to ever come out of the metallic hardcore movement. Damnation is an amazing band. "Kingdom of Lost Souls," that's a landmark record. Nothing can touch that. There are very few records that are immortal, that nobody could ever touch or rip off. So those bands are rooted within me. I come from the same school of music as many of those guys. There are a lot of bands that they listened to that I did growing up as well. Bands like Entombed, Carcass, and Slayer and those bands are also the favorite bands of guys in Earth Crisis and Damnation. The trick is being smart about it and keeping breathing room between everybody, and trying to be original in as many ways as possible.
Scene Point Blank: Speaking of the 90's scene, have you picked up a copy of the Burning Fight book yet?
Jonathan Dennison: I haven't had a chance to get it, it came out while we were on tour, so I haven't even had a chance to see it. I'm definitely interested in checking it out.
Scene Point Blank: An Another Victim discography was recently released. How'd this come about?
Jonathan Dennison: This guy Justin that does Closed Casket Activities, he's done vinyl for a lot of the releases that I've done. He did the first Unholy EP, he did the vinyl for "Blood of the Medusa," he did the When Tigers Fight vinyl. He's a good friend of mine. I was thinking about it one day about how people are always stopping me and saying, you guys should do a discography. I hit him up with the idea and he was all for it. It took us forever to get it all together, but it finally happened. Everybody from Another Victim was excited by the end result and how it turned out.
Scene Point Blank: Are there any plans for a reunion show?
Jonathan Dennison: Another Victim? No. Unfortunately with anything that I've done with straight edge bands, there's too many players in those bands that have sold out and I couldn't do that. I know a lot of bands that were edge bands that play shows not as edge, I could not do that. That's why a band like Earth Crisis is the single top hardcore band because they are exactly the same people as when they started. You can't say that for one single band, from Minor Threat to anybody.
Scene Point Blank: What current up and coming hardcore groups have you been enjoying as of late?
Jonathan Dennison: Hardcore? yeah. I enjoy the new Earth Crisis record, the last Madball record. There are not too many hardcore bands that can win me over. I've been around the block enough and I've seen bands that were huge inspiration that were original sounding. Originality in hardcore hit a brick wall years ago. There are not a lot of bands that can do things for me musically. There are tons of bands with great people and great messages. But a lot of the newer bands, they're just idolizing bands they grew up on. Where as the bands from before weren't looking back, they were looking forward. They're scared to try something new, so they try something that is accepted. Like these guys [pointing at my Force of Change shirt], they're great dudes. There are tons of bands that I support. But, bands like that, I wouldn't necessary listen on my iPod. I would see them live and support them, because they have a great message. But it's a whole other deal as far as my listening pleasure.
Scene Point Blank: What about outside of hardcore, what do you enjoy listening to?
Jonathan Dennison: The new Mastodon record is fucking groundbreaking. It's great. I listen to so much stuff, from Jimmy Eat World, to The Helicopters, to In Flames, or The Cult? there is so much stuff to say just a few bands. The new Mastodon is probably the last record that really hit me. There is some stuff off that last record that was cool, but I didn't like the chaotic stuff. But this album, it's a great record.
Scene Point Blank: Anything else you'd care to share?
Jonathan Dennison: If you want to listen to something new and fresh pick up the new Unholy record.
- Prosthetic Records: http://www.prostheticrecords.com/