Jeffrey: Beyond the Grave is joined by Forfeit Thee Untrue drummer Craig Palmer and guitarist/vocalist Mitch Pearson. Great to have you here guys.
Craig: Thank you so so much man, it’s an honor to be here and to have this interview opportunity.
Jeffrey: How long have you guys been involved in the metal scene and when did you guys start playing instruments?
Craig: I was in a band before FTU but we never ever played any gigs or were really involved in the metal scene. I only really started being involved in it with FTU. FTU’s 1st gig was back in mid-2013. We played quite a few local gigs over the years, one of the best, being at SAMMA (South African Metal Music Awards) in 2016. Sadly, we haven’t been as active in it as we would have liked to have been since mid- to end-2016. We are hoping to get back out there soon! I started playing drums when I was only 21 or 22 years old (around 2005). I still remember thinking to myself, “I’m too old to only start playing drums now. What’s the point?” But, better late than never, right?
Mitch: I have been involved in the metal scene since I was around 12 years old, which is also when I started playing guitar, so around 13 years now.
Jeffrey: Could you share the roots of Forfeit Thee Untrue? I’d like to hear about how you chose the band name.
Craig: FTU can be traced back to 2006 when I met Sean Towsen, It was at a house party and we were basically the only two guys there who were into heavier music. It was one of those scenarios of like “Hey man, you play guitar!? I play drums! We should jam sometime!” A few months later, we hooked up and just started jamming – drums and rhythm guitar. Friendship came first and jamming came second. We had a blast together, just coming up with cool riffs and beats. I also started coming up with some lyrics for songs and we started discussing and looking at getting a singer onboard to release an EP. We went through one or two before Sean went away on a Christian camp and met Gideon. It was just the 2 of us from 2006-2011 and then after having met Gidz and becoming friends with him, he agreed to help us out with vocals and additional guitar parts (as he was in another band at the time). In early 2012, the 3 of us recorded our first studio track, “Seven” at Redroom Records. Shortly after recording it and getting the trackback, Gideon joined FTU as an official member and I put some pictures with the audio mp3 of “Seven” (using Windows Live Movie Maker) and then started sharing it all over Facebook. That’s when we heard back from Sanctus Gladius Records (based in Kansas, USA) who were interested in signing us. We recorded 2 more tracks for the EP (Screaming in Silence and Grace Covered Sin), after which point we met Mitch Pearson, who Gidz knew (as we were discussing the need for a 4th member to start gigging). Mitch then joined FTU shortly after meeting us. Now a 4-piece band, we recorded the final track for the Blood-Soaked Splinter EP, Forfeit, which was released in April 2013. In terms of choosing the band name, I can still remember sitting with that. While it was just Sean and me, I can still remember us calling the band 13 of Hearts (I think this is the first time I’m sharing this!). I thought it was clever and combined elements of good and bad (unlucky 13 and hearts representing love). The band didn’t start out as being “Christian” or even metal – it was just rock. When we started coming up with heavier riffs and beats, I wanted to change the band name. For a brief period of time, I played with the idea of it being called A Blackened Heart Bleeds Ash (as I thought it sounded so metal and hardcore, haha!). The name was a bit long and even as an acronym, it would be hard to remember (ABHBA). This idea essentially transpired into some lyrics in The Mirror that Hates (from Cremationem). Finally, I remember sitting with some words and ideas but it needed to have something to do with getting rid of the fake and getting back to what’s real. And so, Forfeit Thee Untrue was born – I think it was around 2010 that I remember thinking of it and being so excited to tell Sean about it. Needless to say, he loved it and that’s how it stayed.
Jeffrey: How did you meet the other members of the band and what gave you the inspiration to form the band?
Mitch: I initially met Gideon at a church I was visiting. Gideon and I met up later that month to jam a little with our guitars. He asked me to come meet Craig and Sean to chat about a possibility of joining FTU as the lead guitarist. A few weeks later, I was invited to one of the practices and things clicked very well, and I ended up joining almost immediately.
Craig: In terms of an inspiration to form the band, as I said it started out just as two new friends “jamming”. I also mentioned it wasn’t “Christian” or “metal” in its earlier days, but then I remember sitting at my flat in Pretoria during university days (2009/2010) and something just said to me, check out the band, Demon Hunter. So, I did. Online, one of their albums just jumped out at me – Storm the Gates of Hell. I remember jumping in my car late at night and going to buy the deluxe edition of the album. It blew me away in terms of how heavy it was, yet it had such positive and Christian lyrics. I firmly believe that this helped (in my own soul and psyche) to amalgamate these two narratives together. I loved their lyrics, their music, their mission statement, the boldness, everything! And, although kind of dreamy and idealistic, I remember thinking and feeling that I wanted FTU to be like that for South Africa! We need to make heavy music with a positive message!
Jeffrey: What bands have been big influences on you guys sound wise and what elements do you guys pull from them?
Craig: Demon Hunter, Oh, Sleeper, Killswitch Engage, Korn, Wolves at the Gate, Breaking Benjamin, For All Eternity, 36 Crazyfists, For me personally, it’s about the lyrical approach. For me, lyrics are VERY important. Musically and vocally, I’ve always just loved the combination of heavy mixed in with melodic, and I think we’ve certainly implemented that into the FTU formula from day 1.
Mitch: Demon Hunter, Korn, Killswitch Engage, Tesseract, Breaking Benjamin, and 36 Crazy Fists.
Jeffrey: I know Craig you’re a psychologist, how does that affect how you write lyrics and how you interact with your fans?
Craig: When it comes to writing lyrics, I always like to write in a way that could challenge someone’s perceptions and even beliefs – you know, make them think and question things. I also often like to incorporate the element of “stories” into certain songs.
We all live our lives according to certain scripts – the way things are, the way things have been, the way things should be, etc. It’s about learning to find peace within that or to rebel against it – to find and write our own scripts of an alternative story against or in comparison to the dominant one.
These scripts are everywhere. For example, metalheads should wear black, or Christians shouldn’t have tattoos, etc. I like to write lyrics to rebel against and challenge those scripts – so that the “me” can be empowered. Other than that, I don’t think me being a psychologist “effects” how I write lyrics or interact with fans. Being a psychologist and being in FTU is about reaching out and hopefully empowering others in some or other way – that’s the common ground – but my music life, lyrics, etc is my passion and separate from my profession and professional identity as a psychologist. For example, at a gig, I don’t need to advertise that I’m a psychologist and can “counsel” people. At the same time, as a psychologist, I don’t need to advertise that “I’m also in a band”. If it comes up, then cool.
Jeffrey: Following your band for a while, I notice a tremendous change in sound from your debut EP Blood Soaked Splinter to Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam, what inspired that change and how were you able to pull it off?
Mitch: The band had changed quite a bit in between BSS and CJL. Gideon had moved from bass to guitar, and Eckard came on board for bass.
Craig: I don’t think there was an intentional change in sound when it came to the songs we wrote, however, we did want to record our full-length album with Clinton Watts of Watts Productions. We really enjoyed working with Jared Gunston for our EP, but just wanted to try something new. So, that change in sound would be obvious on its own merit. In terms of writing songs, I just wanted to go heavier than we had on the EP, but also go more chilled, i.e. to branch further out on both sides of that scale. Other than that, we were just writing songs we wanted to. And we will continue to do that going forward. It’s not like there’s a formula or mold that we feel we should stick to or fit into, respectively. As Mitch said though, it may have to do with some members changing instruments, coming onboard or even stepping down from the band. I mean, Sean was involved in 100% of the writing for the EP but stepped down from the band before we even started writing and recording the next album. And then Eckard joined FTU early on in that recording process, so yeah…I think it all happened more naturally rather than intentionally.
Jeffrey: What’s the meaning of your album title Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam?
Craig: The Cremation of Jesus’ Tears.
Jeffrey: How was the writing and recording process for Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam?
Craig: Too long! We wrote songs since the release of our EP and would usually write them around a riff or drum beat idea (after the lyrics were 95% complete). The recording process took longer because we would write a song first and then when it was written we would book a night in a studio to record the drums and bass for it, then another night would need to be booked to record the guitars and yet another night for the vocals, etc. We would then wait for the track to be mixed and mastered, during which time we would be writing the next one and so on. It was really fun and we learnt so much – in a good and a bad way. Next album will definitely be a bit different in terms of our approach to recording and we will certainly use our time more wisely.
Jeffrey: Could you share the story behind Cradled in Black Arms, it seems like a dark song lyrically?
Craig: Cradled in Black Arms is about being trapped in something evil, but the fact that it is so familiar, makes it feel comfortable and often hard to walk away from, for example, those caught up in drug abuse/addiction. The verses are written from the perspective of the devil who is ‘singing’ to the person – bringing an onslaught of fear, doubt, and destruction. The chorus is written from the perspective of the person to whom the devil is singing to – questioning what it would be like to break away from these “things” that have such a hold on him. He acknowledges their comfort, his familiarity with them. He also acknowledges them to be his undoing and his ultimate end.
He subsequently calls out to God. The bridge of the song sees the man become empowered and realize the path of his destruction. He then speaks directly to the devil, telling him to let go of him because he is in God’s arms now. The final chorus sees the resolution of the story and the man safe in God’s arms, and he knows this to be true and good for him.
Jeffrey: Fractured god is a very interesting song title, could you explain the meaning of the song?
Mitch: Fractured god is basically our shotgun to religion. Religion is just ticking chores off a list, but we have a deep relationship with Jesus. Fractured god rips down the curtain of religion by exposing the religious nature of the modern day church.
Craig: Fractured god is an anti-religious anthem. The ‘fractured god’ is religion – and not God himself. The song is sung from the perspective of this man-made religion, who would be singing to the person who finds it or is presented with it. In essence, by this “entity’s” character being revealed, it would ideally help people become aware of its potential for spiritual destruction in their lives. A common theme throughout the album was about exposing evil. If we know what we are up against, then we will be able to strategize and prepare, ultimately having a better chance of defeating it.
Jeffrey: Seven I is the only song that from your EP that appeared on Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam, what led you into putting it on the album, how does it link to Seven II and does Ryan Kirby play a specific role in the story?
Craig: Seven I is basically ‘Seven’ from our EP, just “fixed up” a bit. On our EP, we recorded the track in Drop D guitar tuning. For Cremationem, we wrote and recorded in Drop B guitar tuning and just felt we wanted to check out how Seven would sound in that guitar tuning. Seven I is written from the perspective of any negative emotion that any one of us can experience on a daily basis – fear, anger, doubt, etc. That emotion is then singing to the person it is inside of, ultimately trying to destroy him/her. Seven II then takes it to the next level, whereby it is written from the perspective of the devil himself. The devil uses the same approach and a spiritual onslaught ensues. Ultimately, near the end of the track, God comes to fight this fight for us on our behalf – going head to head with the devil. Ryan Kirby only plays a specific role in the story in the final bridge, whereby his voice represents God’s voice and Gidz’ represents the devil’s voice – where they go head to head. Ryan Kirby also does vocals in the prechorus of the song and the 2nd verse – which are some of the parts written from the devil’s perspective.
Jeffrey: What are your personal favorite songs from the album and why?
Mitch: My personal favourites are Sermon of a Dying Atheist, The Mirror that Hates, and The Dagger Held by Mary. Sermon of a Dying Atheist is my favourite because of how much emotion went into the music, but the vocal style gave it a distant emotional feeling. This mix of deep emotion and alienation makes it my favourite.
Craig: My personal favourites are The Dagger Held by Mary and Sermon of a Dying Atheist. For me, these two songs tell a beautiful and real story which are grounded in emotion. As the Wicked Wander feat. Brandon on guest vocals is also one of my favourites. This is another anti-religious anthem (which I enjoy writing) and I think he did an amazing job on that track vocally. The track contains some of my favourite lyrics AND vocals from the album.
Jeffrey: How was it like working with the other guest artist and were they picked for specific reasons?
Mitch: Working with Robyn and Brandon was easy because we had all known each other for quite some time. Working with Ryan was quite interesting because of the back and forth with an international artist. When everything came together, it was amazing.
Craig: It was truly an honor to get and work with the guest vocalists on the album that we did. We knew we wanted to get onboard 2 local guest vocalists and then also break into the international metal scene in terms of guest vocalists. I think it may also have been a subconscious decision to choose guest vocalists based on their faith (i.e. they all happen to be Christian). But, I don’t think we were playing it safe or anything – I mean Brandon and Robyn – 2 of the best metal vocalists in South Africa, and then Ryan Kirby – vocalist for one of the top Christian metal bands in the world. So, yeah. We’ve certainly got some big guns on the album with us. Locally, we wanted to get onboard some personal heroes in metal. We had quite a few gigs with Adorned in Ash and just thought Robyn Ferguson would be the perfect person to collaborate with for an anti-religion anthem. We have also always loved Brandon Pratt’s vocal style (both heavy and melodic). Both were very keen on being part of our album and both came round to a rehearsal to check out and work on each song. We couldn’t have been happier with how those tracks turned out. In terms of getting Ryan Kirby on board with us, we were blown away when he responded to me and claimed he would be keen to do guest vocals on a track. We have always loved Fit for a King and to get an international vocalist of his calibre as a guest vocalist on our debut album was insane!
Jeffrey: You released Cremationem Jesus Lacrimam through Rottweiler Records, what fueled you into signing with them and how it’s been working with them?
Mitch: Our contract with Sanctus Gladius was about to expire, and we had started chatting to Shawn from Rottweiler Records about the possibility of signing with them. It all worked out very well, and working with Rottweiler Records has been great. They really give us the freedom to be our own band, while helping us so much with the marketing side of everything.
Craig: I wouldn’t want FTU to be signed with anyone else!
Jeffrey: Being a South African Christian metal band do you ever encounter problems connecting with your local scene or international Christian metal scene?
Mitch: Not at all. The metal scene in South Africa is extremely welcoming, so it’s like we are just a big group of friends within all the bands that are supporting each other.
Craig: No, not really. I mean, there has always been – and will always be – non-believers, particularly within the metal scene not liking the fact that we “bring God into our music”, but just the same as there are believers who don’t agree with the converse – us uniting metal with God (which I’m sure many Christian rock or metal bands also encounter). But, that’s only now and then, and more so on social media. In general, when it comes to gigs in SA, it has been really amazing and everyone just plays together and unites in the common genre or for SA music.
Jeffrey: You guys announced that you’re writing new music, how’s that going so far?
Mitch: The new music is going very well. It has taken some time with Gideon and Eckard stepping down from the band, but we are up and running at full speed ahead. The new music is even bolder than anything in CJL.
Craig: It’s going very well so far. I’ve spent over a year and a half with the lyrics. It’s been way more intense than our previous album. This time, I’m being very critical of myself (and asked Mitch to be the same with me) and if it wasn’t gold, then it was fixed or thrown out.. It’s driven me crazy sometimes! But yeah, lyrics are basically done. And now we’re busy with the music – currently tackling it with the same attitude and heart.
Jeffrey: Towards the end of 2017, you guys lost your lead vocalist/guitarist, Gideon, and your bassist, Eckard. What happened and how did you guys deal with that?
Craig: 2017 was one of the toughest years for FTU. What happened? Let’s just say life happened. Work and family commitments/personal relationships led to FTU taking a backseat. This was incredibly frustrating for me as I am someone that needs to be active and productive and keep things going. We’d also just released our debut full-length album and when I expected things to just keep climbing, they did the opposite. Things became stagnant. Personally, I dealt with it by jumping even deeper into the lyrics – changing some and actually writing 3 more songs since we became a 2-piece band. I really struggled with it – personally, emotionally, and spiritually. Sometimes – actually often – I questioned what God was doing. Despite this, however, I knew that FTU was not over. God had and has a bigger plan, even if we don’t know what it is. It was just about keeping the faith and pushing on.
Jeffrey: Becoming a 2-piece band – especially after losing your lead vocalist, did you guys ever think about just throwing in the towel or disbanding?
Mitch: It was a hard transition, but no, we never considered throwing in the towel. FTU is God’s band. Throwing in the towel would cheapen everything we have stood for, for so long. Until God says FTU is over, we will keep going.
Craig: No. For me, personally, God has opened huge doors for FTU. For me, carrying on and having faith in Him and in what we doing with and within FTU is giving Him the glory and what He has done for us. Also, what would it say about us – from a ministry perspective – if we just let the ship go down? How can we hope to inspire others with difficult life situations if we are dealt a difficult hand and we fold?
Jeffrey: In early April, you posted on social media about having 3 people at one of your practices, then it seemed like there were 3 members. Most recently – on 8th May you announced a new lead vocalist?
Craig: Yeah, it’s been a rough couple of months followed by some recent weeks of excitement and doors opening. We just announced our newest member and lead vocalist, Kenny Smith, We let our label know mid-April about it and they are completely behind us in every way. We’ve just been building to announce and now it’s all full-steam ahead with the 3 of us! We are super-excited and honoured to have Kenny join FTU! He’s an awesome dude with a heart on fire for Jesus. So, for now, we’re working on new material for the next album and hopefully some gigs in the near future to get back out there!
Jeffrey: Awesome! That’s all I’ve got for you guys. Thanks so for doing this. Any final words you’d like to share.
Mitch: It was never about fame.
It was and is only about Jesus and serving Him with the talents and passions He gave us.
Craig: Yes, if you have a dream, push on, persevere, be relentless.
Your faith will be rewarded. Don’t ever sell yourself short; don’t ever sell your God short. You are capable of some incredibly amazing things with Him at your helm! Do it – even if others think you’re crazy! Give them something to talk about!