Darkest Hour has never been one to repeat itself. Yet with its self-titled eighth album, the Washington D.C. band may have outdone itself. While it still captures Darkest Hour’s massive heavy riffs, the album is by far its most melodic and assessable release to date. Yet as guitarist Mike Schleibaum put it when speaking to us at Mayhem Fest’s in Camden, NJ earlier this month, “if it’s not dangerous and it’s not crazy, then it’s not fucking interesting.”
In addition to getting his top 5 favorite D.C bands, we spoke to Schleibaum more in depth just moments after Darkest Hour played a blistering 20 minute set at Mayhem Fest. During our chat, Schleibaum explained Darkest Hour’s lack of fear in pushing musical boundaries, why Sumerian Records was the perfect new home for them, how their new rhythm section (bassist Aaron Deal and drummer Travis Orbin) helped the band further break the mold, and why producer Taylor Larson was the only guy who could handle the insanity known as Darkest Hour.
Darkest Hour’s self-titled album is also the band’s first with Sumerian Records. I know the band has been friends with the Sumerian crew for a while now, but what inspired you guys to actually sign to the label?
Okay, Darkest Hour did a decade on Victory Records, almost like a life sentence. Then we got off that, we went to eOne. That was great, but in a lot of ways, we were really looking to see how we could break the mold. There’s a lot of bullshit that people worry about because they want to get popular and make as much money. But creatively, seven albums in, what I wanted to do was sign with a record label that would allow us to change something. Most people want to sign artists that go “Great, let’s do another album, here’s what we expect to sell, here’s what we expect to get, here’s the tour we’ll do, fucking great!” Which probably would have been fine, but we’re just not content with that. It’s just kind of about being a futurist, being someone that is not into nostalgia. I’m not into hanging a bunch of shit on my wall and being like, “Whoa this was super cool when I did that!” I want to be just doing something awesome. So I needed a label that had that attitude. Sumerian, they’re a little nuts over there and that’s what we like to draw from. It just felt like [it was a place] where we could do something off the wall. That’s what you have. You have a Darkest Hour album that doesn’t sound like any other one. It takes it to a new place in a sick as fuck new way, and I’m excited about it. And I know there’s some core fans where this idea is a little disconcerting, they have to wrestle with it. but as an artist, you can’t feel anything but that its right.
Well did the idea of going DIY ever come up?
Of course, we are DIY.
I mean, why not go without any label?
Well then you have to do this whole Kickstarter shit, and you have to make sure you fulfill everything. Yeah I don’t know, I mean… I don’t give a fuck about trying to be this kind of industry shit. I want to put out albums and I want people to hear them. So if you can team up with someone that can help you get some more exposure, I think that’s what matters to your art in the end. I’m not really interested in controlling everything. A lot of my D.C. counterparts of years past, like Dischord Records for example, they want to control what’s happening. I’m not into controlling the art; I like my art to be reactionary to what’s happening to it. I’m just into fucking shit up! Pushing it out there, scaring everybody in the band, as well as anybody involved in the management and anyone that’s a fan, because if it’s not dangerous and it’s not crazy, then it’s not fucking interesting.
Well then what was everyone in the band’s reactions when you first came up with the idea for “By the Starlight” (arguably the band’s most melodic/accessible song to date, and features a duet with DRÆMINGS)?
That song’s been around forever! I wanted John to do a duet forever. You’re talking to the one guy that would be like, standing in the corner of the room going, “Yo, we need to do a fucking duet! Yo, we need to do this song that’s like acoustic and has John [Henry] singing really good!” Because I end up being reactionary to who’s there. We have a different lineup, and before I had to be the brutal, crazy guy. Now I have to push for a little melody. So it was the right time.
As you mentioned, the album features a new lineup of the band, namely a new rhythm section. How did that affect the recording process?
It affected it amazingly. I mean, it made the shit awesome. It broke the mold, it made us get out of our shell. I have a rhythm section that can play anything. Mother fucking Travis Orbin, Google him! YouTube him! You know, I get it, he’s not all tattooed as fuck and he doesn’t party with Ice-T. But he likes to work out, he likes smoothies, and the motherfucker can play anything you can program on the drums and that changes what you can do!
Yeah. Well this is also the first time the band worked with producer Taylor Larson (also guitarist in From First To Last). How was working with him different from working with past producers?
He’s young and inexperienced, but he brings this passion, and no one that is experienced would have fucking dealt with this shit. We were crazy, trying to break the mold, do all sorts of stupid shit and somebody had to reel it in, and only a kid with the passion of not being broken down by how it is to do music could have had the balls to stand up to what was happening. So only Taylor could have done it because anybody else would have just been like, “Fuck you guys!”