The Cover Story

Stray From The Path: “The pandemic made people aware of their position in the machine... Everyone is weaponised now”

Bad times call for good music. After a pandemic spent watching the planet descend into the abyss, Stray From The Path are back with Euthanasia, raging against corporations, corruption and cops… and that’s just for starters.

Stray From The Path: “The pandemic made people aware of their position in the machine... Everyone is weaponised now”
Luke Morton
Gabe Becerra
Trigger warning:
Suicide references

Do you feel pissed off yet? It doesn’t take much in 2022 to find your blood hurtling toward boiling point, as every thumb flick on your phone provides a reminder of how expensive and excruciating everyday life is. Hours before Kerrang!’s meeting with Stray From The Path, new Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a ‘mini budget’ that removed the cap on bonuses for bankers, appeared to exclusively only benefit the UK’s highest earners, and subsequently sent the value of the pound into the gutter. Are you angry now?

On the other side of The Pond, the New York-via-UK metallic-hardcore merchants are contemplating just how frustrated they are this morning. Guitarist Tom Williams is at home on babysitting duty, looking after his 18-month-old daughter, surrounded by hardcore paraphernalia including a Converge Jane Doe flag peering down from the ceiling. Drummer Craig Reynolds is in a hotel lobby, AirPods in, lounging on a plush sofa that has somehow managed to slash his hand open.

Despite Tom acknowledging how well new album Euthanasia has been received by fans, and how successful their recent tour of the States has been, neither man is willing to admit to being happy with the world right now. And just one cursory listen to their new LP should give you the answer to why, as it rages against corruption, corporations, greed, police brutality and the failure of mankind across 10 tracks.

“It’s weird,” begins Tom. “People get excited that we’re attacking a certain thing. Even before a record comes out, people are like, ‘Oh I can’t wait to see Stray talk about blank,’ but man, this stuff isn’t fucking material, this is all real, awful stuff happening… People are like, ‘I love the Stray record,’ but we’re talking about stuff that sucks.”

While it’s not exactly the most posi record to stick on at a party, Euthanasia might be Stray’s crowning achievement. A vicious takedown of a stagnant society spat out by one of the most underrated vocalists in heavy music, beaten into shape by a punishing rhythm section that want to see the world burn. In fact, that’s very much the crux of the record – humans have failed as a society and a species, so, as the artwork depicts, we need push the big red button and start again. But is this just an artistic concept, or an idea the band actually believe?

“At the time [of making the record], I genuinely thought that,” says Craig, matter-of-factly. “We wrote [2019 album] Internal Atomics after we came back from Africa working with Hardcore Help Foundation, and had seen people who were changing the world, really doing amazing things. We came back like, ‘This is a positive experience, let’s talk about how if we’re all a bit more like these people then we could change the world.’ We write that album, then the pandemic happens, and the world seems to get far, far worse. And for me personally I was like, ‘Fuck this. No-one deserves it. Let’s just press that button.’ That’s where the anger comes from. I was a psychopath in the pandemic, it was genuinely written with 100 per cent rage.”

Although both Tom and Craig concede that there are genuine, decent people walking around today, during the writing process it was easy to see the bad outweigh the good.

“You’re watching refrigeration trucks in New York filling up with bodies and shit like that, while there’s still people denying that COVID was real,” seethes Tom. “So you’re like, ‘Fuck this person to Hell.’ We wrote the record while we were insane in the pandemic like a lot of people were and still are.”

Tom’s ‘Fuck this person to Hell’ mantra might sound blunt, but that’s what Stray do best. Never ones to mince their words, lyrically Euthanasia is a battering ram of antagonism, aggravation and attitude. Targets are lined up for all to see with no room for interpretation.

“You can’t trust people to get the metaphors,” laughs Craig, pointing to their 2017 smash Goodnight Alt-Right and how fans somehow found a secondary meaning in its incendiary attack. “You didn’t get it – try better.”

“I don’t want there to be any misconstruing on this now,” adds Tom of the new album’s lyrics. “‘Oh when you said this, do you mean that?’ No, when I said this I meant this because we said this. If you heard it, then we mean it.”

Indeed, on Law Abiding Citizen (a track that Tom describes as “if Stray From The Path made We Didn’t Start The Fire by Billy Joel”), vocalist Drew Dijorio reels off a shopping list of people that the band collectively hate – from ‘Kardashian Queens’ to ‘Pharma kings’. Similarly, the bombastic call-to-arms opener Needful Things seeks to rally the troops against the status quo with its loaded ‘Are you in or in the way?’ gang vocals.

"I don’t want there to be any misconstruing of our lyrics"

Hear Tom on being done with metaphors in Stray's lyrics

Sentiments of riot and rebellion are stitched into the fabric of punk and metal, and there is no institution of authority more despised by Stray than the police. This isn’t anything new, from Body Count’s Cop Killer to Dead Kennedys’ Police Truck all the way through to FEVER 333’s Long Live The Innocent, musicians have used their platform to call out the actions of those employed to protect and serve.

Euthanasia’s third track, III, is Stray’s latest ire-drenched tirade against police brutality, written as a threequel to Badge And A Bullet parts I and II from 2013’s Anonymous and 2015’s Subliminal Criminals respectively.

“After Part I we’d get people say to us, ‘Not all cops,’ and even we used to say, ‘Yeah, this is about the bad ones,’” remembers Tom. “Now on III we’re like, ‘Fuck all of ‘em, abolish police.’ If you’re on the other side of that argument then we’re against you.”

Lyrically, Tom says, it draws both on personal experience and global news stories, citing the lyric ‘Hold up, no knock, 32 shots, apartments holed up’ as a reference to the killing of Breonna Taylor, and ‘The riots only start when the stormtroopers roll up’ as a response to what he witnessed at protests.

“I would see that with my own fucking eyeballs; it was going from protesting to full-on gassing people in minutes,” he says. “The last [protest] I went to, my wife came with me. She was pregnant and tear gas can cause a fucking miscarriage, so we stopped going from there. But we were there and marching and chanting and all this shit, then you get a text alert saying there will be a curfew at 6:30pm and it’s like 6:21pm, so you get the fuck out of there. But when it’s 6:31pm they’re doing rubber bullets, gassing. You’ve got literally nine minutes to leave.

“I see a cop now and it triggers me,” he continues, visibly riled, explaining that he feels at this precise moment how he did when writing III. “We wrote that song because we wanted to. You’ve got four people with a short fuse, short temper, and people that are getting fucking pissed. We don’t write [songs like III] because people expect it or because it’s our brand – it’s because we fucking hate them.”

Since Part I, Tom believes that people have caught up to Stray’s message and “feel the same thing.” But that ultimately the band is about spreading awareness, “using our platform to help people that are actually out there in the streets changing shit,” promoting the likes of Actions Not Words, Hardcore Help and All Power Books. So too is it about casting a light on the negatives of everyday life.

“We talk about songs like Guillotine and over the pandemic if there’s one thing people have found out, it’s how capitalism exploits them,” Tom bristles. “You get a song like Needful Things that’s addressing that and people are about it, because over the pandemic people got destroyed while the billionaires are making trillions are dollars – all the money that the working class lost. These things that we’re talking about – capitalism, corrupt politics, cops, climate change – they’re all with that.”

“The pandemic made a lot of people aware of their position in the machine that were probably not aware of it before,” nods Craig. “Everyone is weaponised now.”

An uncomfortable laughter ripples over the conversation. The sort of awkward response you only tend to muster when presented with a statement both surprising and devastating in equal measure. As we contemplate how COVID and lockdown affected people’s professional and political lives, so too do Stray cast their eyes inward and discuss how it affected their personal lives.

“Well, I was going to kill myself. So there’s that,” responds Craig, nonchalantly to the point. “It was the worst part of my relatively privileged life. And I think for a lot of people it was that.”

Not willing to discuss the “personal shit” as to why, the drummer says that pre-pandemic he had “the worst time of my life ever”. But when lockdown happened, he initially found the novelty quite fun for the first six weeks or so. “Then it was, ‘I don’t think music is ever coming back,’ combined with a bunch of other personal stuff, so it was like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna peace.’ And then I didn’t. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out, and here we are.

“I think that’s why a lot of my writing, and the way I live my life now, is like there is a button a second away that you can just turn off. I write more from the heart and more like I don’t care what anyone thinks. I live my life more like that now because I really did come close to just not being here.”

"I write more from the heart and more like I don’t care what anyone thinks"

Hear Craig discuss his new approach to life and music

In times of darkness, human connection and a feeling of purpose is vital, so having his career, creative outlet and social life severed in one swift motion hit Craig like a truck. At home in a locked-down Britain, thousands of miles away from his bandmates, music began to fall by the wayside.

Like many of us that looked to apps in the pandemic to provide some kind of engagement – from TikTok to Houseparty (remember that one?) – Craig too found solace in the online community of Twitch.

Introduced to the platform by Tom, who was already an avid streamer of videogames, the drummer was sucked in instantly. Without any cash in the bank or a sign of any coming in, the fact that Twitch can provide some form of income was welcome, but as you’d expect from a band so staunchly anti-capitalist, money was not the motivation.

“To come back to the darkness that we were talking about, Twitch is the number one thing that made me not do it,” he says firmly. “I was in this incredibly dark place where I didn’t want to write music or do anything. Tom said you could do Twitch with drums, I figured out a way because I had recording stuff anyway, so I put it on and it gave me the experience of playing live again. They’re on the internet, but there’s an audience. I did my first stream and fucking loved it!”

So impactful was that first stream that before long the band started to discuss creating a Stray account to give them all some kind of live element, but to also use it for writing. No more hiding away in practice rooms, they would pull back the curtain and let fans not only watch their creative sessions but also interact.

“We could see an instant approval from people who thought it was fucking awesome!” grins Tom. And even though they kept some songs a surprise and off-stream like Needful Things, lead single Guillotine was written almost entirely on Twitch under the working title Gary.

“Gary was originally 165bpm and it was insane at that speed, I could barely play it but I got it,” remembers Craig. However, after the song was presented to producer and honorary fifth member Will Putney, it became a monstrous 180bpm. “I’m trying to learn it on Twitch like, ‘I can’t fucking do this,’ and I’ve got 200 people going, ‘Yes you fucking can, you’ve got this!’ And it just makes you do it.”

The almost-daily streaming bonded the band and grew their reputation, which Tom compares to touring – increasing your follower count (or fans) after each stream (or show). The band gush that they’ve already streamed a million more of this record than the previous and sales are up 30 per cent. And if you’ve been paying any attention to what’s happening in punk and metal today, they’re not the only heavy band finding a boost…

There’s a resurgence in hardcore going on right now. To wit, the UK’s biggest hardcore weekender Outbreak Fest sold out this year and is doubling its capacity to 10,000 in 2023. Many reasons have been floated for this sudden influx of interest, and when K! suggests that it could be a sign of angry people looking for angry music, Craig offers a more succinct response.

Turnstile’s GLOW ON. What a fucking album.”

It’s hard to disagree. Turnstile are the success story in hardcore right now, with their 2021 magnum opus taking them to Glastonbury, Coachella and even the Jimmy Fallon show.

“These bands are transcending the Underworld in London,” enthuses Tom, who also has a hand in the music industry, managing Stray as well as fast-rising noisemongers Dying Wish. “If you sold out the Underworld in hardcore/metalcore five years ago then you’d made it. Now Turnstile sold out the Roundhouse and The Forum. I think people have realised that it’s fucking cool. People are tired of the fucking manufactured, factory-made music. A lot of bands don’t write their own shit. A lot of music these days isn’t even music, it’s a fucking computer and a microphone.”

“The saturation of the ‘laptop bands’ – where there’s everything on the backing track, 10 layers of vocals that aren’t happening live – that’s been going on for maybe 10 years now,” Craig laments. “I think people don’t even realise it, but they’re becoming fatigued by that sound. Then you see a Turnstile or a Knocked Loose or a Stray or a ‘hardcore’ band, to these kids who’ve been going to see the same laptop metalcore bands’ shows they go, ‘Holy fuck, what is this?!’ It’s fresh to them because they’ve been hearing this perfectly processed stuff when they go to shows. Hardcore has been around for ages but it can still shock the next generation.”

"Hardcore has been around for ages but it can still shock the next generation”

Hear Craig on why a new, young audience are discovering real, authentic music

As well as transcending venues, hardcore and metalcore is making a dent in the mainstream. Just days before our interview, Craig sat in on drums on the Seth Meyers show and went viral for his one-liner about The Queen, which just wouldn’t have happened five years ago. In a more baffling moment, in the show’s green room, Beth Ditto told Craig she loved the new Stray album. Even Nickelback have been in touch with Tom to say they’re fans.

“It’s getting a platform that it hasn’t got in a while, at least from what we can see. For us, there was Bring Me The Horizon and then that was it. That was the one band that made it,” says Tom. “Now there’s the Ice Nine Kills and Motionless In White tour that played Madison Square Garden. There’s all this insane shit happening that’s fucking awesome and people are realising that some of these bands are just cool… It feels fucking good and a lot of people just want to see the other bands win.”

And with increased fame and fans comes more people to sign up to Stray’s cause. Much like Rage Against The Machine before them, in a sea of other heavy bands, the east coast firebrands have found themselves as the entry point for young minds looking to challenge the system.

“When I’m 13 and I hear, ‘Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes / Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal’ [from Bulls On Parade] I’m not thinking, ‘That’s so deep,’ I just think it sounds fucking sick,” says Tom, bringing the conversation full-circle. “As I grow older it resonates with me more. It’s like an onion, the more you peel it, the more there is to discover. As you keep listening to Stray record you may discover more things.”

“We don’t write anything to make it more accessible, we’ve never done that, but as much as we write music for ourselves to get our anger out, secretly it is a conscription of sorts,” smirks Craig. “You want someone who is apolitical to hear it and have the same awakening me and Tom did the first time we heard Rage. You originally go, ‘This is the best fucking song I’ve ever heard, I wonder what the lyrics are about?’ Then you’re brainwashed..."

He gives a knowing grin.

"...And you join our army.”

Euthanasia is out now via UNFD

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