John Sankey’s scene is music. The drummer of Devil You Know states, “Music is my scene that’s it, that’s all I do. There’s nothing else. When I get some down time, cricket and footy, hanging out and just being an Aussie, enjoying being an Aussie. Other than that, music is it.
There is nothing else for me. I live it and breathe it every day”.
Music was the reason Sankey moved to the States thirteen years ago, though his Australian accent is still as strong as ever. “I don’t think I’m ever going to lose it, not that I’d want to. I grew up out in a really small country town in Queensland. Growing up there you are never going to lose that”.
Currently on break, Sankey is spending time in Australia, stating: “I just flew in a few days ago, I’m at the Gold Coast right at the moment, and heading out west to visit the family later today. Just spending a few weeks here in the country, having a bit of a break, bit of family time, bit of a catch up. Then back to it, back to the states. It has been hectic. That is for sure. This is kind of the calm before the storm. It’s good to get a little bit of down time”.Sankey definitely deserves time off. From forming the beginnings of the band in 2012, developing the music and the band, to signing to Nuclear Blast Records in 2013 and releasing their debut album, The Beauty of Destruction, in April 2014, to being awarded Best New Artist at Metal Hammer’s Golden Gods Awards in 2014, and to a sophomore album,
They Bleed Red, which is due for release early November 2015. He has been busy as part of this supergroup, a term he says he “hates … it’s flattering in a way but it always feels weird”. The supergroup, Devil You Know, consists of himself (Devolved, Divine Heresy, Fear Factory), Howard Jones (Killswitch Engage, Blood Has Been Shed), Fransesco Artusato (All Shall Perish, Hiss of Atrocities), and Ryan Wombacher (Bleeding Through). However, Sankey is adamant: “There are no ego trips. It’s not about being the biggest and the best.
It’s about what we love to do and writing music that we like and just have fun with it. When we started doing this and realised ‘Shit, this is going to turn into a band and we’re going to record records and we’re going to go on tour’, it’s like ‘let’s make sure we don’t lose sight of why we wanted to get together to do this and that was to have fun’. So we’re really not trying to do any more than that. Just enjoy the ride”.
Sankey’s love of music, not fame, is how Devil You Know originated. He states: “Francesco, the guitar player, and I have known each other for years. Just from the LA scene, doing different bands, and doing gigs together with our respective other bands, we became mates and hang out and we’d always say we should get together and write some music just purely for fun, nothing other than that. We started writing some stuff and we really liked it and we thought it’d be good to get some vocals on this, it’d be interesting to see how it sounds. And just purely by chance through mutual friends in the industry, Howard and I started talking and it just went from there. One minute we were talking about it and we got on so well and became really good mates. We would talk on the phone for hours, half the time we wouldn’t even discuss music whatsoever. He came to LA and we started tracking some demos and we said ‘Yeah let’s do something with this’ and it got crazy really fast. This was never the plan. It’s a good thing. None of us are complaining. It is all good”.
No ego trips, no hierarchical nonsense. Just four blokes making music they love. That’s the formula for what is now their successful metal band. Sankey states: “Fransesco and I write and arrange all the music and then we give it to Howard and he does his thing and we make the necessary adjustments and that’s it. It’s a pretty simple, straightforward formula, really not a trick to it. Howard writes very personal lyrics. We like the way that he writes, and he has a whole fan base from Killswitch Engage. People just connect with a lot of stuff he writes and how he sings and expresses himself and I love that. That’s a great thing. [pullquote]There’s not many vocalists that people can connect with that deeply and he seems to have that effect on people a lot. Lyrics –that is Howard’s world, that’s it, that’s all him.[/pullquote]
“Sometimes in studio we’ll throw ideas back and forth initially. It’s totally up to him to get the ball rolling and put down the basic foundations of that. For all of us, nothing is set in stone, not one of us are like: ‘That’s how it is, deal with it’.
That’s important. If you got to deal with someone in the band who will only do things their way, and isn’t open to suggestions or ideas, that’s going to be difficult. That’s not going to be enjoyable to work with. And we are at that point where it’s like, ‘Come on mate, you can do better than that’. No one takes offence. We are all friends”.
Sankey continues, “With my other band, that I started years and years ago in Australia, Devolved, I wrote the lyrics and vocal arrangements. And I really enjoyed it. But with this,
you have someone like Howard in the band, no one is going to do the job better. I love it when we finish with the music and give it to him, I get excited to hear what he is going to come back with. Yeah, it’s cool, very cool”.
The new album is quite different to their debut in a few ways. Sankey explains:“The main things were when we did the first record we’d never even played a show, live, as a band. And since then I feel all we’ve done is toured a lot. And played a whole lot of shows.
So I think the gel of the band is actually there but wasn’t there for the first record. It was purely like studio dudes coming together and putting an album together on the spot. When you hear this new album you can hear more of a cohesive band. We have more of our own style. To me, that’s obvious with this record. The other difference was that we have had so many people surrounding us with the first record, like industry people, people from the record label, and management, and A&R, producers, because it was such a brand new thing everyone had their own ideas as to how this band should sound. It was frustrating at times. We just wanted it to be natural and organic and we wanted to find our own sound rather than: ‘you’ve got to be heavier’ or ‘not so heavy’ or ‘you should write more this or this’.
Whereas with one we said to the label we don’t want anyone else involved. We know what we’re doing. Just trust us. Even Josh Wilbur, the producer, left everything intact with the songs as they were on the demos. This one is our thing. How we wrote it is how you hear it. And that’s it and I think that makes a big difference”.
Sankey continues: “There is one song “Let the pain take hold”. It kind of a slower, very dark, more epic track and I love it. I love all the really fast heavy stuff as well but that song really came together in the studio. We weren’t sure how that was going to turn out because it is quite a different track in relation to everything else. Particularly Howard’s vocals on it. We were just blown away. It’s certainly one of my favourite songs on there. It is challenging; so heavy lyrically and emotionally, it was almost like a draining song even when we were in the studio recording it. There were times when we would just look at each other and be like ‘this is pretty intense’. But I love it”.
Certainly this new album is more cohesive in its distinctive confidence of performance and production. The tracks should translate well live. Sankey states: “We haven’t played any of the new stuff live yet. The first song came out only about a week ago. We will have the first official single, video, soon and the next month we go to Europe with Five Finger Death Punch and Papa Roach. The Europe tour starts at the end of October. By then there will be a number of songs posted or you know how it goes, the album may be leaked in the UK. I’m sure people will have heard the majority of the record by then. I can’t wait”.
Touring is extremely important to Sankey. He states: “I love touring. That is why we do it. I love the studio side also but it is a lot of work and it’s a long tedious process. But there is nothing like walking out on stage and playing to people and seeing people singing along and enjoying it. That’s why we do it”.
Sankey concludes: “And now moreso than ever with the way the internet has changed the industry with album sales being not what they used to be, you have to play live to make any money. So if you don’t enjoy playing live and touring this is not the game for you at all”.
Stay of Execution
Last time Devil You Know toured Australia as part of the Soundwave Festival in 2014, they hadn’t even released their debut album. Now they are touring again in 2016 as part of Soundwave Festival, with two superb albums and a lot of touring behind them. If one was impressed last time, imagine the aural metal landscape perfection this time around!
They Bleed Red is out November 7th through Nuclear Blast.
Devil You Know is touring in January 2016 as part of the Soundwave Festival.