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Walls of Jericho Interview

Walls of Jericho Interview
March 2016 (Via Phone)

Walls of Jericho Interview

After an eight-year hiatus from the studio, the Detroit-based hardcore veterans, Walls of Jericho, are ready to splatter some marrow with No One Can Save You from Yourself. On the surface, the album is packed with throat-shredding screams, fist-pumping choruses, dual guitars that slash and blaze, and a rhythm section that will get your adrenaline racing. But beneath the almost visceral brutality, are lyrics fueled by loss, pain, outrage, and a shimmering kernel of optimism. No matter how bleak things may seem, it’s a call to arms -- to be “Relentless” and continue to “Fight The Good Fight”.

Sonic Cathedral’s Robin Stryker got together with vocalist, Candace Kucsulain, for a candid interview about all things Walls of Jericho. Dive in for an in-depth look at No One Can Save You from Yourself, what makes Candace tick (and ticked-off), weights and weighty issues, and much more!

Sonic Cathedral: 
Welcome, Candace! You are only a few days away from releasing Walls of Jericho’s fifth full-length album, No One Can Save You from Yourself. Would you give our readers an introduction to what awaits them?

Candace:  Well, it has been eight years, so we are beyond excited to finally get No One Can Save You from Yourself out there to the world. What is awaiting? Well, it is definitely the heaviest, most pissed-off record that we have put out. Mike Hasty, our guitar player, was actually the main writer for this record, so it kind of brings it back to our old school style Walls of Jericho.

Our first record was written pretty much just with Mike, and the rest were written with Mike and Chris [Rawson, guitars] and Aaron [Ruby, bass] as a collaboration. So, this one takes us back. Mike is an old school hardcore metal guy. Lyrically, I normally do 90% of the lyrics. But this time around, it was a huge collaboration with everybody. Chris wrote some lyrics; I wrote some lyrics; and then we all sat down, picked topics, and just discussed and wrote lyrics based off of that. So I think it has a really interesting perspective, with different social and personal issues.

Walls of Jericho Interview 

Sonic Cathedral:  There is so very much to be pissed-off about in the world. At the moment, what is rubbing you rawest?

Candace:  There are a few issues that we always address -- those are domestic violence and sexual abuse. Recently, that is something that I have been paying a little bit more attention to. I have always wanted to be someone who is active in trying to make a change or bring awareness to that.

A few years ago, I became part of an organization called Relentless. Relentless doesn’t have to do with those subjects, but it’s an organization that raises money for kids with cancer and life-threatening illnesses. It’s an INCREDIBLE thing to be a part of. They constantly make change and give hope to those who need it the most. It opened that door for me to realize that there is a way to make a positive change in the world. Just by raising awareness on stage and with pictures of the kids at our merch table, we raised over $11,000.

We are going to try to bring more things in. There is a campaign by this woman out of Australia who has been taking photographs called “Still Not Asking For It”, addressing the Rape Culture in the world today. The men and women in these images are basically half-naked. They are putting out there that, even dressed like this, no one is asking for it. No matter what, there is never an excuse. It just grabbed me! I reached out to the woman, and I’d love to try to be a part of it any way I can -- either to raise money for it or to maybe even be a part of the photography that she is doing.

So, that is something that I always am trying to do, to figure out how to make a difference in the world or raise awareness. <sighs> I don’t know, but I guess with what is going on in the world right now, it’s a lot of lack of accountability. That is something that I am seeing day after day more in my life, and paying attention to within myself also … holding myself accountable, and how through those kind of things, we can make a change in the world through accountability, facing our fears, and not basing our thoughts and reactions off of those fears. So, those are things that I’m paying attention to within myself right now.

Sonic Cathedral:  One of Relentless Detroit’s main fundraisers is a power-lifting event, which is a sport you participate in. Which came first, your involvement with Relentless Detroit or power-lifting?

Candace:  Actually, I was already participating in power-lifting. I think I had six power-lifting meets under my belt before participating in Relentless. Through the power-lifting world on Facebook, people will post their training videos and I remember seeing a training video one day, his name was Marshall Johnson. (He’s a good friend of mine now.) Anyway, I saw his video, and he put up that he was doing this event. That was it! I immediately wanted to be part of it. It was meant to be, that’s how I felt.

Here, all I want to do is make a change and make a better world, and these people were doing it and doing it through something they loved. But then it became: “How do I do this with the band?” If you have a voice and people care, it’s very important that you speak about things that matter. With Walls of Jericho, we have done that through our lyrics, and I love that. But with power-lifting, I can do it through my actions.

So I reached out to Tommy Westhoff, who is one of the organizers for Relentless Detroit. He actually only had a “bench-only” spot open -- not a full-power spot, which is squat, bench, and deadlift. But I was like “great!” It was right before we did a European tour, so I talked about Relentless every night on stage, and we started raising money. One of the men actually stepped down, and gave me his full-power spot so I could lift all three events. I thought that was so amazing! It just shows how much they care.

After the event was over, what really got me was what they were doing every day, which was constantly giving hope. It wasn’t: “We raise money, we have this event, and then it’s over until next year.” Instead, it’s a 24/7 thing for them, in any way possible. I had first-hand experience with this type of tragedy with my brother last year. He got diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, and it was only four months until he lost his battle with cancer. They were there every step of the way. It just blows my mind to be part of such a selfless group that just constantly gives hope.

Right now in my life, power-lifting has had to take a backseat because we’re doing more with the band. I have recently moved back to Boston, and there is a LOT going on. I continue to try to stay strong and healthy, but I just can’t compete right now. But no matter what, I will always be a part of that Relentless meet (which is in November). The Detroit show we have coming up for our record release is partially a Relentless fundraiser.

Walls of Jericho Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  Awesome! What was your maximum combined weight when you’ve done a full-power meet?

Candace:  Hmmm, I have to add the three events to figure out what the actual total was. Let me see … at my very last meet, I hit a 415 squat, 280 bench, and then a 440 deadlift. That gave me an 1135 pound total, which is a pro level.

Sonic Cathedral:  Holy crap, that is more than a half-ton!

Candace:  <laughs> Yeah. It was a pro total for my body weight, which is 132 pounds. I compete at the 132 body weight.

Sonic Cathedral:  Impressive! Candace, you are a first-time mom. Has being a mother changed your approach to music at all?

Candace:  Yes, in a very positive way. It reminds me about how important passion is, and how important working towards your dream is. Before, I loved being a part of the band, and we had been doing it (before I had my daughter) for 10 years or a little bit longer. You eventually take things for granted. You just do. We had been playing overseas, and we had seen a lot of things.

Of course, I appreciated those things. But when I had my daughter, I didn’t know what I was going to be doing after. I didn’t know if I could go on tour; I didn’t know if I could be away from her. Then, I started missing it, and I started being HUNGRY for it. Like, “I can’t imagine never going back to Europe.” Things like that really made me appreciate more what I had, and then, I realized how important it is. You can’t stop living that dream.

You do that for yourself, but you also do that for your children -- to show them how important passion is, how important that dream is, and how important self-love is. You know? I won’t tour full time because I’m not interested in being away from my daughter that long. So we just try to find a healthy balance.

Lyrically, probably not so much. I always write songs about the people I love in my life. I have sung about my mom and my brother, my family. It really didn’t change that because I gained from having my daughter. I didn’t lose the elements of myself that were there before.

Walls of Jericho Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  I have this awesome mental image of you doing hardcore covers of lullabies to put your daughter to sleep. Please tell me I’m right.

Candace:  I’ve actually seen stuff like that, and I’ve heard people talk about doing stuff like that. <laughs> My daughter will cover her ears, and say: “I don’t like it!” <all laugh> She is not a huge fan of screaming, even though she does a lot of screaming herself. She actually came into the studio with me when I recorded this last record, and she was in the room with me while I was screaming. We had a conversation, and I said something like: “You’re singing like mommy.” She said: “Mommy, you don’t SING.” I just loved that; it was so good. I was like: “Yeah, you’re right.” So, this isn’t her thing.

It’s kind of a good thing to have alter-egos. I get to be on stage, and let all that stuff out. With her, I get to show a softer side … I get to be a different me with her. I actually sing her songs like “Walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline, “Love Me Tender” by Elvis, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, and that kind of stuff. But I always have sung to her since before she was born. They say it helps develop vocabulary. Before she even really spoke a ton of words, she sang a song with me.

Sonic Cathedral:  What?!?

Candace:  It was amazing. Words that she never used, and never even knew how to use … one day, I’m just cradling her and singing to her, and she just starts singing! So, that is something also that my daughter has taught me. TRUE LOVE -- what it is, and what unconditional love is. I did NOT grow up like that.

I will say, as a first-time mom … and I know there are other moms out there because I have friends like this … that I didn’t know what kind of mom I could be. From how I grew up, I had doubts of what kind of mother I would be. I didn’t have much to pull from. I was pretty determined to break the cycle, and my daughter showed me that I could do that and that I am the type of person who will do anything for somebody I love.

It was an amazing revelation about myself. For some, they think this would just be automatic. But when you didn’t grow up feeling that, you aren’t for certain you won’t repeat the same pattern.

Sonic Cathedral:  Thank you for sharing that beautiful story, Candace. After whooping and hollering at live shows, the next day I am hoarse as a frog. You have lots of live shows coming up in June and July, so how do you keep from shredding your vocal chords when you’re screaming your head off, night after night?

Candace:  I wish I had some cool thing that I could say about how I maintain my voice, but I’ve always been really bad with that. So, what happens is: I play the first three shows, and usually by the fourth show, my voice almost shits out. <laughs> It’s like I am literally having to give every OUNCE of energy to get anything to come out of me when I’m on stage, and then the guys will kind of help me. They’ll do a little bit more back-up vocals.

When I first started singing in a band, I was 16 or 17 (right around that age) in a different band. I had been in choir my whole life, and they were like: “Hey, you wanna try?” I got up there, and gave it my all. I remember we had a choir concert four days later, and I could NOT sing at my choir concert because my voice was just so torn up.

As I got older, I tried doing Melissa Cross’ The Zen of Screaming that a lot of bands are doing, so they can scream and sing a little bit easier, switching back and forth. Even though that wasn’t something that we did, I still wanted to figure out how to save my voice. The style of screaming, that was going to be necessary for me to be able to be able to do that, had my voice doing what is called a pterodactyl sound, where it was super high-pitched screeching to be able to go back and forth. She has different names for it, at the different levels. <laughs>

I am not a fan of sounding that way; I did not want to sound high-pitched. Even from day one, when I was in Walls of Jericho, every single show was a challenge to try to get lower and lower, just to prove that I could do it -- that women could sound like men! <all laugh> You know? In my mind, I think it was that challenge. And so, The Zen of Screaming didn’t work for me. I can’t go back and forth.

I can’t properly scream right, and not tear up my voice. I just kind of have to give it hell, and then shut up. The best thing you can do to recover and heal your voice is to not talk. Normally at shows, we’ll go out, be at the merch table, and be walking around. But there will be some shows where I can’t do that. I just have to stay in the back because I can’t talk to people; I have to let my voice chill out so I can scream the next day. I’m just too stubborn. <laughs> I want to sound a certain way, and am willing to sacrifice so that I can sound that way.

Walls of Jericho Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  If I understand correctly, Walls of Jericho have not played any of the new tracks live, except for “Relentless”. Which tracks are you most anxious to play out live?

Candace:  I am REALLY excited to play “No One Can Save You From Yourself”, the actual title track. I think that song is just such a ripper! I love the energy of it, and I love the chorus which has got such a vibe and beat to it. Also, “Forever Militant” is another one of my favorites, and “Reign Supreme”. Those three songs I am super, super excited to play. They all have different vibes to them, but they still make a really good energy.

We like to do it lyrically, vocally, and musically … and, of course, heavy breakdown parts. <laughs> You can’t go wrong with heavy breakdown parts! A good swing, that’s what I like out of a live song, when things have a good bounce to them and create a certain vibe. That is exactly what we went for with this entire record.

Having such large amount of time off in between records, we really had to rework our set-list all the time, so we wouldn’t get bored. That is when we felt our set-list would represent the best stage performance that we could do. Through taking songs from different previous records, it kind of shaped this record. We realized: “THIS is what we like. This is the vibe that we like on stage.” No One Can Save You From Yourself really encompasses and represents who we are -- with the energy, the vocals, and the vibe. It was cool to go into this record, knowing that we wanted all the songs to be ones we would be super-excited to play on stage.

I mean, every band has got filler songs. You can’t help it because you’re writing an entire record. You have songs that you call “filler”. You don’t mean it like that, but those are the songs that you think you probably are not going to play on stage, or maybe something that is kind of filling the record. We didn’t feel like we had any of those songs. We actually had a couple of songs that got pulled off the record to be put onto special edition releases. <laughs> I was sad that they were getting pulled off the record, and it was really good to feel that way for once!

Sonic Cathedral:  Candance, you write about personal … sometimes painful … experience. For example, the new track “Cutbird” is about your brother’s battle with cancer. When you perform songs inspired by painful experiences, does it hurt or does it heal?

Candace:  I would say that hurting is healing. <laughs> That’s super-deep, right? It is actually a combination of both. You are reliving things, and sometimes that is HARD. So, it does hurt in a sense, but it’s also really helping move forward every time. It is almost like you’re in therapy, and you’re talking about it. You are talking about it, through singing. When you sing about it, you are throwing it into the universe.

On “Cutbird”, I actually collaborated with my sister-in-law. We wrote together, and we wrote about him. I have a song off the first record that we used to play over and over, and I think I stopped playing it for a little while. It is called “Collecting On A Debt”, which is about sexual abuse that I dealt with when I was a child. That is a song where there were times when I would feel that urge to be in tears, but it was always turn into therapeutic rage. You know, sometimes it’s a process, and you have to step away from it for a minute to continue to heal. So, sometimes we’ll cycle songs like that, just depending on where I’m at emotionally.

That is why I was in a band -- to talk about these things. When I was younger, I would not be able to have a conversation about it like I’m having with you right now. People did NOT know about these things in my life. I had always been somebody who kept things secret, who kept things buried. My only way of getting it out was through lyrics because I wanted to connect with people … I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone. How I could heal was by letting other people know that they weren’t alone. That has never changed for me, and it’s always been a therapeutic thing. I think that is why music is so important.

That is probably why I don’t like bands that have no substance. Bringing it back to your earlier question about what gets me in an uproar, it would also be when bands have no substance. <laughs> THAT gets me in an uproar -- when harcore bands and metal bands talk about “money and bitches”. <all laugh> I’m like: “Uhm, where is the fame, and where exactly are those bitches?” It is very important to have substance and to connect with people, and to not minimize things or be disrespectful of others. That’s how I feel, anyway.

Walls of Jericho Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  I will frankly admit that my taste typically does not run to hardcore, but your album still really appeals to me. I have wussified taste …

Candace:  <laughs> That’s awesome!

Sonic Cathedral:  Lyrically, it’s appealing; there are some anthemic choruses; and your drummer is phenomenal. I picture him hobbling off stage on fractured shins, after a full set of ferocious double-pedal action.

Candace:  He is a hard-hitting motherfucker!

Sonic Cathedral:  Although the album is very angry and brutal, it still has a core that is optimistic … and forgive me for using such an un-metal term … kind of sweet.

Candace:  Yes! It is hard because people are like: “Wait, is this an optimistic album, or a negative album?!? Is it angry, or is it positive?!?” But it’s all of it, because you can’t have one without the other -- there has got to be contrast. You have to have contrast to grow, and we never stop trying to grow. To grow, you can’t ignore the actual facts, or ignore the anger, chaos, and pain. You have to talk about them, and embrace them.

Then, how do you move forward from there? That is my challenge (and probably my life’s goal) to constantly look at what’s inside, and just figure out how to cope. I think that’s the hardest thing about life, man. It’s coping, learning coping skills, moving forward, and addressing what is actually happening. It is scary!

Sonic Cathedral:  The over-arching theme seems to be right there in the album’s title, No One Can Save You from Yourself. Life sucks sometimes and the world can be a horrible place, but no one can change it for you.

Candace:  Exactly! The Concrete Blonde song that we do at the end, “Probably Will”, I am beyond excited about covering that song. When I first heard “Probably Will”, it just hit me immediately. I am so excited that we can do something like that! I feel like it really wraps up the record nicely because it is so much about that.

“Probably Will” is about how people think you’re going to fuck up. Guess what? You probably will fuck up. <all laugh> In life, we trip, we fall, and we make wrong choices. We do all these things that are good and bad for us, but you just have to keep going. That’s the game. Never stop trying -- day after day, it will get better!

Sonic Cathedral:  Candace, for people out there who may be struggling in their own lives, what final words would you like to share with them?

Candace:  Gosh, this is the part that is always so hard. I guess I would say to take time to listen to yourself, and to listen to others who have done it. Don’t be afraid to speak out. I think that is the biggest thing. Sometimes, people aren’t into therapy, and it’s not something that they think is going to help them. I’ve been there in my life, as well. So, there are other avenues to take.

There is a guy named Eric Thomas, whom I’ve been listening to. He was a bum out of Detroit, and he was someone who hit the bottom HARD. He has this thing called “Rise and Grind” -- find your dream, find what fuels your fire, and go after it day after day. You know, even if your purpose is just to feel better the next day, or to be able to go to sleep with a clear conscience, whatever it may be, you have to go after it day after day! It’s not about perfection; it’s about progress.

Walls of Jericho Interview

Sonic Cathedral:  Wise words. Thank you so much for talking with Sonic Cathedral today. We hope to see Walls of Jericho out on the road!

Candace:  Absolutely! I’d love to meet you.

Walls of Jericho 

Massive thanks to Jon at Freeman Promotions for setting up the interview!

Walls of Jericho official site
Walls of Jericho on Facebook
Candace Kucsulain on Facebook