Silenmara – Shredding For a Cure

Thursday, 11th January 2018

Many bands in the metal scene face an uphill battle. Whether it’s having a sound that is too far outside the norm, not finding the space for themselves in the market, or having life get in the way of moving forward – there is plenty to sink a rising band. But for every band that buckles, there’s a story of another band that perseveres and progresses further along, even if it’s just in baby steps. Florida’s Silenmara have released two full-length efforts and a previous EP in the last ten years, with a late 2017 release for their most recent effort, A Darkened Visionary.

Unhappy with some of their previous productions, the band stepped things up for their latest EP – looking to make it their most solid piece of work to date. But it came with plenty of obstacles along the path, which we discussed one evening with guitarist Jason Gato – everything from deaths to hurricanes – Silenmara succeeded in creating a release that not only outshines their previous work, but also sees them making the next step in their progression. In addition to all of this, we also discussed Gato and the band’s admirable involvement with #shredforthecure and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in this honest interview.

Dead Rhetoric: Where does the name Silenmara come from?

Jason Gato: We don’t really know. We came up with that name because we are all really big fans of the game Silent Hill. One day we were talking over a few beers and we did the whole ‘let’s open up the dictionary and name the band the first thing we point at,’ and we pointed at “mara” and said that it was kind of a stupid name for a band. So we thought about Silent Mara, and we worked around, trying to make the whole Silent Hill thing work. As I was writing it down, I wrote it down wrong – without the “t” so it came out Silenmara. We thought it was a cool name to at least get us started, and it kind of stuck. The word ‘mara’ is Latin for nightmare, so it kind of worked out – ‘silent nightmare.’

Dead Rhetoric: How does A Darkened Visionary compare to your previous material?

Gato: In my opinion, it’s the best thing we’ve done so far, musically. The past records were fantastic – I’ve loved every record that we’ve done. It’s rare being in a band that you are an actual fan of. When the music comes on, I love it. But this record was a huge transition for us. A lot of terrible things happened, through the tracking. There was kind of an omen while we were tracking – it was like, “Holy shit, this record is fighting back!” We weren’t really happy with the mix and the production of the last three records, so we decided to go with Giovanni Angel, who is a local legend in south Florida, and have the tracks mixed by Jaime King, who has worked with The Contortionist and BTBAM. We worked with Jaime before, but he never had as much touch-time with the record. He really took his time with this one.

The main difference between this one and the previous ones was that we took a different approach when it came to tracking and mixing – it was just a complete re-wire. All the mistakes that we made with the last records kind of filtered down to what A Darkened Visionary is. A the end of the day, it’s like a sum of our mistakes, and a product that we are very happy with. It was a learning experience that got us to where A Darkened Visionary is today.

Dead Rhetoric: You kind of alluded to this, but could you talk about impact of Hurricane Irma on the EP?

Gato: Oh man, Hurricane Irma happened right at the very end of our tracking. Here in South Florida, where we are from [Cutler Ridge], it is extreme South Miami. It’s about one town north of Key Largo, so we are very south. In 1992, basically every single member of this band was impacted by Hurricane Andrew, which was a category 5 hurricane, which basically reshaped the map of Florida. It destroyed South Florida, including my house that I currently live in, which I purchased from my family. This house was destroyed. So everyone down here who is a hurricane survivor – we take hurricanes that are a category 3 and up very seriously.

We had just finished tracking guitars, and we were in the middle of vocals. We hadn’t done any of the keyboards or anything like that. When Hurricane Irma was announced, we shit ourselves. They were talking about the strongest hurricane in history barreling directly towards Cutler Ridge. The center line of the hurricane was intersecting right over my house. The dot was in the center of the line in the track of this hurricane. So I’m shitting bricks! They were talking about creating a category 6 for this thing!

Silenmara headquarters is my house – we built a studio in the back here. So everybody got their stuff out, and we strapped everything down. We had to completely stop tracking – the studio we were tracking in actually didn’t have any Internet access for about two months after. We had to go over with a generator and put everything that was over there into a laptop so we wouldn’t lose it. It takes you back to the stone age. We were two weeks without power. It really messed us up down here. It took two weeks off the release of the record. We were hoping to have it out for Marageddon, which is our yearly festival for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Dead Rhetoric: Well, it’s good that you had that previous experience with Andrew so that you knew what to do. Otherwise, I’d imagine it could have been far worse than it was.

Gato: South Floridians don’t mess around with category 3 and up. We have parties for 1s and 2s. We all go to each other’s houses for barbeques for those. 3-5, that’s serious shit – evacuation. Prepare to lose everything you have…that kind of deal.

Dead Rhetoric: In addition to the hurricane, what was the effect of the personal tragedies the band persevered through in regards to the sound of the album?

Gato: I think what happened definitely created the atmosphere. It was very emotional. Our drummer lost his grandmother three days before drum tracking. He was incredibly close with her. My father passed away during the tracking as well. The song “The Black,” was written for my father. We wrote it in the studio. We had it in mind – we tracked it, we wrote it there in the studio. If it wasn’t for those tragedies, it would have been a much different feeling to the release. It was a big deal. Our singer found out his fiancée was pregnant during the recordings, our drummer lost his grandmother, Hurricane Irma, my father passed away. It felt like the whole of the universe was trying to keep us from finishing this record.

Dead Rhetoric: Going back to Jaime King, having more time with this release – what was the overall impact?

Gato: I’m going to get really nerdy right now. The reason that we chose Jaime King – he’s an analog producer. Everything he touches is organic, it’s alive. He does real drums, guitars, vocals – everything he does is organic. He makes his bands sound so real. Right now, Silenmara is in a tough spot. We are very old school – we don’t use Axe-FX, we don’t use Kempers, we hardly use any effects. We use tube amplifiers, we use real drums. We aren’t into sampling drums. We are a very old school, organic band. We chose Jaime for that reason. He works with very organic bands. He brought a very analog sound to our music. Everyone in the band wanted that organic sound. We wanted people to say, “That’s real.” There’s nothing here that’s fake. There’s actually people performing their instruments. It’s not overly produced, which is what I wanted. I wanted it to be a pizza – everything’s delicious.

Dead Rhetoric: It’s interesting that you bring up the different pieces. One of the things I really liked in listening to the album was that there’s change in going from song to song. There’s heavy stuff, melodic stuff…there’s a lot going on in your sound.

Gato: We don’t like to pigeonhole ourselves into something. If you’ve heard our prior albums, they are tough to listen to because of the production values, but we have never stuck to a formula. The only thing that sticks is melody. We are consistent with melody – even our heaviest shit is melodic. We don’t really like to say that we only do this or that…we only do what we feel like doing. There are a lot of bands that are afraid to venture outside their comfort zone because they are afraid of being labeled poseurs…I don’t give a flying fuck what anyone thinks about our music, to be honest with you. It’s what we want to do with it.

It’s the way that we cope with life – this is our therapy. There shouldn’t be any guidelines to what we do, considering that everyone has kind of pigeonholed themselves. When they venture out, they get shit on. If you venture out from the beginning, no one shits on you because you have been doing it since you started. Right now, that’s how we are. The only thing we want to do, and retain in our music, is melody. It’s what we like.

Dead Rhetoric: Could you discuss the founding of the #shredforthecure and your festival for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer?

Gato: #shredforthecure is something near and dear to my heart. My mother was a huge advocate for me. She supported in everything I did, especially in music. Unfortunately, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer when I was 13 years old. She was 46. She lived 13 years with stage 4 breast cancer, and she suffered so much. There was really nothing I could do. It’s the most helpless thing – I don’t have any brothers or sisters, and my parents were divorced. It was a terrible feeling – a lonely and horrible thing to feel.

While she was going through her cancer, my mom was a member of this group of cancer survivors called Bosom Buddies. They were part of this giant group that is funded by the American Cancer Society, that’s called Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. It became something that I became very interested in. When I was going through what was happening with my mom, I also became a mentor for other kids my age and younger, who were in a situation (better, same, or worse) than I was in. I was helping people in vocalizing, being a friend, talking to them on the phone, or being pen-pals. It was sort of therapy for me.

When my mom, in about May 2009, was in hospice and weeks away from death – she told me that she wanted me to, in some way, shape, or form, continue her work with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. So my cousin and I bought a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle – I’m also a car and airplane mechanic. We decided to restore this car and paint it pink and white…then auction it off for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and it sort of blew-up. Channel 10, Channel 7, Channel 4…all the stations covered the car. It was a big deal. It lead the Walk for the Cure. My mom passed in October of that year, and I drove the car in front of 10s of thousands of people leading the walk that they do in downtown Miami. They shut down all the streets, so me and this car and my mother’s memory were the only things going down the street. There were newspeople on the street – it was a big deal…it was just me in this car – my mom had already passed. It was very emotional for me.

A couple years later…I had to take a break. But in 2011, two years after she passed, I started this thing called Marageddon. It’s a festival that Silenmara hosts in Miami once a year. It was a hit – it did really well, and we drew a lot of people. So after a couple years of doing Marageddon, I decided to…since I don’t have the time and money to build another car, I decided to get the band involved with Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. But what’s the last thing a bunch of cancer survivors want to hear about? Death metal right? I had to figure out how to get it to work, so I said that if there could be a ‘walk for the cure,’ why couldn’t I do a ‘shred for the cure’ thing? We just got a bunch of death metal bands together, and the lightbulb went off…Marageddon. So we made Marageddon a non-profit, and every dime that we get is donated to Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

Last year, we kicked off #shredforthecure and it was awesome! We made a couple thousand dollars at the door – the #shredforthecure went completely crazy. I think the whole thing did well over $200,000 in donations. It was incredible! This year, we did it again in 2017 [October], so we did Marageddon III, and this time Making Strides Against Breast Cancer handed us over to American Cancer Society, which is the big dog. So they put us on the same team as the Miami Marlins. So #shredforthecure was on the same bracket as a national baseball team. It was awesome – we donated a shit ton of money.

People are starting to really latch on to the #shredforthecure thing. It’s a big feather in my cap. I’m doing what I love, and I’m still maintaining my mother’s legacy. I’m doing something for her memory. #shredfothecure is something very near and dear to Silenmara. Our bass player, Boris [Gomez], during our tracking, was notified that his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s near and dear to his heart to. It’s something we are 100% vested in. What else can we do but try?

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