Runescarred – Minor ProgressionsTuesday, 24th March 2020
For Texas act Runescarred, they’ve established a diverse sound rather quickly since their inception in 2017. Releasing a three-song EP in 2018 with We Are, the group eventually expanded to the current five-piece incarnation for the full-length follow-up The Distant Infinite. Describing or classifying their sound is not easy – equal parts thrash, power, progressive rock, and even modern/groove elements enter the sound, with melody, hooks, and harmonies very important song to song. The sky is the limit, pooling influences from the 80’s, 90’s and current times.
We reached out to vocalist Ven Scott one afternoon, and he was happy to provide some inner thoughts on the group. We tackle the formation, the recordings, thoughts on live performances, challenges regarding their new band status, and great thoughts about metal elitism and education to make the world a better place.
Dead Rhetoric: Runescarred started in 2017 out of the ashes of two other bands, Dead Earth Politics and Southern Front. Tell us how everyone was able to come together – and did you know right away the style you wanted to go for in this new act, or was there a feeling out process to arrive at what you developed?
Ven Scott: First a quick clarification – the only pile of ashes in that is DEP. Southern Front is still functional – drummer Payton (Holekamp) has been working with Zak and the other guys on new material. Not to plug another band, but I just wanted to make sure that was clear.
How this came about… essentially we had announced the departure of our drummer of Dead Earth Politics. When we announced that Payton asked if he could jam with us to fill that particular void. Of course at that time he didn’t know that we were basically going to rebrand the entire sonic direction and it was completely parallel with all of these decisions. Tim (Driscoll) and Aaron who is the other guitarist, they realized the EP was reaching a ceiling. We had pigeonholed ourselves and the most successful stuff we had out there was power metally-ish with elements of thrash in there, the material centered around wizards and dragons and stuff like that. I still wave my nerd flag really high, but we were starting to also musically go into a territory that some of us couldn’t necessarily progress with as far as instrumentalists.
We had an idea of where we wanted to go when Tim and I started things. Aaron started his own company with his wife so he had to bow out. We did have a framework at the very least, and then when Payton came in, right off the bat he brought an element we weren’t expecting. He and Tim started forming what I think is still the fledgling sound, the target blend of the genres that we are pursuing.
Dead Rhetoric: Your debut EP We Are hit the streets in 2018. What are your thoughts on this three-song recording – do you believe it achieved what you wanted as far as getting the name out there and establishing yourselves to build a following and perform live?
Scott: I was surprised by how above and beyond it actually functioned. Not only as a means to say that we are still here, Tim and myself and Payton joining our ranks, but also to get the new brand out and music out. For a three-song EP it really achieved a ton (of attention). Overseas acclaim, everybody who bought it loved it and sometimes bought a couple (copies) so they could pass them around for us. We started gathering not necessarily fans but gathering friends, people who believed in not only the art but us as human beings. Having a burgeoning street team that all came out of the gates from having a really strong EP that was only 15 minutes long.
Dead Rhetoric: The Distant Infinite is the band’s follow-up full-length. Where do you see the development of the band on this material compared to the EP? What surprises, obstacles, frustrations, or insights took place during the recording and songwriting process until the final outcome?
Scott: Oh yeah, absolutely. All of those things that you said. Where I see the development, We Are was written as a three-piece with Tim, Payton and I. Tim recording all guitars, me recording all the vocals, Tim recording the harmonies and also on bass. What you see between We Are leading up to The Distant Infinite is finally a complete package. We all knew we were going to have more members. The Distant Infinite is the culmination of finally getting people like (bassist) Josh (Robins) and (second guitarist) Skunk (Manhattan) in, and working… Tim leads the charge with the music. But he’s not like Dave Mustaine, he may be brilliant, but he doesn’t have this iron fist, he is very collaborative unless you run into a wall then he’s not going to budge on something.
This is what I consider a full Runescarred. I still feel like we are still in our beginning stages. I don’t believe this album is mature – I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. I’m extremely proud of the album, but I still think we have a long way to go. It’s exciting to me and I hope it’s exciting to people who care about us and who follow us.
Frustrations, surprises, most definitely. The biggest surprise to me on there is how different every track is, but the album still feels cohesive. It’s not cohesive in the way a lot of people have grown used to. A lot of people think cohesion is an album sounding a certain way. To me I find cohesion in the telling of a story. It’s something I can’t get away from because I write screenplays and that’s how I base everything. Both sonically and in the tone of the songs we go from an opener into an act one where we are setting everything up. And we go into an act two, where there’s self-reflection, sadness, and sorrow – then we have act three where we come to an ending and satisfying resolve, going forward no matter what. I was personally surprised by how this kind of wrote itself. We didn’t have any money doing this, but my brother James who plays guitar in Hemlock, he’s done all of our recordings so far always on a shoestring budget. He cares so much about what he does and what we do, every recording he does sounds on par with some of the best recordings with some of the biggest metal bands out there. The trials and tribulations are all there.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you want to come across with your lyrical content for Runescarred? Do you use personal experiences as fuel for topics, or social/political insights from books, television, the media as inspiration?
Scott: Oh yeah, all of the above. It just depends on the song, and where we are going with the music. Sometimes I have some lyrics written in full or written in part before – songs like “Mammoth” will be bred of the music itself and how the music makes me feel. I strayed away from uber-political statements for the most part, but as far as social-political commentary, “Hexit” and “Minor Progressions” are the closest ones where you can see … “Hexit” discusses social hypocrisy as seen on the internet and social platforms, and “Minor Progressions” being that turning a blind eye to that sort of thing because it doesn’t fit my sort of narrative. Everything else, it comes from usually the internal place. “Sorrow Is” is a reflection of how I consistently see action and reaction yielding the same thing over and over again. Vengeance yields vengeance, and an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind for some reason. They come from all over the place, but lately it’s been an internal sort of thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Considering your music crosses many different spectrums of progressive, rock, and metal genres – how do you know when something is quintessential Runescarred? Do you think the diversity helps alleviate any chance of stagnation or boredom for yourselves as well as the listeners?
Scott: Absolutely – diversity is going to be the cornerstone and every other stone of import to our writing process. I don’t know if we’ve written enough yet to really say something is quintessentially Runescarred. We are still a relatively young band. I can tell you when something is quintessentially Tim or Payton, but I think the fact that we are still growing it’s safe for me to dog ear that question and visit that in two releases from now.
Honestly it’s my hope that we really don’t ever find ourselves in a corner. Not that that means we wouldn’t be growing anymore, but I think not being quintessential is quintessentially Runescarred at this point. We’ll see.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you describe Runescarred when it comes to your live performances? What do you hope the listeners and viewers take away from a show, and what have been some of your more memorable performances to date?
Scott: I hope that everybody takes away at any of our live performances the feeling that we love what we do and we love everybody that’s there. We treat a club with the capacity of twenty like it’s Budokan. We are not that band that just stands around, we aren’t so proggy that we have to focus on every single note but we are not also a brutal band that makes angry faces and gets upset when something doesn’t go right on stage. We get annoyed, but we are just a bunch of goofy idiots who get up there and like to have fun and get the audience involved. We make fun of ourselves – I remember a show when we played with Evergrey, I pulled the mic stand right into my face. Right in the head with the microphone, good times – for some people that may throw them off their game, but stupid shit is par for the course. It’s just a matter of having more of a rock and roll ethic than a heavy metal ethic. That carries over from DEP times ten.
Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been releasing your music on a DIY/independent basis from the start. Do you enjoy this level of freedom not being beholden to a record deal which may want to influence a certain direction on the band – or what would it take for the band to sign to a label?
Scott: The last one is being distributed through The Label Group, so even though we are not signed so to speak and still financing and pushing everything ourselves- we are going through them and it helps broaden our audience and they are giving their support. Without ever being a part of a label that actually does what a label is supposed to do, it’s hard for me to answer that question. At face value, I’d say I enjoy having all the artistic control over my product and not having some cigar sucking fat cat tell me what to do. At the same time, if I were to work with a like-minded cigar sucking fat cat, it may be a completely different story. Going back to the question of what is quintessential Runescarred, we wouldn’t have the ability to explore what that means if we were signed to a huge label. Between you and me and anybody else who reads this, I hope we have the chance to find that out. I would entertain the right label deal when that fits us and it’s beneficial business-wise for them.
Dead Rhetoric: How would you assess the band’s career over the past three years – and what do you see currently as the greatest challenges or obstacles to overcome to move up the ranks?
Scott: The band in general, I would say as a band and a unit, us working together as a relationship, this past year has been the first year we’ve all been 100% comfortable with our positions and roles within the band. You go through that honeymoon period where everybody is exciting, and then one guy is a little dick when it comes to this, and one guy is a little lazy when it comes to that. Personal frustrations arise from that. This year I think has been, and it shows in the music, there is a definitive point where we went from a brand-new band to we have experienced stuff.
Greatest challenges and obstacles relate to getting out there more often. Even though we have full-time jobs we all have the ability for two-week and three-week tours. We also don’t want to do the same thing we’ve done before in previous bands, which is throwing shit at the wind, going out as an unsupported main act to people that have never heard of us before. Yeah, we know how to do Facebook ads and go about it buying advertisements announcing our arrival – but you still have to have a modicum of interest take hold. Getting proper tour support and hopping onto bills and getting an agent that recognizes your value, gets you into markets that maybe you’ll make new fans and won’t lose gas money on. That normal struggle is still there and that’s the biggest thing we are fighting. Socially, I feel like Texas is recognizing we are here at a local level but getting onto other markets and not having to mortgage our homes to do so, that’s the biggest wall.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you tell us about your company Indignant Dog Films and the unique short films that you have been making?
Scott: Indignant Dog Films (website) was officially launched earlier this year between Tracee Beebe, Brandon Torres, and myself. Tracee and I started it in April or May, and then Brandon signed on with us. About two years ago or so, when my wife and I moved out to Llano, Texas from Austin I decided that I was going to get back into the film business. I shot Date from Hell, a short horror flick and that’s how I met Brandon, and through Brandon I met Tracee. We all had worked together on various projects and loved working with each other plus shared a passion for films. We decided to do Indignant Dog Films to write and develop short horror films that we can then pitch after they are developed and develop some social traction to various studio executives with whom we have relationships. We are not sticking to just genre films, we are also in development for a couple of feature films that aren’t horror. That is about where we are – we are in post-production for two short films that we produced over the last several months and we will be going to Los Angeles to pitch to a couple of studios. Exciting times.
Dead Rhetoric: What would you consider three of the most important albums that shape your views on heavy metal – and what is your favorite concert memory purely from a fan perspective?
Scott: Three albums are tough. Queensrÿche – Empire, because that’s the first heavier album I was introduced to. Whether it’s metal or not is arguable, depending on who you are talking to. Then Metallica – Master of Puppets. The third album I’d have to be flexible on that, but if I were to say anything right now, I’d say Devin Townsend – Empath. Especially for what I target for myself right now. It’s heavy, it’s weird, it doesn’t always make sense and it doesn’t care.
I would say the very first Iron Maiden concert I ever saw. Which was late in my life, it was on their Somewhere Back in Time tour. It ruined every other concert for me.
Dead Rhetoric: If you had unlimited resources to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world today, what area(s) would you concentrate on to make things better for the current and hopefully future generations to treasure and appreciate?
Scott: Oh man, that’s a real deep question that I was not ready for. I think education is the biggest thing. And when I say education, I don’t necessarily mean state-funded education. I think most of what we run into is bred out of ignorance. It’s a lack of critical thought. We can treat the symptoms, but I honestly think that in the information age, ironically we have more information, less critical thought and knowledge. If we can re-learn how to have a conversation, and listen – not just talk to respond and wait for the other guy to finish his point so I can tell him he’s wrong, listen to learn and speak to educate, I think about 50% of our world’s issues would be taken care of, right there.
Understanding begets empathy, and empathy begets growth. How would I do that? Even if we had the funds, I don’t necessarily know how we would go about doing that. You can’t legislate thought, you can’t legislate emotion. Unfortunately, we have a lot of elements, be they political or religious, that play on emotion and that’s why people vote, react, and teach their kids on feels rather than on understanding.
Dead Rhetoric: I think a lot of younger people want to be spoon-fed ideas rather than taking in information and using critical thought or empathy. Education and school systems are having a tough time working with this…
Scott: And neither are parents. And this is speaking in generalizations. I see it from boomers, Gen-X, millennials. All the fighting because people want to be right. People are scared of being wrong. I was like that until several years ago. There’s a point… I’m avidly against music and metal when it comes to elitism. That’s not metal enough… I love all the hate on Ghost. I don’t think their metal, but I love all the neckbeards get really pissed off at the metalheads with the Ghost shirts.
Dead Rhetoric: Metal elitism is a real problem. Why do you have to fit a certain category, why are certain things acceptable and other things are not?
Scott: Harken back to a couple of questions ago, when we write, none of this ever comes up. When I was in bands when I was 16 or 17 growing up, if you didn’t have long hair, if you didn’t wear skulls on your shirt, or perform in drop D tuning you weren’t metal. Once I got out of that – I started discovering music that I love. Stepping outside that box and looking at my people, my community, and seeing what’s wrong with that. It’s more metal to step away from what you would consider metal and try something completely different. That’s what metal was originally all about, right? Being away from those parameters and stepping away from a societal expectation. Now you require me to adhere to your expectation? Fuck you!
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months for Runescarred as far as promotion of the new record, videos, live shows, touring, etc.?
Scott: We’ve got a couple of shows coming up in Symphony X in June in Austin, we will be playing with Firewind and Primal Fear also. I’m going to be connecting with Skunk and we will be laying out a two to three-week tour in May, I think we are going to aim for the West Coast. I would like to put another two to three-week tour together in the summer going out to the East Coast. I always loved going out that way with DEP, but that will be pretty much hopping out of Texas unless we make nice with a tour agent and who will put us on support for another band that’s better known. We are doing well, but I don’t pretend like we are the biggest band out there or expect everybody to know who we are. So if we can jump on somebody’s coattails, that’s great.