Interview with Oscar Sparbel and Christine Davis| By Brandon Ringo
Over the past three years, since the release of their Relapse Records debut Possession, the winds of change have been blowing mightily for the Pacific Northwest’s Christian Mistress. Despite gaining an increasingly huge audience for their amazing throwback style of heavy metal, the band have endured quite a few setbacks including lineup changes and album artwork theft by Kanye West. However, they have come out the other end unscathed. On To Your Death—their second album with Relapse, released on Sept. 18—the band’s sound is as vibrant, focused, and heavy as it’s ever been.
What was the band’s mindset going into the songwriting process for To Your Death?
OS: The writing didn’t really start until October 2013 when [bassist] Jonny [Wulf] and I decided to move up to Seattle to play with Eric Wallace and Aaron O’Neil. Around that time, I was working on the first draft of “Neon.” Being in Seattle kind of changed the tone and set up a different vibe for us. As a whole, we’re just rolling with the punches and getting inspiration as we go. Although I had ideas and direction for where this record could go and how we should approach it, I also understood that people and things change constantly, including members. [Drummer] Reuben Storey and [guitarist] Tim Diedrich, who joined at the end of the process, helped clean this record up. We had to leave a lot of wiggle room this time to adapt and make a record that tells a story or is a document of what we lived though.
The album seems both more upbeat and heavier than Possession. Did you have a particular sound in mind?
OS: Yes, we had a deliberate sound and or idea for each song. I also kept in mind how we played the songs together and how our playing influences each other. Christine’s lyrics and vocals help shaped some of the ideas of where the songs would go. If the song called for upbeat, we’d go with the flow, and at times, it called for something heavier. I felt the songs being diverse was a good thing.
With this being your second album on Relapse, did you feel pressure to top the first album?
OS: I wasn’t trying to top the previous records, but more or less move on and move forward to the future. I wanted to break bad habits the best I could. The real challenge was trying to live through making this record. I moved to two different cities, and we changed our players a couple times, so trying to top the last record wasn’t even on the radar. I just wanted to be in the studio finishing up the recording at so many points. I guess I really liked the new songs we were making, so I stuck to it. Relapse was awesome through all this. They made us feel comfortable and didn’t pressure us at all. They weren’t worried about deadlines or any of the other bullshit that can really ruin the vibe. I feel we were on the same page and just wanted to put out a good record.
Where did the idea for To Your Death’s album art come from? Did Kanye’s appropriation of your signature symbol change the art’s direction?
OS: Yes, this record will not become a free ad. CD: To Your Death has an illustration by Pedro Felipe, who is an amazing artist. The pentagon shape—which holds the pentagram, of course—shows the fall of Lucifer, a theme of the song “Eclipse.” However, “To Your Death”—or “TYD”—is the name of the bonus track we recorded in the studio, which has a separate idea and music path behind it than all the other songs on the new record. That track is available in a limited flexi with the vinyl LP.
Are you still angry about the situation with Kanye, or was it worth the increased exposure?
OS: I actually laughed when I first heard about it. The whole thing seemed ridiculous. I’d say it was mildly irritating rather than angering. The Internet press blew it way out of proportion. They ran out of mind-numbing things to write about, so I guess it was a bit of hot gossip for a moment. I feel like the exposure was not helpful, but more damaging to both parties. They tried to make us look stupid for doing something we have been doing since the start of this band in 2008. All the arguments I read about this were benign. It really just makes me think that nothing has changed since high school. You have this popular kid with money who does something kind of shitty to you, and you’re the poor metal kid who gets made fun of for it. It’s a lose-lose situation.