Interview with guitarist Tyler Riley, drummer Jake Smelley, and bassist Caleb DeRusha | By Nicholas Senior | Photos by Alex Bemis
Given the title of their incredible, feisty new album, Out of Control, out Oct. 11 via Equal Vision Records, one would be forgiven for thinking Gideon have become truly unhinged all of a sudden. However, what’s most impressive and immediately noticeable about the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, band’s fifth album is how confident, vulnerable, and honest it is.
Out of Control feels like a version of Gideon that has been struggling under the surface for the last couple albums. It’s like they are being who they always wanted to be—they just didn’t know it yet. Behind the massive riffs, grooves for days, and drummer Jake Smelley’s tightest performance behind the kit to date are a band who privately and publicly wrestled with the very foundation of who they are and what Gideon can and should be to the world. It’s one thing to leave behind a musical influence—musical styles change all the time—but it’s an entirely different internal mountain to climb when a band’s entire identity is shaken and stirred.
Typically, within the first few words of anything written about Gideon, there’s a mention of “Christian metalcore.” However, that’s no longer an appropriate classifier for a band who have struggled to internally and collectively define themselves. Sure, bands lose their religion all the time, but few Christian bands from the South—named after a biblical character, no less—are able to emerge from the change with so much positivity.
That’s what’s most laudable about Out of Control. Gideon, a band so closely identified with pushing people to be better, more honest versions of themselves, have only doubled down on that motive after leaving religion behind. The album isn’t a middle finger to Christianity, it’s a statement of hope for a new, different future. It’s also a bold redefinition of Gideon’s core values: honesty, determination, and a fucking boatload of aggression. Yet, Out of Control is also a damn blast to listen to, and it’s clear that the band are in a much better place creatively and personally.
Guitarist Tyler Riley laughs that he’s found himself on the other side for once—before, he and his bandmates were upset when bands abandoned their religion. Now, he has empathy for both sides of the issue.
“Whenever certain bands changed the way they felt about things, I [didn’t understand where they were coming from], and I couldn’t relate to the bands, but I understand the sentiment toward the crazy backlash,” he says. “That’s one of the weirdest parts about this is that we knew [people] were going to say this or that, because we said that before. It’s a different situation; it’s not about turning our backs or giving up. It’s about attempting to be happy being yourself.”
Was this change in belief a gradual process for Riley? When did it click for Gideon that a new era was necessary?
“It was definitely a gradual thing where we were kind of internally more and more OK with being honest to each other with stuff, and eventually, it led to us being who we want to be in person to people,” Riley says. “We started straying away from certain shows where we knew we were going to have to deal with this conversation. More and more, we slowly phased out playing Christian festivals and things like that. We didn’t feel comfortable doing things like that until we were ready. We had to form our own identity.”
“We didn’t want to be vague toward anyone,” Smelley concurs, “so when we got those offers to play those festivals, we knew they expected us to preach and stuff, and we realized it just felt weird.”
“We all just started feeling weird about it,” he continues. “It wasn’t like, ‘We’re not even Christians. Should we really do this?’ It was more that we don’t want to talk about it, because we don’t really know where we’re at right now. We’re not going to pump this out onstage when I’m still struggling to figure it out in my own head.”
Gideon’s characteristic honesty clearly led to some awkward moments, but it was within that discomfort that the band grew closer than ever.
“I can remember having talks with each of the dudes,” Riley states. “I especially remember a time when [vocalist] Daniel [McWhorter] and I were downstairs at a venue, and both of us opened up to each other for the first time. He was like, ‘What do you think about all this?’ We just shared our points of view and where we were coming from. That’s been the best thing through all of this, having each other’s backs. When you go through something like this, when you’re questioning everything you grew up with, it’s good to have your brothers there to know you’re all going through the same thing together. Whenever you receive backlash or people not understanding where you’re coming from, it’s good to know we hold each other up. We’ve had each other through all of this. It’s like a team-building thing, you know?” he laughs.
A big reason people choose to be religious as adults, rather than being forced to as kids, is that sense of community, belonging, the ability to be a better version of oneself. Gideon have built their own community, outside the shadow of the cross. It’s apropos, as Gideon is more than just a biblical figure—the name is Hebrew for “feller” or “hewer,” one who fells colossal obstacles or hews inflexible materials into useful or beautiful forms. With Out of Control, Gideon have done both.
So, what are the tenets of their new way of life? What are they proud to stand for and promote?
“The biggest thing we’re standing up for,” Riley answers, “is in these small towns, in these rural places, it’s easy to just get stuck in this bubble and wake up every day and not question who you are and really push yourself to find that out. The boundaries are already set for you; the rules are already set for you. You’re basically told you’re not going to make it out of this place. That’s our biggest problem with where we come from. It’s really hard to jump out of the cage and really be yourself.”
“Our biggest thing,” he continues, “is just really reaching out to the people who feel that way, feel stuck in this cage or bubble and want to break out of that control. Anything that is holding you back from being your true self, you can’t let fear control that. The last few records spoke about fear and pain and trying to make it through. It really is a process. I want to let people know that you can do or be anything you want to be, and you can’t let people or where you’re from dictate who you are in this life. If you want something, you have to go get it. It’s all about tearing down fences and being as true to yourself as possible. It doesn’t mean you can’t embrace or love where you’re from, because, in a way, the pain and the stuff building from that upbringing, all the pressure is either going to create a diamond or you’ll turn out like the rest. We want people to keep pushing, keep fighting for what you want and who you are.”
Gideon have always stood for being comfortable in one’s own skin, and that is even more pronounced on Out of Control, especially as they take some clear musical risks. They pay off wonderfully, resulting in an album with immense replayability and immediacy. Plus, they fucking swear now!
“It is a more honest record,” Riley acknowledges. “When [bassist] Caleb [DeRusha] came to the table with all these crazy riffs and ideas for this album, it was so out of the box. It gave me the courage to speak my mind and be just as out of the box lyrically. It removed my boundaries as to what we can do, what’s OK for us to do, what people are going to think—it took all that away and left something with a sense of courage and honesty about it. We’re going to write this record to where it is completely us the entire way. We can’t look back and think we’ve held back.”
“There was a sense of new confidence,” he continues, “finding your new skin and getting comfortable in it. All of us work very hard jobs when we’re home, and there was a feeling of wanting to get out of here. Music is what we all want to do; it’s taken me so far already. If I am as honest as possible and push as hard as I can, what boundaries are there? It was finding personal boundaries as we went along. We tried to push past anything setting a boundary for us.”
“All of the songs portray different parts of this process,” Smelley adds, “different emotions along the way. Some of the songs are more vulnerable and more from what you’re internally thinking. Some are more when you’re the most frustrated and least rational. All of it has a place. It felt harsh, but were we going to lie and say we haven’t felt like telling people to leave [us] the fuck alone?”
“Then, there’s a song like ‘OUTLAW,’” Riley states, “about where we’re from and understanding that people don’t make it out of here to do great things. Just knowing that once you’ve broken out of this bubble, you feel completely confident knowing who you are [and] showing that confidence through a song—songs like ‘BITE DOWN,’ which is a song saying we’re not scared to go through pain.”
“We’ve been through enough already that we feel calloused to it,” he says, referencing the band’s 2014 full-length, Calloused. “Then, you go through [2017’s] Cold, where it’s about feeling numb to things and realizing what made me feel cold and numb. Out of Control is just about understanding it all and appreciating that it all built up to who you are now, that you have the courage to face anything, go out and get anything you want, so what’s the next thing?”
Now that the rules Gideon were brought up with have largely been left behind, was it easy for them to come up with new boundaries?
“We’re all at a good boundaries place,” Riley announces. “Looking at it from a human perspective, whenever you look at life from a different angle, you understand that this is a learning process at the same time. We’re just seeing where this takes us. We’re trying to see where this takes us while having each other’s backs. Music is the one thing that has never changed, and we all share this massive love for music and how powerful it is. It can make you feel things that other parts of life can’t. We’re so in love with what we do, and we want to be able to use it.”
“Not to get all weird about it,” Smelley interjects, “but we’re all artists in our own craft. We all worked really hard to get where we are and worked to express ourselves in our full potential. That’s how we connect with people and how we find ourselves. That’s been a big driving force behind all this: breaking out of our boundaries that we had set. There are things that we all love to do musically that we are good at that we weren’t able to implement, because we felt stuck in this box. It all worked together for the greater good of this album. We stretched ourselves to get to this album being done. We’re all happier about playing these songs and being able to get this off our chest. It really is still a process, and we’re all dealing with the backlash in our own ways—some worse than others.”
“I’m just thankful for this process,” DeRusha smiles. “Anytime you want to progress in life, anytime you want to achieve something great in life, there’s going to be a lot of struggle and pain, and you just have to overcome it.”
“A lot of people have it misconstrued,” Smelley concludes. “They will say we did this in order to gain and gain. It’s one of those things where this process has not been easy, people trying to assume what you believed your whole life. One thing Gideon has always done, and what made this record feel right, is that we’ve always been completely honest. You can see that going through the last two records; [they] explain where we got to now. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but we knew it was something we had to do.”