On an off day in between shows in Chico, California—coincidentally where the band was first formed—Donovan Melero, singer of Hail the Sun, took the time to speak to New Noise about his musical beginnings, the band’s newest album Divine Inner Tension, and much more.
Melero’s love for music began at a very young age when his parents bought him a drum set at the age of six. His brother wanted someone to jam with him, so the two—eight years of age apart—started playing with each other. “My parents, bless their hearts,” he laughs. Around the same time, Melero picked up singing, entering talent shows and performing around the town in which he grew up.
Melero met Aric Garcia, guitarist of Hail the Sun, in the sixth grade—a friendship that’s lasted over twenty years and is still going strong. From punk, to metalcore, and even death metal, the duo dabbled in many different genres before eventually settling on post-hardcore. Hail the Sun didn’t come into play until 2007 when Melero and Garcia graduated high school. However, the band fully solidified in 2008 when the two met Shane Gann and John Stirrat at college in Chico, CA. From there, the rest is history.
Now, the band recently released their sixth full-length record Divine Inner Tension, tackling tricky topics like the Church’s sex abuse scandals (“Tithe”), true-crime (“Under the Floor”), and much more. When asked why the band felt moved to write a song about the child sex-abuse scandals of the Church, Melero stresses the band’s fascination with the corruption of power. He says, “It’s fascinating how [they] are able to justify the abuse in their own ways. There are very intelligent leaders out there who, I would say, objectively abuse their power. Religion has unfortunately frequently been used in this type of way.”
As an example, Melero brings up Warren Jeffs. “He was the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church). He was able to convince his followers that he was essentially God, or at least a prophet,” Melero says, “He just did really awful things, like egregious sex crimes and stuff of that nature.” Unfortunately, that’s not the first time something like this has occurred. One day, Melero watched a documentary about Jeffs, saying that it’s both “Disgusting and heart-wrenching to see that someone is capable of doing such horrible acts, masking it as the word of God.”
Melero doesn’t have an official stance on religion, and he doesn’t practice himself. “I’m not at all against religion. It’s a way for humans to try and be the best humans they can be, and I can get behind something like that. But it’s also used as a mask for those who know how to use it to manipulate the masses and to hide crimes. If you can convince people that you are the word of God, you can never be wrong. That is one of the themes of the song, along with the idea of religion being a business.”
He sums it up best by saying that a business will do anything to misgivings that might reflect poorly on the Church. “When you have an entity making so much money or such an impact—like having such a strong hold and foundation in people’s lives—I think they’ll go to great lengths to hide any mishandlings or activity that would very poorly reflect the church.”
In the same sense, “Under the Floor” endeavors to combat the troubling nature of true crime by choosing to focus solely on the victims, rather than the perpetrators of the heinous crimes that so many TV shows and films glorify. Melero saw a documentary about John Wayne Gacy Jr. advertise on a streaming app and noticed that the murderer was trending on social media.
“He needed to be loved, and he exerted some kind of power over his victims. From my perspective, he wanted to be their god. That just stuck with me. One of the early demos I had featured that line, so I worked around it. Those lines are the only lines in the whole song that he is speaking. The rest of the song is entirely from the perspective of a deceased victim, warning all these new people entering Gacy’s house.”
This record also marks the first time Melero hasn’t tracked the drums for a Hail the Sun release. Touring—and now studio—drummer Allen Casillas has taken over for Melero. “It was a little tough at first to relinquish those reins,” he says with a laugh,” Allen is such an incredibly capable drummer and he knows our style so well.” For the first time, this allowed Melero to be in the control room with the rest of the band, hearing the drums tracked in real time. “I could see the bigger picture,” Melero says.
As for the rest of the year, the band plans to announce more tour dates soon, including some stops outside of the U.S.—though the bulk will be in the coming year. Melero also teased the long-awaited fifth issue of his magazine KIll Iconic, which he began in the height of the pandemic as a way of helping to keep the music industry alive.
Since everything has picked up again, Melero says that it’s been difficult to find the time to work on the upcoming issues. Originally, Melero would write 90% of each issue, but more recently he hired a team to help him, along with the launch of Kill Iconic Records. He hopes to release the newest issue by the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of Erin Marhefka.