No one was more surprised by the reaction to ‘Doom’ than Job For A Cowboy
Vocalist Jonny Davy discusses the debut EP's 15th anniversary.December 7, 2020
Fifteen years ago, Job For A Cowboy marked their arrival on the extreme-metal scene not with a bang but with a squeal. The Doom EP was a breakdown-laden statement, and extreme music would never be the same—for better or worse.
And you better believe that everyone had their opinion on that, something that was easily determined by their friendship status on Myspace. The social-networking platform really propped up the Arizona deathcore-gone-death metallers.
Critics simultaneously praised the brutal release for its extremity and denounced it. This pigeonholed Job For A Cowboy as eternal posers and vocalist Jonny Davy as their pig-squealing sheriff.
They’d quickly shift sounds toward modern death metal (and subsequently increase the technicality). They evolved album to album with more concern for appeasing their thirst for evolution than any fans they’d leave in the dust. As far as the detractors? About the only cowboy who passes in death metal is Morbid Angel‘s David Vincent (OK, and Eric Wagner, aka The Dark Cowboy from fellow Arizonians Gatecreeper). The band would spend their entire career slogging it uphill while getting pelted with tomatoes from the top of the death-metal heap.
In 2014, they unleashed progressive death-metal monolith Sun Eater, eschewing speed and labyrinthine vocal patterns in favor of a moody atmosphere. Their rise stopped there, however, as they would play a single festival show and go into hiding. Now, six years later, they’re ready to continue their ascent—those tomatoes are all rotten by now, anyway—with their impending fifth album. Davy, now 33, digs into the release, the break and especially the place from which they came: their genre-defining EP Doom. And no, he doesn’t remember where that girl-screaming sample in “Entombment Of A Machine” came from.
Job For A Cowboy would have taken up more than half your life now, right?
God, that’s terrifying to think about. I was 15 or 16. We started off just playing in our parents’ garages and playing as many local shows as possible—kind of a weekend warrior situation in between school and whatnot. For whatever reason, we posted some songs on the Internet, and it blew up.
It’s weird to think about in hindsight because maybe half of us were deep in thinking we were going to college; this was just a fun little gig. However, once this bloomed and blossomed into this weird beast, [we were like], “Hey, let’s just go on forward and keep having fun with it.” It just kept snowballing and snowballing. And now, many records later and wrapping up another one, it’s just crazy that I’m still doing the same thing I was when I was 15 years old. It just seems strange, still, in hindsight. It’s kind of your baby, so you keep molding it to what you want it to be for many, many years.
You were so young during the creation of Doom. Was there anything you did during that process you’ve since learned is super unorthodox or not normal?
Nothing really unusual. It’s kind of the generic story you typically hear when a bunch of kids start a band. I remember when we first started recording the Doom EP, we didn’t know how much it would cost. We were in the middle of recording and realized we didn’t have enough money to pay for it. There were situations like that when you’re young, and you don’t really understand the full spectrum of money and the business of it. I remember being in the studio with the guys, and we’re just trying to figure out what to do. I think we ended up playing a bunch of random shows to make up the money for it.
Hell yeah. It came out on a local label [King of The Monsters] and then on Metal Blade. You guys were kind of—victims is the wrong word because you weren’t victims; you were beneficiaries of the online hype of Myspace. When did that start taking off?
I think we released a “Knee Deep” demo before Doom, and that’s when it really started picking up. I think I was about 17. You bring up the “victims” thing, and we obviously got a lot of backlash back then, especially from the death-metal community, which was interesting to say the least: being a 17-year-old and seeing all of that thrown at you. I was digging into the internet nonstop and reading all the things people were saying.
Even at live shows, we saw it because we started off, like Animosity, playing in the hardcore scene. There wasn’t much of a death-metal scene in Arizona, or at least it wasn’t as prevalent as [it was as] we got more established. With death metal, there’s such an elitist mindset around it because fans want to be protective. It’s maybe not as bad now. It’s just crazy looking back at all that.
So you were saying it was rough going on the internet and seeing people saying that you guys were ruining X, Y or Z?
We were posers! We were the biggest posers in the world. That’s what we were. It’s just weird. I was such a huge fan of that genre of music. It sounds silly, but I think one of the first records I ever bought with my own money was Nile‘s Amongst The Catacombs Of Nephren-Ka around 1998, and when I first listened to it, I did not understand it because I was so young.
That opened the door for a lot of stuff as I got older. I was listening to so much stuff when I was 17. I was just trying to open as many doors as possible. It’s just strange getting that much negative feedback online, but it is what it is. I get it. I mean, we still get it today. We still have this perception of [being] a Myspace band. I guess a lot of people never gave us a chance. We got a stupid name that we got stuck with, so I understand it’s hard to take serious at times. I guess it just comes down to when the band started, we never took it that seriously because we never thought it would get to the heights that it did.
After the Doom EP, the sound shifted for Genesis. Was any of that resultant of the vitriol that you were receiving from the death-metal community? Did you feel like you had to prove that you could be a real death-metal band?
We didn’t have any real intent to change. I think our first couple of tours naturally influenced the change. We did a run with Necrophagist, just the ultimate, respected band at that time , we did a big run with Cattle Decapitation and Animosity. We wrote the Doom EP when we were 16 years old, so think of how different you are when you’re 16 to 18/19. A lot of stuff changes, especially musically. In the end, I think it was a pretty natural progression. Even with that said, when we released that—going back to the backlash—that didn’t seem to help, either. It almost seemed to make things worse. We just couldn’t win. It was humorous when we look back at it.
Your vocal approach also shifted from pig squeal to more typical death-metal growls. The naysayers latched onto the former, which felt weird because it’s a staple in brutal death metal. Why go for that as the low hanging fruit?
It became such a hot commodity at that point and trendy for so many bands. At the time when we released Genesis, I just didn’t want to become pigeonholed where everyone just thinks of me as that, which they still do of course. So many bands in the deathcore genre, even a lot of death metal, started incorporating that a lot more. You know that Homer Simpson GIF where he slowly backs away into the bushes? That’s what I felt like when we put out Genesis.
I’ve spoken with some bands in the past who purposefully changed their sound, like Counterparts when they started to avoid breakdowns—even when they made perfect sense—to fit in more with the then-trendy “melodic hardcore” sound. For you, it wasn’t necessarily a resistance to those elements like breakdowns and pig squeals as much as a desire to grow. Is that fair to say?
Maybe we purposefully eschewed them a little. I think we all have the same philosophy that it just seems like an easy way out in the songwriting process. That might sound silly because obviously there are tons of great and amazing, fun-to-listen-to breakdowns. We just wanted to try to be different because obviously if you listen to the Doom EP, there’s a damn breakdown probably every 20-30 seconds of every song. After that, we consciously tried to avoid it, but it wasn’t for any reason other than we wanted to challenge ourselves a bit more.
We’re 15 years removed from Doom, and Metal Blade recently re-released it. It seems like you must have a complicated relationship with it. It’s not the music you like anymore, but it really launched your career and solidified you in some ways that you couldn’t really shake. At the same time, it must be crazy to be part of something that was such a pendulum swing in extreme music. How has your perception of that release changed over the years?
We were really young when we wrote it. I wrote a lot of that myself on guitar over a few months with one of our original guitarists, Andrew Arcurio, just at his mom’s house. My perception of it now is that it doesn’t hold up very well in my honest opinion. However, I’m not ashamed of it. I get that a lot of people still like it and a lot of people dislike it. I just look at the band as having different eras because our music has changed steadily over our career. We had our modern death-metal phase and our technical death-metal phase, and now we’re floating in this little, slight progressive tech-death thing we’ve evolved into. I don’t think we’ll ever release the same record twice.
It’s not a knock on bands that found their formula. I think the perfect example is the Black Dahlia Murder. Everyone knows what they sound like. Everyone knows who they are. They have a sound, and they stick with it, and it’s great. They figured it out. I think with us, we like to try new things. We don’t want to get bored.
I don’t want you to only tread on nostalgia here, so it makes sense, especially given you’re wrapping up the next album, to ask about it. What can you tell us about that?
Speaking of nostalgia, it’s funny you bring that up because despite us making a conscious effort to evolve the band, we’ve been asked so many times to do a Doom tour. We just keep refusing it over and over again. Back to the new album, I wish I had more news about it. The drums are done. However, our guitarist Tony Sannicandro currently lives in Ireland and is in medical school. We’ve been trying to get him down to America, and it hasn’t been working out because of COVID. We’ve had to put it a little bit longer on hold than we would have hoped, but it gives us a little bit more time to overanalyze it [and] nitpick the hell out of it, so we’re not too bummed and concerned.
Navene Koperweis, from Animosity and currently the mastermind behind Entheos, played drums on it. He’s an amazing drummer. He’s just a really good old friend, and we’ve worked together on Fleshwrought, which I guess you could call a solo project because he did everything on that except the singing, which I did. Thematically, the new album is the sequel to Sun Eater. That’s as far as I can go with it. Musically, I’d say it’s following the trend of evolving.
This is another tangent, and it’s less related to the evolution from Doom to Sun Eater and more related to the current world that we are living in. The lyrical themes of Genesis with the VeriChip, implanted to identify people, surveil, do away with money, track everything, which is all oddly prescient now. Social media has become extra prevalent and dystopian. I don’t think anybody could have predicted it back on Myspace where it was about friends and music. Now it’s all about selling your data. There are wild conspiracy theories I’ve seen that say COVID-19 is a plot to do away with money so the government can track you and the vaccine is going to also microchip people. How has your thought process changed? You predicted the future!
Wow, you know about all that, huh? I never hear from many people that dig into the lyrics from that record. It’s interesting how all of these ideas have been talked about for well over a decade now seem to actually be coming into fruition. I think it’s almost inevitable that a lot of these ideas will happen. It’s not necessarily microchipping, but it’s almost not necessary due to the fact that everyone has smartphones. With so many oddities and weirdness with all this happening right now, it’s hard to know who and what to believe. I think you’ve just got to be as level-headed and reasonable as possible and not go all crazy conspiracy theorist with all this nonsense going on. There are a lot of interesting coincidences, that’s for sure.
Fair enough. I have one last question, and it’s a goofy one. Have you heard from Demi Lovato? Did she ever make contact? She spoke about you guys so often in the press. Did you ever speak with her?
No. I’ve been asked that before. That was super odd, seeing her bring us up on mainstream, whatever news channels and I think talk shows. I heard she went to one of our shows once very early in our existence. I don’t know. It’s just odd.
I had a lot of fun talking to you, and if you have anything else you want to say, the floor is 100% yours.
Shoutouts? Well, you could check out my other side project with members of the Black Dahlia Murder and Deeds Of Flesh: Serpent Of Gnosis. We are starting to write a second record for that, which might take a very long time, but it’ll be out one day. Hopefully it’ll come out after the Job For A Cowboy record. That’s pretty much all I have. It’s very interesting you brought up that Genesis lyrical stuff. It makes me all excited to write lyrics for this new record that we’ve got coming up. That’s a nice little fire under my ass to have, so I appreciate that.