Spencer Charnas on what drives Ice Nine Kills to new heights—interview
Ice Nine Kills are the ultimate musical incarnation of a slasher flick. Their dedication to horror allows them to construct music that truly reflects the genre’s unique blend of tight concepts, explorations of the grotesque things lurking in our world and playful escapism. More than that, the band have found ways to do this creative worldbuilding without sacrificing a basic impulse to push the limits of rock music. The result is a style of music that is rich in concept as well as in musical scope, pulling from the wide musical spectrum to generate something wholly new. From the band’s ongoing tour, frontman Spencer Charnas reflected on their accomplishments in 2021, as well as the vision and the passion that keeps driving them to new heights year after year.
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2021 was such a tough year for everyone. I know a lot of artists found the year really stifling from a creative standpoint. However, INK seemed to really thrive in spite of it all. Where did you find the energy to move forward?
I think that given the circumstances of the pandemic, we really made the best possible use of our time. We are one of the fortunate bands that, when the pandemic rolled around, we were already basically done with the last album cycle. We’ve been touring on it for about two years, and it was time to start putting together the next record.
I live in Los Angeles now, and two of the guys, a couple of months into the pandemic, moved out in South L.A. We were able to set up a great working schedule where we would be writing and recording at least three or four days a week. Basically, from March 2020 all the way through when we wrapped up the final mixes of the record this past summer in June-July 2021. So, we really had a great year. Given everything that was going on with the world, we were just trying to make the best of it.
So you were able to keep focused in spite of COVID-19 and everything else going on?
Absolutely! The pandemic was obviously really tragic for so many reasons and definitely scary in the beginning. No one really knew how crazy it would get. But for writing a record, you don’t really need too much else other than some time, a computer and instruments. As I said, we were fortunate that we had been basically at the end of an album cycle with time to write a record. I’m a normal kind of guy that likes to spend an inordinate amount of time working on the music, lyrics and melodies. This really gave us an opportunity to be off the road and not have touring obligations. We really put together what I think is my favorite album that we’ve ever done.
I was actually going to ask you a bit about the album. I feel like it was such a defining statement for the band.
It is the culmination [of] the vision that we were trying to realize ever since we started doing conceptual records, starting back in 2015 with Every Trick In The Book. I think we really started to find ourselves musically and dramatically in the right mix of seriousness and horror, but also with that wink to the camera and the audience.
This record has all the stuff that our fans loved about Every Trick In The Book and Silver Scream 1. We took it up a notch. I think the songs have the most variety that we’ve ever had, going all the way from a crushing hardcore death-metal song with the vocalist of Cannibal Corpse [Corpsegrinder] on it all the way through symphonic death metal, pop punk on something like “Welcome To Horrorwood.” While the songs all sound different, it still feels like the same band, and that’s something that I’ve been striving for for a long time. We just really made a conscious effort to make the heavier parts hit harder to make the catchier parts catchy.
The other big milestone for you in 2021 is touring. Does it feel good to get back to it, and did it take any time to get back into a groove?
Feels great, man! It’s like we never left. You sort of block out the last year-and-a-half, and we just feel right at home. This tour, we’re only about a week in, and the shows have all been sold out, and the crowds have been just absolutely crazy. You could tell that people are starved for this kind of stuff. As bad as the pandemic was, it’s really sad that a lot of venues closed. Obviously, aside from [the] death and sadness that it brought, sometimes you don’t know what you got until it’s gone. I think people aren’t going to take this stuff for granted anymore, being able to experience live music.
It’s really awesome to hear how quickly you returned to form. But surely there must have been some downsides or difficulties along the way.
The real downside was just not being able to see my family. None of my family lives in Los Angeles, and so many friends live back east. That was really the biggest bummer for me. But honestly, I really accomplished everything that I wanted to do in the pandemic, given the limitations and circumstances. I don’t know if the record would have turned out as good as it did if we didn’t have that extra time.
The other thing that is tough about the pandemic is more personal. I think being isolated from people like that, or even professionally forced to alter your work habits, can be really tough on anyone. Of course, many other people found a chance to focus and really better themselves. What did COVID-19 look like for you?
I think it just reinforces for me how important family and friends are. Like I said, at least for the first time in my life, I was in a position where even if I wanted to see my family and my friends, it just wasn’t possible. I know a lot of people traveled throughout the pandemic in terms of going home for holidays, but I just didn’t want to risk it. I would have felt horrible if I had contributed to getting someone I loved sick. It just reinforced the importance of that aspect in my life, how important it is, and to not take it for granted.
This interview first appeared in issue #401 (the AP Yearbook), available here.