Archer Nation

Archer Nation is a metal trio from the Santa Cruz area in California. Although they have a short discography, which has definitely not stopped them from going on extensive tours with some big names and being involved with legendary producers. In this interview, they talk about the problems they have faced throughout their journey which led to their slow beginning, what influences their music, their secret album which doesn’t officially exist and their personal favourite albums. Dylan on vocals, Dave on bass and Keyhan on drums.
Archer Nation band pic
The album before your most recent one, “Culling the Weak” was released 4 years ago, and since then you changed your name from “Archer” to “Archer Nation”. Why the name change, and what took you so long to make another album?
Keyhan: Well, for a long time is was just the one word “Archer” and then eventually that TV show came out afterwards, it’s a cartoon TV show called Archer, it’s a huge hit. So, we started doing these high profile tours and people would come up to us and say “why can’t I find you on Facebook or YouTube and stuff?” because when you search the word Archer, the only thing that comes up for the first MILLION pages is the hit TV show that everyone is watching. And so that was kind of uhh... I mean it was tough, we were doing these tours and we wanted to retain the audience and stuff and the website was already called, so we figured if we just add that second word into the name, now when people type the two words together, we’re the first thing that comes up. So bam, instantly, that problem was solved. So, that was the real reason for that.
David: I mean, that show was slightly more popular than us. Just a little more popular.
By how many million?!
David: ...half a million maybe, but let’s not get hung up on numbers!
So what took you so long to create another album? It took almost 4 years to release “Beneath the Dream”.
Dylan: We just stayed out on the road the whole time, we pretty much spent all those years in between that first and second album just touring our asses off the first album.
David: Dylan played World of Warcraft for a little bit of that.
Dylan: Only got to level 99! But yeah, we toured a lot in 2015 when that record came out and in 2016, a little bit in ‘17 and then we started writing and recording the next album, so, you know, I guess it kind of flew by, of course we would have liked to make the latest record a little quicker than we did but, at the end of the day I think we just kept working and here we are in London at the Underworld!
David: There are a lot of things to making a record that have nothing to do with writing the songs, you know what I mean. That’s like a small portion of it, more of the time spent is doing all the other things besides writing the songs.
Keyhan: Even when you’re done recording the songs there’s so many steps outside of our daily thing that goes on, all the mixing and mastering and the artwork and stuff, and some of the turnaround for that isn’t always immediate, the way you’d love it to be.
Dylan: And we spent a long time trying to find a home for the record, what we want to do with it, in terms of the label or not so there was a lot of that.
Keyhan: And making videos that was like a long process especially the first music video for the first single of the new record, took a long time to make just the video, and we weren’t gonna release the album or anything until that was done, so like all these things that have to be done which took a better part of a year.
Dylan: And the social media age demands attacking from every possible angle, so you have to set up all these things in a row for the album to come out.
Keyhan: And we were hoping to find a good tour to go on right when the record came out as well, we didn’t wanna release the record and not be on tour immediately. So, the release date had moved a few times because of that just to try to accommodate us being on the road at the same time.
You released an EP “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?” in 2016. Was this something of an appetiser of what is to come, and to show that the band is still around?
Dylan: Hmm yeah that’s a little misleading, that EP is actually much older. But maybe it surfaced, or somebody put it online at some point.
Keyhan: I think we just uploaded it to YouTube, because we never had the record and we were never selling the records. Officially that album didn’t exist. But we had all the music, so some time after the release of the 2015 “Culling the Weak”, we decided to just put that other EP or demo or whatever in one big track on YouTube, so that they’re just all there.
Dylan: Yeah to just get it out, that EP has been in the closet so to speak for years and years, and never really got a proper release.
David: And we used Gilby Clarke to produce it, so we figured we might as well let somebody hear it.
Dylan: And if one song from that EP appeals to somebody and you get a fan from some old music that you made so be it, I guess.
Keyhan: It was like a shadow release, it was a secret, no posts, no telling anyone about it. It can be associated with us if people find it or they just never hear of it, doesn’t matter, we’re mainly pushing the other two products.
So, how come you didn’t release it properly?
Dylan: Well, it kinda goes back to the whole “all the other stuff that has to happen to get a record out besides writing the music”. I mean, Dave and I wrote that stuff like… 2011? 2012? Like, pretty far.
Dave: Yeah, it was pretty much in the works when I joined the band.
Dylan: Yeah, it was a while ago. And then it just never happened, we made the record and then… a lot of the same kind of stuff like we needed a tour to go on, and we were kind of in between management, and “oh we need a good label”, and “let’s wait for that, let’s wait for that” and unfortunately a lot of the powers that were advising us at the time were sort of pushing it back, and then it just got pushed back so far that it kind of seemed ridiculous to put it out at some point.
Dave: A lot of advice was taken that we should probably not have taken.
Dylan: There was a lot of delays, and then there were the lineup changes, so basically everything before Keyhan, you kind have to take with a grain of salt in terms of the history of the band. There was a lot of stuff that happened before, but the last 5 years or so with these two records “Culling the Weak” and of course the new one “Beneath the Dream” that we are touring now, that’s really the sort of meat of the band to all of us.
Keyhan: Like when “Culling the Weak” came out and we signed with the German label it was put out as our debut album, so it was referred to as our first album.
Dylan: We kind of wanted to hit the reset button, you know, Dave and I have been doing stuff before that, but we needed something solid and unified and fresh to kind of restart everything.
Is it correct that you had drummer problems in the past? Did Keyhan, who plays in the new album, also play on the EP? Would you say he is your permanent drummer now?
Keyhan: We’ve been in this exact lineup as a permanent situation for almost going on our 6th year soon so pretty much, I mean, yeah. We have toured for like half of every year since I have joined so truly, I’d be a real dumbass if I was still going to let go.
Dylan: Again, the activity the band went from like intermittent sparse touring and recording efforts off and on for years to suddenly the end of 2014 we met Keyhan and we put “Culling” out in the beginning of 2015 and then the last 4 or 5 years have just been a whirlwind of touring and recording and playing and stuff. Again, there’s two very distinct eras. And I much prefer the current one that we’re in. So hopefully we’re all here to stay.
Dave: Things are actually getting done.
Dylan: We did not come to London in the first era, if you’re wondering. The cool stuff is all happening now.
Dave: We did the Black Label Society tour in 2011 but we didn’t go to the UK.
Keyhan: It was the first Annihilator tour in 2015 that we were still promoting “Culling the Weak” and we came to London. But not the Underworld, we came to the o2 Academy twice or three times or something like that so far. It’s huge, like three or four times bigger than this place. But small venues have their own charm and stuff.
How did you come up with the album title “Beneath the Dream” and what does it declare?
Dylan: There is a song on the album also called “Beneath the Dream”, so there is a title track. I guess it kind of goes back to the song. Originally the song is one we wrote a few years back. There was somebody in my life from childhood that was very close to me that passed away and then for years after his death I had these weird reoccurring dreams where we would hang out. So initially, the song was inspired by that, these weird memories and this dream state that I would always go into at night to visit this kid that I grew up with who was no longer with us. And then fast forward, we have these 8 songs or whatever for the new record and we’re going back and forth about these album titles what we should call it. We tend to second guess ourselves to death, like, we’ll talk about album titles for like 6 months, it gets ridiculous. And then, believe it or not, the producer, who produced this new record as well as “Culling the Weak”, Mike Clink, he said “You’re not gonna call it beneath the dream!? You already have the song, you should just call it beneath the dream!” and we’re like, really? And he’s like “Yeah that’s a cool title, that title is cool as shit, you gotta use that!”, so we said alright that makes sense, then later we luckily talked ourselves into the title overall because there’s a lot of lyrical content that we could kinda justify.
Dave: Thematically it works on multiple levels. A lot of our songs are about confronting what a lot of people might say, like the repressed parts of the ego and bringing them out. So like, it’s kind of “Beneath the Dream”, to get beneath the illusion of the self and get to what’s under there and kind of bring it out to awareness so I think it works on multiple levels.
Keyhan: Yeah, we tossed out like half a dozen different ideas that we tried to see if we could come up with a better one but ultimately it was a unanimous vote that “Beneath the Dream” was the best one.
What are your major lyric influences? And could you talk, in general, about the lyrics in the album, is there a wider message you are trying to spread through it?
Dylan: Well, I think that shifts over the years, or album to album, you know every album is kind of a snapshot of your life at the time. So, you know, sometimes you’re influenced by one thing and then the other, depending which album you’re on I guess. This new one, I think what the biggest difference from this one to the older stuff that was ever done with the band is a more collaborative effort, in that Dave helped write a lot of the lyrics on the record as well, and kind of brought another influence. There’s a song on the record for the first time in the band’s history that I didn’t write any of the lyrics for it. The song called “Severed” on the new album. I dunno, we kind of blended a lot of influences, like he was saying, there’s a lot of this “examining the inner self” and existentialism, I dunno, it’s whatever you feel at the time. We don’t try to get super fictional or fantastic with the lyrics, it’s really an examination of human life a lot of the time, or the world at large, or like there’s one song on this record and one song on the last record that I wrote lyrics for about destroying the planet, like humanity absolutely destroying the earth and the time’s up. That’s something I can be passionate about for a song. You just gotta be inspired and be honest about it, you don’t wanna write from a place of just “Oh I hope this sounds cool!”. It’s gotta be something you are willing to sing and perform every single night, or else it just comes off as disingenuous.
Dave: Also, for me, I guess personal catharsis. When I write lyrics it’s like I’m talking to myself. We have a song about not being present, where the first lyric was examples of ways in which you can think about the future all the time. It constantly stresses about that and the times in which you can kinda sit around. If you just kind of be present, step out of the ego, that was like for myself that was everything that I could put in.
Dylan: It’s just what’s going on with your life, like “Culling the Weak”, one of the biggest themes and the reason why we called it that was because Dave and I were so fucking fed up with people letting us down, whether it was a label or a management, especially all the issues Dave and I went through with drummers over and over, like Spinal Tapp level of drama issues.
Dave: The guy that talks the biggest game is going to quit in like two weeks. “Ahh there is nothing in this world that can stop me from doing this!!… except for I might lose my job and have to be relocated”.
Keyhan: Its people who can’t commit to the touring lifestyle, even if they’re great drummers, even if they’re rockers and play shows and stuff but can’t leave for 8 months of the year, people just can’t do it. It’s quite a sacrifice. That’s sometimes why drummers can get a lot of gigs with other bands too, and all the other instruments too, but somehow it always seems to be drums that people are always looking for. But yeah if you can sort of cut out your life to live that lifestyle then there’s a demand there somewhere.
What elements make this album different to your previous album?
Dylan: I think, again, it goes back to the biggest differences not being just lyrically but also musically, it was a more collaborative effort and involves all three of us. In “Culling the Weak” there are two different drummers on that record, and they didn’t really contribute a lot to the nuts and bolts of the song writing because there was so much turmoil of who was going to play on it and who was going to tour and what the line-up was of the band. Even all the way up to the recording sessions of the last record. So, when you compare that to this one where for the first time in a long time the band has had a really solid unified line-up, I mean, we had already been touring for 3 or 4 years with this line-up before we went to the studio and started writing, so everybody is on the same page finally. And everybody can play and write lyrics, it’s a totally open door and we wanna hear everybody’s ideas. Again, Dave contributed lyrically more than ever and musically more than ever. Keyhan contributed musically. I mean there is a song on the record called “Division”, where a lot of the guitar were the riffs he wrote on guitar because he can play. To me, that’s cool as hell because, could I have written something thrashy? Like yeah there are songs like that, but I would have never come up with something exactly like that.
Dave: Just like they say, there’s nothing new under the sun, so uniqueness comes from being interesting amalgam of influence and that’s better when you have multiple people writing the songs, because one person can only have so much personal influence.
Dylan: And obviously there’s some overlap in terms of what we all love, like music influences and stuff. But there’s a lot of stuff that’s like “he really likes this more, he really likes this more, I really like this more” so we kinda try to bring all those things to the table and make something unique.
Where did you record the new album, who did the production, mixing and mastering and why did you choose them? How did you find working with them?
Dylan: Nice, this is where we get to brag a little bit! So, same as the previous record, we went back to Mike Clink for the production, who of course did Megadeth, Guns ‘N Roses, UFO, Motley Crue, tons of bands, the list goes on. And that was a guy that we grew up seeing on the back of albums and thinking that he was just some mystical entity that we will never actually meet or work with but here we are. So, we went back with Mike, we love working with him, he’s got an amazing ear obviously, his resume speaks for itself. I always compare him to working with Yoda, I think its fun. He is just so full of information and advice and knowledge and he is very friendly and easy to get along with and we’ve had a blast making the last two records with him. For this one we recorded at a different studio though, we went to... believe it or not, Slash has just built a new studio in LA a couple of years ago, so we used the shit out of it. Of course, Mike goes very far back with Slash because of the Guns ‘N’ Roses stuff and so Mike brought us into Slash’s place. I think we were the first band to make a record there. It’s called Snake Pit Studios, it’s in the Woodland Hills outside of Los Angeles so that’s where we made it.
Keyhan: We stayed out there for like over a week probably.
Dylan: We live about 6 hours North of LA so we would go back down for a week then go back home then come down for another week and kind of put it together over a few weeks. And then Mike also mixed it. So, if the record is ever ill-received it will never be because of the production or mastering or the studio. We have only ourselves to blame!
How would you characterise “Beneath the Dream” and what are your expectations for the new album?
Dylan: Oh man… What are the expectations for the album? Well, I mean obviously we like to further the popularity of the band and somehow make a living, sustain the band as an entity by itself. I mean, up until this point it’s always been all of us funnelling every last effort we possibly can individually and collectively to keep the machine going. We’ve been able to sustain that this far but you know, eventually the goal for any band as serious as we are about trying to create a career out of it... look, CD sales are not something we try to hang our hat on anymore, in 2019. But monetising the band and promoting the band more than we ever have with this record, obviously having new music as a product is still the centrepiece of what you’re doing so that you can go on tour. I dunno, as long as we stay busy and keep going onward and upward hopefully, but its hard to quantify it these days, I think.
Dave: Just being able to pay some kind of rent… I mean I don’t need a mansion or anything, just keep my hot plate going.
Dylan: We don’t need to be Led Zeppelin or anything but like, we like to eat every day.
How did the cooperation with EMP Label Group occur? How are you finding working with David Ellefson and how much has he helped you in general?
Dylan: We bounced around talking to different labels for a while and that was another thing that delayed the release of the album. Ultimately, there’s a prevailing theme here you’ll see that Mike comes up a lot, like he helped us name our record and record it and brought us to Slash’s place. He said “you guys stop messing around with this, I know a home for you”, so he introduced us to EMP which, of course, is Ellefson Music Project. David Ellefson, bass player of Megadeth, is the founder of our label. And Mike Clink recorded Megadeth’s seminal recording “Rust in Peace”. So, he goes back with Megadeth guys, and he introduced us to him, he liked our material, we worked out a deal and here we are.
Dave: We did a tour with Ellefson and the Sleeping Giants band which was the last tour we did before this one, it was in the United States, was a good time.
Assuming you are fans of Annihilator, how did this tour come about and how does it feel to share the same stage with them?
Dylan: Yeah, personally I like a lot of their thrash stuff, I mean, you obviously have your certain favourites or whatever. But yeah, Annihilator is great. I think the most important thing for us is to just be on tour, be active all the time and then the quality of the tour, like something like this is more than enough for us. Like, this is awesome to be out in front of good quality crowds, all over Europe, 40 shows in a row, tons of metal fans. We are exposing the band and record to tons of people every night, so we are very thankful to be on tour with Annihilator. Of course, we went out with them 4 years ago and did the same thing for 2 months, like we are now.
Keyhan: Like a pre-existing friendship kind of situation that helps out when you’re on the road.
Dylan: Yeah and the bands get along very well, everyone is cool, and I think they invited us back partially because they know we have a new record and they wanna help us out, and they’re very cool people for doing that. But also, they know that everybody gets along. And for two months if you basically have to live with everybody every day and work with everybody then that’s a big part of it.
Dave: We’re good at pretending not to be assholes. We fake it so well.
Keyhan: I was gonna say about liking Annihilator for their music, they have such an extensive catalogue, like, 18 albums, so there’s plenty of things to love and plenty of things to hate.
Dave: Every single individual musician in that band is a true bill, really a musician. Like, even the bands we have toured with, you could say that some people in the band have not necessarily been the greatest. More of like a rock star than a musician. But these guys are rock stars for sure, but also absolutely fantastic musicians, so I can respect that.
Dylan: Yeah and it even goes to the fans too, this is kind of a cool thing to come back and play a lot of the same countries, cities and even venues, with Annihilator again, because that kind of helps us retain fans as well that saw us 4 years ago that wanted us again.
Dave: We’ve seen a few people with our shirts on a few times and that’s really cool.
Have you got any funny tour moments?
Dylan: Well I mean I just walked in on Dave shaving in the men’s bathroom in the venue, but he had no mirror, so had to use his cell phone as a mirror! There are always funny moments.
Keyhan: It’s one of those things, when you’re put on the spot it’s like… I dunno haha, there’s shit every day!
Dylan: Last night we had to cross the ferry from France to England for the show and of course we get woken up at like 5 in the morning and we’re falling out of our bunks in our underwear with a police guy shining a flashlight at us and stuff so like… I dunno, there’s always something funny every day!
Do you prefer to be on the road or in the studio writing and recording?
Dylan: I think the road is easier in terms of not having to overthink everything all the time.
Dave: Yeah, it’s hard to say because I feel like I get in a mode to do one thing and then I get in a mode to do another, especially if we tour enough and then all of a sudden you just click and you’re like, alright this is what I do, I drink every day and shower once a week haha. I like writing too, writing music is excellent, but for me at least, I get into a mode for that. Then I get out of the song writing mode and I don’t really write stuff apart from maybe sporadic things and then all of a sudden it’s like… “Oh hey lets write” and then all of a sudden you sort of like just click into that mode. And you wanna be in that mode until you click out of it.
Keyhan: There’s like a rehearsal mode with all the stuff you already wrote and now you gotta play it so much that you can play it in your sleep which even stuff you wrote is easy to forget or mess up a lot. Or just because you wrote it doesn’t mean you can actually perform it. Like not just perform it, you can sit down with your guitar and play all the riffs but what if you have to stand up and start headbanging, can you still play all the riffs? So, that’s where all the rehearsals come in, in the studio you can pick a part, every piece by piece, do it individually, learn that part, but then putting it all together is like a whole other beast all of a sudden.
Dylan: It’s hard to say, I don’t know, I think you have to love every phase of the band to do what we do at this level. And by this level I don’t quite mean being millionaires yet but…
Keyhan: Not yet, not yet. Next week.
Dave: I’m just waiting for this dump truck of money.
Keyhan: I’m waiting to go back to California, so we can pick the money off the trees. These trees are baron out here!
You have been around since 2004 as a band but have only released 3 full-length albums, and two EP’s to date. Why is that?
Dylan: The very short version of this story is that yes, the band started in some iteration or another in 2004 with me and a couple of other guys in high school way back when we were teenagers. And it obviously has evolved and come a long way since then. I met Dave 10 years ago after our first bassist had finally quit. Dave and I are going back like 10 or 11 years now so that’s like one benchmark. So yes, there is a long history of the band but there is a lot of defined eras. There’s like the early teenage high school days where it was just kids banging around in the garage and learning how to play instruments and stuff, and then there is Dave, when we first started playing 10 years ago and did “Who’s Gonna Save You Now” and the other stuff. And then in the last 5 years or so with Keyhan, that’s where a lot of the activity and the good stuff has happened. As I call the ‘high school kids line-up’, we made a record and put it out, it’s somewhere on the internet. That record dates back to like 2005 or 6 or something. And then we took forever, again the line-up changes, turmoil, blahblahblah. Dave and I hook up in late 2009 and then we’re like “finally, we’re gonna do another record!”, so we do “Who’s Gonna Save You Now” thing and we mess around with that for 2 years, turns into 3 years, turns into 1 drummer, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, thousand drummers. Then finally at the end of 2014 we meet Keyhan.
Keyhan: I sabotaged every drummer they had; I’d come in and ruin his life so he’d leave, so I can keep moving up the ladder.
Dylan: I mean honestly, with the hell that we were going through with all these line-ups, I would be thankful if that were the case. There was just so much up and down, like how are we gonna make a record, who’s gonna be on it, you know.
Dave: Yeah, you get to a certain stage with the line-up and the drummer and then the drummer quits and especially when that happens in like the worst way ever where you just never hear from him again? Or we get one email that says “Sorry I have to go to New York right this moment, I know I told you I’d be in this band forever” and then you’re like okay that’s a step back, because now you have to get a drummer, figure out which one you’re gonna get, then he has to get trained back up, then somebody else quits then it’s the same exact thing. So, a lot of the time stuff just gets delayed every time people do stuff like that.
Dylan: There were a lot of false starts, I know for me, I’m just incredibly thankful especially for the last few years where I just have something I can count on and depend on and love and cherish something that has developed so much in the past few years. Because before that it was just a nightmare, so this is good, it makes Dave and I a lot more thankful that we can do this thing.
Your top 3 heavy metal albums?
Dave: Oh my god.
Keyhan: Aaahhhhhhhhhh
Dylan: That’s cool because it can illustrate what we were saying earlier with all the different influences of each brain. I mean, impossible question, but I’ll try to kick it off and not think too hard about it. I guess I have to be a homer and go with Mike Clink’s “Rust in Peace” by Megadeth. That’s a huge reason why we wanted to talk to him in the first place for these last two records. And then I gotta keep being an even older geezer and I gotta pick at least one Sabbath album because that’s my favourite stuff really, so we’ll go “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” there. A third one? Ohh man… I gotta pass it around, I’ll have to think about that one.
Dave: I’m gonna give it up to Andy Larocque because he’s on my first two. The first one is King Diamond’s “Them”, second one would be Death’s “Individual Thought Patterns” also they had Gene Hoglan, they had Andy Larocque and they had Steve Digiorgio on bass so that’s like the absolute seminal line-up of Death. And then probably, my third… Man I’d have to say maybe “Rust in Peace”… Maybe “Somewhere in Time”… Since Dylan already said “Rust in Peace”, I’ll go with “Somewhere in Time” by Iron Maiden.
Keyhan: So, for me… I mean, clearly impossible question, any 3 that I name aren’t doing justice to the other millions that I can’t name, but for me heavy metal is a kind of older term and I looked more at the modern bands when I was in high school, the Megadeths and Metallicas were already kinda old to us. Like, they had already been around so long that nobody really cared that much. But okay, three albums that I had listened to thousands of times as soon as they came out, I can name… maybe Lamb of God’s “Sacrament”, when that came out, I was listening to it nonstop, learned every song. Another one is an instrumental kind of progressive kind of metal band called Intervals and they put out an EP called “In Time”, 4 songs, they’re clever guys but some of the best music I have ever heard, couldn’t stop listening to that EP, couldn’t get sick of any of the songs. So, there’s that. And then the third one that changed my life when I was in high school is the debut album from Animals As Leaders. I was probably the first one in my entire friend group to hear of it, and then by the time I showed everybody, by the end of our high school maybe 2 or 3 years later, that band was enormous. When I first heard that CD nobody knew about them. But it was like a first introduction into the really technical progressive music, taking jazz and all this other stuff and making it metal and just pushing musical abilities to the next level, where you couldn’t just cover any of the songs while you were still in high school, you had to learn and learn. Even to this day I still can’t play some of the drums and guitars and stuff, there are levels that high. So, just because of how unique it was I’d name that as one of them.
Dave: Yeah, I tried to narrow my scope to what would actually be called heavy metal because if you just said like, 3 favourite albums of music I’d be like, there is no effing way.
Keyhan: For me those three are all metal, it’s all within the metal genre. Like I was saying I never really was a heavy metal constant listener, I knew all the Iron Maidens, Judas Priests, all those songs we all did, but that wasn’t what was going around all the time, those weren’t the records we were putting in our boomboxes at home all the time.
Dylan: I guess my third one is either… Well because for me it goes back to guitar playing, like, I fell in love with heavy metal because the music was awesome but the guitar playing was so epic for somebody that had only been playing Nirvana songs up until that point, as a little kid. I have to pick like something from Randy Rhoads, so either “Blizzard of Ozz” or “Diary of a Madman” or definitely a Pantera album would be a good choice for me, because the Dimebag thing is just… I mean, God, it blew my mind. Probably “Far Beyond Driven”. All of them are good. I gotta have Dimebag or Randy Rhoads in there somewhere.
Thank you so much Dylan, Dave and Keyhan for taking the time to talk to me!