Light This City, a melodic death metal band out of California’s famed Bay Area, was an act on the rise when it suddenly called it quits in 2008. Ten years later, the quintet has reformed and recently released its fifth album, “Terminal Bloom,” through drummer Ben Murray’s label, Creator-Destructor Records. Though none of the band members walked away from music in the interim, Murray has been especially busy, running his label, and playing guitar and singing in the punk band Heartsounds (also including Light This City vocalist Laura Nichol) and the thrash metal act Wilderness Dream (also including Light This City guitarist Ryan Hansen). Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently spoke to Murray about Light This City’s return, the new record, Creator-Destructor and more.
LIVE METAL: You just released “Terminal Bloom,” the first Light This City album in 10 years. How does it feel to be back with that band again after all that time away?
BEN MURRAY: It feels awesome. It feels very natural. None of us had stopped playing metal really since the band broke up, stopped playing in bands in general. So we’ve just kind of grown as musicians, and it felt refreshing and fun and like the right time to try another record, because we had so much fun at this reunion show we did with Darkest Hour in 2015. That just went so smoothly that we were like, “OK, I think we can totally do this.” We were actually stoked about it. So it kind of happened in this natural way.
Going back a few years, what led to the break-up the first time around?
We broke up in 2008. We were on tour with Death Angel and Soilent Green, and we were in Ohio, I think Columbus, and long story short, Laura and I just kind of felt burnt out without totally realizing it until that tour. We felt mentally unstable for some reason, having toured for so long at such a young age. When the band broke up, she was 21 and I was 20. We had already done a lot, done four albums already and toured a lot. We were just exhausted and, I think, wanted to come home and live somewhat more, quote-en-quote, normal lives. So we just made this not rash decision but kind of spontaneous decision to go home from tour and call it quits. We were just young and burnt out essentially.
Yeah, that’s understandable. So you all went your separate ways and, as you said, kept playing in other bands. Did Darkest Hour come to you out the blue in 2015? Did you see that coming at all?
We’ve always been friends with them since we were a band before, and even in the last years that we weren’t a band, we’ve stayed in touch with them, gone to see them. When Heartsounds plays on the East Coast, we stay with Mike from Darkest Hour. Stuff like that. When they were doing their 20th anniversary tour, they wanted to do something special for S.F. (San Francisco), so yeah, they asked us, “Would you guys want to get back together and do another show?” We were like, it’s a pretty cool offer; it’ll be a pretty fun thing.
How did that show lead into the band getting back together and making new music?
It just went really well, and above all, it was just super, super fun. A lot of people came out for us. We didn’t realize the extent, I don’t think, of how many people appreciate the music. It was just super fun,, and it kind of lit that match in us a little bit to make us be like, “This is super fun. We’re having so much fun playing these old songs, why don’t we try to do a new record.” It was essentially how fun that show was and how easy and natural it was rehearsing for it. Everyone was friends already. It’s not like getting the band back together. We all hang out regardless.
Yeah, it wasn’t like it was an ugly break-up or anything, right?
No. not that either. So nothing was awkward about it. It just felt good.
When did you actually start working on the album?
I would say the middle of 2017, and we really hammered down on it the last month or two before we recorded in December. So a lot of it was in October and November of 2017.
Was the way you wrote songs and recorded the same as you had done it back in the old days, or was it different?
Same and different. Same process in terms of how we track things. We know how we want it to sound. Different in the sense that we’ve all grown as musicians and want certain things that we wouldn’t have wanted in 2006 or 2008. I was more insistent on natural drum performances and very, very, very little editing—almost no editing with things. Back when we were a band, we would do more editing, but we would also write more technical parts. We just wanted to go into this one with bangers but not anything that would challenge us so much that we couldn’t actually play it or have a good time in the studio.
So we had a different outlook going into the studio, but in terms of the process, me and Ryan wrote the whole record musically, and then Laura writes her lyrics, as she always does. Then her and I get together and work out the patterns and stuff for her lyrics to the demos of the music. Then we all go in the studio and bang it out in like 10 days or something.
You’ve been playing guitar and singing in other bands since Light This City ended the first time. Did that have any influence on how you approached this?
Definitely. I think it’s inevitable. I don’t know that I could pinpoint exactly how—maybe if I thought on it for longer. Yeah, having done four Heartsounds records—I wrote all that music. That’s like 35 more songs that you’ve got to consider have been written. And also two Wilderness Dream records that I wrote in the last couple years. So there’s been a lot of output.
I certainly felt more prepared and more confident and more assured of what I wanted the record to sound like and what kind of parts I didn’t want to write. There’s plenty of bands that do the hyper fast, technical shit, and that’s never appealed to me so much as just kind of focusing on the songwriting and making sure all the parts are impactful and not necessarily super complicated.
Those other bands—Heartsounds and Wilderness Dream—their sounds are so different that it must be easy to know when you’re writing for each band.
Oh, absolutely. That’s part of the fun of getting Light This City back together. We’re good at writing melodic death metal. It’s super fun, and it’s nice to have that outlet again. But yeah, it’s very easy to divide. I know when I’m writing a Heartsounds song, writing a Wilderness Dream song. They’re so different. If you really study closely, there are some similarities in a lot of the melodies in Heartsounds’ music and Light This City’s music—in certain parts.
And back to the question you said before, I think there’s no way that Heartsounds couldn’t have blended into how I write now. But nothing on the record isn’t super metal. You can’t hear a real punk influence, but it has to be in there somewhere, I imagine.
What are some of your favorite songs off the new record?
Oh, man. I really love the first three tracks a lot. I love all the songs, but the opener is one of my favorite openers that we’ve ever done. I just like how it builds. “A Grotesque Reflection,” that was our first single. That’s one I feel just really captures our sound, generally, really well. If I had to sell the band with one song, it would be that song. It’s just got a lot of different parts and captures that real mid-’90s melodic death worship. So I love that song. “Dormant Tide” is a really catchy one. Fans seem to like that a lot. I think my personal favorite, though, is “Neverlanding,” because of the ending of the song. It’s this big, open, airy, melodic part, and it really explodes after this build-up, and I really love that part so much that it makes it my favorite song, I think. (laughs) But they’re all my babies, so to speak.
The album has been released on your label, Creator-Destructor. Was that the plan all along?
Yeah, pretty much. No one approached us either, which makes it easier. (laughs) I’ve put out three Heartsounds records on the label and 50 other records. It’s just like, I’ve been doing it for 10 years. I enjoy it. I enjoy the creative control over it and not having a middle man when you don’t really need it. It was kind of an obvious thing to try to do it, just do it ourselves and see more money from it and control all of it, and not have to deal with someone else’s management. Better distribution would be nice, but when things are said and done, unless you’re touring, popping off and getting huge tours, it doesn’t really matter if some of your records are in stores, because no one’s gonna know what it is.
And there aren’t a whole lot of stores left to put them in anyway.
No, exactly. There’s not even that many places to send them. We’re like, let’s just do it ourselves, it’s fine.
How did you get the label started? Was that something you had always wanted to do?
I wanted to do it after Light This City signed to Prosthetic and I went down and saw how they operated. I was like, this seems fun. So I started it in 2006, so I guess it’s been 12 years now. I was like 18. I just wanted to put out metal CDs, so I started with some metal bands that I knew on the East Coast and in California. Started small and just kept doing it. Each year, I was putting out more records. I’ve already put out five this year and planning a few more.
Yeah, you’ve put out a couple of my favorites so far this year, with Gygax and Realms of Vision.
Oh, nice. Those are awesome records.
I got those on vinyl, and it seems like you’re putting a lot of attention on the physical product, because, with the artwork and the colored vinyl, they seem to be really well done. Is that an important part for you?
It’s a huge part, I appreciate you saying that. The label is essentially a vinyl label. We do merch and CDs and digital, but the big focus is the vinyl. I worked at Pirates Press, the vinyl manufacturer, for eight years, so I just learned everything about the process of vinyl. So I know how to make those things look good. Because of that, I can’t stand flimsy products. Especially if you’re charging 20 bucks for an LP, it better be nice and well designed and planned out. The artwork shouldn’t suck. All kinds of stuff like that.
To answer your question, whether it’s a 7-inch or a double LP, I always want it to look very quality. I don’t want the art to suck. That’s a huge part of it to me, the artwork. I pay special attention to that, because I think the small fan base with the label that we’ve built up appreciates it, too, They’ve come to expect it.
Coming up later this month, you’ve got a West Coast tour—Light This City with Gygax supporting. What can the fans expect to see on that?
Yeah, that’s gonna be a blast. It’s the first real tour we’ve done since 2008. We’re gonna be playing stuff from all kinds of records but focusing a lot on the new one. So if people dig the new one—which it seems like they do—they’ll be stoked. It’ll be fun. Gygax is fuckin’ incredible. It’ll actually be pretty hard to go on after them every night.
We haven’t played a lot of these cities, like I said, in 10 years—for some of them, 12. It’ll be fun to get back to those areas. And for people who want to see us for the first time, that’s one of the most exciting things—people who have never seen the band, and they’ve been into it for like 10 years or something at this point, and they just haven’t had a chance to see the band. That’s a cool thing. We’re practicing our asses off, and we’re just gonna try to rip as hard as possible and put on a good show and give people a good time.
Are there plans for more touring later this year in other parts of the country?
Yeah. I don’t think we’ll go extensively, like monthlong U.S. tours like we used to do, but we definitely have East Coast plans in September. We want to do Texas shows, as well, this year, and then we want to go to Mexico and Japan and stuff like that. So we have some cool ideas that we’re gonna get working. But they’re gonna be in little bursts, because we all live in the Bay Area, and it’s hard to survive out here if you’re losing your jobs all the time and shit. (laughs)
I think that’s all the questions I have right now. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks so much for the interview and the attention. For people who haven’t heard it, check out “Terminal Bloom.” It’s on Spotify, or go to creator-destructor.com and see what we’re doing with our other awesome bands that we don’t all play in. Check out the label, check out the new record, and thanks. We appreciate it.
Light This City/Gygax tour dates:
6/22/2018 Brick By Brick – San Diego, CA
6/23/2018 Chain Reaction – Anaheim, CA
6/24/2018 Viper Room – Los Angeles, CA
6/28/2018 Bottom Of The Hill – San Francisco, CA
6/29/2018 Highline – Seattle, WA
6/30/2018 Paris Theatre – Portland, OR
7/01/2018 On The Y – Sacramento, CA