[Cover photo credit to Peter Beste]
On March 25th, 2022, Heavy Metal trio Night Demon are releasing the rather megalithic collection Year of the Demon via Century Media Records, including four original songs, two covers, and four live cover recordings. The sought after 7 inch vinyl singles that the band released in 2020 originally debuted some of these tracks, but now they are being collected digitally, as well as in vinyl and CD format, for the first time, along with extra material. Taken as a whole, Year of the Demon is a solid representation of the band’s energy live, their collaborations with musicians like Scorpion’s Uli Jon Roth and Cirith Ungol’s Tim Baker, and also the interesting musical experiments they’ve undertaken on the road to their new album due November 4th, 2022.
Ten years in, having made a name for themselves as a live touring band and also having shown a great deal of versatility in handling Metal traditions, Night Demon’s direction only gets more interesting when you explore these new tracks like “Empires Fall” and “Are You Out There”. I spoke with drummer Dusty Squires about the origin of the varied tracks on Year of the Demon, how the band approaches live performance, their touring plans this summer, and also about the rise of the Night Demon Podcast, now one year old.
Hannah Means-Shannon: Year of the Demon is a very high-energy collection when you put together all of these elements, including covers, original singles, and live recordings.
Dusty Squires: I think we’ve figured out over the years that we need to think a little differently and do things a little differently than others. We’ve tried to figured out what the “norm” is, but there isn’t really a “norm” anymore. The singles idea was always something that we had thought of over a number of years. We were at a point of trying to figure out how to write songs again since it had been a number of years since we had done that. We saw that each song was a lot different than each other song, and though they tied together, we could also tell that we were progressing a little from where we had been.
HMS: Your previous album had been a live album, and quite a powerful one too. What went into the decision to make a live album and how did you go about recording it?
DQ: It was recorded all in one night. We played 23 songs that night. It was around two hours and ten minutes long. We write songs so that we can play a lot in a short period of time. I Cleveland, we knew that we’d be able to go there and just fire them off. For me, it was like playing the Super Bowl. I felt like everything had led up to that moment, and it would be easy, as I remembered, “Just don’t suck!”
HMS: So you already knew that the recording would be happening that night and it would be the album?
DQ: Yes. I couldn’t bring drums with me when I went to Cleveland, so I rented from a local studio. I had drum heads sent over so I could re-head the whole kit and tune it. We sound-checked with it. It was a simple set-up and we kept it barebones. When you know that you have to go and do something like that, it’s a different show. Everybody was expecting something great, but we also had a lot of people telling us that it was too early in our careers to do something like that. But the energy on that live record was very different from the energy on our previous albums and definitely brought life to those older songs.
HMS: Night Demon has had an interesting path given how much touring you’ve done. That seemed like a good reason to do a live album at that point.
DQ: We felt that we were prepared. We play sober because there’s so much going on, especially as a three-piece relying so much on each other. I feel like it’s my job to drive that train since we don’t play to a click-track ever, not since the early days of the band. It’s all based on vibe, energy, and expecting the best out of each other. That’s what we get, even in the studio.
HMS: Does that mean that the original singles that we hear on Year of the Demon were recorded in a live way in the studio?
DQ: Yes, there was no click-track. We end up playing the songs like a rollercoaster, like a “breathable song”. The songs go through emotional change rather than a robotic change. It’s about nailing the track. I go into record as prepared as possible.
HMS: When you think about the live performances of these songs you’ve recorded in the studio, are you all trying to stick as closely to the studio version as possible?
DQ: For me, it’s a conscious decision to try to keep my tempos in check so I’m not driving the band too fast. When you get all that adrenaline going and you start cooking, you don’t realize how fast you’re playing until you listen to something back. The way that we write the songs, all the parts are played the same way every time and that is how we play them live. We don’t improvise. Those parts are etched in stone, but we are trying to catch that vibe.
Playing without the click is key. I have played to the click for a long time [with other bands]. For eight years, in the studio, or in rehearsal, it didn’t matter, I was always playing to the click. That did help me with natural meter. But Armand [John Anthony], our guitar player, is an engineer, and is someone I’ve recorded with a bunch doing all kinds of things. When we’re doing that live feel, he can literally grab parts of other takes and paste them in because the timing is right. That natural feel is there. We’re a jam band in a sense.
HMS: As a band, how did you get to the point where you could work together in this way, which is a more difficult approach?
DS: I think it was just playing live so much. We knew that we knew we had to win the crowd over, especially when we were just starting out. It just happened over time, and when I look back, I can see how far we’ve come. It took me a while to figure out that balance. Nowadays, we’re really trying to capture the energy of our live shows when we’re in the studio, and I think that’s the hardest thing to do. Especially because songs evolve as you play them live later.
HMS: The same night as the live album was recorded in Cleveland, Ohio, you also recorded Iron Maiden’s “Wasted Years” which is on this new collection. Why didn’t it make it on the live album?
DS: I can’t remember if it was a conscious effort to shelve that one with the idea of releasing it later. Also, we don’t want to be those guys, the Maiden cover band. We always knew that we could release it later if we wanted to. It was the last song that we played that night and it was a proper send-off.
HMS: It’s really solid as a stand-alone single. What are you thinking about when you’re working with a song by someone else that has a lot of history, like a Maiden song? How do you approach that, as a band?
DS: We make those songs as if we wrote them as far as structure and timing. We get straight to the point. With the way that we write and structure things, it could only be two minutes and forty-five seconds, but it feels like a four minute song because everything is there. You’re still getting in and out pretty quickly. We approach these covers in the same way. It’s something for us to put our stamp on. We play them in a way that if we were to go and play a live show and not say that a song was a cover, people would believe it was ours.
HMS: Do you feel pressure when playing a monolithic song from Metal history?
DS: I don’t take anything as personally as I do when writing original music. There’s no pressure with covers. But original songs are our baby, so I’m a lot more intense and irritable about it. I’m edgy with that. It’s a whole other animal.
HMS: What’s the history of the original songs on this collection? When do they hail from?
DS: We had so much time between Darkness Remains and when we put this album out. I think it was about three years. I think one of the reasons that we put them out as singles is that we spent so much time working on each song. For “Empires Fall”, Jarvis [Leatherby] had the bulk of an idea when he came in. He had this hardcore breakdown, but then we made it all melodic and metallic. That song was pretty easy, but the hard part was that it was the first new song we had written in a while, so we had to kind of relearn how to write songs again.
For “Kill the Pain”, that song took us over a year from when we started writing it until we recorded. It was 16 months to get it right, so that was the hardest song out of all of them, for sure.
HMS: The original songs here are all fairly different from each other in terms of sound and themes. Does that ever concern you when you’re trying to make albums?
DS: We were asking ourselves, “Do these songs make a cohesive record?” Then we thought of making and EP instead and also releasing these singles. Then we ended up writing a new record instead and also releasing these singles. These songs were a reintroduction but do show growth in the band leading up to that point. You can definitely tell that we were going in different directions with these.
HMS: Do the sound direction on these four original singles relate to any of the directions you’ve taken when working on your new upcoming album?
DS: I don’t think so. I think we did those songs to show we had influences but could also go other places. We were creating what we’d like to hear. That’s how these songs come about. These songs were also a good way to get ourselves in the studio with other Producers. Armand, our guitar player, is an excellent engineer, but we wanted experiences with other people to see what that was like. And that’s part of the magic of these songs. We wanted to challenge ourselves.
HMS: You’ve got some festivals coming up and a summer European Tour with Cirith Ungol. What are you looking to play live?
DS: We only played two shows in 2021 and we played some of the new stuff, some of those singles. We won’t be playing anything off the future record, but as far as these singles, they are going to hear them, and maybe some of these covers. We’ve played “The Sun Goes Down” live. We enjoy playing that song quite a bit. We always try to keep things exciting and fresh, and in case people see us multiple times on a tour, we change up our set. We keep the core of the set the same, but we throw some other songs in.
HMS: How has your process of working on the new album been different for you this time around?
DS: I moved back to my hometown in Pennsylvania just over a year ago. Jarvis has been spending a lot of time in Ireland. Armand is out in California. We’re all separated for the first time ever. It’s different now to go and work together. Now when I go out to California to work on music, we have four weeks to get a lot done and everyone really concentrates. That makes us a much better band. We’re more productive in that time we have together. For the first time, instead of being together all the time, we have our own lives, in a sense. But I think that’s healthy, and we definitely need that to come back to it and say, “This is exactly why we do it. This is awesome.”
HMS: I see that the Night Demon Podcast is now a year old. How did that come about and develop?
DS: We all listen to podcasts, and when we were playing in New Foundland, we ended up meeting the Talking Maiden Podcast guys. Jarvis became an avid listener of that show, and they played us on that show. Jarvis suggested, particularly after the pandemic happened, for this to be a way to tell our story. If we waited until we were 60 to try to remember all the stuff we did, it would be a nightmare. Chris Nesbit and his partner decided to end the Talking Maiden podcast, and Chris wanted to do this podcast with us.
On the last episode of Talking Maiden, we rolled right over into the Night Demon Podcast, and a lot of listeners found out about us that way. Fans were often trying to pick our brains about things, so it’s been a good way to get to know the band. Jarvis is the guy that everybody knows and has done a lot of interviews, but he wanted us all to have a personality and be known in the band as well. It’s been fun to do and there’s a certain formula to the episodes. It’s not just the three of us on a Zoom call drinking beers and talking about silly stuff. It’s a team effort. Armand does all the mixing, and Chris does all the editing.
HMS: It’s a lot of work, I imagine.
DS: We’re pretty much all on each episode. We’ve gotten pretty good at talking about our music, and that’s something we had to learn. When we listen back to the podcast, it’s cool for us, because we provide material separately, but then we hear each other telling the same stories and all our responses really go hand in hand. We also did a live podcast episode recently when we were taking clips on location at a show, documenting the live gig. There are some funny stories, but we take it pretty seriously.
HMS: Will you be continuing to do the podcast from the road when you’re touring in 2022?
DS: We’re going to be doing episodes from the road for sure. We have subscribers and we want to make it worth it for them. We are going to be doing more of it with the live shows. We may not do one for every live show, but it’s our goal.