There’s a widely held believe that life moves in cycles of seven. That provides an interesting lens through which to view Chemical Warfare from Escape The Fate – their seventh studio album. From its opening track, Chemical Warfare lunges forward, going straight for the jugular. By its halfway point, complete with no less than a feature from Travis Barker, its energy remains fully charged.
Chemical Warfare adheres to the ‘seven year’ philosophy, playing as though this is a band with a newfound energy – a rejuvenated purpose – and at least another seven albums in them. Speaking with guitarist Kevin “Thrasher” Gruft, we would learn that our read on Chemical Warfare was bang on.
It’s particularly interesting picking Thrasher’s brain about Chemical Warfare considering he sat in the co-producer chair alongside the legendary John Feldmann. In a way, they co-parented Chemical Warfare, so its week of release is akin to their baby’s first steps. And much like child-rearing, you don’t really know how your spawn will handle itself in the big, scary world. Despite having heard the album countless times in the studio, Thrasher explains that once it’s up on streaming services, “Your album plays differently, psychologically.”
“When I would email myself the tracks and stuff, I was thinking like, ‘What guitar part can I improve? What keys or synths should I improve? What lyrics don’t make sense?’ You get so analytical. Once it’s on Spotify, you’re kind of like, your kids have grown up and they’re off to college and you just hope you did a good job raising them.”
Throughout the pandemic, Thrasher found solace in production and engineering, leaning into the moniker of ‘studio dweller’ as hard as he could. Working behind the desk for other bands is one thing, but taking the captain’s chair for your own band is a different beast altogether. “It is a mindfuck [producing] for the band,” Thrasher explains.
“And it was tricky with the pandemic, with some of the band mates not being able to come to the studio for a bit of time. So I guess it was a little more freeing in that sense where I just kind of was able to make a record, just do it.”
Thrasher explains his modus operandi with his producer hat on, assuming both the role of the good and bad cop. To him, that meant essentially letting the album form itself organically, with a few kicks up the backside when things began to lag. He does however have one tenet as a hardline throughout the process: “I try to let go of any expectations or let go of what I think fans might want to hear from us.”
Left to his own devices and independent of a desire to appease the masses, Thrasher got cracking on the initial version of Chemical Warfare. “I made this really moody, dark, heavier record, kind of by myself for the band, like lyrics and demos done up.” However, once Escape The Fate were all in a room together, the final product of what the record is now began to take shape, and it was considerably different.
“We got into the studio and it was just a different energy. I just shifted towards that, where it’s had some pop punk influences and some brighter tones on the whole thing.” This wasn’t simply a production choice, or anything verbalised at all. Thrasher attributes it to the band’s sobriety, with vocalist Craig Mabbitt having now been sober for more than a year. When asked if this new, clear-eyed perspective on life resulted in a more ‘brighter’ album than initially planned, he confirms: “I think so, yeah.”
“Craig has been sober for now like a year. I had gone sober too, as far as the party lifestyle. So, we’re just hyper-focused, and I think we just had this new sense of energy and we were super inspired. And we ended up working with Feldmann on this record, so he definitely pushed the band.”
Now, with the album safely in the hands of fans, Thrasher can return to the studio den from whence he came – a self-diagnosed isolation, at least until touring returns in a worthwhile capacity.
“I feel like people adapt to things. I mean, I do, I always have. Like in my entire career, I’m able to pivot when something’s not working and I’m able to pivot and make these moves in my career. And even when the world is seemingly falling apart, it’s like, I pivoted to just working in a studio full-time and doing other things.”
“Now it’s like another transition. The world’s shut down, okay. We learned how to live that way. Now we’re going to have to learn how to live in a pandemic-free world. You know?”