Silent Planet is anything but silent when it comes to discussing issues that matter. This metalcore band recently released an album that revolves around mental illnesses (Everything Was Sound) and partnered up with the nonprofit organization Safer Scenes to sell a shirt condemning various types of bigotry. On top of that, its vocalist, Garrett Russell, is outspoken about issues like sexism and homophobia, seeing his personal sense of spirituality as intrinsically connected with the fight for social justice.
We were lucky enough to chat with Russell when Silent Planet visited Columbia, Maryland on the Vans Warped Tour. Our conversation covered everything from Donald Trump’s tweets to the Christianization of the Roman Empire to last month’s controversy involving The Dickies to our love of Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory. Read it below for some food for thought.
TYF: First of all, have you ever visited Warped Tour as an audience member?
Garrett Russell: Yeah, when I was 18 and I was 19. Twice. I’m 27 now, so it was a while ago. Thrice was on it when I was 19. I love Thrice.
TYF: What was the Warped Tour experience like back then?
Russell: It was weird, because I went to two different dates. When I was 18, I went to the one in Kansas City or St. Louis or wherever. It was really cool, just easy to get around. Then I went to the one in Pomona, where I live in California, and it was just kind of crazy. It was like, “Wow, there are so many people here.” But it was cool. I liked it. I did the pull-up challenge. I did over 30 pull-ups. I remember the guy said, “You could be a Navy SEAL,” and I thought about being a Navy SEAL for a second. But…
TYF: It never happened.
Russell: (Laughs) Yeah, I’m not a Navy SEAL. I’m on Warped Tour.
TYF: What’s Warped Tour been like this year? Has anything especially interesting or memorable happened to you so far?
Russell: Good question. Probably the most memorable thing that’s happened on Warped Tour was, I met a young man who’s handicapped. He can’t speak due to his handicap. His name is Mick. And he came to, I think, all the Florida dates. He came to Orlando and St. Pete and all those, and he just had such joy. He talks through texting on a notepad on his phone, and he has, like, a tube, and he feeds through liquid. And he would sit with us at meals, he’d go to press, he’d hang out backstage with us… and I don’t really know why. I guess our band was one of the bands he came to see, because he was with us the whole time. And he asked me one time… He was like, “You wanna know what’s funny?” I was like, “What?” And he was like, “You guys are a Christian band, but you don’t suck.” And I was like, “Dude, you’re right. Most Christian bands suck really bad.”(Laughs) I thought that was so funny. We just kind of became friends and talked about stuff, about life and love and girls he likes. It was just really cool, because I think a lot of times you have these really cool connections with someone, but having it for, like, three days, I felt like we really got to grow a deeper friendship. That was cool. That was probably my favorite part.
TYF: That’s awesome. Now I have some questions about your music. Your new album, Everything Was Sound, just came out. You’ve said that it’s about nine different people who have mental illnesses. Where’d you get the inspiration for this concept?
Russell: It’s a variety of things I’ve researched and read about. Things that I’ve been through myself and things that I’ve experienced when I was a therapist, because before doing this, for a time, I was a therapist. [I’m] pulling from those experiences too.
TYF: You have a degree in clinical psychology. How do you think that’s influenced your songwriting, performing, and music career?
Russell: I think it’s maybe changed a little bit how I see other people. If you do therapy, you either burn out very quickly or you have a deep sense of empathy for people. I think music is maybe the most human of all languages, and so I feel like I’m still doing therapy, in some sense. I’m just speaking a different language a lot of the time. And in speaking that language, I think that I can cut through a lot of the bullshit, a lot of the small talk, whatever things govern how we speak, and just kind of get straight to the heart. And I love that, ‘cause in therapy, one of the biggest things I’ve always tried to combat… You know, some people want help, so they get close to help, they go in the therapy room, but once they’re there, they don’t really go all the way. And so my goal there is to cut through the bullshit. Like, let’s talk, you know? With music that helps to do that… If I meet somebody at a signing, I love it when I’m like, “Hey, how are you doing?”, and instead of being like, “Oh, I’m great!”, they’re like, “Terrible. My wife just left me,” or “My mom has cancer,” or “I haven’t been able to eat in three days.” I want to have those conversations. I don’t need it to be, like, “Buy a shirt.” You know what I mean? These are human beings. I like to look someone in the eyes, talk to them, get to know their name. Lord knows how long I’ll be able to do this, and so while I do it, I want to be faithful to these beautiful people.
TYF: That’s awesome. And as you mentioned earlier, you guys are a Christian band, and you talk about some Christian themes in your songs. What’s it like being on a tour where people have different perspectives on religion? Has it caused any tension or awkwardness ever?
Russell: No, I don’t think so. And to clarify, it’s funny, ‘cause my buddy Mick was like, “Hey, you’re a Christian band,” but to be honest, we don’t see ourselves as a Christian band as far as, we don’t see ourselves as making music just for Christians, and we don’t talk about things that only Christians can relate to. However, I am a Christian, and I think that what comes out of me lyrically is very influenced by what I would say is the revolution of Jesus. I’m not a very religious person, but I do think that if you look at every major revolution throughout the world, it’s a sub-point to the revolution of Jesus. The voice for the marginalized, that’s who Christ was.
You know, every day, I hear probably five to ten bands say, “Fuck God,” or “There is no God,” “Fuck religion.” Some people even might be saying, “Fuck you if you’re religious,” but most people don’t do that because they realize that’s quite bigoted. But regardless, I think the point is, you see a lot of animosity towards religion, and I have no interest in debating that, because you come to realize, people are like, “Oh, God doesn’t exist,” and I’m like, “Well, tell me about the God who doesn’t exist.” Some people say, “Well, that’s a nonsensical question.” Some people would say, “Okay, well, he’s a dude.” And then you’re like, “Oh, so God’s a guy?” It’s funny to deconstruct that, ‘cause a lot of people who are saying, “Oh, fuck that God character, fuck religion”… I don’t want to debate with them, ‘cause for all I know, maybe they were raped by a priest who said that this was God’s will, or maybe they went to a church and they got a tattoo, and then everyone was like, “Get out of this church.” So for all I know, their anger or their disgust towards religion may be very well founded. So instead of defending something that I don’t agree with, I’d rather just talk about something that I believe in and my experiences and who I think Jesus is. It’s an interesting dynamic because I have a lot of friends on this tour—I mean, I think we’re friends, it’s hard to say—I mean, I have a lot of people I’ve met on this tour who say, “Fuck God,” and I’m not mad at them, and I don’t think they’re mad at me when I say at the end of our set every day, before the last song, “This song… I wrote it out for being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and the love of God saving me from my own shit.” I don’t think that makes them mad. But regardless of if it does or not, I love them. I love to talk about it.
TYF: That’s a good philosophy. Some people like to generalize Christians by saying that they’re all bigoted or they’re all super conservative, but you guys have spoken out against racism, sexism, and homophobia, so how do you see Christianity as relating to social justice?
Russell: That’s a great question. They are, from the genesis, connected. Which is to say, it didn’t require a social figure like St. Francis of Assisi to show that. Like, Jesus’s message… Just read the Gospels. This is justice. This is prostitutes and terrorists and tax collectors who are traitors. These are the people who he said, “This is my kingdom” in reference to. “These are my people. It’s gonna happen among the lame, the sick, the deaf.” So it’s already a very radical message, more radical than most radical bands on this tour will ever be. Very radical. And I think what happened is, Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire Christianized the Roman Empire, and what he officially did is, in my opinion, created a split where you still have Christianity, and then you have this other thing that I call Christendom. And Christendom is the whole “Republicans are Christians” thing, and “God wants us to go to war,” and “God wants America to be great.” That’s Christendom. It’s not biblical; it’s actually blasphemous. But there’s still creepy things every year on July 4th or Veterans’ Day or Memorial Day—which are great days—creepy things where churches have American flags and they’re singing patriotic hymns and literally putting the flag in front of the cross. That’s some scary shit, and that is not Christianity. Christians were, and still are to this day around the world, hunted by authority and by government because in the Roman days, when the Emperor was considered a god, they thought that was blasphemy. And to this day, there are supposed Christians who think Donald Trump is a god. (Laughs) And I think that’s blasphemy. And we all struggle with idolatry. To be honest, for me, idolatry is being single and wanting to have a dating partner. For other people, it might be money. For other people, it might be their band being popular. For other people, it might be wanting to be the best journalist on earth. I think a lot of us have idols, which is to say, things that are more important and capture our attention above what should be there. In my opinion, it should be my love of God and my love of other people. And sometimes, my desire becomes an idol and, as a Christian, my goal is to continue to fight those idols and to call them out and to have my friends call them out and say, “Hey, that’s an idol in your life. It’s stopping you from being who you need to be.”
TYF: Going along with social justice, you guys have been vocal supporters of the organization Safer Scenes [a nonprofit that aims to end sexual violence at festivals and shows]. In your opinion, how safe do you think the scene is right now? Obviously, it needs to improve, but do you think things have gotten better over the years, or are they getting worse?
Russell: You know, to be honest, we didn’t really have shows where I grew up. I grew up in a tiny town in California. We had some local shows, but we never had something big. So my introduction to the scene was when I was 18 or 19. It’s hard for me to say if things have gotten better. I will say, for anyone who says, “Hey. Punk rock music used to be dangerous,” and they’re mad that groups like Safer Scenes exist… Well, they’re idiots and they don’t understand what punk rock really is. Because Safer Scenes isn’t trying to make it so people might not break their arm in a pit, or that someone might not get knocked out with a microphone. The point is to make it so that women are not targets of violence. And I’ll guarantee you, in the 1980s, if someone was targeting women, then other punk people would be like, “Yo, F that,” and they would fight back. People say the whole “safe space” thing becomes like, “Well, you can’t express yourself,” but it’s like, “No.” The point is, “No longer should people be assaulted and hunted,” because that has never been punk rock. That has never been cool. And to this day, when people say punk is dead… it’s like, go watch a Knocked Loose show. It’s insane. And you can say, “Well, it’s different.” And yes, things change. Ultimately, you can go to a Knocked Loose show or a Beartooth show, see hundreds of people losing their minds, bodies flying everywhere, maybe someone’s getting hurt, but it’s cool, because at no point do those bands ever allow or condone, “Oh yeah, well, she’s being felt up by a guy, but she probably deserves it,” because that’s bullshit. And it’s awesome that I know that the majority of the bands on Warped Tour support the idea that people should not be assaulted at shows. And that’s never been punk rock. But at the same time, Lucas, who is the merch guy for Too Close to Touch, broke his arm in our pit. And I felt bad about that, but it was still a safe show in the sense that no one was getting targeted. People were just being wild. And that’s okay. It’s a problem, in my opinion, when you see a lot of people and you try to make them targets of violence. Cause that’s borderline terrorism, you know?
TYF: When the incident with The Dickies happened earlier on Warped Tour, you spoke out against that on twitter. Did you get any backlash for that?
Russell: Mmhmm. I still get messages from people being like, “You liberal f—, you white knight, blah blah blah.” And it’s just so funny because they’re always like, “Whatever happened to free speech?” and I’m like, “It exists.”
TYF: It’s still in the Constitution.
Russell: It’s still in the Constitution. Someone’s able to do something, I’m able to say, “That’s wrong,” and you’re able to say, “I disagree with you.” This is all because of free speech. And a lot of people… Whenever they say, “Whatever happened to free speech?”, it’s like, “No, that’s the point. Free speech allows us to critique one another. It allows ideas to be shared.” They’re like, “Whatever happened to punk?” And it’s like, “Was punk ever about singling out and assaulting and name-calling?” And they’re like, “Well, no, but it was about being wild.” And I’m like, “Great. Someone just broke their arm in our pit, so I guess I’m kind of wild, right?” It’s ultimately all about tribalism. People say, “Well, this is my band,” or “This is my belief.” And loyalty, in some senses, can be a disease of the mind, ‘cause what you do is say, “I’m willing to suspend [my sense of] what is right and wrong.” ‘Cause no one would be okay with their sister being assaulted. No one would ever be okay with that. But they say, “Because I don’t know this person, and because I do know this person, it’s okay.” And they cross their arms. And that’s not right. And in my own life, I need to be somebody who challenges that. Who says, if there’s a band that I’m friends with, or if a band member of mine does something wrong, I need to be willing to call that out. Because loyalty is about standing up for somebody and giving them the benefit of the doubt, but it’s not advocating for something that’s wrong just because, “Well, that’s my tribe. That’s my music scene. “ “That’s my friend.” “That’s my political belief.” This is why we have problems in Washington. There are things that are obviously right and wrong, but Democrats stay in their track, Republicans stay in their track. Tribalism is a disease of the mind. That’s why I agree with people who say, “Religion is a problem,” ‘cause yeah, religion as far as tribalistic religion that says, “Well, if you’re not a Christian, you don’t deserve to be an American”…Yeah, that’s a problem.
TYF: Now I have a more lighthearted question: On Twitter, there seems to be a thing about you guys and Linkin Park, and you saying that you’re in Linkin Park. Can you explain that? [Note: this interview took place several days before the tragic death of Chester Bennington, Linkin Park’s lead vocalist.]
Russell: For the record, I’m wearing a Linkin Park shirt right now. Okay. So I’ve been asked a lot about the genesis of this, mostly because yesterday I did something really stupid on our Instagram. I don’t know if you saw that. I posted a band photo, and I said, “Check out our cover on Punk Goes Pop,” but all I did was link “In the End,” the actual song by Linkin Park. (Laughs) So first of all, I love Hybrid Theory and Meteora by Linkin Park. Those are sweet records. Anyway, the joke is basically, Donald Trump said something ridiculous, ‘cause that’s kind of what he does. I think whether you voted for him or not, which I have no judgment towards you, you have to agree that sometimes he creates “facts” that aren’t real. And like, (laughs) there’s things that exist in this reality on Earth, and sometimes… And all politicians lie sometimes. It’s just, the difference is, he kind of stands by it when it’s proven false. So he said something ridiculous—I forget what it was—and I said, “Hey, I’m a member of Linkin Park. Check out my band.” I think it was just this gut reaction of, “Well, if you’re creating a fact, I’m going to…” Because I love Linkin Park. I always wanted to be in Linkin Park. And so it just became a thing where I liked to talk about Linkin Park, and it became a joke. And at some point I should probably stop (laughs), but it just became a funny, goofy thing to do. The internet’s full of jokes. But I feel like it’s probably ran its course by now… but someone brought me a Linkin Park shirt today. I crossed out the album that I wasn’t a big fan of [A Thousand Suns], and I put Hybrid Theory because I love Hybrid Theory.
TYF: Hybrid Theory’s a classic.
Russell: Dude, it’s a classic! But for the record, I love Linkin Park. I’m not making fun of them as much as just being a goofy person. You know, I don’t take things too seriously, and with The Dickies thing, people were just sending stuff, and saying, “I’m gonna fight you” and stuff, and I just kind of… Hatred is stupid, inherently. Just dumb. So when I encounter that level of stupidity, sometimes I’ll just be like, “Hey, check out my band Linkin Park!” and they just don’t know what to do anymore. (Laughs) It’s kind of fun, you know.
TYF: Yeah. I was scrolling through your tweets trying to find the origin of it, but I couldn’t find anything.
Russell: It goes way back. It’s probably in some reply to Donald Trump, honestly.
TYF: That’s awesome. Is there anything else that you’d like to say to the fans and readers?
Russell: I love you. It’s great to be in the DC metro/Baltimore-ish area. This part of the country’s amazing. This show is fun. My voice is screwed up, but I love you.