While Los Angeles-area band Phinehas initally formed in 2001, they didn’t really get going until about six years ago. The Christian metalcore quartet put out a pair of albums and an EP on a small label before being picked up by Artery Recordings, who recently released Till the End. Vocalist Sean McCulloch stopped by the Metal Insider headquarters to talk about what led them to sign with Artery, whether it’s important that fans know their beliefs, and why he finds it important for band’s fans to put their money where their mouths are, especially in the first week of sales.
The band was around for a long time before you recorded anything. Did you try to record before then?
The first full length was 2011. We had some EPs before then but I didn’t actually join the band until 2007, even though I’m the oldest running member. It was a local band around the LA area that played. They had a couple of songs they recorded. The rest of us guys just kind of inherited the name and have taken it a little further.
How different was the band back then as compared to now? Was the music and message the same?
I believe the tone has kind of evolved over the years. I would say that there’s been a couple of things that have stayed the same, as far as our mindset towards writing songs. We’re not trying to do this proverbial topping other bands, having them top us and us trying to top other bands as far was what’s the heaviest thing you’ve ever heard in your life or anything like that. Our main concern and main focus is just writing good songs and we want to be as creative as possible within that. There’s been riffs in general… very guitar driven since the beginning and overall aggressive sound.
What led you to sign with Artery?
Well we were with an older label called Red Cord Records and that label was not really moving or doing any of the things we were hoping to do and in some aspects it actually held us back. When we started working with the Artery Foundation a couple of years back that was our first step towards getting acquainted with the team at Artery. I remember having a 10 minute phone call with [Artery’s] Mike Milford and he was just straight to business like “Hey you guys are in a contract, lemme see what I can do for you guys.” He offered us kind of a way out and was like “First things first, let’s get you out of this contract and we’ll see where you guys want to take your career next.” We had a couple different offers on our plate, we really wanted to stick with Mike because of the way he treated us within that whole situation where he cared about us and the well-being of the band before anything else. That really meant a lot to us and I feel like that’s something rare to find in the music industry.
I’ve seen some press and spoke with [Artery’s] Scott Lee, and some are saying you’re kind of the next As I Lay Dying. How do you feel about that?
I don’t how to respond to that. Scott Lee said that to me over the phone before and I didn’t know what to say to him then. That band has been one of my favorites for a very very long time and I’ve always loved all the music that they put out. Obviously we wanna be our own thing as opposed to the next “this band” type of deal and he gets that but he’s saying it as a compliment which means a lot.
How important are your beliefs to the music?
For me the way I hear that question is like it’s incredibly important in my life and to me and my identity as a person and so naturally it’s going to work its way out into the music we’re expressing who we are so I would say it’s as important as a huge part of my own identity.
There are bands like For Today, for example, that will preach in the middle of a show. How involved with talking about the message in your music are you outside the music itself?
During a show we’ll take time, I mean we’re not gonna do a sermon, I’m not a pastor or anything like that, but I want people in the room to know that they’re loved and loved unconditionally. That’s something that’s very important to me. I want people to feel appreciated for who they are regardless of who that is. The god that I believe in loves you for who you are. Not where someone else thinks you should be. So that’s my thing.
Like a universal message really…
Well yeah, like I have a relationship with Jesus Christ. I hope that somebody walks out of our show feeling loved and not alienated because I would never want that to happen ever. We were just talking about it on the way over here, it should be an inclusive thing not an exclusive thing.
So do you care if a fan is secular or not?
No, no I wouldn’t care. No I’m gonna love that person regardless. I’m gonna want to know that person regardless of what they believe. They have their own story, they have their own reasons for believing what they believe and I respect that. I want to hear their story and that’s the whole point of community. There’s diversity and you can grow together.
Let’s circle back to Artery for a second. What are you looking forward to doing that you weren’t able to on your last label?
Everything, honestly! With the old label, literally everything seemed DIY and we tried doing that for years and years and years and it just made things so hard to gain any headway. We would take two steps forward and three steps backward cause we were trying to juggle everything between the four of us. Working with Artery has let us do what we feel like we’re meant to do. Like we can write music and just worry about that and go out on tour and meet awesome people. So with the old label, on our last CD there were so many pre orders that didn’t count towards our first week sales just because they didn’t have any of their stuff together. Not that we’re super concerned about sales or anything like that, like that’s the end all be all or anything like that, but at that point in our career, it could’ve helped us. Working with Artery and everybody involved, everybody on our team, I feel like we’re able to actually focus on what we need to do and that things are still in every aspect firing on every cylinder.
What are your thoughts on Spotify and now Apple Music versus the old days, where you paid for a download or a physical CD?
That’s a tough subject. On one end, I really want everybody who has the ability to click a couple buttons, I want them to have access to it but at the same time we’re no millionaires or anything like that. We live off of very little. People growing up have had access to everything at their fingertips. People feel entitled to it, like ‘why wouldn’t I illegally download’ or ‘why wouldn’t I just wait until it’s released on Spotify?’ I actually just posted something on our social media about it. We’ll get messages like, “hey, come to Pensacola and bring friggin Lamb of God with you.” My response to that person was ‘Did you pre-order our album?’ “No not yet,” and I’m like ‘well there’s a correlation there to where if you want to see us with these huge bands or whatever or be able to come back to your city, buying music is completely necessary in having a direct hand making that happen.’ We don’t make money off Spotify.
Well that’s a debate. The more people that pay for Spotify or Apple or whatever. They say you’ll get paid… if there’s a lot more people listening to your music then you still might only get a seventh of a penny for a play but if you have 100 thousand people listening to that song every day, those sevenths of pennies add up. But you also have to train people to pay 10 dollars a months for a premium Spotify or Apple or Google Play or whatever.
It’s such a touchy subject because I feel like you can’t compare it to any other industry as far as the actual art goes. You can’t pay 10 bucks a month to have access to any artist who paints something. It doesn’t apply everywhere to have a contractor come out to your house and fix something. You can’t just do that. So it’s very complicated, but I can tell you the way I know that helps us and that’s actually buying CDs. I’ve seen that first hand help us. I have yet to see something from the other realm, so I’m torn. I want people to have access to it and be able to listen to it whenever they want but you can also do that just by buying the CD. And we try and make it as affordable as possible. We’re doing pre orders for 5 dollars. And that comes with a physical copy and a digital download. It’s on sale on iTunes and Google Play for $6.99. Believe me, we want people to able to hear it. I’ve offered a couple of times like if somebody doesn’t have enough money and I ask them, ‘do you have a paypal account?’ I will shoot you 10 dollars if you go on to whatever and just pre order it cause I know you want it and I know you don’t have the means which sucks.
It seems like you’re really stressing the pre order, it’s very important. Do you think it’s like box office gross where the opening weekend is the biggest and you really want to make that big first week’s splash?
Yeah. That’s the idea. That’s the whole idea behind bands doing pre orders to begin with. First week sales lets agents know, who book tours, that this amount of people are waiting for this CD to come out. It matters a lot more than what people would think and I think there’s just a general disconnect where I’m not going to understand why certain things are important to another person’s job where I can’t expect them because I’ve grown up and playing shows and talking to people about CDs and whatnot like I can’t expect other people to understand that.