"I Was The Deathcore Charlie Sheen" – THY ART IS MURDER's CJ McMahon Talks New Songs, Battling Drug Addiction
During the Double Homicide tour, that consisted of Decapitated, Thy Art is Murder, Fallujah, and Ghost Bath, I climbed aboard the tour bus parked in front of Hollywood's The Roxy. After a friendly Aussie "ello mate" greeting by CJ McMahon, we spoke about a variety of topics from the lyrical meanings behind some of the new songs, anti-religous themes, his previous drug addiction struggles, financial issues, The Depression Sessions, and more.
If anything, my biggest takeaway from sitting down with CJ is that he truly is a humble man. The fact that he opened up about his controversial past was quite surprising and he gained my respect further than before. The Thy Art is Murder vocalist definitely has a lot to say so check out the full interview below.
You’re almost halfway through the tour, how has it been thus far?
I’m having a bit of trouble with my voice and my throat being dried out. I’ve been struggling a little over the past four or five days, it’s frustrating. But other than that, the tour has been really good.
You’re playing some of the new record in the set. Can we talk about each song that you have in this run’s setlist and their lyrical or personal meaning?
“Dear Desolation” is like being the last man on Earth and everything is destroyed. Being alone and understanding that humans have kinda created that. It’s not like a bible quote or anything saying that God will strike down Earth, but it’s more like through pollution, power, greed, destroying animals, and our rainforests.
“Slaves Beyond Death” is based on being possessed by possessions. From birth to death, we’re a slave to financial greed and being working bees basically. Some cultures in particular just work and only get one week of holiday a year. We have some Japanese friends on tour with us at the moment and funnily enough they choose to spend their holiday week with us in America.
“Puppet Master” is basically saying we’re all puppets, especially people in religious sects. It’s actually quite self-explanatory I think. The new songs have gone over really well. Surprisingly, there’s a few people in the crowd singing along to the songs and they’re only two weeks old. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next year when we come back and our fans have had time to digest the new material. We’re just stoked that people have gotten behind us. It’s charted really well in the States and we never thought we’d chart that high anywhere.
Your previous record, Holy War, had some controversial and political themes. Would you say there’s an overall theme for Dear Desolation?
I wouldn’t say there’s a theme. We still touch on religious ideas that we disagree with or don’t believe is real. We touch on a lot more political agendas especially here in North America. Like “Fire in the Sky” is about the Dakota Access Pipeline. Moreso about things like greed, power, and the politicians that think they’re doing the right thing for the people and country, but really they’re not and they can’t see that. I believe some of these people in politics are good people, but their views and ideals and ways they put their agendas across are destroying the people’s well-being. Even the middle class worldwide these days are struggling. It’s not just the lower class, everyone is struggling regardless of what class you think you’re in.
Most would agree that the band’s images and lyrical content come off as anti-religious, would you agree with that?
One hundred percent, yeah. We’re not like Satanic or anything like that. Some people think we’re Satanic, but when we reference evil, Satan, and hell, it’s more metaphorical. We don’t believe in God, so we don’t believe in the devil. You can’t just choose one, if you believe in one of them, you have to believe in everything. We just believe as a band that it is all false creations of man that started out in the Roman days to start the repopulation of cities. A lot of the Greeks and Romans were at war for most of their existence and were losing men in battles so they had to create something to instill hope in people and repopulate cities. That’s where a lot of the Egyptian times tied into it like the son of God resurrected after the eclipse. They didn’t have Netflix or Youtube, so they looked to the sky, so astrology was a huge thing. They would tell stories about the constellations of stars. I think a lot of that is why religion has come around. Jesus was probably real, but he would’ve been a four foot, Middle-Eastern, brown man, that was a Jew. None of the pictures that Catholicism and Christianity show him as a blue-eyed, white-skinned, beautiful man are true. I respect a lot of religious people. We’re extremely respectful to people’s religious beliefs and the way they choose to follow faiths. We’re not trying to have a war on it, we’re simply trying to put across what we believe. And there’s a lot of people in the world that believe what we believe. The way that people think of religion is quickly turning. It’s not a slow movement, most people are catching on that it’s bullshit. And that being said, again we still respect people’s beliefs. Even if we don’t agree with it, doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. We have a lot of religious fans and it’s important to always be mindful and respectful of other people’s beliefs.
Earlier this year, you left the band citing substance addiction, financial issues, and your need for some soul searching. After writing, recording, and being back on the road, do you find yourself in a better mindset or are there still the struggles of temptation sometimes present?
I’m one hundred percent a better person now. I still take each day as it comes. I have anger problems and obviously the drug problems, but we’re all pretty chill now and it’s a lot easier to deal with. The drugs aren’t in my face everyday. If people choose to do that in front of me, I’m fine. The temptation is always there, but I have so much on my plate with a business I just bought, being with my wife, and starting a family next year. I have so much to do, I don’t have time to get fucked up. If I’m going to make the band work and financially support my family, I have to be on the ball. For me, it’s important to stay focused, motivated, and sober to keep moving forward. It’s not too hard now. The first year I think was really difficult for me, especially not being with the boys and having that network of support. Everyone’s well aware of the problems I have and I think that’s why when I came back I was super honest about everything compared to before when I didn’t tell the full story and blamed it on the money. I felt embarrassed to talk about the drug problems and going into rehab and counseling. Those sort of things brought out more honesty about my problems rather than not let them out. Therapy has kinda helped me a lot as well. I’m a better person for my family, my wife, and my band now. I understand when something is going to happen like getting really angry about my voice getting fucked. It’s no one’s fault. But last night, I snapped because I can’t sing properly and it’s extremely frustrating. I have one day off every eight days maybe. I need two or three days where I don’t talk or sing. It’s just terribly frustrating when I’m trying to give everything to our fans and I can’t.
For others going through similar struggles, what would you recommend as advice to help them overcome addiction and other conflicts?
Definitely being aware and conscious of the addiction is the biggest part. I OD’d twice on cocaine. The first time I was like holy fuck, I nearly died. And then three days later I would still buy it. I was like the Charlie Sheen of deathcore. Me leaving the band was a long time coming. I spoke about it for three to four years. The money and being away from my family was the biggest part, but then once the drug problem kicked in I was like you know what, fuck this shit. I’m going to get married soon, I need money for that. I need to sober up to have kids. All of these things culminated together and I just had to go. It wasn’t an easy situation for me at the time because I was so angry about being broke, being away from my family for six to nine months a year, and then selling drugs on tour to support a drug habit. Things were getting dangerous really quickly.
Once you returned to the band, it seems you were able to write and record the new album relatively quickly. Were there any events during your hiatus from the band that were particularly inspirational for this record?
Not really, it’s something we spoke of, but once we got to New York and started writing, the boys and our producer Will [Putney] had already came up with the subject matter for a few songs. I personally didn’t want to have any limelight on me on this record. We do everything as a band and we wanted to continue that rather than being CJ’s comeback record. I hate when the crowd chants my name, it’s a cool thing, but without the band, I’m nothing. For me, I understand and respect the love from the fans for me, but I’d be more happy if they chanted the band’s name rather than my name. It was important for to coming back to the band and moving forward as a band. I don’t want any more attention on me without the band because we’re five guys, individually pieces of shit, but once we come together, we’re something extremely special. That’s why our band has been successful. The band hasn’t been successful because what I say on stage. It’s a group effort and I want to make that extremely clear. We all put in the same amount of effort, sacrifice the same, and get paid the same.
Regardless of drug habits, it may be still difficult to survive financially as a band in this genre. Have things improved now since previously leaving the group?
Oh, definitely it has improved a lot financially. The band kept growing while I was off for a year and a half. I’ve seen a couple people comment that it was a stunt and we deliberately made this happen, but it fucking wasn’t. When I left, I went straight into working three jobs working six to seven days a week. Coming back to the band, it made me realize that I’m not really me without the boys and playing and creating music. It wasn’t a publicity stunt or any of that bullshit, but I can see how people would think that. I’ve been in a band since I was twelve and I don’t feel like the real me without it.
A good chunk of deathcore bands are gradually shifting to a more proggy sound. Even “Into Chaos We Climb” off the new record sounded quite progressive. Is that a direction you expect Thy Art is Murder to head towards with time?
Not really, I think we captured our sound with Dear Desolation where it’s touching on all elements we’ve always been inspired by. We haven’t done anything purposely with a progressive stylistic approach, but as far as more traditional death metal, that’s what we wanted to achieve more so. I think this is a blend of all things we wanted and with this record in particular, we wanted to go a bit more straight down the line to the roots of death metal. Also be a bit more theatrical and ambient with the music which is where we touch on in “Into Chaos We Climb” and the final cut as well. We wanted to separate ourselves and be more individual as a band. Deathcore leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I think we’re very different to a lot of deathcore bands. We have death metal parts, black metal parts, breakdowns like hardcore, and more atmospheric parts. People can call us whatever the fuck they want. If people aren't going to give us a chance because we have the deathcore tag attached to us, it’s their loss.
The Depression Sessions with The Acacia Strain, yourselves, and Fit for an Autopsy was a really interesting display of the deathcore scene at the time. If you were to do another similar split release, what bands would you like to be included?
I can’t really say anything because that may be in the works. We’ve spoken about doing stuff with other bands that I can’t name and still maybe the bands that we did The Depression Sessions with. We definitely have had ideas with what we want to do next, but I think we want to ride out this record. We all have our own personal lives that we need to be involved with. We want to concentrate on hitting some countries we haven’t before too. I’m not sure when we’ll have time, but there will be a day we’ll do something similar to The Depression Sessions because we enjoyed it and it was something different for us to approach and it was something different for our fans.
There’s a lot going on in the world politically. Do you feel that the global craziness is in a way inspirational for creating and performing music for you personally?
I think so, I try not to think about it. I went through a stage years ago where I was really getting caught up with documentaries and fake news bullshit. I was getting really angry because millions of people see how the religious political agenda is destroying countries. I try not think about it until I'm writing music. I get so frustrated because I can't understand why the world is the way it is where the basic normal human person understands the issues and problems, but somehow governments don't. When you think about it too much, it just consumes your life. I think it's important to not worry about these kind of things too much, but be conscious of the issues and when it comes into discussion or you use it for a writing process, then you can get fully into it. Even on the street, you can hear people talking about religion in politics a lot.
What’s next for the band after this tour?
We have four days off after this tour before heading to Berlin. We'll be in Europe and UK and then we play in Israel and then we're flying to South Africa to play in Johannesburg. Then finally flying back to Australia.