Full of Hell’s Relentless Grind

Avatar photo
Full of Hell interview

For 15 years, Full of Hell have made a career of unleashing abrasive extremity through captivating blends of noise-infused death metal, grindcore, and hardcore. On their sixth album, Coagulated Bliss, the Maryland/Pennsylvania band’s trademark ferocity flourishes in an array of stylistic and technical flair, offering a gripping, haunting sonic experience.

Accompanying that instrumental chaos is also a narrative about their home—the perils that one might face living in rural America. Reflecting on these isolating places, frontman Dylan Walker acknowledges the possibility of finding oneself trapped in these pitfalls of seeking happiness—an obsession underlined by an existential lack of mobility.

For much of his life now, Walker has been driven to pursue his art with utmost integrity. There have never been any illusions that a path to success would be successful; many a night has been spent sleeping in vans and stealing food to eat. While there have always been difficulties for touring artists, it seems nowadays it’s only getting harder due to rising costs and more limited opportunities. However, Walker and his bandmates confront those difficulties head on; they love what they do too much to let anything stop them. This love also extends to Walker’s craft of screen printing and clothing outlet: Isolation Man, where he creates shirts paying homage to Lord of the Rings and several horror and science fiction movies.

Walker is understanding of the complex relationship that exists between art and business, and while capitalism pushes us to monetize our hobbies, he still refuses to water down the message of his work for a buck. At the same time, he’s also willing to bust his ass to support himself and his family.

Over the course of a recent phone call, Walker opened up to us about his experiences in Full of Hell, how his efforts to be frugal have aided him along the way, and as well as their new album and its thematic depth.

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Treble: Before we dive into anything else, I have to say, that album cover is a trip. What was the thought process behind its design and how it relates to the themes of Coagulated Bliss?

Dylan Walker: We had a really cool experience with this painter, Brian Montuori; I was like 20 years old when I met him. We all had this feeling coming that the [band’s] color palette had to change. We wanted [the album cover] to look like a DMT trip. We came to a point where Brian’s art started to make sense for the band. He’s actually kind of responsible for guiding the theme of the record too; I wasn’t sure what I was going to be writing about. I was talking to Brian about the direction the record should be taking. He told me that it was time at my age and with my life situation—having a kid and us getting older—we needed to come home and write a record about what we knew and where we came from. 

Four-fifths of the band is from Ocean City, Maryland, and I’m from Central Pennsylvania, where I still live. [Our] experiences are somewhat similar. It was one of those enlightening moments where I felt like, “Oh, man, I have so much to tap into here,” just based on personal experience. So, the record from the start was meant to be about our families and home experiences, things that we’ve dealt with in our lives, people I’ve watched in my community do horrible things—just like the circumstances of life in rural America, basically. And Brian’s interpretation of that—there’s a lot of scenery in the artwork from Ocean City, there are aspects with the nature-y stuff that’s more like Central PA vibes. There are these cryptic occult symbols on all the animal heads throughout the layout; on the front there’s this exploding head on the ground, this guy that’s kind of being shot with this beam of pure white bliss light, and the head is exploding so fast, that reality can’t even render it. To me, it’s more of an absurdist take on the themes of the record.

Treble: In the press release for the record, you make a comment about this obsession to seek happiness—mentioning how that can be through addiction and such. How does that notion relate to your own life and fit in with this exploration of rural America?

DW: Speaking first to the rural America connection—I mean, anybody that’s grown up in a small town understands the lack of opportunity, sometimes the lack of culture. There’s a narrowness to what you feel you’re able to achieve and what you know about the world. It’s kind of like a pit in some ways for certain people. 

I’ve been fortunate to not have that experience personally, but people around me, even in my neighborhood, there’s like terrifying meth heads, heroin addicts, and pill junkies, across Appalachia, across the country. As far as seeking your happiness, I think it’s a pretty common feeling with people. It’s almost like it’s impossible to feel contentment, and impossible to be happy. You have these glimmers, and certain days you wake up, and you feel good; then a lot of days, you wake up and feel awful, you feel empty. The sad part to me is like, you could have a lot of blessings in your life. I’m really lucky: I love my life, I get to play with my band, I have a lovely wife and a daughter, I’m extremely lucky. And yet still, you’re going to wake up, and because the body wants to be in stasis so much, you’ll have that empty hole. No matter what. You can call it a God Hole or whatever. It’s different for everybody. 

When I was drumming up the title [Coagulated Bliss], the metaphor in my head was like a clogged heroin needle. It felt pretty apt to me, because—I’ve never done heroin and none of us have—the idea of hitting this bliss point when you shoot heroin, and the needle clogging, or the fact that it’s just like so painfully addictive. There’s also the idea of “too much of a good thing,” and our instinctual nature to just go for these things. Our bodies are naturally inclined to want that release, whether it’s drugs, a lust for violence, competition, social media likes, or whatever it might be. You’re just trying desperately to fill this hole. I think we just have an instinct for it. It’s not a good thing to feed into. 

[Regarding the connection to rural America], I think it goes hand in hand, when there’s nothing to do and a lack of opportunity. It’s just a different kind of depression than like an urban setting. It’s its own beast.

Treble: You’ve described yourself as someone who has approached lyric writing in “fantastical” and “metaphorical’ ways. For Coagulated Bliss, you decided to embrace a “direct” approach to writing. Where does that “fantastical” direction spring from, and why the shift?

DW: The way I was writing for years was like, to me, pretty in tangential and kind of metaphorical. I looked at it almost like a visual in my head when I was writing. I love Tolkien and Ursula Guin, and all that kind of fantasy stuff. I love the supernatural—I just like that kind of stuff, it just appealed to me in a visual sense in my head. So that’s where I always went. 

I also felt a push to try and write as, I don’t know if I would say as archaically as possible. I was really into Joanna Newsom in my early twenties, like when she was putting out maybe her second record. She wrote in this really kind of antiquated way, but it was the most beautiful poetry that I’d read at that point in my life. The way she was just spinning these stories, I just found it to be kind of enchanting. I thought it would be interesting to write metal lyrics that had a kind of melody like that to them. It’s super ugly music, but it [has] beautifully terrible lyrics. 

I think over the years, I just got over writing like that. I still write in the same way but I’m just not trying as hard to fit some idea of what I feel like good lyrics need to sound like.

I’ve certainly had moments over the years where maybe I’m going through some shit mentally, and I get burned out on touring or whatever. But I keep doing it, because this is what we do, and we have this opportunity.

Treble: What’s the origin story behind Isolation Man?

DW: I started screen printing when I was younger. My aunt and uncle have a co-op in Philadelphia called Second State Press—they kind of taught me. One of the essential tenets of a DIY band over the decades of punk being a thing is do it yourself, make it yourself, and that’ll help you be a successful artist. That kind of applies to all walks of life. Owning the means of production is the most powerful thing that the worker could have. 

When my wife and I decided to buy a house, we got this crazy deal on this gutted farmhouse that had a garage woodshop on the property. It was like someone was guiding me on a higher level; they were like, “This is right in your lap, you’d be stupid not to do this.” So, I just started printing: I would make stupid shirts, post about them, and sell them to my friends. It’s been like nine years and now it’s this cool project where the main people involved are me, my wife, and our friend Rich. We work together and make goofy ass shit—a lot of Lord of the Rings stuff. 

I haven’t found a lot of things in my life that I feel as passionate about like my band. But screen printing was the only other thing that I didn’t quit when I failed. It gives me so much joy; it’s like a different kind of joy because it doesn’t have anything to do with other people. Like I have other people involved with me now, but it’s me: I print the film, I go out and shoot the screen, I set the screen up, I print the t-shirts. I never leave my property. It’s awesome and beautiful.

Treble: Even more so today, there’s this push to monetize our hobbies. While Isolation Man is this lovely creative project, it’s also a business. Have you felt any level of obsession when it comes to monetizing Isolation Man and treating it more like a business than enjoyment? If so, how have you navigated that struggle?

DW: I do not have that feeling at all with Isolation Man. The printing and designing are so joyful to me that I just never have that feeling. But with Full of Hell, it’s a whole other discussion, because I’ve had this feeling for a long time, and I’ve talked about it at length with friends. 

There is a very weird relationship that bands have with money. It’s really difficult and paradoxical. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of about wanting to be a working band, wanting to make money and tour. I think the dance becomes complicated when a band loses sight of why they’re doing it in the first place and start making decisions based on money. 

I think there’s a balance to be struck where—and this is the paradox—you have to lean as hard as you can away from the idea that “I need to do this for money.” You have to stick to keeping your art honest and not money driven. When art is blended with this need for money—which everybody needs to eat, that’s fair—there’s a high probability it’s just gonna be perverted and ruined. I think that’s a pretty hard dance. I’ve certainly had moments over the years where maybe I’m going through some shit mentally, and I get burned out on touring or whatever. But I keep doing it, because this is what we do, and we have this opportunity. It’s paying my bills, which is an odd thing with extreme music at all. Full of Hell is an anomaly. 

When we formed Full of Hell, I remember talking to the guy that put out our seven inch, my friend Dave, and asking him how bands did this at a higher level. My example was Converge—I was like, “How are they Converge? What did they do?” And Neurosis is the other one, which is funny, because I think Converge looks up to Neurosis quite a bit. There’s a saying amongst a bunch of bands that I’m friends with, it’s “What would Neurosis do?” We apply the same logic with Converge as well, because those guys just kept it real and humble and stayed in control of their band. Their lifestyles have been shaped to suit their band and vice versa; the band works around the family aspect of them now, because all those guys are dads. It’s fucking awesome.

Treble: When it comes to work-life balance, how do you manage/avoid burnout?

DW: I don’t know, man. I was talking to my wife about this a few days ago, because I’ve been working since we had my daughter. I can’t sit still. For one thing, I’ve discovered that if I’m not busy, I get in my own head pretty quickly and I get depressed. I need motion, which sucks because there’s another part of my brain that just wants to lay on a rock in the sun and not do anything ever. That’s a paradox in my own head. I don’t know any better than anybody else. 

Making my own schedule has been a blessing. I definitely have time with my family and stuff, plenty of it. When my kid is awake at home, I want to be spending every moment with them and be present. The night is a very productive time for me. I’m kind of accustomed to a nontraditional schedule.

Treble: From early on and throughout your career, how has Full of Hell survived as a touring band, financially speaking?

DW: We’re wired to be hustlers; me and Spencer [Hazard], particularly, are extremely thrifty and frugal. I remember our first U.S. tour: none of us had any money. I was stealing change out of couches in venues to get like—there was a one-dollar cheesy double beef burrito at Taco Bell. I was stealing tons of food, which we picked up tricks from a lot of our friends. It’s not really my thing anymore, but I’m very pro-stealing food. I think it’s like an awesome move if you need to. We were standing on the backs of many bands before us. We certainly weren’t staying in fucking hotels; we were sleeping in the van a lot. We weren’t making any money. I didn’t get a dollar from Full of Hell for years. 

I think what we had on our side was that we were just so excited to even be in the room and have the opportunity to begin with. We had aspirations where we felt like we could grow this into something that could feed us. We didn’t expect it to happen. Every step of the way we were grateful for what it was at the time.

We’re still operating as low budget as we can, within reason. I think there’s things to spend money on, like art; I think you should be paying artists fair wages. You want good art? Go hire an artist that inspires you and feed them. It helps both band and artist. You don’t need a fancy hotel, or a nice van. Well, the van I take back. Maybe don’t buy a shit-can van either because that’ll bite you in the ass.

I do notice, with younger bands, I think they have expectations that are unrealistic. Maybe they don’t know what it’s like to slum it. We always had pride in slumming it a little bit; we didn’t think we were slumming it either.

Treble: What’s your advice to artists looking to make a life in music or the arts? When it comes to maintaining artistic integrity and avoiding that toxic hustle-grind culture to monetize one’s craft, what do you say?

DW: I think mortality is an interesting thing; as you get older, you start to understand that things truly take time. When you’re young you want results quickly, you expect things quickly. You have to really love this, stick around, and keep it real and be fucking respectful. Not make friends as stepping stones or any bullshit like that. Genuinely be connecting with people. The community aspect of it, it’s literally essential to the whole thing, if that’s what you want. If you want other people involved, you have to be respectful and have to understand that that stage is for everybody. Doing something like this means stomaching a lot of failure. It never stops—there’s always going to be something, and you just have to roll with it. And you keep doing it, because even when it hurts you, you love it. 

As far as the toxic side of it, honestly, I’d kind of hate to start something where I wanted a full-time band nowadays, because I just wouldn’t understand what to do about that. But it’s different for every person, I would just say “Know thyself.” Whatever that might mean for you. Maybe you’re okay with making silly TikToks every day, like it’s fun for you. I still don’t think you have to be terminally online to have a successful career in art or music. I mean, you have to be there, but a lot of the artists I really love, some of them aren’t online at all, and some of them rarely ever feel the need to share anything online. I think that can work for some people. There isn’t an end game answer for “how to do this and what not to do,” beyond: Don’t be a disrespectful arrogant fuck to anybody. Be nice, honest, and real about what you want to be making. It’ll follow suit, it just takes a long time.

Treble: When it comes to a touring band, what’s a piece of financial advice you’d offer? To musicians who are committed to sticking it out on the road.

DW: Temper your expectations, basically put your expectations at zero. You’ll always be pleasantly surprised if you expect absolutely nothing. Be humble or be prepared to have your glass ego shattered and be okay with that. I think it’s really important that people have realistic expectations in general on what to expect with their art. The measure of success of your quote unquote business that you’ve fostered out of your dumb ass metal band is not a measure of true success. The success is in the records that you’re making, your performances, and the synergy between the band members. Like I said, it’s a paradox, you should be leaning away from validating yourself with that superficial shit. It might come, it might not come, and you shouldn’t be a prisoner to those expectations. Because you can be an absolutely successful artist and never make a fucking cent. Because there’s just so much more to it than that.

Treble is supported by its patrons. Become a member of our Patreon, get access to subscriber benefits, and help an independent media outlet continue delivering articles like these.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top