“The last show we played before the pandemic was a sold out headline show in Melbourne. I didn’t give a fuck.”
These powerful words from Tom Williams, guitarist for the globally adored mosh-meets-rapcore Long Island outfit Stray From The Path require more than an inordinate amount of attention, far more than just a second glance; in reality it requires a detailed explanation. However, as famed cover art designer and author for Esquire Magazine George Lois once said: “A truly great magazine cover surprises, even shocks, and connects in a nano-second.” – obviously this isn’t a magazine cover per se, however the headline statement should provoke all of these reactions to a degree.
“I’m up there and we’re playing a fucking sold out show. You know, it was right after UNIFY Gathering. We had Sam Carter there doing his guest spot on the fucking ‘First World Problem Child’ and Kublai Khan were the support, the show was amazing and sold out. And I didn’t care. I was done dude.”
Certainly these words provide some clarity to the insight of the experience Mr Williams was undergoing at the time the four-piece played their last shows before COVID19 altered our existence; the aura of his response though, is still realistically frightening. The quartet were unquestionably at their then-career high in 2019; their previous four albums had seen the quartet elevate to heights they would have thought to be a near impossibility including worldwide touring and charting throughout multiple charts in the USA. SFTP had a fire that was resistant to extinguishing – or so one would think. Yet fire requires multiple elements to ignite and to stay ablaze: Oxygen in the atmosphere and some sort of fuel, be it wood or gasoline. Undoubtedly combustion needs to occur via reaching the ignition temperature for a flame also, this catalyst could be viewed as their momentum up until this point, but as Tom Williams’ explains, all of Stray’s essentials for their passion and ardour (fire) were at a smothering point.
“We were in a very unhappy spot; I’ll tell you this, like you all saw us in January 2020 – I was checked out because we were on tour SO MUCH. October 4th to January 20th with two weeks off, this was our itinerary: We went to Japan, America, Canada, UK, Europe, home for Christmas then Australia. I’m talking back-to-back and if we had a day off is because we were flying. It was gruelling.”
When Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic, this sinuous schedule came to a sudden and strangely welcome halt for Tom, vocalist Drew York, bassist Anthony Altamura and drummer Craig Reynolds (check his new role as a night show host drummer) and time actually (and thankfully) became an actuality once again. As prior mentioned, fire requires oxygen and fuel after combustion; for SFTP though, they didn’t have the oxygen to breathe, they were out of fuel and their combustion was busted. Each member was able to resume their alternative commitments when the Earth stopped and more importantly a lucidness beneficially returned.
“I mean, the pandemic showed us that we don’t want to tour like we used to.” – Tom admits with deep consideration before continuing. “Craig (drummer) started his podcast and you know, that took off. And so he gets a downbeat and Drew (vocalist) opened a studio and Neck (Anthony, bassist) does music videos and movies and shit. Myself, I’ve been into music management and that became more serious over the pandemic. So, we kind of looked at Stray as like, we don’t want to do it because we have to, you know? So we’re not going to tour as hard as we did. And you know what? Because we we don’t go as hard when we’re out here with this different approach, WE ARE excited to be out here. We’re playing really well. That’s why this current tour is our best we’ve ever done because I think the people are getting the best version of us every night.”
As is quite well-known at this juncture, the ‘Path returned with a ‘Time Bomb’ explosion – LP number 10 Euthanasia is a raging righteous and rampant 10 tracks of irate rapcore. Harshly honest, brutally bitter, sensationally spiteful and viciously virtuous; the four members are not just reignited, they are reinvigorated. Bassist Anthony Altamura’s artistic endeavour with film has reached new crowning moments – the clip for the four-piece’s second single ‘III’ is in all sincerity, brilliance. As Mr Williams reveals, there is more to the story which is more than suiting.
“First of all Anthony, we call ‘Dragon Neck’ – he does all of our music videos, but I’ll tell you this, for this music video, we tried to have an actor play the cop and we hit up: Patti Harrison who is a comedian and she is on I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson and we also asked Tim Heidecker. We asked Steve Little who was Stevie Janowski on East Bound & Down, we wanted a named comedian actor to do the role and everyone just kept saying no, because I think they didn’t want to.” Tom describes with frustration but a note of humble appreciation. – “We were a little bit surprised, because like, they’re pretty open. Maybe they didn’t fucking like it (Laughs). Ultimately, it came down to the point where we’re just running out of time. Anyway, how Drew is on that video is how he is in real life. You know what I mean? Our band is very serious. We talk about very serious things, but we don’t take ourselves seriously at all – we’re fun. So we call that character that he is in the clip is him doing his Ace Ventura, where he just acts like Jim Carrey.”
Tom continues – “That’s essentially what we want anyway, that if anything, people might think that’s funnier, because they will be excited seeing Drew like they haven’t seen before. He’s out there, tripping old ladies and kicking little kids over and just like starting shit the whole town and they just look away and let the cops get away with it, you know?”
“And that’s essentially what’s happening is where there’s still people who support cops, even though they stand outside of classrooms while little kids are getting fucking shot. Cops are fucking kneeling on people until they’re choked out dead on the street in broad daylight. So people still support cops because they look the other way. So that’s kind of the whole premise of it and we just tried to have a little fun on it.”
“Tried to have a little fun on it” was quite a driving force for Stray From The Path when returning from almost the brink of death with Euthanasia. The closing track ‘Ladder Work’ is an arguable pièce de résistance; the longest track the four-piece have ever crafted approaching seven minutes. The outstanding feature of the framework is arguably Benno Levine from experimental hardcore troupe Vein.FM contributing his DJ and sampling talents to the track and as TW praises, a game changer.
“So in production, someone might say: ‘I want a DJ scratch here’ and then the producer pulls up a plug-in and tries to recreate it. We’re like ‘NO’ – this dude is a legit DJ. He has turntables; we sent him all of the clips of that throughout the record: ‘Here’s another victim of the modern age’ and so much more. He just nailed it first go.” He elaborates further – “We try to tour with them all the time, but they are SO busy.”
Having been seven years since this writer had last interviewed Mr Williams – a sense of closure was more than necessary. At the time, Stray From The Path had just released their remarkable record Subliminal Criminals and one of the most memorable quotes from the conversation was from Thomas: “I hope you were alive in the 90s because it is reviving that era” or somewhere around that mark. So it plagued this scribe to ask, if Tom Morello asked Thomas Williams to join him on-stage with Rage Against The Machine which song is he hoping is next on the setlist?
“It’s funny, because if you ask me that question for Deftones I’d be like: ‘Be Quiet And Drive’ – I know that one. For Rage? It’s um, man, I think I would…” He pauses, in deep thought – “It sucks because I don’t want to say ‘the poser’ answer (laughs). I would do ‘Bulls On Parade’. Especially because I know I could smash that solo. I have done it before. So that’s a song that you could literally hand me a guitar and say go do it and I can play it.”
It would appear that Stray will not ‘Sleep Now In The Fire’.
Interview by Will Oakeshott @TeenWolfWill
Purchase Euthanasia here
Stray From The Path – Euthanasia tracklisting:
1. Needful Things
2. May You Live Forever
5. Chest Candy
6. Bread and Roses (Ft. Jesse Barnett of Stick To Your Guns)
7. Law Abiding Citizen
8. The Salt In Your Spit
9. Neighbourhood Watch
10. Ladder Work