Misery Signals have long proven an upstanding force in the North American metalcore underground. Formed in 2002, the American-Canadian quintet continually amasses dedicated fans through a successful approach – a heavily melodic foundation featuring unorthodox rhythm changes and breakdowns, bolstered by a four-album-strong referential output and consistent touring presence.
Today marks the digital release of Misery Signals’ highly-anticipated documentary, Yesterday Was Everything. The film is currently streaming via iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon. Directed by Matthew Mixon, it centers primarily on the band’s 2014 tour, which celebrates the tenth anniversary of their catalyzing debut album, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart. A pivotal focus of the documentary involves their bittersweet reconciliation with original front man, Jesse Zaraska, whose hostile departure in 2006 temporarily stifled the band’s momentum. Since last year, the classic lineup of Zaraska, guitarists Ryan Morgan and Stu Ross, bassist Kyle Johnson and drummer Branden Morgan has reassumed form.
Prior to this release, I spoke to Ryan Morgan about the significance of Malice, musical influences, glimpses into the documentary’s content, and how the filming process has ultimately strengthened the band’s bond, not only as musicians, but as people.
ME: I want to start off talking about your formative time as a band. While recording the Malice album, what was the experience like?
Ryan: It was crazy. Malice was the first time we were working with a producer. It was also the first time we’d put anything out on a record label with a budget. We were out in Vancouver, BC – one of my favorite cities; it’s beautiful. Working with Devin Townsend, he was both a madman and a genius. This was very different than anything I’d done prior, that’s for sure.
ME: You’d released the album after your self-titled EP, which marked the end of the early 2000s. Could you tell me a bit about the collective sound within your music scene?
Ryan: I didn’t really think too much about whatever was going on at the time, except maybe to avoid sounding cliché. There were a lot of bands around us doing metalcore, and they had a lot of melodic elements in them. I tried not to pay attention, because that could be a misstep, worrying about what sounds were out there. If we did pay attention, it would be to set ourselves apart. We didn’t overlap too much with anyone, you know what I mean?
ME: You were influenced by your own sounds, rather than each other.
Ryan: Yeah, I mean there are so many influences. There’s a lifetime of listening to cool music, developing subtle preferences, and figuring out what you like. Not all of it is conscious, I think. It’s just a matter of what you’d been exposed to early on, and what was playing in your house when you were a baby, maybe. Then you spend your whole life exploring music, especially if you’re really excited about it.
As a kid, I remember we’d take these long drives to where my extended family lived – 10 hours a couple times a year. I’d have a Walkman with cassettes, just dig in and read every word of an album’s liner notes, even listen to the album three times in a row! I think I have a pretty rich history of just absorbing music.
ME: Whether you’re part of a scene or not, you absorb it all. I like that.
Ryan: Yup, totally true, man. Like the name your guys’ website, Music Existence. It’s a good name (laughs)!
ME: Yeah, it’s the same concept! Still, on the topic of influences, there was an interesting quote you made on the documentary’s press release, saying, “It strikes me that my bandmates and the others in the film bear little resemblance to the ‘metalhead’ archetype.” Metal’s obviously one aspect of you guys, but there are also clear alternative and progressive influences too, right?
Ryan: I’m glad you say that. I’ve always hoped that the band didn’t land too squarely into metal, you know what I mean? With that quote from the press release, I was talking more about the way we are as people. And I’m hoping there are people who watch [the documentary] that aren’t necessarily fans of the band. People could just come across it because they’d want to learn something about music, or find another path to it. Since this is about a metal band, they might have something in their heads about what a person in a metal band might be. I doubt that if you didn’t know us personally, you’d expect us to be the people that we are, because that’s all that you’d know about us. They may make assumptions about us since our music is aggressive in nature, like we’re more like cavemen or something (laughs)!
ME: Going into the documentary, what I especially like is its pacing, in the sense that the focus gradually shifts toward other bands of the scene, and happenings around you, rather than just yourselves.
Ryan: Definitely. It wasn’t meant to just be diving into the band. A story is never isolated, you know what I mean? One of a person, something happening, or, especially, a band of five people, is never happening in a vacuum. It has lots of varied relationships, and lots of settings and scenes. We wanted to try to include as much of the reality as we could. It’s as much a look around as it is a look inside.
ME: That’s a good way to put it. Right from the beginning, it hits you to the core. As I understand, your formation was impacted by a touring accident involving Jesse’s band Compromise. A big thing is the footage from the accident so early on, and then its reference again later on in the movie. Did you find it particularly difficult to revisit that?
Ryan: It was tough. The real difficulty is having a look at people who were closer to the accident than I was, like families and childhood friends of Jordan [Wodehouse] and Daniel [Langois]. Their reactions are really palpable. I haven’t necessarily had super intimate discussions with them all about the accident, and their feelings of loss, but it’s powerful stuff to witness their reactions, as they’re much closer to it than I was.
I’m not behind the camera, though. That’s the work of my friend Matt, who directed the film. He did an awesome job of having these open conversations with people about that, and getting that prismatic look at everyone involved. I give him full credit for telling the story the way he told it. It’s a little harrowing to go through so many details, but there are folks who will be affected more, certainly.
ME: I think it’s cool that you have your friend Matt directing, so that in a way, the structure and delivery of the movie feels much more natural and cohesive.
Ryan: Yeah. He was uniquely poised to be having those kinds of conversations with us, and getting us to let our guard down. I don’t think he was trying to expose anything or trick us. He wanted us to make a cool movie, but he’s also easy to talk to. He was going to be with us on tour, so it wasn’t like, “Oh, there’s a film crew following us around. How do we behave?” It was our friend Matt, and he was going to be with us anyway, so it’s not intrusive.
ME: In the making of this film, do you feel your bonds with each other have solidified?
Ryan: Yeah! I mean, I don’t want to give too much away because I assume those who’ll read this interview haven’t watched it yet (laughs). But it was definitely therapeutic not only to have done the reunion, but to have made a record of it, and share it with everyone.
ME: The extent of that is proven in your reunion with Jesse, and this comes after an undeniably bitter split. How did you guys ultimately find closure with one another?
Ryan: What’s interesting is that during the filming of our 10-year anniversary tour, we’d wanted to do this, but you can see in the movie that things were still pretty tense. You sort of get a real time look at that process beginning to happen, and the obstacles that we’re still trying to overcome as this tour has begun. There wasn’t some kind of off-camera conversation where we’d apologized to Jesse or anything like that.
But enough time had passed that we gave in to the pleas of people wanting to see a Misery Signals reunion, with an anniversary of the first album. People had been kind of imploring us to do that, and we’d succumbed to the pressure (laughs)! It wasn’t already healed as we started touring, but I’m glad that we were able to go through the healing process in real time.
ME: All things considered, it was really the fans who pushed you to reunite, and although you were overwhelmed at first, you started to recognize, “Oh yeah, this is what we’re about!”
Ryan: That’s interesting, and I hadn’t thought of it that way. But yeah, it was the fan demand that made us take the steps to rectify all that tension, and the rift we had between us.
ME: Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Ryan: I just hope they take the time to watch the movie, whether they’re fans of the band, or are somehow connected to independent music and touring. If you are interested in the band particularly, or the lyrics of the first record, I think you’ll get a pretty interesting look at us, the time that we created it, the backstory behind it, and it will get you closer to that music.
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