(Andy Synn returns with another installment in his Saturday series about lyrics in metal, and today brings us insights from Sammy Urwin of the UK band Employed To Serve.)
So last week’s edition of Waxing Lyrical featured an artist who I declared to have produced one of the best albums of 2017, and so I thought… why not carry on in that vein?
So here’s your chance to learn more about Employed to Serve, whose most recent album, The Warmth of a Dying Sun, was an absolute masterstroke of metallic catharsis and furious energy, courtesy of the band’s guitarist/main song-writer Sammy Urwin.
My humble beginnings in the realm of writing lyrics are pretty far removed from where I’m at today. When I first got “serious” about writing and recording music I was obsessed with Death Metal. I still am to this day but my musical tastes have broadened a lot more since the age of 14, that’s for sure. I eventually took off the elitism armour that I was wearing and realised that there’s a whole world of great music out there that I was closing myself off from.
I’ve been in many bands over the years but right now Employed To Serve is my main creative outlet. Justine and I started the band back in 2012 just as a recording project. The band grew into a full line-up in late 2013 and that’s when we really put our foot on the throttle and worked relentlessly on writing, recording, and touring.
Since the band’s inception though, it has always been Justine and I that have been on lyric-writing duties. Even though we have mixed inspirations, when it comes to song-writing we share the same overall focus on what we want the outcome to be.
My first musical project was called Defective Brain. It was my one-man MySpace Death Metal band. At this point (as the name might suggest) I was into the whole gore aspect of Death Metal. At the ripe old age of 14 the shock value of Cannibal Corpse songs goes a long way, and they served as my inspiration for writing lyrics.
However it wasn’t particularly long before I tired of writing gore-inspired songs and started to find bands within the world of Death Metal who focused on more reality-based themes, and so I slowly became less fixated on the macabre. Bands like Death, Cynic, and (later) Gorguts really opened up my mind to less “brutal” lyrical themes whilst still playing extreme music.
Since then I’ve always been more drawn to more philosophical lyrics and concepts that are more personal to me. I’m not knocking the brutal side of Death Metal (in fact I still love Cannibal Corpse and a whole load of other gore-inspired bands), but as I’ve grown older, it’s really not something that inspires my mind to be creative.
I would have to say the main influence for my lyrical style being pushed in the direction it has been would have to be Chuck Schuldiner. In an interview Chuck said: “Reality is far more brutal than a demon ripping someone’s heart out, that shit doesn’t happen,” and that’s totally how I was feeling about my own lyrics. I wanted to write something personal to me that others might also be able to relate to.
The lyrics on Human, all the way up to Death’s final record, The Sound of Perseverance, are perfect to me. Chuck’s lyrics talk of personal suffering but then also the power to overcome it, and I think that’s awesome. I feel it’s very easy to fixate massively on the negative parts of life when writing heavy music, because in all honesty, pain, hardship and sadness do tend to fit this style of music best. That being said it can be easy to get yourself in a rut of writing songs with the motto “everything’s shit”, and I don’t feel that reflects who I am as a person.
In the song ‘See Through Dreams’ from the Human record, there’s a line
Close your eyes and imagine to be without
What we take for granted every time we open our eyes
Which is a hugely humbling line, as we’re all guilty sometimes of taking a lot of the great aspects of our day-to-day lives for granted.
An old song of mine that I’ve picked to talk about is called “The Living Stillborn”, and it was released by my Death Metal project Regurgitate Life, which is something that I’ve been doing for a number of years now.
Now the theme of this song isn’t a million miles away from what I write about nowadays. The song title could seem like it’s about something quite juvenile but the meaning behind it is actually not of a zombie nature. It’s supposed to be a metaphor for people living their lives on auto-pilot and not questioning whether they’re doing what they really want to do with their time on earth.
I try to explain this in a line at the end of the song, which goes,
In life you are born twice
few make the second birth
These are the living stillborn
I’ve felt for a long time that there’s a lot of conventional norms in society that we don’t question, one of the biggest ones being that it’s seen as unusual if you don’t settle down into a stable career and buy a house by the time your in your mid-twenties to early thirties.
I’ve put off a lot of stuff to pursue a life of music and I couldn’t be happier. I know for some people they just don’t understand it, but at the end of the day I work hard and I do what I need to do in order to have this lifestyle. We’re alive for such a minuscule amount of time, I can’t imagine spending my time not doing exactly what I want to do.
This same theme is still very much used in Employed To Serve’s music. An example would be the opening track to our last album, “Void Ambition”. This song was inspired by the Charles Bukowski’s quote:
“If something burns your soul with purpose and desire, it’s your duty to be reduced to ashes by it. Any other form of existence will be yet another dull book in the library of life”.
The song is all about giving yourself to your passion. Achieving goals in life isn’t always easy and you have to take the rough with the smooth in order to achieve what you want.
So to sum it up, as time’s gone on, my lyrical style has moved away from fiction to totally focusing on how I feel about certain aspects of life. If I had to note a change in content over the years it would be that my earlier material was about wanting to achieve my ambitions in life and now it’s about trying to achieve those ambitions against all of the obstacles you are faced with as you start to get a bit older.
You have to deal with members leaving because they have other things they want to work on, such as family, career, etc and you have to deal with self-doubt on whether you can keep it all going. It’s a hard graft doing bands but you live for the payoff which is achieving things you dreamt of when you were younger, and for the most part that’s exactly what our last album is all about.
The Warmth Of a Dying Sun is a metaphor for doing what you love but not knowing what the longevity of it is. That feeling of “ah shit, is this all going to end at some point and I’m going to have to settle for something less than what I really want in life?”.
You just have to keep at it and remind yourself what the options are if you gave it all up, and would you be happy? The line that sums it all up on the record is again from “Void Ambition”:
this could never be forgiven
Grab your copy of The Warmth of a Dying Sun from: