Rock All Photography had a chance to talk to Dave McAnally, Derision Cult founder and leader. The latest album from Derision Cult, ‘Mercenary Notes Part 1″ features a vicious blend of industrial and rock/metal elements. The themes of the album take on some serious topics such as manipulation in advertising. We’re grateful to Dave for talking to us about Derision Cult, the new album and more….
Thanks for being with us at Rock All Photography today. Derision Cult’s music has been called “industrial rock” or “industrial metal”. What influences did you grow up with that helped you create this type of sound.
I’ve always been a fan of thrash metal, it’s definitely a big influence in my music. But I also grew up listening to the Wax Trax! sound- bands like VNV Nation and Sister Machine Gun. With the new tracks, I worked with Sean Payne and we really tried to tap into the roots of Chicago industrial. I’m also a big fan of the blues and outlaw country, and you can hear some of that influence in my sound as well. We’re planning on experimenting more with those styles in the next album.
‘Mercenary Notes’ Pt 1.is the latest release and deals largely with advertising and mass manipulation. Is that accurate? The cover art is actually appears like a similar theme from the two previous singles. Talk about how the cover art of these releases is supposed to convey your message.
We got Jim Marcus from Go Fight! and Die Warzau to do the art, and let me tell you, he nailed it. He came up with this badass theme for us that ties in all the singles and our merch. Working with Jim was killer, he’s another guy who’s been in the ad game, so he understood where I was coming from. We talked about the tracks, bounced ideas off each other, and he was all about playing with neon and cityscapes. One of my favorite parts of the art is this neon sign that says CHUM on the inner sleeve of the CD and on a poster we did, it’s like Lard or something. It creates this whole world for our EP and singles. It made its way across all our digital content too.
How does a consumer distinguish the difference between the dissemination of positive vs. negative advertising if the companies’motives might not be morally sound?
We touch on this in the track “Bastards of the World” (or at least the samples do). When you see any piece of news or advertising, you have to ask yourself if it’s trying to piss you off or objectively inform you. You can tell by the language they use, the colors, and the size of the fonts. If you can tell there’s an agenda, then you should probably resist the urge to react to it by sharing it on social media or letting it live rent free in your head. “Bastards of the World” came from a project I was offered to help a gun company sell more guns by pushing a piece of news that would make gun control advocates mad, so the pro-gun group would go buy more guns and ammo. It’s a real tactic and how you react to it determines if it’s successful. Take Nike for example, their market cap went up 20 billion after people burned their shoes because they had Colin Kaepernick narrate a commercial. It was planned, they knew that reaction would trigger action. The data was all in on how their primary buyers were and who would be set off by that campaign. Be careful how you react to things, because you might be part of the plan. Think about how your video or your rant on TikTok could be used against you. It’s gonna get more and more common, because it works so damned well.
We noticed that your hot sauce on Bandcamp was sold out. Any plans to reproduce? If you were a company who did mass advertising and mass production, how would you handle it?
Yeah, man, I was hyped about it. You can still get it on the Common Descent Provisions website. It was a spontaneous move, because Chris Connelly titled the track he wrote lyrics for “Deaf Blood” and it sounded like a cool name for a hot sauce. We were like “Why not?” and hooked up with Common Descent to make it happen. I’m not sure where we’ll take it from here, we kept it mild because I didn’t want it to be something only people with iron stomachs could enjoy. Right now we haven’t really discussed the next step, but it was a fun thing to do for that track. If I start getting requests for more, we might bring it back for another run!
I still do a lot of ad consulting these days, mostly business to business stuff. But I’d advise to steer clear of political issues. The moonshots happen like with Nike but most of the time they just backfire. I saw this with a certain auto brand who put themselves in the middle of the MeToo movement with a Super Bowl ad, and they caught a lot of heat for it (it’s hard to espouse the virtues of empowering women when you yourself haven’t had a single female director in your 100 years of existence). But I’m a big fan of what Liquid Death is doing, man, that’s a great brand strategy. They’re taking a mundane product and putting a crazy twist on it. They found a use case for canned water with metal heads and punkers who want to fit in but don’t want to drink booze. I quit drinking a couple of years ago, so that one really resonated with me. I love campaigns like that. Ones that create a vibe and identity without needing to be controversial or pissing you off to do it, are the most clever in my opinion.
Your first release, ‘Man Alive Vol. 14’ also talks about the media. What does the release title refer to and how is the themes of the album similar to what you address these days?
Funny enough, I did that right as the pandemic was kicking off, so there were a lot of themes of uncertainty on that record. “Man Alive” was just an old-timey saying I thought was funny and a cool name for a title. The 14, that was actually the 14th demo I’d done. I retained it as an EP because I think that’s the first one where I really nailed Derision Cult’s sound. Thematically, it’s in line with where we ended up going with “Mercenary Notes.” It’s a bit broader though, just like “Charlatans Inc.” “Charlatans” came out during a pretty chaotic time for me. I’d lost my job due to the pandemic and had a lot of anxieties about keeping the lights on and all that. So, I just pounded out a lot of thrash riffs, almost like a stress relief exercise. That one didn’t really offer any solutions, it was just a gunmetal gray, pissed off album.
You actually worked in advertising so you have a unique perspective. Have you got any horror stories that might surprise some members of the general public or even make them want to not buy a certain product?
Heh, well, I worked on the campaign to control public perceptions about High Fructose Corn Syrup. It was funded by the trade association for the makers of that stuff, so Con Agra and all the big food production names. It was an interesting project, I learned a lot about how scientific studies you hear about all the time really work. We found the one doctor (out of dozens) who would go on record and publish studies saying HFCS doesn’t contribute to obesity. We paid him close to 7 figures to hit up the talk show circuit saying this. We also funded studies to compare HFCS to other sweeteners at various universities. If a study was looking like it wasn’t going to lead to the results we wanted, we simply stopped funding the study. We’d fund ones that made cane sugar look like poison in lab rat studies, and then put in real fine print, we basically pumped these rats full of 100x what a human could possibly consume. What was crazy too was that most of the makers of HFCS also made stevia and Monsanto, so they had horses in all the races. It was just a matter of putting weight behind whatever sweetener at the time was cheapest to make and easiest to sell. All the while, the health blogs and talking heads would parrot whatever, and the general public had no idea whatsoever how this was all managed behind the scenes. That kind of stuff goes on all the time.
Where do you think you’ll go with ‘Mercenary Notes’ Vol II thematically and do you foresee any releases beyond that in the “Mercenary” series?
Yeah man, we’ll definitely keep with similar themes. We started with 12 tracks, divided them up into two EP’s just to make them a more manageable listen, that’s why there’s two parts. I haven’t really thought beyond that yet, I just wanted to create these two EP’s and see where we’re at after that. But who knows, it could be cool to revisit it down the road, we’ll see where it takes us.
Do you think that underground artists will ever be able to make a REAL profit or has it all become a thing where people just are mainly concerned with the love of what they do? Do you see anything on the horizon that might be the “next big thing” in terms of marketing underground bands?
That’s a tough one. I don’t know if underground artists ever really made a profit, I know I haven’t and I’ve been in the game since before the internet! But I definitely think it’s possible, I got some friends who are making a career out of their art full-time, and that’s amazing. But many of those artists sacrifice other things along the way to make it work. The wonderful thing about art is that great art doesn’t care what you do with your time, you don’t have to quit your day job to make something great, and that’s the same as it’s ever been. There’s a lyric from this band in Iowa called the Lotos Eaters that I think sums up this issue perfectly: “You see I wanted to be John Lennon, I wanted to be Dylan too. I wanted to preach to the screaming masses and tell them what to do. Of course, I wanted my beach home and sports car and command six-figure pay. I wanted the lust of girls I didn’t deserve and now I just want to play.” -That exactly.
On marketing bands, if you find out, let me know so I can do it! I’m pretty impressed with how well Instagram and Facebook ads work. I think what I’m learning as I go is that it really comes down to creating good content. You have to put yourself out there. The upside is that there’s more opportunities to put your art out than ever. I recently took the plunge into TikTok. It seems to be plugging along. How you turn all this into profit requires some orchestration and know-how to convert all this content into followers and then fans. I fully expect bands and artists to get better and better at doing that. I was saying earlier to somebody, I think a big difference between what it was like in the 90’s was that 20% of your fans would produce 80% of your sales. Nowadays, I think that ratio is more like 5% create 95%. So the path to reaching those 5% may be longer, but it’s still there. That concept is probably fractal too. What I mean is whether you are an underground artist or Metallica – with their 1.7 billion Spotify streams last year, that fan spread probably will hold true. So, it’s all about finding that dedicated fanbase and catering to them. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. You gotta put in the work and be creative. And you gotta be willing to take risks and try new things. That’s the name of the game in the music industry.
We greatly appreciate your time today. These last words are yours.
Thanks for listening and the time today! You can check out what we’re up at derisioncult.com and follow us on all the channels! We’re publishing shorts on YouTube, Tik Tok and Instagram daily! Stay tuned!