I am drawn to particular artists for a lot of different reasons. Most often, it’s because I am interested in something about their music, but it could be their concept, artwork and imagery, members, or story. It is very, very rare that I get into a new artist because of their name. But, when I first saw a friend share the The Faith Hills Have Eyes, I chuckled and checked them out. With that name and song titles like “Low Blood Sugar Sex Magik” or “Dali Parton”, I had no idea what to expect from the music. But I was genuinely impressed, which is perhaps evidenced by the choice to highlight them as our Weekly Featured Artist. I was able to connect with Gordon (guitars) and Aaron (vocals) to learn more about the Wisconsin quintet, their approach to nomenclature, songwriting, and more.
After the initial draw to their humour, The Faith Hills Have Eyes hooked me with a varied musical approach that pulls in grindcore, Southern hardcore, mathcore, and more, sounding like some kind of grindy, grungy teenage lovechild of Mastodon and Every Time I Die, in a good way. Gordon attributes this sonic versatility to an unspoken approach: ‘When we bring ideas into the practice room, I think we all are just trying to write the kind of music we’d want to listen to. The problem ends up being that we want to listen to everything, all the time.’
On their unique riff on a Megadeth song title, “Dio de Janeiro… Larry King, the Punishment Due”, this versatility shines. The riffs are thrashy (perhaps explaining the origin of the name), while Aaron adds some clean vocals that evoke early Mastodon before the band flows into some hardcore-esque breakdowns and mathy, darting riffage. Elsewhere, “Meth Lab For Cutie” (for real, these names) pulls in Protest The Hero-like frenetic riffage alongside some rock-dusted vocal performances and chord choices.
The diversity of their musical approach is matched by a wide range of influences, from Faith No More, Chris Cornell’s projects, Syd Barrett, to Every Time I Die, Whitesnake, Voivod, Animals As Leaders, Fit For An Autopsy, Ghostface Killah, MF DOOM, and many, many more. Aaron explains:
‘We’ve always said we like ALL forms of metal and rock, including the cliched ones that are still passionate so we want to go down every avenue out there. We’ll have riffs or parts to start, and we go from there. The extremes keep branching out the farther we go as a band so that’s exciting to feel. I kind of think of us as the way Faith No More seemed to be where 5 guys who are all really different from each other but all love music kind of clash and complement each other at the same time.’
2023’s The Riffth Element is a solid and multi-faceted release that follows an early self-titled 2014 demo from the band. On that early EP, much of the act’s identity are already solidified – there are rocky grooves, varied vocals, and a frantic pace, as opener “Flash Gordon… Your Jiblets” clearly illustrates.
The band’s roots run nearly ten years deep, as Aaron explains:
‘Gordon and I both worked at a record store years back while we were in other bands at the time. Gordon and our original drummer Nick Bartley had an idea to make a grindcore band on the side for fun with ridiculous song titles. I was into the idea, but when I heard the riffs, they had a ton of depth and variety and were amazing. I knew we had something special right away that then was beyond simpler labels.’
That history lesson answers one of my most pressing questions – where do these song titles come from??? Clearly, their origin is intertwined with the band’s. “Whitney Houston, We Have A Problem” is just as likely to elicit a headbanging neck injury as it is a laugh, while “Juggalo Wild Wings” has a mosh-worthy opening as saucy as its namesake:
‘The song titles have become almost an inside game to the band members and our friends to get each other to laugh at more and more absurd portmanteaus, the more ridiculous and improbable, the better. They act as a gateway to get audiences both with and without established interests in heavy music to check out the band and our music. While the titles have been light-hearted, the actual material has always been a dedicated, meticulous labor of songwriting and conscious lyrics.’
The process of making this music is clearly intentional. Gordon and Aaron describe the songwriting process as one of journeys – instead of traditional songwriting structures, they arrange riffs and ideas into ‘arcs’ with variations in repetitions and dynamics. This thoughtfulness is clearly foundational to the band’s songs. In less intentional hands, the tempo changes, technicality, and dynamics could come across as fractured and out of control. But it’s not the case here. And clearly, the nine years between the self-titled release and The Riffth Element allowed for a lot of songwriting maturation. However, there is much more to that timeline than that:
‘We actually had a self-titled 8 song demo that came out years ago (available for free on our Bandcamp). There are some even older versions than that that are better sounding and another different song on ReverbNation. They are Satanic Easter eggs floating in the ether. Then this album was some serious Spinal Tap and real tragedy mixed as it took years and years while we had 4 different drummers and 3 different bass players before it was completed. Gordon and I lost our minds many times, but we knew we had to get it finished, partly in tribute to our bass player and great friend Woody Davis who actually passed away during those years. He has co-writing credit on every song. I had tunnel vision to get it done still somehow, and our incredible new bassist Blake Franklin helped produce it and get it out with his cohort Chris Browning at Cursed Sound Studios in Madison, Wisconsin.’
The tragic loss is a hard one to overcome, but it seems like The Faith Hills Have Eyes have found a way to move forward in honour of Woody. The band is already writing new material, invigorated by new members and a desire to better capture the energy of their live shows in the future recording process. While we don’t have a timeline, the band has shared that their penchant for creative song titles continues with tracks entitled “Danzig With Myself’ and “Bed Bath Salts And Beyond The Grave”. I personally can’t wait to hear what comes next. I’ll be following them on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Bandcamp.
The Faith Hills Have Eyes are:
Gordon Dale – guitars
Aaron Miller – vocals
Blake Franklin – bass
Jeremy ‘Goat’ Wisdom – guitars
Brian Martinez – drums