Sometimes the best laid plans will shatter both your heels and split your head open. Two nights ago in Eindhoven—the second night of a 13-date European tour—Ryan McKenney leapt off a speaker stack that was a lot further from the ground than he thought. About 15 feet, he reckons, which was a fall far enough to break his feet and leave him with a black eye that's actually dark purple, dye half of one eyeball bright red and shear his eyebrow in two.
"It was about ten minutes in," he says, having levered himself upright for our interview on a battered leather couch in the bowels of the Boston Music Rooms, a large pub in the north of London's venue-packed borough of Camden. "I mean, we did it, though. I wasn't going to stop playing. We played the full 45 minutes." Tonight he'll perform in a wheelchair and they'll play for an hour.
It would be tempting to claim Ryan is wearing his outsides on his insides. Trap Them's music sounds bloody, beaten down and grimly compelling, stomping up and down the scale between death metal and hardcore punk. In person, though, he's disarmingly funny, self-deprecating, and laid back. The thousand-yard stare he sports in all of Trap Them's promo shots is replaced with a polite focus. Maybe the painkillers are helping.
"Dutch hospital is pretty fuckin' awesome," he smiles, when asked to recall the night that followed their Eindhoven gig. "There was not even a moment where the ambulance driver or the paramedic looked down on me, even though I was covered in sweat, had blood all over my shirt, an open wound and 'we're fucked' tattooed on my knees. Then it was like every doctor and nurse wanted to be nice because they knew how much the next few months were going to suck for me," he chuckles. "They were so gentle. I felt like I was in children's hospital."
It's not hard to join the dots between the themes Ryan's previously described when asked about new album Crown Feral – violence, paralyzing defeat and looking back at his younger self – and him literally throwing himself into his current condition.
"When I go and do this stuff, I don't want a plan and I don't want a preconceived notion of how I do it. Obviously sometimes that's a… poor choice," he deadpans. "The thing is, I've played shows dumb like this since I started playing shows. I think being stuck for the rest of my life doing this type of music—I'm not going to do anything else but this music—means maybe it escalates without me even realizing it. It gets more and more punishing."
Describing making music he loves as "being stuck" is a reminder of the quirks of Trap Them's gloriously uncommerical sound that makes them unique among their "deathcore" peers. Their 2011 breakthrough album, Darker Handcraft, in particular boasted an element of rock 'n' roll swagger and nods to more accessible post-hardcore bands, something they acknowledged with a cover of Hot Snakes' "I Hate The Kids" for a limited edition single. Perhaps things could've been different.
"I've never had delusions of grandeur for this stuff," he says, when asked if making music that's more like some of the other bands he likes could've lead to him having an easier life and a less-bleak outlook. "I'm also such a minimalist that, from the stuff that we do, for the most part I can tread water. I don't collect anything. My room is literally an artificial Christmas tree, a TV, and a futon. That's what's in there. My roommate comes upstairs every once in a while and he's so bummed out," he laughs. "I'm like 'No, this is OK, this is fine with me' and he's like, 'It's really not fine! You need stuff!' But I've never really worried about that."
The gestation period for a Trap Them album is roughly two or three years. When the music is ready, guitarist Brian Izzi gets in touch and Ryan adds his vocals.
"I let Brian do his thing," he says. "I have such a pure trust in his ideas that for me, I'm hands off. I'm OK with waiting until he's ready to do it. I'm ready whenever."
So how many Trap Them albums do you think you could record in one year?
"I can shout every day," he says. "I got a good hour or two in me and it only takes me four hours to record vocals for a record, so I guess we could churn that shit out like butter!"
Izzi stirs from working silently behind his laptop across the room, amused by his singer's offer. They exchange nods and shrugs, their trust still clearly intact.
"There's been a few times in the studio where I've sang a song with lyrics that weren't even written down," adds Ryan, "because they were just kinda there, ready to go."
It raises the question of what Ryan is doing when he's not in Trap Them that leaves him "ready to go."
"I'm a professional treasure hunter," he says. "I do online sales but I don't like selling media, so I like to hunt down weird Christmas ornaments and do shit like that. I like finding weird, dumb stuff and maybe that's why I don't own anything: I can put it on a shelf before I ship it out and pretend it's mine for three seconds, y'know?"
He's being rhetorical. Probably.
"That actually takes up a long part of my day," he continues, "because I don't have a vehicle and I like walking, so I walk about ten miles a day when I'm at home… although obviously I'm not going to be fucking doing that for a while!" he says, gesturing to his heavily bandaged legs and raising his voice in mock indignation. Or maybe it's some real invective creeping out.
Walking ten miles a day—when he can—is a result of always ordering his errands in a particular, peculiar way, a symptom of what Ryan describes as his "severe ADHD."
"My day is kinda spent doing a ton of shit that could probably be done in three hours," he admits, "but instead I force myself to make it happen for 15 so I have less time to sit at home and reflect."
That's an incredibly bleak answer. To go with all the other bleak answers you've given. And your broken bones.
"Dude, it's like, that's the hardest part of doing the interviews at this point," he laughs again.
There's another question to be asked that Ryan probably can't answer: how or why does someone who's so affable default to such a grim world view, "barely checking his emails," and rarely speaking to his bandmates in between touring? Instead, we broach the subject of playing live to crowds of people who love his music: surely that must make him feel as though he has a meaningful connection with the world.
"It's a pretty fuckin' awesome feeling to see that many people watching something that we do," he admits, "but it's also almost like fog. I see what's there and I love every part of it but I'm not able to engulf it because I'm so separated from humanity at this point.
"Sometimes I just wanna go out there and hug everyone and say 'thank you for being here right now, this is really cool and weird because I don't look at this many people, ever,' but I'm not that type of person. It's awesome and uncomfortable at the same time."
Awesome and uncomfortable… is it OK if we use that as the headline?
"That's great!" he bursts out laughing one last time—at us talking, at his injuries, at everything. "That sums it all up, right there. I'm digging that!"
Alistair Lawrence is fine in comparison and on Twitter - @aclawrence