Cult Leader are probably the best hardcore-tinged extreme metal band out there right now, Trap Them included. Take the ten fastest Converge songs and drag them through Nails, and that’s pretty much Cult Leader—sublime, no? They used to be a right savage band called Gaza, who were equally fantastic, if a little more proggy and sprawling. Following years of conflict (and one especially unsavory rape allegation), singer Jon Parkin and the three remaining members of Gaza—bassist Anthony Lucero, guitarist Michael Mason and drummer Casey Hansen—parted ways in 2013, after which the latter three, enlisted bassist Sam Richards (Lucero switched to vox), tightened the bolts and recorded a barbaric yawp of an EP, Nothing for Us Here, which comes out next month on Deathwish.
They’re also from Utah—Salt Lake City to be exact—and have no plans on relocating to somewhere hipper, artsier, or with significantly lower concentrations of Mormons. To quote Lucero, “It’s home,” and it’s also where they recorded this burly sounding EP with local producer and compatriot, Wes Johnson. This, mind you, is after years in the trenches, touring the world with Gaza and taking their lumps at home (Lucero is a semi-seasoned 33-years-old). I mean, look at that photo: how hard would Portland or Oakland bear-hug/blow these guys?
It might be a case of big fish/little pond syndrome but to hear Lucero describe it, it sounds like he and his fellow Cult Leader(s) have a strong bond that carries them through hard times and helps keep their hometown an evergreen way station between tours. Before they traverse the continental US for the next two months. Lucero spoke with me by phone from SLC about marrying a Mormon, divorcing a Mormon, and the biggest cult leader of them all, Jesus Christ.
What’s it like growing up in Salt Lake City?
There’s a strong counterculture, a strong community. It was good in that it helped us focus on life outside of religion. Music became the best tool to fight against [that sort of a thing].
What was the eye-opening moment for you growing up there?
I think the moment for me was when my older sister took me to see Bloodlet and Earth Crisis at this tiny little spot in Salt Lake. Bloodlet scared the shit out of me. It was a pretty violent, crazy show and I just knew I had to do that from now on.
Was there a lot of pushback to your desires growing up where you did?
Well, I grew up Pentecostal in a pretty strict indoctrinating-type house. I married a Mormon girl and her dad was a bishop in a Mormon church and he always hated my guts. [Laughs] So, yeah, it’s always been hard; there’s always been that push and pull.
And are you still married?
No. We’ve been divorced for about three years.
So is that a big thing where different sects of Christianity don’t mesh well?
Oh yeah, definitely my family didn’t mesh with the Mormon aspects of ex-wife’s family. And all the contention was on the Mormon side—my parents didn’t care about denominations. The Mormons are so focused on how correct their version of Christianity is, there’s no happy medium with any other version of it. There’s always a pretty distinct line [that’s] drawn.
What keeps you in Salt Lake?
Honestly, I don’t know. Right now what keeps me there is the other members of the band. I moved to Las Vegas for a couple years while I was married and that was gnarly and weird in its own ways. It was one of those things were I couldn’t wait to move out of Salt Lake and then when I did I couldn’t wait to get back.
It’s frustrating and the politics of the extreme right are crazy but it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s a really clean city. It’s 15 minutes from the mountains and a half hour from the desert. It’s home.
Tell me about the name Cult Leader. It conjures up some vivid images.
That’s mainly why we chose it. Choosing a band name is one of the hardest parts of being a band. You don’t want to hate it in a few years. A friend of ours actually suggested that and my brain lit up. I loved all the references and all the meanings. I’m still extremely happy with it.
It makes me think of Jesus Christ and how he was just a really successful cult leader.
Yeah, exactly. Our Mormonism which has openly been accused of being a cult. Really that’s how every religion started.
Speaking of names, tell me about the title of the record, Nothing for Us Here.
It has a couple meanings. On the one hand, it’s about the last band [Gaza] burning down in front of us and everything we worked for was just falling apart. Just recognizing that you’ve been left with anything and that you have to move on.
On the other hand, it’s the breath of the death: the moment when there’s no more life left in you and you have to face oblivion.
So it references the rebirth of Gaza?
Well, not necessarily. The rebirth thing was the label’s idea. We didn’t really care to attach ourselves to the name anymore. But the whole thing did really make [the three of] us tighter as friends.
There’s something about the bonding of the three of us, and the addition of our bassist Sam, that led to this thing that’s more aggressive and more focused than anything we’ve ever done before.
Can you walk me through the last days of Gaza?
For the last two years, this tension had been growing. And it was always the three of us, then Jon on the outside. It just kept getting worse and worse.
Is that musical or personality conflicts?
When you spend that much time with someone, it all becomes one giant sphere. Nothing is separate from anything else. It was rough. Then all that shit blew up online and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back—we just kicked him out. The whole thing made the rest of us so uncomfortable and we realized we were already on the outs with him and just couldn’t do it anymore.
Why did you switch from bass to vocals?
I’m actually a guitarist. I only started playing bass because Gaza needed a bassist. I grew to love it but I was never really attached to it. When we were discussing a vocalist for this band, I said, “let me do it.” I tend to be a really stand-offish person in real life but I figured it would be a good opportunity to challenge myself and put myself out of my comfort zone. The guys weren’t on board with it initially but when we played our first show, it all came together and everyone agreed it was the right thing. I’m happy I proved myself to them.
One of the perks of being in a small scene, it seems is that when you broke up, you didn’t all get absorbed into other bands.
Yeah, well, when all that shit went down, we all turned to each other. We’re like brothers. Everything that happened between all of us is what made the record what it is.
Alee Karim is on Twitter - @aokarim