Interview: Motionless In White Talks “Graveyard Shift” Fave Horror Movies, and High School Bullies

Motionless In White. (Photo: Ellie Mitchell)

Founded in 2005, Motionless In White has won over audiences worldwide with their aggressive music and arresting imagery. The band – currently comprising of lead singer Chris Motionless, guitarists Ryan Sitkowski and Ricky Horror, bassist Devin “Ghost” Sola, and drummer Vinny Mauro – have proven a ferocious and inventive live act, earning an increasingly fervent fan following via countless headline shows, festival sets, and tours alongside such iconic acts as Slipknot, Korn, and Breaking Benjamin.

On May 5th, the metal quartet will return with their new album, Graveyard Shift, which serves as the follow-up to their 2014 album, Reincarnate.

The band selected Graveyard Shift’s artwork following a contest of over 2,000 entries from fans and designers alike. The winner, Crystal Johnson, created the album’s cover, as well as other elements in the album package.

The album’s newest single, “LOUD (Fuck it)”, showcases the band’s effectiveness at satisfying the viewer just as much as the listener.

In our new interview, vocalist Chris Motionless tells us about the making of Graveyard Shift, his love for storytelling, his favourite horror icons, high school bullies, and more!

You held a contest for Graveyard Shift’s artwork. What did you like about the winning entry?

For us, it’s funny you asked, because I think there’s an announcement being somewhat posted about it today. I really liked… when we first saw it, we were stuck between two or three different entries that really spoke to what we were trying to say. There was one that was a really great piece of art and we were looking for something that had a deeper meaning and had something that caught your eye, and that was memorable.

When we saw this one, this child on the cover looked like a younger version of one of us. Or really anyone, it could’ve been representative of anyone and it struck us. He looked like he was painted and ready for war. I really liked that about it, it related to our band in that sense. At all sizes, whether you blow it up to make a backdrop or shrink it down to be an iTunes single artwork, it really looked cool to me and struck us as the most memorable of all the ones that we had.

Apart from the unconventional crowdsourcing of this album’s artwork, how do you typically approach coming up with album artwork? Do you usually have an idea in mind going in? 

Yeah, for us in the past it’s always been our thoughts going into it. That’s why we wanted to try to change it up on this one and see what other people saw. For the past, it’s always been something that reflects the title or the meaning of the title and we try to keep it based around the darker more horror-like artwork.

There’s no requirement, we just want something that represents the title and what we’re trying to say with it. More specifically, for the past few records, we’re really big fans of more photography-based artwork and that’s what’s been on the more recent albums rather than illustrations. That’s part of our taste and our character. It’s usually just trying to find something that represents the title and the meaning.

What kind of themes did you focus on with Graveyard Shift?  

I think there are definitely a few songs that are really out there and completely separated from the theme of the album. In that, it’s not a themed album. The majority of the songs speak towards… I didn’t even realize this until the album was almost finished and I was like “wow, unintentionally all of the songs centrally focus around this work hard, push yourself to the edge and to the brink of your body and mental capacity. Push yourself to succeed and work hard.” That’s the meaning of the album title, but even all of the songs came to be centered on that. That’s another reason the artwork that we did choose related to that, at least in how we saw it. It’s definitely central to the theme of the album title itself, with a few songs that are just out there and different, just to have something different. 

What was it like to not have any self-imposed deadlines while making Graveyard Shift?  

I think that no deadline mentality is absolutely what brought out the best in this album. All of the albums in the past there has been this kind of deadline or hard deadline, something that was always putting pressure on getting done and even though we had more time per record when the other three went on, it still wasn’t enough to do what I think we could’ve done to hit our max potential.

With this record I think the most noticeable difference you’ll hear in the time that we took is the vocals. Generally in the past… just because of the way I work in the studio, I tend to be more favored to the music rather than the vocals and I think vocals are equally, if not more important than the music in a lot of our material, so for this one it was really a chance to go in and see what could happen vocally and take the time to make sure that that was just as strong as everything else.

Motionless In White. (Photo: Travis Shinn)

You said that much like how a lot of music is made to amplify the progression of movies, you like to flip that process when you’re writing and recording. How did that process differ, if at all, in comparison to Reincarnate and your other albums? 

I think for us, we have always been inspired by those things. By films, books, all that stuff. We don’t have the chance to write music for these things, so we take the after the fact part of it and we find a movie, or we find a character, or a book or something that we really love and feel inspired by and sometimes lyrics and music comes out of that inspiration. That’s a really cool way for us to explore. I call it the score part of the band. It’s a really cool way to express that side of the character of the band.

Do you guys ever create any characters? 

Yeah, the last record is definitely one of the ones where… there’s a song on it where I was inspired by a character, but it’s not specifically about that character. I really like the Bride of Frankenstein story, but in the movie you really don’t get to see a lot of that character and learn a lot about that character, it’s just brief at the end. I wanted to take that character and make my own complete story around it. That continues on into this album, but even that is still inspired by another character.

Also on this album, there’s a song called “Eternally Yours” which was actually my very first completely unique, uninspired by another character or story type of story that I made. I tried to take a very poetic and romantic approach to that song’s lyrics and I created my own story. We just did the music video for it too that hopefully translates that story to viewers. We had a chance to like you said, do the flip side of that.

It must have been really fun getting to do something like that.

Yeah, it was something I really loved doing. I think I’ll do it a lot more. (laughs) It’s hard because I have so many opinions, so many observations, so many things that I want to talk about, about the world around me and my personal experiences that it’s hard for me to branch out and create my own stories. I know I love doing that and our band loves it and I know our fans really enjoy it, so it’s definitely something I’m going to try to do more in the future. I think that obviously you can write about characters all day long, but people want to hear something new and I think with the way that Eternally Yours went over, it’s definitely paved the way for us to do that in the future. 

Where do your influences lie when you’re deciding which aspects of horror to focus on when writing your songs? 

Our band looks like… a lot of us are coming up from an age [with] bands like the Misfits, AFI, Marilyn Manson, and Rob Zombie. All of those bands early on were bands that inspired us in both sound and aesthetic and really just overall. Those were the bands that were most attractive to us growing up and forming bands, so that’s just naturally, organically where we all went as individuals. As a result of that, the band took that form and shape as well.

It branches out into really everything. We’re really inspired by this movie that we saw recently called the Neon Demon and I fucking loved everything about it. The way it was shot, the lighting, everything. Some of our more recent photos are a reflection of having been inspired and influenced by that movie and the photography in that. It spans all over the place and that’s what I like about our band. We really like to take things that we like and bring it into our world. It’s fun for us.

You mentioned Bride of Frankenstein and Neon Demon, other than that what are a few of your favorite horror movies and / or horror icons of all time?

My personal one is for sure Michael Myers. From being younger and growing up, those slasher films, he was always the one that was the most terrifying to me. Completely violent and slow moving, it was terrifying. I would say for some of the other guys, that as well we like the Lostboys film. There are a couple even non-horror based things that are still based around darker atmospheres. Growing up in school I always really liked that book The Crucible, or that play, whichever you want to call it. We have a song called “Abigail” that’s based around that. Definitely Michael Myers and Halloween are my favourite horror movies, Lostboys is a close second, and the other guys have varying preferences as well but it all comes together and we get to work with each other on those kinds of things. 

You’ll be playing several festivals this year including Download, Welcome To Rockville, and Rock on the Range. Is there a difference in your approach to festival shows as opposed to normal headlining shows?

(laughs) It’s very different, because outside is so much different for us in general. We definitely are a band that thrives in the club environment, so to go out there and play outdoors where it’s just the band and whatever you might have on stage, you can’t really rely on the lights to help enhance everything. You just have to go out there and prove yourself for the band that you are. You have to show your core and [when] you’re up there as a rock or metal band, play your ass off and show people what you are at your core, because that’s what matters most.

It sucks for us because we’re so into trying to put on that show and make everything as theatrical as possible, but you can’t. We’ve had pretty good success at a lot of these festivals in the past. We go up there and try to have fun, we don’t look miserable. We don’t look like we don’t want to be there because it’s outside; we’re just there to have fun. I think that that comes across to the crowd and sometimes it takes one or two songs to break the crowd and once you do, it’s fucking awesome.

It must be pretty rewarding when that happens too, because it’s not a natural habitat for you guys.

Exactly. When you’re put into that scenario when you don’t have any of those luxuries that help you enhance your show and like I said, you have to expose your core. It’s fun and humbling to do that, I enjoy it. We’ve done other tours outside. We toured with Slipknot a couple of years back and that was during the day outside. That was a pretty insane experience. You really just have to put that fucking work in and it’s very rewarding when the crowd turns and finally being into the show.

When it comes to aesthetics, do you and the rest of the band pick out your own clothes, choose your own make up and hair concepts, or do you outsource?

We’ve always been very DIY in that aspect. (laughs) I’m not very good at doing my makeup or anything, so I definitely have other people do mine a lot. It’s fun for me to have people come in and create the look and see what I like and what we like. As far as the band goes, we’ve always been very DIY. We just have discussions about if there’s a certain music video that we’re doing that has a theme, we’ll discuss that and make sure everyone is on the same page so that it’s not like one person looks one way and the other person is wearing something completely different that doesn’t make sense. At the same time, we really want everyone in the band… everyone has their own personality and we don’t want to make it feel like we all have to be wearing uniforms. Most people dress the way that their personality is and I like that about the band, I think that’s what gives fans something to latch onto about each member of the band. We all look [somewhat] the same, but we do look different and have our own character as well. It’s very DIY, it’s very inner circle, and we like to keep it that way.

Motionless In White will release their new album, Graveyard Shift, on May 5th.

Was that something that you just played with for the aesthetic of the band, or was it something that you guys did before hand? Was that how you dressed in high school? 

Yeah. I wouldn’t say as extreme, but I started wearing all black and makeup to school as soon as I heard Misfits and AFI and knew who Davey Havok was. Our bassist, really everybody, I think the only person in our band who isn’t exactly part of that realm is our drummer. He’s into that stuff, but he doesn’t exactly look like it all the time. He’s such a great guy and we really wanted him to be in the band, but he’s the only person that will do it and doesn’t exactly carry that lifestyle throughout his life. Whether it is before, or now during the band. Everyone has been like that throughout all of high school, so that was cool, to not have guys in the band that are doing it against their will as a costume or a uniform, it’s just how we are.

While it’s got it’s own scene now, growing up with an appearance like you guys have can be pretty trying. People tend to not even give you a second look before asking you “what is wrong with you?” or just flat-outcalling you weird. What would you say to kids who are struggling with not being accepted for who they are?

For me it’s gotten to a point where I know it’s not easy to say this and to really come to this open field of thought that I like to feel like I’m in now, [but] I just don’t fucking care. You have to come to a point where you look at yourself in the mirror and if you like what you see and if you are proud of what you see in yourself and you like the way you look and the music you listen to, anything that you do like, if you are happy about that then I know it’s not very eloquent but you have to just say “fuck it” and stop caring about what other people are saying. The second that I finally came to that, in a lot of aspects in my life, it was one of the most liberating experiences and I’ve been so much happier and free to do whatever I want to do. For me it was actually stepping away from a lot of stuff. I don’t have a magical answer, but I think that people really need to come to a point where they realize if you’re happy with you, that’s all that really matters.

Did you get that growing up, those people who did that in high school?

Oh yeah. It’s funny because I’ve said this before and I’ve always wanted to expand on it. Most of the people who gave me shit were people who were my friends all the way up until I started looking like that. It was all the kids in high school that were the dickheads making their stupid comments were people who a couple of years before we were playing sports together or we were best friends a couple of years back. That’s one of the things that hurt me the most about it and why I think I took it so hard. Then of course there are just other people who didn’t know who I was or teachers and whatnot. It definitely sucked, but what got me through it is [that] I had a group of friends who were just like me as well. When I found that I could cling to my friends and we could be that support group for each other and not really fucking care and treat everyone sarcastically, be like “okay bud, yeah, sure,” it [became] so much easier. There doesn’t have to be this magical answer to get through it, just treat it sarcastically and be like “okay, sure” and move on and be friends with the people you do get along with. That’s really all it takes.

Brushing it off is definitely the way to go about it, even though it’s not easy sometimes. I find it funny that you mentioned teachers, because I remember when I was in high school, my PhysEd teacher would call my parents and tell them to make me change the way I was dressing or not let me wear make up. I don’t understand why it bothers people so much.

I don’t either. I’m not going to deny that it’s not striking or somewhat distracting for normal people to look at, but the fact that it bothers them… I mean a lot of people are religiously basing their opinions and that “you’re not supposed to look like this, you’re just satanic and all that shit.” I know people who get that all the time. Not to say that that was in yours or my case, but I don’t understand that that’s how it is and that people think that they have to fucking try to mould other people to be whatever their alleged perfect vision is of what human beings should look like. It’s frustrating.

This interview can also be found on Aesthetic Magazine’s website.

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