This week we’re featuring the Arizona group Mortal Device in Meet The Band. While a relatively new collective, the lineup is made up of veterans of the Phoenix scene. Their debut EP is Chapter 1. Vocalist Shane Christensen and guitarist Dan Drago introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Mortal Device.
Dan Drago: We formed in 2018. Casey Weaver (guitars/vocals), Andy Crowley (drums) and I had played in The Furnace together and just never lost contact when the band broke up. Casey owns a prominent studio in Phoenix called Steampunk Audio Labs, and Shane’s prior band, Black Curtain, had recorded there, and it all just came together. Andy had played with Dale Keyes (bass) in a cover band, and he was a perfect fit.
Describe the songwriting process for Chapter 1, and the timeline for the release of the rest of it.
Dan: The songs typically start with Casey and me bringing in the riffs, and then we bring it to the band to work out together. Once the music is written, Shane starts the melodies and then finalizes the lyrics last. Casey and I also will massage the melodies and work with Shane closely on them. We actually have recorded 11 songs and we are releasing them over the next few months as three different EPs. We are hoping for Chapter Two to be released around June and then Chapter Three a little later in the year. We want to space them out enough to give each release some room to breathe. I feel by releasing them as EPs it gives all of our songs more of a chance to be heard. Songs can get lost on an 11 song release. Chapter One was just the first grouping of songs.
Shane Christensen: Pretty much what Dan said, plus Andy and Dale come in and add some cool stuff that fleshes everything out and gives it real depth. Both of them really stood out on this EP. Dale has some freakin’ SICK bass lines that dropped my jaw, and Andy is just solid as a rock: not too much, not too little. As for the lyrics, unlike some vocalists, I have to hear the music first to write lyrics to it. The lyrics have to match what the music makes me feel or else it’s no bueno. I think that a lot of times, it’s very obvious when a vocalist just slaps down lyrics that they’ve had lying around over a new piece of music. I can’t do that. I would cringe every time I performed the song.
What will be your strongest memory of the recording of the album?
Dan: For me, personally, it is writing great songs with some of my best friends. I had to stop playing metal a few years ago, and this was a personal rebirth for me. I am so proud of how the material turned out. Casey and I have a special working relationship that I wouldn’t trade for the world. There is no ego between us, and we work hand in hand to make the songs the best that they can be. We don’t bicker about who is playing the leads or anything like that. It is very refreshing.
Shane: Tapinachi is a good example of what sticks out the most: the fun and camaraderie. It was, and is, never a chore to go to the studio and hang with these guys.
How did Michael Gilbert (Flotsam and Jetsam)’s guest appearance come about?
Dan: Being from Phoenix, bands I have played in over the years have opened for national bands like Flotsam and Jetsam and Sacred Reich many times. Michael and I have stayed in touch over the years, and I ran into him at a Mastodon show. We had started talking about doing something together, so when I knew I wanted a lot of leads for the song “Until The End,” I reached out to Mike. He was so gracious, and I love the leads he put down. I have been a huge fan of Flotsam since Doomsday for the Deceiver was released, so this was an incredible moment for me. Michael, Casey and I all trade leads in “Until The End”, and it is such an honor. I also want to give a huge shout out to Eric Seals who sings on “In Your Shadow.” Eric is a prominent singer in Phoenix, and he kills on the track.
How would you describe its style/sound?
Dan: We wear our influences on our sleeves. There is a lot of Metallica and Black Sabbath blended with modern influences all over this EP. We just love huge riffs with melodic vocals. Our songs are much more in a traditional metal sense, and we write what we love. There isn’t a moment on the EP that I am not in love with.
Shane: It’s definitely metal, but it’s got influences all over it that may or may not be considered metal. And that’s why I like it. There’s a definite thread running through the songs, but I feel that each song has its own individual personality. And I think those varied influences will come to bear even more on Chapters Two and Three.
What lyrical topics do you cover?
Shane: This is actually kind of different for me, lyrically, from a lot of my previous projects, because the music really lends itself to more topics dealing with personal relationships. I’ve always really tried to stay away from that kind of stuff, because I’m not the type of person that likes to get too openly emotional about personal things, and when you write lyrics, if you make them about relationships and interpersonal interactions, it kind of has to be based in emotion. It has to have that basis in personal experience, or else it comes off sounding hollow. But I did manage to get one or two things in there that goes back to my political/social commentary comfort zone, too. (laughs)
What are your goals and expectations for the EP?
Dan: Doing this for as long as we all have, I think our goal is simply to get our material heard. We are all really proud of this release, and we want as many people to hear it as possible. We think the material is accessible and crosses over to many different genres, and we would love the opportunity to get picked up with a distribution deal to continue to get our songs heard. Currently, you can pick up Chapter One on Bandcamp, ITunes, Amazon and all streaming platforms like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music and Deezer.
Shane: Obviously, I want it to do well, and be received well, but my goal is really just to get the material heard, whatever that may end up entailing.
Live shows have been postponed for the foreseeable future, but do you have plans to play a release show or other concerts at some point?
Dan: Eventually we will play shows, but our main focus right now is to finish the other two EPs we have started. If the right show comes along, then we will do it for sure, but our main goal is to get our material out there.
How did you get started in music?
Dan: I picked up the guitar at 13 and started in classical guitar. I was obsessed with Randy Rhoads and Tony Iommi, and lived in my bedroom for years before even starting a band. I playing in a punk/metal band that had a lot of success in the early ’90s called Lustmustard, and then went on to form The Furnace in 1997. We were a pretty big in the Phoenix music scene until we broke up in 2012.
Shane: I started writing and playing original songs in nightclubs around Phoenix when I was 16. This was when the thrash metal movement was really starting to hit. My band, Savage Rage, got a quick look from some indie metal labels, but nothing materialized. Later, I joined an established Phoenix metal band called Soothsayer. We were kind of on that path of maybe being the next signed thrash band out of Phoenix. We got some major label interest before things crashed and burned. After that, I did a band called Shock Treatment, whose singer, Rex, was actually how I met Dan and Casey. Then I did the cover band thing for a while, followed by a band called Black Curtain with some of my old Soothsayer mates plus my two oldest sons. Then along came Mortal Device.
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Dan: I am an Ozzy fanatic, and there is no hiding it. My influences are Randy Rhoads and Tony Iommi, for sure. I am also a huge early Metallica fan and worship James Hetfield. There is also a huge Beatles influence in the songs we write even though we are a metal band. I am always just trying to write the next Ozzy or Sabbath song in my mind.
Shane: Huge KISS fan, but I’m also a big Elvis fan. Singing along to his records was how I pretty much learned how to sing. Then I was majorly influenced by the early thrash bands: Metallica, Exciter, Anthrax, Overkill, etc.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
Dan: The first metal show that I attended was Ozzy, on The Ultimate Sin tour, with Metallica opening, on May, 20th, 1986 at the Phoenix Veterans Memorial Coliseum. They were both already my two favorite bands, so this was just incredible for me. I was also able to see Cliff Burton live, which I am so grateful for.
Shane: KISS in 1983 at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. The opening act was a new band who was on their very first tour in support of their debut album. They were called Motley Crue.
How is the metal scene in the Phoenix area these days?
Dan: The metal scene is thriving in Phoenix right now. Casey running Steampunk Audio Labs, and he is recording the best bands out there right now, and there is some incredible talent. We had a big club shut their doors which I think has hurt the live scene a little, but the talent is undeniable.
Shane: It’s doing pretty good. There will always be an audience for metal, pretty much wherever you are. It may ebb and flow at times, but it will always be there.
What was the last thing you binge watched?
Dan: My wife and I just binge watched Dead To Me on Netflix. We also just did You on Netflix which I loved.
Shane: My fiancé, Becky, and I binge watch the series Fringe pretty much every Saturday night. We’re on season 3 right now. I also binge watched the first season of DC’s Doom Patrol about a week ago.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Dan: There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t listen to Ozzy and The Beatles. It is like non-stop. I’ve also been listening to a lot of classic NWOBHM. So many brilliant releases that I keep finding. I have really been enjoying the new Psychotic Waltz and Night Flight Orchestra for modern releases.
Shane: Lately, I’ve been listening a lot to The Struts, Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins, Vintage Trouble, Dirty Honey, Black Veil Brides, and a lot of local acts like Empire of Dezire, 2 In The Chest, Downhill Trend, Bear Ghost and others.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Dan: Like I mentioned earlier, Mortal Device will be releasing two more EPs over the next few months that we are really excited about. Please check out our Facebook and YouTube pages for all upcoming news on Mortal Device. Casey and I also play in two different bands that I would love people to check out. We play in Rush To War, which is more of a rock band where my Beatles influences shine through a little more. We have one album out and will be releasing a second album shortly. We also have just started a brand new band, The Soundtrack Collective, that is also releasing our first EP in a few months. 2020 is a monster year for me, as all three of my bands will be releasing new material. I also would like to mention Casey’s studio, Steampunk Audio Labs, again. It is the premier studio in Arizona, and the word needs to get out there for bands in other states to start coming to Phoenix to record their material.
Shane: My previous project, Black Curtain, is still in a semi-active state where we get together occasionally and record. We actually just released a two track EP called “Fade Away” a month or so before the Mortal Device EP. It’s probably a little more in a classic ’80s power metal-type vein than Mortal Device. And it was also recorded at Steampunk Audio Labs. There’s a TON of great stuff coming out of Casey’s studio, including most of those local bands that I have in my heavy rotation.
(interview published March 28, 2020)
Listen To Mortal Device – “All That I Have”