INTERVIEW: Shanda Fredrick of Demon Lung on doom, horror and life in Sin City

Demon Lung‘s debut LP, The Hundredth Name, is a doom album constructed around a grand concept. Yes, it is a doom LP that incorporates some of the genre fundamentals and takes its cues from Candlemass and Coven’s ceremonial sense of theater, but lyrically it follows a tantalizing narrative wherein (loosely speaking) Satan’s long-lost kid is cast out to Earth to learn God’s tongue, speak it in reverse and undo creation. Et Voila! Armageddon.
Gnarly, huh? But it’s the sort of fate you’d envisage for mankind if you grew up in Las Vegas. Just ask Demon Lung’s vocalist Shanda Fredrick. Born and raised in the neon fleshpot, she is perfectly placed to deliver the story through Demon Lung’s riff-heavy dark hymns. Here she is on putting together the record’s concept, and tell us just what it’s like being one of few metal bands in Vegas . . .

The concept for The Hundredth Name is awesome, how did you come up with that?
Our drummer, Jeremy Brenton, had the idea for a while, and it’s actually based on a horror movie, Warlock, starring Julian Sand. It’s a classic ‘80s horror movie; it has cheesy effects but the story is just epic. He has always thought it would be funny to do an album concept about that story, and when it came time to do our album we were kinda limited on time to get it all put together so we were like, ‘Oh, great, we have this idea already,’ and we just fleshed it out. What was nice about it was that it was sort of like putting a puzzle together. It made the whole process a lot easier because we were just trying to match a mood and not like going out of our way to create something original but something that goes along with the emotion and mood of the story.

Is the mood the most important thing to get right?
Definitely. The way we thought out things, we came up with a story first, and we may not have the lyrics but we know what the theme of the song is and then we start writing the music. And then we work on melodies and things like that—but yeah, definitely, the mood is really important. But then I think that is true for any doom band.

Doom is such a broad term now, often it’s just the mood that keeps the doom “doom”.
Absolutely, we have such a problem, well not like a problem but it’s hard to describe; there are so many doom bands and they come from so many different areas. It could be very thrash-inspired or retro, so it’s hard for us now to just say that we’re a doom band, it’s like, ‘What kind of doom?’

But your doom is very traditional. You’ve cited Candlemass as big influences, and you can hear that in the music; is it their theatricality that inspires you most?
Yes, definitely. We get really, really excited anytime somebody says Candlemass. I love Jex Toth; I’ve been getting into her a lot lately, so there are a lot of influences, at least vocally, from her. I’m also into Coven, and they are really theatrical. All of the bands we are interested in are sort of dramatic, and I think just being from Vegas—there are showgirls and even our gas stations have neon lights—everything is a show here.

Did you grow up in Vegas?
Yeah, I’m actually the only local in the band. We have three Southern boys—two from Indiana, one from Kentucky—then we just added a new guitarist, and he is from Portland. But I’m born and raised in Las Vegas . . .

What was that like?
It was weird when I was younger because if I met anyone who wasn’t from Vegas they assumed that I lived in a casino and was already gambling aged eight. But when you live in Las Vegas it’s almost like every other city except you have a lot of people traveling there, a lot of alcoholics—I’ve learned how to drive and avoid the drunk drivers; you can kinda spot them out. Everybody gambles here so I hate gambling, haha! I don’t know . . . You can bring your drinks out in the street here so I’ll go to other places and get yelled at for doing that. I dunno, it’s definitely a more open and free place, and I think that’s definitely helped me ‘cos I’ve always been over the top.

But there is a darkness there, isn’t there? Wherever in the world there is a pleasure spot, humanity’s darker side is usually indulged.
Right, but you’re not going to read that anywhere in the news or anything just because that’s not really good for tourism. There is an effort to put down and hide the violent, scary side to the city. Yeah, prostitution is legal in Nevada except for Las Vegas but we’ve got prostitutes everywhere here. On the strip, they’ve got business cards with naked chicks on them; you call them and they get sent right to your room, and with that you’ve got crazy pimps . . . There is definitely a dark side but I guess ‘cos I’ve been here my whole life it doesn’t really affect me. When I think back to when I was a kid walking to school, creepy old guys would stop in their cars and say, ‘Hey, can I give you a ride?’ . . . ‘No! Leave me alone!’ There is definitely that dark element to the city—but I think that’s what I like about it.

Plus you’re right in the desert. Between Sin City’s amoral heart and the heat and brutality of the desert, your location must add a lot to your outlook and in turn your sound?
We are very close to the desert. Las Vegas is just expanding out into the desert. I mean, Las Vegas has gotten three times bigger than it was when I was when I was a kid, and it was all surrounding desert. When you are a kid here you have to have desert survival skills just in case you ever get lost out there, so I know which cacti you can get water from, what animals are good to kill and eat in case I need to. The desert is a harsh, harsh environment but it is definitely beautiful, and I think everyone here is addicted to the sun.

In my mind’s more febrile moments I like to think that the Apocalypse could spring forth from the Nevada desert.
There’s actually a band here called Dead Neon, where they are post-Apocalyptic doom, and it’s all about when the Apocalypse happens, what Las Vegas is gonna be like, and they’ve created this whole comic book where showgirls are the new queens of the world!

What about Demon Lung’s origin story; how come three southern guys and one from Portland wound up in Vegas and started playing doom?
Our drummer Jeremy and guitarist Phil are from southern Indiana, and they grew up together. They had been doing some music when they lived in Indiana, and Jeremy one day just said, ‘I’m sick of this place’, found a job in Las Vegas and moved out here. Around that same time, our bass player Pat, who is from Kentucky, also got a job in Las Vegas. And they didn’t know each other; it’s just strange that they came out here at the same time. They are both musicians so they got into the local scene pretty quickly. When I was 21, I was playing in some indie bands, so I was involved in the local scene—and it’s a pretty small scene here; you get to know people from every genre and every band. We crossed paths often. Phil eventually moved out here with Jeremy’s help, and when he moved out here that was sort of the catalyst for us to play together. We had all known each other as friends, and I had actually started working at the same place as Pat, so we always saw each other and were always friendly. When Phil came out they started jamming and asked me if I’d come out and sing with them. I was really excited because it was the first metal project I had ever done, and even though I was a fan of metal there just wasn’t any band here that I was interested in.

When you are from a small scene, where there are few musicians of any genre, it doesn’t really matter who is playing what; you all tend to mix together because you all enjoy playing something.
Exactly. I mean, the band that I was in . . . To be in a band in Las Vegas you’ve got to know a lot of covers because the people here don’t give a shit about original music. They just wanna, y’know, go dance to “Celebration”. It was a really difficult scene to be involved in at that time, and that was why I was really cool, like we had to get fresh blood from California or the southern scene. We had a lot of people move out here from the southern Midwestern scene and I think that really helped us.

Back to The Hundredth Name. You had the concept; how long did it take you to get it all together?
I would say writing and fine-tuning took about four and a half months, and then we recorded in six days, then went back to Portland and mixed with Billy [Anderson] for three days. The whole process took about six months. Recording was awesome. It was my first time ever recording in a proper studio and doing something other than demoing. Our EP was recorded in my living room with my cat, so that was like totally easy and comfortable. But going into a proper studio you psych yourself up. We got there and Billy was just the nicest guy ever, really funny. He just started cracking jokes, and we got started right then and there. He was very collaborative, and very encouraging, but you knew he wasn’t going to lie if something didn’t sound good; he was going to tell you. I learned a lot from just being in the studio.

With drawing so heavily on horror for inspiration, is video, the visual side of the band something that you want to explore? I’m picturing a Bacchanalian Kenneth Anger-style long-form music video to accompany your next album.
That’s going to be really important for us in the future, for my career—I’m a photographer—and Pat does video work. We’re all sort of creative; it is important to us. Our first video was for a song off our EP called “Lament Code”, and it’s actually about Hellraiser II, so we were sitting there thinking about a video and were like, ‘It’s gonna be really expensive if we’re in it, and it’s not going to be as cool as we want.’ So we found this independent director, Dustin Mills, and he’s amazing—he does work with puppets, and he made this puppet Hellraiser II video for us out of his own original monsters. It came out so awesome. Any video we do after that one has got to be good.

The closing track on The Hundredth Name is incredibly dark; it felt like a signpost for where you were going to take your sound, like you were setting up the sequel. Will you always be driven by concept?
Definitely. I was an English major at college. I like literature. I like writing stories and we are all huge movie fans so I think that everything we do will have some reference to horror movies, I’m sure. We are thinking about an original concept for our next album. Though we are not quite sure, we have a few ideas bouncing around. Yeah, that’ll definitely be an important part of our music. That’s so cool that you like “Incantation”; that was our epic song. It’s at the end . . . When the world ends, so it was really important to match the fear and the despair and all that you would feel when the world’s about to end. I think, we did a pretty good job.