Henry Derek Elis is the singer for the metal band Act Of Defiance and was previously part of Scar The Martyr with former Slipknot drummer Joey Jordison. Yet, his new solo album The Devil Is My Friend is the furthest thing from heavy metal. It has been described as “Southern Gothic Americana,” and reflects Elis’ musical influences from the worlds of country, blues, folk, and gospel.
There are a slew of guests on The Devil Is My Friend including Jarboe, Sera Timms, Tara Vanflower (Lycia), Neal Tiemann from DevilDriver and Aubrey Richmond (Shooter Jennings). We had the pleasure of doing a Q&A with Mr. Elis about The Devil Is My Friend and what else he has coming up.
More on all things Henry Derek Elis, including upcoming tour dates, can be found online at www.henryderekelis.com.
You are generally thought of as a “metal guy,” but your new solo album doesn’t reflect that. Is it that you were originally a metal person and then branched out? Or more than you have always been into all kinds of music?
Henry Derek Elis: I’m not really the “metal guy” as much as I am a musical person. I’m from the south, so a lot of my influences include the classic country stuff. Along with blues, folk, and gospel. Of course, I love rock and metal. I like good music. Simple as that. I think too many people are one-dimensional these days and that’s just not me. It made perfect sense for me to make a solo album that included ALL of my influences, one that paid homage to my origins as well.
First, check out the video for “Sing For The Dead Man.”
Your album has some interesting guests on it. Did you know all along that there would be a lot of collaborating on the album itself?
Elis: I played as many instruments on the album as I possibly could and reached out to some folks that I admire for the rest. I wanted to create a dynamic album with lots of strings and elaborate instrumentation. Most of the session players were handpicked, not because they were names, but for their musical strengths. Jarboe (ex-Swans) was an obvious choice when it came time to assemble the cast of guest vocalists. She has an unmistakable voice that carries the mood of the closing track “Graveyard Country Blues.”
From there I called upon Sera Timms (Black Mare) and Tara Vanflower (Lycia) to guest as well. They are two of my favorite voices. Of course, John Schreffler (Shooter Jennings) was a huge part of the sound as well. He played pedal steel throughout the record. I think his contribution added greatly to the overall sound.
What was the first song you wrote for The Devil Is My Friend?
Elis: I think the first song I wrote for the album was “What’s Left Of Us” about twelve years ago. “M.O.M.” is a close second. A lot of these songs were written in pieces throughout the course of several years. I knew that some of them needed time to grow and I’ve never been in a hurry to finish them. For me, a song isn’t done until it’s recorded and documented on an album. It’s not until I’m in the studio that I feel as though I need to push it as far as it can go and refine each part to make it special. That’s the wonderful thing about creating music.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Elis: Maybe “M.O.M.” I wrote it after having a nightmare and never had to write it down. It’s a fun song in some ways, but also dark and haunting in a way that none of the other songs are. When I was a child, I used to have reoccurring nightmares and I was obsessed with my mother’s death for many years. I dreamt of digging up her grave, simply to see her face again. It was really strange and morbid in a beautiful way.
What do the next few months look like for Henry Derek Elis? Work with Act Of Defiance, or just on your solo career?
Elis: I’ll most likely be touring with Act Of Defiance at some point next year. I’m also playing guitar in a new doom band called QAALM. As far as the solo album goes, we’ll see what happens. I will probably play a few select cities with a stripped down set. Maybe a three-piece band or just me, solo acoustic. Of course, I’ll always strive to remain creative in other ways. It’s what I do.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Henry Derek Elis?
Elis: I think it’s probably important to point out that the rock/metal stuff is simply one aspect of who I am and my personality. It doesn’t complete me as a person and/or define who I am. I would also recommend the album to fans of those genres as well. It’s dark at times and has a lot of layers in a similar tone. I think that’s it… At the end of the day, It’s less about me and more about the music. Listen to the album.
Here is a trailer that acts as an introduction to Henry Derek Elis’ new album The Devil Is My Friend.