"It’s not a bad thing to be popular" - Tetrarch on Breaking Boundaries and the Joy of Nu Metal

The greatest tragedy of the heavy music community is how so many have forgotten the joy of discovering their first heavy band. In the early 2000s, Nu Metal was not only at the top of the charts, its figureheads were mingling with Hollywood royalty and the genre was introducing millions of listeners to metal for the first time. Many kids found their place in the metal community because of the melodies and hooks of bands like Disturbed and Linkin Park, and yet so many now cast these bands aside as “fake metal” and turn their nose up at the bands that gave metal its biggest chance to have a place at the table.

But the new album, Unstable, from Atlanta quartet Tetrarch is a pair of bolt cutters to the metal gate that so many gatekeepers guard to prevent so many from entering into our world. They’ve had enough of the old ways of metal that so many cling to and have flung the doors wide open to a time when any kid in their bedroom could fall in love with metal, and this time, it’s for everyone: every gender, race, and age. Its hooks and groove have the potential to win over the ears of first timers, and their work ethic is inspiring to even the most die hard of fans.

We sat down with frontman Josh Fore to talk about writing hooks that catch the uninitiated, the under appreciated genius of early 2000s metal, and why being popular in metal is not a dirty word.

Related: Tetrarch - Unstable | Album Review

Embracing hook and groove mentality is a big part of why metal was at the forefront of cultural consciousness in the nu-metal era. People love to jump and they love to sing along to catchy melodies. Why do you think metal, for all those who lament that the genre is dead, has often times turned away from these tenets? It’s the same story with those that lament that they didn’t like nu metal because musicians were “whining about their feelings”, but what can resonate with more people than that? Are these principles you carried forward from having the same thought process?

Josh: "I would definitely agree with that. For us, when we were growing up, the biggest bands were Linkin Park, Korn, Slipknot and Mudvayne. I think what was so good for metal and hard rock in that era, which was the last era where there were heavy bands who were superstars. The last batch since then that could play arenas and headline huge festivals. They were part of popular culture. What draws people to the genre, besides the jumping and bounce, are the lyrics. I’m not Edgar Allen Poe, I want to sing about my life and see how that resonates with other people. You blend that bouncing groove and lyrics that are easy to remember and sing and everyone has a good time together and it’s fun for shows. We’re never gonna be a band that’s gonna out heavy anybody. We’re never gonna be heavier than the most obscure death metal band out there, but we’re not the lightest band out there. We’re in that middle. I like that we can blend so many styles of metal and cross boundaries. It’s easy to catch on to our stuff and think “hey heavy music is not so scary.”"

What do you think is most understood about the metal bands you grew up with that inspire you and do you think their impact is underrated and under appreciated?

Josh: "I think the most under appreciated part is what good entertainers they were. There are a ton of bands who go on stage and play their instruments as technically as they can and shred away, but the big bands put on a show, every single night. They were pure entertainers. They had those big touring festivals back then because bands could play their stuff. You got what you got and they had an aura to them. They were also great musicians. One of our favourite new metal guitarists is Dan Donegan from Disturbed. He is killing it on his guitar parts. All those bands have good musicianship and they pushed boundaries."

When I listen to this record, it reminds me of the records that made me fall in love with metal both in the past and present. I hear those classic early 2000’s bands and also the best of the modern day like Gojira. How do you internalize that statement when people say that you remind them of those records and what are the elements that you feel are bridging to build your sound?

Josh: "For us, maybe some of those classic haunting melodies in the vocals and those skin crawling leads and sounds and buried electronics that give it a vibe, those are the things that make people think of the early 2000’s nu metal, but we have modern production which makes it sound huge, and we also have Diamond (Rowe, guitar) who is like a swiss army knife who can do amazing leads and solos. We can pick and choose our favorite parts to blend what you hear with Tetrarch. It’s a blend of everything we heard as kids along with modern metal as well. We picked what we like and jumbled it together."

When you’re crafting a melody or riff, what is that process like? To me, hearing a pleasing or soaring melody or bouncing riff in a disturbed song like that filled me with a lot of feelings of power, do you look for that feeling between the four of you when writing, how do you deliberate where a hook or riff should go melodically? A lot of your songs use a lot of atypical melodic construction in the way that Korn would use at times?

Josh: "For me, most times I was a guitar player first. I became a singer because someone had to do it and I like Metallica and Green Day and their lead singers play guitars. The riff is just a feeling thing. I’ll say I’m in the mood for something that bounces or something fast. The music part is easier. It’s less pressure. I feel very free to try anything and everything, and that comes from sitting and writing. There’s a lot of frankensteining parts together from various demos as well. With vocals I’m very sporadic. With melodies, I’m either in the zone and it’s flowing well or it’s not going to happen. I’m either really inspired or I get stuck. But inspiration can even come from walking to Starbucks. 90 percent of my lyrics I wrote in a Starbucks. We were stuck in Denver, Colorado and we had to get out of the studio and my favourite part of the day was leaving for four or five hours to go write there."

Do you feel proud of your band in the way that you’re breaking down barriers both in terms of showing diversity in your makeup and also in the way that you’re really taking a stance against a lot of toxic gatekeeping that’s rampant in metal?

Josh: "I’m most proud that we’ve never stopped and never quit or ever thought of quitting, and the fact that we’ve always continued to do things we want to do. The music we write comes from a genuine place and we want to write it and we’re so glad people are starting to feeling too now. When you’re a band starting out, you can fall into the trap of writing what everyone else wants to hear, but we’ve been able to be true to ourselves. I think that’s why its starting to connect with people. When that happens, and you stick to your guns, you can’t be stopped. You’re making your own path. We wouldn’t party after our show, we would go home and watch the show we just played and learn so we could be better last time."

What are the old ways of thinking that metal has to shed to enter the minds of the mainstream again? What are the biggest things holding metal back, and to follow up, what do you feel your biggest strength as a band is in representing the new guard?

Josh: "I think the biggest mindset that needs to change is that it’s not a bad thing to be popular. A lot of metal fans want metal to be a big thing are also selfish too. They want to keep things to themselves to give themselves social currency. Metal loves to hate on what is popular. We’ve always wanted to be one of the biggest metal bands in the world and we’ve always stayed that way. And it can definitely be a macho contest and that doesn’t age well with today. I think that the mentality is only for tough straight white dudes isn’t true anymore, and you’re alienating people . It should be inclusive. As time goes on, I do see that metal is an accepting community for the most part. It’s getting better, and our band shows that diversity."

If you could pick any three artists to collaborate with on your next record or appear live on a track with you, who do you think your band would collectively pick and why?

Josh: "We would all have to pick James Hetfield, since we all love Metallica, I think Ruben (Limas, drums) would love dueling drums with Mario Duplantier from Gojira, and the third would be a young Eminem."

Unstable is out now via Napalm Records.

Purchase the record here.