Connecting with Citizen Soldier

Interview with Jake Segura via email correspondence June 24 - June 30, 2019.

How about a brief introduction of the band, members, and where you're from?

Our current lineup includes Jake Segura (vocals), Kyle Persell (drums) Kooper Hanosky (guitar), Matt Duffney (guitar) and Wonitta Rivero (bass) We all live in Utah, but only Jake and Kyle are from the state. Matt is from Minnesota, Kooper is from Idaho, and we’re still trying to figure out where Wonitta came from.

I hear people are having pretty good luck finding their origins with that '23andMe' deal, if you haven't already tried that. :)
So i'm still in a pretty serious relationship with your EP, 'Caroline,' and then your recent singles, "Found" and "Bitter." Now you're telling everyone there's a new full-length album coming, 'Relentless.' How is it going to compare to the Citizen Soldier songs i already know and love?

We definitely still stay true to what made people gravitate to Caroline. That same emotional and anthemic approach is very present. I would be shocked to hear that fans that enjoyed Caroline are disappointed with the new record. It’s not a departure as much as an expansion of our sound and further realizing who we are as a band.

Relentless could be considered a concept record. Throughout the Caroline era we had countless fans messaging us telling us about some very personal struggles they were dealing with. It meant a lot to us that they trusted us with that. We had a lot of conversations about how important that dialogue is for us as a band.

The name Citizen Soldier describes not overlooking the personal battles that the everyday person is constantly dealing with. Take a song like Let it Burn. That song is incredibly personal for me because it was essentially a letter to myself after a bout with anxiety, depression, and self harm. I started writing that song from my hospital bed on a napkin and now people all over the world are listening to that track. I think the reason it has been so successful was because of how vulnerable and real I was being with them. Any healthy relationship needs that. When you try to bury your struggles and put on a brave face then that connection is built on a lie.  That conversation about mental health will always be an important part of this band .  That being said while we were working on this record we wanted to make sure that we were not pandering or being insincere about our stories in anyway.  While it is important to talk about serious issues that affect us in our personal lives,  we also wanted to give a less narrow vision of what we are like as people.  We don’t want to be advocates of chasing victimhood and feeling like anybody owes us anything In life.  People who think that way gets stuck and her situation rarely improves.  It was fun to include moments on this record where we are simply having fun, being sassy, and being soulful, being angry, being confused, and just about every other emotion you could think of. Because that’s real. That’s the full picture of our lives and the ups and downs that come with it. That way, our personality comes though. We’re not a bunch of silent, moody guys writing songs in our closets all day. There’s a lot of life in us despite our struggles, and we wanted that to show to balance out the difficult issues discussed in this record.

After reviewing a lot of the fan responses to Caroline, we decided as a band that we wanted RELENTLESS to be our response to those messages and continue that healthy dialogue. After having those people all around the world pour their hearts and souls out to us, we figured it was our turn to give them a full length record that shows them the human side of us. We don’t sugar coat a thing. It’s been a tough year for us. The songs are not a peek behind the curtain, they are fully exposing of our personal struggles and the battles we are waging as a band and individually. It’s incredibly personal in that regard. There is a song for every member of this band on this record that is referring to specific things we have struggled with or experienced in some form. I’m sure fans will listen to certain tracks and wonder which one of us inspired it. Fans have been telling us their stories, and we love it, but RELENTLESS was our turn to show them that we are also struggling and trying to face our demons. We want them to know they are not alone in that fight.

With this concept in mind, we knew that the RELENTLESS needed to be more collaborative than Caroline. It is much more representative of each member of the band and this message because everyone was involved on a much deeper level. Just like life, sonically it’s very diverse and offers a wide spectrum of sound. We go heavier on this record than we have before, and as soft/raw as we have before. There is something for everyone on it, and the record tells a story from the first track to the end. The first track starts off in a very dark place, and then the listener experiences the journey of what we have been through as a band and in our personal journeys. Eventually, the last few tracks make sense of all that suffering. We know our fans are dealing with similar things so we are confident that listening from front to back will be a really rewarding experience. Every track is exactly where it needs to be to tell that story. We really think that the way we have put it together will help us grow closer to our fan base and help them understand us in a more intimate way.

You had the title last year, how long have you been working on this album? Has it been flowing all along, or has there been times the progress slowed or paused? What has the process been like to put this together, from writing to recording?

We are always writing. Always. There is always something in the works. Some of these songs have been in the holster for over a year. The process for writing involved months of sending each other videos and voice memos of melodies, guitar riffs, etc and bouncing ideas back and forth. It was fun to watch the songs slowly evolve in such an organic way. As the songs developed, we espoused a democratic process. We had to vote on things as simple as whether or not we keep a guitar riff, string part, etc. the attitude about things like that was “put up, or shut up.” If you don’t like a part, come up with something better. That sounds kind of harsh but it really pushed us to not take things personally and do everything we can to make the record the best it can be. It really pushed us to explore all of our options and force ourselves to get really creative with the tracks.

We had about 14-16 songs that we felt were strong enough to be included on the album. At the end of the day, the concept/story of RELENTLESS is what helped us decide which tracks to use. We were really determined to get out of our creative boxes and push ourselves as musicians on the record, so we decided to get a few different producers involved. We recorded 3 tracks with Sahaj Ticotin in LA, and 8 with Chase Gerber and Mitch Davis here in Utah. Having 3 perspectives that were unbiased and unattached to the demos we originally had helped us make sure we got the best out of the songs we could. We took our time with every song, because we wanted to make sure the industry product is of the highest quality. We’re thrilled with how it has turned out.

We were driving back from a show in Idaho and tossing around album title ideas last year. Everything was put into focus when someone asked, “what is one word that describes our fan base?” We decided that RELENTLESS was the only word that accurately did that. It describes how amazing our fans are to continue to fight for themselves and their worth after all the hell they have been through. In addition to telling our story, we wanted that to be a tribute to them.

What was it like being in Los Angeles to record? Seems most bands dream of making it to L.A. some day. You guys were there to record, and not because some label sent you, you made it there on your own as a fully independent band.

Our fans made that trip possible. During Caroline we were all pulling significant amounts of money out of pocket. It made the process pretty stressful and emotionally demanding. While we all still have to work full time jobs, streaming revenue and fan contributions funded the album and those sessions completely. That put even more pressure on us to deliver the goods.

LA was a fantastic learning experience for us. Utah is a beautiful place, but there’s just something different about the scene out there. We were invited to a show at the viper room on a Wednesday night and the place was packed. We would have been lucky to pull half that crowd on a Saturday night back home. There was an energy about that experience and the city that was really exciting.

We have great engineers in Utah, so the value from working with Sahaj was his ear and songwriting talent. He tore the songs we brought to him to shreds and helped us rebuild them from scratch. He is an important piece in the industry right now because he has an innovative spirit. He doesn’t want to rehash the early 2000’s grunge song that has been written 100 times already. He pushed us to get unique with melody selection and pushed me to explore different tones vocally that gave the tracks a much more intimate feel. My favorite memory from that trip is when he scratched one of my favorite choruses from the album and turned to me and said, “this is what I’m hearing instead.” I hated the melody so much. But I went along with it. Then we got back to the house that night and we all were singing along and had it stuck in our heads for days. I had to eat crow on that one. That experience is Sahaj in a nutshell.

You have such a huge, dedicated, supportive, 'relentless' fanbase. From reaching out to you, to helping fight YouTube, to funding your new album, your fans are there for you. What do you feel you've done to have such a following, and where do you think you might be as a band without it? How important is your relationship with your fans?

It is everything. Like I said earlier, RELENTLESS is all about continuing that dialogue/relationship and is a tribute to them and how they handle the things they have been through. We were already dealing with a lot of discouragement during that time when YouTube took our channel down. To have our fans respond the way they did was incredibly humbling. I don’t think our fans realize how much that meant to us. I also don’t think they would be so defensive of us and ready to jump at a moments notice to help us if they just thought our music was cool.  When I first started doing this, I did not set out to write music that was cool or trendy. I wanted to make people feel and think about things on a deeper level.  I think the subject matter included in our music partnered with our passionate/emotional delivery makes that connection very deep and very intense. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Your music has absolutely made an impact in my life, carried me through some really tough times. Watching your interaction with fans, the 'Rockin' for a Reason' benefit concert you put together, is very heartwarming and inspiring. It's such an honor to get to interact with you and the band, and for that i sincerely thank you.
It's going to be a while yet before we get to hear the new album, but maybe you could give some teasers. In looking over the song titles, some of them look a bit grim and allude to dark places. But there at the bottom, the last track, is "Unbreakable." Can you tell us what we're going to find in that song?

There is definitely some dark subject matter in this album. Like I said, the album describes a journey and ends on a confident, anthemic note. Unbreakable is a song that I worked on with Kooper for close to a year. He wrote the massive riff you hear throughout the song and sent that to me one day. The lyrics to that song came so quickly and also helped us decide on the album title. There is a line in the second verse of that song that says, “no more afraid, no more defenseless, I am reborn, I am relentless.” That message is simple to our fan base. No matter how worthless you may have felt or what mistakes you have made, you’re not dead. You’re still here. You survived. That is something to be proud of. The chorus lyrics to that track sum up the entire message of the album: “I will not lay down and die, I have the will to survive, you’ll see this mountain I climb, has made me an animal, stronger than you’ll ever know.”  The song is very in your face and aggressive and should be a great show closer live.

You've said each band member was more deeply involved with 'Relentless.' Could you give an account of their contribution to a specific song, including musical input as well as any experiences or stories that influenced lyrics?

Wonitta wrote all of the music for a song called “In pieces,” which is one of my favorite songs to sing on the album. We literally walked into his home studio one day and he casually showed it to us and we were immediately sold. We just wrote vocals and that was it. Wonitta is extremely detail oriented and viewed the process with a producer hat on. He had a lot of ideas about production approaches that are subtle but add a lot to multiple tracks on the album.

The drums Kyle wrote for “Cannibal,” are my favorite drums on the album. We pushed him and challenged a lot on that and he did a few different revisions. He really took his time with it to get them right. That song is so groovy and moody and the beat is everything to it. He knocked it out of the park. Death of Me is a track that I’m excited to see Kyle play. It is definitely a rock song, but it has some EDM style build ups and fills that are going to make people move.

Like I previously mentioned, Kooper was the one who wrote the riffs in unbreakable and brought that idea to me. He came up with some gorgeous leads in tracks like “Death of Me,” and “Kill My Memory.” My favorite memory with Kooper during the writing process was when he showed me the guitar for “weight of the world.” The way that song came together was absolute magic. We were in La when that happened and I was feeling pretty buried by the pressure of the next record amongst other things. That song spilled out of me and was written very quickly. It wouldn’t have happened with Koop. Koop was very involved in challenging melodies as well and was very involved in helping change melodic approaches in songs like “Never Good Enough,” and “Unbreakable.”

Matt really infused his personality into this record. The solos he laid down on RELENTLESS are my favorite he has ever done. One in particular that I find myself going back to and listening to over and over is the solo on “Kill My Memory.”  His approach on that one is so tasteful and compliments the emotion of the song masterfully. Matt challenged a lot of the riffs that we originally came up with on songs like “Death of Me,” and “Unbreakable,” and was not content with them just being filler or simply good enough. He pushed himself to write parts that were exceptional. I’m excited for our fans to crank up those solos and feel that in the tracks.

My contributions to the album that I’m most proud of are “Never Good Enough,” and “Weight of the World.” As much as I love complex production and big massive sounding tracks, I feel that these songs were especially special because I was able to get more vulnerable and real as a songwriter than I have ever been.

There were no egos with the production of the album overall. The best ideas won. It’s not about people getting their fingerprints on every single idea. We wanted to do what helped the song reach its full potential and we feel we did that.

My Story:

“Never Good Enough,” and “Weight of the World,” are definitely siblings in a sense and come straight from my soul. Feeling inadequate, self-harm, and unhealthy expectations for myself is something I have dealt with personally and am currently working on in therapy. I’m not embarrassed to say that and am optimistic with the progress I’m making. Therapy is all about facing core beliefs that are ugly and scary head on. It’s easier to avoid them, but you don’t get anywhere doing that. “Never Good Enough,” is a brutally honest exploration of my mind for the past few years and unhealthy obsession with pleasing others. “Weight of the World,” was emotional vomit that I purged on our trip to Los Angeles. The pressure of making this record perfect and not disappointing after Caroline was so intense that it was making me physically ill. I was working multiple jobs, balancing the band, and a new marriage. It was just too much. That song didn’t involve a ton of revisions or polishing. We wanted it to be raw to represent the borderline mental breakdown I had on that trip. “In Pieces,” is a song that I hope will inspire our fans to reach out to each other and loved ones when they are struggling. My wonderful wife inspired that song. After everything I had been through when we met, I had felt like damaged goods. She was somehow able to see something in me that I wasn’t able to see in myself. She pushed me to follow my dream when I wanted to quit. This band wouldn’t still be around without her. “In Pieces,” is a turning point in the record and that represents the turning point in my life when I met her.

“Better Place,” was a song inspired by Matt losing someone very close to him during the recording process who passed away. That event changed his family forever and as we explored that together in conversations that song is what came of it. It confronts the despair that comes with the unknown and doubt that surrounds mortality and raises a lot of questions for those who have lost a loved one.

“Unbreakable,” was born from our determination as a band to not let adversity end what we had worked so hard for. After lineup changes, legal issues, and YouTube pulling our channel in addition to other sources of stress sometimes we wondered if it was worth it. Our fans and their resilience inspired us to continue and reassured us that what we are doing is important.

We will most likely describe more specifics in the future, but also want to involve a certain level of mystery to entourage speculation and interest.

You are not the only musician to feel that way, and i want to apologize if my excitement for your music ever makes you feel uncomfortable in any way. Sometimes our encouragement and enthusiasm toward someone can translate into added pressure, even if that is not at all our intentions. Our love for 'Caroline' should not require being outdone or even matched by future albums, but it's understandable how it can feel that way. Bringing that to light is likely very healthy and educational for all of us on both sides. If it helps, 'Dreaming Out Loud' has always remained my favorite album from OneRepublic, far above their later releases. However, i still love them whole-heartedly and they have remained one of my top favorite bands of my lifetime, and i will always enjoy anything they put out. I, for one, already love this album, 'Relentless', and can't wait to hear the music. <3
Your Indiegogo campaign, which gave us a way to pre-order physical CDs and get other goodies, met its goal plus a little extra. In the wake of what happened recently with another crowdfunding platform, can you tell us what your experience has been with Indiegogo? And also, with that campaign being closed, is there another option available to pre-order 'Relentless'?

Indiegogo was a fantastic crowd funding option for us. The process was really smooth. We couldn’t believe the response and support we received. As far as pre-orders are concerned, we will ship out hard copies when the album is done being mixed and mastered.  We don’t have an established pre-order option aside from that at the moment but we are working on it.

Your post-'Caroline' singles, "Found," "First Blood," and "Bitter," will not be on 'Relentless.' Will we get another single from you in between, or a track from the album available ahead of the album release?

We thought it would cheapen the album to put songs on there that we have already released. We discussed adding them, but really wanted to give fans something completely new from front to back.

The plan was originally to release 3 singles before the album release this fall, but now due to some production delays it might be two. Fans might hear something new within the next 6 weeks. Time will tell.

Thank you so much for sharing all these details about the new album! Really looking forward to hearing these new songs from you!
Any final words you want to say about 'Relentless,' or any shout-outs to mention?

Just that we hope the fans feel a new sense of confidence from the album, regardless of what mountains they have in front them.

We definitely want to thank all of our Indiegogo supporters, Mitch Davis, Chase Gerber, Sahaj Ticotin, and our families/significant others for their patient and support. We are confident RELENTLESS will be worth the wait.

Find Citizen Soldier on social media and streaming sites.

 

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