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Interview With Thousand Below Frontman James Deberg

Late last month, our own Mikey Jablonski sat down over a Zoom chat with James Deberg. The vocalist of the California-based post-hardcore band Thousand Below. James and Mikey discuss Thousand Below's brand new album, Hell Finds You Everywhere, in detail, they talk past and future touring, and so much more.

Press photo for the California-based post-hardcore act Thousand Below.

What are your main music influences, and how did you decide you wanted to get into the post-hardcore/metal genre? James: I used to listen to the genre a really, really long time ago. I don't really listen to too much "guitar music," if that makes sense these days -especially screaming. I've been listening to a lot of bad rap music [Laughs]. Rap and R&B is my first love -that's what really got me into music in the first place. But what really got me into screamo, post-hardcore, metalcore type stuff -I had a buddy that dragged me to Warped Tour back in the day. Would drive me to shows at the beginning, I didn't really enjoy it too much, but then I found a handful of bands that peaked my fancy like that like The Devil Wears Prada, I Killed The Prom Queen -stuff like that. Every time I've seen those bands since then, the magic is still there. There's still some inspiration there, but it was more back in the day what really lit the fire. How would you describe Thousand Below's music to someone who's just discovered it? J: I like to call it post-hardcore, mixed with a kind of mood rock. If that makes sense. Some of it is sad rock music, and some of it is more aggressive, but I feel like a big thing for us with the band is we want music to be on a wide spectrum. We don't want people to know whether it's going to be a softer song, a heaver song, or an acoustic song. We're just trying to make it exciting with stuff like artists I like. I have no idea what their sound is going to be like -especially big artists like Drake and 070 Shake. That's been a big goal for the band for me.

Well, kind of the same direction of different styles going. Why didn’t you guys put "Gone To Me" on the new record? J: This album we put out wasn't on Rise. Some weird thing happened where Rise Records got bought out by a major company, and then they came in to try to renegotiate our deal. So "Gone To Me" was on Rise. Shortly after that, the contract slowly dematerialized. So they were like, "We can renegotiate later if you want, or you can put something elsewhere on your own." We were like, "Great..." We put out the record on Pale Chord, which is also weirdly ironically partnership with Rise Records, so it was kind of like the same setup as Rise, but our friend owns Pale Chord Records. He had great success with Spiritbox and a handful of other bands. The deal was also very artist favourable, so we were like, "Hey, let's do that!" Having the money off of the music for the first time wasn't definitely a bad thing [Laughs].

What's something you hope fans will take away from the record? J: For the fans, I really hope they just understand that I think album two scared a couple of people away. It's too soft, it's too this and that. I just want people to understand like, "Hey, we're just trying to be diverse, trying to be multi-faceted. Every time we make music we're finding our sound, we're finding stuff that works for us. I think that this record was us being like, Hey, look everything that everyone wants in this band is there." Not just this, not just that, not just the secret third thing. I feel like people are soaking it in the right way. It feels like this is the first time we made an album where we "understood" the assignment type of thing. I'm just happy how it got put down.

What's your favourite track off of Hell Finds You Everywhere? J: Probably the last one, "All I Have Left To Give." When we made that, we were all pretty excited for that track. To me, it was the one song that can't be a single like that. It isn't short or concise. I love that song so much.

Did you finish it at the start of the record cycle or in between? J: I think it was towards the middle. The first song we made was "Next Time Around." I'm trying to think of what was second. It all kind of materialized in different chunks 'cause a handful of the record we did in our rooms, other times we went with a producer.

This has been something that has been bugging me since I reviewed the record. By the way, I loved it! My favourite song, and it's so catchy, but I need to know the meaning behind "Clockwork Enemy." J: "Clockwork Enemy" is about people you see their personality get colder as you get older. We all start out as big innocent happy kids. The world just chips away at us over time. More than others. Some people faster than others. Just inspired by a handful of human beings that are close to me. That's what it's about.

I'm like, "Who hurt you," while listening to this [Laughs].

J: [Laughs]. It's just about watching yourself change, that's all.

So nothing too crazy meaning-wise?

J: Nope. There was a couple of songs on the record where I go really deep with the song. This time around, I wanted to try a couple of songs, you know, okay, it doesn't have this paragraph-long explanation to it. There was two or three songs more, just like not a paragraph long, but the rest of it is pretty deep, as per usual.

Cool! Was there a reason why "Silent Season" for a production and vocal standpoint for having those higher tone vocals? Like you hear from NF songs? Like that high pitch vocals at the start? What was the reason why you went with it like that? J: That wasn't even my idea. When we turned everything in, our friend Zach Jones, who also produced "Sabotage" and "Face to Face" on the album, our friend Zach mixed it. When I have him mix things, I have him like, "Hey, have fun with this. If you have any ideas, I'm down for anything stupid, or silly, or whatever you want to try." If we're like, "Hey, that's not cool, flip it back." You know, no big deal. I always have him go pretty hard on that kind of stuff. That was his idea. He was like, Hey, what do you think of this?" on his video on his phone. I was like, "Cool. you like that, do it" [Laughs]. I do not care. It sounds great to me. To me, I could have gone either way with it. I really had this soft, sombre vocal take that's my voice, just an octave up or something. But yeah, I liked it. Let me see what the guys think -they liked it, and it stuck.

How did all the features come to be and was there anyone else you reached out to and wanted to get on but couldn't because of scheduling issues or anything? J: The features were all me hitting people up. Some bands have one feature on the record. In my head, only a handful of songs really make it into the "playing it live all the time" catalogue, that reasoning doesn't make sense even. Like "Hell Finds You Everywhere" -the title track has Noah on it. We were gonna be playing that live pretty much every night moving forward. That song is doing pretty well, we obviously have to sing the Noah part -he's not gonna be there [Laughs]. A couple of tracks we recorded with Noah at least instrumentally even there was like one where they did instrumentally, and I did vocals. I did "Clockwork Enemy" and "Shade" at Noah's studio with him, while I was showing him the rest of the stuff I was working on. I kind of like had an open verse on there. I didn't really see it as the title track yet, it kind of popped off naturally. He never really did a feature before. I was like, "Hey, you should jump on this." He was like, "Yeah man, let's do it!" I say we're pretty good buds. So that was a homie thing.

Matt from Caskets -we did a tour with them. They were absolutely the coolest guys ever to us when we were in the UK. They were kind to us. I think when we first met up with them, they were pretty hyped on Thousand Below. Their whole crew were fans. I was like, "I was a fan of you guys. You guys are a great band." So we had him on there. That dude has a great voice.

Then the CVLTE feature, I used to do Twitch streaming, and one day a fan of mine came into our Twitch chat, and I said, "Suggest me music to check out," and someone suggested this artist. They're a huge fan of yours, and it was CVLTE -the vocalist's name is Aviel. I checked their stuff out and loved it, I hit them up on Instagram, and they hit me back very quick. We had a very weird song on the record called "Blue Roses Don't Fade," which is kind of different than anything we have done before, and I haven't had a chunk finished on that yet. I was like, "What if we had a trippy-ass feature on this?" Aviel has this SoundCloud emo-type thing going on, and I was like, "Dude, what if we have him on there?" So I hit him up about it, and he was very excited about it, and I was excited too. That's how those features came to be. I was happy with the features on this record, man. I was like, "I am proud of this!" [Laughs].

Yeah, the record was my favourite record of 2022…2023? No 2022 [Laughs]. J: Yeah, 2022 [Laughs]. We just snuck it in right at the end.

Was there a reason why you guys put it out at the end of December or was it…

J: Dude, it was one of those things where you have an album coming out, you want to put it out on the biggest tour possible and that Bad Omens tour was the biggest tour we have done in our lives. So in my head, it made sense to put the record out on the biggest tour of our lives and with friends. Bad Omens has a great fanbase, and Noah was on the record. I was like, "This is perfect timing!" The people at the label and our old management wanted to put it out in late January, and I thought that was beyond the realm of a stupid idea [Laughs]. I was like, "We have this tour and this moment to put this out."

Well, speaking of the tour with Bad Omens. How was it? What was the takeaway moment for you? Do you have a best memory from the tour? J: J: The tour was two months long.

Was it the longest tour for you guys?

J: Yeah… [Laughs]. Without a doubt [Laughs]. We've done three tours in a row, but we had a five-day break in-between those to reset my sanity level. This was pretty much the first time on tour for two months straight. I was also just wrapping up a school semester. As well, I'm in my senior year of college, so I was doing homework the whole time.

What are you taking for college?

J: I'm taking communications. I'm graduating in May. I'm pretty excited about that.

That’s awesome! Yeah, I took that as well! J: Nice! Yeah, I have no idea what I'm gonna be doing with that, but I'll try and find some remote job that I can do while on the road to make some extra money, especially having a lot of downtime on tour.

But my favourite moment on tour… Thanksgiving was pretty awesome for us and some of the people in Make Them Suffer. We just went out in Chicago. We had a dinner at this really nice famous restaurant in Chicago, and it was a nice night. It was sort of the tour near the ending stages, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The record was coming out the next week. A lot of excitement and a lot of energy. I really liked Thanksgiving. As well as the night the record came out, it was a big weight off the back, like at that moment that two years of hard work with something being real. It felt very, very nice. Also, a lot of funny things happened that night, like we were leaving Montreal trying to get back into America when this main road was closed. We got lost in the wilderness for a better part of an hour. There was like no phone service, and we couldn't see how the record was doing [Laughs]. Like how many plays it had in one hour type of thing. We just wanted to see what people were saying on the internet and that. It was really funny, man [Laughs]. While that was happening, the headphone jack in our van broke. We had to stop at this gas station while the whole time yelling at them, "Stop fucking with it. We need someone to actually fix this!" They were like, "We can fix it." Josh and his brother are very opinionated guys on what they can and can't fix. They are not ones to admit when they're wrong stuff like that, but they ended up actually fixing it, which was mindblowing. Like no way [Laughs]. Well, now you’re gonna go on tour with Nothing More. Congrats on that! What are the new songs you guys are gonna perform on that tour? J: So "Hell Finds You Everywhere" is the first track, and then I know we are playing "Silent Season," and then I completely forget. I think in terms of the ones we haven't played before, those are the only two. I know we're playing "Sabotage." I'm pretty sure we're playing "Venenosa," but we have been playing that for like six months. Yeah, "Hell Finds You Everywhere" is at the start and "Silent Season" is somewhere in the middle! I find "Hell Finds You Everywhere" is a good opener track. Very good set starter. We got a little intro mixed with it. I'm really excited.

As well, festival tour season is around the corner. Are there any you are looking forward to seeing or performing at, James? J: I know we are playing a handful of festivals this year. I know we announced one. I know we're playing Blue Ridge. I think there are three, maybe four others, that aren't announced yet. Which is a part of this awesome tour, that we just got locked into yesterday. It's gonna be sick. It's gonna be a good one! It feels like it's gonna be the most on-brand thing that we have done so far. I'm pretty stoked about it. What are some new bands or artists that you recently discovered that you think people should check out? J: There's this artist called Diveliner. It's sort of in this realm of emo-rap stuff. That's more sometimes indie. Sometimes it's like SoundCloud R&B-type stuff. That is an artist I haven't been able to put down recently. I'm a huge fan. Diveliner, Diveliner, Diveliner [Laughs]. I can't stop listening to that. Are there any bands, in particular, you would like to tour with that you haven't yet? J: The Plot In You, for sure. There was also like three tours we had lined up where at the last second, it got either cancelled, or the pandemic took one. There was like three times we were supposed to tour with them, and we didn't. I've just heard that they are very fun guys, funny, lots of shenanigans, and that's a big thing for me on tour, any opportunity I can. What's the best piece of advice that you've ever gotten while doing music, James? J: Gotten? This is going to sound douchey or whatever like there hasn't been really... Actually, no. There has been one piece of good advice I got that helped a ton. In terms of big advice, I would give people what I think is important. I'll say both things. The best piece of advice I got was from -I can't remember which person from Silent Planet said it. They were like, "Be a clothing line that puts out music, not a band that makes shirts. Your life will be way easier." Every artist will be like, "It's not about the money, if you don't have money your just gonna fry out, and you're not gonna be able to tour forever." Touring is beyond the fucking realm of expensive. A lot of people don't understand that. A lot of people will say you can Hemrich a bunch of money for a few years and have a good time, any band can do that. But in terms of growing up and making it part of your life when someone in Silent Planet told me, "Literally focus really hard on your merchandise and how you sell it -the quality of it." That aspect of it will hold your band up for many, many years, and they sell a lot of merch, and they're still here [Laughs]. But in terms of advice, I would give to people if you really want it, you just have to be stupid enough to keep going long after the point that it looks like a shit idea. In every artist's life, there's this timing where it pops up, I should do something else, maybe this isn't it, I suck, maybe I'm unlucky. There's a million reasons to stop, and you just got to be dumb enough to keep going through that if you really want to make it. Also, you gotta be okay with not making it, you gotta be okay with making the music and all that stuff for your own self and enjoyment like you have to be fine with the possibility of things blowing up and not working out. I still have that mindset sometimes even with the pandemic, every musician lost their job for a while I don't think everyone knew that they were gonna be coming out the other side of that. So I think it's good to be in it for yourself and just make yourself happy. Also dumb enough to keep going. There's gonna be a lot of those days where you can do pros and cons list that I should quit [Laughs]. This sucks, and it does suck sometimes. Being in a band is truly fucking awful sometimes, but I suppose it's all pursuits of art. There are going to be days where it makes you feel like shit, and there are going to be days where it's going to be the best [Laughs].

If you can have your listeners and fans remember one thing about yourself, James, what would you want them to remember you by? J: That I was dumb enough to keep going [Laughs]. [Laughs] Why? J: [Laughs]. Just like it's badass. There are a million reasons to quit a band, dude. There's only like four reasons to stay in it, you know. I don't know, when I was younger, I tried a few different things, and quit a bunch of things. I quit sports, granted I quit lacrosse for thirteen years. I was pretty fucking good, but then I quit because alright… I found out pro players make no money, and then the league didn't get franchised until like two years ago, at which I would have been 27 and definitely almost out of my prime, I guess. Maybe not. I don't know. But in any event, I tried a million different things when I was young. Some of my family gave me shit for not sticking to anything, and my friends would be like you just fucking trying things out, you know? I just like experiencing different things, but yeah, I was dumb enough to keep going, and it worked out so far. Finally, what are your guys' plans for the rest of 2023? I'm assuming touring? As well, the back half of the year, any plans set for that yet? J: You asking me reminded me that, yes, there are four festivals. There's three on a tour that's in September which isn't gonna be announced for a while, but that's what I'm really excited about. Then there's one festival in summer we're playing that I forget the name of, but it's pretty awesome, and I'm pretty hyped. We're gonna book some form of a tour around that in the fall. I want to go back to Europe, we got an intuitive Europe offer in February, but it's expensive to go there, and the money wasn't right, I think. But we will definitely hit Europe again, just lots of touring. This year we have Nothing More, something is happening in summer, and then there's this awesome unnamed tour in September. So that's three tours for the rest of this year that will go up to October. No break for you? J: Yeah! I'm going to be excited too 'cause, like right now, we have the record that's doing well. We're excited to play these songs live. The band is making some money when we go on tour, so I think this is going to be our defining year to see what happens with the band and see how many tickets we're worth. See how much money we can make this year, things like that. A lot of really good stuff for this year for us. Not every band says that I think we're about to pop [Laughs].

That's all I got for you, man!

J: Thanks for having me on!


Check out more from Thousand Below:

Album artwork for Thousand Below's latest album release, Hell Finds You Everywhere.

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