Fallstar is a genre-blending rock band from Oregon. They have been writing some of the more creative and unique sounding nu-metal songs in the 2010s. They recently re-signed with the record label Facedown Records for their fourth studio album, Sunbreather, out February 12. I got to talk to the lead singer Chris Ratzlaff, or "Cream," about his mental health journey, the writing process, and faith.
Chris has a passionate heart for all people. If you follow him or Fallstar on social media, it won't take long to notice they are a voice for hope and love for all. It only makes sense that his music is representative of this, while being an outlet for the more difficult and darker parts of his life. I believe Sunbreather is Fallstar's best album. I loved getting to know more about the album and Chris. I hope you enjoy reading and consider supporting the band!
It's been a while since Fallstar has released new music. Please introduce yourself and the band to our readers.
My name is Chris, or "Cream," and I play in the band Fallstar. I've been doing it since 2005. We are a nu-metal/metal core/rock and roll band from Portland, Oregon. We do a lot of genres, but those are the main ones we stick to.
It's been a little over 5 quiet years since your last album, Future Golden Age, was released and even further since you were with Facedown Records. A lot can happen in that time. What convinced you guys to make a new album?
I really wanted to keep going with a record every two years, but I just couldn't write heavy music anymore. I think I wrote 63 songs for Sunbreather originally and none of it was Fallstar quality. So, I took a break. I started a new band called Northlander and then I did a bunch of collaborations with other artists. The creative outlet helped, but I was super depressed, too. So, I was having a really hard time writing. And then I got on SSRI medication and it changed my life. Then I was able to come back and finish this record. It just took five years, but I hope to not ever have a break like that again.
Who or what are some musical influences for you guys going into this one?
I think a lot of the nu-metal bands from the late 90s, early 2000s. POD with Satellite is probably one of my most favorite records ever. I was never allowed as a kid to listen to bands like Limp Biskit or like Korn or Rage Against the Machine, or Slipknot. So, I dug way into those bands. There's like this bounce that they have in their music. And a lot of their songwriting is simple. And I always thought I had to have some certain amount of inconsistency in my riffs or my rhythms to keep it interesting. And those broke me free of that idea. It was always about the feeling; I don't need it to be a certain amount of technical. I care more about how an audience will feel when they hear the song.
A lot of times when I'm hashing out ideas, I'll record it into my computer, and then I'll just turn off the lights, stand up, and play the song. If it gets me feeling like I'm gonna move as I imagined myself in the crowd hearing that song, then I know it's a keeper. As far as other sounds, there's a lot of pop sensibilities from Jimmy Eat World, Secret and Whisper, and Anberlin. But I don't listen to a lot of modern stuff, so that I don't try to copy them.
In what ways has your faith influenced the writing of the Sunbreather record?
Being a hardcore record, a lot of it is talking about injustices, bringing those to light, and singing about what's happening in our world. A lot of our earlier records were very reflective and inward. I wanted to change the direction of them starting back with our album Backdrift. It's now a lot about how we can focus on the issues that are really affecting our neighbor. When I write lyrics, I always think about what's the most compassionate way to say what I need to say, but also the most honest way. And I feel like sometimes those can really cancel out the other one. I'd like to make music that helps people and that encourages people towards action, change, or new ideas. The thing is, you only have three minutes or so to say your message, so it can be like a puzzle trying to figure out how to say it best.
The lyrics in Sunbreather are fantastic, some of your best, and cover some relevant topics. The topic of social justice is especially prevalent. How does faith and social justice play into each other on the new record?
Firstly, it was very timely with how everything has been happening and what I was writing about. Because a lot of this music was based from the Ferguson stuff happening in 2016. This summer was very relatable too. I was questioning if I should write these things or not, but the summer events brought them to light and confirmed my thoughts there. As for faith, the couple of things that Jesus said about knowing a tree by its fruit is especially important for me. And then also the Fruits of the Spirit. Those are filters that I run everything through. If a person or group is not lining up with my beliefs, I will do what I can to help change that or show people the way of Jesus. My beliefs have changed a lot as far as like Christianity and stuff. But the teachings of Jesus is always what I go back to and the fruits of the Spirit.
Another lyrical theme found in Sunbreather is mental health. From "SSRI," "Cloud Chamber," and the closing track "Darko," Why is this a passionate subject for you to be talking about?
I think because it really struck me so hard these last couple of years. I didn't know that I was experiencing a lifestyle of depression until I got the help that I needed. I was living the last 15 years with very below normal levels of serotonin in my brain, and it was influencing a lot of the way I think and the way I'm able to exist in the world. What convinced me to try medication was asking my wife if she woke up happy in the mornings. She said yea, and I realized something was wrong for me. I still have off days, of course, but I'm doing better. But I just wanted to write about that, because I know there's people out there that are existing the way I did for so long. I would like other people who might be experiencing that to maybe start thinking about getting help. It also helped me process that whole period of time.
Anything else that you want to share about the album?
I think it is the best album we've made so far. I tried to harness my songwriting ability a lot more and take a lot more thought into how things are structured and how things move. I consulted my friend and the guy who produced our album, Justin. I was sending them all sorts of demos all the time. And I think this is like the first time where I actually reached out to others and they really helped me sharpen and tighten up this album. There's some grimy, nasty songs in it. But then there's also really pretty, pop sensible songs in it. But I feel like it all harnesses the Fallstar sound well. And I feel like this is the first time we have a cohesive record that makes sense from front to back. I'm very excited about that. I feel like I grew a lot as a songwriter.
How can we be praying for you?
For my family, for sure. My oldest song is 5 and has autism. Some days are really hard. I also have two neurotypical kids and I love all them so much. My wife and are could always use prayer for our family life.
Ryan Adams lives with his family in Montana. He had been NRT's Rock Reporter since 2018.
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