Ryan Stasik Tells the Story of Death Kings

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    An Extra Chill Original: Ryan Stasik Tells the Story of Death Kings
    Published: February 22, 2024

    Photo by Steve Aycock ( @steveaycockphoto).

    When I spoke with Ryan Stasik, he was riding in his “coffin,” or blacked-out bunk following Umphrey’s McGee’s recent two-night run through Brooklyn Bowl in Philadelphia. Like a vampire, he said. The perfect setting to tell the story of punk/metal side project, Death Kings, who are set to make an appearance at the Charleston Pour House on Friday, March 1st, with Wolf Mask.

    Death Kings were formed during the pandemic, initially featuring Stasik alongside longtime friend Mike Gantzer of Aqueous and Mikey Carubba of Cool Cool Cool (and formerly Turkuaz). Their self-titled debut album was released just over two years ago, on Valentine’s Day in 2022.

    “Mike Gantzer and I have always been good buddies. Just had a chemistry there and clicked,” Stasik explains. “He kind of grew up in the skateboard era, the Tony Hawk video game world. I’m a little older and I was always into metal and Pantera and Prong, and we just decided that it was time for us to write some music together. COVID was a perfect time since everybody was stuck at home.”

    Photo by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).

    With the music business shut down, Stasik and Gantzer (and many more) had time to work on creative projects. For Stasik, this wasn’t just the material for Death Kings but also music for his other bands, Doom Flamingo and Umphrey’s McGee, but first we’re going to talk about Death Kings.

    Creating DEATH KINGS

    “Well, also because of COVID, it kind of lit a fire under my ass to get my home studio up and working,” Stasik continues. “I started using Ableton, I think Mike uses Logic. So we basically just started bouncing riffs and ideas to each other. He’s the vocalist and lyricist. So he did majority of that or all of that.”

    Stasik explains that during the summer of 2020, he worked on music just about every day, for his various bands. He was at home, on the beach in Charleston, and making records with Doom Flamingo. While collaborating remotely with Gantzer, who lives in Buffalo.

    Mike Gantzer of Death Kings. Photo by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).

    “We would go surfing,” Stasik recalls, “And after surfing, we would go in and either write music, or I would go back in and write music for Death Kings, for Umphrey’s or for Doom Flamingo. Whichever ideas stuck, whichever ones he responded back to or whatever he’d said, we just worked on until it was finished. It just felt right for us to kind of get that sort of music out of our systems, the more aggressive kind of punk rock, rock and roll metal stuff.”

    Making Music During Lockdown

    Stasik explained in more depth how the pandemic was a creatively fruitful time for him, in a different way than he had been accustomed to, after decades of touring in one of the most well-traveled live bands in American history.

    “It was very interesting time, because Umphrey’s did an instrumental record where I recorded all the parts solo in my studio. You know, COVID didn’t allow us to get together. So it was an interesting time to be making music differently, challenging, but also fun.”

    Photo by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).

    This time period brewed several projects that have since seen the light of day, Stasik goes on to explain.

    “Yeah, I mean, it was the most productive, you know, lockdown ever,” he says. “We did an EP and a full-length studio for Doom Flamingo. We did a record for Death Kings. And then I did an instrumental record and worked on most of Asking For a Friend for Umphrey’s. So it was almost like five records were done during COVID, which was great.”

    Back on the Road

    While Stasik did enjoy the family time, surfing time, tequila and music-writing time created by the global lockdown, he was, not surprisingly, very excited to get back into it. Once music opened up again, Death Kings shows started to pop up in town whenever Stasik’s projects would cross paths with Gantzer’s projects on the road. This has included a number of Umphrey’s McGee afterparties, festival dates, and more.

    Photo by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).

    As for rehearsal time — since they live so far apart and spend much of their time traveling with various musical acts — that just doesn’t really happen, Stasik explains.

    “It’s a lot of self shedding and trust,” he says. “We know the originals, hopefully you can run through them. At soundcheck like real quick or just some sections, but it’s pretty in your face rock and roll. So come prepared, know what covers you’re gonna do. And in the jam band world, we open up the songs and stretch it out and take it there. It’s just full trust in the sense that it doesn’t require a lot of rehearsals. You show up knowing your shit.”

    The Future of Death Kings

    Jonathan Peace will join Death Kings on March 1st at Charleston Pour House. Photo by Steve Aycock (@steveaycockphoto).

    As I mentioned, Death Kings was initially a trio with Mikey Carubba, but Carubba has left the band, so now it is a duo collaboration between Stasik and Gantzer, with regional drummers filling in for dates in different cities.

    For the March 1st show in Charleston, this means Death Kings will be the trio of Stasik, Gantzer, and Charleston local Jonathan Peace (Lureto).

    Stasik and Gantzer have continued to collaborate in the same remote capacity as they did when writing the self-titled album, and hope to share more music in the future. For now, we can catch them on the road when the time is right!

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