It’s a little over a year now since Dealer released their debut EP Soul Burn to the world. They’ve since sold out a string of shows, whether their own demonstrations or in support of bands like Thy Art Is Murder, and Spite (in the US, no less). They delivered again with their Saint EP (released in February), which showed a further refinement of sound, and continued thematic threads that were established in the release before it.
Keen to explore those lyrical themes further, I spoke with Dealer’s vocalist Aidan Holmes, and touched on both EPs and their shared subject matter. I’ve been fortunate enough to witness elements of Dealer’s progression closely, from idea stage and rough demos. The name Dealer may seem purely edgy at first appearances, but it’s inspired by many things, including the word reflecting ‘one who deals with things that are thrown at them’, and using music to do that dealing, not to mention providing the metaphorical hit of music and acting as a ‘dealer’ to the addicted fans. This fully-fledged presence that Dealer continues to be today includes Aidan’s own internal journey, and his means of dealing with life are expressed through music. Both Soul Burn and Saint capture very real concepts and feelings.
Soul Burn came from an angry place. That much is obvious when you listen to it. Comparing the two releases so far, Aidan describes it as being “more chaotic and less thought out” than Saint, and that it came with a ‘who cares’ vibe of indifference. “Pretty Stupid” literally says “I’ve got nothing to prove”, and this sentiment was felt through the creative choices and sonic artistry of Soul Burn. Dealer was a collective of musicians who had ‘been there, done that’ before (in varying degrees), and creating something in the way they wanted to create it was the main driver. Thankfully they had the support of StaySick Recordings and Human Warfare in doing so. It was irrelevant to Aidan and the rest of the band at the time what the outcome of Soul Burn was, whether it flopped or not. The mere empowerment from saying what needed to be said was the fuel. Aidan says “I had some stuff to say. It might not resonate with me now, but it did back then.”
Talking about the inspiration behind Soul Burn, Aidan says “It came from vulnerability. And when people are vulnerable, they can turn desperate, and with desperation comes delusion. Soul Burn was definitely focused, but it was also throwing blind swings.” With vulnerability in mind, “You In Frame” stands out in this, offering a softer angle of vulnerability, and starting to take responsibility face-on. While the song is very different to the others on the EP, Aidan shares that it was something he’d wanted to do for some time, and that the creative freedom he had led to the song being on the EP. He says “It felt right and it worked”.
“I broke my promise to you.”
Though they’ve found affection from fans of metalcore and nu-metal, genre isn’t something Dealer wants to be bound by. So the idea of planting a seed of variability early on was important to Aidan. And yet at the same time, there weren’t any grand visions or expectations going in. Aidan says “I didn’t see further than Soul Burn.”
With the EP being well received and the hurdle of live shows being leapt over, it was then onward to Saint. Aidan describes “Tourniquet” as “”Grotesque” part two”, with a fast-forward shift having happened in the protagonist’s life between the two songs. The pair share sound similarities as well as the lyrical touches about suicidality, albeit from different perspectives. This fast-forward feeling was a personal experience for Aidan as well as with the success of Dealer. He says “That’s how I felt with the rush and build of the last year.”
Aidan says “Tourniquet” asks for honesty, and calls for things to not be sugar-coated; “It’s to ask for a straight answer. ‘Give it to me real'”. Aidan describes it as “Quite a negative mindset. It’s a stuck one, but there’s a question to move past it, rather than dwell in it and look at the situation through the lens of a victim.” While hopelessly drenched in red and with a black dog breathing down his neck in “Grotesque”, “Tourniquet” instead highlights elements of learning and realising. While the sentiment of ‘life is (still) fucked’ is there, there’s something more than this in “Tourniquet”. Aidan verbalises this by saying “Most of the time, at the brink of death is when you have the power to change, to survive,” adding that it was perhaps the hardest song to write of all of Saint.
The primal survival instinct comes in this song which features elemental metaphors of bone and teeth, leeches and guns. Aidan shares that the line “This is the shape and the point of the tooth” is quite literal, in directing focus to the pain. He describes it as “‘Here is what caused the damage. Here is what caused the wound’. Like touching a hot object and being told ‘That object is hot. That’s why it burned you.’; if it hurts you, cut it out.” “Tourniquet” is the primal survival instinct after the attempted demise that “Grotesque” shared.
Of the music video, Aidan shared how Colin Jeffs was keen to visually explore a Looper style of video, with people being sent from the future to enact a hit. Though I did notice the Soul Burn inspired license plate, I’ll admit that I hadn’t noticed some of the detail, and Aidan talking about how there’s “Lots of little easter eggs in it” has inspired rewatches.
“Blade In A Bullet Wound” continues on a similar vein (pun not intended). Aidan says “It’s finding a reason in the suffering. To once again pull out what is killing you in the hope to heal.” In comparing the two EPs, Saint shows greater self-awareness, which runs concurrently with Aidan’s own growth at the time of writing. By way of the song title’s metaphor, Aidan says “You wouldn’t be able to continue with a bullet inside you, with the particles entering your bloodstream or source of life. And it’ll hurt, but it needs to leave.”
The mention of “pseudo-saint” hooks into the overarching idea of Saint; whether these saviours are in the form of substances, people, or something else, whether harmful or helpful. Aidan described the experience of pseudo-saints and questionable motives – whether they’re conscious of them or not – saying “Some people come to aid. They think they can rip out the pain. But do they genuinely want to help you? Or are they just trying to fill a void themselves.”
He explains that the theme of saints across the EP wasn’t a pre-planned one, but something that formed on its own. He says “The saints for me in this record are anything that fills voids. They could be positive or negative. Negatives being pseudo-saints; alcohol, drugs, damaging things that give you temporary release. People come under that too.”
The confusion of ‘what’s true or not?’ or ‘what’s helpful or not?’ is felt through “Blade In A Bullet Wound”. It’s a raw view of someone trying to overcome hurdles. In my review, I captured it as “Existing in complete distrust and feeling isolated, the protagonist asks for lies and fantasy to be perpetuated. I find taking this in to be extremely uncomfortable; this limbo of confusion, wanting to die but not being able to, and seeming to be surrounded by dishonest people. It’s a feeling of being tossed around without grounding and instrumentally it sounds like it too. It’s tumultuous and uncomfortable in more ways than one.”
The palpable frustration and shove energy of “Blade In A Bullet Wound” has “FORCE YOUR EXIT” hit home. Aidan describes the idea of needing force in situations, like firm boundaries. Finality. He says “Sometimes an addict needs to be locked away. Sometimes the relationship you’re in that hurts you needs to be stopped now.”
Sounding wild of emotion that could be either satisfying or exhausting to express, especially at the song’s ending, Aidan shares that the entire end was tracked in one take. “It just felt right to do, and Troy Brady who tracked the vocals always wants to do things legit. He would track the whole song in one take if possible. Hence why, if we end up doing another record, I would like to strip vocals back in a way where they’re less produced and less that every line needs to be perfect. Everything needs character and I fear I lose character and the true emotion behind the lyric when I’ve tracked it six times trying to get it right.”
In talking about “Violent Stimuli”, I expressed my take on this one, in it being about drugs and people associated with that; the stimuli of stimulants, and the violence being the experience involved in using them. Aidan says “The whole song is about multiple different things that can trigger a state of violent thoughts. No one is perfect. I’m still working on channeling particular energies.”
He elaborates to say that “Violent Stimuli” isn’t blind rage. With greater self-awareness, it’s exploring the need to enact those firm boundaries and endings that were touched upon in the song before it. The final line lands bluntly, with Aidan describing it as “you didn’t go away on your own, so now I have to force it.” The song also features a nod to the title of the EP before it, with Aidan saying “It was definitely a throwback to the title. I love throwbacks in records and it felt right there.”
We’ve probably all tried to sing along with Dealer songs and tripped over the high-speed runs of syllables. Talking about the mouthful that lines like “I desist to substantiate your delusional reasoning” are, Aidan laughed at how he has a bad habit of writing songs and forgetting that they’ll eventually need to be performed live. Expressing preference for the studio and writing stages of being in a band, Aidan shares “I have bad asthma and stuff from countless dumb things in my past. I’ve been working on my health greatly the last few months to hopefully get past that. But with particular stress issues and permanent damage, I find myself becoming unwell often and it makes playing live extremely hard. There are always ways to be better, but it’s something I need to put constant work to.”
Originally intended as a three track, “Suffer In Rhythm” was an unexpected last creation for Saint that Aidan says “just worked”. The song praises a legitimate and positive ‘saint’ that was in Aidan’s life, and reflects upon his selfishness at the time of their connection and not seeing their helping him. Commentary of lines like “I still fucking hate myself” paint the track, and the protagonist turns their attention toward healing; looking directly at it instead of avoiding it or embracing the pseudo-saints (“Look to numb the pain”). Reference to “Just another December” captures a personal observation of Aidan’s life; of when “shit goes south during a particular time of year. And that just happens to be mine, I guess.”
Aidan describes both “You In Frame” and “Suffer In Rhythm” by saying “Within all the red there’s some blue”, expressing the more fluid and sensitive elements that sit amongst the fiery ones. “Suffer In Rhythm” directly mentions the “deep and despera blue”. He adds “And it’ll be like that for every record, I think. I don’t know.” Aidan revealed that originally the aesthetic for Saint was going to see blue be introduced, but that it was decided to be unnecessary, affirming “We are still very much red.”
This inspired talking about the artwork for Saint which has a red curtain pulled back overlooking flowers that appear with a backdrop of a cloudy blue sky. Saying he was very happy with the work of Nick Davies of Utility Lab, Aidan says “In the artwork you can see the shadow of the flowers, you can see or know what they are. But within the blue section they’re almost an infra red. Visible, glowing, the insides.”
What lies ahead for Dealer isn’t defined at this point, but we can assume authentic emotion delivered with creativity, electric energy, and a whole lot of punch. Keep updated with everything Dealer via thedealersound.net.