Divinity is a Canadian heavy metal band from Calgary, Alberta. They are currently unsigned to any major labels but have been signed in the past to Nuclear Blast and Candlelight. Formed in late 1997 by Sean Jenkins and James Duncan, the band name came from a lyric from the song Domination by Pantera – “A now blacked heart is reaching out in divinity.” Divinity guitarist James Duncan took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with Zoran Theodorovic about all things Divinity and more.
Z: This is the Iron Serbian of Capital Chaos TV and we have James of Divinity on the line. How are you doing James?
J: I’m great man.
Z: Are you still in Calgary Alberta?
J: That’s right. In the Great White North.
Z: Home of Hosers and stuff like that.
J: Of who?
Z: The great white north I’m referencing an old movie.
J: Oh, hosers yeah (chuckling)
Z: You’re not that old. How old are you?
J: I’m 38
Z: Oh wow
J: I’m definitely old enough
Z: We are all getting older day by day. Now Divinity is a band that you started with somebody else?
J: Well technically, Shawn the singer started the band in high school, but I met him about a year later. I was in college and he was still in high school. So he had just came up with a name and wrote few songs and I met him right when he was 16 or 17. Basically so then we started the real actual Divinity at that point. He and I collaborated, we both write songs, and we both have the same vision, and we were really young and we ran into each other for a good reason, because it’s nearly 20 years later and here we are still.
Z: Wow that’s great, so you guys have formed a common bond of friendship and musicianship, or is it strictly musicianship?
J: Oh we’re absolutely the best of friends. All of us are in the band. That’s the thing my brother joined about another year later. The original drummer left and my brother came and filled in and he joined when he was like 18. And Jeff the second singer was the bass player for years and then he left the band. We got a couple other guys over the years and now he’s back as the second vocalist. So the four of us have been together for about 20 years.
Z: Wow that’s impressive.
J: Yeah man, so we hang out all the time. We do all kinds of shit together. We go mountain biking and camping and all kinds of stuff as well as the music
Z: That’s great. How did you first get into metal and were you a fan of other kinds of music prior to getting into metal?
J: When I was really young I started on piano my parents got me on piano right away and they figured I was pretty good at it so they kept my lessons going and I got a grade A, conservatory on piano when I was 17. And that’s as high as you can go, until the next level that is the master level, but when I was about 13 my cousin showed me “Master Of Puppets” by Metallica. I heard “Disposable Heroes” and he just said come here I got to show you something and he played this and it was like a lightning bolt through my spine. It was insane I never heard anything like it. The first thing I thought of was I will love this music when I’m an old man. That’s the first thought I got when I heard that. It changed me forever. I did not want to play the piano anymore. I wanted to play electric guitar period, but my dad made a deal with me as the years went through I told him I need this new guitar. I’d been taking lessons and slacking on piano and doing lots of guitar. He said “I paid a ton of money for your fucking piano lessons so you’re going to finish this shit like I told you” and I said OK but I need this guitar. I need a better guitar I have this piece of crap guitar and he said all right I’ll buy you this guitar if you sign this contract that says you will finish your grade A piano, I said yeah sure give me the paper I’ll sign it. But I didn’t realize it was another 2 years of hard core work and piano lessons to actually finish it. But I got a BC Rich snake skin guitar out of it. It worked out well. The second I was done with the Grade A piano I ditched it and I ran for metal.
Z: That’s awesome, that’s great. What was the local scene like in Calgary, Alberta back when you guys started out? Were there any bands on the scene that were really impressive to you and that you wanted to emulate somewhat?
J: Yeah there was. It was a really good scene when we started. That was about 97, 98 when we started so yeah, there were some bands here. There was Pericardium, Rob Daugherty played in Into Eternity for years and he had a band here called Pericardium and we really looked up to them and Thorazine they were death metal legends around here, amazing, awesome death metal. Dark Minion who kind of morphed into Minion and then Frank Stutsky from that band went on to play with Breach of Trust, a huge Canadian band. There was lots of guys that did stuff around here and we were started out as more of a Machine Head, Metallica type band hanging out with all these death metal type bands and we eventually morphed into a death metal band without realizing it. We were really into old school Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and more thrash’y Testament. The Bay Area Thrash was #1. and now in talking to you I realize, that those bands that we grew up with we, didn’t really think that much of them in influencing us but they did, huge because we turned more into a death metal vibe now. And we’ve totally lost the Machine Head, Metallica vibe, I think.
Z: Yeah but the new stuff you put out sounds great. Do you have any favorites on what the 3 EP’s over the course of 2 or 3 years?
J: Yeah so, when we wanted to put out the new album. We realized it would be just too much, we couldn’t get it together, we didn’t have all the concepts together we don’t have enough music but we need to put music out so we said fuck it we’re just going to split it up in three sections, we’ll do a trilogy, this will be the 3 that are done right now, plus a cover of The Dead Speak From Beyond from Pericardium. We’ll just do those and that’s what we had to do at the time because we’d been stagnate for a while. We went through a serious change after the Singularity. Sasha left the band and Nick ended up leaving the band, And Nick was with us for a while but the two after the singularity album sent us for a loop. It changed the band forever so when we came back together to put out part 1 of this it was just to get something out, and to be our new selves and back to what we started with, because Sasha joined the band after we were already a band but then we played with Sasha for 10-12 years. So he was a huge part of us when he left and so we went through a whole restructuring of everything we had been doing, and then we ended up coming back to this thing we have now where we are supposed to be, and it feels great so now we have these new songs. You were asking about a favorite?
Z: Yeah do you have a favorite on the new albums.
J: My favorites that’s a hard one. I would have to say Hallowed Earth. I wrote that to be a Strapping Young Lad feel but it’s morphed into” I don’t know what it is” It’s a lot of dissonant notes and I think the riff is just my most creative work on the album in that song but it’s still really simple. It’s hard to explain. It turned out really good. Also, Conquer that was the song that I was going to write and I had all kinds of ideas that I was ready to write the song. It was going to be the ending epic tune, we ideas for lyrics and all that so when I went to work on it, I didn’t do it very quickly it was over the course of a few weeks and I was writing other songs and Shawn all the sudden came up with this tune and said “here I put some ideas down for Conquer” so we listened to it and it’s a 7 minute song. I said “What the hell you just wrote the song” that’s it, It’s 7 minutes long it’s awesome”. He was like alright cool so I wrote the piano part for the intro of it and wrote the words and lyrics for that section but it was completely Shawn throwing out his ideas which turned out to be the exact song we didn’t change it much at all.
Z: The album cover has a green hue to it what the emphasis on the color green?
J: I think its numerous things. Allegory our first album was red, Singularity was blue, and Immoralist is green. So it worked that way but also it’s like a rebirth. We wanted it to appear more organic but still hard so the stone, with the green seems more organic but it was definitely conscientiously green.
Z: Absolutely it looks great. Who’s the man on the cover?
J: That’s the Immoralist. In some fashion or that’s you or that’s who knows who it is. Everything is metaphorical. Art is all metaphorical. Unless it’s just obvious. Some movies have an obvious end, obvious climax, and obvious characters. Other movies make you really confused when it’s done or you can just make up your own mind. Like what did you think Natural Born Killers was about? I don’t know if was about anything right it was just something that stuck in your mind from that first time you ate mushrooms and watched that crazy ass movie. But this art that we do is all open for interpretation and all of my lyrics and Shawn and Jeff’s now we split the lyrics pretty much equal and on this latest stuff Jeff and Shawn have taken on a lot more of the lyrics. I don’t do it so much because they do it so well. But everything is very metaphorical. It’s meant to be open.
Z: It’s been a while since you were hooked up with a record label such as Nuclear Blast and currently you are a DIY’er. Is that something that is going to work for you guys?
J: Well that’s a big question in the industry right now and in the world right now. If you just turned off the internet and lived your life wouldn’t that be nice?
J: Yeah so nobody can do that anymore we are part of this mega organism. Your identity on line is has nothing to do with who you are as a person. I’ll look at a picture of you on the internet and I’ll make up all kinds of stuff that I think you are and I can judge you from your shirt your glasses, your hair your shoes whatever you’re doing who your with what kind of music you said you listened to, are you into Trump or something else and all these different things and you instantaneously judge the person but yet if you meet a human being eye to eye. Most people or at least I know I just see another person. If your eye to eye with a man, man to man you’re not going to judge the same way as when you look at his profile online, so that poses a huge problem for who you are as a person but also as a group and a band and an identity, that your trying to push as an idea. You can’t have everybody understand what you really are these days. I think it was a lot easier back in the day because in 1992 you could go and say hey I want to play this show and somebody let you play a show and you kicked ass then you moved forward but if your songs suck, your generic, and your some rich kid, or something else if you’re not real It comes through, you can see it. Now you can’t see it. So we’ve been through the ringer or not so much the ringer but we’ve been through the system, we’ve been in and out of doors that some people would say we shouldn’t have been let in, or other people would say you shouldn’t have gone in that door, but you make choices as you go through your career and you make the best choices you can, and when we signed with a big label called Nuclear Blast that was a fucking awesome thing. That was what we need to prove to ourselves that we did the right thing by putting 5 years into Allegory and spending, nearly $100,000 on everything we needed for a light show and a computer and the drums and the guitars and everything we needed, a van, a trailer, we spent a ton of money as a group of our own money and so then when we go signed with Nuclear Blast it made sense. Now we can move to the next level but we’re not the band that can tour and tour and tour. We’re just not so that’s not going to last in the eyes of a big company who needs you to get your ass out on the road. So now days it’s totally different we play our cards differently.
Z: Your album comes out in 6 days 4 hours and 14 minutes? Does that sound about right?
J: That sounds like a good estimation
Z: Are there bonus tracks that we are unaware of?
J: We’ve got lots of secret bonus tracks at home, but no not yet, you can look for the side projects that might be coming in the future.
Z: The positive aspects of social media. We all know what the negatives are. What are the positives for you?
J: Well there’s enormous positives. The connections between people I have friends now that I would have never become friends with because of the internet, great friends that I still have never met face to face. Also people who I look up to and I still can’t believe that I talk to some of these people that I do now because when your younger and there wasn’t’ the internet you were opening your tapes and reading the lyrics you thought these people were rock stars. They were next level you knew they were but as we see with Chris Cornell today, we are all just human and that’s why I talk so negatively about the internet because it confuses us all. So you have to ride inside the system though so you have to use it to your advantage. So if you can use it in a business way or a positive way you’ll effect people then that’s awesome. There are lots of great stuff. Now again, back to the negatives on that you’ve got too much information, too many opinions, too many people talking shit to really get truth happening so 5, 10 years ago I thought the internet was the most amazing thing ever. And it’s awesome and it’s necessary, now I believe it has tainted us too much so it’s hard to see it in a real positive light other that the fact if we could just spread real information, if we could spread truth then there wouldn’t be a problem. Like all our news feeds are filled with the same shit. And we are all drinking the same shitty Kool-Aid, people would like to say well you drank blue so you are this and that person says no I didn’t drink blue because I wanted to. I just drank blue just because you drank orange doesn’t mean we are enemies stupid. Yeah but the green guy said you did this. Well the green guy doesn’t know anything this just what happens confusion so I’m having a really hard time using the internet efficiently. It’s not that you can’t use it in a positive way it’s hard to be efficient and actually get across what your trying to say, so that our challenge now especially as a band because when you release under a label it comes out with a new dying fetus and the new arch echo and the new Steven Wilson and all these different bands that everybody likes to listen to. When you come out on a release or the label you are in the face of the venue that you should be so as an independent band you have to find ways to get in there without everybody thinking it’s weird you got in there. They as how did you get in there? You find ways to get in there like last year we did a small little tour with Devin Townsend which turned out amazing, but that was just from us trying to find something good. This is great we made it happen and that was because of the internet and lots of things we’ve done because of the internet. So it’s a two edge sword.
Z: How difficult is it to be inspired to write music in the age where music is essentially free or stolen what have you?
J; Well writing music is not an issue for us. I don’t think any of us have had true writers block per say. That’s actually what we write about. Conspiracy theory and technology and sci-fi, death, horror, love, life, good, bad everything so what’s happening in the world now works perfectly into our story. If you open the Immoralist and read all the lyrics you would see there’s a story there. There’s things happening that are very metaphorical and the closest thing that I could say to someone who doesn’t know anything about us or anything about the album is the very Matrix (the movie) inspired, the original Matrix. Something like that I would like to know what a whole bunch of other people thought when they first watched the Matrix, the first time. I was really baked and I got the shittiest seat in the theater and I was tripping out at the beginning because of that, so my experience with The Matrix was freakin amazing, it was awesome but we used those kinds of concepts because we see them in front of our face. The similarities to that movie. So not that anything is based off the matrix just that that was very influential idea for us in our sci-fi adventure that the Immoralist is.
Z: Now as far as Canadians go. Are Canadians amused, fearful or impressed at the current American political climate?
J: That’s the hardest question ever. It’s just, to me sitting in my car looking at a beautiful park and you’re down there so I guess I will just answer it. Everybody is very confused so you form an opinion no matter what everybody is biased in their own way, for their own ideas, their own people, their own judgement and they will go on that path until they are shown proof, they will not be able to understand what’s happening so it’s just like anything if your locked in a room with no windows you won’t know if it’s cloudy if it’s sunny, hailing, freakin tornado you’re not going to know so you’ll be stuck in there until someone lets you out. That’s the part people are missing these days is they are unable to allow someone to let them out, just look, just have a look and don’t judge yet, and when you get angry talk about it. Be open minded, but people in Canada are now under a very liberal rule which wouldn’t be a bad thing if they were actually liberal. No one on the liberal side is actually liberal and no one on the conservative side is actually conservative. I identify as a conservative with values, but yet I believe I am the most open minded person there is. I believe I’m kind and I’m good to people and I only want the best. I don’t want to see people hurt. I don’t want anyone to get revenge exacted on them I don’t want any of those things. But yet my views, are attacked on a daily basis to my face and on the internet. But I can be obnoxious as well cuz I’m tired of ridiculousness. So if anybody was to ask me a question I just answer it I wouldn’t punch them in the face. I would just talk to them and I think a lot of people are starting to get to that point where they don’t want to fight. But it’s when people make crazy accusations on someone else that has no way to prove themselves differently other than just doing what they’re going to do. So up here you got the same split, but yet the leaders that you are referring to are not the leaders of the people here that are split. Now you have a secondary problem where people think they’re so smart but this shit has nothing to do with them. It’s the perfect ploy for the big guy because our government can now just do whatever they want under our noses while everyone just pays attention to your guy’s bullshit and dirty laundry and we can’t help but watch it, cuz they feed it to us like spoon feed us, every day force feed us. We see it nonstop, so we don’t even see what our government is doing until its too late and it’s not good for everybody up here. The politics thing is big because people are losing their jobs here. Alberta was the cash cow of Canada for many years and their shutting us down. They just demonize the oil sands and they just turn it into this thing, that is terrible and evil, which we shouldn’t get into because that again is whole other can of worms.
Z: Another time then. I just want to close with something a little more musical. Do you have tour plans? Are you coming to America any time soon?
J: What we are trying to do right now is line up some good shows, at a good time for us so we just put everything we have into getting this album out and now, it’s going to be out in a week so that’s an accomplishment for us that’s huge. So now that we’ve got past that point we are free to do what we want with it, and we’ve had a few offers already to do some shows. Sometimes the problem is money or logistics or getting the time because we all have full time jobs so we can’t just do anything anytime. We have to be strategic about it if we want to continue doing this, especially since we are the four, Keith is the fifth guy, the new guy but the four of us have been together through this shit for so long that we’ll never do anything that puts another person out. If someone can’t do it we’ll often not do it, but everybody wants to do something so we just wait for the best thing to happen at the right time and we’re not worried. But as for coming down there so see you guys, we just played with Fallujah again and those dudes are awesome and they were saying yeah get your asses down here, let’s do something so it would be cool to play with those guys and we are also thinking of getting to the UK. That is a really good market for us. We’d like to do that and we’d like to play in Montreal. We haven’t been to Montreal in quite a while and that’s where our huge scene is in Canada. That’s where all the big guys are and we’ve played with most of those big bands at one point or another across Canada. So we’ll line something up.
Z: Well we look forward to seeing you and we can’t wait for the album to drop. I think it’s going to be a pleasing sound to the ears of most metal heads
J: I sure hope so. It turned out exactly as we wanted it. To us it’s a huge accomplishment. It’s out third album and it’s a lot of music to absorb so I hope everyone gets the most out of it Hell yeah nice talking to you.
Z: Like wise.
Album order available on Divinity.ca, iTunes or Amazon plus an exclusive digipak CD available on their website for those who like to support the band directly. The digipak CD contains a 24-page booklet that showcases this entire concept giving fans way a full physical experience to the story, songs, lyrics, and visual aspect of the new album.