Change, whether large or minute, is a visceral thing that frightens many people. From time to time, almost everyone goes through a cycle of emotions shrouded in a feeling of hopelessness.
There are those that lash out at others to make themselves feel better about their situation. Of course, there are also some that cannot break the cycle, being caught in a loop of despair with apparently no way out. Fear of the unknown is a powerful feeling that keeps many buried within its embrace.
But then, there are those that recognize the cycle of unhappiness and hopelessness, determining that a change is in order.
Waylon Reavis came to that realization in 2015 after 11 years as vocalist/co-vocalist and three albums with Cleveland Nu Metal rockers Mushroomhead. Tearing off the mask, both literally and figuratively, he made the decision to leave the band. He then set off on a journey of discovery that showed him what was truly important to his well-being.
Over the course of a very long phone conversation, coupled with more time spent with him at the final show of his band A Killer’s Confession and their A Very Killer Christmas Tour in Columbus just prior to the holidays, I was afforded a glimpse into what Waylon Reavis is truly about.
Spending a year working with disadvantaged kids after leaving Mushroomhead opened his eyes and his heart, all the while maturing him in a way that had been missing for far too long.
“Working with those children,” said Reavis, “and seeing the really dirty side of the world. Once you work with children that are in a group home, and it’s a lockdown unit, you really find out what ‘bad’ is. You find out what suffering is. You see what these children look up to, and it just changes your perspective. These children don’t know any better, having been put through sex trafficking, drug abuse or murder… it’s a really bad place to be in.
“I was able to help them, and thought ‘Why can’t I put this positive message to love yourself and love one another in lyrics?’ We need to get past being self-absorbed and get over this self-serving, arrogant brat that the world has become. This is just a simple country boy’s perspective on the world he doesn’t recognize anymore.”
After forming A Killer’s Confession with JP Cross (bass), Matt Trumpy (guitar) and Jon Dale (drums), the band announced that they had signed with Megadeth bassist David Ellefson’s EMP Label Group/eOne in September 2016. They released their debut album “Unbroken” on February 17, 2017.
With AKC, Reavis has showcased his new direction with a purposeful, unfiltered look at what’s important to his well-being.
“The music is so much different,” he said of the difference between AKC and Mushroomhead. “I told everybody not to expect me to do the same thing I’ve done for the last 10 years. I’m going to move forward and sing songs that soothe my soul. Put it that way.
“I’m not really doing this for anybody but for me, to soothe my soul. This is to keep me going. Whether it takes off or not, it doesn’t matter (because) it keeps me alive.”
The tracks that comprise “Unbroken” carry a maturity heretofore unheard in Reavis’ lyrics. They encompass pain and sorrow, loss and redemption. It’s also full of his observations on what the world around him has become, much to his chagrin.
“I feel like Beck said it right in the song Loser. ‘You can’t write, if you can’t relate.’ And, I’ve hit that maturity in my life. There’s been highs and lows; good times and bad. Each one of those was a life experience for me and something I learned along the way. There’s been so much knowledge gained, because I’ve got to live a special life where I get to travel, see the world and view people. That’s the key, getting to view people, including myself.
“I’ve gotten to that point in my life where I’m not going to put just anything down for you to listen to. It has to have something special and something tied to it. I mean, what’s the point in opening your mouth if you’re not going to say something worthwhile. Especially now, when everything is negative in the world.”
The new material marks a departure from where he once was, full of a depth that comes from the realization that he has something worthwhile to pass on. For Reavis, the lyrics poured forth with an ease to which he was unaccustomed.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “It was like it was there and ready to happen. It was one of those things… I had so much built up, so much anxiety… my life had changed so much in that year between Mushroomhead and A Killer’s Confession when I worked with those children. It just flowed naturally. I didn’t have to sit there and fight to make it happen. I knew what to say and where I wanted to go.
“It (the new album) has this massive mix-up of cultures and where we’re all going wrong. And, I’m not saying that I’m right.”
It’s as if he has found new wings upon which to soar, the songs conveying a message from deep within the fabric of his soul.
“It really is,” Reavis said. “But, I’m not anybody special. If I’m going to continue to do this, there’s going to be a message behind it. When I’m onstage now, I’m not that monster anymore. I’m not up there staring you down like I want to rip your soul out.
“I say what I say (onstage) to open your mind, but it always has a point. It’s time for us to get over ourselves, and this includes me. I really don’t recognize the world we’re living in anymore. I don’t get it. I’m really confused about (the direction) we’re going.”
Many have felt that same confusion, but lack the vehicle to express themselves to any but their friends and family. Reavis sees his music as cathartic, not only for himself, but also for any who take the time to listen. Using his life experiences, he tells a cautionary tale about what many feel, as well. The track Angel On the Outside is a prime example of this.
“I’m not going to lie about it,” he continued. “I’ve hit rock bottom. But, I got over myself. I don’t need it back. In Angel, I’m really diving in to what I’m going through. People are asking me if I’ll continue to do heavy music. I don’t really know. I’ve yelled at you for twenty years and it didn’t work. Maybe, I’ll sing you a lullaby.
“It’s about my true feelings from when I left Mushroomhead. Angel is about me being cast out. It’s about my feelings of being hopeless. We’ve all been there and are trying to find our place again. It’s about the true feelings that everybody has about being cast out. And for the first time, I’m really diving into that type of song and lyric writing… and that type of maturity where I’m hurt. I’m not saying I want to go back, but that shit hurt.”
The reception from fans, new and old, as well as the bands that AKC has been touring with in the past year has been nothing short of astounding to the 39-year old Reavis.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” he said, “because I’ve been noticing on this tour that this song is just grabbing people. I mean, it’s hard for me to sing it, because it’s real. It hurts every time I do it (perform the song), but it heals. I don’t mean to make people sad, but it hits the right nerve.”
One aspect of Reavis that stands out, is the fact that the unknown doesn’t appear to be as frightening as it once may have been. The superficiality is gone, replaced with him being honest about what he sees, feels and fears.
“The future of AKC is not uncertain,” he said. “It’s just… where am I going? How much further into the wormhole am I going to go. I like having fun, but I honestly think that my ‘play’ time is over. I’ve got to give people more.”
“A lot of people are counting me out. That’s fine. I’ll be there, waiting. When I stopped caring about everyone’s opinions, I started getting happy. My feelings matter to me more, now.”
While some may not enjoy the path he has chosen, or the close-to-the-soul content of his lyrics, there can be no doubt that he still has much to say. To use the vernacular, he’s keeping it real.
“Dammit,” he continued, “I’m not going to be a singer if I’m not going to say something. I don’t want to sing about a girl I loved and lost. I don’t want to sing about ‘happy’ stuff; I want to sing about what’s real, because life is tough.”
Waylon Reavis is a thoughtful man that is embracing the need for change, starting with himself. But, he sees the need for change on a much larger scale and among many of this spinning ball of iron’s inhabitants. You need not be afraid of change. Rather, it’s time we all wrap our arms around it and move forward.
The next opportunity that comes your way to see AKC and Waylon Reavis perform, you need to jump at that chance.
“They’re going to see a man looking into their soul,” Reavis said of people that come to a show. “I’m an entertainer, but at the same time I feel something better. Just listen, and maybe you can find out what real change is.
“It starts with yourself.”
A Killer’s Confession – Angel On The Outside