INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL CLELAND BY SAMMIE STAR
When looking at Savage Existence, one would never know how much of a struggle this band had to endure to get to where they are today. A metal band from Costa Rica, with members infused from three different countries, Savage Existence knows a thing or two about starting from the ground up, whether it be on guitarist Daniel Cleland’s business side of things personally or through the band’s own musical endeavors.
“Our band developed within the pandemic lockdown,” explains Cleland. “To add more context to that, I’m an entrepreneur, and Jesse Radford, our drummer, works with me here in Costa Rica. I had just come through 18 months of the startup battle to get my business off the ground. I was getting to a point where I wasn’t bleeding money. I was starting to see the light of day. I was already super stressed and fighting super hard to get a low capitalized business through the startup phase. As soon as we got to a point where things were going well, Covid came to Costa Rica, and the borders were closed. Then it’s like, ‘Fuck your business,’” he laughs.
“BOTH THE FIRST AND SECOND ALBUMS HAVE THE SAME SOCIETAL ANGST THAT INTERTWINES WITHIN THEM.”
“I thought it was a bit of an overreaction. Then I went into hardcore battle mode for the whole duration of the lockdown. I had eight employees living with me who couldn’t leave the country. I had dozens of angry customers asking for their money back. I had rent, mortgage, and 20 employees in Costa Rica that I had to keep on the payroll, with zero revenue. So, we dove into a little more of the political scene because the culture wars were exploding during that time. That continued on, and we quickly wrote the second album. Both the first and second albums have the same societal angst that intertwines within them. We are currently working on our third album. There is still a bit of that but less. We did survive the pandemic, and the business is doing well. It’s less personal struggles and more like the world is coming to an end. There is no shortage of inspiration, that’s for sure.”
Much like the lyrical fortitude of Savage Existence’s work, there is no shortage of creative inspiration that drives the band’s heavy and charismatic sound forward. To evolve for their newest self-titled release, they would go back to the basics and find themselves again during the pandemic through their previous works.
“WHEN WE RECORDED THE SECOND ALBUM, IT WAS THIS NATURAL PROGRESSION.”
“When we resurrected the band during lockdown, we started playing the old stuff that we had. That was our first instinct,” Cleland says. “That got us a lot of practice and got us back into the vibe. When we recorded the second album, it was this natural progression. The main difference on this album is that we had a lot of contributions from the lead singer Anton Darusso. He added to the vocal aspect, but also wrote a few songs, like ‘Leap of Faith,’ ‘Standing in Flames,’ and ‘Independence Day.’ He wrote those rhythms, leads, vocals, and drums as well. He coached Andres [Castro, guitar] in the studio to do some leads as well as solos for the album. We also had Gary Holt on the album, the legendary guitarist from Slayer and Exodus. He’s actually on the same management label as us. We just signed on with Oracle Management. We are on the same ticket as Exodus, Jinjer, DevilDriver, Cradle of Filth, 69 Eyes, and a couple of other cool bands. This was a pretty awesome break for us. Having Gary on the album definitely ripped up a few of those songs, like ‘Maticide’ and ‘Enigma.’ It was a lot more intentional and collaborative.”
Savage Existence has gone through many trials and tribulations to see the fruits of their labor come to fulfillment, but above all else, Cleland feels it has gradually meant something different as they have become more successful.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT LIVING SAVAGELY IN LIFE AND TRYING TO SET AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE TO STAND STRONG.”
“When we first started, we coined a slogan. ‘It’s not a band name; it’s a lifestyle,’ Cleland says. “It stems from being all-in on life. It comes from where Jesse [Radford. drums] and I grew up. Back in Canada, in a small town, in the late 1990s, in high school, we were rough around the edges. I built my career by going into the deep, dark trenches of South America—the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, Rio, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama City, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru. I spent a lot of rough years living a backpacker’s life, meeting people from around the world, and I built my own company. I lived in the Amazon jungle. It was a really ‘take no prisoners’ way of living, taking big risks, and fighting against tall odds. It brings me to where I am now, starting a band at 40 years old. It was the worst time to start a band when no one could tour. It’s all about living savagely in life and trying to set an example for other people to stand strong. Going forward, who knows where that will lead? Maybe it will become Civilized Existence,” he laughs. “But for now, it’s still pretty savage.”