by Interviews

Last week Philadelphia-based cybergrind artist ZOMBIESHARK! released one of the most intense albums of the year with Die Laughing. Dark and unsettling industrial arrangements are expertly used to create an ominous atmosphere that builds throughout the album before exploding on the closing track “Blue Mountain”. When combined with the haunting instrumentation, the deeply personal lyrics confronting trauma, depression, and isolation allow catharsis to reign supreme. Die Laughing is out everywhere now via Theoria Records.

Punknews editor Em Moore caught up with Cory Swope to talk about the new album, growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, pop culture references, Monster Energy Drink, and so much more. Read the interview below!

This interview between Em Moore and Cory Swope took place in February 2024 over Zoom. This transcription documents their conversation and has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Die Laughing will be your first release on Theoria Records. What has working with them been like?

It’s been really cool! Theoria Records is owned by a very close friend of mine. He’s been working in and out of the industry for years and has worked with a ton of bands. I was looking for a label that was gonna really understand me. It’s hard because I feel like as cybergrind is becoming more of a thing, it’s still very hard to categorize and place in a lot of ways. There’s really awesome other labels, like Prosthetic, that understand the assignment and are doing really excellent jobs with their bands. With Theoria, I have been talking about it with my friend who runs the label for a long time and we worked out a deal that was tailored to my needs and helped with what I felt was a really good push for me. I felt like they were going to represent the album in the way that I really wanted to. They’ve been doing great. There was some part of me that still felt like doing it on my own but I think as much as this record has meant to me, I really just wanted to give it as much care and nurture as possible. They really understood that and helped push me in a lot of ways that I definitely couldn’t do on my own. I’m very grateful to them and for everything they’ve done for me so far.

They’ve been really great about spreading the word. I think it looks really crazy to have someone like me on their lineup because it’s mostly more of a pop-centric, rock, and metal-core label but I feel like I bring that a little bit in production. They’ve been really helping push me to newer audiences and people who wouldn’t generally listen to my music. They’ve definitely helped me, put the magnifying glass on me a good bit, and it’s helped me land a couple playlisting spots and things that I’ve wanted for a really long time that I definitely couldn’t have done on my own.

You do have some stuff, not necessarily on this album, that’s more pop-driven.

Maybe it’s more pop-sounding in the delivery of the production and mastering. I worked with Jeff McKinnon and Evan Seeberger who are two really awesome criminally underrated producers out in the Lancaster area. They have an amazing sense for making things sound huge and big. A lot of my other stuff has had a hyperpop influence in it whereas this album is definitely a lot darker and more despondent. I wanted to make something really disturbing and fucked up where it’s sort of indicative of me losing my mind a little bit while still trying to find those moments. I’ve always really loved pop music in general, not specifically hyperpop. There’s a lot of hyperpop that I do like but there’s also a lot of pop artists that I enjoy listening to pretty regularly. I don’t look it but I’m a huge 5 Seconds of Summer and Harry Styles fan. [laughs] I also listen to The 1975 too a good bit. I just really love that big production. I like it when songs sound huge and blow out speakers and sound way bigger than what it is.

Why did you want to go more industrial with this album?

I knew what I wanted this album to be for a very long time. I was sort of trying to write the perfect follow-up to my first official full-length album I Will Destroy You, Myself, And Everything I've Ever Loved. A lot of the songs on Die Laughing were written around that time period. There are some songs that are almost three to four years old. I know “RGB Gaming Guillotine” is a song that I started shortly after I Will Destroy You came out in 2020. It’s funny because a lot of the songs on 2022’s Born From A Wish came long before Die Laughing did. I had the idea that I wanted this to be a bleak, dark, messed-up album from start to finish and I really took my time with this and took a lot of time working on the songs. There was a lot of emotional stuff that happened in the span of the three years that I spent writing this album that definitely caused things to change. I had this idea that I wanted this album to be this big dark monster and by the end, I think I was really hyper fixating on it a little too much. To the point where when we finished the album and listened to the whole thing it was such a terrifying experience for me because I was like, “I feel like I don’t really remember what was happening during this”.

It took a long time because I wanted to find the right producers to work with, I wanted to find the right vibe, and I was very blessed to find Jeff who had worked on bands like Varials and with a lot of SoundCloud rap artists and stuff like that. I was just trying to find somebody that had a really good understanding of highly produced metal music and electronica at the same time. Jeff and Evan completely understood that and took me very seriously. I was very excited that producers like that wanted to work with me. We took these scribbles of demos that I made and we reworked them and spent a lot of time one on one going through the songs. I knew that I wanted this album to be sort of a time capsule of a lot of tragedies that happened in the last couple years and I think me, Jeff, and Evan nailed it.

Capture it, work through it, get it out.

Yeah, it was very cathartic.

Did you have one song in particular that was the most cathartic to work on?

There was a lot. I felt like every day we went into the studio and worked on a song it was very special and unique. I think the final track, “Blue Mountain” is definitely the overall message of the whole album. I wanted to wait until the very last day that we were going to be in the studio to track that song. I really spent a lot of time on the lyrics for that. The album touches on a myriad of tough subjects for me but I think more so than anything, “Blue Mountain” is the final message and the summary like, “If you didn’t get it within the last 29 minutes, you’ll get it in the last minute of that song”. [laughs]

It was a very, very tough recording day. It was very emotional. Even Jeff had to step out of the studio for a little bit because once we finally tracked the last line of that album it just felt like there was a dead body in the room or something, the vibes were very off by the end of that recording session. The whole album is a real catharsis all the way through but I will remember tracking “Blue Mountain” for the rest of my life. [laughs] I think it was just a culmination of everything that was happening during that whole summer of tracking the album and everything. It was just the perfect little cherry on top of what was otherwise a very chaotic couple of months to a year.

How would you describe your songwriting process?

I don’t really know because it changes a lot. Usually, it’s very isolationistic. I don’t really like working on music surrounded by people or anything. I feel like I’ve always used FL Studio to write my songs ever since I was in high school and I started doing this project. It either starts off with a blastbeat or a melody or some deranged breakdown. I spend a lot of time just feeling it out and endlessly replaying songs over and over again ad nauseam. [laughs] For me, as somebody who’s not ever been a classically trained musician and has always struggled with music as far as instruments and that sort of thing go, I just write from how I’m feeling and I think it’s always been a therapeutic crutch for me too. Sometimes I feel like I have so much noise inside of me and I don’t know how to get it out. I feel like just blanking out for a minute and writing something really crazy or trying to write a groove or something and then I stitch it together. It just kinda goes back and forth. For every album, I feel like I’m in a different headspace for writing it and in my approach to it. I think specifically for Die Laughing every night something terrible was going on or something wasn’t going my way, I would just isolate, consume substance, open FL Studio and write manically until 2 or 3 in the morning. Usually, when I write songs, I will listen to demos forever and just keep replaying stuff over and over in my head. As long as I have a rough skeleton in mind then it’s usually a couple months of going back and forth and touching things up and tweaking it. It’s a little muddy. [laughs]

Like get it all out at the start and then refine it as time goes on.

Yeah. It’s really weird because I don’t ever know what I’m really doing with the songs and I don’t know how to tell if something’s right when it’s done. I feel like I have a natural intuition where I’ll write these car crashes of songs and be like, “Ok, it’s perfect now! This mess sounds like a good mess, this sounds like a consumable mess”. [laughs] I typically like to have second opinions on stuff. Working with Jeff was great because it was the first time that I ever went to a real, legitimate studio to work on songs. It was crazy. I pretty much sent him the stems and the MIDI files with everything on it still as I wrote it and then he worked on it in Pro Tools. Between Pro Tools and Logic, there were a lot of steps. He has way better plug-ins than I do for a lot of things and Evan is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever met. This dude is just a god of drum programming and touched up things in small areas and did things that I couldn’t do. Then it just comes out in the way that Die Laughing does.

On this album you’re not using any live guitars and everything is programmed, is that right?

So originally all the guitars for Die Laughing were on my old laptop that still had FL Slayer, just a really shitty guitar plug-in for FL, on it then we transferred that into Pro Tools and used Odin 2 to put some synthetic guitars on it. I think this is the first legitimate album I’ve done that didn’t have real guitars. There were real guitars on I Will Destroy You and Born From A Wish. Sam Carlen, who’s another friend of mine and is a great producer in Philadelphia, transposed my plug-in guitars for real guitars which had really awesome effects for those releases. But for Die Laughing aesthetically I wanted it to be cold and industrial. I’ve always struggled with not ever being able to play guitar so I feel there’s this really demented aesthetic of having these fake, programmed guitars doing all this weirdo stuff that regular guitars couldn’t. [laughs]

There’s a couple of live guitar tracks on the album though. The guitars on the back half of “Online Garden of Eden HD” were recorded by my friend Noelle who has a project called Gardens Of Assemblage. I asked her to write me a couple guitar loops or a couple mathrock loops and she did. I took them, stretched them, chopped them up, and detuned them. It is live-tracked but it is sort of resampled or remixed. She also did guitars for “As Beautiful And As Terrible As The Dawn” and I did the same thing. The only time there was guitar that was actually performed was on “Blue Mountain” by Evan, who had written the opening sort of black metal riff and plays at the beginning then the rest of the song turns into the Odin guitars. [laughs] I remember when we were working on that song it didn’t have that intro. I was on a huge Deafheaven kick and I asked Evan to write me an opening riff that sounded indicative to “Dream House” but darker and more fucked up and he did. He’s great.

“Nightmare House”.

Yeah, exactly! [laughs] Evil Deafheaven be like.

All the colours are inverted.

Instead of a pink album cover it’s blue. Sunbather? Fuck it, Nightbather.

Loudhell instead of Deafheaven. We’ve hit on something.

I think we’ve got to talk to the CEO of Deafheaven real quick.


You mentioned your song “As Beautiful And As Terrible As The Dawn” and that is a line from Galadriel’s speech from Fellowship of the Ring.

You got it!! You’re the first person to get that. That fucking rocks! I’m glad somebody got it. I’m a huge Lord of the Rings head.

Why did you name the song after that line in particular?

All of the song titles are either references to random pop culture stuff or weird inside jokes between friends. The majority of them are pop culture. I’m very into older Myspace, skramzy stuff and I’ve always loved really long obnoxious song titles that have nothing to do with the overall song. Every title I wanted to be based on a specific piece of media that has stuck with me since I was a kid because very specific words and phrases will sometimes stick with me in a really haunting way. I wanted it to be triggering in a certain way about certain things. I remember as a young kid watching that scene and it used to freak me out quite a bit when Galadriel would do that. That whole scene is really terrifying and I always thought that there’s something about that line, “You’ll have a queen that’s as beautiful and as terrible as the dawn”. There’s something about that line that has always haunted me since I was a kid.

“Party All The Time” is a reference to an Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode where Frylock gets cancer. I remember that episode making me so depressed when I was little because my grandfather was going through some stuff like that at the time. There’s weird little connections to little tidbits and things that were specifically related to my home life and growing up where I did. At its core, the album is really reflecting on my home life and growing up in outer Eastern PA. Every song title, even though it’s kinda goofy and silly, goes a lot deeper than it seems.

“As Beautiful And As Terrible As The Dawn” ends with something reminiscent of her speech too.

I wanted it to be pretty cathartic. “As Beautiful And As Terrible As The Dawn” is a pretty weird track deeper into it. I wanted to make something that was very cathartic to me. The album kind of speaks to me in some moments in ways that aren’t even openly available for people to look into. Some of the little inserts and Easter eggs are kinda for me only. [laughs]

Does where you grew up tie into the album cover?

The album art is really interesting because it originally was going to be just the metal face [used as the single artwork for “Heads I Win, Tales You Lose, You Are My Sunshine”], I call it the Grim. I explained it on Twitter a couple times but I wanted to create a triptych of the three faces of depression. Originally I was going to complete the triptych with the Grim which was the metal face. I sat on that album art for a very long time and when the album was finished, me and my partner were getting some assets together. Last May we went out to my parents’ house to visit. My parents’ place in Eastern PA is literally in the middle of nowhere and that field and mountain range is directly across the street from them. I was talking to my partner and I was like, “I want to have a promo of me sitting in one of my family’s antique chairs”. We went out and we took a hundred and some pictures for promos and that one image - I don’t know what it is. She had caught it at such the right angle and, even though I had spent five and a half to six months working on what was going to be the actual album cover, I saw that photo and I was like, “This is it! This is perfect”. We just took it on my phone. There’s something very weird and ominous and omnipresent about that photo that I felt summarized the whole album way better than some spooky face could. For the actual album artwork too it was kinda nice because in the vinyl insert, I did a lot of photo manipulation and on the back cover it’s the Grim face tearing through reality pretty much - it’s ripping through the picture. It was cool to work with my partner on a piece of art because we’ve also never done that in all the years we’ve been together. [laughs] She is an incredible photographer. That image drives home the message of the album so much more than any spooky digital thing that I could create. It captures my home life and upbringing so well. Also with having the actual Blue Mountain in the background, it just worked itself out. It was one of those things where it just worked. We were meant to go out that day and take that photo. I’m very into the supernatural and I’ve had very supernatural things happen to me throughout my life. I definitely do believe that things are meant to happen for a reason.

There’s also something that’s very haunting about Eastern PA. I’ve talked about it forever that there’s a sort of hidden Evil out that way that is unlike anywhere else. Lingua Ignota wrote Sinner Get Ready about being stuck in Ephrata, PA which is about 20 minutes from my parents’ place. I would love to talk with her one day and be like, “I completely get it! I completely understand”. [laughs] She very much captured the darkness of that whole area. I was listening to a lot of her music when I was writing this and I felt very connected to that album. I wanted to bring about some of that old Eastern Pennsylvania Dutch voodoo in some way. [laughs] I was very, very thankful that we went out and got that picture that day because it’s honestly my favourite album cover I’ve ever seen. It just really captures the message overall.

Why do you think Eastern PA in particular has such an evil to it?

I would say out in the Myerstown and Ephrata area there is a very special kind of bleakness. It’s very far away from a lot of things and civilization. There’s a very unique bitterness that comes out in the people that live there. It was very hard growing up out that way, especially for me, who’s someone who’s always been creative. It’s hard because I’ve always looked to creativity as an escape and it’s very difficult to do that when you’re an only child stuck in a farmhouse in the middle of nothing and you have two extremely tired parents that don’t really want anything to do with you. There’s sort of this yearning out that way that not too many people get to transcend. It’s very hard to get out of there and very hard to escape. Everything out there is very Old World. There’s a lot of older people who live out that way and there’s a very old style of thinking out there. You get a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch Amish people out that way too. It definitely has an effect. There’s also this weird pettiness and bitterness amongst people out there. Even my parents’ friends who are in their 60s are still very petty and weird. People just have a very bleak and angry and bitter way of thinking out that way. That’s why I ended up moving to Philadelphia and never went back. [laughs] I actually despise going back to Lancaster.

It was also cathartic in a way too. Jeff and Evan had a studio in an actual farmhouse in Lancaster. He had moved recently closer to the Philadelphia suburbs but I was very thankful, looking back on it now, to travel back home to work on the album. I think that also set the tone because his original studio was in a very pretty, peaceful section of Lititz, PA that was pretty far removed. I’ve always wanted to write an album or work on music in a different space besides my bedroom. It was kind of magical and it synced up that it didn’t hit me until we’d gotten there. I was like, “Oh fuck, this is gonna be great! Actually being able to record this album in Lancaster, it’s really going to fall into place here”. [laughs] It really is an album about home in every facet. I was very happy about that in a way because I feel like it gave the album more of a darker energy. I was stoked that I was able to work back home. That wasn’t even initially planned. When I reached out to Jeff I had no idea where his studio was. When I realized where it was and where we were gonna be recording and working on the album and everything, it just further helped push that Eastern PA darkness into the whole aesthetic and made everything feel a lot heavier too. Recording the tracks and everything felt way more sentimental being back home working on it rather than anywhere else. It made everything feel way more intense. I felt way more connected to home and connected to traumas and everything like that. If it can be presented in a good or positive creative way, it definitely aided in that way.

Again, everything fell into place at the right time.

I’ve been really creeped out by this album. [laughs] Just the way that everything has been sort of falling into place for this release over the last couple years has been - Some people wouldn’t really recognize that or make connections to it but I feel like it’s spooky.

Your video for “Loxosceles on the Isosceles” which features Soulkeeper has snippets of tour footage and some really cool glitchy video effects. How did you decide which effects to use?

I’ve been going on a couple trips back home recently and I’ve been doing lots of filming around the area. A lot of that footage is from traveling I did last year whether it was back home or going to Minnesota where Soulkeeper’s from. They had very graciously asked me to come out and perform at their album release show last year. It was a very sentimental experience too because that was the first time in a decade that I’d really traveled and gotten out. I haven’t really been having a lot of luck or opportunity with touring and playing out of the East Coast so that was a very special trip and one that’s resonated with me for a really long time. I’ve known Scott from Soulkeeper for years and he’s an extraordinarily talented human being. All the Soulkeeper guys are generally awesome human beings. I was very fortunate and lucky to just be around them and hang out that weekend. I used a lot of the footage from that whole trip just because they helped out with doing the feature on the track and I was super stoked they were into that. I’ve always felt that we were kind of aligned even though they have more of a metalcore, mathcore kind of sound. They very much understand it and are very tight with a lot of the other people in the cybergrind community. That whole song in general is about fighting with family and I wanted it to sort of be a mashup of all of the camera footage I’ve been taking while I’ve been back home and meshing it with Soulkeeper and creating that dichotomy that your family doesn’t always have to be your biological family, it can be very good friends of yours. Home is where you feel safe. I guess I was feeling safe in that atmosphere.

It’s great to be around so many insanely talented artists. That whole weekend was something special because Soulkeeper had gotten Blind Equation down and Bejalvin. I got to meet the guys in Our Common Collapse who are really awesome people who work in the music industry and stuff like that. It’s been a very long time since I’ve been around that many driven, hungry artists, and I just remember being so ridiculously inspired when I got back from that trip. I felt like I was deteriorating for the longest time and had lost sight of a lot of creativity and then going down to that trip…that was last July and I’m still feeling inspired by it. For that video I wanted it to be a frantic hodgepodge mess of everything. [laughs]

What was the biggest inspiration you took from that trip?

For me, it’s very hard to find people in the metal and core world that understand a lot of the cybergrind stuff. It was just one of those things where everybody was super locked in and super on it. Even after I’d gotten to meet Scott, within a couple minutes we were working on some music. It’s just very refreshing to be around creative people who are on it. I feel like I’m not really around that environment as much as I wanna be, especially when it’s with people who really understand it and get it right out of the gate. It was very magical and I hope to have more moments like that and get out to see them more this year, maybe. We were talking about playing a couple shows out there. Hopefully.

There’s not much of a cybergrind scene in Philadelphia?

Not since the pandemic really. Hayley from Thotcrime used to live out this way and we used to play a ton of shows together. She was doing Thotcrime stuff and she was doing her own hyperpop solo project. For a while it felt like there was a really solid hyperpop scene mixed with cybergrind. Right before the pandemic, there were a lot more noise and experimental acts and a lot of places that housed those avant-garde acts in Philly had closed down. I think Philly has been suffering a little bit musically lately. There were a handful of really special venues that closed and we haven’t really seen a rebirth quite yet. Even as far as weird electronica, there really isn’t much. There’s a band called Silithyst, my friend Devin is in that band, and they’re probably the only closest thing to a cybergrind band in Philadelphia right now. They have their own special blend of electronic metalcore music. Other than that, no. It really feels like the Midwest right now, Chicago and Minnesota, seem to be the central hubs for experimental music right now. I hope to get out this year and check it out.

Bring some people back.

I’m not gonna punish them with that, if anything I’ll move out that way. [laughs] I’d rather live out that way, honestly.

Be where everything is. Be near the Monster claw machines.

That’s where I’m trying to be. Don’t leave me alone with one of those things, that shit is going to be empty. I’m not going to waste my money on that, I’m just going to be breaking into that thing. I’m going to be walking into the arcade with a hammer or something and busting that glass open. [laughs]

If you could create your own flavour of Monster Energy Drink, what would it be?

Probably like a ghost pepper verde sauce flavour. [laughs] It doesn’t taste nearly as gnarly enough. I want it to burn and I also want it to have double the caffeine content like the original BFC Monster edition. I want to create a Monster that’s threatening your health, you may have to see a medical professional after consuming more than one. [laughs] I would try to see if we could make it glow-in-the-dark too. Maybe put in some glow stick juice in there, just a little bit. I think I’d also want it to come with a bag of those crickets that people eat as snacks too. Insect Blood by ZOMBIESHARK!. You can crunch the crickets into the ghost pepper verde Monster. The crickets would have ghost pepper spice on them too. Monster needs to get a hold of me, I have some ideas. We could go places!


Listen up Monster Energy Drink!

Yeah, I’ve got a really good idea! People will love this. [laughs] I think maybe I’m just scarred because I remember in college somebody had a Svedka jalapeno-flavoured drink for a short while and I don’t think I’ve ever thrown up more in my life. I think that flavour just sticks with me because I never see it anymore. I wonder why. [laughs] It was probably the grossest thing I’ve ever drank in my entire life.

We’re going to be working out our catharsis in every aspect. Catharsis will be achieved in every way and it will be funny.

You will truly die laughing.



What does the future hold for ZOMBIESHARK!?

There’s a couple really awesome shows that haven’t been announced yet that are coming up that I’m very excited for. I’m in a weird place right now because I’m not fully able to tour in the way that I would ideally like to so I think tours for me are going to be short runs. But I’m hoping to get in touch with a couple other bands that I look up to and see if they’d be interested in having me out. I’m not able to tour in the way that I want to but I really am trying to make a goal this year to at least get out to the Midwest for a week and a half. I really want to go to Pittsburgh, Ohio, and Chicago. I would like to get out to Minnesota again, Tennessee if possible, and I would also really like to do a Texas run too if possible. Still trying to figure it out and make some plans and make something work from it. More details will be shared later this year but I will for sure, God willing, get out to the Midwest because I know a lot of people have been asking me to get out there forever now. The Midwest rocks. I think my own brand of cybergrind or whatever you want to call it is very unique and to my own detriment, I think it’s been difficult for people to understand me with the music being delayed for so long. I think once they hear the full album and they hear what I’m capable of, I’m really hoping that it makes people more susceptible to the genre and makes people want to take me out. There’s a lot of things that I can do but there’s a lot of things that I can’t do on my own. I’m really hoping that people will see the vision that I’m trying to paint for them and see where it goes from there

Build more community around it too.

Yeah. The cybergrind scene is really awesome. There’s a lot of really incredible artists that are popping up every day like Blind Equation, Thotcrime, Bejalvin, Sleeping on Stardust, God Item, I Killed Techno, fromjoy, Soulkeeper to an extent, and faradayribcage. There’s a lot of really awesome artists who are doing amazing things right now. It’s cool. It’s really insane to see how much the community has grown since 2020. I feel like metal and core music has been really stagnant for a long time and I think a lot of older people and reviewers and stuff have really been not looking in the right places. Hopefully, this album inspires more creativity from the community. People can’t sleep on it for much longer. Cybergrind Twitter is crazy. That’s a whole universe in and of itself. [laughs]

The Big Money Cybergrind Discord too.

Oh yeah. Nick is great. Nick does a lot of good things for the community and very thankful to work with him on a lot of projects early on. He’s really doing God’s work in facilitating a lot of these releases and giving people a much-needed platform as much as he can. He’s really doing awesome work. He’s a great guy.

Do you have anything that I didn’t ask you that you’d like to add?

I was very fortunate to do a remix for an old Myspace grindcore band called See You Next Tuesday. It’s been really awesome because they’re one of those legendary bands that took a decade off and came back with a really awesome album. Drew, the guitarist, is just a really awesome musician and super tapped into avant-garde music. They’ve put together a remix album with a bunch of other friends and cybergrind acts from the community. There’s a lot of really awesome people on it like Mikau, Black Magnet, and Thotcrime. It’s really amazing. For me, as somebody who used to adore that band in high school, it's very surreal to know that I’m on an album with them and they’re pressing vinyl for it and everything. I’m very excited because I haven’t really done too many remixes in my lifetime and I’m pretty proud of this one. It should be pretty cool. It’s very special. I’m very happy that Drew had asked me about that and wanted to have me on board for that. He’s such an awesome dude. Friday, February 16, is going to be a big ZOMBIESHARK! day. [laughs]

ZOMBIESHARK! world domination.

God willing. [laughs]