Skeletonwitch: How Long- Distance Running Transformed Guitarist’s Creative Life
Ohio extremists Skeletonwitch have been cranking out killer blackened melodic death since forming in 2003. On their sixth and latest album, 2018’s Devouring Radiant Light, the band hit a new stride. The album was their first full-length to feature new vocalist Adam Clemans (also of Wolvhammer) after the departure of original vocalist Chance Garnette, and showcased the band embracing a far more progressive and textural black-metal style.
Devouring Radiant Light also marked a different, personal turning point for guitarist Scott Hedrick. Around the time of its creation, Hedrick found himself unmoored after the dissolution of a long-term relationship. But instead of finding solace in the bottle, or any number of potentially unproductive coping mechanisms, the guitarist went in a truly radical direction: long-distance running.
While Hedrick admits that for most of his adult life he’d casually run “a few miles a week to maintain a modicum of health,” after the breakup he entered what he calls a “period of rapid personal growth,” during which his “running and creative sides became inextricably linked.”
“I was writing the bulk of what became Devouring Radiant Light and my runs were getting longer and longer,” says Hedrick. “For better or worse, I enjoy working and can be obsessive. It’s tough for me to put down the guitar or walk away from the piano. Editing and evaluating my own output while running became a new way for me to multitask. It was like I could ‘work’ without working. And nearly every run would bring a solution to a creative problem, no matter how small.”
In the following interview we grilled Hedrick on the finer points of his fitness obsession — from the absurd (nipple chafing) to the exceptional (finishing among the Top 100 in the L.A. Marathon) — and discuss how it’s become an integral part of his creative and personal growth.
Scott Hedrick after finishing the LA Marathon, 2019Courtesy of Scott Hedrick
WHEN AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO TAKE THINGS TO THE NEXT LEVEL AND BEGIN TRAINING FOR MARATHONS?
SCOTT HEDRICK A few years ago I ended a 7-year relationship that had become stale and unhealthy. While it uprooted many aspects of my life, it was liberating. I entered into a period of rapid personal growth and my running and creative sides became inextricably linked. I was writing the bulk of what became “Devouring Radiant Light” and my runs were getting longer and longer. … After an hour or so of running and revision I would switch gears … keep running, but listen to music I found inspiring or catch up on the ever-growing list of new records to check out. It didn’t feel like exercising and I wasn’t measuring time or distance. I was “working” and then getting lost in music.
By the time I realized my phone was automatically tracking my distances I was consistently running around 13 miles per day. I was quite surprised. At that point I decided to sign up for the Athens, OH, marathon. The timing was right: it was in a few weeks and I was putting in a lot of miles. I did everything backwards. I “trained” because I was enjoying it and the marathon was the afterthought. I never set out to run one.
OBVIOUSLY, MAIDEN’S “THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER” IS THE MOST APPROPRIATE AND EPIC JAM … BUT WHAT DOES YOUR RUNNING PLAYLIST LOOK LIKE?
My playlist is all over the place but styles that feature heavily are ambient, free-jazz, soundtrack, krautrock, “world,” rock & roll, and black metal. Some mainstays: Pharoah Sanders, Don Cherry, Ryuichi Sakomoto, Coltrane — Alice and John, Tim Hecker, Grouper, Fela Kuti, Popol Vuh, John Luther Adams, Warren Ellis, Brian Eno, Thelonius Monk, MC5, The Stooges, Nick Cave, electric Miles Davis, Bowie, T. Rex, The Hellacopters, Keith Jarrett, Luke Howard, Max Richter, Sonny Sharrock, Can, James Brown, Fluisteraars, Dead Neanderthals, Alcest, Eluvium, Johan Johannsson, Sarah Davachi, Cluster, William Basisnksi, John Fahey, Daniel Bachman, Neu!, Spiritualized … I also highly recommended checking out WFMU radio’ Avant Ghetto and Shrunken Planet shows, and NTS radio, like Sarah Davachi’s “Le Jardin” and Robert Raths’ Erased Tapes shows.
When I’m not listening to my own compositions for working purposes, I like to start a run with very mellow tunes, field recordings or a podcast. Once I’m deep into it I tend to prefer something with a beat. Krautrock and repetitive black metal are both great for running. The repetition is almost meditative and you can get lost in it. It’s a wonderful feeling being fully absorbed in sound and motion, acutely aware of the physical activity but mind adrift in a sea of sound. It’s therapeutic and, admittedly, a bit escapist.
YOU RECENTLY RAN THE L.A. MARATHON. WAS THAT YOUR FIRST MARATHON? WHAT WAS THAT EXPERIENCE LIKE AND HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR PERFORMANCE?
The L.A. marathon was my 2nd official marathon. I felt pretty good about my performance. Since I don’t actually time my running I showed up with no expectations. I ended up finishing in 2:53:31. I was 69th out of 25,000 runners and 5th place for my age group. The experience was grueling, transformative, beautiful and a bit sentimental.
Grueling: The last 6 miles were incredibly difficult but I felt like I was performing at a high level and made a conscious decision to push myself. To be blunt, 20 miles into the Los Angeles marathon was the first time I actually gave a shit about my finish time.
Scott Hedrick running the LA Marathon, 2019Courtesy of Scott Hedrick
Transformative: It might sound ridiculous but pushing oneself that far changes you. The changes are personal and difficult to explain, so I won’t bother. But other runners know what I’m talking about and I encourage everyone to experience it by challenging their own physical and mental limitations.
Beautiful: L.A. is a wonderful city and being able to run through empty streets was a great way to see it. It was certainly the fastest I’ve ever traveled down Hollywood boulevard. Different neighborhoods celebrate by cheering on the runners and showcasing aspects unique to their culture. I particularly enjoyed the taiko drummers in Little Tokyo.
Sentimental: My girlfriend and I moved to L.A. from New York and it was a huge step in our relationship. Running the marathon felt like reliving our first year together in L.A. There’s our favorite Italian restaurant … Here’s where we saw Baroness and Deafheaven … This is our neighborhood … Here’s where we took cheesy selfies in the park …
WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO MEAL THE NIGHT BEFORE A MARATHON?
I don’t really have one to be honest, though my diet is largely vegan these days. To illustrate my lack of preparation: The night before the L.A. marathon I ate a massive bowl of extra spicy ramen around 10:30 p.m. and I had to wake up at 4:00 to run the race.
WHAT IS YOUR REWARD MEAL AFTER YOU RUN IT?
THERE ARE GAGS IN MOVIES WHERE AMATEUR RUNNERS WILL CHAFE SO BAD THEIR NIPPLES WILL BLEED THROUGH THEIR SHIRTS — UNLESS THEY COAT THEM WITH LIKE VASELINE. IS THAT A THING? DO YOU REALLY HAVE TO LUBE UP?
[Laughs] I do believe it is, although I’ve never had any issues and take no such precautions. I guess I have some rather robust nips.
Scott Hedrick, New York CityCourtesy of Scott Hedrick
YOU ALSO PLACED FIRST IN THE DEVIL’S CHASE 6.66 MILE RUN IN SALEM — WHILE YOU WERE THERE RECORDING WITH KURT BALLOU. CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT THAT RUN IS ALL ABOUT, AND DESCRIBE WHAT IT WAS LIKE WINNING?
That was another thing that was done on a whim. We saw an ad for the race and Evan [Linger], our bassist, said he would pay my entry fee on the condition that if I won I would share the prizes and money with him. The race is held around Halloween and the participants are encouraged to dress up in costumes. The proceeds from the race benefit a local charity.
I wasn’t feeling too confident at the starting line when I saw a dude that was cut out of marble with marathon tattoos on his calves. Like many people there, he was not wearing a costume. Clearly a serious runner. It wasn’t easy but I ended up winning the entire thing.
The funniest part is that I didn’t see the fine print which stated that you had to be in a devil costume to win the prizes and money. I was considered the winner, but the 3rd place finisher was given the money and free dinners at local businesses. I guess Evan bet on the wrong horse. [Laughs]
HOW DOES RUNNING AFFECT YOUR CREATIVITY, OR GENERAL DISPOSITION IN LIFE? IS IT A NICE SOLITARY ESCAPE FROM BAND LIFE, ARE YOU GOING OVER RIFFS IN YOU HEAD … OR MAYBE IT’S A NECESSARY MIND-CLEARER?
It’s hard to overstate the positive effects of running on my disposition. The mental health benefits are equal, or even greater, than the physical benefits. Like I mentioned earlier, the first half of my runs is usually focused on going over compositions of mine and working on creative problems. The second half is clearing my mind/escaping.
TOURING CAN BE A GRUELING EXPERIENCE ON THE BODY. DO YOU RUN WHILE ON TOUR, AND IF SO WHAT DOES THAT LOOK LIKE IN TERMS OF FINDING TIME, HEALTHY FOOD …
I definitely run on tour. Probably six days a week. I like to wake up early if I can swing it— 7-ish ideally — and run first thing in the morning. Then I’m awake, feeling great, and ready to take on the day. If I can’t drag my carcass out of bed I’ll go for a run after sound check. I’ve walked into many venues after the doors are open looking sweaty wearing giant headphones and tiny shorts, garnering odd looks from the crowd as I walk through.
On tour I try to exercise discipline with my diet. I probably drink too many beers, but I’m pretty dialed in when it comes to eating. I usually go full-vegan when we tour. Once I get into a routine I can operate on a rather small amount of sleep and I’ve never had any serious injuries.
Scott Hedrick, Utrecht, NetherlandsCourtesy of Scott Hedrick
YOU MENTIONED YOU ROCK THE “TINY SHORTS” — CAN YOU GIVE US A BREAKDOWN OF YOUR RUNNING GEAR?
I’m not a big gear guy. One of the great things about running is the low barrier to entry. I ran my first marathon in a pair of shorts I snagged from Cannibal Corpse on tour, a pair of $30 Wal-Mart shoes, an American Apparel tri-blend T, and a cheap pair of Sony headphones. I’ve realized that the more energy gels and tiny water bottles a runner has strapped to themselves, the more likely it is that they don’t know what they are doing. At the moment I’m rocking generic Seventies-style headbands from thrift stores or cheap online [sites], Sennheiser HD 4.40BT headphones — yes the bulky over-ear cans , any soft T-shirt, Time to Run shorts, Bombas running socks — which I purchased with unused dinner-buyouts on tour in the U.K., and Brooks Pure Cadence shoes.
IS THE MYTHIC “RUNNER’S HIGH” FOR REAL? HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED IT?
100 percent on both. Although I don’t particularly like the term “runner’s high”. More likely what’s occurring is transient hypofrontality — just Google it — [which is] some type of flow state. I just know that it feels good when I’m doing it, great when I’m finished, and I have more focus and creative energy.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR HARDEST RUN?
The Los Angeles marathon, for sure. Not because of the course, but because of how hard I pushed myself. Those last few miles were really, really terrible.
ARE YOU TRAINING FOR ANY BIG RUNS NOW? ANY OTHER MARATHONS IN YOUR SIGHTS?
At the risk of sounding like a dick, I don’t properly train. I just live a lifestyle where I run a lot. So I’m always kind of ready to run a marathon. I qualified for the Boston and I’m told that’s not particularly easy to do. I feel like I owe it to myself to run that one. I also want to run New York City, Berlin and Big Sur at least once.