“I Was Blindsided”: Sematary On Haunted Mound’s Upheaval, His Bold New Mixtape Bloody Angel, Remaining DIY, And…New Merch!

“I Was Blindsided”: Sematary On Haunted Mound’s Upheaval, His Bold New Mixtape Bloody Angel, Remaining DIY, And…New Merch!

It’s understandable if, in the fire hose of media attention paid last Friday to a certain superstar’s yee-haw turn, some less mainstream drops didn’t register on every radar. But in a very different, angstier, and frankly more XY-chromosome-dominated corner of the music universe, fans of the underground hip-hop collective Haunted Mound were tuned into the release of Bloody Angel, the latest project from the group’s fearless founder, leader, and provocateur, Sematary.

On his 10th mixtape in five years (there have been EP’s as well, including last year’s King Of The Graveyard), Sematary, aka Zane Steckler, has never sounded better or bolder. While the record delivers plenty of the blown-out, buzzsaw, horrorcore rap that’s become his signature — snarling, slurry vocals, lyrics from a place of nihilism, menace and mysticism meeting drop-ins of air horn and evil cackles, a recipe that’s a lot of fun — there are also unexpected moves.

Bloody Angel also leans into beat-driven tracks, on propulsive pre-album single “Wendigo,” one of Sematary’s most exhilarating songs to date, and an immediate, infectious “Dead Trees,” a collab with Haunted Mound’s Buckshot that draws from ’80s synth acts and is as close to a dance record as Sematary has ever dropped. An avowed black metal fan, he samples “Transilvanian Hunger” from Norweigian vets Darkthrone, on “Hearse Truck.” There are features, from Haunted Mound rapper Hackle Down On Em (on “Hockey Mask 2” ) and Lil Flash, from Chicago’s Glo Gang (“Black Wings My Team”). Two tracks borrow from Tolkien, “Mordor” and “Barrow Wights,” on which Sematary is joined by the late great GothBoiClique’s most enduring alumnus, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. And throughout Bloody Angel Sematary’s vocals are more melodic than ever, raising the question of whether “singer” needs to be added his resume.

Rapper, writer, producer, graphic artist, and entrepreneur are already included. Or maybe “world creator” is simpler, as that’s what Sematary has done since 2019, when as a loner kid from a self-described “redneck-y” part of Northern California, he graduated from high school and set about going for his musical dream and then some. Inspired by underground/overground DIY heroes Chief Keef, Black Kray, and Yung Lean as well as the gloomy atmosphere of witch house OG’s Salem — he’s gotten to work with both Sosa and Kray in the past year — he crafted a hybrid sound all his own, and visuals to go along with it. Most of it was done from Sematary’s HQ, the Butcher House, an actual early 20th century abattoir in the sticks where uninvited guests are not welcome. The place’s weathered roof actually caved in several months ago, and Sematary continued to live there until he was able to fix it.

The artwork on mixtapes from Sematary and all of the members of Haunted Mound is an aesthetic that might be described as “B-movie horror meets Southern Rap,” a sort of slasher-Cash Money. Then there are the audaciously grainy, DIY music videos and the wildly popular Haunted Mound merch, the group’s real cash cow. Often emblazoned with their irresistible mascot, a screaming tree called Harold, Haunted Mound’s clothing and memorabilia has proven to be a windfall. Until they began touring a year ago, it was the collective’s main source of income.

The only real bumps in the road have come in Haunted Mound’s lineup, which has been a fluid thing over five years. While Sematary says he’s not interested in drama, it seems to follow him, and in fact his journey began with some: the oft-told story of Sematary’s teenage friend Ghost Mountain, who teamed with him for a raw and arresting 2019 debut LP, Grave House, and a follow-up, Hundred Acre Wrist. But Ghost soon checked out, not interested in committing to the project. That left Sematary to build a group from scratch, recruiting rappers, producers and creatives from many corners of the globe: Ireland, Australia, Wales, Utah, and, in Hackle, a NoCal homie. There were defections, though, and dismissals. Stories abounded of varying credibility, about an unauthorized leak of disparaging texts; members allegedly abusing partners and fans; a reported cease-and-desist order, even doxxing. Much of it was vague and unconfirmed, and some of the claims were downright ugly. But that didn’t stop the extremely passionate, online and at times straight up toxic Haunted Mound fans from running with them.

“Never a boring day in the Haunted Mound Subreddit,” one fan pithily and accurately characterized the so-called Hauntaholics’ preferred gathering place not long ago. The, erm, mound of opinion, theorizing, hyper-analysis and rumormongering about the group that goes on there is never-ending. And March 11 was an especially non-boring day on r/HauntedMound, as rapper Turnabout and producer Gonerville — two-and-a-half-year members and, recently, key contributors to the collective — abruptly announced they were leaving the Mound, less than a month before the new Angel Tour was set to launch. In separate, nearly identical statements, the two were brief, and blunt: They were each splitting “on mutual terms.” Nothing more. That lack of detail only fueled “sky is falling” reactions among the fanbros, and half-baked theories of what had happened: Surely there was a falling out with Sematary? It had to be something big, and sudden? Overeager Hauntaholic YouTubers posted their own wildly speculative rants, and all the while the leader of the mound stayed quiet.

Sematary has long avoided commenting publicly on Haunted Mound’s periodic lineup upheavals, not wanting to fuel any fires within a dedicated but volatile fandom. (The aforementioned superstar’s Beyhive may have the Hauntaholics beat in numbers, but not in devotion. One HM fan even made a widely-distributed “Haunted Mound Tracker” Google doc to keep up with members past and present.) But given that Turn and Goner’s defection is probably the biggest jolt to the lineup since the Haunted Mound’s challenging formation, Sematary did agree to speak to Stereogum, to a point, about the latest departure and what it’s meant for the new tour, which begins tonight in St. Petersburg.

I connected with Steckler over Zoom from Los Angeles, where he’s been staying with his producer and tour DJ Anvil, one day before Bloody Angel‘s release. We also talked about the fiery new project’s concept and influences, and his determination to remain DIY and never sign with a label. He showed off some wild new merch pieces that will soon be available, refuted notions of a supposedly “controlling” reputation, and discussed whether Haunted Mound really is forever.

Zane! Your tour starts in less than a week, right? How’s it going?

SEMATARY: Yeah, fortunately. Things are still going! On the 2nd we roll out.

I see on the poster it’s yourself and Buckshot and Hackle. So are you all three gonna do sets?

SEMATARY: Yeah, so it’s gonna be Buck and Hackle, either of them are gonna go first, and then the other, and Anvil is gonna do a DJ set, and then me. And Oscar [Oscar18] is playing live guitar.

Do you know how much of Bloody Angel is gonna be featured in the set, how many songs?

SEMATARY: Probably about five songs. You can’t play all new stuff, cause people want to hear stuff they know, you’ve got to balance that. I wish I could play all new stuff but that’s just not how it goes.

This is now your 10th mixtape, plus the EP’s, so you have plenty to choose from, and I would imagine there are some older ones, like “Haunted Mound Reapers” and “Slaughter House” that you have to include.

SEMATARY: Hell yeah, but I like playing them! Playing the hits, watching people go crazy. You’ve always got to include the hits.

This is now your third tour, after Butcher House early last year, and then $uicideboy$’ Grey Day tour last fall. Any changes in terms of visuals this time around?

SEMATARY: Honestly, no. We don’t quite got the money for the big ol’ visual thing yet, but hopefully next one. I would like to do that. You kind of just see the rappers themselves, and we put up a big flag with our Haunted Mound logo.

Which of course is Harold, just a genius logo. Who originally designed him?

SEMATARY: That was me.

You did?

SEMATARY: Hell yeah I did! I was like, “I need a logo. I need a scary tree logo.” So I gathered a bunch of clip arts and kind of mashed them together from all those. And I drew the face myself.

What was it about a tree that appealed to you?

SEMATARY: I grew up, kind of in deep forests of trees? And I hadn’t really seen a logo that was like a scary tree. And it’s something I rapped about a lot, like those trees from Snow White? Like the scary ones? I thought it would be sick.

Even though you’re in LA right now, you’re still basically living at the Butcher House, right?

SEMATARY: Correct.

And the roof fell in?

SEMATARY: Yeah, cause it’s from 1905, it’s really old, California. Some old lady lived in it before us, and I think she died in it?


SEMATARY: I think so! So, probably haunted. Makes the music better. But yeah, the roof caved in at one point. It’s fixed now! Just an old roof. I do want to move at some point. Probably next year. It’s been a good five years there.

Speaking of which, I think Bloody Angel is great. I like the older records too, but this one is special, and I think in some ways different. Do you tend to approach each project with a theme, or concept in mind?

SEMATARY: Uh, yeah I do, do that. Like with the last EP, King Of The Graveyard, I wanted to go for a more metal sound, samples and stuff, and this one is more — I kind of like, you know Salem, the witch house group?


SEMATARY: Yeah, so it’s kind of those kinds of synths, and almost, like, ’80s horror movie, American desolation and crappy synths kind of vibes, and old Gucci Mane, and then heavier anthems. Kind of like Chief Keef, Glo Gang-type anthems? There’s all those influences. And there’s almost some like rockier, like Type O Negative was an inspiration too.

Speaking of Glo Gang, you have Lil Flash on one track, “Black Wings My Team.” Did you connect through Chief Keef?

SEMATARY: Just online, he’s in Chicago. Just cause he fucks with us, sees the influence he’s had on us, and they’ve all had. So I just hit him up. And we did the song real quick, it was easy.

But you also did link with Sosa, or he did a feature on the single “Fuck The World,” with you and Hackle.

SEMATARY: Yeah, last year. Through Zac FTP. He made that happen, connected those dots.

As well as another big influence, Black Kray, you got to work with last year.

SEMATARY: Yeah on the Butcher House mixtape. Went super hard.

So you’re kind of checking your idols off your bucket list! You need a Yung Lean collaboration now.

SEMATARY: Yeah that’s right! That’s the last one. [laughs] And I’ve got Wicca Phase on Bloody Angel too. Which is super cool, he’s been a big influence on us. I hit him up a long time ago, and I was like, “Yo, do you want to do a song sometime?” and he was like, “Yes.” And that was really all he said! But then just recently we did that song, and I was talking to him and we’ve become friends. I’m definitely gonna work with him again, he’s like super GOATed and one of the most professional people I have worked with. That song came out really hard.

That track is called “Barrow Wights?” What’s that?

SEMATARY: It’s like these demon, ghoul things from Lord Of The Rings, that they didn’t put in the movies? I’ve read the books a couple times as a kid, so I’ve been knowing about them, and it’s just a cool word? Interesting name for a song! I had to explain that to Wicca too, and he was like, “Yeah that’s sick.”

You see your Haunted Mound producers Grimoire and Oscar18 a lot on Bloody Angel, but the name that turns up more than any is Anvil.

SEMATARY: Yeah, it’s cause I’ve been staying at his house in LA. I just had to get out of Butcher House. I was about to lose it. It’s very rural, and it was just me there. You can really lose your mind out there, and I did not want to make another mixtape out there, alone! Cause I made like five mixtapes there, alone, and I didn’t wanna do that again. But Anvil and Oscar did a lot of the guitar riffs on this shit. Like they’ll do a guitar riff for me, and I’ll put it into a wider beat, and mix it all, and incorporate it all.

“Wendigo” was the first taste a lot of people had of Bloody Angel, and dude, what an amazing song.

SEMATARY: Thank you. Appreciate that.

I love what you might call the more traditional Sematary sound, but there is something different about it that song, a propulsive quality to it.

SEMATARY: Yeah, for me, however the drums are in that — New Wave? Post-punk? I don’t really do genres, so I don’t really know — but I’ve always listened to like Joy Division and New Order and those kind of songs? And those have always influences like the synths I do? So I just put that together with trap music and shit. So this is kind of just more me making a song like that. It’s more straight-up that influence. But that’s always been an influence for me.

It’s also apparent in maybe my favorite song, “Dead Trees” with Buckshot. It’s like Sematary meets New Order’s “Blue Monday” or something.

SEMATARY: Exactly. That’s what I was going for. Yeah, people like those songs a lot, cause they’re very different. I’ll probably do more with that sound, but I also love trap music deeply and will never stop, so I have to hit em with that. It’s like, I started with trap music? Black Kray, Yung Lean, that’s where I started. But adding bands and other influences is sort of the spice on top of it. I start with trap music and go from there. So, doing other genres is like a big step for me, and I wasn’t sure if people would fuck with it, but they like it!

Are you comfortable with the word “collective” to describe Haunted Mound?

SEMATARY: I think collective. Or a label, that I founded.

I’ve seen people debate whether it’s a label.

SEMATARY: Yeah, we are. But also “collective” I think applies to us as well. But it’s definitely a label, I mean all our releases, it says “Haunted Mound” on them, you know?

It’s pretty obvious there would be no Haunted Mound without Sematary. But would there be a Sematary without Haunted Mound? Could you have managed this five-year journey on your own, as a solo artist?

SEMATARY: I mean, I could have, but I didn’t want to though! That’s why I made this, because I wanted a community. I didn’t want to do it solo, it’s a lot. The music industry is brutal. It’s a lot easier if you have friends with you.

Still no interest in signing with a label?

I would only ever use that system for like, distribution — that’s all we need from them. But you never know. If it’s like a crazy, one-album thing, then, maybe? But I don’t think we need that. We can do it all ourselves. Why would we bother including other people in it, who would then think that they’re gonna have a say in the creative? Like, fuck that.

I’ve covered “collectives” from Wu-Tang and Ruff Ryders to Odd Future, GothBoiClique and Brockhampton. And one thing you often notice is that even if they are big and sprawling, the buck stops with one person.

SEMATARY: Yeah, that would be me, for us.

Oh, I know that! But I do wonder whether people might sometimes have the wrong idea, that Haunted Mound is a pure democracy.

SEMATARY: I mean, kids talk shit on the internet. I don’t pay attention to it. Sometimes they give other people credit for founding it, which I take exception to. I founded it. But beyond that I don’t waste time looking at what neckbeards talk about on the internet. [laughs]

You do have very dedicated, I would say in some cases obsessive, fans. But I guess that cuts both ways, right?

SEMATARY: Yeah. It’s cool to sell T-shirts! I like to sell T-shirts. It’s not cool to have your house doxxed.

Exactly. And I know that’s happened, and other drama has happened over the years.

SEMATARY: Yeah, I wish it hadn’t. I don’t like drama, but it comes with the territory I guess.

Which brings me to the elephant in the room — the latest drama that happened on March 11, when the Haunted Mound fans went crazy because Turnabout and Gonerville straight up announced they were leaving. And they didn’t offer much detail in their statements. Can you clarify what happened? It felt very sudden.

SEMATARY: Yeah. I was just as blindsided by it as everyone else. We were just working things out internally, and we got hit with that before we could work things out. And that’s as detailed as I’m gonna get.

Cause you know, two weeks before that, I had gotten a press release on the record, the tour and everything, and their names were there as part of the tour. It looks like you guys were…

SEMATARY: Yeah, they fucked us over pretty good with that. But fortunately I have more people that ride for me, that hopped on the tour and were like, “Yeah, we’ll do it.” But I was just as blindsided, which is unfortunate. We were just having disagreements about how some things should go. And I always make an effort to work things out with people. I go to great lengths to make sure I am not like a tyrant. And I guess they weren’t happy, before we could even work things out. They quit.

You didn’t really try to persuade them otherwise? Was it just like, “Bye?”

SEMATARY: The way they hit us, that wasn’t really an option. Which sucks, but best of luck! People are gonna do what they wanna do.

I went back and looked at the Montreality interview you did last fall, and it’s weird cause it’s the four of you. They’re sitting on either side of you and Hackle, and it was just…I don’t know.

SEMATARY: Yeah, it hurt a lot.

I will say, it says something about the strength of Haunted Mound that you can, on a few weeks’ notice, can — I assume you had to scramble to rework the tour a bit?

SEMATARY: Yeah, we had to figure out a new lineup. But thank you for that. I appreciate it. It’s been a rough time.

If Sematary as a solo project were to take off, exponentially, could you see Haunted Mound ending some day?

SEMATARY: Fuck no. Definitely not. I have it tattooed here [shows Harold tattoo on his forearm] — it’s a permanent thing. And that would be pretty fucked up! To just get hella famous, and just leave your boys behind? Fuck that.

I wasn’t saying you should, I just didn’t know of that was a possibility!

SEMATARY: No, my goal is to get as big as I can, and then to get each of my guys as big as they can. Just cause I’m sort of the busiest one, and been around the longest, it’s just—you know, do these things with me, and then to build them up, and do things for them, too.

Along with the Angels Tour, which is about to launch, there’s new merch?

SEMATARY: Yeah, we’re selling it all on the tour. We’re selling uh, these hockey masks, like what I’m wearing on the cover. [He holds up a hockey mask with a screaming face]. It’s the face that’s on the Harold tree. So we’re selling these on tour, and polos like Chief Keef used to wear, and t-shirts and necklaces with the tree, and socks, beanies, all sorts of shit. So if you’re reading this, come to the tour and buy some shit!

Haunted Mound hardly played live for the first couple years of its existence, and this will now be your third tour in a year. How’s the touring part of touring? Do you enjoy it, or is it more, “That’s how you make money, it is what it is”?

SEMATARY: Um, definitely that, but I’m happy to be able to tour? I’m happy I can see my fans in real life, and we’re successful enough that we can do that. I’m happy we’re not just an internet-only collective with songs that people would never actually play in real life. Like, I’m glad that it translates to real life. Cause that’s kind of how I make my songs! I think about how they would play live. If I’m like, “Yep! This would rip live”—I really think about that a lot when I make songs. Like, you know, how the beat will stop and it’s just the vocals and then it comes back in, all that’s a big thing for me! So yes, I like touring. Obviously it’s a fucking grind, it wears you down, but I like it. I like going to a city and making money, and leaving!

Bloody Angel is out now via Haunted Mound. Sematary and Haunted Mound’s Angels Tour will be traversing North America through May 15, with European dates to follow.

04/03 – St Petersburg, FL @ Jannus Live
04/05 – Atlanta, GA @ The Masquerade
04/06 – Charlotte, NC @ The Underground
04/09 – Nashville, TN @ Brooklyn Bowl
04/11 – Washington, DC @ The Fillmore Silver Spring
04/12 – Philadelphia, PA @ The Theatre of Living Arts
04/13 – New York, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
04/14 – Boston, MA @ Royale
04/16 – Toronto, ON @ Danforth Music Hall
04/17 – Montreal, QC @ Theatre Fairmount
04/19 – Detroit, MI @ The Majestic Theatre
04/20 – Chicago, IL @ The Riviera Theatre
04/23 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
04/24 – Lawrence, KS @ The Granada Theater
04/26 – Dallas, TX @ House of Blues Dallas
04/27 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s
04/29 – Houston, TX @ White Oak Music Hall
05/01 – Albuquerque, NM @ El Rey Theater
05/02 – Denver, CO @ Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom
05/03 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Rockwell at The Complex
05/05 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Van Buren
05/07 – San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
05/08 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Novo
05/10 – San Fransisco, CA @ The Warfield
05/11 – Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
05/14 – Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
05/15 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox SoDo
06/01 – Tallin, EST @ Helitehas
06/02 – Helsinki, FI @ The Tavastia Club
06/04 – Stockholm, SE @ Fryshuset (Klubben)
06/05 – Oslo, NO @ John Dee
06/07 – Copenhagen, DE @ Pumpehuset
06/09 – Hamburg, GER @ Uebel Gefaehrlich
06/10 – Berlin, GER @ The Metropol
06/12 – Warsaw, PO @ NIEBO
06/14 – Vienna, AU @ Flex
06/15 – Budapest, HU @ A38 Ship
06/17 – Prague, CZR @ MeetFactory
06/18 – Frankfurt, GER @ ZOOM
06/20 – Cologne, GER @ Luxor
06/21 – Amsterdam, NE @ Melkweg Max
06/23 – Paris, FR @ La Bellevilloise
06/25 – Manchester, UK @ Club Academy
06/26 – London, UK @ Electric Ballroom

more from Q&A