Don't Be Scared of Sematary

Don't Be Scared of Sematary

By Ivan GuzmanApr 30, 2024

Sematary is pretty scary. It’s kind of his thing. The 23-year-old North California native, AKA Zane Steckler, lives in a remote slaughterhouse that was built in 1905, previously inhabited by an elderly woman who reportedly died there. Within its haunted walls, he produces all of his music from scratch. He films his famously grainy, deep-fried music videos on the property. He creeps through the woods brandishing a chainsaw, wears a bloody hockey mask pulled straight out of Friday the 13th, and cackles over how evil it all is. This is his conniving creation: the Haunted Mound.

The hip-hop collective, which consists of core members Hackle, Buckshot and Oscar8teen, has been releasing their signature "horrorcore" mixtapes and EPs in an astonishing volume since 2019. The music itself is wholly unique, featuring blaring, blown-out production and slasher film-esque lyrical motifs. The music sounds like if Chief Keef morphed into a photogenic group of lanky 20-something boys who will blow vape smoke in your face and are obsessed with Halloween. It’s all contrived by Sematary himself, Haunted Mound’s unruly leader.

“It’s easy to make cool imagery with that shit,” Steckler tells me when I ask about the horror references. We meet backstage at Brooklyn Steel before his headline set, and I can’t get over how tall and scarecrow-like he is in person — as if The Creeper from Jeepers Creepers was dripped down in custom Louis Vuitton. He’s jittery and avoids eye contact, but still sweet and attentive, eager to talk about the universe he’s created and to show me a DM he got from his idol Yung Lean. It becomes clear that underneath all the gore lies a pure, passionate student of music production and visuals who has been manifesting this spooky, sadistic artistic utopia his entire life.

When I ask about his fans, Sematary tenses up. “I’m not gonna answer that,” he says. “They’re not always very nice.” In just over four years, Sematary has built an obsessive cult fanbase that communes mostly online in subreddits and Discord chats, oftentimes to an unhealthy level. “They doxxed my house and harassed every person I know, so I’m not super positive on fans.”

Still, they follow their tormented leader religiously. When Sematary finally takes the stage, I watch as the sweaty teens form a circle and stare each other down, ready to mosh at the Grave Man’s command. They gather in the crowd to connect and to feel something, even if it’s behind an upside-down American flag with "666" spray-painted on it in black letters. Though the fan-to-artist dynamic can get toxic at times, Sematary’s music is addictive for them, like when Michael Myers is chasing you and you keep looking back while stumbling trying to get away, almost enjoying it in this weird, fucked-up way. There’s a sensitivity to him that cuts straight through the heart.

Below, PAPER sits down with Sematary to discuss his recent Bloody Angelmixtape, 1950s country deep cuts and his cult fan base.

How has the tour been?

It kinda all blurs together. It feels like I’ve been on tour for a month, but I don’t even know if it’s been a month yet. I’ve been touring since last year. This is my second headline tour. We did America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand. We did a bunch of other random shows. It’s been a lot. I’ve been dropping tapes, mixing tapes.

Yeah, I feel like you’re just constantly creating. But for 2024, what’s your vision? Is it just up and up?

I just dropped Bloody Angel. I worked very hard on that, so that was kind of a big moment. And then just doing the guys’ tapes. Bucke is working on one. HDoe is working on one. Trying to figure out a tour with them.

So you produce for all the other guys?

Yeah, or we have a few producers. Oscar is a producer. He produces for Bucke a lot. But I’ll usually mix the songs, or produce them myself. Everything kind of goes through me. I’m the quality control. Creative head.

You’re the leader.


Do you listen to any music that your fans would be surprised by?

I listen to old country music a lot. I like Hasil Adkins. Just old weird, creepy country shit. It kinda feels the same, the horror aspect, but it’s just old country shit from the 1950s. People might not guess that. But the rest, I’m on the record. Black Kray, Salem, Yung Lean, Chief Keef.

What’s an example of that old country music you like? Do you know Roy Orbison?

Yeah, he did one song that I like. I like the song “Psycho” by Eddie Noack. It’s just about murderous ass shit. Old creepy songs like that. Very inspiring.

Was there something that happened in your childhood that made you so attracted to this Halloween horror vibe?

Just all the coolest songs from Triple 6 Mafia and stuff. They were very horror-themed. Same with Yung Lean and Black Kray, they all have those horror influences. People don’t really talk about that with them. But all the coolest rap songs talk about masks and horror shit, how it’s 4 AM. That’s what I like to hear, so that’s what I make.

Jeepers Creepers.

Yeah, exactly. I watched a lot of horror movies growing up and just had a general fascination with that. It’s easy to make cool imagery with that shit.

Making the music, you’re so isolated, but then you go out on tour and see the actual fans in front of you. How would you describe the Sematary fan?

I’m not gonna answer that. They’re not always very nice.

They’re not nice?

Sometimes they’re like little bratty kids who don’t understand anything. But sometimes they’re cool. I don’t wanna answer that. It’s really cool to see fans in real life because the internet is really negative. I don’t look at any of the stuff about us for my own mental health, but if I did, it wouldn’t be good because it’s just straight stupid. Making up narratives, speculating bullshit. It’s not good for one’s mental health when it’s about you. But in real life, it’s cool because they’re singing the songs, buying the merch, and they’re super excited to meet us real quick. It’s way more positive in real life. I like real life more.

Reddit is toxic. And on YouTube, it’s a bunch of random creators making up narratives about you and Haunted Mound.

Yeah, I don’t enjoy it. It’s a double-sided coin having a cult fanbase. You get people that wanna buy every shirt and collect all your stuff, and then fools that speculate about your personal life and think they know you. It is what it is. But in real life, it’s much more positive and pure, which I love. It feels good to perform “Slaughter House,” which is one of my biggest songs. That’s the third song I ever made, in my bedroom with a cold. And now I get to perform that at all my shows and see fools sing it back at me. That will never get old. It’s fucking surreal.

My personal favorite is “9 Scarecrows” with Elusin, and “Bleed A River.”

Thank you, thank you. Those are both really good ones.

What fictional character would you most liken yourself to?

Jack Skellington.

What’s your favorite horror movie?

The Devil’s Rejects by Rob Zombie.

What was your upbringing like?

Just kind of a normal kid putting up with everything until I could do what I wanted. It was cool, though. Pretty normal. Just going to school and shitting around. Being a kid. I grew up in Northern California.

Did you have a favorite subject in school?

I hated school. I tolerated it until I didn’t have to do it anymore. I always knew I wanted to do this since I was 11, so I was just kind of tolerating life until I could do what I wanted. I really only started enjoying my life, like, three years ago because I was doing music and it was going okay. I was happy with myself and where things were going. I kind of spent my teenage years just studying Sad Boys, Goth Money, TeamSESH, all the different groups. Seeing what worked and what didn’t, and figuring how I would do it and how I would package it.

Would you say you’re a student of this stuff?

Yeah, I guess so. A nerd. Whatever you wanna call it. I put a lot of time into studying to figure out how to do what we’re doing now. It’s all my — I don’t wanna sound cynical, but — formula. There’s a lot of thought behind what I’ve built, and so far it’s been working, which I’m really fucking grateful for.

I watched a video of you producing a song from scratch. You just learned it all yourself?

Yeah. My dad is a music producer, so he just sat me down with some gear and showed me some basic stuff when I was literally eight or nine. Very young. And then I just kind of went from there and taught myself, just experimenting my whole youth.

Is there a particular song you’ve noticed that the fans go really hype for?

Haunted Mound Reapers.” They like “Wendigo” a lot, too, which is cool because that song is really different for me. “Headlights,” which is another new one from the tape. They say the intro, because I go, “Hi, I’m Sematary!” and they’ll sing it back at me, which is cool because it’s super new. I didn’t think they’d know that one, but they do. I can almost have them rap it for me, which is sick. That feels good.

What’s the craziest fan experience you’ve had?

I don’t really wanna talk about fan experiences at all. I’ve had a lot of negative fan experiences. They doxxed my house and harassed every person I know, so I’m not super positive on fans. I’m grateful for the fans in real life.

What’s a day in the life of Grave Man when you’re not on tour?

Sometimes my sleep schedule be pretty crazy, so my day will start at 5 PM. It kind of depends if I’m working on a project or not, because if I am then that’s all I’m really doing. I wake up and I’m mixing, I’m producing, I’m recording someone, or I’m recording. But if I’m not, then usually I’m just chilling watching movies and hanging out with my girlfriend. Pretty normal. I play Call of Duty a lot. Nothing crazy.

You don’t have a morning routine?

I guess not. I don’t know.

What’s your goal for Haunted Mound? Do you have set plans for the future?

Not so much set plans, but we have plans. I wanna get HDoe and Bucke Shot to do their own tour this year without me. For me, it’s not just Sematary. It’s Sematary and the Haunted Mound. I’m trying to get as big as I can, and then get each of them as big as they can so we can all go on our own tours. So then, when we do work together, it’ll be that much more epic because we’ll all have our own solo careers. I’m trying to build it sort of like a record label where each artist is big in their own way, you know? So yeah, gonna work on their mixtapes next because I just dropped one. Bucke and HDoe tour I think would be cool. Stuff like that. Keep building it up.

Photography: Matt Ploeger