Monday, December 13, 2010

Coming Full So Circle, One Circle At A Time (An Article I Wrote For The Band So Many Roads)

Many musicians dream of getting to open up for their favorite bands, but how often do they actually get to do it? Especially for those who are still establishing themselves, as opposed to signed touring artists who happen to be able to tag along with another band, the dream must seem beyond reach.

Anthony Brady no longer has to wonder. He’s been making music for the last decade or so, but only in the last few years has he really been getting people outside his circle of friends and passerby to take notice. He has formed or been a part of various bands throughout the ten-years-strong run, but has yet to break it into the big leagues. Or even maintain a band long enough to get it all down on record. To his own chagrin, he has yet to cut a proper album, despite the fact that he has over 30 songs to his credit (though most of his lyrics have been co-written with friends and fellow musicians).

Since getting started, Brady has had many progressions of style and changes in influence. It’s only natural for anyone over a ten-year stretch. But one constant to his journey has been a power trio based out of his same adopted town.

Floater is a band that formed in Eugene, OR in the early 1990s. Trying to describe them in one sentence is like trying to talk about Jonathan Demme films in one sentence: fucking impossible. They err to the heavy side (though they have embraced their softer tendencies more and more as they play on); they are wont to jam out (live shows see three minute songs stretch to double digits); and they’ve produced eight studio albums (and three live albums) to serious fan acclaim, mixed critical reviews and limited commercial success. Their most widely known song outside of the Pacific NW is undoubtedly “The Sad Ballad Of Danny Boy,” a three-minute funk-ish metal frenzy that samples Jack Nicholson from The Shining and was released on their sophomore album Glyph in 1995. Some time after releasing their third album, they moved to Portland and called it home, touring throughout the country (but mainly the West Coast and neighboring states) or playing a string of local shows in between releasing albums every couple of years. They may not be megastars, but Floater is the type of band that gives it their all (or drunken best nonetheless) every show they give. Many fans have called their concerts a religious experience, due to their adroit musicianship and powerful presence.

It’s no wonder that when Anthony first moved to Portland and heard about them he became instantly smitten. What budding musician wouldn’t be enchanted with the do-it-yourself ethos embraced by such a staggering seeming local band? Though it would not be right to call him a rip-off artist, an acquainted ear could certainly hear Floater’s influence over Anthony Brady. He doesn’t mind a little rocking out with his rock, whether it be through big speakers or a well-tuned acoustic. His songs aren’t afraid to take ventures; many of them end in very different places from where they started. But such influence can be a good thing.

Brady’s had many musical influences throughout the years. Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Incubus, Thrice, God Is An Astronaut; these are all listed plainly to me when I asked him who his influences are, and they sound correct. He listens to a lot of Greg Dulli songs (he prefers The Twilight Singers to The Afghan Whigs), and thinks that Buckethead is one of the best guitar players around (he certainly may be the most diligent one, averaging at a new album or project every month). But the one that has stayed the most powerful has been the one that he has physically and consistently been closest to. Despite all efforts to the contrary, Brady was never quite able to procure an opening slot for a Floater show.

After so many years spent trying to make a go of it in Portland, Anthony decided to find inspiration elsewhere. So he relocated to Spokane and formed a new band. They are called So Many Roads. In less than a year, they have emerged as one of the city’s more original, surprisingly tight and versatile bands. They won an audience vote for the Spokane’s Got Talent finals after they played a five-minute song called “Dream” (they played it electric and heavy), and have been interviewed for the Local Lounge 103.1 KCDA* (where they also performed acoustically), as well as 94.5 KHTQ.**

So Many Roads admits to being a Craiglist band, finding each other through the advertising in this millennium much like musicians used to post fliers at the local record store. They formed when Anthony met Shawn Morlock, a drummer, and they started jamming together. Soon after they found Ryan Jordan, who plays bass. Daniel Hall rounded out the band to a solid foursome when he brought his guitar shredding skills to the group. These guys are all clearly talented, if cut from different cloth. The few recordings that have surfaced show a lot of promise, as they work on writing and recording an EP together for the near future.

The band may be still developing, but their songwriting has already reached a level of cohesiveness that is flattering to even well-seasoned composers. Not only have they re-arranged many of Brady’s previous material – my favorite being taking his reggae-ready tune “Yesterday’s Door” and really metalling the hell out of it – but they have composed several of their own songs with him that hardly sound like first-time attempts. The band’s rhythm section certainly bears resemblance to some of the more notable metal acts of the last decade (I’m particularly reminded of Opeth and Sevendust), but when I asked them for influences, I was happy to hear them include not only bands such as Pain Of Salvation and Porcupine Tree but also heavyweights like Tool and Alice In Chains. All these different subsets of metal might seem indistinguishable to some, but it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, despite loving so much rock music already being made, So Many Roads doesn’t sound like another knockoff band. Their songwriting does not veer towards the straight-ahead pop-verse-chorus-verse tendencies that so many radio bands seem to embrace. Instead, So Many Roads rely on staples such as interesting chord progressions, silences within the spaces of music, and taking both the ear and the mind to different places. Which is not to say that they’re out to challenge everyone into putting up with listening to them; far from it. So Many Roads, simply put, just wants to rock.

Brady knew what he had to do when he found out that Floater was playing an acoustic show at the Empyrean, a local club that magically blends pub, coffee house and cafĂ© to warm and inviting effect. He knew that So Many Roads had to open. It was time. If he couldn’t achieve it will they lived together in Portland, perhaps it was fate that it would have to happen here, of all places.

So Many Roads did indeed open for Floater, and in doing so they put on a hell of a show. They were thoroughly engaging, playing for a small but animated crowd of more than fifty music lovers who were swaying to the grooves laid down by the stripped-down quartet. They were a perfect warm-up act for the acoustic version of Floater (who also like to switch it up between electric and acoustic performances), and duly complemented by their drummer Pete himself after the show.

To hear any “heavy” song stripped down to an acoustic presentation is an experiment in transposing. Can the absence of distortion create a new sense of depth, and can the songwriting’s melody sustain itself without an electric guitar’s (ahem) power? In the case of So Many Roads, the transition works. Their eight-song set is steady rockin’ thru and thru. Some songs show promise of becoming singles for any future EPs (or, hopefully, albums), while others cross less traditional territory. “Collapsing In The Snow” has a nice 4/4 beat and plenty of vocal accompaniment from Daniel, creating a harmonious vibe that is in stark contrast to “Cabaret,” a slow and almost murky song where the narrative takes us through some dark and dirty places most radio is afraid to touch. They also included a mildly psychedelic instrumental number (called “Those Estacada Nights”) and a Depeche Mode cover (“Enjoy The Silence”). If you didn’t know that Brady was a big Deftones fan, you might find the choice of cover odd. But damn if the band didn’t pull it off, laying down a nice smooth acoustic ride into post-grunge musicality, evoking the same feeling Martin Gore got from a synthesizer decades ago. They played with precision and a lot of emphasis on groove, which worked well for the acoustic arrangements. (It should be noted that while the guitar players traded their electric guitars for acoustic ones, Ryan kept his bass plugged in, and Shawn brought his same drum kit, using balsa wood sticks and a keen sense of rhythmic temperament.)

So Many Roads could mean many things. It’s one of those kinds of band names. Yes, it could signify that these seasoned sound makers have all seen some shit in their days and know about the long and winding facts of life. It could also suggest a world full of possibilities for exploration and discovery. For a band coming together so quick, maybe both ring true. They are exciting to hear, a solution to the problem of what is wrong with so much on rock radio. And hopefully there are good things in their future. You’ve been warned.

So Many Roads Facebook page
Floater's Website

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