You have gone through a few members in the last year or so, including your founding drummer. How has this affected your sound and band chemistry?
We knew that things could change when Tommy became a father and that as his close friends and band members, we would support any decision he made about his future even if it meant leaving to be a full time dad. We were obviously disheartened to lose him, but Tommy made sure to pass the torch to someone we all knew was more than qualified for the job. Joey Steele (also of the band “Aeous”) had already helped us write and record half of our first album while filling in for Tommy and we were already very comfortable with the direction things were moving. Since adding Joey, we’ve gotten a lot more progressive and it’s opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for us that we’re excited to explore on future albums. As far as changes on guitar, it took us a while to find the right man for the job. This was mostly because we were adjusting to being a four piece after starting as a three piece and we had to find the right chemistry to create the right sound we all agreed on. We found that sound with Mike Mountain and even though we’ve recently parted ways, we can’t promise those changes are permanent. He had some things he needed to sort out outside of music and we fully support him until he’s ready to own the stage again.
With all the bands coming and going in Minneapolis, what makes you different? What gives you that edge to survive in the scene?
We’ve always tried to stick to a strict code of ethics in this band to assure it never disappointed the fans or collapsed under pressure. 1. Always play like there are thousands of fans no matter where you are. You never know who might be watching. Stage presence could be the only difference between a fan remembering or forgetting you. They didn’t come to the show to listen to the songs (they have you’re album for that), they came to see you. So make yourself memorable and they’ll be back every time. 2. Never forget that music is fun. This is a very hard one for a lot of bands after the pressure that comes from writing constantly and practicing hour after hour, killing off a lot of bands before they really have a chance to be heard. So it’s important to do things together outside of music from time to time and develop friendships with the people you make music with, it will show in the end result. 3. Be original. We’ve done our best to keep our original sound and add to it as time went on instead of conforming to what everyone else was doing. It’s hard to tell bands apart when they sound the same, even if they all sound really good. However, if you’re the one band in your area with a certain sound that can’t be imitated, do your best to never let that element go. 4. Try not to play too many shows in the same area back to back. Spread out your reach to other states and other cities to get the word out. You won’t make a name for yourself playing your home state your whole career. Get out there and take chances! Do these things and you’ll survive the scene just fine.
Mine Oh Mine seems to be a little off-kilter from the usual for you guys. Are the lyrics tongue-in-cheek, and can you talk about how the song came about?
When the band first started, Andrew was writing the lyrics in more of a cryptic way so people could attach whatever meaning they wanted to them. One night Andrew and Lauren (Tommy’s wife) were having a conversation about the music and she claimed his lyrics were too “vague” and he needed to write something more sexual/controversial to appeal to a different type of crowd. Slightly annoyed, yet intrigued; Andrew went home and used a guitar riff him and Tommy had been working on to write the most sexual and easily understandable lyrics he’d written yet. He thought of it more or less as a joke and expected everyone to laugh it off at practice. He was surprised when we all loved it and Lauren sealed the deal by running down to the space and shouting “What did I just hear? That sounded Amazing!” With a reaction like that, we had no choice but to make it part of the set and it’s still one of our favorites we’ve written to this day.
How did you settle on Satya Conger for your music video?
From the first time we played it, it was apparent to us that Mine Oh Mine was less of a song about making love and more of a song about being a slave to our own sexual desires. We wanted a woman that had that wicked sort of hotness that could perfectly personify those desires in the video and we were extremely satisfied with how well Satya Conger fit that roll. All the credit goes to our video Director Nicholas J Longtin though for introducing us to her and recommending her for the part. He knew exactly how to visualize what that song was all about and we couldn’t have been happier.
Your old drummer, Tommy Donohue, ended up recording his first demo for what would be Ashes From Stone. You recorded a demo in 2013 and then a full-length album Riddles and Riots this year. Clearly, your technical sound improved from the first demoed recordings, noticeably in the audio levels. Who produced your new album and are you planning to work with them in the future?
When we first started out, all we could afford to get our music out there was renting out a studio for half a day. We maximized our time by setting up the full band live in one room, miking up our cabinets and drums and banging straight through four tracks. We didn’t have time to mix or master really anything and we knew the quality was shit, but we didn’t care. We wanted people to know we existed and that we were more than just a name or a pipe dream. We really hit our stride though in the spring of 2014 when we met Ian Combs and he produced and recorded our first two tracks from the album “Illusion” and “Mine Oh Mine”, which is why we came back to him and finished the album “Riddles and Riots” the following year. He’s been great to work with and it’s a really easy process for us because we can still have full control while leaving our tracks open to the input and experience he brings to the table. We see no reason why we wouldn’t keep a good thing going with Ian and we look forward to continuing our collaboration in the future.
What is the meaning behind the album title?
We face a lot adversity and oppression in this world. It hides behind fake smiles and fat check books, spreading hate with the best of intentions. Meanwhile we point fingers at each other and squabble over questions that can’t be answered. It’s time to flip the switch the other direction and use these tactics against them if we ever want to end this cycle. A Riddle is a question or statement intentionally phrased so as to require ingenuity in ascertaining its answer or meaning, typically presented as a game. This is what they do to us through subliminal messaging and manipulation over the media and entertainment industry. If you want to solve their puzzle, you have to have the ingenuity to win the game. We as a people have been too easily controlled. It’s easy to see through what we’re about to do, especially when we broadcast it all over social media. We need to be harder to read, harder to solve…like a riddle. We need to be harder to defeat and show strength in numbers as well, like a riot. While we don’t condone rioting in residential neighborhoods where people could be injured or small businesses destroyed, we do condone a metaphorical riot of unity and patriotism; A civil disobedience to the New World Order. We figured if we were going to get one message out on the title track that meant something; that would be it.
A number of older songs didn’t make the cut for the first album. Was it hard to whittle them down to the ten or eleven that you included?
With the changes we’ve had to go through creatively on lead guitar and drums since the founding of the band, it was inevitable that we would have to set some songs aside (for now) while we kept ourselves open to what Joey Steele and Mike Mountain brought to our sound. This gave us a really balanced first album between the old AFS and the new and while it definitely was hard to put some of our old favorites away, we haven’t forgotten them and they just might be revived in the future.
Your favorite song to play live is ____________?
It’s hard to nail down a favorite for us, but we know it would be too cliché to say “every song is our favorite.” So instead we’ll just say every new song we write is our favorite to play live until we write another new one. The best songs live are when we can surprise fans with something they haven’t heard yet, there’s nothing quite like introducing a new creation into the world.
At the moment we’re trying to get our own tour transportation and saving up to fund our own tour. These days there’s a lot of opportunity to buy in on tours with other national bands, but it comes at a hefty price. Bands have begun fund raising campaigns just to afford those buy ins and most of the time they come back off tour broke and have nothing left to spend on recording and other band expenses. The industry isn’t what it used to be, which is why we are waiting until we can fund everything ourselves before we officially announce any tours for us. Until that time we’re just spreading the word as much as possible and we’re plotting out our course so we’re ready when the time comes. We’ve already built some pretty great support here in Minnesota and all over Wisconsin. We’ll be heading down to Iowa soon, so it’s only a matter of time till we’re ready to hit the road for a full Midwest tour. Stay tuned!
So far, what has been the most memorable show for you?
We’ve had a lot of great and memorable shows, more than we could have ever hoped for. However the one that probably stood out the most for us was Tommy’s final show. We played direct support with Hoobastank at Turtle Lake Casino and it was a very emotional and memorable night for all of us. Saying goodbye to Tommy was very hard, but Tommy got a shout out from Douglas Rob of Hoobastank congratulating him on his decision to be a full time father. I know that meant a lot to Tommy and it’s definitely a night none of us will ever forget.
Who is your favorite band to play with on stage?
This is another one where it’s difficult for us to pick favorites. We definitely enjoy when we have shows with out of state national touring bands because it’s always an honor playing with bands you listened to growing up and now you get to share the stage with them. However, playing with bands that are in our genre from the twin cities is always the best experience usually. We all get along so well and everyone is so supportive which is something that doesn’t happen as often as you’d like in this scene. Like we said though, it’s hard to pick favorites when we have so many.
There’s no questioning your devotion to Chevelle–even down to the toolbox you bring with you on-stage. The influence was much more pronounced in the beginning, but do you feel like you’re beginning to step into your own?
It’s true that the band started with heavy influences from bands like Chevelle. Andrew’s vocals fit the same range and it was a good band to reference when trying to make a three piece happen. As the music started to shift into a different sound with the addition of the second guitar, we started to hear a whole new sound take shape, a sound that was unique to us and us only and we can only hope someday that another up and coming band uses us as a creative reference point as we’ve done with Chevelle.
I know it’s a pretty basic question, but every band has a different answer. Why do you play music?
We love music. There’s really no beating around the bush on that one. All of us grew up surrounded by music or people we looked up to in the music scene. We’ve all wanted to be on a stage as early as we can remember. There’s nothing on this planet that beats the rush you get when you see a giant crowd of fans singing your lyrics or have someone tell you that your song has a deep meaning with them personally. There’s no fulfillment that beats creating something original with your closest friends and having that creation bring even more friends and new people together. Our music doesn’t just entertain, it unites and inspires people. Until something else in this world brings us that much joy and fulfillment, we’ll never give it up.