Tag: Ben Grosse
Fort Myers, FL. – On the heels of this year’s release of The Envelope E.P., Puerto Rico’s MESSAGE TO VENUS have posted a new video for the single, “Universal You” on YouTube. (The video can also be seen below.) With the track already gaining major exposure on Comcast’s MusicChoice and Sirius XM’s Octane as well as the Lou Brutus hosted HardDrive Syndicated Radio Show, this video will allow their huge mass of fans the chance to check out the much talked about lyrics for the popular song.
While the buzz is currently huge for this band of talented young rockers. GODSMACK drummer, Shannon Larkin, has said that MESSAGE TO VENUS is, “A true winner! A big sounding band with huge production, songs and talent!” With a major label deal at the top of their wish list, guitarist John Feliciano reports that, “We’ve had some very important people like our manager, Craig Stegall from Away-Team Music as well as Grammy-Nominated Producer Ben Grosse submit the music to a few key people at the major labels as of late and the initial response is fantastic. We look to have the support of a major before the full-length, Victims & Villains, is finished late this year.”
MESSAGE TO VENUS is Jandre Nadal – Lead Vocals, John Feliciano – Guitars/Vocals, Edgar Ramos – Bass, and JuanMa Font – Drums. Check out MESSAGE TO VENUS by heading to their website, www.MessageToVenus.com, where you can join all their social pages, see photos, listen to music and find out when they’ll be touring your area.
Not too many bands take the path that Crossfade has taken and still manage to find success. The South Carolina natives exploded onto the scene back in 2004, with their hit single “Cold”. They then further established themselves on the rock radar with the follow up singles “So Far Away” and “Colors”, propelling their self-titled debut to Platinum status. Two years later the band’s sophomore effort “Falling Away” was released to mixed reviews and mediocre sales. From there, Crossfade virtually disappeared, it was rumored that the band had been dropped by their label Columbia Records in a disappointing end to a promising career. Here we are five years later and Ed Sloan and Co. are back with a new label, a new album, and a new lease on life. I recently had a chance to catch up with Ed to get the skinny on the aptly named forthcoming album, so sit back and join me as a rejuvenated rockstar reminds us that “We All Bleed”.
AWAY-TEAM: I’d like to first congratulate you on the new album “We All Bleed”, which is being released on June 21st. The album is a little bit of a departure from your signature sound, and the Crossfade that we’re used to. I noticed that Les had alot more songwriting duties this time around, do you feel like that contributed to your new sound? What ultimately led you in the direction that you took on this album?
ED SLOAN: Well, I think you definitely hit the nail on the head right there with Les. Ya know, he really writes alot of dark music, orchestral music, and that definitely added to the darkness of the record. Plus I think the lyrics are a little bit darker than our typical albums, coming out of a three year touring haze I think made the lyrics come out a bit darker. But definitely alot of Les in there makes the album much darker than usual.
AWAY-TEAM: It’s been quite a while since you’ve toured full-scale, I actually had the pleasure of seeing you play a free show outside the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa back on April 1st. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Is this an April Fool’s joke?’ I mean, there was about two dozen people in attendance, and about a dozen full sets of teeth… (laughs)
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Yeah, you’re right.
AWAY-TEAM: …it was definitely a rough crowd! Anyways, aside from that debacle, which to your credit you guys rocked the shit out of as if it were 30,000 people, then of course you just played Rock on the Range, how has the reception been after being gone for so long?
ED SLOAN: Actually it surprised us all, I mean we’ve seen fans from four years ago when we were last on the road. I’ve seen hundreds of fans that I remember from back then, and a large amount of new fans. It’s been great, all the shows have been great, and everybody’s just super pumped to hear the old stuff, but also with the new stuff it’s almost like they’ve stolen the record already or something. (laughs) It’s been received very well from what we’ve seen so far. After every show we do a signing of course, and there’s been a line out the door for that. It’s almost like we never left!
AWAY-TEAM: That’s gotta make you feel pretty good.
ED SLOAN: Yeah, no doubt it does.
AWAY-TEAM: Your debut album went platinum, your sophomore effort only sold about 200,000 copies, and then not long after that you were dropped from Columbia Records. When you first got the news that you were being dropped, what was your initial reaction? Was it kind of a sense of defeat? Or was it more like ‘Ya know what? Fuck You. I’m gonna take my shit and go kick ass somewhere else’?
ED SLOAN: It was actually our decision to leave Columbia. Everybody thinks we got dropped, but they just gave us some stipulations that we wouldn’t deal with. So we said ‘Screw you!’ and we got out of our contract. It was definitely a ‘Fuck You’ to them because they were just, at that time the industry was going to shit, and their whole staff was going to shit, and we didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore so we were just elated to get out of our contract with them. They wouldn’t do shit for us, all they were doing was working to pimp like Beyonce or whatever the big act was they were working with at the time. That was all they could focus on, they didn’t have the money anymore, or the manpower, so we were glad to get the fuck out of there.
AWAY-TEAM: You were quoted as saying “Music has always been my escape, a friend, but then music became my enemy.” Elaborate on that for me.
ED SLOAN: Well that was after three years of touring, on two records, and being on that record label, and then us leaving them, or them dropping us, however it’s looked at. Coming home it was kind of a shocker, after three years you gotta piece your life back together. You gotta find a new place to live, and you realize it’s gonna be another two or three years to write another album, and find a new label to put it out…knowing that I didn’t wanna stop. It just seemed kinda daunting knowing that what lied ahead of me was two years of writing another record, and finding another label, and all that kind of stuff. So music just kinda became… for a while there music became something that I didn’t enjoy. I couldn’t get to my happy spot when I write music, but that only lasted a year or so and then I snapped out of it. That’s kinda why the album took a little while to get out, but we all got through it together.
AWAY-TEAM: Addiction and personal demons kinda seem to be a common theme on the album, obviously spearheaded by “Dear Cocaine”. I may be a little bold in my assumption, but we all know “art imitates life”, so what was your “rock bottom” moment? What prompted you to break from the doldrums of depression and drugs, and whatever else was bothering you at the time?
ED SLOAN: I think it was, I was just not focusing on music at all. I was just laying around depressed, and not doing much meaningful. You know, I really don’t know how to answer that because “rock bottom” comes the same for everybody, once you hit it it’s, ya know… well I guess it’s not the same for everybody but for me it turned out to be that I just wouldn’t do shit, just laid around and did anything to keep music off my mind, or my future off of my mind, so…
AWAY-TEAM: When did you realize it was time to get up and get back to work?
ED SLOAN: I think as soon as the other guys got in gear. Ya know, they were all taking time off for other reasons; family, getting their lives back together. I think as soon as… I lived at our studio where we recorded all of these albums, and I think it was Les started coming in every day and working his ass of ’til like 6:00, putting in like 18 hour days. Slowly I started hearing some of the stuff he was writing, and it just started to infuse into my soul, and started to wake me up. Finally I said “This is enough. I’m enjoying what I’m hearing.” so I joined in and started writing songs. So I think it was just my bandmates kinda kicking me in the ass, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: Well we’re glad they did it! So now you’re on Eleven Seven Music, a label which Nikki Sixx presides over. How long did it take you to land a deal with them? And how did it happen? Was it through an A & R guy? Or was it Nikki, being ever the opportunist, realizing there was a band of your caliber out there without a label?
ED SLOAN: Well, actually it was Allen Kovac, who is the CEO and Founder of that label. Literally within like two weeks of everybody knowing that we weren’t with Columbia anymore, he called our manager at the time and said “Hey, I’m interested in signing the boys…” At that time, we were like “We’re not even gonna have a record ready for like a year.” ,which wound up being three years. But Allen Kovac called at least like 6 times a year to find out how the progress was going, and he was very persistent. Then when it was finally done, obviously he heard the whole record and still wanted to sign us, so it was definitely his persistence that made us realize that they were gonna fight for us and it was gonna be a good home for us. So his persistence paid off, for them and for us.
AWAY-TEAM: I know you’ve always produced your own albums, on this album you had a GRAMMY-winning super producer in Ben Grosse doing the mixing duties. Did you guys pick his brain at all, from a kind of student-mentor standpoint?
ED SLOAN: Oh yeah! (laughs) Yeah, he’s a great guy. We were only supposed to be there for like two weeks, and he actually gave us two months. We’d slowly start to ask him… we recorded the album ourselves, so anytime you get to see a master doing his work, we kinda try to suck the brains dry! He was very forthcoming with alot of his tricks and gadgetry that makes his records what they are. So we definitely learned alot from him technically as far as recording.
AWAY-TEAM: Will Hunt was brought on in 2009, many thought he’d end up being your permanent drummer, what happened there? Was he supposed to just be a session drummer? Or was the intention for him to become a permanent fixture? What’s the story behind that?
ED SLOAN: I think in the beginning, all throughout the writing of the album, you know we wrote the album with digital drums, and then we were like “Okay, at some point we’re gonna go into the studio, and at some point we’re gonna go on tour. We have to get a full time drummer.” And that drummer was gonna be in the band, and Will was down with it, but he’d always have side projects. Ya know between Evanescence, Black Label Society, Dark New Day, just all these different bands he plays with so the timing wasn’t right. So he was able to come in and record the album, but because it was shelved for 6-8 months I think Will had to make a decision. Ya know, “I’ve gotta go out and make money. I gotta do what’s right for my family, so we’ll see what happens when the record comes out.” During that time, we started auditioning new drummers knowing that Will probably wasn’t gonna be able to do it, and we found Mark Castillo from Boston who’s in the band now and plays live with us. But it was completely amicable, it was just because the record was taking so long to come out that he had to go do his thing, ya know.
AWAY-TEAM: Right. Mark was brought into the fold last year, and I understand there’s a bit of a funny story as to how he was welcomed into the band. Tell me about that.
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Well he drove 18 hours down from Boston, or 12 hours, whatever it is, and we hung out with him for a couple of days, and played 3 or 4 songs with him, jammed with him as far as auditioning him. And we had him film himself coming down here, and we were like “Look man, if this works out we’d like to have some footage of the trip down.” And when he left, he filmed himself the whole way back. So when we’re in the editing room making the webisode, we’ve got Mark coming down and him playing, then we’ve got Mark driving 18 hours back up to Boston, and then he pulls into his driveway saying “Thank God, I’m finally home!” and then at the end it shows “Welcome to Crossfade Mark Castillo. If you ever try to leave us, we will kill you!” And I believe we said “Hey man, there’s a new webisode out. You may wanna go to your computer and check it out.” Right when he got home he found out he was a member of the band that way, and I think he got kind of a shocker out of that instead of us just calling him to tell him he was in the band. (Scroll down to see the webisode)
AWAY-TEAM: (Laughs) That’s great, I love it! You in particular have listed James Hetfield and Metallica as one of your greatest influences. So based on content, compare your albums with their closest related Metallica album.
ED SLOAN: Our first record, to me anyway, I think is alot like The Black Album, because the messages were real dark, and it’s also got alot of heartfelt songs and lyrics on it. And I think this new album is a little bit more like Master of Puppets, it’s darker and heavier, and still the same type messages that Metallica and Hetfield have always had. But you know how Master of Puppets was a little more layered, a little tighter, a little more musicianship going on. I think this one is comparable to that. I mean I would never compare our stuff to Metallica’s integrity wise, I mean I would but… (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Well don’t take offense to this, hear me out on this one. I think this one is closer to a St. Anger, and it’s not just, ya know, I think it’s a shitty album. I think that you can draw some parallels to James just overcoming some of his personal demons, and the change in the signature sound, it just seems to have that parallel.
ED SLOAN: I got ya. I can feel you on that. You know that was definitely a 180 for them, ya know. I don’t think we’ve quite done a 180 on this one, but I do feel you on the similarities of that change. I guess, sonically their change was so crazy, such a 180, that’s the only thing I would differ with on that statement.
AWAY-TEAM: On that same tangent, I think you may have answered this already, but do you worry about rejection from your die hard fans?
ED SLOAN: Not at all actually. Because I don’t think that it’s changed dramatically, I think it’s just been elevated. It’s still Crossfade, it’s still the things that I think attracted people in the first place, I think are on this album. It just may be a little heavier, although we do think that the messages, and the feeling, and the soulfulness and the darkness is still what people associate with Crossfade, at least that’s what I think. Songs that are backdrops to their lives, songs that you can ride around in the car and be pissed the fuck off, and I think that’s the same with this album. Ya know every album you lose fans, you gain fans, but I think we’re gonna have a winner here, so.
AWAY-TEAM: You landed your first deal through an online A&R firm called TAXI, you had actually gotten to the point where you were actually submitted country music on there in the hopes of getting signed. Were those some of the songs that we now know as Crossfade? Or do you have some hidden gems, and a future as a country songwriter?
ED SLOAN: (laughs) Yeah, actually I’ve got 40 or 50 songs that I’ve written that would never be qualified as Crossfade songs. (laughs) I’ve written almost an entire country album, I wouldn’t call it country, it’s more some of it’s pop… well ya know, it’s pop, it’s country, I mean I’ve written everything. During those years I was actually sort of a musical slut, I’d write anything I could just to get the attention of somebody, anybody. So I’ve definitely got a catalog of all kinds of strange music, including country. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Well there’s another case where the persistence paid off huh?
ED SLOAN: Absolutely.
AWAY-TEAM: Well Ed, it’s been an extreme pleasure. Thank you so much for giving me your time. Best of luck with the album. It’s great to see you guys back out there doing what you do best. I look forward to seeing you next time you make your way back through my neck of the woods.
ED SLOAN: Thank You! I appreciate you including us in your thang!
AWAY-TEAM: Well thanks again. Hope to see you soon. Take care.
ED SLOAN: Sounds good. Bye.
Crossfade will be part of the Rock Allegiance Tour with Buckcherry, Papa Roach, P.O.D., Puddle of Mudd, Red, and Drive A which kicks off this August. For all things Crossfade including tour dates and to purchase music click here.
Special thanks to Ed Sloan for so graciously giving me his time, and to Tim Tatulli at ‘Stache Media for making it all happen.
Oklahoma City’s AURORA SKY have finished recording tracks for a new EP at the famed The Mix Room Studios in Burbank, CA with Grammy-Award nominated producer Ben Grosse (SEVENDUST, FUEL, ALTER BRIDGE).
Along with core band members Andrew West (vocals, guitar; ex-FEAR THE CLOWN), Chris Shy (guitar; ex-Fear The Clown), and Arjavh Aleson (keyboards/programming), the session featured guest appearances from bassist Corey Lowery (DARK NEW DAY, STEREOMUD), drummer Glen Sobel (SIXX A.M., IMPELLITTERI, BEAUTIFUL CREATURES), and programming wiz Justin Walden (KORN, GODSMACK, SEVENDUST).
Final mastering duties are being handled by the Ted Jensen (ALICE IN CHAINS, SHINEDOWN, PAPA ROACH).
The band’s new single, ‘Just Like You‘, is scheduled for commercial Active Rock radio adds on August 24th.
For more AURORA SKY click here.
After wrapping up their all-star recording sessions with Grammy-winning super producer Ben Grosse, Oklahoma City’s Aurora Sky are now putting the final pieces into their sonic puzzle. They will be holding upcoming auditions for a permanent bassist, and just this week they announced the addition of the ultra talented Toby Weston as their drummer. Recently I had the chance to talk with their new timekeeper about everything from Morgan Rose-to-musical influences-to-Muppets.
AWAY-TEAM: Congratulations on being named the new drummer for Aurora Sky.
TOBY WESTON: Thanks man. I’m pretty excited about it.
AWAY-TEAM: You had come highly recommended by the likes of Corey Lowery (STEREOMUD/DARK NEW DAY/STUCK MOJO) and Sevendust drummer Morgan Rose. How did you get turned on to Aurora Sky, and end up becoming the band’s newest member? What was that process like?
TOBY WESTON: Well, after everything that happened with my last band, I had stopped in to say “Hi” to Corey, and show a friend his studio…and I’ve been friends with Corey for years, ya know I knew Morgan first, and met Corey through him. And Corey kinda brought it up to me, and got me in touch with Craig (Aurora Sky manager Craig Stegall) Ya know, Craig called me and we talked, and they sent me the songs and that’s pretty much all she wrote. It was all more or less a word of mouth kind of thing, and the rest of the story we’ll see… hopefully we’ll go down in history, ya know. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Yeah, there’s a lot of buzz surrounding you guys. Now you mentioned that you and Morgan Rose are good friends, and you bring a lot of the same flair and energy in your playing. When did you first start playing, and who are some of your biggest influences?
TOBY WESTON: It’s kinda funny, when I was younger I was always “rhythmically inclined” as my mom would’ve said. I got really big into playing drums, probably the first time I heard KORN’s “Follow the Leader”. I wanted to do something in music, and I tried playing guitar and it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t get my fingers to move the right way, I mean I don’t wanna say I couldn’t do it, I can do it now but at the time being like 13 it was kinda weird. But the real reason I started playing drums was because of David (Silveria) from KORN. I was really big into them at the time, and watching him play live he was a badass. But he’s not playing with them anymore. I waited for three years to get my first drum kit. I would play on other people’s drum kits. I did the whole church gig for a while, and I got invited to go to this show, and it was Sevendust and… you know Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers was a huge, huge, huge influence on me. Even to now, I still think Chad is the most talented drummer as far as playability. I’m not trying to not give anyone else any credit…but the first time I saw Morgan Rose I was about six feet back right between Lajon (Witherspoon) and Vinnie‘s (Hornsby) rigs and I’d just never seen so much force coming out of one little dude. And knowing him now, at the time I thought he was a lot bigger, but we’re like the same size. And, ya know, like Shannon Larkin…when you get up on stage and play drums, you gotta be the back beat, you gotta be the guy throwing down the rhythm and stuff. But to me the more fun you can have with it, the better. I mean, it’s all about beating the shit out of ‘em and let’s see how crazy you can make yourself look. To me if you go up there and look like you probably need to be in a straight jacket, that’s a good thing. (laughs) But honestly, the biggest thing that inspired me with Morgan, and guys like Shannon Larkin (Godsmack) who in a sense is the same style drummer as Morgan, and seeing these guys not only play their drums really well, but also make it look awesome while they’re doing it…I don’t wanna be the guy up on stage, and it’s a rockin’ song, and I’m just sitting there. That’s no fun. Nobody wants to go and see a drummer just sit there. I mean, even the guys that are in bands that have massive drum kits…like Lamb of God‘s drummer Chris Adler is the man, but he’s one of those guys that, just like, sits there. He gets away with it, because you can’t really see him anyways because his drum kits so huge. You might see the tip of a drumstick every once in a while, but you know. (laughs) But to me if you can go up on stage, I mean Chad Smith‘s really goofy about playing drums, he looks a little like Will Ferrell I think. (laughs)
TOBY WESTON: He’s definitely got a twin brother in that guy! (laughs) But you know everybody’s got their own little niche. I can’t go and sit behind a drum kit and not hit it as hard as I can, and rock out on stage. To me if I get off stage and I haven’t hurt myself in some form or fashion, or I don’t see blood on my drum kit and feel completely worn out, then I haven’t done my job.
AWAY-TEAM: It’s funny you talk about that, because when I asked you about the influences, I was gonna say “No ‘Animal’ from ‘The Muppets’ “? (laughs)
TOBY WESTON: (laughs) Oh dude, I mean it’s funny because a lot of people have actually told me that. They’re like “You look kinda like Animal from The Muppets“ I gotta be honest, ya know maybe a little bit, yeah. He’s a cool little dude, ya know. I’m not gonna lie, I gotta give it up for Jim Henson and his Muppets. Kermit the Frog is the man…(laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: And he plays a mean banjo. (laughs)
TOBY WESTON: (laughs) I’m gonna be the guy sitting in the bus watching The Muppets right before we go on. I gotta get amped up so I gotta watch Animal go crazy. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: Talking about that…with the authority with which you play, how many drum heads do you burn through in an average month? Then again, maybe we shouldn’t talk about that. We don’t wanna scare away the sponsors. (laughs)
TOBY WESTON: (laughs) Yeah, well, I mean realistically it just depends. I mean I play hard, I’ve played shows for a couple of weeks at a time, I like my drums to sound as good as possible. And I’m the type of guy, I guess I’m kinda snobby about it because when you go up on stage and perform, I want every note that I hit to sound just as consistent as what’s on the record. If you’re not just a good drummer, but you’re consistent, then you’re doing your job right. But drum heads man, I’ve played shows where in the first song I’ve busted out drum heads. It just depends, because I can kill a drum head in one set, where sometimes I can kill a drum head in three sets. It just depends. The biggest problem that I have is drumsticks. I’ve used drumsticks before, where one crack on the snare drum, and the drumstick just snaps in half. And I don’t wanna talk bad about cymbals, but I’ve burned through quite a few cymbals as well. But to me, it’s all part of the game. But it depends, sometimes drum heads last me for a while, sometimes they don’t. I’m not talking bad about sponsors, but it really boils down to what I get. Not everything you get from everybody is tip top 100% shape. And they’re not all the same, and they’re not always gonna be consistent, but. I mean I’ve played shows where top snare heads have gone out. In more than one case, I’ve had snare drum bottom heads just completely blow out on me. It’s kind of weird, because I’m sitting there playing a show, and it doesn’t throw me off, but it kinda throws me for a loop for a couple seconds. I’ll have the drum mix in my monitors, and I’ll be playing and all of a sudden the whole entire tone of my drum changes, and it’s because the bottom drum head’s blown out on me. When I was in my old band I was going through about six pairs of sticks a week, probably more than that. I’d say I go through about 50 drumsticks and drum heads. I don’t like to play more than two shows without switching out the heads. It’s all about how you play the drum. If I’m sitting there just tapping on them and not really doing much damage to ‘em, then they can probably last me for a while. I guess it just really depends on the show, and how I feel before I go on. Because I kind of have this little routine that I do, and it depends on how much aggression comes out I guess. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) How bad Animal was before the show?
TOBY WESTON: (laughs) Well, I’m not an angry person. I don’t get mad about things very often. I can’t say I don’t get mad, but 95% of the time, I’m like really chilled out. I’m a really easy going guy, and I pride myself on that, because I don’t wanna be an asshole to people. I don’t wanna be that guy, but sometimes you have to be. All the stuff that I get upset about, or I get mad about, I won’t say anything and I just bottle it up. And it’s almost like playing drums is like an anger management course. It’s a good release, but it’s fun because at the same time you get to be creative with what you’re doing.
AWAY-TEAM: Now you guys have a few label showcases coming up, starting this week. Being just welcomed into the band a few days ago, how has the preparation and learning process been having to learn these songs on such short notice? Have you all been able to rehearse together yet?
TOBY WESTON: No. We haven’t had the opportunity to rehearse yet. It’s one of those things where, going to something like this I think the main focus is just gonna be getting used to each other. With the songs the way that they are, they’re gonna be a lot of fun to play. I think the trickiest part of it all is just gonna be figuring out what I need to do to make the songs look fun on my part. I think it’s gonna be one of those things where we go and get in a room together and just start jamming. I don’t think it’s gonna be more than the first couple times playing the songs, for us to be able to kinda move on. I think we’re all kind of at that level where when we get in the room together, I have a good feeling about it. I think magic’s gonna come out of it. But as far as rehearsing goes, I think that as long as I got my part done, I know those guys are on point with what they’re doing, and it’s gonna be a breeze. We’re gonna go in there, and I think we’re gonna do really well together.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah I think so too. You’re really getting yourself into a good project here.
TOBY WESTON: Oh yeah.
AWAY-TEAM: Well hey Toby, thanks for your time. Congratulations again, and best of luck to you. I’m sure we’ll be having many more of these conversations, hopefully for years to come.
TOBY WESTON: Oh absolutely man. I appreciate it, and thanks so much for the interview. Hope to talk to you soon buddy.
AWAY-TEAM: Sounds cool man. Talk to you soon.
For more info on Aurora Sky, as well as to hear their music visit http://www.auroraskyband.com/
Thanks to Toby Weston for so graciously giving me his time, and a special thanks to the band’s manager Craig Stegall for making it all happen.
What do you do when the band you founded signs a major label deal, and then suddenly breaks up? If you’re Andrew West and Chris Shy, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and create music’s next big thing… Aurora Sky. When Fear the Clown got signed to Columbia Records, Andrew West and Chris Shy were on top of the world, soon that world came crashing down. From those ashes, comes Aurora Sky, ready to unleash holy hell unto the masses. Lucky for me, I had the chance to chat with Aurora Sky‘s lead singer Andrew “Gambit” West, as they recorded at famed producer Ben Grosse‘s The Mix Room studios in Burbank, CA. Here’s how my conversation with the world’s next great frontman went…
AWAY-TEAM: Alright, so you guys are an unsigned band out of Oklahoma City, working with uber producer Ben Grosse (FILTER/SEVENDUST/MARILYN MANSON/BREAKING BENJAMIN/ and MANY others), Justin Walden (SEVENDUST/GODSMACK/KORN) has the programming and synth layering duties, and guys like Corey Lowery (DARK NEW DAY/STEREOMUD/SEVENDUST) on bass, and Glen Sobel (SIXX A.M./BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) on drums. How does an unsigned band from middle America end up recording in L.A. with world renowned talent like this?
ANDREW WEST: It came about, we were actually working with another producer that’s up and coming, out of Florida, and he was kinda taking us in a direction that is not us in the first place. And we weren’t getting the right vibe from it, and uh, even though he’s super talented and everything it just wasn’t the vibe we were looking for. So uh, Chris actually, we were talking about the music and the direction it’s going, and it was like “Ya know, I wanna challenge Craig (Stegall) our manager to go further and far beyond…I have a really good idea” So you know he reaches out and challenges him to get a hold of Ben Grosse, and like with no realization that ya know it’s probably not gonna happen, or whatever. They make contact, Ben hears the demos of Aurora Sky, and comes back with “I think there’s a great chemistry, and creativity in these guys in the way they write. I would definitely be interested in working with them, and see what comes of it” So that’s how it all came about, on that line of it.
AWAY-TEAM: That’s a great endorsement. In fact you’ve gotten ringing endorsements from the likes of Godsmack’s Shannon Larkin, and as I understand it, you guys were actually contacted by Richard Patrick of Filter. What did he have to say?
ANDREW WEST: Chris actually spoke with him, we had contacted different artists and bands that have previously worked with Ben just to kinda get a heads up, and get a feel for how he works and operates. The producers, ya know, from producer to producer it’s always a little bit different, so we wanted to get an idea of what we were jumping into. So ya know, we got to speak with him a bit, and other people like the guitarist from Simon Says…there’s a lot of people that we were just kinda e-mailing back and forth and Facebooking, and getting to chat with them and ask “How was your experience working with Ben?” And, I mean they were all just really cool, it was really uplifting, it was just exciting to be able to talk to them, and humbling at the same time, it’s like “Wow, these people actually get back to us.” Ya know, we’re “nobody” from Oklahoma, and they’re actually taking the time to talk to us, so that was pretty cool. When we actually figured out a monetary arrangement for this whole recording to take place, it’s just all of a sudden like “Who do we wanna have playing drums? Who do we wanna get that does more programming, and synth-oriented keyboard stuff?” It’s just like, all these different artists are available who have heard our stuff, and wanted to be a part of it, so we’re really just blessed to be where we’re at right now.
AWAY-TEAM: Says a lot about your music. Now, you mentioned that producer to producer it’s kinda different, and you’ve previously worked with Grammy-nominee Michael Raphael, and now you’ve graduated to a Grammy Winner in Ben Grosse. How does the recording experience this time around, differ from the first?
ANDREW WEST: I think it’s actually a “Wow”, like an “Oh my God” moment, more than it is quite a realistic difference. There is a huge difference in the quality that Ben does, versus someone that hasn’t been at his caliber of course, not knocking anybody, but um. Ya know, you step into the studio with Ben Grosse, and he’s got all these great bands with great records, that you’ve been a fan of all these years, and still, presently putting out modern music that’s huge. It’s just an “Oh my gosh” moment, like “come back to reality” and everything, but no, we suspected and expected that it was gonna be a lot more difficult, like an uncomfortable situation stepping into it. Because we built up a great friendship, aside from the business part of it, with Michael Raphael, and we just knew what to expect from him, so it was like this is just gonna be totally different, ya know, we’re getting ready to go run with the big dogs, so. It’s turned out to be quite a bit the same actually, originally when we were sending in our ideas of new songs to him (Ben), they were just snippets of like, a verse and a chorus, a vocal melody and guitar melody as well, and that’s it, there was no pre-chorus, there was no bridge, no finished product. That’s how Chris and I had always been taught to write a new song, becuse it’s like don’t worry about the rest, when you get out to a place we’ll all sit in a room together and finish the rest of the song. It’s just that those are the two important parts, if those parts right there are a slam dunk, then the rest of the songs gonna be a no-brainer. So ya know, we started off by doing that, and we sent off the songs, and Ben‘s reply is like, we sent off like three or four different song ideas to him, and he’s like “Ya know, these are a little bit too rough for me to pick two, I can’t really tell which direction you wanna go with this.” And we’re just looking at each other like “Oh Shit!, what do we do now?” He was expecting entire songs, start to finish, and it was like at that moment we’re behind the eight ball. Anyway, we just put more and more effort, and time into it, and in just a few days we were able to send finished versions, start to finish,with the bridge, and the pre-chorus that we hadn’t even written until that time. And he fired back responses like “Yeah, I like this…or this not so much…keep working on this…” He definitely agreed that we had some really good ideas for this album, so much that we would be prepared at this point to come on out. A big help with that part of it, was Corey Lowery being a part of the pre-production, helping out with lyrics also, like getting the right, ya know, I write a lot of bizzare vocal stuff that makes sense to me, and means something to me, but they don’t always make sense to the general public, or anyone that’s listening. And just helping out with the little things that make the song just that much better, so he’s been a big help.
AWAY-TEAM: There’s a lot of buzz, currently surrounding you guys. Do you attribute that more to, the right people are now hearing you? Or the right people, i.e.-Ben and Corey, are now working with you?
ANDREW WEST: I think both. I think more people are caring now. The same people that have heard it, and passed on it just because, the general response we’ve gotten in the past was “It needs a little more bite.” I don’t think that’s it at all, we have a style, it’s finding the right people, and the right person to believe in your style. We started going down a pathway that wasn’t us with that other producer, and I have all the respect in the world for him, but it’s just not us. Now we’ve found somebody that has heard our ideas, and heard the way we are, and our sound, and believes in it….and sees that, yes there is a marketable product here, and yes I can help polish this out. Your ideas are there, your ideas are good, so I think it has everything to do with the right people being involved. Their names are also exciting other people in the industry to be like “Let’s check this out. They’re not gonna be in on it for no reason, and be a part of something that sucks.” So, it’s definitely been a big help that they’ve been a part of it, and luckily the songs that Chris and I write, are good enough to pique their interest.
AWAY-TEAM: You mention that in the past they were saying “Well this is good, but it needs more bite.” I actually have your independent release, and I personally think it’s great. What type of adjustments have you guys made for this recording?
ANDREW WEST: It’s taking some of the other ideas, actually one of the ideas is on the previously released stuff, and then another song is like totally left field. It’s kinda like taking something and revamping it, I mean I can’t even tell you how many songs we’ve written over all these years, we’ve been writing music and playing for twelve years or so…it’s just taking an idea that at one time was maybe a good idea, but then music constantly evolves, so therefore you have to make those changes with it and make something that’s more modern sounding. So if there was potential in an older song, that never got put out, or never got any kind of recognition, or never made the cut onto an album that I’d been writing years ago, taking that idea and revamping it, making it more modern, maybe it was more appropriate for today’s music than it was ten years ago. In a lot of cases, where we’re at right now, it’s totally a new song, there’s hardly anything, I mean I think it’s safe to say it’s a brand new song, rather than something old. But it would always start with something that had previously been written. They’re like “You know what, let’s take this foundation, and let’s build off of it.”, and it turns into a whole different song, but at least the idea was already started by something that was previously there, that was a good idea to start with in the first place.
AWAY-TEAM: Now you’ve been compared before to bands like Breaking Benjamin and Crossfade. If you had to describe your sound to our readers, how would you describe it?
ANDREW WEST: Umm, just in conversation, when I’m talking with somebody and somebody asks me that question I respond with, a modern-rock, our manager would like us to be a part of active rock, but there’s just so many different genres that I don’t even keep up with what’s what namewise. Ya know, it’s modern, it’s rock, but it’s got synthesizers in it, it’s got the heavy rock style. So I like stuff with like samples, and loops, and synth parts, but still have that heavy, fucking balls to the wall, makes you wanna start throwing things around in your room. It’s a good time to play to, it’s a good moment, it’s a good vibe. Modern-rock with some synth oriented sounds in it, I would say.
AWAY-TEAM: I’ve heard rumblings that you guys are already being courted by a couple of different major labels. You and Chris were actually signed to Columbia Records with your former band Fear the Clown, is the excitement level still the same? Or is it now more “Okay, we’ve been this far before, but now we need to take it to the next level”?
ANDREW WEST: Is it the same now? It’s very much more exciting now, with the predicament we’re in. We’ve got great people involved in this, I’m not just talking about what’s happening right this second, but our manager Craig, for one, is somebody that has his head screwed on straighter than anybody we’ve ever met in the music industry. There’s a lot of crooked people in this business, and right now the Aurora Sky camp has the right people in it. Ya know, before, what we had going on was great, but there was a lot of people that were just really negative, and there was a lot of just bringing each other down. All the negativity this time around is gone, and it’s totally looking on positive, and it’s very much more exciting this time, because we’re more mature, we’ve been down the road several times now, and I’ve had to learn a lot of things the hard way. We had a lot of growing up to do, from the Fear the Clown days. From a songwriter’s standpoint it’s very much more exciting, we’re better, and we’re just finally blossoming, I would say, to be able to be in the same category as some the bigger artists and bands. So this part of my life, is ultimately the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of.
AWAY-TEAM: Ya know, being down that road before, and kinda learning lessons the hard way, you’ve perservered through a lot. Yet, you continue to try to be a rock star. You gotta just chalk that up to desire, but what was that first album or song you heard that made you say “Come hell or high water, I’m gonna be a rock star”?
ANDREW WEST: Ya know, I can remember when I was like 16, coming up with that idea in my head, but at that point who doesn’t wanna become one? Who doesn’t wanna be in a band? And so, ya know, I thought I’d just grow out of such a thing. I was raised by, both my parents were musicians, and were highly successful in the 80′s, I mean very successful, my dad was in one of the top bands. So I just grew up, literally as a child going to rehearsals at these clubs and bars, and stuff, and having the free reign of running around these bars, and clubs, and nightclubs, instead of having a babysitter, because that’s what they did. To this day they still perform and everything, so I guess it’s just like I was almost predetermined to become a rock star. But I’ve had my choices that I’ve had to make, like after Fear the Clown broke up, each of us really had to ask ourselves “Where do I go from here? Do I continue down this road?”. We just saw the ugliest side of it, we just really got screwed over in so many different ways, so bad that it made you ask yourself “Do we want to do this anymore? Is it worth it?” I mean is it worth that 45 minutes to an hour worth of fame on stage, to go through all the other B.S. that comes with it? And um, ya know, I had to get back to the real life, and get a real job. Clocking in and out, that was a hard thing for me to come back to after playing shows on the road non-stop, and not having a real job before that. After time and time and time, I couldn’t take it anymore. Thank God, I found someone like Craig, because he saw my desperation, it was like at this point I should’ve moved on if I was gonna do something else with my life. But I can’t, this is who I am, I have to do this, this is like my drug. I have to get up on stage, and I have to perform. I have to express myself through music, and there is nothing else out there for me. I can’t work these business jobs, and get suited up in a tie. More power to the people that can, but I can’t mentally do that! I’ll fucking go crazy! It’s not who I am. I have to be up there, and the lights come on, and it’s not for the attention. It’s something that’s built in me, I have to do it. It’s seriously like a personal therapy to me. So I don’t know it’s weird. I’ve tried other things, I’ve tried to get out of this life, and I can’t do it. This is what I was meant to do.
AWAY-TEAM: Well to tell you the truth, that’s extremely admirable. I mean, you follow your dreams no matter what. That’s awesome.
ANDREW WEST: Yeah, I’ve been poor the whole time doing it. (laughs) I don’t have a whole lot to show, as far as property and stuff.
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) You can do one of two things, you can be poor chasing your dream, or you can be a poor working man like me, so. (laughs) Either way you don’t have shit. (laughs)
ANDREW WEST: (laughs) Yeah, you’re right.
AWAY-TEAM: Well Andrew, thanks for your time. I’m really looking forward to hearing the finished product. Good luck choosing between all those major labels, I’m sure you guys are gonna have your pick of the litter.
ANDREW WEST: I hope it’s that big of a deal. I really do, it’d be nice for a change. Thank you for your time, for having any kind of interest in this. I do appreciate that.
AWAY-TEAM: Like I said man, I’ve heard your stuff and I absolutely love it. I think you guys are gonna go somewhere.
ANDREW WEST: Awesome, awesome. Well hopefully we’ll get to talk again soon.
AWAY-TEAM: Yeah, I hear you like to do a little karaoke at Lani Kai, so maybe next time you make it down here…
ANDREW WEST: (laughs hysterically) Give me a couple of drinks and I’ll be almost good to do anything at that point.
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) I’m sure you’re gonna out battle me, but I’ll give it a try (laughs) I’ve been known to pick up the mic after a few drinks myself.
ANDREW WEST: Yeah, we’ll do a duet, it’ll be great. (laughs)
AWAY-TEAM: (laughs) Alright brother, well listen, give Chris my best wishes as well. Good luck with everything, and I’m sure, like I said when you come down here, we’ll hang out.
ANDREW WEST: Awesome. Sounds good.
AWAY-TEAM: Take it easy. Good luck!
ANDREW WEST: Thank you. Bye.
Stay tuned for Aurora Sky‘s inevitable major label release, coming soon. For more info, music, and tour dates visit http://www.reverbnation.com/aurorasky
Special thanks to Andrew “Gambit” West for so graciously giving me his time.
On the heels of last year’s “S/T” E.P. release, Oklahoma City’s AURORA SKY are headed back into the studio to record songs for a full-length album with Grammy-Award Winning producer BEN GROSSE (SEVENDUST/FILTER/FUEL/MARYLIN MANSON) at the famous The Mix Room. Along with band members CHRIS SHY (Guitar), ANDREW WEST (Vocals/Guitar), ARJAVH ALESON (Keyboards/Programming) & KIT MAULDIN (Bass), the tracks will be packed with guest appearances from bassist COREY LOWERY (STEREOMUD/DARK NEW DAY/EYE EMPIRE), drummer GLEN SOBEL (SIXX A.M./BEAUTIFUL CREATURES) and programming wiz JUSTIN WALDEN (KORN/GODSMACK/SEVENDUST). Daily video diaries and audio samples will be available on their MySpace Page starting Sunday, June 20th.
GODSMACK’s Shannon Larkin calls AURORA SKY, “THE up & coming band to look out for. They are the new contenders for the Rock radio belt with catchy, well-written songs and plenty of attitude!”
Away-team.com just touched base with mega-producer Ben Grosse about the AURORA SKY recording sessions and it looks like everything is set! Corey Lowery (Dark New Day/Stereomud/Eye Empire) flies out to meet the guys in Burbank this Saturday, Will Hunt (Evanesence/Dark New Day/Static-X) arrives Sunday and this damn thing is ON, brothers & sisters!!!
AURORA SKY features former Columbia Recording artists CHRIS SHY and Andrew “Gambit” West of FEAR THE CLOWN. In late 2009, the band digitally released a 5-track E.P. that included the radio single “Slowing Me Down” . The song shot into many stations’ Top 20 rotation alongside power-hitters like THREE DAYS GRACE, BREAKING BENJAMIN, DISTURBED and others. Shy recently commented, “the new material is a lot heavier, but with Ben and Corey at the helm, it’s still going to have a commercial aspect about it that will allow it to get Active and Modern Rock airplay. These guys know how to bring the heat”.
For more information on AURORA SKY visit their site here.