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.