From left to right: Tyler Greene, Bass; Eric Blackway, rhythm guitar; Vincent Torres, lead vocals; Jon Finney, drums; Imran Xhelili, lead guitar.
Artists are my heroes. If you hang out with me, I’ll make you sick talking about it. If you throw pots all day, I love you. If you spend all your money on paints, and spent the summer renovating some un-airconditioned shithole so you would have a decent studio, I love YOU. If you really ARE writing a novel. And if you grab your musical instruments and travel the country in a crowded beat-up bus, give up jobs, delay marriage, sleep in Wal-Mart parking lots, so you can bring your joy and madness out here to the peeps, I love you most of all. I fantasize about publishing a super-hero comic series where all the heroes are artists, miraculously spreading transformative beauty and meaning to dead and hopeless places.
My focus has been local music for some time now. I just decided, the world is too big, there is so much awesome sauce right here under my nose, and so I choose to focus on Lansing. Occasionally though, of course, local music means traveling music, as visiting tours come through the Lansing area. Generally, you will see them at one of three venues – The Loft, Mac’s Bar, and The Avenue Café. If there is advance promo, I am often contacted to come out and see the band and write a review, and I usually say no. Focus, focus, focus. It’s like the restaurant business: location, location, location. In publishing, it all about focus.
Today, July 7th, 2017, an EP drops from Delaware-based Awake At Last that earned an exception to my “local only” focus last month, as they came through Mac’s bar On June 6th, day 2 of their advance tour, for the release of their Life/Death/Rebirth CD. Tim Fogg of Carry The 4 reached me two weeks before their show and asked if I would interview the band. I asked my million questions and he was so patient I felt obligated. The day of, I was unexpectedly rushing back from a Chicago meeting, and showed up stressed and flustered. The band and I ended up chatting outside their tour bus in the burning hot sun, in the luxurious Mac’s Bar parking lot. Sorry about that “what’s your favorite ice cream” question. I’m blaming it on heat stroke. Plus, I kept looking behind me so I wouldn’t fall in one of the giant potholes.
Leaning into their bodacious tour mini-bus, it looked like a J.C. Penney 2 for 1 sock table, neatly folded laundry as far as the eye could see. My first question: “How is it that a tour bus holding five sweaty guys doesn’t smell like dirty laundry and stale beer?” They answered in nearly five-part harmony: “Merch girl!” They brought someone along to sell the merchandise, they said. Best decision they ever made, they said. I didn’t meet the merch girl, she was busy working while we were screwing off in the parking lot. I hope she’s credited on the jacket.
The first thing that strikes me about these guys is how comfortable they seemed to feel with each other and themselves. They all have great stage presence and are fun to watch. There was no sign of the brooding, dispossessed youth. These guys were tight, up-beat, and in love with the road. “Being home actually gets uncomfortable when you’re on the road. After about the 3 days, you want to get back out there,” front-man Vincent Torres explained. They all chimed agreement. “When you are on the road, you have the comforts of home. Walmart, McDonalds, Sam’s Club, all right there. So that part is no different”, he continued. “The adventure is the people. We meet people that buy us burritos, take us into their homes, have bonfires for us. Just to support what we’re all about.” The previous night’s 4am whiffle ball tournament with the other Walmart parking lot dwellers drew unanimous reverence. I asked what it’s like to be on the road when you’re in a relationship. Vincent explained, and the others wholeheartedly agreed: “If you have a relationship, you have to maintain it while you’re on the road. You can’t just say whatever. You also gotta have a girlfriend who understands. We’re all lucky that way, but some guys aren’t.”
Let’s talk about the music. Their new CD is a concept album, and who doesn’t love that? Two years in the making, it contains six songs with a rather sweeping ambition. This is serious music. Seriously good music. Even the videos are well-produced. Vincent explains: “This EP is a concert record about human consciousness, what it means to be human.”. He continues: “The main character has died and is being reflective on his life. He has to use the lessons he has learned in his human life to overcome obstacles in the afterlife to determine if he goes to heaven, hell or has to go back through the life-cycle.” Vincent explains that the music starts heavy and chaotic, and gets lighter as the main character’s soul becomes unburdened as the tasks are performed. He adds: “It’s very spiritual, putting positive out there to open people’s minds to spiritual concepts.” Inspired by the seven deadly sins and seven virtues, a foreshadowing lyric from the band’s favorite track, Pergatorium, goes:
“Seven possible outcomes,
seven fragmented souls,
seven and seven reasons,
to watch the story unfold.”
Vincent explains: “In the song he [the main character] splits up into seven different beings that he has to overcome as obstacles, because at the end of it all it’s just different aspects of barriers you keep on yourself that you have to overcome personified by the seven sins and the seven virtues.” The album also represents the rebirth of the band, after transforming through the experience of being on the road, the band members explained.
After the road experiences and the new album release, which took every penny they could save from their previous tour, I asked Vincent what his best business idea was. He replied, “No matter what you do, grind at it as hard you can, and do the best you can do”. Tyler was a little more specific: “We’re thinking band branded widget spinners”. At that point, I knew the sun was getting to me, because I started doing the math and asking a bunch of follow-up questions. Anyway . . . Awake At Last, Life/Death Rebirth. Check ‘em out, I think you’ll be impressed.