For those who already are already familiar with The Almost, the band's latest album isn't necessarily a surprise, so much as it is a fresh spin on the band's sound. Standing and watching from the outside, however, it's an evolution of a band dynamic that has seen the group continue to simplify the process of making music and rely more and more on the chemistry of the band.
Started as a side-project for former Underoath drummer Aaron Gillespie, he began writing songs for what would become The Almost while recording Define the Great Line with his previous band. And although Gillespie recorded nearly all of the instruments and tracks for Southern Weather, the debut album which was released in early 2007, the band was taking shape behind the scenes even before the album was released.
As The Almost prepares to bring its current tour to Tulsa for a headline show at The Vanguard, guitarist Jay Vilardi revealed that he was working with Gillespie behind the scenes from the very beginning. "I was actually on a couple of tracks that we cut for B-sides with that first album, so I've been a part of it pretty much from day one.
"Aaron and I met up and really clicked, so my job was more or less to be the music director and help put the band together, even from back in the day," he explained. "And early on, we picked Dusty Rhodes from The Beloved to play guitar."
In fact, the band continued to develop as original drummer Kenny Bozich stepped away in 2008. "I don't really know what his deal was," Vilardi said, "I think he was just kind of over touring and being on the road, but when it came time to replace him, we called Joe (Musten), who was also from Beloved."
The membership continued to evolve when bassist Jon Thompson stepped in to replace Alex Aponte and the band has continued to grow tighter and become what Vilardi called "the most solid lineup any of us has ever been in."
By the time the band went in to record its sophomore effort, 2009's Monster Monster, the group's more aggressive, rock dynamic was coming to the forefront as it released on the most solid rock records of the year. That evolution continued ever further, with a more natural and organic sound with this summer's release, Fear Inside Our Bones.
When discussing how the band's sound has evolved from album to album, I started by asking about the writing process, especially as Southern Weather was written exclusively by Gillespie. Now more active in the writing process, Vilardi shared that "I think as a guitar player, you're expected to help write songs. That just kind of comes with being a guitarist by default, but yeah, it has become more of a collaborative process."
"For us, though, when playing live, it's all about having fun. Some of the people we play with sometimes take it all so serious, but for us it's fun -- and it should be fun. If we're not having a good time, the fans won't either. That's not to get preachy about anything, but the live experience should be fun for everyone."
That's part of what is continuing to come through on the band's recordings. As strong an album as Monster Monster was, Vilardi describes it as "That's what it sounds like for The Almost to spend as much as possible on album. We spent every penny and every second we had in the studio recording that album. We went in to record ten or twelve songs and ended up with seventeen by the time we were done that ended up recorded, mixed and released, either as bonus tracks or b-sides or whatever."
That changed with Fear Inside Our Bones as Vilardi explained "On the new record, the producer we worked with (Marshall Altman) only cuts records live and only if the band is able to do it live."
"As good as Monster Monster was, it wasn't the best representation of what we can do as a band," Vilardi stated. "The only way to do that was to play it live, so the songwriting process is the same, but the way we tracked it was different. We went in with not as much time or money to record this one, but I think it's the best representation of us as a band to this point."
As a result, you can feel the energy of the band in the new tracks -- and at some points hear a little bit of bleed over if you listen closely, as the band all stood in one room and tracked the album live. Although it's a little rougher around the edges as the studio gloss has been stripped away, the dynamics are more pronounced as the band reacts to each other in real time.
Although Monster Monster was raucous and fun, "Fear Inside Our Bones" and a more relaxed swagger in "I'm Down," that builds in energy as the song progresses. As a result, the album as a whole has a more personal feel to it.
The surprise of the disc comes in the closing track, an updated version of Andrew Gold's "Lonely Boy, which reached the US Top 20 in 1977.
When discussing that track with Vilardi, he shared that "We walked into the control room one afternoon and the producer was there with it on and said 'You've got to listen to this -- Andrew Gold was a brilliant songwriter.' We started laughing that it would be funny to record it ourselves, but after joking about it, Joe and I thought 'Yeah, we could do that...', so five minutes later we were sitting in the studio figuring it out and not much later, we were recording it."
The song ends up being a highlight of the album as it closes the record and actually fits in with the rest of the songs. "Once you get into it, it's a really deep song," Vilardi admitted. "The funny thing is, none of us had ever heard the song before the day we recorded it, but I think it came out pretty well."
Although Vilardi assured me that The Almost has played Tulsa previously with a show at Cain's Ballroom, the group makes its first headline appearance in Tulsa since forming in 2006 with a show at The Vanguard on Wednesday, July 24. That venue's smaller size makes it an appropriate room for the band to deliver a more personal and explosive show that coincides with the dynamics of the new album.
Armed with a great new album that builds on the band's live chemistry and coming directly from a tour with long-time friends Relient K, this is the perfect time to catch the band firing on all cylinders. Tour mates The Rocketboys are included on the bill and rising local J.B. Kingsley will open the show which begins at 7:30pm. Get your tickets for $10 in advance or $13 the day of the show.
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