If it seems like you haven't hear much from afterEIGHT over the past year, you're right. Following the fall 2006 release of the band's Better Late Than Never CD, the group went through a transformation in early 2007: new members, a new sound and a more focused vision and message make the group nearly unrecognizable from what you may remember of the previous line up.
Core members Bryson Phillips and Brett Admire are still the heart and soul of the band, with Admire still playing guitar, but Phillips has now switched from bass to lead vocals and brought the band a new energy. Brother Michael Phillips, who joined just prior to the release of the last CD, is still on drums, joined by lead guitarist Jonathan Williams.
What's really surprising, however, isn't the change in membership, but the change in sound and style. Gone are the screaming vocals and hard rock guitar riffs. They've given way to a more melodic rock sound that verges on pop-punk territory without becoming too contrived or simple.
Everything changed for afterEIGHT just about this time last year. Vocalist Jacob Dement and guitarist Justin Lamproe left the band at the end of 2006. According to Bryson Phillips "At the same time they left, we were talking to Jonny about joining. We were wanting a big change and had been wanting it for a while, so after they left, that's when we started focusing on a completely different style."
"I'd never sang before, but I wrote one song and everybody liked it so we were all like 'Yeah, let's just keep doing it like this,'" he continued. "But I write in a completely different style than our old singer did. I go for more poppy type melodies and stuff, so when I started singing and we got new people in, it started to that and it's something we like a whole lot more."
The changes are so drastic that Admire and the Phillips brothers consider this a new and completely different band, but decided to keep the afterEight moniker that they'd already spent nearly five years building upon. What they didn't expect was the response the new sound and lineup would receive.
Change in Fortune
It's old news that the previous afterEIGHT lineup had been shopping itself to try and get a larger label record deal, all to no avail. Phillips and Admire even acknowledge that the lady at the FedEx office got to recognize them and know them by name because they were in to send out press packages so often. No matter the number of CDs and press kits, not to mention phone calls and e-mails they sent out, however, the group rarely got any response.
"As soon as Jacob and Justin got out," Phillips said, "God completely turned it around because after years of trying for all these labels, we released the first song with the new line up and within what? A couple of weeks?"
"People started emailing us back immediately," Admire continued. "From that point, we were like, OK, I think we have something here."
How good was that response?
Well, not only did the old fans gravitate toward it immediately, so did the record labels. At one point, the band was speaking with between five and seven labels at one time and Atlantic records flew an A&R rep out to see the band at its June 24, 2007, show at King of Clubs in Claremore. After the dust settled, though, afterEIGHT ended up signing a deal with Tooth & Nail records just a few weeks ago, in the midst of the Christmas season.
So what's the real change here? Well, the shift in style is obvious, but it's really along time coming as all of current members of the band agree that they don't really listen to any screamo except for Story of the Year. While they all have different preferences and listen to different styles of music, they've fallen into a common ground that they all enjoy and listen to--and with it, the fun of it all has returned.
According to Jonathan Williams, "Basically, we're focused on just trying to write really good songs. I think, at least for me, I feel like the new songs are more fun to play live. It's not that they're easier, but it just makes it all more fun."
"Like at the show on Friday night (at the Dirty Carny Sideshow)," Admire interjected. "We only played two of the new songs, but it just flowed a lot better. We played three of our old songs, then two of our new ones and it was like black and white, so we've evolved and are writing some really well put together songs."
The band agrees that it's placing more emphasis on songwriting now, instead of focusing on the live show. According to drummer Michael Phillips, "The old band would be all about what's going to be the next guitar riff or what's going to be the catchy drum fill or something like that. Now practice is all about getting it as sound as it can be and getting it completely down perfect--and we're bettering ourselves as musicians."
"It's as much about the song now," he continued. "Doing something that someone can bob their head to and get it right away instead of having to think 'On all these songs, the guitar sounds exactly the same.' We're not going for that anymore; we're just going for something you can understand right away."
The Big Payoff
We've all heard multiple bands talking about how they're shopping for a deal and their contract is right around the corner. With afterEIGHT, it's not just talk. Luckily, I was able to catch up with the guys right after Christmas, because they caught a flight to Seattle on New Year's day and are now in the studio, working with producer Aaron Sprinkle (whom each of the members has looked up to for years) on recording their Tooth & Nail debut.
There's no small talk here. The label is ready to get this baby rolling and couldn't wait to get the boys in the studio. Bryson will be playing bass in the studio as the group finds a solution for its gap in the bass position. (Brother Shawn Phillips played bass over the summer, but has returned to college and the group currently has a live fill-in, but I'm sure that will be remedied soon.)
Between constant band practices and a whirlwind week-long tour of the west coast with Thousand Foot Crutch, the guys in the band are just getting a small taste of what's in store. The label is already aiming for a summer release of the group's debut and the guys are looking forward to a long year of touring once it comes out.
For now, however, afterEIGHT will be holed up in the studio with Aaron Sprinkle for four to five weeks, laying down basic tracks, polishing songs and continuing to write. Best of all, you can keep up with the band as the project progresses online at www.myspace.com/aftereight. The guys have already started preproduction and will posting blogs and video from the studio as the process wears on.
Big things are happening in the afterEIGHT camp and you can be sure the label will work them hard on the road this summer--especially on the summer festival circuit. Keep checking back and I'll keep you posted as I hear more back from Bryson and the rest of the band.
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