Editor's note: In its origins, the TASTE OF CHAOS tour was frequently deemed “Winter Warped” by both fans and organizers. The 2006 road show took place in the late winter and early spring, featuring lineups populated by some of the most diverse voices in the scene, including bands like My Chemical Romance, the Used, Underoath, Killswitch Engage, Deftones, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold and 30 Seconds To Mars. For the next few weeks, we are going to go back in our time capsules to revisit some of the names that not only cemented TOC as a formidable adjunct to Warped Tour's summer mania, but as a festival of great merit curated on its own aesthetic terms.
As the reactivated TOC begins its next chapter with a touring lineup of Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Saosin and many others, we'll be starting this weekly special “Taste Of Tuesday,” where we'll look back at the bands participating at the point of their original zeitgeist. This week’s installment delves into Issue 220 (November of 2006) when Saosin had their first proper feature story in Alternative Press. Forget about competing with other bands: at this point Newport Beach, California’s finest were trying to surpass their own aural accomplishments.
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SHOUT IT OUT LOUD
Three years ago, SoCal post-hardcore hopefuls SAOSIN released an EP that stirred the underground and had many a label scurrying to sign them. Several defections and attitude adjustments later, the band are ready to follow up on their promise.
STORY: Brian Shultz /// PHOTOS: Bryan Sheffield
Beau Burchell in front of the band’s New York City hotel. Motioning to a vintage Kiss shirt affixed to Burchell’s torso (a gift from a friend), the bellhop launches into a 10-minute, one-sided conversation about the arena-rock legends. Burchell begins nodding in feigned interest as the bellhop waxes nostalgic about his Kiss concert-going days of yore. Beau Burchell, quite obviously, is not a fan of Kiss.
Fortunately, Judas Priest is brought up, and now Burchell is compelled to engage in the discussion. Finding what the bellhop thinks is yet another connection to this great stranger, he asks the inevitable question: “So, are you in a band?”
Burchell stumbles over his words a little bit. “Yeah,” he begins. “We… Shred…”
“Tell you what,” begins the hotel employee, “you need anything…” he looks around as if scoping for police before continuing, “and I mean anything…” ending the sentence with a brief thumb rub of his nose.
Maybe fame, fortune and everything that goes with it is approaching even sooner than the members of Saosin would tend to think. Implicative nose-rubs, especially.
In 2003, playing latter-day post-hardcore and simultaneously screaming your lungs out was all the rage. Newport Beach, California’s Saosin were beginning their ascension to the top of the pile—and back down. (More on that in a moment.) At their outset, the band wrote five incredibly complex compositions within the post-hardcore’s well-defined parameters. These five songs were issued on an EP, Translating The Name, or as the band refers to it, the White EP.
Three of the musicians on Translating—bassist Zach Kennedy, vocalist Anthony Green and drummer Pat McGrath—are now long gone. Kennedy, along with Burchell, was a member of stoner-rock/prog-metal act Open Hand, who eventually landed a role in Ashlee Simpson’s backing band, appearing on live television during her infamous Saturday Night Live incident. Green now fronts the increasingly popular Circa Survive, and McGrath—remembered for his one-time role as Slayer’s drum tech—now runs his San Dimas, California, recording facility Unchained Studios. When it comes to discussing the Translating EP—one of the most wildly popular self-released debuts in recent history—well, the current incarnation of Saosin tend to play it down a bit.
“The White EP was pretty much thrown together,” discounts Burchell. “We didn’t have a drummer; it was just our buddy [McGrath] playing drums on it. Anthony [Green], we didn’t really know very well. We met him, he came out and [sang] on it.”
As Saosin’s fans are well aware, Green’s addition proved to be short-lived. In February 2004, he abruptly resigned from the band via cellphone in the Phoenix, Arizona, airport where he was waiting for a connecting flight back to California after flying from his hometown of Philadelphia. (“He just kind of freaked out and quit,” qualifies Burchell.) Charging on, the band—guitarists Burchell and Justin Shekoski, and the new rhythm section of bassist Chris Sorenson and drummer Alex Rodriguez—held auditions for new singers, which reportedly included everyone from Midtown/Cobra Starship frontman Gabe Saporta to former Further Seems Forever/current ActionReaction mouthpiece Jason Gleason. (In the interim, the band called on Story Of The Year guitarist Phil Sneed for their 2004 Warped Tour stint.) But none of them were as captivating as Green.
Rumors of Green’s alleged drug use had been circulating in the underground for quite some time. When the band are asked directly about that situation, it’s as though the air hanging inside the windowless, graffiti-covered backstage area at NYC’s Knitting Factory gets heavier. After all, Green did leave the band right in the middle of their rising popularity and the ensuing label feeding frenzy (the latter started before the band even played their first show). How many upstart bands, who, when faced with a similar situation, would respond with, “Dude, the guy had to be on drugs!” But more specifically, drug problems?
“I probably shouldn’t answer that,” Burchell states flatly. “But I mean, that’s what makes him him. I don’t know if that’s really a problem or not for him. I mean, a problem has to be with the individual. I think questions regarding him and his character should probably be asked to him, because I don’t know how he is now.” Since then, tension between Green and the band’s two original members has passed.
Still searching for a permanent singer, the band received a demo tape from Cove Reber, who’d previously spent time as the bassist/vocalist in Vista, California, pop-punks Mormon In The Middle. (Yes, he was the Mormon.) Reber’s voice held stark similarities to Green’s equally airy, high-pitched cry, to the point where the members of Saosin were convinced Green was playing a joke on them.
“I knew that I had a high-pitched voice, obviously, but I never really tried to sound like [Green],” Reber says. Despite the band’s reaction—as well as Shekoski’s hard-line stance that they weren’t looking for someone that sounded like Green—Reber made the cut. “We were looking for someone else to grow with,” says Shekoksi. “Kids give [him] less credit than he deserves. [What he did on] the [new] record, is gonna blow kids’ fucking minds.”
“I like feeling emotion in the vocals, and screaming has no emotion in it. It’s just for face value.”—Justin Shekoski
Growing up, music was always on Shekoski’s mind. Despite his dad being a “total music lover,” young Justin became the first member of his family to actually pursue music. A healthy diet of classic rock and pop would often find its way into the family’s home. (“Led Zeppelin and the Beatles’ [music] was always around me.”)
Things weren’t so easy for Burchell, however, the reluctant product of a strict Christian household. “I was never allowed to listen to any metal, or anything with swear words,” he explains. “My mom would go through the lyrics, and if there were any swear words or bad/sexual content, she would make me return the CD, or throw it out. What I finally ended up doing was making mixtapes, writing Christian band names on the tapes and listening on my headphones,” he says. “She would find them and know what it was, anyway.”
Even though Burchell was raised in the church, you won’t find much in the way of religious overtones on Saosin. But even more intriguingly, there’s one crucial element the new disc purposely lacks: screaming.
“Too many bands just throw in random screams now, just to fill space,” asserts Reber. “If you can fill in that space with a melody instead, then it’s awesome. That’s just what we were going for; that’s what I was going for.”
“I think forced vocals, like a really pushed note, is a lot more effective than just screaming,” says Shekoski. “I like feeling emotion in the vocals, and screaming has no emotion in it. It’s just for face value.”
Perhaps it also had something to do with super-producer Howard Benson (Head Automatica, the All-American Rejects) being at the wheel of Saosin’s major-label debut. Ironically, when it came time to choose a producer, the band couldn’t have cared less about working with Benson, despite a track record that encompasses both My Chemical Romance and Motörhead.
“The label wasn’t even pushing [him],” remembers Burchell, who’d been planning on producing the album himself. “It was more like Howard was calling our label nonstop, and [Capitol was telling us], ‘Yo, dude, this is a big-time guy. He really wants to do your record. At least give him a shot.’ So we went in to meet him, and we’re like, ‘We don’t wanna work with this guy at all.’ But he said a couple things that sold us on it. We ended up getting along with him, so it ended up being a good combo.”
Benson’s coaching and enthusiasm led to Reber finally settling comfortably into his frontman role. “We would go over line after line, or he would have me sing a full chorus and pick out certain parts,” says Reber. “He’d be like, ‘You’re singing this part great, but not this part; let’s do it again. It was such a learning experience on how to sing, and now it’s just a world of difference.
“[Before the album], I wasn’t really comfortable at all,” Reber continues. “Recording a CD is always a nerve-wracking experience, and I was just freaking out every day in the studio. I was really unsure of [my performances], but when we got it back and I was able to listen to it in my headphones, that was where the changing point [happened].”
Very little of Benson’s bright pop sheen found its way into the relatively darker territories found on Saosin. Of note is the band’s ballad, “You’re Not Alone.” While Burchell believes the album is chock full of potential singles, “Alone” feels particularly radio-ready, with the newly confident Reber’s unique, soaring choruses rising above the cascading guitars. For now, however, the label is gambling on “Voices,” a track sporting a strong hook and ambitious instrumentation to lure casual listeners into the band’s universe.
Right now, Saosin are looking to expand that universe in the biggest possible way. This October, the band will head off on the international Taste Of Chaos tour, where they will be sharing stages across three continents with such heavyweights as Taking Back Sunday, Thursday and Underoath. When the band return in late November, they’ll be touring throughout America well into the next year. And while Shekoski will admit to second-guessing their new music against the impact Translating generated, Saosin have chosen to look ahead, instead of obsessing over their past.
“There comes a point where you just gotta get back in that same headspace you were at [before],” Shekoski resigns. “It [had] to be a matter of ‘I don’t give a shit, I’m just going to write the best I know how to write.’ As soon as that started to happen, that’s where you realize, ‘Wow, the stuff we’re working on really kicks ass.’ Now we just hope other kids like it.” alt