X Marks The Spot
15th Annual X-Fest Rocks Montgomery County Fairgrounds
By J.T. Ryder and Alan Sculley
On Sunday, September 12, the searing chords of some of the best alternative rock bands will be heard echoing across the Montgomery County Fairgrounds during the 15th annual X-Fest, presented by WXEG 103.9 FM and Live Nation. This year’s lineup features American Bang, Dirty Heads, Drowning Pool, Janus, Papa Roach, Paper Tongues, Red Line Chemistry, Seether, Shinedown and Sublime With Rome.
“As the station has evolved, the show has as well,” said Steve Kramer, WXEG program director. “Specifically, X-Fest or Edgefest as it was in the early years, started as a small gathering in the back of the UD parking lot, with such acts as Seven Mary Three, Poe and Flock of Seagulls.” Kramer went on to describe his role in the evolution of X-Fest. “I became program director in 2001 and shifted the station to more rock than we had been. We moved X-Fest to the Montgomery County Fairgrounds that year with acts that were more on the rock side of things, and added a second stage. Within a few years later we saw our attendance grow to full capacity at the fairgrounds. Established bands, new bands looking for exposure, record labels, and band agents alike have come to know and respect the show very much.”
Kramer also discussed some of the new groups on the X-Fest roster this year.
“We’ve got a few new bands on the bill and all bring something a little different to the show. I like Red Line Chemistry a lot…I think they’ll be a band to watch…kind of an Alice in Chains/STP/Puddle of Mudd vibe with really catchy songs. The Paper Tongues have a lot of talent and are pretty unique, mixing elements of pop, rock and dance. The Dirty Heads have a kind of that West Coast feel and a No. 1 song on alt radio under their belt. I feel good about the ‘young talent’ we have on the bill to go along with the established veterans. It’s kind of like building a good baseball team!”
Papa Roach aspires to remain relevant
Having gone triple platinum with their 2000 debut album, Infest, Papa Roach has encroached on many divergent styles of rock and roll, running the gamut from nu metal to raspy raps set to the crushing chords or thrash metal. The band has evolved very quickly, setting a different tone and style for almost every album. Lead singer Jacoby Shaddix recently discussed the group’s latest album, Time For Annihilation, which features an impressively crisp production quality and a particularly rampant use of electronic distortions set into pounding loops.
Papa Roach seems to have matured rather quickly in comparison to other bands. Was that intentional?
Shaddix: Yeah. We weren’t going so much for more of a mature sound, but more about letting the music take us where it’s going to take us. With our first record, we came in with nu metal and rap metal with things like “Last Resort” and “Between Angels And Insects.” Over the years, it kind of evolved into a more straight ahead rock band. We really enjoy that. In particular, I prove myself as a valid rock and roll singer. I think over the past two records, we really been able to secure ourselves as a staple of rock music and earn some respect over the years and backed that up with a lot of touring. We’ve put out a few records now, so it’s not our rookie year no more. We’re here to stay.
A lot of bands spend their whole career striving to create a “signature sound.” You seem to head in the opposite direction and just follow what interests you at the time. Has that alienated any part of your fan base?
Shaddix: I think, really and truly, that that has really afforded us an opportunity maintain our relevance as a rock and roll band. I think that if we had just done the same thing over and over, we would have just been a one-trick pony and become a parody of ourselves. I really just don’t see that happening. I grew up listening to bands like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Led Zeppelin…particularly Led Zeppelin was one of those bands that just always evolved. We look at that and go, ‘All right, I want to do that! I want to evolve!’ Not necessarily to sound like Led Zeppelin, but just to have the freedom to explore different sounds.
Paper Tongues embrace vulnerability
Forming within the Charlotte, North Carolina music scene in 2007, Paper Tongues are one of the newest and most unique bands you’ll find at X-Fest. With songs such as “Ride To California” and “Trinity” getting national airplay on a large cross section of radio stations in addition to being placed in heavy rotation on the few remaining music video channels, Paper Tongues have enjoyed a sudden interest from a wide array of fans. Guitarists Joey Signa and Devin Forbes recently reflected on the band’s fans, touring experiences and the risks of performing with such an enlightened fervor.
The Paper Tongues has a radically diverse fan base. Does the band kind of feed off of that fan base, pushing themselves to take on broader musical influences?
Signa: Absolutely. I love seeing parents and their children at our shows, both equally excited to be there. It is so inspiring to get to see the people who are grabbing on to our music in a deeper way than, “Oh, it’s a cool hit song.” We always want to be there for our fans, in every way. They are the reason we tour so much and hang out after every show!
In your songs, one can feel the essence of each band member. Does that ever leave any of the members of the group feeling emotionally drained or vulnerable?
Forbes: Of course! Performing in front of people is the most naked and vulnerable you could ever be. When we write these songs, we’re in a room to ourselves and we have the freedom to explore anything we want with music without being judged. When you play in front of people, it’s taking something you have written, an expression of your innermost being, and putting it up for judgment. The audience has every right to simply say, “Eh, this really isn’t that good,” but you just spent a month working on wording it just right. It’s hard to put that much personal emotion on the line every day.
With the Papers Tongues’ penchant for playing with other acts or playing various music festivals like X-Fest, do you feel the band adopts any musical influences?
Signa: Every chance we get to watch and hang out with other bands we do because we have so much to learn from them. Bands that have been around for a long time and our contemporaries. Bands in the same place as us, figuring it out just like we are. We get inspired by different ways, and one of them is definitely seeing how other bands move us.
Seether content with new music, new sound
Bassist Dale Stewart says one of the big lessons Seether learned in making its 2007 CD, Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces, was to make sure to take the time that was necessary to create the album the band wanted.
“We really took our time and made sure we had the songs that we needed,” Stewart said in a recent phone interview. “I think it paid off, I think. I’m very happy with that album. It’s my favorite one we’ve done to date. I think we definitely learned something as far as if you don’t have to, don’t rush it.”
Seether isn’t rushing its next CD, either. In fact, the band earlier in the year interrupted work on the record with a five-week tour that included shows with Hellyeah and Alice In Chains. The band returned to the studio in July, and the new CD should be essentially finished at this point. The band is doing the new disc with Brendan O’Brien, whose work with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam has made him perhaps the most in-demand producer in rock.
Although there was still some work to be done at the time of this interview, Stewart offered some hints about where the album is heading musically.
“I think this one is going to be a straight-up rock album,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to go too crazy with instrumentation. We want to sort of do something we can pull off live without having to run tape and tracks.”
The excitement that exists within Seether is a nice change for the band, which also includes singer/guitarist Shaun Morgan, drummer John Humphrey and new guitarist Troy McLawhorn (formerly of Dark New Day). In the time that led up to the recording of Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces, the band went through considerable turmoil to go with a career that had seen the band release two popular CDs, 2002’s Disclaimer and 2005’s Karma And Effect, and notch a string of rock radio hits, including “Broken” (a ballad recorded with Evanescence singer Amy Lee) and “Remedy.”
For one, there was Morgan’s breakup of a three-year romance with Lee (immortalized in the Evanescence song “Call Me When You’re Sober”), a stint in rehab for Morgan in summer 2006 and the suicide of Morgan’s brother. The band also split with its management firm and saw guitarist Pat Callahan leave the group.
Since then, though, things have been looking up for Seether. Finding Beauty In Negative Spaces became another hit album for the group. It gave them two more chart-topping alternative rock singles in “Fake It” (a galloping and slightly poppier song compared to band’s typically heavy and darkly hued material) and “Rise Above This” not to mention a top five single in “Breakdown.”
For now, though, the focus has turned back to playing live. Stewart said the band likes its sound now that McLawhorn has restored Seether to a four-piece.
“The three-piece is cool,” Stewart said. “Shaun is a great singer and (guitar) player, but it’s kind of hard to play and sing and do solos and things all on his own. Actually, I think he pulled it off really well. But that’s a lot of pressure on you. I think that was the main thing. Shaun felt really pressurized, and with another guitar player, he can concentrate more on singing and then just having fun and enjoying the show.”
Shinedown hits ambitious stride
The mainstream rock band Shinedown had already tasted a good deal of success before the arrival of its third CD, The Sound Of Madness. In fact, the group’s first CD, the 2003 release Leave A Whisper, had gone platinum with more than one million copies sold.
But the third CD has taken Shinedown to a new level of success, particularly on the strength of the single “Second Chance,” which has become a multi-chart hit, going top 10 on Billboard magazine’s “Hot 100” singles chart, as well as the magazine’s pop and rock charts.
Listening to the song, which builds from an acoustic opening into a soaring full-bodied power ballad in the chorus, it sounds like an obvious hit single. But Shinedown singer Brent Smith wasn’t going to let his hopes for the song get too high when the song was recorded.
“I had hoped that people would understand what I was talking about in this song,” he said in a recent teleconference interview with reporters. “Apparently the majority (of fans), they understand what I’m talking about. I’ve always said that writing music was way cheaper than therapy so, for me personally, this song was about going after your dream and going after the goals that you’ve set for your life and sometimes you have to leave the nest. I think it took me probably 20 years to be able to write those words. So I hope that everybody likes the song and I’m very proud of it.”
Even with Shinedown seemingly having the kind of success that could vault the band into the upper tier of mainstream rock bands, Smith contends that he is staying focused on the day-to-day work of touring.
“All I can really say is that we’re just in a very good spot right now, but you know what, you can’t ever get comfortable where you have to outdo what you’ve already done.”
Work itself on The Sound Of Madness stretched out over 18 months, as Smith wrote some 60 songs for the CD before whittling the final list down to the 11 songs that made the album.
Despite the rocky moments with personnel changes, Smith feels he accomplished the ambitious goals he had for the CD.
“For me personally, we just wanted to go above and beyond what we thought we could do, and I think we accomplished that,” he said. “We’re just having a really, really good time right now bringing it to the people.”
American Bang aspires for broader audience
Earlier this summer, in the space of just a few weeks, American Bang found itself on stage at the Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago and then in Sturgis, South Dakota as part of that city’s famous annual motorcycle rally.
Sturgis, of course, caters to metal and mainstream rock, while Lollapalooza is synonymous with modern indy-oriented music in all its various forms. The fact that American Bang could fit in at these two very different festivals says a lot about the band’s music.
“More than anything our goal is to try to bring songs back to the mainstream and to rock radio, to do that for any audience that will let us play for them,” drummer Neil Mason said in a recent phone interview.
“I think there’s a big hole sitting out there right now for the kind of band that we’re aspiring to be,” he said. “Growing up on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and just a lot of classic, just song-based rock and roll, it’s just natural that we’re making the kind of music we’re making. And it does have a bit of a modern edge to it…I think maybe if anything we fit because we don’t fit. I hope there’s something that makes you go ‘Oh wow, I haven’t heard something like that in awhile’ or ‘I haven’t heard that before’ or ‘I like that because it’s a little bit different.’”
Mason’s remarks make sense. The group’s music may indeed fall between today’s rock radio formats. On the one hand, the music shares some qualities with the big guitars and big choruses of mainstream rockers like Shinedown or 3 Doors Down. Yet there is very much a modern feel and a little punkish energy to American Bang, which gives the band the potential to wedge its music into several rock formats and appeal to a broad audience.
Whether American Bang succeeds in getting its music heard remains to be seen. But the band should be ready if its big moment arrives. For one thing, the band has spent much of the past four years writing and refining the songs that now appear on its newly released self-titled debut CD.
“I feel like we can kind of do whatever we want now with these tunes, which is fun,” he said. “We’ve already kind of defined them for the record, so now we can kind of take that energy and expand on it a little bit more when it makes sense, and in some cases there’s no reason to. In some cases we may even strip some of it back.”
The 15th annual X-Fest will be held Sunday, September 12 at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, 1043 S. Main St. Doors open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $35 through Sept. 11; $40 day of show. For tickets or more information, visit www.LiveNation.com, all Ticketmaster locations, the Hara Arena box office or call 1-800-745-3000.
Reach DCP freelance writers J.T. Ryder and Alan Sculley at firstname.lastname@example.org