The phrase “arising from the ashes” is a cliché that is often used in music to describe a band regrouping after a poorly selling album, or perhaps a change in lineup. However overused as that phrase may be, in the case of the band Emphatic it almost seems too tame. How many bands can survive a complete lineup change where there is only one remaining original member?
Justin McCain is the founder, guitarist, primary songwriter and founder of Emphatic. After some initial, promising success, the band fell apart when original vocalist Patrick Wilson suffered a fractured larynx in a fight and was unable to sing. McCain attempted to keep the band going with substitute singers, but eventually the whole thing unraveled, all the band members left, and McCain was on his own.
Given those circumstances, McCain’s determination to rebuild the band could be called courageous, naive, or something in between.
“I’m a firm believer that this is what I’m meant to do, and I guess I don’t know how to give up,” says McCain. “For me, it was kind of a dark time in my life, to be honest. Things kind of fell apart because we had worked so long for so many years to get to the point where we had a great team around us. We got signed to Atlantic Records, before that we were signed to Universal Records, and it seemed that every time something good would happen, something would hinder us from moving forward. I thought we were really going to do it when we got the Atlantic deal. We recorded with Howard Benson, which was a dream come true for me, because he was one of my all-time favorite producers. So it was so devastating to have something so tragic happen. Our singer [Wilson] was injured in a fight, and I thought to myself ‘Wow, this is just never going to be easy.’ So we continued for about a year without our original front man, we brought in two different singers to fill in for him, but he just never got to the point where he could sing the way he did before. On our last tour with Halestorm, we decided it was time to part ways. The label wasn’t going to pick up our second option. That’s about the time in my life I got really depressed and thought ‘all these years of hard work, it all seems for nothing.’ All the other guys left the band, and it was just me.”
Anyone who has been involved in a start-up band can well imagine what a demoralizing blow that must have been for McCain, to be the last man standing. “I sat down in a room one night and thought ‘There’s no way I’m gonna give this up.’ I knew one guy, and one guy only to reach out to and see if he’d partner up with me, and that was Toryn Green.” Green is best known for replacing Brett Scallions as the lead vocalist in Fuel. “Even though I’ve been in the industry for a while now, and met a lot of people, I’d never met Toryn. I reached out to him on Facebook, of all places. I wasn’t really expecting a response, but within a couple of hours, he hit me back and sent me his phone number and I called him. He called me back and said ‘Man, I’m a huge fan, I hear you guys on Octane, and I’d love to be a part of this.’ We talked for about an hour, and after that phone call we were moving forward. It was pretty crazy.”
The new album, Another Life, is intense and dark, with songs such as Life After Anger, I Don’t Need You, Time Is Running Out and Forbidden You. Even the album artwork is foreboding and ominous.
“This record is probably a pretty good representation of the past year of my life, and Toryn’s life. After all the hardships I’d been through personally, I felt like the best way to move forward and release that was through music, and to be honest with my fans, and the same with Toryn. It is a dark record, but at the same time, it can be used as a learning tool as well. For example, Life After Anger. That song, specifically, I know connects with a lot of people, but ironically enough, that song was written as I was looking at myself in the mirror. Just standing there and thinking about the past year of my life, and how I could change what I didn’t like, and how I could grasp the positive and let go of the negative and move forward. And, every word in that song is literally me, talking to myself, saying goodbye to the angry side, saying goodbye to grudges I’d held against my old singer for feeling like he messed up our dreams, anything else negative that has happened in my life. That’s how I like to write—I really like to be honest with the lyric, and at the same time, write it in a way that’s not specific to me. Even though it relates to my situation, it can also be something that other people can really connect with because they may have experienced a similar situation.”
When listening to the album, one surprising aspect is that, for a two-guitar band (Bill Hudson is the second guitarist) there aren’t a lot of guitar solos, and the solos that are there are short in duration.
“When I was writing songs, from a solo standpoint I used what I thought would bring something to the song. I’ve always been about the song as a whole. Obviously, being a guitar player, I love guitar parts and solos, but we’ve never been a metal band, and we don’t do long solos. I do like to throw in some good, flavorful guitar work, maybe that’s something we can grow with down the road, adding more of that kind of stuff. We definitely have the capability of doing that, and it’s something we’ll do live, different solos leading into songs, we like to play around with the songs and reconfigure things, that’s what we like to do to separate the live show from the record.”
Another Life is definitely a vocal-driven album, and Green’s vocal harmonies really shine. In the studio, anything is possible with overdubs and effects, but performing those songs live will be a challenge. McCain says “That’s one thing we’ve really rehearsed, and one thing that we really want to be able to offer to our fans live. We’ll do some different things, to kind of spice it up from the record to the live performance. One of the things we don’t want to do is compromise the integrity of the record, so we want all those harmonies and parts, and we practice a lot with backing vocals and stuff like that so we can best represent the song. That’s something we pride ourselves on, making sure the song sounds like it does on the record, but in addition to that, adding some cool flavor on top.”
“When I go see other bands, I’m always watching in a live setting if these bands can pull it off or not, and that’s one thing we want to be able to do. With this lineup, [in addition to Green and Hudson, the band includes Jesse “Saint” Nunn on bass and Patrick Mussack on drums] we’ve had amazing chemistry. These guys are all working hard, they’re talented, and I’m very blessed to have found them. I think we’re going to do some great things live with this album.”
So far, the reviews and reactions from fans has been overwhelmingly positive. “It means a lot to me that everyone’s been so positive,” says McCain. “To tell you the truth, I honestly thought we’d get 50/50. I expected to lose some fans, and have some stick with us. For me it was kind of a scary thing because everyone liked the old lineup, and our old singer was great, he was a star front man, we had some great songs. Not to say I didn’t believe in this, because I do wholeheartedly, but I was skeptical that we’d get a fair chance, because when you change the lineup people are going to be judgmental, and especially if you change the lead singer. Even if your new singer is great, he’s not the same, so there’s always comparisons. Fortunately, we have the best fans, and they’ve been very receptive in a positive way. Aside from that, what I’m hearing and seeing is that they legitimately love the record, and we’re not getting comparisons from the last record. The positive feedback has been overwhelming, and I couldn’t be happier. Also, this CD is actually the first album I’ve ever produced. Aside from writing and performing, I want to be a producer. When we got the deal, I told the label ‘look, I’d love a shot at producing this record.’ So this is an exciting time for me in a lot of ways.”
After a band releases a new album, the logical next step is to tour in support of it. The recording process threw the proverbial wrench into those plans, but ever the optimist, McCain refuses to be discouraged.
“We wanted to make the best record we possibly could without worrying about touring, so unfortunately we missed a lot of the summer shows and festivals. Now we’re kind of playing catch-up, we’re working on some things now, and it looks like we should have some dates by the end of November. We’re excited. We’re going to go everywhere we can to support this record.”
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