I can’t even remember how I initially found Onward, Soldiers, but they had such a varied sound I wanted to know more about them. I got in touch with their PR people and set up this interview. Check out their fantastic answers to my questions about their style and creative process.
1) One of your YouTube vids has a comment that ya’ll are video students in NC. Set us straight. Is that true? How did you put the band together?
Sean Thomas Gerard:
I’m assuming that comment was left on the video for “Telling Nobody”. To set the record straight, the video was filmed by a group of Cape Fear CC Film Students as part of the Cucalorus Film Festival here in Wilmington. The project was conceptualized by filmmaker Norwood Cheek. The idea was to pair 10 local bands and 10 directors together, giving them one week to conceive, shoot, and edit a music video. We met with the filmmakers on a Monday, and the video was premiered on Sunday night. It made for a crazy week, but some really cool music videos came out of that project.
Onward started playing shows about 4 years ago. I went to UNCW for a year in 2005, and met some friends who, when I moved back to Wilmington from Pittsburgh in 2008, I started Onward with. It began as Garageband bedroom recordings, and since has seen many evolutions of the band. I was passing CDR’s around town and met the guys from Winoca Records, who have released both our records now. There has definitely been a rotating cast of musicians in this band over the years, so our music has shaped and shifted because of it. I was never really into bands that sounded the same live as on their recordings, so it’s been really enjoyable dissecting my songs and rearranging them a bit. I think it’s cool for the audience because you’ll never see the same show twice.
2) “Telling Nobody” has a very “pop” feel to it. How do you like your music to be described or characterized?
STG: “Telling Nobody” is definitely a pop tune. If you look at each of our songs individually, I think each one holds it’s own identity. I feel like every time someone writes about us, they describe our music differently. I think this is in part to which song they’re listenening to. I’ve heard us called: jangly folk-pop, americana, roots rock, psych pop, indie, country, bluegrass, you name it… we’ve been called it. For people who have seen us live, I think they would agree we’re performing our own style of Rock and Roll, inspired by our collective tastes in music. We have a very high energy live show, equipped with vocal and piano loops, 12 and 6 string electric guitars, and heavy drums and bass.
3) The circular design of the “Let the Time Roll By” video is awesome. Tell us a little about the development of that concept and the filming.
STG: “Let the Time Roll By” was directed and filmed by local filmmaker Bo Webb. The video was a “one shot”, so the entire video was filmed in one take. The camera was wheeled around by a rickshaw, which you unfortunately can’t see in the video. It was super fun to make. Basically, we just had a bunch of our friends show up, and Bo had everything mapped our when we got there. He had people coming in and out of frame section by section as I walked in a circle the whole time. We had been playing that song live for about a year, and it was a crowd favorite, so it was really cool to see friends singing along in the video and generally being enthusiastic about the experience. The room we filmed it in, at the time, was in the upstairs of a demolished church that is now the Brooklyn Arts center (Wilmington’s newest venue). There were these huge stained glass windows that provided beautiful lighting. We only did about 6 or 7 takes in total, so it was a quick and cheap way to make a really unique video.
4) What does the song writing process look like for you guys?
STG: We’ve always arranged these songs as a band, but I do all of the songwriting in my makeshift studio at home. I’ve always been big on home recordings, so I spend a lot of time demoing tunes on the computer and layering in vocals, piano, bass, artificial drums and guitars. This is usually to give the band a general idea of how I’m hearing each song, but the end product is always something a bit different. I like to let the arrangements take their own shape when we rehearse them live. We pinball ideas a lot and try a variety of arrangements before we settle on something. I think it’s important to collaborate with each other; you learn a lot about your own songs from other people.
5) I hear a little Avett Brothers in your sound. Is that intentional? What are your key influences?
STG: I’ve heard a lot of people compare us to the Avett Brothers. It’s definitely flattering, but I hadn’t heard of them until a few years ago. So I wouldn’t say they’ve influenced my songwriting. I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Who, Springsteen, CSNY, James Taylor, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan etc etc, but also really love the music coming from Merge, Matador and Sub Pop, so I think my style is a blending of everything that I love. I think when it comes down to it, I just really like a good hook; whether it be a guitar melody, a thumping bass line or a catchy chorus. I think it’s important to have hooky aspects to your music. It’s what makes someone listen to your album more than once.
6) We’ve found that artists like to talk about things other than music sometimes. What’s something you’d like our readers to know about your lives outside of music?
STG: It’s very true that musicians have other loves than music. I’ve always been passionate about cooking. I love to put on a good record at home and cook for my girlfriend or a group of friends. It’s very therapeutic to me. It’s probably the only other thing I would want to do as a career. The kitchen was always buzzing at my house growing up. My mom was always cooking up something delicious, and singing along to records all the while. So I’ve made it a goal in my life to create that same experience in my home. I’m also a pretty big film buff. I managed a movie store for a couple of years and developed a serious addiction. I’ve seen more movies than I’d like to admit. Our drummer, Jarett is also really into films. We were playing a show in CT and after soundcheck he disappeared for a couple hours, nowhere to be found. He was off at the movie theater… When we travel, we all have netflix on our phones, so it’s nice to be able to watch movies when you don’t have the luxury of a living room. Lincoln, our guitar player, is a pretty established potter as well. He’s the apprentice to Hiroshi Sueyoshi at the Cameron Art Museum. He’s made some really great pieces.
7) What’s the next step for the band? Are you writing or touring? Tell us what’s a happenin’.
STG: The band is currently writing and rehearsing new material. We’re discussing what to do with the new stuff currently. We recorded the last two records in a home studio, so we spent a lot of time on them since we weren’t on the clock. We’re still deciding how we want to record the next batch of songs. We’re going to be doing some touring throughout this winter and spring and will be testing out the material live. Mostly regional shows. We’re trying to work the triangle pretty hard. There’s so many great bands and venues and it’s definitely something we want to stay involved in. We joined the Cardinal Collective, an indie rock collective consisting of bands from all over NC, so I would expect to see us playing with the other bands in the collective throughout the state.
8) What would you like our readers to know about your band? (You can be serious or silly with this one.)
STG: We want the readers to come see us play! I think our records are great but you really can’t get the full experience unless you see us live. Less and less people are supporting live music these days, so I urge you people to get out there and see something new and different! Help us continue to do what we do!
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