In 2011, local hard rock act Ohio Sky had the opportunity of a lifetime. The band played a showcase for Roadrunner Records, the mammoth label that's home to popular metal acts like Nickelback and Slipknot. While Ohio Sky has little in common with either band, the label's roster was eclectic enough that the group would conceivably have benefited from the label's resources and gotten a big marketing push. Singer Vince DiFranco says the band performed well at the showcase, which was held at the Grog Shop, but Roadrunner ultimately passed on the group even though esteemed A&R guy Monte Connor was a big fan.
"The 76-year-old guy at the top didn't like us," says DiFranco one afternoon while he, guitarist Mike Bashur and bassist Elsworth Turner sit on the back porch of Prosperity Social Club in Tremont. "It pissed us off, but in a good way. But you either like us or you don't. There's no middle ground."
"It lit a fire under our asses," says Bashur. "It was like, 'You don't like us? OK. We're going to do what we're going to do anyway.'"
The group originally formed as a four-piece in 2006 with a much different line-up and a much different sound. Its first EP, the metal-leaning Apophis, came out in 2009.
"When you talk about the history, you have to talk about what a 180-degree turn the band has taken," says Bashur.
In the early days, DiFranco played guitar. He and drummer Eric Bambic are the only original members who still play with the band, which also includes keyboardist Patrick Finegan.
"We went through a lot of shit," says DiFranco who describes their original approach as "of the time" and says the band sounded like metal acts such as Deftones and Coheed and Cambria. "We had personal problems and members were in and out. I got tired of the singer we had and I got a bug up my ass and got rid of the singer we had and started singing. It worked out really well. Mike is so talented, I was bugging him about moving [from California] to come out and play guitar. He's more of a classic rock and blues-driven guitar player, so we started to take on a darker sound when he joined the band in 2009."
With a new line-up solidified, the band went to the locally based Ante Up Recording to cut Curses. Things didn't go exactly as planned.
"We were supposed to record with [Ante Up owner] Michael Seifert and things didn't work out," says DiFranco. "He left us hanging, so we worked with Jim Stewart, who's still our engineer to this date."
Because they couldn't get the right sound, the guys busted into a room behind the studio and cut the record there.
"The snare on the first song, 'Van Gogh,' has nothing on it. There's no reverb on it," says Turner. "It's just the room recording and it sounds like a gunshot."
The song also includes an assault of guitar solos that practically puts the band in metalcore territory. Still, there's an atmospheric element to songs such as "Speed of Urgency" and "Waiting for Time to Stop," tunes that sonically sound a bit like Silversun Pickups.
"The record is made out of frightened and fucked-up situation and it shows on the record in a good way, I think," says DiFranco.
"The record is built brick by brick out of adversity," adds Turner. "Not one person in the band wasn't going through severe wild shit both in and out of the band. Everything that could have gone wrong did."
Things went much more smoothly for the recording of the band's new album, This House is Old and Filled with Ghosts. It opens with the mellow title track and then shifts gears mid-album with the hard-rocking instrumental "Shadows" before concluding with the anthemic final track, "The New World." The group modeled the EP's sound after a recent disc by hardcore heroes Glassjaw that was recorded by "South Carolina stoner dude" Dan Millice. The guys rang up Millice after they heard the Glassjaw disc and convinced him to master the music, which they recorded locally at Suma Recording Studio in Painesville. The six tracks are actually recorded in the order in which they were written.
"It's not supposed to be a concept record but in a fucked-up way there is a thread that runs through all those songs," explains DiFranco.
Band members describe the disc as a catharsis of sorts and say it signifies the group's musical rebirth.
"Approaching this EP, we had this attitude because everything on it was so emotionally charged and every track is so deep to us individually that this is like a release," says Turner. "A lot of it felt like letting go of all the bullshit from before and taking a fresh breathe of air. We had the chance for the big record deal and to be something crazy but it doesn't matter if they don't like us. We like what we're doing and we know we're a band for a reason. It was so nice to do something cathartic and exorcise everything from the front to the back and clear out everything that we had and start out all over again."