Michigan's STILL REMAINS are one of the latest hard music bands to be lauded by the mainstream press, as Tony Cummings reports.
Long time followers of Christian hard music bands are still getting used to the regular phenomenon of mainstream magazines like Kerrang! and Metal hammer going gaga over the latest Christian acts. Once any Christian act with the temerity to release an album into the mainstream were vilified, in such publications, as much for their beliefs as their music. But all that's changed. Kerrang! recently swooned about "the astonishing rise of Christian metal." One of the Christian bands most raved about in the mainstream mags are a team from Grand Rapids, Michigan known as Still Remains. Metal Hammer are typical in their thumbs up. They wrote, "We at Hammer just can't get enough of the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal! But with the apparent emergence of a new Killswitch wanabee every day, this music is going to have to start diversifying if the scene is gonna survive the year. Luckily for Michigan-based newcomers Still Remains, their offering is one of the most accomplished, energetic and inspirational metalcore styles to date, thanks largely to the hefty dose of European ingredients they have stirred into their heavy metal cauldron."
The band formed in October 2001 from a fusion of three members of Shades Of Amber and one guy working with Unition. The band's frontman TJ Miller was less than enthusiastic when recalling the band's origins: "They were horrible metalcore bands. Myself, our guitarist Jordan (Whelan( and keyboard player Zach (Roth) were all in Shades Of Amber and we knew Evan (Willey), the bassist from the other band. When the bands both split up it made sense for us to get together, and we started Still Remains."
The band name came about almost by accident. Miller told HM magazine, "The name was actually just thrown together to be on a flyer for our first show. When a local promoter heard that our old bands had come together for a new project, he immediately booked us for his New Year's Eve '02 show. We didn't have a name, so we came up with it in a day so we could get on the flyer. Since then I like to say, 'He Still Remains' with us, despite the chaos in the world."
An EP called 'If Love Was Born To Die' for Indianapolis label Benchmark was effectively used as a demo, hooking the attention of the mighty Roadrunner crew. Continued Miller, "Our manager lives in Indianapolis and he got us the deal with Benchmark; we were the first metal band they'd ever signed. He sent the EP to Roadrunner and convinced them that we were gonna be the right sort of band for their company."
Roadrunner placed the band with legendary producer Gggarth Richardson for the recording of their first full length album 'Of Love And Lunacy'. TJ Miller spoke about how it was to work with a legend. "As Gggarth listened to us play through our songs when we first arrived, he realised that he wasn't going to have to do too much 'surgery.' In some cases, he's had to re-write/arrange a band's songs so that they made sense. He even mentioned that he has had to tell bands that they are not ready and to go home and keep writing. For us, he was excited to see that we had a good grasp on song structure and arrangement. He did, however, have a couple suggestions. Some we took, some we didn't. We really valued his input, especially since he could tell where we were going with it. His approach for recording bands is to not be in the way of what they are doing. He wants to find each band's sound so that all of the records with his producer credit don't sound the same. He was a fun guy to be around and made us feel at home."
Fun though Gggarth was, the recording process was arduous. Said TJ, "Recording was very challenging in the fact that it demanded a lot of repetition and tedious attention to detail. The team of engineers was a lot of fun to work with and get to know; however, they knew how to push us to get the best out of us. Drums were tracked at The Warehouse in Vancouver, while everything else was done at The Farm in Gibsons. We got to see the city for a week before being trapped on the mountainside for the rest of the time. Although we were mostly busy, there was a bit of cabin fever going around, so we spent a lot of our time making movies of us goofing around, chasing llamas, and a documentary on the proper way to make macaroni and cheese."
Miller spoke about the songs that lyrically stand out for him on 'Love And Lunacy'. "I think lyrically the ones that stand out to me the most are 'Stare And Wonder', 'White Walls', 'In Place Of Hope' and 'The Worst Is Yet To Come'. In those songs, I was really able to take what was inside and put it into words. Those songs really helped with different experiences I was dealing with at the time. Musically, we all have different reasons why different songs stick out."
"In the song 'In Place Of Hope' the keys really stand out in the verse," contributed Willey. "I follow the rhythm of the individual notes with a simple accentuation of its root. Jordan has a guitar melody that he plays using an ebow. Although the synch part is more pronounced in the recording, the bass really drives and pushes the melody along until the vocal pre-chorus line transfers the attention into a triumphant chorus with no loss of momentum. Everything else in that song is cool too."
And the attention-grabbing album title: "The title comes from feelings I felt during the writing process," revealed Miller. "There are songs of excitement and happiness, and songs about brokenness and being lost."
Still Remains kicked off by playing gigs on the Christian scene. In more recent times the band have toured with mainstream acts like Poison The Well and 3 Inches Of Blood. HM magazine asked Evan Willey about the change. He responded, "We have indeed played a lot in the Christian market and have had a great time doing so. We aren't planning on going away from it, but branching out. Ultimately, we want as many people as possible to hear our music. We can't really speculate on how our career is going to go, but as Christian guys, we are going to remain strong to our faith. We know that we are going to see and experience things that will have us relying on our faith to get us through it."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.