By Noah Hubbell
By Leslie Simon
By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
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By Dave Herrerra
By Josiah M. Hesse
Coincidences often come in small, profound packages. The day Devin Mendoza and Justin Trujillo sit down to discuss their post-metal duo, Adai, just so happens to be the sixth anniversary of Adai's first rehearsal — which took place in the practice space of their previous band, Yuriko.
Not that Mendoza and Trujillo have fond memories of August 21, 2004. It's also the day they buried their friend and Yuriko bandmate, Tyler Long.
"Right after Tyler's funeral," Trujillo recalls, "we literally drove straight to the practice space, all of us still dressed up, and started setting up our instruments. That was the first Adai practice."
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Since that initial five-piece lineup — which included Yuriko members Taylor Kurgin and Rick Ramirez, who now play in the progressive-metal outfit Ascaris — Adai has slimmed down to the sleek twosome of Mendoza on guitar and vocals and Trujillo (a former member of Denver post-hardcore band idiedinwisconsin) on drums. The weight loss, though, wasn't a painless one.
"After Tyler died, a few people in the band wanted us to keep going as Yuriko," Trujillo says. "But Tyler was kind of the center of that band. He was the band. He did all the booking and promotion and a lot of the songwriting. It didn't feel right doing Yuriko without him. It kind of created a rift that way."
But tension between grieving friends wasn't the only thing that tore Yuriko apart. Long died of a methadone overdose, and all five of his bandmates in Yuriko were initially considered possible suspects in his death.
"Everyone in the band was actually questioned for manslaughter," says Mendoza. "They thought we had given him the drugs. It goes so much deeper than Tyler dying. We were accused of killing him. We all had to go to court and all this crazy shit."
Nothing stuck — but to Mendoza and Trujillo, the newly christened Adai soon felt like a jail sentence itself. The band, now a four-piece after parting ways with lead singer David Blackwelder, drove a tour van to Philadelphia to record an album for that city's now-defunct Paper Street Records. Yuriko had toured extensively during its time, becoming one of the most promising bands in the Denver hardcore scene, striking an unnerving yet beautiful balance between grinding riffs and textural atmospherics; the plan was to take Yuriko's final recordings, add some new Adai songs, and release it as a split album.
The only split happening, though, was within Adai. As Trujillo explains, "At first Adai wasn't musically different enough from Yuriko. That's why the first formation of the band didn't take. It was just too close. And when Yuriko broke up, nobody was really in a great spot anyway. We were in this studio in Philadelphia, recording for this label, and shit just fell apart. That recording session was the beginning of the end of the four-piece lineup. People took sides. Devin and I hung out, and when we got home, it just stayed that way."
Miraculously, Adai did finish its studio session in Philadelphia, though Mendoza and Trujillo wound up recording most of it themselves — a move that presaged what Adai was about to become. The songs, which Mendoza dismisses as simply "not sounding good," were never given more than the burned-CD-sold-at-shows treatment. Still, the two felt confident enough in the new songs Adai had written to honor their commitment to play a show in Colorado Springs — by appearing as a two-piece. But it wasn't, Trujillo insists, an aesthetic decision or a gimmick. Rather, it was a move born of stubbornness.
"We didn't have time to find another guitarist and bassist," he says, "so we played it as a two-piece, and kids loved it. We had another show coming up, and we said, 'Let's just try it again, just the two of us and see what happens.' And it was cool. We just threw in a couple more amps and eventually some guitar loops. Even when we were a four-piece, I only ever listened to Devin. We've always played off each other."
Adds Mendoza, "We locked ourselves in the basement just trying different stuff, like, 'How does this sound? It sounds rad. Let's run with it.' At first we were both open to having a third or fourth member. But eventually it just got to the point where we were in it too deep. Adding another person at this point would just take away from what we're trying to do."
The two also vowed to focus their energy and attention outside of Colorado. Not only did they hit the road almost immediately, but they booked time in the summer of 2006 in Massachusetts's Godcity Studio, owned and operated by a hero of Mendoza's and Trujillo's, Kurt Ballou of metalcore legend Converge. The six days they spent with Ballou were productive, but Mendoza will admit to being a little intimidated.
"I was starstruck. I was playing my instrument while the guitarist of one of my favorite bands was there watching," says Mendoza with a laugh, showing off his Converge tattoo. "I was wearing long-sleeved shirts in the studio so he couldn't see this. I didn't want to be that guy."