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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."
The result of the Godcity session was Adai's official debut, ...I Carry. Originally self-released, the EP was reissued in 2008 by Massachusetts's Radar Recordings. Thick yet spacious, with sparse vocals only barely registering across epic angst-scapes, the five tracks are simply massive. But even as Adai's shows around the country started attracting more and more of a crowd, Mendoza and Trujillo started to notice a disconnect when it came to their sporadic hometown shows.
"When the first EP came out, I had a friend call me from Seattle and say, 'Dude, I just saw your CD out here in a record store,'" says Trujillo. "But when we come back home, no one cares. It's frustrating, for sure. But it didn't really bum us out or make us want to stop doing it."
"We went into Adai thinking that the only way to really make a splash with this is to get it out to a larger audience rather than concentrating on the local scene," Mendoza adds. "And we've had that reaffirmed by the local scene. We've played a lot bigger shows elsewhere than here, it seems. We put our focus on the bigger picture, and we kind of forgot to come back and pay attention to the local scene."
That didn't stop them from seeking out another one of their out-of-town heroes, Matt Talbott of Illinois space-rock band Hum, to record their new EP, Felo De Se. They trekked to Talbott's Great Western Record Recorders last summer and laid down tracks before sending them to Ballou for mixing. Having the thumbprints of Converge and Hum all over Felo De Se makes sense; the record's five tracks — available only as a download or on twelve-inch vinyl — wed abrasion and melody into a single, nightmarish vision of darkness and decay. And with song titles like "Bodies," "Trigger," "Powder," "Ammunition" and "Graves," it's no secret what kind of vibe Adai is going for.
"The premise of the EP came together after writing the music," says Trujillo. "We didn't really sit down and write the album to have that arc. It just started naturally happening."
"It's pretty much about the end of everything," Mendoza explains, "from the beginning of the end to the end of the end. The titles are just showing the catalysts and subsequent reactions of that. The lyrics all follow that same arc. The title of the EP is Latin for 'felon of himself.' It's basically another word for a suicide, self-destruction on a mass scale. We've all destroyed ourselves in some way. Everyone's responsible for the extinction of the human race."
"That's just our personal outlook, though," Trujillo confirms. "Everyone has skeletons in their closet, their own demons from their past that they're struggling with."
On the sixth anniversary of both Long's funeral and the formation of Adai, it's clear Mendoza and Trujillo still struggle as well, despite the fact that they've long since reconciled with their former Yuriko bandmates in Ascaris.
"It's all water under the bridge now," admits Trujillo. "You can't really expect anybody to have any sort of plan or any competency when it comes to dealing with something like that. Everyone had their own way."
"Looking back," Mendoza concludes, "I realize Adai is a good part of what helped me get through Tyler's death. Out of that situation, so many things arose. It was just an impossible situation. I think it's definitely a triumph that we were able to take something completely destructive like that and rise out of it."