For punk's Frontside Five, major changes have bred major success
A lot can change in three years.
When Frontside Five released its last full-length album, three years ago, it was, in many ways, a very different band than it is today. Then a quintet, the group boasted a single lead singer, a frenetic sound and lyrical cues solidly rooted in skate-punk precedents. Resurrection Cemetery, the band's new, third full-length, spotlights the myriad transitions Frontside has seen in its creative output and approach to instrumentation since the previous recording.
"It's just really exciting that this is kind of new," admits bassist Brooke Crawford, who's been in the group since its 2002 inception. "It's really different for us. It's huge. It's kind of scary and it's weird; it's so different from our other album."
The past couple of years have seen important milestones and achievements for the band. In addition to maintaining a seemingly endless live schedule that's included two consecutive spots at the annual Punk Rocks festival at Red Rocks, Frontside has linked up with the Missouri-based imprint DC-Jam records and has shared the stage with such punk-rock legends and luminaries as the Vandals, D.R.I., U.S. Bombs, the Adicts and McRad, with whom it recorded a joint album titled 50/50 Split. The act is also preparing to hit the road on another Midwestern tour later this month.
But the most notable shifts in Frontside Five's sound and approach in recent months stemmed from a change of personnel. The departure of lead singer Brandon Stolz two years ago caused the four remaining members to shuffle the dynamic of the group — incorporating dual vocals and different approaches to its guitar and drum lines. According to drummer Robdogg, a founding member, the shift also sprang from simple commitment.
"We're still working with basically the same people," he notes. "The one person who dropped out was a person who wasn't able to put as much time into it. It kind of worked out well for us, at the point that we were at. We were able to spend a lot of time on the road the last two years, and basically got to spend a lot of time doing Frontside Five stuff. Before, it was a little bit of a challenge.
"The four of us have remained with kind of an open schedule," he adds. "Our priority was to do this."
It's a focus that has also pushed the group to explore new lyrical territory, novel sounds and different song structures in an effort to move past its straight skate-punk roots and incorporate more thrash riffs and guitar harmonies. For a band named after a skateboarding trick, the shift represents a departure from its roots.
"That's fun, but this is other stuff that's been fun," Robdogg points out about the tone of the new album. "Basically, we're not doing the same album every time. You can tell by the name of our band that we like skateboarding, but we have other things to talk about."
The biggest change comes in both lyrics and music. "I'd say we don't reference a lot of skating on this record," says guitarist and vocalist Bart McCrorey, who joined Frontside in 2005. McCrorey, who also heads Motaland Studios, notes that the act has grown to encompass more sounds and pay tribute to more of its influences. That much is evident upon hearing the frenzied, melodic paired solos on "Destroy," which summon vintage '80s thrash, or from listening to the melodic, layered guitar on the two instrumental tracks, "Hanging With Hightower" and "On Bernal Hill."
"Different influences kind of helped develop the music," McCrorey says. "I think more so now than ever before, because when I first joined the band, I just kind of stuck with the formula, so to speak. I think I've added a lot more lead guitar. There are thrash riffs — we don't typically do thrash riffs. It's that kind of '80s thrash that we have in there. We also have guitar harmonies. Rob is playing a lot more half-time grooves; where he doesn't do a one-two beat — that's different for us. It's more rock-based."
For Robdogg, who says his drumming style is constantly evolving, the new set of tunes served as a chance to refine his style and expand his musical vocabulary. "I took my first drum lessons over the course of the last year," he points out, "so I'm definitely searching to get better and progress. I know that there's a whole lot of head space for me to grow. I think everyone's probably seen that."
The challenges of the newer music have also applied to the rest of the band, Robdogg says. "Bart and Shane [Henry, guitarist] stepped up and were doing all of the vocals, and that was really challenging," he confides. "It's having to play some of the same songs that they didn't have to sing before, that they just played. Now, at the same time, we have to figure out what songs work and make new ones that fit the four-piece."
Like the augmented musical vocabulary, the lyrical content for the new record also incorporated a wider range of references, with lyrical cues that span popular-culture references, personal anecdotes and in-jokes from the band. "We don't take ourselves overly serious," McCrorey says. "I think a lot of this album was drawn from things that have happened to us over the last two years, really, all the silly stuff that's happened to us."
To that end, "Bad Decisions," a straightforward and speedy punk number, warns of the consequences of poor choices; missing a show, drinking and driving, waking up hung over in an unfamiliar environment are all subjects of the song. Meanwhile, "The Others," which boasts lyrics penned by Henry, explores the nuances of the television show Lost. "I was on home detention for a DUI for two months, so I started watching it," Henry recalls. "I watched the entire series in the sixty days or whatever that I was at home, so I became obsessed with it."
"Nuclear Solution" explores another of the band's pop-culture obsessions: zombies, a theme that's echoed in the title of the new record and cover portrait of the four members retouched to resemble the walking dead. Over a plodding, purposeful guitar intro and insistent, distorted verse and chorus, the lyrics detail a nuclear scenario in which the dead rise from their graves. "A government experiment gone awry/Who would have known so many would die?" McCrorey asks casually at the outset before launching into lines like "The body dies/But the brain's alive."
"I like horror flicks a lot," admits Crawford, who co-wrote the lyrics.
For all the new directions on the album, the group isn't ready to leave the old material behind. Tracks from early albums such as Fall Out of Line and 2004's No Pegs will continue to be a part of live performances.
"I think people will definitely want to hear old stuff," Crawford maintains, "because it sucks when you go to see a band and they play all their new material and you don't recognize anything. We've got to keep playing our old stuff. How can you hate a song that you created that people love?"
But even with a respect for their roots firmly in place, the members of Frontside will be the first to marvel at the changes that have affected their songs since they made their first recordings in a Denver garage less than ten years ago.
"Compared to the last albums, we've grown a lot as musicians," Henry insists. "I heard a song come on from the first album when I was out at a skate-video night. The DJ played a Frontside Five song, 'Gator,' from the first album.
"I was like, 'Oh, my God, we sound totally different now,'" he laughs, shaking his head.
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