The Southern California rock band gets its start from, of all things, a chance meeting at an R&B concert.
Having scrapped potential band names such as Mother Manic and Porch, the bluesy yet soulful Beware of Darkness has more heart than the name suggests. On the surface, Beware of Darkness’ debut album Orthodox appears as simply a fun rock record, but lyrically it tackles subjects such as death and religion and casts them in a wall of filthy guitar and thunderous percussion. Orthodox was recorded in only two weeks with the help of executive producer Dave Sardy, and produced by both front man Kyle Nicolaides and Greg Gordon, who has worked for acts such as Slayer, Dandy Warhols, System of a Down, Public Enemy, and We are Scientists.
“Howl,” the lead single from the album and last year’s EP of the same name, ranked in at number 12 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. On Youtube, the stark black and white music video has garnered over 200,000 views. Success has steadily climbed for a group that has only been established for three years, and in the words of Nicholaides, “this is just the beginning.”
Vocalist, songwriter, and guitarist Nicholaides discussed the emotional ride during the making of his debut record, opening for the Smashing Pumpkins, and the connections that can build between listeners and the music. Look below for Beware of Darkness’ full list of tour dates.
Your album Orthodox tackles a lot of heavy subjects. Was there any trepidation about putting that kind of subject matter on a debut album?
Honestly, there was only trepidation if I didn't put these songs out. For me there was no other option. I needed to release these songs, and if I didn't I would've regretted it and felt like I cheated myself. I had a lot of people around me telling me otherwise though. They said I was jumping the gun with putting out a record like this, and warned me that I shouldn't do it.
I was in a really terrible place when we cut this record. I was physically and emotionally depressed, and it really affected the making of the record. I felt emotionally dead, I felt passionless, like I was drowning. I was miserable to be around. I was struggling. It was so bad I couldn't play the last measure of the solo in “Howl.” I just sat there, endlessly introverted and dead. It's uncomfortable and I don't like to talk about, and I flinch when I look back, because I don't like who I was as a person then. For a while I wanted to write a disclaimer in the booklet, [that] "this is the sound of someone who is emotionally dead".
Right before we started mixing the record, our manager called me into the office, and he's been around since forever, and [he] said "in my 40 years of being in this industry I've never seen anyone, or any band, so miserable recording their debut record. Usually bands are over the moon and would kill to make their debut record". I thought, “Oh my god, he's right. This is really terrible.” Then he flat out told me, “you made the wrong record," and that was pretty shattering, but ultimately what he did was the best thing to ever happen to me. He did it for good reasons that I will always be thankful for, and it woke me up.
When it got time to start letting everyone hear the songs, it was pretty chaotic too. Up until that point label, management, no one had heard any songs. We sent them "All Who Remain” first, and the reaction was, "Holy shit! You've made a brilliant, classic song! People will play this at funerals! Oh my god this record's going to be great.” Next we sent "Amen Amen", and the same thing. People said, "Oh my god. This is incredible!" Then we sent them "Morning Tea" and "End Of The World", and something switched, and everyone went into panic mode, and freaked out. "What the f*** is this? What is this art sh**? This record's going to be terrible! You're going to release this? We need to step in". I was baffled. Looking back it's hilarious.
The only thing I was a bit wary of, was if the songs were so dark and dense that people would just write it off as some hyper-depressive record and be turned off, which I'm surprised about because no one really has yet. A song like “Morning Tea,” which I wanted to be annihilating, people took as satire [and] tongue and cheek, which I still don't understand.
Did I make the wrong record? No. Everything happens for a reason. I know I made the record I had to make at the time, and I don't regret anything, and [I] wouldn't change anything. When people are opposed to what you're doing, it makes you want to try that much harder to prove to them that you're right. Now, ironically, "Morning Tea" is everyone's favorite song.
Do you think about the personal connection listeners could have with the music when coming up with material?
That's a great question. For this record, I didn't, but that's been the best surprise of putting this album out. The writing of this record was personal. I wrote these songs to help myself cope with what was going on in my life at a given time. I was naive because I never even thought that other people would hear these, or that it would help them in any way. I was on a binge to make an honest record. Songs like "Morning Tea" and "All Who Remain" just came out in quick cathartic bursts, and there wasn't really time to think at all. It's then been mind blowing to find out that anyone else on this planet would listen to a song I wrote and have a connection to it.
It's happened a couple of times at shows when someone comes up to me and says, "I was lost, I was depressed, I was suicidal, I lost someone close to me, and I listened to your record and it spoke to me. I cried. Your song helped me get through that. It helped make that experience and my life a little easier, and I felt less alone." I can't express to you enough how overwhelming that it is, how powerful that is, and how much that means to me as a human being and as a songwriter. Just the notion that I helped someone, or positively affected their life in some way is beautiful, and it reminds you how powerful music can be, and it was something, when writing this record, I didn't expect it at all.
I don't think there's good or bad art. I think art is only measured on whether it’s successful at connecting people. Art is a means of communication, saying, "I have been through this. I know what you're going through. It will be ok."
There's a very classic rock feel about your music, but which modern bands are you inspired by?
St. Vincent is one of my favorites. I admire her records so much because they're so modern and fresh. I think she's brilliant. There's a trio called King I like a lot. I've had J. Cole's Born Sinner on repeat. I love Kanye West. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is one of my favorite record[s] of the past 5 years. Fiona Apple's new record is phenomenal. I grew up listening to garage bands like The Vines, The White Stripes, The Strokes, Louis XIV, [and] early Kings Of Leon, and Laura Marling and Ryan Adams. The new Phoenix record is great. I just saw them at Reading this weekend and it was my favorite show.
Which of the tours as an opening act has been the most memorable for you?
Opening for the Smashing Pumpkins in Europe [was one of the most memorable]. Not only did we play for some of our largest audiences yet, but got to travel and sight-see most of Europe. I don't think it gets much better than that.
Do you feel like the record signing and success of the band would have been the same if Beware of Darkness was established somewhere besides Southern California?
That's a really interesting question. I think it would've been completely different anywhere else.
I'll go as far to say that it would be different in probably every means that could possibly different. I would not want to be anyone else in the world, and I wouldn't want to be in any other band, and everything happens for a reason.
How much do you rehearse before a tour?
Honestly, we've pretty much been on tour since February, with a few days off in-between runs. A few days being like a week and a half at most. We rehearsed before the first run. Before the first run I sang for 3 hours a day for 4 weeks to get my voice up to par. Then it was off to the races. The best practice is the real thing, right? We film every show too, and watch them back.
Has there been a lot of camaraderie between bands at Uproar Festival so far?
Yeah, it's been really incredible because every band has been welcoming and friendly with each other. Right now, we're a couple weeks into the tour and everyone is in routine so you can really feel the camaraderie. Duff [McKagan] popped his head into our van this morning to say hi. I met Anthony Green from Circa Survive tonight. He watched our set and was so unbelievably cool. It's great to be on tour with Middle Class Rut again. They're like family. They took us on our first tour ever. In Toronto we went to a carnival with the Walking Papers guys. We took this weekend off to play Reading and Leeds and got back today, and literally everyone was like "Welcome back! Glad you're home!" It makes a tour so much more meaningful and memorable when everyone is cool and on the same page.
Has your success felt gradual or more immediate?
When I rationally think about it, it's immediate. But thinking rationally is not my brain's programmed setting. We've only been a touring band since February of this year, and our third tour was with the Smashing Pumpkins in Europe, and our fourth was Uproar. So it's incredible when you rationally think about it. Yeah, things are moving quick.
I found out today that “Howl” has been on the charts for 25 weeks and is currently at Top 5 at Active Rock. We're next to bands like Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam… who have been bands longer than I've been alive. So that's pretty cool. We got a Classic Rock Award nomination for Best New Band. That's pretty cool. Everything is off to a great start, and this is just the beginning.
At the same time I am an impatient malcontent, and wish everything would happen quick, and I can only see what we don't have, and where we aren't as a band. On one hand It's great… it always keeps us pushing forward, but on the other hand it keeps me miserable like 100% of the time because I'm only focusing on what I don't have and where we aren't as a band, and it's poisonous to think like that.
Everything will happen when it's supposed to happen. The greatest things take time to build, and I have nowhere else to be at the present moment.
Beware of Darkness North American Tour Dates
9/7- George Washington @ The Gorge Amphitheatre (Uproar Festival)
9/8- Ridgefield, WA @ Sleep Country Amphitheater (Uproar Festival)
9/11- Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre (Uproar Festival)
9/13- Irvine, CA @ Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (Uproar Festival)
9/14- Phoenix, AZ @ Ak-Chin Pavilion (Uproar Festival)
9/15- Chula Vista, CA @ Sleep Train Amphitheatre (Uproar Festival)
9/21- Fort Myers, FL @ JetBlue Park (Rockwave)
10/31- Pomona, CA @ Pomona Fairplex (Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare)