If you’re anything like me, you probably started the day by recognizing that the start of a new work week had indeed arrived and then immediately began shaking your fists at the sky in anger. Monday is rarely anyone’s favorite day, and from what I have seen firsthand it feels safe to say it’s the one day of the week some people outright hate. I guess to them the arrival of the work week symbolizes the end of their quote/unquote freedom, and as a result they head into the office/factory/restaurant/store with a negative outlook already on their mind. This leads to bad attitudes, which only makes the experience of being at work worse, and for some reason it also seems to make time slow to a crawl. We’re not about that life, and we hope this post can do the same you that the song contained within it did for us.
Every great story, no matter how much work goes into it, begins with a stroke of luck or tragedy that propels the protagonist down a path in life they otherwise might not have experienced. For me, this twist of fate came around the time I was 16, and it involved an abandoned all ages music venue that sat on the edge of my small midwestern farming town I called home. The club was known as The Apocalypse, and for several years it had provided the area with a number of live performances from local artists and nationally touring alternative christian bands, but at some point years prior to the start of my story the club had gone under. The owners retained the lease to the property, and all the sound equipment remained inside, but for one reason or another they were unable to keep the doors open long enough for me and my fellow high school aged friends to enjoy their facility.
At that point in my life, music was already my favorite activity, but I had no idea how anyone could create a career in entertainment without being the person standing on stage each night. I was inspired by some friends from a nearby town to try hosting a show of my own, so on a whim I emailed the owners of The Apocalypse to see what it would take to reopen their doors, even if just for one night only. They gave me a rate, I applied for a grant from the city, and within a few weeks I had the budget needed (<$500) to host my own show. I booked the bands my friends were in, as well as the bands their friends were in, and together we brought over 250 kids to a venue that was nestled on the outskirts of a town with a population well below 3,000. It was the biggest single night event in our area by a considerable margin, and I knew almost immediately that I wanted to continue hosting shows there for as long as possible.
Weeks passed before the next event, but the owners of The Apocalypse slowly came around to having shows on a semi-regular basis once I guaranteed to take on the responsibility of ensuring that enough people and money came in to cover all our bills. This was never a huge problem for me, as the amount of money needed was often below $500 for a single night, but it did provide me with a lot of learning opportunities through marketing, promotion, and the negotiation of performance contracts. We couldn’t provide bands with whatever amount they needed guaranteed each night, so we would have to sell them on agreeing to a door split where they kept 50% of every ticket sold or 75% of everything sold after we broke even for the night. This was not acceptable to some, especially as I tried to win over more and more nationally recognized talent, but thankfully there were many who were willing to accept what we could offer.
Of the dozens of bands that came through our doors during that time, only three or four acts remain today. I am sure in time I will tell stories of each, but the one I come back to most often is a little known hard rock outfit called Spoken. Fronted by founder Matthew Baird, Spoken perform an edgy take on alternative christian rock that isn’t afraid to channel elements of metal, hardcore, and punk into their often radio-ready sound. The band formed in 1997, which is around the time I was just turning 10, and by the time we would meet six years later they had already established themselves as a rising band with the ability to pull in reasonably sized audiences from coast to coast. More importantly, at least at the time, they were willing to play for a door split and a free meal, which matched perfectly with what we at The Apocalypse could offer.
The first time I booked Spoken I expected to snap a photo, meet the band, put on the show, and likely never speak to the group again unless they needed a gig. What I didn’t expect to happen, and what continues to this day, is to form a friendship and kinship with the band. Spoken would go on to play the Apocalypse at nearly half a dozen times in the three years I ran the venue, and each time we would grow a bit closer. Their passion for their craft was clear from the moment we met, and I like to think they saw something special in me as well. We learned one another’s names, spoke like old friends whenever arranging booking, and genuinely became as close as two industry professionals (at any level) could hope to be while still getting all their work done. I didn’t think much of it at the time, aside from how cool it was to be recognized by men I considered rock stars, but looking back now I realize it was their friendship that initially made me feel as if there could be a place for me in the world of music.
Twelve years have passed since that time, and as I mentioned earlier in this post the vast majority of bands I knew, loved, and worked with during my time at The Apocalypse have since broken up. I can’t be mad at those artists, as establishing a lasting place in the music business is practically impossible for anyone to achieve, but I did feel a bit of heartache each time someone I knew to be great decided it was time to depart. I guess in the back of my mind I always had this vision of the people I came up with making it, and then I hoped they would all help me make it as well. The truth however, is that almost no one made it, and those that continued were only able to do so thanks to hard work, dedicated fans, and a relentless drive to progress beyond whatever had come before.
Spoken, despite changing labels and members, have never stopped. In all the years since I left that town and started my journey through the ranks of the industry as a professional the members of Spoken have been clawing their way through the ranks of alternative rock. Each release has found them taking one bold step after another, and each has been followed by lengthy touring efforts that have taken the group around the world and back again. You probably cannot name a single hard rock band touring today who has not shared the stage with Spoken on at least one opportunity, and most would tell you they walked away from their show(s) with the band feeling inspired.
This week, Spoken will release their first album as part of still very much new deal with Artery Recordings. The record is titled ‘Breathe Again,’ and as the titles suggests it breathes a breath of fresh life into the Spoken brand. There are anthems made for arenas, power ballads into to console those who feel sad, and a series of mosh pit inducing rock juggernauts that will no doubt keep live crowds sweaty and singing along for many years to come. Whether you’re experiencing the record as a longtime follower of the band or someone who just discovered them through a post like this, there is something everyone can enjoy. Spoken have always been a band with wide appeal, but this album takes their entire sound to a whole new level of accessibility that I honestly believe will help them gain more notoriety than any other release they’ve produced in the last half decade.
The reason I chose ‘Breathe Again’ for this week’s post is admittedly due in part to my familiarity with the band, but also they way the album makes me feel. Spoken was around before I even considered a career in music, and here they are nearly two decades later still making records and signing deals. There has not been a year this millennium when Spoken were not poised to be one of the next big things in rock, and with the release of ‘Breathe Again’ there time in the sun seems closer than ever before. Listening to this record inspires me to continue chasing my own dreams, and it also reminds me to not let the passing of time break my will. It could have been very easy for Spoken to walk away when they weren’t national headliners after 10 years on the road, but the band kept on, and they will continue keeping on for as long as they have the ability to travel. That kind of passion is rare in any industry, and I can only hope I possess a similar drive in my own efforts.
James Shotwell is the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him on Twitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.