jason kundrath‘s column returns with the Asbury Park rock trio Almost There …
‘Rath on Record #11
File Under: Educationally enhanced modern melodic rock
Homebase: Asbury Park, N.J.
Players: Zach Sicherman — vocals, bass; Ed Soles — vocals, guitar; Phill Serzan — drums
Rock music has traditionally belonged to the outsiders. The misunderstood. The rebels. They didn’t need your approval. All they needed was a guitar, an amp, and an audience. They didn’t need your rules. And they certainly didn’t need classical training in music theory and composition. Music comes from the heart! Let music students write symphonies. Rock ‘n’ Roll belongs to the rebels!
While this may have been true 50 years ago, this view doesn’t hold water today. The sheer number of musicians and songwriters out there is staggering. And when a song finds its way through our computer speakers, it probably has about ten seconds to captivate our short attention spans before we’re on to the next one. In those ten seconds, it doesn’t matter if the artist is a rebel, a conformists, or member of the Tea Party. What matters is the music. The point is this: It has to be really good. So considering the competition, it makes sense for a band to stack the deck in its favor. Sure, there’s a cosmic, organic element to putting a band together. But it really helps when the band knows how to play their instruments well, sing like angels, and write killer songs.
Enter central New Jersey trio Almost There. Since forming their current lineup in 2008, the band has been on a tear, turning heads and winning a slew of band competitions including the Nokia “Artist Discovery Contest” sponsored by MySpace Records, beating out more than 9,000 other artists. Their sound is a modern blend of pop-punk, modern rock and emo, recalling an earnest Fall Out Boy or a lighter Emery. Honestly, their approach is not revolutionary. What they do have in their corner, however, is a strong background in theory and composition (see intro) and years of professional vocal training. Not something that many bands can boast. Alternating frontmen Zach Sicherman and Ed Soles (who play bass and guitar, respectively) actually make a living teaching private music lessons. Rounding out the group, drummer Phill Serzan is not only a seasoned studio drummer, but also a former member of the Old Bridge Drum Corps, his percussive pedigree evident in his driving, inventive beats. Basically, they could easily be making complex prog-math-metal-core, but Sicherman and Soles are melody men. So they boil all of that skill down to a delicious pop reduction packed with flavor.
Most recently, the band released the Silver Lake EP recorded in Los Angeles by producer Jon Pikus (Weezer) and engineer Ryan Williams (30 Seconds To Mars) as part of the all-expenses paid grand prize of the aforementioned Artist Discovery Contest. The recordings — including the current single “I Cried Wolf” — are dynamic, clear and confident affairs, with hooks that will reverberate in your head for days. The vocals by Sicherman and Soles are powerful and pitch-perfect. Unfortunately, with the advent of studio programs like Auto-Tune, this is less of an accomplishment and more of an industry standard. Anyone can have pitch perfect vocals on record, and just about everyone does. However, a trip to the bands’ YouTube channel, AlmostThereRock, will reveal a host of live videos of Zach and Ed performing cover songs with acoustic guitars. All of them are good, and some are even great. And it is there when one begins to realize that these young men are the real deal. No effects. No trickery. Just pure talent — nurtured and fortified by the aforementioned years of professional training and study.
Currently, the band is in the midst of recording their debut full-length album, Abandon The Sinking Ship. Between sessions, Sicherman was able to take a few questions for Pop-Break.
‘Rath on Record: On top of the band’s strong sense of musicianship, the quality that most distinguishes Almost There from the pack is the expert vocal chemistry between you and guitarist Ed Soles. Do you remember the first time you both sang together? Was it magical?
Zach Sicherman: The first time we sang together we were 14 and probably covering an old Blink 182 song. We were both pretty terrible. I mean we were really bad. In fact, we still have some recordings from around that time and it’s pretty hilarious just how bad we were. We definitely had a good time though, and after a couple years we started to developing some good chemistry.
ROR: Of your many accomplishments as a young band, perhaps the most notable is how you won the MySpace Records “Artist Discovery Contest” — a national competition that attracted more than 9,000 submissions. How did the band react to that victory? Did you adjust your career expectations in light of it?
ZS: Winning the Artist Discovery Contest was pretty insane. At first we thought it was going to be our big break, and we definitely got a taste of the star treatment out in L.A. Pretty soon after coming home, I think we realized that you don’t “make it” by winning some contest. We still had/have a lot of work to do, but it was great experience working with such talented producers and engineers. We’re definitely using a lot of what we learned in the studio on our new full length.
ROR: On your MySpace page, it states Almost There “is a band on a mission to change the world with their music” — a statement closely echoed in the lyrics to your latest single “I Cried Wolf.” With most bands, I’d chalk this type of talk up to hyperbole, but i’m pretty sure you mean it sincerely. Would you give us a clearer idea of the changes you have planned for our world and how you’re going to accomplish them?
ZS: That statement works on a couple levels On one hand, we’re amazingly pretentious, and years from now it’d be awesome to look back and say that we’ve made some sort of mark in music history (even on a local level). On the other hand, music is a great vessel to get a message across and to quote Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility.” We always try to work closely with charitable groups, and we’re always playing benefit shows to try and spread awareness of various causes. Don’t mean to sound corny, but if we can make a positive difference in even a handful of lives with our music, I think we’ve done our jobs.
ROR: The video for “I Cried Wolf” is a great example of how to make an engaging, fun video on a relatively modest budget. Who came up with the concept?
ZS: John Komar originally reached out to us and told us he wanted to shoot a music video. He found a cheap wolf mask, and Ed’s dad owns the gym. The rest sort of just fell into place. Ed and I spent a good deal of time at the gym last year working out so we could already do all the flips and all that. We all contributed some good ideas and the video came together surprisingly easily.
ROR: The video also seems to demonstrate the band’s pride in its New Jersey pedigree. How does the Garden State play into the band’s identity?
ZS: There’s such a rich musical history in New Jersey, and some of our favorite bands are from here. Growing up in New Jersey has definitely helped define us as a band, and it just made sense to represent where we’re from.
ROR: In your series of live acoustic covers on the band’s own YouTube channel, you’ve paid tribute to artists from Cheap Trick to the Foo Fighters to The Bouncing Souls. Would you give us a sneak preview of artists set to get the Almost There treatment in the near future?
ZS: There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to how we pick our covers. Usually it’s just a matter of who we’re listening to that particular week. Any requests?
ROR: Last year, you released three EPs. Now you’re in the process of recording your first proper full-length debut. Is the band feeling any pressure to raise the bar? How would you describe the sound of your new material?
ZS: We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to raise the bar, and we’ve definitely succeeded. The new material has a lot of intricate musical arrangements and guitar solos with tons of hooks and catchy choruses. We’ve gotten some great tones, and I can’t wait to put this shit out!
ROR: Almost There is returning to New York City for a performance at The Delancey on Sept. 29. What do you have planned for your fans that night?
ZS: It’s gonna be our first NYC show since January, and we’re definitely bringing our best stuff, including a couple new ones from the album. Also playing are our good friends Kid Is Qual [featuring the former bassist of Jack's Mannequin] and they always kill it, too. Gonna be a crazy night.
ROR: Did you know that you spelled “conquer” incorrectly on your poster?
ZS: “me fail english? thats umpossible.”
[Editor's Note: Almost corrected the misprint. Good job, boys!]