Words & Photos by Amber James
One of the plus sides of working in the music industry is some of the people who you get to meet, as well as the friends you make. It sounds utterly cliché but it has some truth. The down side is often times you don’t get to see them that often. Such was the case with current Solid State band, To Speak of Wolves. I first worked with them in 2011 on their road to iMatter Festival in Elmira a couple times and linked up with vocalist Gage Speas. But after that weekend, I never got the chance to work with them before their breakup a handful of years later. Fast forward to 2017 and, outside of their 2016 Fall So What Festival appearance, I finally got to be reunited with the band on the “Hot Like Sauce” tour with Islander and He Is Legend.
With only a few days left on the “Hot Like Sauce” tour, I met up with the band and their TM, Drew (aka Hacksaw), at a relatively new venue in Rochester, NY, called Photo City Improv. Despite their high energy, frenetic live show, their pre-show rituals were the complete opposite and some of the calmest I’ve seen, almost like they were saving their energy for the show. Or it could’ve been the fact that they’d all had garbage plates earlier in the day and their stomachs weren’t quite Rochester strong for what a garbage plate consists of. For those wondering what one is and why it’s something someone would eat, a garbage plate consists of usually mac salad, home fries and either two burgers or hot dogs with ketchup, mustard and a spicy meat sauce. Needless to say, it’s an acquired ability to stomach one.
Guitarist Andrew Gaultier and drummer Phil Chamberlain followed it up with a quick dessert of some Extreme Sour Patch Kids while Gage and He Is Legend’s vocalist, Schuylar Croom, discussed Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Humble’ music video. Newsflash: unanimous opinion from all of us, the video is amazing. Since the weather had turned out to be nice for the day, a 50/50 chance here in Rochester, we were all sitting outside the venue hanging out enjoying the sunlight and chatting.
After a bit we all went inside to set up merch and unload gear because they jokingly said they wanted to give me something interesting for this piece. While Gage set up their merch display, Phil, with help from bassist Seth Webster, unloaded all his drums out of the new cases they’d just gotten the previous day from Kent Customs. After merch was all set up, Gage and I wandered back outside where Schuylar was as well. Looking up various different old school nu-metal jams, we all reminisced on old favorites by the genre’s best back in the day. Chevelle, Puddle of Mudd, Fuel, POD and 12 Stones. If you didn’t sing along to ‘Hemorrhage’ back in the day, have you ever really lived?
Eventually everyone else filtered out of the venue back out front to hang out. Conversations shifted from nu metal jams to our favorite types of alcohol and alcoholic drinks. We all had our different preferences for beer and liquor, which made for a great variety of stories. Not to mention the guys started telling stories about all the different drinks they’ve experienced on tour. The one that intrigued the most was one called a Lunchbox, however I can’t remember exactly what was in it and it seemed most similar to our cheeseburger shots that we have at Lux. Yet my favorite that i heard about, I believe from Hacksaw, were the large, skinny fair cups that they got with frozen margaritas in them for only $4. Andrew told us about his experiences with bear fights; that one time he wasn’t planning on going out until one of his roommates presented him with a bear fight, which if you didn’t know is a Jager bomb followed by an Irish car bomb, and then he was buzzed enough to want to go out. I regaled them with stories about pickleback shots, a shot of whiskey chased by a shot of pickle juice, as well the famous Chameleon from Marshall Street.
Soon after, myself, Gage, Andrew and Seth realized we needed to be caffeinated and went on what supposed to be a leisurely quick walk to a nearby coffeeshop. One of the employees had said there was a coffeeshop about a quarter mile down the road. As we set off on our jaunt, we quickly realized that it was NOT only a quarter mile down the road but more like a mile. Needless to say, we were quite eager to indulge in some cold brew from Starry Nites as we quickly headed back to the venue, since they were due to take the stage soon.
Their live set was something I was looking forward to shooting immensely since they had one of the greatest live shows I had seen back in the day and it was still the same when I had seen them last in Dallas, Texas, at the Fall So What Festival last fall. Gage still is one of the most energetic and spastic vocalists I have ever seen when it comes to stage presence. It brings to mind images of Jacob Bannon from Converge and Jason Butler from letlive.
Starting off the set, they opened with one of their most well known singles, ‘Je Suis Fini’ off their last full length before they broke up, Find Your Worth, Come Home, and the frenzied live show was off. Not only was Gage thrashing all over the stage, Seth and Phil with their long hair were head banging all over the place. The set consisted of songs from FYWCH and their most recent full length that was just released at the beginning of August through Solid State Records entitled Dead in the Shadow. Selected were some of the heaviest songs off of it as ‘Haunt Me’ and ‘Enemies to Everyone’. Towards the end of the set, both Gage and Seth ended up in the crowd and Gage nearly got his mic stuck in the fan on the ceiling to everyone’s shock and worry. Thankfully, nothing happened and it seemed ever reminiscent of the time Gage jumped off the stage on his first tour with them, landing on me and I chose my camera gear over him as I accidentally dropped him to the floor. Nearly every time I’ve seen them, some sort of ridiculous event has taken place. As what happens when bands break up, sometimes they seem a little rusty and their music or their show isn’t quite what it used to be. That is quite the opposite with To Speak of Wolves, in fact it seems like they never broke up and have just gotten better with age, like a fine wine.
After their set I got a chance to sit down with Gage for a bit to talk bit more about the band dynamics, their new album, the band being back together and what the future holds for them. As I sipped at my can of Genny, Gage explained how each member has specific duties that they take care of in the band. He told me how he takes care of all the merch and t-shirt designs for the band while Seth takes care of the actual merch orders for tour, etc. Meanwhile, Phil handles the more business-y things of the bands such as talking with their manager and Solid State Records and Andrew takes care of their home away from home, their van, in Louisiana where he lives.
Having originally worked with the band prior to their breakup, I was interested to see how the music scene was taking to them on their return since it had been a few years and social media is more prevalent than ever allowing fans to “know” the bands a bit more. Gage explains that it seems like people seem to pay more attention to them now that they’re back together and social media seems to have helped with that fact, gaining them a lot more fans. Releasing their New Bones EP through Cardigan Records helped make fans and labels alike realize that the band was back in the game for real and at it full time again. Their release got them noticed by Solid State Records again and they quickly re-signed them back to the label.
As they’ve gotten back into the swing of things and gotten back on the road, starting to tour pretty frequently it’s come to the point where they’ve reached the ability to tour with bands they’ve been listening to for years, such as He Is Legend. Being one of Gage’s favorite bands, it’s a strange feeling being out with a band that you’ve listened to for so long as a fan and now you’re able to call them your friends. Getting to go out on this tour with He Is Legend has been a great experience, Gage commented, since To Speak of Wolves doesn’t sound like a lot of bands in the scene currently, the fact that they got to be out with “road dogs” like He Is Legend has made this tour what it is.
Conversation turned to their new full length, Dead in the Shadow, their first offering put out by Solid State, which had just been released a few weeks previous. He said that so far all the feedback seemed to be positive; despite this, however, Gage doesn’t want to read any reviews about the album so he has his band members tell him what the reviews say. This comment was followed by a small laugh, since he still refuses to read the good reviews as well. It’s seemed to have breached the bridge between the old fans and newer fans just discovering them because it’s still them but it’s a lot heavier than they used to be. Personally stoked that the full length has finally been released, he told me that they went back into the studio almost immediately after releasing the New Bones EP, having thirty songs already written and ready to record. The final result is what has been released and, if you own the album like I do, is the eleven songs you hold in your hands or see in your iTunes. As for the future, they’ve got a new fall tour in the works as well as heading to Europe for the first time in December, which is something they’re all pumped for as well since it’s the first time the band has gone there and the first time for a lot of them to go to Europe in general. Having finished up our chat, Gage ducked away to watch He is Legend and finished out the last song of their set with Schuylar, grabbing some guest vocals.
The show finished, the venue quickly emptied out except for band, crew members and a few bar patrons since it was a Tuesday and not an overly exciting night. Putting load out off for a bit, a remaining 30 rack of Genny Light was discovered as part of He Is Legend’s tour rider and we all knocked back a few of them. Post show hangs at the venue were very similar to the pre show hangs, low key just sitting around talking and sharing stories. Hacksaw and I got a chance to talk about all the news happening in the Star Wars universe as the new movie prepared to release more info on Force Friday at the beginning of the month.
Finally, load out started and Phil and Seth seemed to be in charge of making sure everything got loaded out. As Phil loaded out all his drum boats, Seth started loading and rearranging everything in the trailer to prepare for the ultimate game of Tetris that was about to begin. With only a few more dates on the tour, they had to figure out how to fit their old cases as well their recently acquired cases in the trailer together to make it back to Louisiana. After a successful game of gear Tetris, they all hopped in the trailer and we all headed to Jay’s Diner where we promptly all entered food comas. And, besides, what happens at Jay’s Diner stays at Jay’s Diner.