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ACROSS THE SUN – Descent & Discovery
Anthony Morgan
March 2011

Across The Sun (l-r): Sam Hafer, John Malloy, Alan Ashcraft, Brandon
Davis and Shane Murray

Melodic metal act Across The Sun formed in 2004 in Portland, Oregon, the result of high school friends coming together. Regional performances comprised the outfit’s initial outings, Across The Sun cutting its inaugural demo in 2005. A showcase with Victory Records subsequently occurred in 2006, which is where the collective met manager Mark Bubb. “Originally the name Across The Sun basically meant to us how far we’re willing to go to chase our dreams, to see where our dreams will take us across the sun,” discloses Brandon Davis, vocalist for Across The Sun. “Over the past couple of years since we met our manager Mark Bubb we’ve just been exponentially getting more and more big, playing bigger shows and more important events. That basically culminated in signing with Metal Blade last summer and playing the New England Metal Fest in Massachusetts.”

EP This War arrived in 2006. “We recorded it with a guy named Stephan Hawkes in Portland, Oregon; it had six tracks and was self-produced, self-recorded and pretty low budget,” the singer reports. “It’s really what first shot us into the public eye. There’s a lot of people that don’t actually have that EP, and that’s why we actually put it on iTunes just recently – because we’ve had a lot of people asking for it. We haven’t played any songs from that EP for quite some time – probably three to four years.

“We’ve talked about maybe re-recording the tracks or doing a remix and remaster on all the old EPs and doing some kind of special release with all the old tracks, but that’s not happening any time soon. We’ll definitely announce it if and when it’ll happen.”

Sophomore EP Storms Weathered, meanwhile, saw the light of day in 2008. “Some bands get better and better as the releases go along, but some bands tend to change this and that,” Brandon surmises. “For us, over the years as we’ve been releasing EPs, we’ve just been getting better and better as musicians and evolving our sound. I think that with this new record, we have just found our niche and found really where we’re at with our sound. I think from now on it’s just a matter of developing that sound and seeing how far we can take it, so yeah, I think that Storms Weathered was quite an improvement in every way on This War and the same with Pestilence & Rapture, and then of course the new album.”

A year later in 2009 through Authentik Ink, third EP Pestilence & Rapture was released. “Pestilence & Rapture compared to the other two I think is a lot darker, a lot heavier, and that’s the first release we had our guitarist Sam Hafer for,” the frontman exclaims. “He is so much more musically developed than any other guitarist we’ve ever had. On that record, we were able to really explore our musicianship and really explore the kind of music that we can write. I think that in every way musically, we all just stepped up on that EP and that’s the EP that really got us international exposure. It’s really what brought us attention from record labels and the higher ups, so I think in every way that EP is so much better than the first two just because we were able to explore so much more musically when we got Sam in the band. Before that, we were just kind of amateur (laughs). But yeah, Pestilence & Rapture was a lot darker, a lot heavier, a lot more evolved skills-wise and a lot better musically.”

Several whole North American tours, including the Loch Ness Monstour with No Bragging Rights, a tour supporting Throw The Fight, dates on the New England Metal and Hardcore Fest, Transmission Fest and more took place throughout 2010. On July 13th that year, it was publicly announced that Across The Sun had inked a record contract with Metal Blade Records. “We had been working with our manager for about a year then, and with Sam in the band and with our new sounds, new musicianship and everything, once that came out it was all too easy to just have something for a record label to listen to,” Brandon concludes. “That’s where we all thought – including our manager – ‘Ok, now we can move forward. We actually have something where we can play with the big boys now.’”

Across The Sun’s union with Metal Blade Records was cemented in the shape of inaugural full-length album Before The Night Takes Us. “A lot of bands have one to two members who write everything,” the vocalist notes. “With us, it’s not that way. We write everything cohesively; we always write as a unit, and especially for this record. It made it really organic sounding, and it made it flow very well. Especially for us, we feel like writing as a unit definitely gives it a sense of validity and it also allows everyone to take ownership of each song. Writing as a unit means everyone has their own say; it takes a little bit longer for us to write a record, but in the end the way we write definitely turns into a better end product. By the end of writing the album, we were a lot tighter as a band both musically and personally. Yeah, that’s pretty much the writing process for us as far as that goes. I write all the lyrics myself – that’s pretty much the only thing that isn’t a cohesive effort. I write everything lyrically, but everything else is written as a unit.”

Before The Night Takes Us explores coming to terms with one’s own demons, confronting those demons and ultimately conquering those demons. “Those demons are just life events, things that’ve happened in my life personally,” Brandon confides. “That’s what I like to write about mostly, just reflecting on all the things that’ve happened in my life. Unfortunately I’ve been through a lot of hardships as many people have, so I feel like writing from the heart and writing from my life experiences allows a lot of people to relate to me in my lyrics and what I’ve been through. I’m pretty much a positive guy despite all the bad things, so when I reflect on them and when I write I like to write from a positive standpoint, basically saying ‘This happened, it sucked, but I’m not gonna let it drag me down.’

“‘Blessing In Disguise’ is a tribute to my aunt who passed away a couple of years ago for example – she was basically my other parent. I didn’t have a father growing up, so she and my mom were it. When she passed away I kind of lost it for awhile, and that was basically my reflection on that whole experience. ‘Ghost Of Grandeur’ is a song for my father; it’s a way of saying ‘I’ve tried and tried. If you’re not gonna stick around, I’m gonna move on and I’m gonna be better for it.’ I’ve had a lot of struggles not having a dad growing up, but that’s kind of my final hurrah as far as that goes. You never know what the future holds as far as that goes with my dad, but for now that’s just my final say on the subject.”

In saying you ‘lost it for awhile’, are you referring to substance abuse or anything of that nature Brandon? “I’ve never done anything like that – it was just emotional anger. Sometimes when everything just seems to be getting really bad, I just shut down and shut out the world for awhile. Nothing like substance abuse or anything like that. I’m a very social person, I’m a very happy person, always doing things, and always hanging out with people. Sometimes when things then get really, really bad, I just remove myself from society in general (laughs). Just hanging out on my own and doing a little reboot, recharging the batteries if you will.”

By comparison, Before The Night Takes Us is darker in nature than Pestilence & Rapture. “We had a lot more time to write this album than we did Pestilence especially,” the singer reveals. “When we started writing Pestilence we were about a week and a half into writing; we had maybe a song or two written, and then we had our first label say ‘We wanna get behind this, but we want you to release it before the tour.’ At that point the tour was in like four weeks, so we had to write a six-song EP and record it in four weeks. For that it was really good, but with this album we had a good three months so just having that time alone allowed us to really explore everything, leaving no stone unturned and just doing our thing even moreso than we were allowed to before. I definitely think that this album is a step up, for sure. We feel like it’s a really solid release generally really, but especially for our kind of music. We’re really proud of it.”

Musically speaking, Before The Night Takes Us seeks to claim the ‘heavy metal’ tag. “Mostly we’re in the metal genre,” Brandon confirms. “I think the leads are pretty much in every kind of genre as far as metal goes; we have the heavy parts, we have parts where there’s mostly singing, we have clean guitar parts, we have strings and we have synths – there’s one song where we have a Rhodes piano. We have so many different ideas and instruments; everything from hardcore to melodic death metal to hard rock, In Flames-type stuff. Everything.”

And as well, Brandon feels that Before The Night Takes Us boasts improved song structures. “I think we’ve always been really good with that,” the frontman ventures. “Anyway, once Sam joined the band that’s really when we came into our own, which was with Pestilence. I think since then, we’ve definitely continued with the arrangements. I think the arrangements are solid, and there’s not a whole lot of back and forth and confusion. You can listen to it front to back and take it all in quite easily, I think. Even though sometimes we do have technical parts – some parts that are a little bit off the charts – but not so much that somebody couldn’t really relate to it, and not so much that somebody couldn’t really enjoy it. I definitely think the song structures are solid, for sure.”

So there aren’t a lot of flourishes where Across The Sun’s members show off a bit then Brandon? “We do have a little bit of that,” he admits. “I think we’re all really talented musicians, and I think that we all like to shine a little bit. Shane our keyboardist really comes into his own on this record; instead of being a background instrumentalist like he has been in the past, we’ve been really pushing him to be more like a second guitar or more like a rhythm guitarist. On this record he really stands out more, and even has a really awesome solo in one of the songs. Then of course Sam’s a shredder; we always leave a lot of room for him to try to do his thing, but that’s gonna become our sound anyway over the next few years. We love that definitely.”

Across The Sun (l-r): Sam Hafer, Alan Ashcraft, Brandon Davis, Shane
Murray and John Malloy

Behind the production chair for Before The Night Takes Us was Daniel Castleman (whose curriculum vitae credits include As I Lay Dying, Winds of Plague and Impending Doom). “That was cool, really cool,” the vocalist remembers. “He’s a really laid-back guy; when you talk to him outside of the studio, you wouldn’t think that he’d be so laid-back. He’s very hard on you in a good way – he leaves no stone unturned. He’ll make you do the take a billion times until you get it perfect, instead of being lazy like a lot of people will and just kind of fudging it. We really like that a lot because we’re the same way – when we did our first three demos / EPs, we were the same way. We didn’t have a producer or anything, but we always made sure to be hard on ourselves and be really precise with everything done to our standards. When we got in the studio with him, we didn’t know what to expect. We were the same way, so we worked really well because of that. Also, we’re real fun guys; we’re really funny, we like to joke around and he’s the same way. It was a fun atmosphere but at the same time really getting down to business, even moreso than on any other record we’ve done.”

“Daniel Castleman was surprising for by me,” Brandon continues. “Apparently he told me that he’s worked with a lot of vocalists and he didn’t know what to expect with me. During the whole process of recording the vocals, he was blown away just by how proficient I am in the studio. I was completely open-minded and ready for anything – all ideas – and I always am. Every time I would do something or I would have an idea, he pretty much thought it was the way to go. We worked closely together him and I and he was blown away, but as far as bringing anything out of me I really can’t think of anything. At the risk of sounding egotistical, he just told me ‘I don’t even need to be here – you’re amazing’ and I was like ‘Wow, that’s really awesome.’ I was blown away.”

Perhaps Daniel made sure your vocal takes were up to standard Brandon? “Yeah, definitely. I’m the same way; when I recorded vocals without somebody there who knew what they were doing, I would be the same way. I would wanna take a million takes before I got it perfect, and he’s the same way. We were almost of the same mind; every time I knew that I was sharp or every time that I knew I missed a note, I would say and he’d respond ‘Yep’ or we would say at the same time. We were pretty much on the same level the whole time, so it was great.”

Recording sessions took place at Lambesis Studios in San Diego, California, studios owned by As I Lay Dying frontman Tim Lambesis. “It’s not his home studio, but he owns the studio for sure,” the singer clarifies. “It’s the studio that has his name on it; he does all the As I Lay Dying records there, and Impending Doom and Winds Of Plague and a lot of good bands. It was really awesome recording in a space where a lot of bands that we look up to have recorded their albums, especially Castleman. He’s done all the As I Lay Dying records, so having somebody behind the hilt that really knows their stuff was really, really awesome. It was quite an experience for us; we’ve never had anybody so knowledgeable and so experienced behind the hilt.”

Before The Night Takes Us was released on March 14th, 2011 in Europe and subsequently on the 15th in North America, all through Metal Blade Records.

Interview published in March 2011

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