There few things that come with as much anticipation and anxiety as watching a respected drummer step out from behind the kit and grab a mic. The paradigm shift from rocking in the back of the stage to the front is rarely successful unless you're Phil Collins. So for Hell or Highwater's Brandon Saller, the absence of fear or influences when it comes to drummers-turned-singers was probably the best thing for him to literally get off his ass and his new band.
"As far as that goes, even as a drummer I always just kind of did my own thing. It's always been important, and especially now with a new project, to just be my own man and do what comes natural and just go for it."
It's been about two years since Saller's previous band--local hardcore heroes Atreyu-- went on hiatus and really forced him to seek new outlets for a sound he'd spent over a decade developing. Before his previous band, the duality of tortured screams paired with high-arching melodic vocal over was a rarity in that genre, if it occurred at all. Saller's fulfillment of the latter made him an instantly recognizable voice in the scene that is now standing on it's own on the new aptly titled Hell or Highwater debut, Begin Again (released Feb. 5). When it comes to the name of the record and the concept of the band itself, that process of self-evaluation right before taking a major leap of faith off a cliff is something that plays a huge role in style shift found Saller going from traveling with brutal hardcore bands to touring with recently-reformed stadium rockers the Darkness.
"I remember being a little nervous our first few gigs about how the crowd would react to us, but actually turned out okay every time and we've had some crazy energy at the shows on this tour so far."
The band started about two years ago as Saller's solo venture with a producer who he'd funnel his song ideas through in order to come up with full songs. It wasn't really until he put his current band together--including guitarists Matt Pauling and Neal Tiemann, bassist Joey Bradford and drummer Captain Carl--that the sound was actually realized for the debut album.
It was one thing getting my bearings with the project by myself in the studio. But I feel fortunate now that I'm in a band where everyone is a great song writer in their own right and we're able to have that full band dynamic that the songs really need to grow and mature on tour."
Trading merciless distortion and rage for rocket-propelled melodic rock a la Avenged Sevenfold or Alkaline Trio, Hell or Highwater's sound is a different look for Saller and presumably for most fans of his old band who don't know what the singer/drummer has been up to lately. However, Saller says he was surprised at the amount of new fans the band is attracting who missed the boat on his old work and in a lot of ways it takes a step towards his ability to carve a new identity as a front man.
"It's surprising even at hometown shows how many fans will come up and talk to me and don't mention anything about me playing drums or anything and I get the sense that the show they saw was their first impression that isn't reliant on what I did with my old band. That's a cool feeling."
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Having just got off of a tour and an album release in recent days, the band is planning on a brief grounding period before hitting the road again in early spring, which includes hitting an OC stop at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana on March 15. To see where Saller is going with the new sound, some music from the new record awaits you below.