James Hart, singer of flashy local hard-rock/metalcore band Eighteen Visions, is either under the weather, which wouldn't be that surprising given his band's busy touring schedule, or developed something of a nervous tic, which also wouldn't be that surprising for the same reason. Regardless, there's something in his throat that he's trying to get out. It sounds like this: HOOO-ahhh. Only there's always sort of a catch in the middle, and you can tell, even over the phone, that the possibly imaginary globus is still right where it started, in his throat, in his tattooed neck, underneath a pile of magnificently coiffed hair, in North Carolina, where he waits for some food to be prepared before getting ready for the show tonight.
It's pretty hectic these days, with all the press and the photo shoots and the early-morning whatnot that the label mandates, but Hart, who believes in the Rapture and prays daily for strength and courage, knows it'll all pay off in the end because more and more stuff is happening, and he can see it working. What, exactly, is working?
"Just being more successful with the band, being able to do more, being able to have more people hear our music and get our name out there more," he says. His ambition seems very unbridled and also very vague. Might more of everything just feel kinda like it feels right now, only more so?
Great Rock Irony No. 1: gone are the days when bands handled the artistic/creative aspects of music and labels handled the business ones. For a band to get signed to a major label, they must already think like a major label, meaning they must be results-driven and use phrases like "results-driven," which show the labels they're comfortable treating their art like a commodity they're committed to selling. Thus, by the time is a band is signed, they've necessarily mastered the art of speaking as if they work for a label, which technically they now do. And what's the first thing a label does once they snap up one of these bands who knows how to play the game? They throw them in front of a bunch of journalists who hate the game and who really hate when bands use label-speak.
At times, Hart—a former jock turned hairstylist—sounds downright Trumpian with his talk of what the band "brings to the table" and the "pay off" and the way he never seems to question whether numbers are the correct measure of success or whether success can even be measured at all. He's slick, this kid. He must give label honchos boners. But then he'll go and say something so guileless it seems he has no idea how he's coming off. After an hour talking, you have no real idea who he is and even less of an idea who he wants you to think he is. He's all over the place.
But his band isn't. Rounded out by guitarists Keith Barney (Adamantium, Death by Stereo, Throwdown) and Ken Floyd (Throwdown), bassist Mick Morris, and drummer Jason Shrout (Saved by Grace), the group is focused and driven, crafting their most accessible hard-rock/metalcore album to date. Instead of a dizzying collage of song parts, as besieges the genre, Obsession, produced by Mudrock (Godsmack, Avenged Sevenfold) is crushing but tuneful in a very glossy radio-friendly way.
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On "Waiting for the Heavens," Hart, a devout Christian and the only openly religious member of the group, reveals a fairly depressing worldview. Through a torrent of drums and guitar, he sings, "I don't want to live today when all I feel is pain, and I pray that I won't fall apart; I know this world's the enemy." At times, the lyrics read like a big guilty mash note to Jesus. On "A Long Way Home," Hart begs to be saved from the hell he's made because "from you I feel so far away." Hart attributes his discontent to an acrimonious relationship with his birth father and subsequent difficulty with his stepfather. He sees himself as forever torn between worldly temptation and spiritual restraint.
But that's hard on tour as a member of a hot local metalcore band, when all manner of vice presents itself, and besides: depending on how cynical you want to be, it could be argued that what's bad for the soul is good for sales.
Out for a night recently with the owners of label Trustkill, the band stumbled upon an abandoned building and thought it would be "fun" to go in and throw filing cabinets out the windows and break a bunch of shit. Even better, they videotaped it for their DVD! "We were told to buy a video camera and videotape stuff on the road that happened, funny stuff," Hart explains. And after being slapped with paltry fines, Hart wishes he hadn't done it. "But," he says—as if you should understand—"it was just so tempting to go in there and break stuff!"
Eighteen Visions appears at The Vans Warped Tour, Titan Stadium, Cal State Fullerton, Nutwood Ave. & State College Blvd., Fullerton; www.warpedtour.com. Thurs., July 1. Gates open, 11 a.m. $27.75. All ages.