Jeff Fuller- guitar, vocals, piano
Mike Nipp- bass
Shawn Stafford- drums
Mike Stephens- guitar, vocals, piano
One of the most frequent ways many of us learn of new music or bands is typically through our network of friends, going back the classic word of ear way via the mix tape. Having friends in bands raises the bar for the frequency of getting the scoop on good music in the scene. This was the case with Against Tomorrow Sky, who came highly recommended from my buddies in Laymen Terms.
After Laymens’ CD release party was moved from First Draft Choice to the Boulder Café (lame, last minute bar manager crap), I almost missed ATS’s set that was going full speed when I made my way into the little coffee shop, , filled with kids and sonic rock that shook the full length glass windows. I was instantly impressed with their melodic vocals that floated and jolted over adrenaline juiced guitars riffs and rhythms, grabbing each head in the place, making us all rock to and fro.
I met Mike Stephens right after the show, got his email address, then continued to bug him on occasion in vast anticipation of their new release. The email finally came, informing me that Jump the Hedges First was all done. So we decided to gather at Shuga’s in Colorado Springs I could get my hands on it and finally get to know what these guys were all about.
Apparently, they hadn’t done an “in person” interview before, just a few fifteen-minute phoners with the local press.
MS: We haven’t done this before, so please be gentle.
KB: So you guys are virgins? I haven’t had a virgin in a long time.
KB: No worries. I’ll take it slow and easy with you guys.
MS: At least cuddle with us first…
KB: Hey I know, it’s about your needs too. Whew! Let’s start again from the beginning. So we’re missing the fourth guy, right?
MS: Yea, Jeff Fuller. It’s his ten-year anniversary with his girlfriend tonight.
KB: So! Where the hell are his priorities?
MS: (laughs): That’s what I’m sayin’ man, “Do you care about this band or what?”
KB: So what does Jeff do when he’s not with his woman?
MS: He does the same thing I do, lead vocals, guitar and piano. We switch off pretty much right down the middle, 50/50.
KB: So you’ve been together how long?
MS: Two years this summer.
KB: And this new release is your first full-length?
MS: Yes, those are the first eight songs that we wrote together as a band.
KB: Have you had any member changes in that time?
MS: No, but we come from different Springs bands – Girth, The Gadflys and the Confessions, those three bands.
KB: So from those bands to what your are now, what kind of stylings did you take from that and how are you different with ATS?
MS: There’s little elements of each band that are there. But the other bands were underdeveloped and they weren’t focused as much. Right when we started playing together it felt more like a real band, whereas the others were more like, “Let’s play the Underground and just mess around.” We really clicked, enjoy writing together, and are a little more serious about it.
MN: Mike and I were just jamming together one night and hooked up with Shawn and we knew we had something going on. Our CD release party will be our two-year anniversary almost to the day. It’s going to be a special day.
The threesome looked again like they wanted to cuddle at this point, so I steered them back to business.
KB: So how are you getting the word out?
MS: We’re flyering like hell. The Highlife House is sending out an email to their list. Laymen Terms are sending one out to theirs. We’re getting coverage in both the Independent and GO! We’re really pulling it all out to publicize it. We’re bringing in a band from New Mexico, Mistletoe. We really want a bunch of people to see them too.
KB: How did you get to know those guys?
MS: We played a couple gigs with them in New Mexico last year. The other band that’s playing with us, Woodbine Station, is another band from that tour. So it’s kind of a little reunion. They’re a great indie rock band, one of New Mexico’s biggest bands. They’re touring with Superdrag, they’re doing really well.
KB: So tell me about the CD, “Jump The Hedges First.” What do we got going on here?
MS: We thought about how we were going to describe it. We got it down to dynamic, melodic indie rock.
KB: Those are some good marketing buzz words.
MS: We’ve been compared to so many bands.
MN: Whatever someone seems to hear in our sound they refer to another band they’re familiar with.
KB: That’s the thing with the majority of music listeners. At a music meeting a few weeks back we were talking about that. Although we as music fans more or less shun mainstream radio, in order to help someone identify your sound, you have to refer to some element of band on the radio. That’s the reality of it.
MS: I don’t really hate it so much. I’m the same way. When I first hear a musician I say “they sound like this or like that.” I kind of take it as a complement because of the wide range of bands we’ve been compared to, all kinds of rock music.
MN: A lot of people call us Emo.
KB: But that’s cool that you can appeal to a lot of different people with different tastes.
MN: Our crowd is pretty varied. There’s hardcore kids, metal kids, and snobby emo kids.
KB: The sweater set.
MS: Sweater too small set…
SS: With horn rimmed glasses…
KB: So take me through [the CD], starting with “Eager.” You start off with some high energy?
MN: Yes, high energy right away. The first two are the more rockin’ ones. Then it mellows out a bit and gets more catchy on “Poison Tester.” Then it really mellows out on “Pen.” Then “Taking Notes” is more poppy and starts bringing you back up to speed, right? (Mike says, looking at the other Mike).
MS: Yea. You’re doing a good job, keep going.
MN: So “Stunning Upon” starts rocking a little harder, “Painted Grenades” going a little higher energy, then “Samantha, It’s Okay” is like the finale.
KB: The climax to it all?
MS: Yes, the climax. Then it’s, “Roll over, make me a sandwich,” and go to sleep.
KB: Wow, that’s a bargain for the $10, $12 dollars you’ll charge for the CD.
MS: And it took us a year to put it together. But it wasn’t more than 15 to 20 days in that time. It was just really spread apart. The engineer we worked with, Matt Vanleuvan, who was in the Gamits and now is in Woodbine Station, when we first started working on it he was on tour a lot.
MN: So it we only got stuff done whenever we could in there [with him].
MS: It would be like two days here, then wait three months, and then I went on a three month vacation.
KB: That must have been nice. Screw you man [only because I was damn jealous].
MS (laughs): Yea well, it was very frustrating. Not to pull the ‘tortured artist’ thing, but to take a year to record 8 songs that really only took a couple weeks to record, to finally get it done is just a huge weight off our backs. We’re really proud of it. For the money we had and the time we spent…
MN: And just thinking about all the times we had to go up there to redo stuff.
MS: We had to remix things a lot, and then the label wanted us to bring the vocals up. But now everyone’s happy.
KB: What’s the label?
MS: Universal Warning Records out of Pennsylvania. They’re a really small label that’s just starting out.
KB: How did you guys get hooked up with them?
MS: They had a guy that moved out to Denver to open up shop in Denver and check things out. He caught one of our shows at the 15th Street Tavern and he was talking to another guy simultaneously who had been going to bat for us, Ross Lilebo that used to work KTCL. He had been helping us to make connections. So when they met up [Ross] hooked the deal up through them. And now he’s a partner of the label.
KB: So he’s kind of your A&R guy?
MS: Yea. He’s trying to work on getting us up to tour with some bigger bands, taking some baby steps. The labels only been around a year, and they gave us a sampler of what bands they had. It sounded like they were signing everyone. Now they’re trying to streamline and have 4 or 5 quality bands, support them, rather than trying to spread themselves too thin.
MN: Plus, when we first met them it was a ‘scratch my back I’ll scratch yours’ type of thing. They wanted to have someone like us and we wanted to have someone to support what we did.
MS: They’ve been really cool and given us complete control of the artwork, the music…
KB: Probably out of necessity. If they’re that small they don’t have anyone else to do that for you.
MS: We have gotten to trust them and know them as people, and that’s huge. They’re not some faceless thing to us. For our first release it was important we had that.
KB: So they supported you funding wise then?
MS: Yes, they paid for all the pressing. Fortunately for them, we had already done the recording. Matt did such a good job sonically, it sounds pro. Nothing had to be re-recorded. They’re giving us a great royalty rate, we’re getting like 80%.
KB: Wow. That’s unheard of.
MS: It’s a lucky situation for us because they are so new.
KB: So how did you come up with the name of the CD?
MS: The name of the CD and the name of the band is all tied together from the song, “Sweet Thing,” by Van Morrison, we took a line from that song, against tomorrow sky. When it came time to do the album, there’s another line that goes ‘jump the hedges first.’ Listen to the song and it might make a little sense, maybe not a whole lot.
SS: Yea, with subtitles.
KB: So how did that song become such an inspiration for you?
MN: Well, it’s a pretty inspiration song anyway.
MS: I hate to use this term, but it’s really spiritual and has a lot of feeling to it.
MN: It was kind of cool because we knew that’s what it was and so we went with it.
MS: Plus, it was cool to hear another band singing our name. [everyone cracks up with that one]. We just wanted something that was poetic in a way.
MN: Something that actually stood for something and had a little meaning to it.
KB: So you’ve been doing some gigs.
MS: Yea, we’ve been playing almost every month.
KB: What was your favorite show so far.
[the three in unison]: Opening up for Pedro the Lion.
MS: It was at the Fox, and we’ve never heard ourselves sound like that on stage. It made us play a lot better. We’ve played with a lot of cool bands. We’ve been pretty lucky, playing with Cursive, The Patter, Spoon, Good Life, and Planes Mistaken for Stars.
KB: So was the crowd receptive?
MS: We were a little nervous because were a little more upbeat band compared to Pedro.
MN: But a bunch of kids were up front getting into it and jam.
MS: If you take a couple that comes to a show, what we want to be is that high energy rock for the guy and the emotional lyrical thing for the girl.
With that we were pretty much finished and depleted.
KB: Well, I think we’re all done.
MS: That wasn’t as painful as I expected.
KB: I tried to be gentle.
SS: Thanks for doing this.
MN: Yea, thanks for doing us.
After all four of us headed out for that cigarette, I got back on the road again and popped in the burned copy of “Jump the Hedges First” in lieu of the finished product that will come straight from the boxes at Monday and Tuesday’s show – Monday at Jack Quinn’s in Colorado Springs, and Tuesday at the Bluebird.
They did nail it – dynamic indie rock. But that’s just the beginning.
To follow the path of genre and band references, ATS has a myriad of styles – from Red House Painter speed of low-fi on “Pen,” to bubbling energetic indie rock of Knapsack or early, pre-MTV Jimmy Eat World.
Their own brand of emo comes out not so much in a Valium infused fashion, but through the depth of passion that comes through on the vocals, meshed tightly with guitars that ride up screaming and flow down to sparkling drums, with a periodic backdrop of crystallized piano that adds that subtle taste of honey. Listen to “Poison Tester” or “Stunning Upon” and you’ll know what I mean. ATS is out to create their own genre description and crumble any others in existence.
After their shows here in Colorado, they’re faced with the challenge of getting gigs set up for a Midwest tour through Kansas, Wisconsin, Nebraska and South Dakota. But they do have the help of their label who has started getting the new release out to college radio listening audience to spread the buzz.
Be a part of the buzz by coming out to their show on Monday or Tuesday (or both) and pick up the CD. Then you tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on, and so on.
They don’t have their web site up yet, but you can reach them and get on their mailing list – AgainstTomorrowSky@hotmail.com.