Exciting things are happening for Wilmington’s alt-country Onward, Soldiers, who recently put the finishing touches on its second album, Monsters.
Tonight’s show at Raleigh’s Pour House commemorates Monsters’ release and the band’s first Triangle headlining gig.
“We’re going to come out and play with as much energy and enthusiasm as we can,” said singer-songwriter, Sean Gerard.
“They’ve mainly been opening for people so this a great opportunity for these guys to have their own set,” band manager Josh Wittman said.
Onward, Soldiers formed in 2007 as a collaboration between Gerard and drummer Kevin Rhodes. Gerard, a Pittsburgh native, originally moved to Wilmington to study marine biology, but he found himself writing songs more than studying.
“School wasn’t really working out so I decided to give the music thing a shot,” Gerard said. “It was kind of sporadic, but I moved down here and things came together on their own.”
Gerard’s roommate at the time worked at Folks Café, a coffee shop frequented by Kevin Rhodes. Gerard had recorded a demo of solo work and let his roommate listen. One day, his roommate was serving Rhodes and decided to pass the CD his way.
“It was a complete coincidence, getting that demo into Kevin’s hands and him actually wanting to do something after that,” Gerard said. “That original demo sounds nothing like what we’re doing now.”
The duo recorded 2010’s Ghost In This Town with sundry coastal musicians, but has since settled with guitarist Lincoln Morris and bassist Jarett Dorman.
“The first record was assembled between Kevin and Sean and a bunch of Wilmington guys, but this record feels more accomplished with the full band,” Wittman said.
The band went for an entirely new sound on the record, which was recorded in the band’s home studio. Gerard said the band covers a lot of different styles, but in an accessible manner.
“The new album is a lot ‘poppier,’ and I mean to say that in a good way,” Gerard said. “It’s got more hooks in it, but every song is pretty different.”
In addition to the new song styles, the band also broke new ground instrumentally, with Gerard playing keys on a lot of the tracks. They also brought in a local pedal steel guitar player for some of the Americana tracks.
“It’s a very dynamic record,” Wittman said. “Some people that know them as an Americana band will be surprised by a couple of the pop songs on there.”
Another helping hand on the album is The Rosebuds’ Ivan Howard, a close friend of Gerard’s, who provided vocals on “Telling Nobody.”
Lincoln Morris produced the album, but the band flew in Matt Ross-Spang from Memphis’ Sun Studios to do the final mix.
“Matt really brought it up another level and tied it all together. He’s got a vastly superior knowledge of recording than us,” Gerard said with a chuckle.
The band will release the album on their own Winoca Records, which Morris and Rhodes started in 2009 to release their first album.
Onward, Soldiers is the only band on the label today, but they hope their own success will allow them to support other local artists.
“What we’re doing is a grassroots thing, so we’re all friends and we’re all working towards the same goal,” Rhodes said, who sometimes finds it hard to balance his role in the band and his role with the label.
After the Pour House show, the band will have another album release show in Wilmington on Feb. 3, a week before it hits the road for its first national tour.
The tour will take the band as far west as Colorado and will also include a stop at the South By Southwest music showcase in Austin, Texas. They will then head back east for a show at the Local 506 on March 30.
While on the road, Onward, Soldiers will also be selling its very own blend of coffee, which is roasted at Folks Café, the same coffee shop where Kevin Rhodes first received Gerard’s demo.
“Yeah, we sell coffee,” Gerard said with a hint of embarrassment. “It’s an interesting item at the merch table, but it’s just another way we think outside the box as a band.”
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