Last week, Shades Apart released Eternal Echo, the band's first album in almost 20 years. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jason Livermore (Descendents, NOFX), the record is brimming with one memorable melody after the other. Songs like "Only Light," "Thread" and "95" all remind you that while the New Jersey trio's roots were planted in the punk scene there, they also understood how to craft a perfect pop song beneath the crunch.
To celebrate the release of Eternal Echo, No Echo spoke with all three members of Shades Apart to get their thoughts on each of their 7 studio albums. Thanks to the band for taking this fun walk down memory lane!
Shades Apart (1988)
The first album came out through Wishingwell Records, a label that was co-owned by Pat Dubar and Pat Longrie of Uniform Choice. Since they were more for their ties to the more traditional-sounding hardcore scene, how did Shades Apart end up working with them?
Ed Brown (drums): We gave them a cassette demo at City Gardens when they played there, I think we had to hand crank the car to start it back then. Anyway, Pat Dubar called from California when they got back from tour.
If you look at Uniform Choice’s career arc, they grew more and more melodic, so maybe they liked the idea of more melodic bands on their label? Pat Dubar eventually ended up in Mindfunk, which was very commercial sounding.
Maybe some bands just move in a more melodic direction as they develop?
Both Don Zientara and Eli Janney worked with you guys in the studio on that record. Do any specific memories stick out from those sessions? Also, did you have enough time to get everything done to your liking, or was it a run-and-gun kind of situation?
Ed: Inner Ear! That place is legendary and we reeeaaallly wanted to record there. Don and Eli were both super nice and professional. We were on a very tight budget so it was kind of “we get what we get and we don’t get upset.” Years later we remixed with Eric Rachel at Trax East. That recording shows its warts but I still like it as a snapshot of that time.
Lots of memories for sure. More from the down time goofing around and traveling to get there. The 3 of us brought our friend Dave from Vision to help with group vocals and we laughed pretty much the whole time. It was more like a road trip than a recording process.
Kevin Lynch (bass): Here is a random memory. I remember at some point we grabbed food at a hamburger place in Arlington, Virginia that had peanut shells all over the floor. I left there thinking it was the greatest hamburger I had ever eaten. Turns out, the restaurant was the original Five Guys.
I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the recording process but a few weeks ago I was going through some old band stuff and found the original invoices from Inner Ear. Looks like we spent 2 days (2/9-2/10) tracking songs and 1 day (2/15) mixing for a whopping total recording cost of $720! We sat with the mix for a while and on the 4th of July we headed back down to inner Ear for a 1 day remix session. We decided we needed better guitar tones.
Around that time, a band from New Brunswick, New Jersey called TMA had released a record called Beach Party 2000. The guitars sounded amazing and had this aggressive yet surfy tone. We reached out to their guitarist Mike “Wattage” Demko and he agreed to come to Inner Ear to help dial in our guitar tones. He was a few years older than us. We were just kids (19 and 20 yrs old) so we needed all the help we could get.
Sadly, Mike passed away last month. Years after the initial Wishingwell Records release, we remixed the record again at Trax East in South River, New Jersey and released it on CD on our own label called Ultraviolet.
What is your favorite song on the first album and why?
Kevin: Hard to pick a favorite. Just depends on my mood. “Away” has always been one of my favorites. I like aggressive yet melodic songs and “Away” fits that mold pretty well. “Remember When” and “Black and White” shred pretty hard with great mosh part in the middle. “Older Now” has a great middle section and the lyrics make more sense now than they ever have.
Mark Vecchiarelli (guitars and vocals): "On the Inside" is a song from one of the first demos we recorded, and one of our first attempts at writing songs as a band. So, that’s a favorite of mine. It was clearly influenced by my new found love of Agent Orange. Thanks Mike Palm!
Though the band dropped the Dude Danger EP in between, Neon didn’t come out till 5 years after the first album. Was that gap due to work/school commitments, or was there something else going on?
Ed: The guy who ran Sunspot I met at Virginia Tech, so yeah, I was in college at that point. We were finishing school and starting jobs. Neon may be the most unique sounding of our albums, and the first time we really leaned into focusing on hooks and melodies along with speed and intensity. I’d call it a turning point for us.
Mark: It was at that time I became a father. My amazing daughter was born in 1990.
Thinking back to that era, it felt like Shades Apart played on both hardcore/punk and more college rock/indie-type bills. Did you go over better in either of those worlds, or was it a show-by-show, city-by-city kind of thing?
Ed: Yes and yes. There were bands treading the line between punk and pop. Lemonheads and Descendents and Dag Nasty. In college towns they liked the more melodic material I guess. They also bought fewer T-shirts which cut into our gas budget to get to the next venue. So it goes.
Kevin: It feels like we always appealed to portions of both those scenes but when you are not the headliner there is always going to be somebody that doesn’t like your music. We followed our own path but were definitely influenced by the hardcore, emo, and pop punk bands of the day.
If you went to a hardcore show looking to hear a pure hardcore band you probably weren’t into Shades Apart, and if you went to an indie rock show looking to hear a more traditional indie rock band, you might have been turned off by the higher intensity aspects of our music. We always seemed to be somewhere in the middle of all that.
We at least had a fighting chance of making a fan if you appreciated both aspects of those scenes. It really did vary show to show and city to city.
What is your favorite song on Neon and why?
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on "Calling."
Mark: Yep, "Calling" is a standout. The song "Neon" was recorded at home on a 4-track cassette recorder, so that one scores points also.
Kevin: I, too, love “Calling." It’s a song that we still play in most sets today. 2 songs that I really like but don’t play out are “Good Luck Charm” and “Tilt." We definitely introduced slower tempo songs on Neon and these two songs show that slow songs can be powerful and beautiful at the same time. They are like our versions of a rock ballad.
I would even say they were precursors to songs like “Valentine," “Chasing Daydreams," “One Starry Night," “Three Wishe," and “Spell."
Save It. (1995)
For the Save It. album, the group switched from Skene! Records to Revelation Records.
Ed: [Revelation Records owner] Jordan Cooper is an amazing individual. He doesn’t have a bad bone in his body. We didn’t know him personally before Save It. but we all became great friends after. Jordan knew our music from the Wishingwell era. Youth of Today released Break Down the Walls on Wishingwell before Ray [Cappo] and Jordan started Rev, I think. Fact check me on that.
During our time on Rev, we got to know Jordan super well. John Nutcher, too. We stayed at Jordan’s house on several tours, he came to Colorado when we recorded Seeing Things, we met up any time we played LA. One time we ate dinner on Sunset Boulevard before a show and sat next to the guitarist from Bush [probably Chris Traynor, also of Orange 9mm and Fountainhead, ed.]… not the Tiger Beat one who married Gwen Stefani. Some bands need 2 guitars but that’s because they don’t have a Mark V.
Mark: Being on Rev was great. Jordan was and is so supportive of our music. A good friend. And the tour with Farside was such an incredible time from the Rev days.
As much as I dug the earlier material up to that point, Save It. is where I truly fell in love with Shades Apart. How much did working with Bill Stevenson and Stephen Egerton inform that album? I’m assuming you guys were all friends for years before the collaboration?
Ed: We played with Descendents and ALL and met Bill and Stephen a few times. When we had all the songs for Save It. ready to go, we thought they would sound better if Bill and Stephen produced the thing. The tracks were higher energy than our previous albums and needed an extra kick to come to life. We worked out a schedule and voila…
Also Eric Rachel at Trax East was super helpful in letting us use his studio. We could not have made that happen without him. No way.
Mark: I remember Bill and Stephen were always “on” in the studio and their energy was so contagious. Love that about those guys. I remember tracking all the vocals within 2 or 3 hours because we were so amped up and just having such a good time with it.
Kevin: We didn’t know Bill and Stephen all that well prior to recording. Like Ed said, we got to play shows here and there with ALL and the Descendents. The first time I remember Bill taking a liking to the band was when we opened for the Descendents (more likely opened for the band who opened for the band who opened them) on the last tour before they became ALL. It was at a club in Connecticut called the Anthrax.
We were just three young guys who loved the Descendants and were psyched to be on the show. During our soundcheck, Bill wandered out in front of the stage and just stood there, nobody else around, and watched and listened very intently. He had some nice things to say afterwards. That was a big confidence booster. It would be a few years later before we recorded with them.
Recording Save it. is when we really learned how to record. Focusing on finer details that seem painfully obvious now but not so much back then. Something as simple as matching the timing of a background vocal to the lead vocal.
“Tainted Love” became a breakout song/music video for the band. How did that cover end up on the album and were you surprised by how huge the response was to it?
Ed: We recorded that at… wait for it… Trax East with Eric. It was for an AIDS benefit album that I don’t think ever came out. Fact check me on that. We were surprised because now we were riding airplanes to get to the next gig and not sweating on the van’s vinyl seats.
Mark: Matt Pinfield was my oldest brother’s good friends growing up, and also became a big fan of our band. I remember him playing the song on the local radio station, and it began to get some attention.
Kevin: We were pretty surprised by the way the song received airplay on major radio stations. Even more surprised when we were asked to make a video. We had never made a video before (or since then, by the way) so it was an exciting process. We ended up shooting the video in the backyard of my childhood home in Bridgewater, New Jersey. We put up flyers at a show or something like that to get kids to show up.
A young Benny Horowitz (Gaslight Anthem) is in there somewhere. Anyway, the video got some airplay on MTV in the U.S. and Much Music in Canada. We were such dummies….Much Music invited us to play live on the air and of course they were expecting to hear "Tainted Love" and we ripped into some other song on Save It. I think they were probably pretty mad. We honestly didn’t know better at the time.
What is your favorite song on Save It. and why?
Kevin: “Brutus." Pure power. Sick guitar and a 7/8 part in the middle for added evil.
Mark: I really like that collection of songs as a whole, but the instrumental “Valid” stands out to me because it was something new for us.
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on "Gun." The lyrics Mark wrote, unfortunately, never seem to go out of vogue.
Seeing Things (1997)
The next album, Seeing Things, also came out on Revelation Records, but since “Tainted Love” got so much attention, were you already getting courted by major labels? If so, do you have any interesting stories to share about that?
Ed: We were very stoked on Rev as a label so we weren’t thinking about majors. We were in a great place because we could make the exact album we wanted, knowing it would sound stellar at the Blasting Room, and Rev could distribute and get it out there. No corporate boogeymen were pressuring us. It was so fun.
One morning, the Blasting Room had its roof redone and Kevin and me were sleeping in a guitar room for some reason. We were up all night recording and woke up seeing two guys ripping off the old roof over our heads as bits of shingle rained down. Mark, I think, made the wise decision of sleeping in the control room because he was cutting vox and working later than us.
Kevin: It seemed like major labels were swarming over tons of bands on Indie labels back then. I don’t think we were one of those bands at the time. “Tainted Love” just happened out of nowhere. It was put on Save It. as an after thought. It definitely shed some light on us but I don’t think labels were ready for us and we were probably not ready for a major at the time.
Did you feel any added pressure to deliver on Seeing Things since there was a bigger audience waiting for the album, or is that something that never faze you guys?
Ed: Seeing Things may have been the most fun album I ever worked on, besides Eternal Echo. It was low pressure and we met so many awesome people in Colorado. Getting to know Jason was incredible. He and I had push up contests using an old Dr. Beat drum machine. He won of course. We stayed at his apartment and pretty much laughed and had fun for 3 weeks.
Remember when we jumped off a cliff into HorseTooth Reservoir and some park ranger in a speed boat cruised over to yell at us?
Mark: So great! I haven’t thought about that stuff for a very long time. I feel like I remember someone catching crawdads in the stream next to the studio.
Kevin: I don’t remember there being a feeling of catering to a bigger audience. We were touring more regularly and just tried to keep the momentum going. I Couldn’t agree more with Ed. Zero pressure. Tons of fun. Even though we recorded Save It. with Bill and Stephen, they came to us and recorded at Trax East in New Jersey.
This was our first visit to the Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado. It was also the first time we were totally immersed into the recording process with no outside distractions. It was 24/7 at the studio. When we were there we had the sense that we were “part of the family” and when you have that kind of comfort things are a lot easier.
What is your favorite song on Seeing Things and why?
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on "Fist."
Kevin: I’m gonna go with "Hiding Place." I love the sparse spooky guitars and the way the rhythm section breaths during the verse and then the chorus just explodes with thick guitars and harmonies. And the lyrics almost want to make me cry.
Mark: "Fist" has become the standard show closer, never get tired of playing that one.
For Eyewitness you guys signed with Universal, a long way from Wishingwell! How involved was your A&R rep in the writing/recording/vetting process for that one?
Ed: After Seeing Things, we did get courted by majors. All the Rev bands did. We had a track mixed by Ron St. Germain (Bad Brains, 311) on Eyewitness. He told us A&R is supposed to stand for "Artists and Repertoire," but really meant "Assholes and Restaurants." There were days we ate at fancy NYC eateries all 3 meals while meeting with A&R dudes. Then I took the train home to my tiny apartment in New Jersey.
Kevin: Our A&R rep didn’t get involved in the writing or recording process but once the recording was finished A&R got involved with the mastering. We walked in on the mastering and found that one of our songs had been sped up. We were pretty upset that someone else was trying to get involved with something we created without our consent.
In the end, the song stayed the tempo we recorded it at. Understanding that many people in the major label world want to put their finger print on the recording was part of the learning curve for us.
Mark: That’s right, forgot about that one. Yeah, they definitely wanted to get in on the writing process, but we shot that down.
I loved that you brought in Lou Giordano (Sugar, Goo Goo Dolls) to produce the sessions since he also came from a punk background but also understood how to maximize the melodic aspect of what Shades Apart has always been about.
Ed: I think, and Kevin and Mark tell me if I’m wrong here, we liked how Lou’s records sounded and so did the label. He was great to work with. Once again, it felt more like hanging out with a buddy than making a record. He had lots of good ideas and definitely got the flavor we were going for.
That album sounds perfect to me when I listen now, so no regrets. We did some post-mixing at Lou’s house, he brought in bagels and I watched Shark Week while everyone else did real work.
Mark: Those were some good bagels. He also made some tasty burgers at the house. Really great guy, with a shared love of Hüsker Dü. Definitely contributed some positive energy to the sessions. And he was always up for trying out any and all of our recording ideas.
Kevin: Lou was great. Laid back and easy to get along with. We had a dilemma when it came to picking out a producer. We wanted to continue to work with Bill and Stephen but the label had final say, and if I remember it correctly, they wanted a producer that “had proven success on radio” or something to that effect. Lou definitely had success with the Goo Goo Dolls and we were comforted that he worked with so many other bands in our genre. He had also recently produced Samiam’s record Clumsy, of which we were all big fans.
I’ll never forget when I still lived in NYC and I heard “Valentine” from that album getting played on the big rock station there at the time. How successful was that single throughout the rest of the country, and did you notice a new crop of fans showing up at the shows because of it?
Ed: Yes. It was a fantastic tune Mark wrote and people responded.
Kevin: I have to rely on the ‘ole Google machine to tell me “ In 1999, the single "Valentine" peaked at #31 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart." It was pretty exciting to be on the road as the song was hitting the airwaves.
I remember being in the van on tour driving through Florida (?) and hearing "Valentine" on the radio the first time. We were pretty pumped up and then the next song that came on was Ricky Martin’s "Livin’ la Vida Loca." That’s when the party really started.
What you have to remember about the “new crop of fans” thing is that we were always a support band for some other bigger band. 9 times out of 10, all of the people were at the show to see the headliner so a lot of people at these shows didn’t know us until they heard us play “Valentine." Then you could see people turning to each other like “I know this song!” It wasn’t until Eyewitness was out for a while that we noticed a new crop of fans who dug a little deeper into our song catalog.
"Stranger by the Day” is also on that record, and for my money, it’s one of the best songs Shades Apart has ever written/recorded. How did the track also land on the American Pie soundtrack?
Ed: Yes. It was a fantastic tune Mark wrote and people responded. Again. The guy was firing on all cylinders.
Mark: We were signed to Universal at that time and they were putting out the soundtrack to the movie. I remember all of us going to see it in the theater, and being the last to leave because we wanted to see the music credits. When I think of that song I always picture the rehearsal space where most of that record was written. It was...rustic? The owner was a loveable metalhead drummer, and he rented us a spot for $10 per hour.
Kevin: Hard to argue that it’s not one of the better songs, at least based on fan reaction. When Mark brought that song to practice we just knew it was going to be special. He had the structure, the melody, the “stranger by the day” hook. I think Ed deserves a lot of credit in general.
He is a great lyricist and has ways of expanding a hook or an idea into a completed song and I recall that happening with "Stranger by the Day" as well. The lyrics in that song are crafted so well. The first two verses set the scenery so well for the heartbreak of the 3rd verse.
Having the song in the movie was amazing. It was a blockbuster and gave us international exposure that we would otherwise never achieved. Although some parts of the movie may not have aged well, it’s 20 years later and you can still find new YouTube videos of bands from countries we’ve never been to covering that song. That’s pretty darn cool.
What is your favorite song on Eyewitness and why?
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on "Starry Night." It was so fun to completely reject all pop and punk formulas to just do something that sounded so good.
Mark: "100 Days." It’s cool because the chorus always sounded so much bigger than a three piece band to me, and Ed’s lyrics are so well constructed, heartfelt and full of imagery and analogy.
Kevin: I’ll throw "Sputnik" out there as one of my favorites. Catchy, super cool guitar sound and another great set of lyrics. If I close my eyes it feels like I’m watching a 3 minute long movie in my mind.
Sonic Boom (2001)
Sonic Boom came out in 2001 via Universal Records. Since you had success at radio with the previous album, was the label very supportive going into that record?
Ed: Not really, no.
Mark: I would say definitely not. And unfortunately our least favorite recording process. I think we were just spent and It was time for a break.
Kevin: Although it felt like we were succeeding by “charting” and getting airplay, I don’t think the label saw it as a success. Or at least it wasn’t successful enough. Our label had some other artist that were truly blowing up and when that happened they put all of their resources towards that artists….or that’s how it seemed to us at least.
You recorded a new version of "Behind the Wheel,” a song that was originally on the Seeing Things album. Why did you decide to do that one over again?
Ed: That’s one of my favorite songs, maybe same for Kevin and Mark. I think we just wanted to see how it would sound with full on production.
Mark: I guess we were thinking maybe it would give the song a second chance and reach more people. I remember KISS put "Strutter" on like three albums, so who can argue with that?
From my standpoint as a fan/listener, it felt like Sonic Boom didn’t have a ton of marketing visibility. How do you view that period, and did 9/11 have a direct impact on the album’s campaign?
Ed: I think we were cooked by then. We started this band when groups that sounded like us didn’t make money, just did it for fun. We did it for fun. By this time we had been doing it as a job for a while and I think we were all pretty burnt.
Kevin: I thought there were some strong songs on Sonic Boom. With any new record you hope for the best but you really are at the mercy of the label and the songs they choose to promote as a single. I don’t think they chose the right single (I could be alone in that assessment) and like you mentioned they didn’t put much behind it or the second single. There were also changes at the label that were out of our control so I’m sure that didn’t help.
9/11 was kind of like the ending point. We were home from touring but we had already sensed the label pulling away. Tour support was tougher to come by. Once 9/11 happened it felt like it was time to focus on a different future for our families.
What is your favorite song on Sonic Boom and why?
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on "Shockwave." Reminds me of Shark Week - see above.
Mark: Yeah, me too. As always I am a sucker for a song with a surf feel.
Kevin: Without a doubt, my favorite Sonic Boom song is “Spell." To me, it’s a tough sounding love song. It shows that love songs don’t have to be sappy or cheesy. It’s a song with a big-sounding chorus with powerful harmonies. I always wished this song had been “put out” there more by the label.
But….If you want to listen to a quirky, super cool, science fiction “ish” tune with a crazy guitar hook check out “Rebel Teenager from Mars.”
Eternal Echo (2020)
That takes us to Eternal Echo, which is Shades Apart’s 7th studio album. It’s been so many years since Sonic Boom, so you obviously had a long time to think about where you wanted to take the material (re: power-pop vs. pop-punk vs. more melodic side of what you do, etc.) Did you think about that a lot before you started working on the songs, or did it just flow organically?
Ed: These are all great questions. Most interesting interview I can recall. No, we did not speak at all about sonic formula. We actually just started sending our recorded files to each other and momentum built. These tracks really “wrote themselves.”
Kevin: The writing process for this record was like no other record we have done. Technology has changed the entire process. Even though we would occasionally get together to practice for shows, most of these songs were put together and worked on via email. We all geared up enough to be able track ideas and send mp3s to each other. The refreshing part was being able to try different ideas on our own time. You don’t feel the pressure to come up with a part on the spot.
We didn’t have a set formula but we took a trip back out to the Blasting Room in 2011 and recorded a few songs. Those songs laid the groundwork for what came together these past few years.
If I had to describe the Eternal Echo to someone familiar with the progression of our prior records, I would say that this record sounds like it fits in between Seeing Things and Eyewitness.
Mark: Agreed, thanks for a great interview. "Only Light" stands out to me. Ed had the lyrics written and we built the song up from there, so it was a cool process. The message is undeniable.
Listening to the record, it feels like no years have passed. I know you’ve played sporadically since the last record, but did you guys keep playing together outside of that?
Ed: We played a bit here and there. Our friendship always stayed strong. Mark and Kevin and I talk and meet up on the regular. I think our chemistry is based on our mutual respect for each other more than on technical precision. We all laugh together when one of us messes up playing a song live. All part of the fun at this point.
Kevin: ...and I give Ed a lot to laugh about at shows lately.
Mark: Me too. When you’ve played together as long as we have, there are certain things that come together instinctively. We are brothers. We can almost anticipate where the other guy is going to go with a fill or riff. But it still feels fresh. So psyched about the new songs.
There’s a certain reflective feel I get from some of the lyrics on the album. What are some of the themes you tackle this time out?
Ed: Another killer question. I said before this album wrote itself, but our current situation in the world certainly contributed. We wrote "Souls and Soldiers" after the Women's March on DC in 2017. We all have daughters and I know this is a tarnished trope to drag out but in our case it may be legit. It felt like these mothers and daughters were going out to fight because they had to, and fighting is simply not in their nature. We wanted to provide an anthem for them. A battle cry for people who would rather not fight.
Then, in August same year, the right held a rally in Virginia, where I went to college. We saw these images of people shouting in the night and carrying Tiki torches. Within a few days we had the kernel of what would become “Only Light.” Love has to win out over hate, and it’s my favorite track on the LP, but they are all so awesome, how would I choose?
Kevin: As I look down the song listing, I see songs about staying true to yourself, I see songs about light over darkness, songs about mental illness/depression, songs about overcoming loss. I see songs about reflecting on the past, songs about taking action and I see cautionary tales about what could lie ahead. But what do I know.
Since it’s so new, I’m sure it’s tough to pick, but which song on Eternal Echo is your favorite of the moment and why?
Ed: I love the guitar work and backing vox on all of it. The bass and drums groove on "Counting Down" is so tough and the vocal hooks are killer.
Mark: "Only Light." We are living in some extremely troubled times, and this song has a hopeful vibe.
Kevin: "Dark Valley Lake." It’s another one of these tough sounding songs that makes me want to cry.
“On Dark Valley Lake
Daylight hides behind the haze
Can I find my brighter days
Which way out, Dark Valley Lake”
Eternal Echo is out now via Hellminded Records and available at this link.
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