Ways Away is a new band comprised of guitarist Sergie Loobkoff (Samiam, Knapsack, Racquet Club, Solea), vocalist/guitarist Jesse Barnett (Stick to Your Guns, Wish You Were Here), drummer Jared Shavelson (Paint It Black, None More Black, BoySetsFire), and bassist Ian Smith (Racquet Club).
The combo creates a sound that will appeal to fans any of Sergie's other bands, with a focus on melody and the types of timeless hooks that sink into you by the time the first chorus comes to an end. Running No Echo for all of these years, I know many of you have a special place in your heat for this kind of musical style, so don't sleep on Ways Away.
To help get you acquainted with the group, I spoke with Sergie, Jesse, and Jared about all-things Ways Away, and a few other topics that should get your attention.
Sergie, how far back do you go with the other guys in Ways Away? Is there a long history there?
How the band started is that I met Jared Carmen from Trapped Under Ice....in a big way, this was his idea. Basically, I was talking to Scott [Vogel] from Terror backstage before a show of his and he got sick of talking to me and pawned me off on his bud Jared. Although Jared looks like a menacing hardcore fella on the surface [laughs], like Scott, he is a really nice guy and let me know that he had a soft spot for Samiam. At the end of the night he was like, "let's jam sometime." I said I know a drummer, also named Jared...to which he said, "he and I have been talking about doing a band forever, I talked to him this morning"...a cool coincidence. But I really didn't think seriously about it, I figured we'd jam a few times, never find a singer and it would fizzle out.
After a month or two, Jesse came on board and I realized it could amount to something. The first song Jesse tried to sing to, he took his iPhone into his bathtub and and sang a bit with an acoustic guitar....it sounded so "good" that that first iphone recording is actually the intro to the version we put on our record.
I have known Jared, the drummer, for several years and the three of them knew each other from 'hardcore' forever....so I could have answered your question that way. But you are probably thinking, "Jared Carmen, if he started this band, why is he not in any of the pictures?" Basically, when it came time to record a few months later, he disappeared: we were, like, "What the fuck? What did we do wrong?"
Apparently he had gone to Northern California to fight fires for 6 months and was incommunicado. I can’t blame him for choosing his career over what people might perceive as a fledgling side-project, so that's when we pulled in Ian, from my previous band, Racquet Club. It was super disappointing but we've seen Jared several times and we are all good. He actually came to our show in Santa Barbara, it was great to see him.
Jesse, you already play in a very active band, plus you have the Wish You Were Here outlet for your solo work, so why was it important for you to play in Ways Away?
[Laughs] This is a great question that many people, including myself, ask me. I truly just love playing. I love writing. I love music more than anything in this world. When I was asked to play in the band, I hadn't even heard any music. I was only told that it was with Sergie and I think for me, as much as this might embarrass him, was the deciding factor.
I was/am such a big fan of Samiam, Knapsack, and Racquet Club, so the idea of playing with him was the biggest selling point for me. Sergie has such an awesome writing style and has helped me look at songwriting in yet another way.
I also have known Jared Shevalson for a while now, and I am in love with the motherfucker. Such a great drummer and just always in a good mood.
Jared, you’ve played with both underground bands and bigger, mainstream artists. Why was it important for you to play in Ways Away?
I never thought of it as "underground" vs "big." To me, it's always been about the art and/or the people behind it. I've been a Samiam fan since I first heard Clumsy. I've wanted to play with Ian from when I went to the first Racquet Club show and saw him playing bass, and l also will never forget the time Boysetsfire played with Stick to Your Guns in Köln and Jesse had me completely captivated, from start to finish. There are many more reasons why this band is important to me, but creating with such a talented group is for sure one of my main reasons.
I emailed your Spotify link to a pal with a note that said: “Here’s some anthemic guitar rock for you to check out.” How would you each describe Ways Away’s sound?
Sergie: This first record musically was 80% songs I made up and had recorded on Garageband. So, musically, it was all songs that would have been Samiam songs if that band made a record in the last 9 years. I'm not a diverse musician or a very good guitar player so everything I "write" sounds pretty much the same. If one was to go on spotify and listen to my bands (Samiam, Knapsack, Solea, Racquet Club, Ways Away) 99 of 100 random people would say, "what is this shit? sounds like the same song over and over again with different singers'.
So I would describe Ways Away as "Samiam with the dood from Stick to Your Guns singing over it...minus the screaming" [laughs]. The next record will be way more a group effort musically....and more diverse...and therefore probably better.
Jesse: I'm not sure how I would describe Ways Away. I've always had a hard time with that because people have always interpreted the music I play different than I have intended it. I've heard it described as "Dad Rock," "Gainesville," "Orange Corny," "Sick as fuck", "Kinda like The Draft," "Samiam with Jesse singing" [Laughs]. I'm proud of all of these, so take your pick.
Jared: Speaking for myself about our sound...I mean we're not reinventing the wheel here we're a rock band, but a rock band that I want to listen to.
Beau Burchell produced the album sessions. Why was he the right guy for the job? Also, I imagine at this point, you guys are very comfortable in the recording studio?
Jesse: To be completely honest, he was the only guy who was available on such short notice. It wasn't really clear to us that he was the right guy for the job until we were actually in the studio with him. Then it became abundantly clear. Beau is such a great producer, song writer, guitar player, and all around awesome person. He very much understood what we were trying to go for while also giving us a little bit of his more modern sound. I think he did a great job and brought way more to the table than any of us thought. Not because we thought he wasn't capable but more so because of how unprepared we thought we were. He took what we had and just got it across the finish line and it never once felt stressed or rushed. Viva Beau!
Sergie, you still do sporadic touring with Samiam, but Racquet Club parted ways. Did the latter development inspire you to get Ways Away started, in the sense that you wanted to do a band where you would play both locally and write/record on a more consistent basis?
Yeah, Samiam still tours but not like a professional rock band. Last year we did Japan, Europe twice, and a trip to the Midwest and a trip back east. It's like an excuse to hang and see the world but not a living. The thing about samiam is that 2 guys live in Brooklyn, one in Gainesville, the singer in the Bay Area....so we can't just say, "let's meet at the rehearsal room on tuesday night after work." Racquet Club started, for me, in part because I wanted a band that all lived in the same city, which is something I hadn't had since the mid-'90s. If Racquet Club wasn't so fulfilling to me, I probably wouldn't have thought to start up with Ways Away.
What’s the status of Samiam as of today?
We are actually recording a new record in April, our first in 9 years. We have 16 songs for that. There are touring plans in the States and Europe, but I don't see us getting a whole lot more serious than recent years. Those guys have young kids and we all have lives outside of the band. We are lucky that we all like each other and the current lineup (of last 6 years) play extremely well together....so it's always a pleasure. We also have a new label, which we are very excited about because we are less than excited about our previous ones.
What’s the plan for Ways Away now that you have some music out there?
Sergie: Yes, to play as much as we can between Jesse and Jared's crazy schedule with other bands, bands that make money. I think we are all equally happy with Ways Away, but obviously the bigger other bands tour a lot and get in the way.