The desire to escape mediocrity and embrace the very best that life has to offer suddenly hits you. It comes like a wonderfully dramatic epiphany. It is clear the time has come and a decision must be made. You know the status quo simply will not do. It is this powerful transformation that lies at the core of The Afters' sophomore release Never Going Back To OK (INO/Columbia Records).
The Texas-based band was propelled into the national spotlight with their INO/Sony Music Label Group debut I Wish We All Could Win. The project spawned the swirling, melodic hit "Beautiful Love," earning the band an enthusiastic following when the song was selected as the theme track for MTV's "8th and Ocean". "Beautiful Love" was also the most downloaded track of 2006 on the iTunes Inspirational charts.
"On the last record there was a common thread of hope that came out in all the songs," vocalist/guitarist Brad Wigg. Never Going Back To OK seems to reflect transformation. I think a lot of the songs are talking about moving forward, of becoming who we are meant to be."
"It's been an eventful three years, that's for sure," says drummer Marc Dodd of the musical odyssey that has become the band's busy life. They've poured their life experiences into the new music and Dodd is excited about sharing the songs on Never Going Back To OK "The title track encourages people not to just go through the motions, but to try to make an impact on the world and help someone change their perspective on how life can really be."
For The Afters, life as a band began at a Starbucks in Mesquite, Texas where lead vocalist Josh Havens and vocalist/guitarist Matt Fuqua served up coffee and plotted their entrance onto the music scene. They recruited Dodd and Wigg and began performing under the name Blisse, earning a reputation as a potent live act with an arsenal of catchy pop/rock anthems.
The Afters signed to INO/Sony Music Label Group in 2005. When their debut disc started to create a buzz, their partnership with Columbia Records helped propel their career to the next level, setting the stage for Never Going Back To OK. "I feel like we all came in feeling more experienced as musicians," Havens says of the band's approach to the new disc. "We had more song ideas to pull from being out on the road. We discovered who we were as a band. I think being together nearly every day for a couple of years, we really developed our sound and I couldn't be happier with this album."
Fuqua agrees. "We really took our time writing this record. We really believe in every single song. That was really important to us."
The band credits veteran producer Dan Muckala (Backstreet Boys, Mandy Moore, Nick Lachey, Brian Littrell) with helping them create a sophomore album that is even stronger than their acclaimed debut. "He would push us to write better songs," says Havens of their producer. "He challenged us in ways that we've never been challenged before. I feel that that is a really big difference on this record. I think he took a lot of ownership on this record because he really loved the music as well and spent a lot of time working on it with us."
Never Going Back To OK again features all the components that made The Afters previous collection a hit--the memorable melodies, compelling lyrics, skilled musicianship and Havens' engaging lead vocals. Yet as Havens stated, the band was challenged to step it up on this new release and with one listen, it's obvious they not only met, but exceeded that challenge. Whether on pensive ballads such as "Ocean Wide" or potent tracks like "Keeping Me Alive," the band demonstrates the chops they developed over the past three years of relentless touring.
"It is definitely a lot more diverse than our last record," says Havens. "There are songs that rock harder than anything we've ever done before and then there are songs that are softer and more emotional than we've ever done before. I think the selection is much broader. I hope this is one that people will really enjoy."
On the lighter side, there's "MySpace Girl." "That's definitely out of the ordinary for us," Fuqua says of the song, which was inspired by a friend who met a girl at an In and Out Burger in LA, got to know her better via MySpace and wound up marrying her. "It's kind of a tongue and cheek song. It's a really fun song."
Whether singing about a romance that sprouted at a burger joint or exploring the complexities of life's most vulnerable moments, The Afters never shy away from exploring every facet of life's amazing journey. "We want to transform and figure out what life is all about," says Dodd. "That transformation process can be a good thing."
When that process inspires music this good, it's a great thing.