Sometimes things are what they appear to be and others; not so much. Such is the case with Syracuse, NY based rock band Epic Tantrum who have drawn comparisons such as this one from graphic artist Ioannis, "Epic Tantrum is like the bastard children of Rush and Steely Dan. Powerful clever songs with twists and turns and musicianship to match."
Formed circa 2017 the band showed gumption with their first official full length disc; make that two discs as "Abandoned In the Stranger's Room" was released in January 2020 as a two CD set of both studio and live recordings.
Bassist "Greg" recently offered up some insight into the band's make up, name, their formation, the two CD set and more, as well as their plans going forward in the current Covid-19 climate.
"So there's one common factor; Peter, Paul and I all took guitar lessons from the same person here in Syracuse and that's how we all met," he explained tongue in cheek. "Peter and Paul play guitar and they were his prize students, I am not the prize student and that's why I play bass. So they met that way and then Peter and Paul started doing classical pieces together and Paul had his own studio which we've now renamed "The Stranger's Room" and Peter and Paul started recording classical music together and they enjoyed it so they started writing and it was very informal. They eventually got to the point where they thought they should bring in a drummer and Z had been friends with Paul for years and they'd played together for years. I initially started playing with Peter and Paul because I'd go play poker with them on Thursday nights and we'd blast music, play poker and be obnoxious and they had asked me for a couple of years to play bass and I kept saying no and they'd say, "Let's go jam " and I hate jam bands and the word jam turned me off. Then one day they played me some music and I thought, this isn't jam music and I joined shortly after that. So basically we all met through our guitar teacher here in Syracuse; I know you're jealous because everyone wants to live in Syracuse; perhaps it was really the snow and lack of sunlight that probably really brought us together (laughs)."
"I wish there was a great story that I could tell and I often change it just to make it more exciting," he said with a chuckle as he relayed how the name came about. "Everybody sat around a table and tried to think of a name for the band and there was a lot of messiah, for some reason messiah kept coming up; OK that was really our drummer, he just kept saying that he wanted messiah in the name. I think something along the lines of epic messiah came up at one point or tantrum messiah or messiah tantrum kind of came up and we kind of combined that into Epic Tantrum; it was the one thing that everybody agreed on but he is still trying to get us to work the word messiah into it. So if our next album comes out and it's named messiah something; you know it's our drummer's fault (laughs)."
So whether it's the weather or the music; this quartet has a closeness that one doesn't always see in bands having a more cerebral style; that being progressive, jazz with some metal overtones. So how did they develop their signature sound and who are the principal songwriters?
"I think our sound comes more from our influences," said Greg with hesitation. "I don't know that we developed our sound consciously; I think there was definitely some thoughts of, how can we make this sound better and sound more cohesive but I think that we are the sum of all of the music that we grew up listening to. There are certain bands that are common throughout everyone in the band; we are all big Rush fans. In fact the whole band, when Rush had their last tour, we rented a limo and had it drive us up to Toronto so we could all go out and have a good time and it's not like we have that much money to go waste doing that but we thought that it would be this one great experience. We all love Rush and that's probably the most common theme and we are all big Steely Dan fans so you hear a little bit of that. There's definitely a little bit more of a jazz influence in some of what we do, although I don't know if the average listener is going to hear that; then after that we kind of go all over the place musically but I do think that it's a sum of the parts and this is the music that we love so it kind of comes out in the music that we write and play."
"It started off with Peter and Paul writing the songs. The majority of the music that you hear on this album they wrote and then when I joined; because it became more of a proper band at that point it changed, so now we all kind of write; now it's everybody. The songs, well definitely the newer material, you can also kind of hear (the difference), especially if you listen to the live version of the songs verses the studio version. Disc one is called "Abandoned" and that's all the studio versions and disc two is "The Stranger's Room" and that's the live versions of everything but not all of the same songs. There's a live version of "Letting Go" and the studio version of "Letting Go" and you can hear how different we are live and just because it's a different experience and we sort of just grew as a band from rehearsing. So the newer songs that we have are kind of; each one of us started with an idea; this is usually how it goes, I come from a punk background and I'll come in and say; can't we make this simpler and 4/4? Then everybody laughs at me and tries to make it 10 times more difficult (laughs). So on the album Peter and Paul wrote most of the stuff that you'll hear and on the new stuff it's kind of just everybody. So the "Abandoned" record, the reason it's called "Abandoned" is; not to sound pretentious but there's a quote from a famous artist, "Art is never finished, it's abandoned" and we were tinkering so much with the album going back and forth and because we have our own studio we could've gone on forever. Finally I said, we just have to be done, we need to just be done with this album, it felt sort of like an albatross around our neck. That's why that was called "Abandoned" because I said we just have to abandon this as is."
A double album is tough to market unless the year is 1975 but even especially more so in this age of EP releases and short attention spans; so what prompted them to go for the gusto with their debut effort?
"There were some demos that we were kicking around but nothing for real, this is our debut," began Greg. "When we started listening to the album itself, I didn't feel like it was entirely representative of what the band is like because I know what we sound like live and and I know what we sounded like in the studio so I really pushed to put out a double CD and I thought it was obnoxious, an unknown band from Syracuse putting out a double CD is just obnoxious and funny to me; everybody went along with it so that's how we ended up with a double CD. Obnoxious is my way of saying gutsy, pretentious, bold; we were definitely making a statement. We were definitely saying, hey; we wanted people to recognize through the artwork and the packaging that we were different and hopefully in a good way."
Ah the artwork; remember Ioannis of the quote from paragraph number one?
"The album cover comes from an artist named Ioannis who has done album covers for King Crimson, Dream Theater, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple; the number of bands that he's done album covers for is kind of mind blowing. I was working with him on another project and he kept asking to hear the band so I finally sent him something and he called me and said, "I want to do your album cover" and I said, we can't afford for you to do our album cover. Then the next day he said, "I keep listening to this one song," which is one of the instrumentals on the album and he said, "I have a vision, I'm doing your album cover." "So he sent us a couple of different ideas and we were all drawn to this one; so he did all of the artwork and it kind of encapsulated everything about the band. The guy in the Bowler Hat has kind of a Rush/Pink Floyd kind of feel to it, he's alone in the streets, it just has sort of a surrealist quality, kind of creepy; I don't know if creepy is the right word but it spoke the most to us as a cover and we loved it so that's how that came about."
A scheduled release party was cancelled due to the pandemic we are now experiencing but that doesn't seem to deter the band who seemingly are more than willing to take things as they come as they let their music and careers unfold.
"We had a show scheduled in New York City but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the Covid virus. We've played shows, we opened up for Kings X last year, we've been offered some other shows here and there but the record is brand new and we'll go out and play once people get to know who we are. We're not going to get into a van and be the band that's going to go and play all over the country. I've done stuff like that in a past life, we are being selective; it's not that we aren't willing but we all have lives, we all have day jobs and right now we're trying to just balance the two. I sometimes say that this is our golf; nobody in the band golfs but this is what we do as our hobby. I probably spend more time doing stuff for the band than my day job and I own the company so that's a scary thought (laughs)."
"I think going back to the band, our music is very serious and if you listen to our music we probably sound very different than we are; the band is sort of our outlet and it's about four people who are friends going in and being able to create music. Really, if we like the songs that's all that matters to us and I know that bands say that all of the time but we're in the unique situation where we have our own studio that we rehearse and record in and if something happens and this blows up that's great but this is our fun. So as long as we are amused; we have ridiculous senses of humor, I'd be scared if anybody watched one of our rehearsals. So that's the weird thing because we seem kind of heavy and dark and that's not really what we are; we're not that way it's just sort of how the music comes out. I toured years ago with a punk band from England that was like an "Anarcho Punk" band and the tour was kind of falling into disarray. So I jumped in the van with them to try and help out and I expected it to be like all political talk and really depressing and heavy and it was completely amusing and fun and they were ridiculous; so yeah..."
To discover more about Epic Tantrum please go to www.epictantrum.com.
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!
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Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.