"We went through a two-year personal, emotional holocaust," says singer Max Illidge. "Not just as a band, but individually too. Looking around at some of the things people in this band went through, both personally and professionally, I can say it was a tough year or two."
The seeds of 40 Below Summer were sown in 1998, when drummer and Peruvian native Carlos Aguilar started jamming with singer Illidge. Joe D'Amico came into the fold next, followed by Jordan Plingos and Puerto Rican-born Hector Graziani. A self-released EP called Sideshow Freaks and constant gigging in New Jersey and New York helped foster a buzz about the band, and after numerous showcases on both coasts, a deal was signed with London/Sire Records. Their major label debut, Invitation To The Dance, was released in October of 2001, produced by the legendary GGGarth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, Kittie).
But London/Sire folded two months after the CD's release, a casualty of major label corporate mergers, leaving 40 Below Summer essentially without a home or support system. When most bands might have sold their equipment and started perusing the want ads, 40 Below refused to give up. "As things were falling apart around us - our label and everything else - we kind of just kept on trudging," recalls Plingos. "We tried to stay on the road as much as we could, as much as money would allow it, however we could do it. We did everything ourselves. We realized we had fans out there, so we said we're gonna go out there and play. We couldn't just sit around at home. We had to make things work."
Following one label-supported run on the Jagermeister Music Tour, with Drowning Pool, Coal Chamber, and Ill Nino, making things work on their own is exactly what 40 Below Summer did - with the help of an incredibly devoted and growing fan base. "It's pretty uplifting, especially when we're just out in a van playing smaller clubs, and the kids are crazy," continues Plingos. "They follow us, they're just so psyched for you to be there, they want to talk to you and tell you what they thought about the show. It's just nuts to see what five guys in a van can do.
Fortified by the fans, the band was at the same time writing the material for The Mourning After and rediscovering their love of making music. "For a while there, we lost sight of who we were and what we were doing," admits Illidge candidly. "We got caught up in the bullshit of the business and really lost sight of why we started doing this, which is that we really liked making music together."
The band started writing almost immediately after the release of Invitation To The Dance, but threw out some fifteen songs before coming up with twenty-one that they whittled down to the final ten (plus a bonus track, "The Day I Died") for The Mourning After. Razor & Tie saw the band in February of 2003, when they played New York on tour with now label mates E.Town Concrete, and a deal was signed in June just as the band entered the studio to record.
Behind the board this time was renowned producer David Bendeth (Vertical Horizon, Crash Test Dummies), who brought an entirely fresh perspective to 40 Below's sound. "We figured that if we worked with someone who did the last seven popular heavy rock records, it was gonna sound exactly like those," says Plingos. "It was gonna be clichéd, and we didn't want to be clichéd. David doesn't think like a producer, to a certain extent. He's a musician first, a guitar player, and he thinks like we do."
The album reinforces the sound 40 Below Summer established on Invitation To The Dance while expanding its horizons in a spate of new and innovative directions. "Self-Medicate" and "F.E." (which features Ill Nino vocalist Cristian Machado) are pummeling, intense metal anthems, while "Awakening" and "A Better Life" bring the band's melodic sensibilities to the surface with shimmering, beautiful hooks. "On the first record, we'd go from this brutal thing to this beautiful thing, but on this one, we made those elements fit more smoothly," explains Joe D'Amico. "Before, we wanted to be really heavy, but we also wanted the music to be melodic, so we'd slap those parts right next to each other. Now we learned how to meld them together to create a sound."
"We're not a nu-metal band," says Illidge firmly. "We have elements of nu-metal in us; we have elements of old school metal in us. We have elements of hardcore and straight-up rock and folk and even some jazz and funk. We don't want to be pigeonholed. We're an aggressive rock band, and rock explores a little bit of everything."
With The Mourning After ready for release, 40 Below Summer is preparing to do what they do best - tour as much as possible - and bring their hardcore fans a killer new album, an energized band, and an uncompromised outlook. "Everything feels much better," says Aguilar. "Every single experience, every single show, the way we recorded this album, the songwriting - everything feels like it's being done by a band again."
"The music has to always come first," confirms Illidge. "The music and the band itself have to come before anything else, and then you deal with the rest."
Spoken by a man who knows what he's talking about. It's The Mourning After, and 40 Below Summer is back to wake your ass up.