Ben Perri is coming down with a bad cold. “I'm good”, he says on meeting, in response to a formal “How's it going?”, then pauses, and admits “Actually, I feel like shit. I'm coming down with the flu or something”. For most singers, a couple of days in to a tour, this is bad news, adding a throaty husk to the voice. For anyone familiar with From Autumn to Ashes, and Perri's hardcore styled vocals, you can imagine – how do you add a rasp to a voice that already makes Motorhead's Lemmy sound like a choirboy? To give him his due, he puts on a show later where you'd be hard pressed to realise he's under the weather.
Then again, it's no more than you'd expect from a band that, with their first record, Too Bad You're Beautiful, released independently, sold 50,000 records stateside in no small part due to constant touring, and word of mouth popularity. For their second album they were signed up to the most ‘indie’ of the majors, or the most ‘major’ of the indies, depending upon who you talk to, Vagrant records, home to, amonst others, Dashboard Confessional, Rocket from the Crypt, and ex-Replacements Paul Westerberg.
Now, in a bold move, the label has sent a collection of its best performing bands on tour together in Europe, playing in clubs and concert halls much smaller than they're lately used to. The bands span the style range from 'emo' melodic punk rock, through to hardcore metal. Then again, it would be equally reasonable to say that From Autumn to Ashes themselves span the style range from 'emo' through to hardcore metal, often within the bounds of one song. Perri, when describing the band's music explains, “We have these beautiful parts and really heavy, disgusting parts and they all kind of fit in together”. Part of this tension arises from the fact that the band have two, and counting, singers. In their band bio, drummer Fran Mark is described as the melodic singer, while Perri, the lead vocalist, is described as rasping. As if that combination weren't enough, their new bassist, Josh Newton, sings as well. Perri laughs, “It's really cool, we can pass the vocals on around the band, and have so much range and so many different ways to take the music”.
There does seem, however, to be a certain tension in directions with the band. Their first album was far closer to a hardcore sound, while their latest disc, The Fiction We Live In, has a more structured, and, dare we say it, melodic sound. Perri sees the sound of the latest album as simply an expression of their growth as songwriters and musicians: “I think the biggest change is that we actually wrote songs this time around! The first album was more part after part after part. This record has more of a strong structure – verse chorus verse. It's the result of being a band together for four years, and knowing how each person plays, and growing together”.
It seems, to this neutral observer, that the band is somewhat caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the things that makes the band so interesting is this combination between melody, heavy riffs, and hardcore, but from a sales point of view the emphasis on hardcore probably rules out huge sales, while from the core of their current fanbase there's a pressure to return to the harder sound of their debut. Perri seems relatively unperturbed, while acknowledging the problem exists, he says, “we've a really good situation with our label. We give them a record and they put it out, no matter what it is. They don't really have an input in what we do. We wanted that creative freedom. The fans want to hear more of our first album, I think. They want to hear the heavy, emotional, chaotic stuff. I think we're going to try to answer that call on our next record”.
And does that mean a less melodic approach, and in particular lessening the singing role of drummer Fran Mark? Perri is upfront, and diplomatic at the same time: “I can see it happening. I know that Fran wants to take less of an approach to vocals, and more of an approach to drumming. It's cool for us – we've different aspects we can explore. We can write a fuckin’ heavy song and have me do all the vocals and not have a problem, or we can do a softer song and have him work on the vocals”.