Heavy to light
At Wars End goes acoustic for Saturday show.
It’s fair to say Little Rock band At Wars End plays heavy rock. The elements of the genre are all there. It’s aggressive music. The distorted guitar riffs and driving rhythms of hard rock. The massive loudness and sonic assault of heavy metal. Need evidence? Hear the band’s “Harder Faster,” with its growling vocals and brute force power chords. And the equally crushing “Take Off the Mask” showcases the band’s precision drumming and love of a good guitar solo. And the masculine-sounding, slightly evil lyrics: “Some say we’re evil/Some say we eat the young” of “One Way Ticket.” So, heavy rock. Seriously heavy rock.
Heavy rock is a sound the band — Wes Robertson on vocals, Matt Osborn and Stephen Fitch on guitars, Kendall Wright on bass and Kurt Sallis on drums — decided on early when Fitch and Kendall got together and started writing songs in 2007.
“I think when we first got together I had a couple songs; Kendall had a couple songs, and those songs just came out heavy,” Fitch said. “That probably narrowed down our sound from the get go. I mean we knew we wanted to be a rock band, right? At least I thought we did.”
Former Marine Robertson joined the first incarnation of At Wars End soon after Fitch and Wright started writing together, and the band played its first show in March 2008. Sallis replaced the band’s original drummer in 2010, and Osborn became the band’s new guitarist in January of this year. Drawing from broad influences (from KISS and Van Halen to Sevendust and Pantera), At Wars End is currently working with Rocky Gray (We are the Fallen, Living Sacrifice, Evanescence) on their debut, full-length album.
“Rocky has been such a big influence,” Sallis said. “He works really [hard] at what he does, and he doesn’t let us get up from what we’re doing until it’s done right. The experiences that I’ve had before with other places we recorded [was] they just recorded your stuff, made a quick mix and handed you the stuff. Rocky tries recording different things and busts his ass making it sound good. Not to mention that he’s an incredible musician.”
The band is re-recording some of its older songs and writing new ones with the songwriting duties split between the members of the band. Sometimes, such as with Sallis on “Leroy Creepy,” the songs are written by single members. Other tunes are a collaborative effort, with band members “throwing stuff out there and seeing if it sticks,” Fitch said. Once the rhythmic and melodic structure of a tune is complete, Robertson begins writing the lyrics.
“The guys do their thing, and shoot it to me so I can start working on the singing stuff,” he said. “A lot of times it’s when I’m driving. I’ve written most of the songs in my truck.”
But before finishing the album, with a possible summer release date in mind, the quintet will go acoustic for a Cornerstone Pub gig this Saturday. It’s an interesting concept — a heavy rock band going acoustic — but the members of At Wars End view the experiment as a gift to fans of the band: Come hear the band in an intimate setting, like it’s just them playing music around a campfire for a group of friends.
“We have never done it,” Fitch said. “We all like to sit around and play acoustic guitar. ... This will be an opportunity for people to come out to a laid-back show. They will be able to hear every word Wes is singing. Wes will be able to showcase some of his skills as a singer. It’s going to be different and cool.”
“It’s nice to hear a band stripped down,” Osborn said. “It gives you a different vibe. It’s like doing a whole different style of music almost. People really appreciate stuff like that.”
And with the band’s usual heavy rock sound stripped down to just acoustic instruments, there might be a few surprises in store.
“Going back to acoustic doesn’t make it any easier,” Fitch said. “When I write on acoustic I have how it’s going to be electric in my mind. We want to make the songs a little bit different. Tone them down. We won’t be palm muting and chunking everything.”
Special thanks to At Wars End band manager Gabe Burks for arranging the interview for this story.
SEE THE MUSIC
At Wars End will play Cornerstone Pub this Saturday, and the band is going acoustic. The show starts around 8:30 p.m. and the opening act is Little Rock rock outfit Firesaw. It’s a 21-and-up show with only a $5 cover at the door, and the night is hosted by comedian Howard “Having Fun” Wilson.