With anthems such as “You Ain’t Ready,” “Rise Up” and “Victorious,” it’s clear that everything Skillet does is epic. And that fact isn’t limited to their most recent album, which is also named “Victorious,” as anyone who has ever attended one of their concerts can attest to.
It’s no wonder why World Wrestling Entertainment showcases the band’s smash hit, “Legendary,” as the theme song for its flagship program, Monday Night Raw. Everything about the band’s sound commands your attention and demands your respect.
For those who aren’t familiar with their body of work, Skillet has released ten albums, with two — Collide and Comatose — earning Grammy nominations. Needless to say, by this point in their musical journey, singer John Cooper, guitarist Korey Cooper, drummer Jen Ledger and guitarist Seth Morrison are a well-oiled machine.
All four members have incredible stage presence and really know how to captivate an audience, which was readily apparent on this night at The Fillmore, in Silver Spring, Maryland. This might have been my first time experiencing Skillet live, but it absolutely won’t be the last.
While members have come and gone since the band formed in 2013, one thing has remained consistent for From Ashes to New — their hard rock sound has always been raw and genuine.
When From Ashes to New came to town this time around, they were led by frontman Matt Brandyberry, along with vocalist Danny Case, guitarist Lance Dowdle and drummer Mat Madiro. While these four guys have only been together since 2017, they’ve clearly developed a bond that translates on stage.
With an abundance of energy and an infectious sound, the band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, made the absolute most of its 45-minute set. By the time they played their final song of the night, From Ashes to New had accomplished exactly what they set out to do — made sure everyone in attendance knew their name.
Any Given Sin closed out the decade on a serious high note. The band’s first single, “Dynamite,” took the hard rock world by storm and became one of the most played tracks of 2019. Eager to prove their success wasn’t a fluke, they released a follow-up single, “Another Life,” which was another smash hit that showed this Southern Maryland band is here to stay.
Before taking the stage at Fish Head Cantina for their first performance of the new year, the guys from Any Given Sin — Vic Ritchie (vocals), Mike Conner (guitar), Rich Stevenson (bass) and Mike Showalter (drums) — were kind enough to chat about why they’ll never be satisfied, their plans for an upcoming full-length album and which bands they’d love to hit the road with in 2020.
Let’s take it back to when the band first formed in 2012. How did you guys get together and how did you settle on the name?
Mike Conner: The original line up was me, Mikey and a couple other guys. That was before we got Rich — and way before we got Vic — we had a few other people. The original vocalist, we never recorded with. Actually, he came to my tattoo shop and said, “I heard you’re a guitar player from a band called SUISONIC and I would like to get together with you.” He’s a vocalist, so it was actually first just me and him before we brought Mikey over.
And honestly, we had a four- or five-page list of possible names. This was the only one that we both were like, “Fuck yeah. That’s cool.”
And so there isn’t like a deep hidden meaning behind it or anything?
Mike Conner: I wish I could tell you there was. I wish I could make something up and say it was, but the names were either taken or we didn’t like.
How has the band evolved? How has your sound changed over the years?
Mike Conner: Quite a bit. We’ve been produced by John Moyer of Disturbed as the first producer we brought in. The first album, we did completely on our own. The second EP was with John Moyer. That changed the sound a little bit. He brought us into a heavier realm, I guess. And then when we introduced Vic in 2017. Vic does a lot of the writing. He does most of the words and a lot of the music.
Usually what we’ll do is, I have an idea or he has an idea, and we’ll each intertwine our individual parts into it.
I’m always fascinated by the creative process. How do you guys go about creating a song or album?
Vic: Usually we just Google people and say, hey, can you write us one, and is it okay if we use our name on it and don’t give you any crap? I think it happens all kinds of different ways. There’s no real formula. Sometimes, like for myself, I might have a poem and then we try to put music to it. Or you might have some little bit of music and you try to put some lyrics and you just go with it.
Mike Conner: Just last night we were doing this. I had a couple of riffs and I played one riff over and over again until he tried to catch a melody to it and I was like, are you feeling it? And he said, yes, I’m feeling it, so I put that in the bank box where we’re going to record it and send it to him. We did that with like three or four different riffs last night. Sometimes he’ll just send me him singing a melody line of music.
So it might be something as simple as you’re driving home, something hits you during a moment of inspiration and you’re suddenly grabbing your phone to record a lyric or thought?
Vic: Oh, I’ve got 400 hit albums. Stuff that I don’t remember how to play.
Mike Conner: (Laughs.) I wish you’d bring one of us.
Vic: You just sit here and you do something and you didn’t record it, and then you can’t remember it like five minutes later.
There are a few things about the members of this band that I find fascinating. For starters, you’ve all been doing this a while and, number two, each of you has a day job outside of the rock star life. Would you mind going into your lives outside of the music industry?
Mike Conner: I’m actually a tattoo shop owner and a nuclear maintenance superintendent at a nuclear power plant. Yeah, sorry, America. Don’t be scared.
Vic: I’m technically an RN, and I work with adults with intellectual disability and autism.
That’s fantastic. Do you ever sing to your patients to help calm them in a moment of stress?
Vic: Not really. No. I don’t know if this music’s really the calming type or not. Maybe to some people.
How about you, Mikey?
Mike Showalter: I’m an electrician foreman.
Rich: Aerospace engineering.
Wait … what?
Rich: I’ve got to do something.
Your single “Dynamite” got all kinds of love and attention from SiriusXM’s Octane and other hard rock stations across the country in 2019. How did that song come about and what was it like to hear something you’ve created become one of the most played songs of the year?
Vic: I guess for me, that was the first song that I’ve ever had in any band, any group, anything, ever be on anything, so it was a little surreal. At first you’re just kind of watching it, not knowing if … is this normal? Is this bad? Is this good? You don’t quite know, and then later on it starts to hit you like, “Oh wow, we’ve got a top 40 single or whatever.” So it was pretty cool.
But it’s also a reminder of how you have to keep working at the next one. And the next one. And the next one and how difficult it can be.
Mike Conner: And we’re all very, what’s the word?
Mike Conner: Yeah. We’re not really excited about anything. It kind of sucks, being that way, I guess, because we’ve been doing it so long. We’re jaded, but I was just waiting for the disappointment. I was waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us. It went on Octane’s Test Drive and I was like, “Okay, it’s played.” Everybody listen to it now because you’ll never hear it again. But the results for Test Drive were really good and then it became an Accelerator. When that happened, it finally hit me personally that it was doing well.
So “Dynamite” blows up and becomes a staple on hard rock stations everywhere and then it’s time to follow it up with your second single, “Another Life,” which ended up being another huge hit. Was that track already written or were you scrambling to jump back in the studio?
Mike Conner: What’s funny is those two songs were the first two songs written by this band. We wrote an album and recorded it in Nashville. “Dynamite” was on it pretty much the way it is, if I’m not mistaken. “Another Life” was called “Break Me Down,” and there was a different version of it with Producer A.
But then Producer B came in and said, “Why don’t we try expanding this, taking this out, changing this around and then see what it sounds like?” And it became “Another Life.” We basically gave the song another life.
That’s really interesting to me. Once “Dynamite” blew up, I wasn’t sure how you planned on following it up …
Mike Conner: We had to change that song. We had to go back in the studio and redo “Another Life” because it wasn’t strong enough the way it originally was.
That leads to my next question: Is there a full-length studio album in the works? You said you guys were down in Nashville recording previously …
Mike Conner: Yes, but all of that stuff will probably get re-recorded at some point. And I don’t even know that we’re going to use all of the material that’s recorded. We still have seven other songs recorded that nobody has heard, unless they come see us live. I’m sure when they get recorded again in a different studio with a different producer, they will sound differently.
Last October, you guys did an acoustic set for SiriusXM’s Octane Unleaded. During that performance you performed a cover of “Like A Stone” By Audioslave. Obviously, you can never go wrong turning to a rock icon like Chris Cornell. Who are some of the other musicians or bands that influence you or that you guys listened to when you’re taking a road trip?
Vic: For me, definitely Chris Cornell. That was my first rock love vocally.
Mike Conner: Tell him the story about the CD in the car …
Vic: Oh yeah. When I was 16, I had this sea foam green Ford Escort with no CD player, tape player, nothing.
Mike Conner: We don’t care about that.
Vic: No, it’s important.
Mike Conner: Okay.
Vic: You need to see how desperate and nerdy I was at the time. So I had a DC converter into a cigarette lighter with a boom box, and the boom box was broken, but it had Chris Cornell’s solo album, Euphoria Morning, stuck in it. For like a year straight, I sang along, and one day I was like, “Oh wow. I just screamed like him one day after coughing through it for like six months.”
Mike Conner: That’s when he realized he could sing. He didn’t know until he was 16 that he could sing.
Vic: Yeah, pretty cool.
That’s pretty awesome. I mean, if Chris Cornell leads you down the path, that says something about you …
Mike Conner: I’m influenced by everything. It doesn’t matter what type of music, what genre, what song. I can pick up something from almost anything. What I write tends to be kind of darker, heavier usually, but I’m influenced by all kinds of music.
Mike Showalter: I listen to everything. I like a lot of new, current hard rock stuff. I pretty much just keep it on Octane and I bounce around to Liquid Metal. Stuff like that. I Prevail is one of my current favorites.
Rich: I love everything. I go from pop music to punk and hardcore, really. So I like a lot of old punk and hardcore music myself.
Along the same lines, which bands would you love to hit the road and tour with or share a stage with?
Mike Conner: Because I’m not 20 anymore, I would like to tour with legacy bands like Disturbed or Godsmack or Three Days Grace. I’d certainly welcome a tour with Ice Nine Kills or I Prevail or Nothing More. That would be incredibly awesome. But I have a dream of going on tour with Godsmack. I would love that.
You’re naming some of the best hard rock bands out there. That’s a pretty good bar to set …
Mike Showalter: I’d like to go with John [Moyer of Disturbed].
Mike Conner: Yeah, I would too.
Mike Showalter: A Disturbed tour would be awesome.
As you know, the calendar just turned over to 2020. What goals have you set for the band? What’s 2020 going to look like for Any Given Sin?
Mike Conner: Well, we definitely want a tour. We were talking about that last week. That’s our priority. But our first priority is getting out the third single, and then trying to come up with the right booking agent to put us on a tour with one of these bands that we’re listening to on Octane or whatever.
You mentioned a third single. Is there anything you can tell us about it?
Mike Conner: No, because we haven’t even written it.
We may pull one out that we previously recorded. But we’re currently writing new stuff now, so one of those may overtake one of the others.
How much of a challenge is it to keep coming up with that next hit single?
Mike Conner: None of us are ever really satisfied. When we heard “Another Life,” we were like, “Is it good?”
Mike Showalter: It sounds good to me, but I don’t know. Guess we’ll see how it does.
Mike Conner: Yeah, we don’t know. We can’t see the forest for the trees.
Vic: Nobody knows. Nobody knows.
Mike Conner: I still don’t know. I still don’t know if it was good song. I honestly don’t know.
We’ve established that you guys are all fairly cynical. That said, at any point are you able to take a step back for like a half of a second and admit, “Okay, this is kind of cool?”
Mike Conner: No, because I’m always too worried about what the next step is. Making sure that one is done correctly because now it’s even more of a pivotal point that we do everything right.
Vic: And that’s when it comes down to the business side of things.
When it comes into fans and people who are being great, we love that. We have nothing but respect for the people who’ve done stuff to get us where we are. And everybody showed up to support us. We love all that and all those people. We’re really happy and optimistic about that aspect.
When it comes to the business side though, and taking it seriously and not letting it go to your head or rolling down the wrong road. When you think you’re too good, then you’re going to make a mistake.
What else can Any Given Sin fans expect out of you in 2020?
Mike Conner: We’re taking baby steps. We don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves. But, we’re writing new material and getting on tour is our next priority. That has to be done.
Will you be heading back to Nashville or will this album take you elsewhere?
Mike Conner: We’ll be recording in Kansas. Chris Dawson is our current producer we’re using, and that’s where he’s located. Our producer for “Dynamite” was Trevor Kustiak [of Evans Blue], who was from Nashville. He recently moved to Canada.
When you know you’re headed to the studio to record an album in a few weeks, do each of you have a handful of riffs or lyrics tucked away? How does that process work for you guys?
Mike Showalter: We kind of have a clue, I hope, with what we’re going in with, so we can have some good foresight of where it may lead.
Mike Conner: We have a formulation.
Mike Showalter: We don’t have something necessarily set in stone where we’re set in our ways, but we have a clue of where we’re starting.
How important is the chemistry with a producer? How difficult is it to trust your art in someone else’s hands and hope they’re not going to screw it up?
Mike Conner: Well, we still have final right of say if we don’t like it. And there have been times when a producer said, “Why don’t we try this?” and then we tried it and we don’t like it.
Ultimately, you start with a blank canvas, you start painting and you see what comes out.
Like you said, with “Another Life,” you had to tweak it and switch some things up before it ultimately became what everyone now knows and loves …
Mike Conner: Chris had a lot of really good ideas on how to modernize it, I guess is what I’d say he did to it. I’m pretty happy with it.
Last question: If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?
Vic: The power to steal other superpowers.
Mike Conner: I would want to be able to stop the entire universe — everyone except me — whenever I wanted to.
Mike Showalter: You’re stealing the one I was going to use.
Vic: I’ve already stolen that power.
Mike Conner: That’s a hard question. Go back and fix what you fucked up.
Rich: I don’t know.
Mike Showalter: We’re going to share our superpower.
Mike Conner: Oh, no no no. We can’t be walking around the same time.
Mike Showalter: We’ll be in different areas, okay? It’ll be alright.
Mike Conner: I mean, look at the shit you can do. Whenever you need money, you just walk into a bank and say, “Stop.” And then you’re like, “Okay, this is mine.”
It’s been roughly a year since the last time I covered a Greta Van Fleet concert. Much has changed for the band during that time.
For starters, they are no longer playing smaller venues, such as DC9. In fact, this time around they played back-to-back nights at the 9:30 Club — with both nights selling out in a matter of minutes.
And clearly playing in front of larger crowds has only increased the confidence levels of the boys in the band, who now take to the stage with a rockstar swagger that would make some of the biggest names of modern music proud.
In fact, Greta Van Fleet was recently invited to perform at Elton John’s annual Oscar party, so it’s safe to say the secret is out on these guys.
The first time I saw Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats perform live was in a tiny venue in Philadelphia, back in 2015.
Their breakout single, “S.O.B.” had just begun to generate some attention on a nation stage, and the band showed their appreciation by pouring everything they had into their set that evening.
Whether you were on the stage with a musical instrument in hand or one of the fortunate souls who happened to purchase a ticket, you left that night drenched in sweat thrilled with what you had just experienced.
These days, National Rateliff and the Night Sweats are playing much larger venues, but their passion remains the same. And with several studio and live albums released since then, crowds are treated to a longer and even more enjoyable concert-going experience.
Noel Gallagher is the epitome of a rock star from yesteryear.
All he had to do was take to the stage and before he even played his first note, the sold-out crowd was already in the palm of his hands.
By the time Gallagher, along with his current band, High Flying Birds, struck his first chord, the building was already rock which made for a wonderfully entertaining evening for Manchester City’s biggest fan, as well as everyone else in attendance.
And when the band broke out a few classics from Gallagher’s Oasis days, those in attendance showed their complete and utter appreciation by belting out every word of every hit song.
I wasn’t overly familiar with the musical stylings of Walk The Moon prior to their show at The Anthem.
Safe to say I was in the minority on this night, as the young crowd bellowed along with song after song, providing ample energy throughout the evening. Add in musicians flying around the stage and absolutely stunning lighting backdropping the performance, and it all came together for a memorable encounter at one of D.C.’s newest and hottest venues.