Behold Music & Mental Health, a feature we hope to bring you more often than not, written by the fabulous Imade Borha. She’ll check in from time to time with her thoughts on … well … presumably, music and mental health. Duh. If you dig, you can follow her on Twitter here. Enjoy!
When someone tells you to check out a band called Warden, two things can happen: The band can uncomfortably force an aesthetic to embody the name’s theme, or the band can let the music speak for itself. Fortunately, Warden chose the latter.
The Germantown group torched a Saturday night set at Olde Towne Tavern that drove a woman to scream so loud, an audience member shouted shut up. I was not the screaming woman, but she wasn’t alone.
Warden has the tight harmonies of long time friends. Brian Harris (lead vocals/guitar), Cory Cotter (vocals/guitar), and Ryan Siever (drums) have been a band since their high school years in 2008. Newcomer bassist Bruno Hernandez makes the alternative rock group gel even further, freeing Harris and Cotter up to perform guitar riffs that intricately feed off each other.
I was struck by one particular song off Warden’s 2015 “Gigantic” album – “Stranded” immediately piqued my interest for its high energy and Harris’s tortured vocals. The song is arena-filling stadium rock with the cathartic release of an emotional breakdown. “Stranded” is what I sound like in my head when I play the beginner level of “Guitar Hero.”
I reached out to Harris to learn more about my musical obsession and the mental frustration behind it.
1. “Stranded” is full of adrenaline, but also angst. What was the process of writing the song?
When I wrote the song, I was still in college, working a dead-end job, and living at my parents’ house. I remember having a crappy little Crate amp, my knock-off Stratocaster – a “Starcaster” – and a pad of paper in my parents’ garage. I had just gotten off of a long, tedious day of class and work. At the time, I couldn’t care less about school or work, but both of those things monopolized 90 percent of my time. Restless is most definitely how I was feeling at that period in my life. I had the chorus riff already written before I started jamming in the garage that evening, but the structure of the song and the lyrics all fell together within an hour or so. A couple days later, I brought the song to Cory and Ryan at band practice and they just elevated the material so much. I knew that we had a jam on our hands.
2. There’s a visceral line – “Can you feel my shame?” – can you explain that line and the song’s meaning?
Like I said, when I wrote the song, I was at a really hollow point in my life. Yes, I was lucky to be in school. Yes, I was lucky to have a job. Yes, I was lucky to have parents who were letting me live under their roof. But at 21, you take all of those things for granted. “Can you feel my shame?” I had been playing music for like six years at the point I wrote Stranded. 15-year-old me thought by the time I was 21, I’d be living on my own and doing music full-time; like I’d become some sort of rockstar by 21. I hated my job, I hated being in school, I hated that my band was still obscure. I started to internalize all of that stuff and I just felt ashamed at myself for being where I was in life. Looking back now, I realize that I had (and still have) nothing to be ashamed about. But like most songs I write, I just channeled how I was feeling in the moment into a song that I think a lot of people can identify with when life catches them in a rut.
3. Shame isn’t something people talk about a lot. How do you overcome shame and create the rock music you want? And ultimately, the life you want?
I think overcoming shame is really a matter of taking a step back and not comparing yourself to other people. I had a horrible habit of saying, “Look where that band is right now. Look how successful they are. I should be that successful.” I think a lot of feelings like that are rooted in jealousy and insecurity; both are things that I’ve struggled with (and still struggle with) as a musician and songwriter. If you let those feelings impact you in a negative way, you can spiral into shame and self-loathing. On the flip side, you can channel feelings of jealousy and insecurity into positive forces. Everyone can be better and everyone should strive to be better than the next person. When I see local bands finding success or musicians I know writing great music, I don’t sit back and cry about it anymore. It energizes me and helps inspire me to be a better musician and a better person.
4. What is it like performing “Stranded” live? What experience do you want to give fans and new listeners?
“Stranded” is definitely one of my favorite songs to perform live. It’s always been a high-octane, in-your-face jam that brings the noise. The vocals are just raw and loud. Recently, we just added a fourth band member, Bruno Hernandez. Before Bruno joined the band, we were just a three-piece with myself on bass, Cory on guitar and Ryan on the drums. Now that we’ve got Bruno on bass, we’ve got two guitars that just create a wall of sound for our live performances. This is a song that exists in our set to energize the crowd and ourselves. It starts off hot, gets hotter, starts burning up, and then cools off for about eight measures before lighting your face on fire again. I hope it’s as fun to listen to live as it is for us to perform it.
Warden has another Olde Towne Tavern concert on Sept. 17 .