For this installment of Sammy’s Music spot, I interviewed a local music scene hero of mine: Brandon Maertz. Brandon plays guitar, handles backup vocal duties, and is the principal songwriter in the band We Are As Ronin (WAAR), a post-hardcore band located here in Cincinnati. We Are As Ronin have a unique sound, combining melodic influences from Thrice and aggressive influences from bands like Killswitch Engage to create post-hardcore that is thoughtful in songcraft without sacrificing furious emotions that are brought to life with pummeling heavy passages.
We Are As Ronin is back after a few month hiatus due to drastic lineup changes. A year and a half ago three fifths of the band quit, leaving Brandon and bassist Chris “Finn” Finley with the daunting task of finding new members. WAAR found guitarist Ben Newton pretty quickly and yours truly stepped in behind the drumkit to help them play two gigs that were booked before the old members’ exit. After going through another drummer and countless singer auditions, the band found the perfect fits with Scotty Lewis on drums and Jon Headley as the group’s new frontman.
Let’s get to the interview:
Sammy: So WAAR’s last line up didn’t end too well and you and Finn have been rebuilding for awhile, how did you find the band’s new lineup? Have you found the perfect fit for WAAR?
Brandon: We’re so very confident in this new lineup. Fall of last year, I met Scotty at a pop punk show in Dayton said he was fresh out of a band and starting a band of his own. I said great, I’ll be on the lookout for that. About a month later, he said “Hey maybe we should just play together and see what happens.” So we went to his house one day to jam, he smacked right through his kick drum head during ‘Eye Of The Tiger’, but in the half of an hour we did play together it was pretty clear that this was going to work. This was late fall of last year, we were still looking for a singer but in the meantime I took over singing. My girlfriend put an ad out on Craigslist, and Headley responded, not expecting anything out of it. After a back and forth via email he came out to a rehearsal in February. I didn’t think he would show up because of how many people swore they would come and didn’t show up. We immediately had a bro-ment, Headley and Ben complained about their ex-wives together. We started playing and it didn’t take three whole minutes for us to know this was going to work. I was sold. These were not his songs, these were my songs, aimed at a group of people and a specific person that he doesn’t know and will never meet. And the first time these words came out of his mouth in front of me it felt like he had written it, like he had felt it. I have an ear for genuine, when someone is speaking from the heart I can feel it. It’s hard to explain, it’s easy to call bullsh*t on, but I just know when people are being genuine. Unless they’re pretty girls, I’m often wrong about them. But I knew Headley meant it.
So after a really really long period of not sleeping well, of spacing out at work, spacing out at home, of people I care about that are close to me asking ‘What’s wrong, what’s on your mind?’ The band, what am I going to do? ‘That’s what you were upset about that two weeks ago, you had to have come up with something or just let it go’ No. I’m upset, I am not whole, I cannot play music right now. This is on my mind, it’s going to be on my mind. And that was lifted in like 3 and a half minutes. The second he said he was in I knew, because I trusted him.
The man, the myth, the legend
Sammy: You’re first show back was last Saturday, March 14th at The Loft opening for the Touring Dead Tour, featuring Famous Last Words, Tear The Heart Out, and For All I Am. How did the gig go for you guys?
Brandon: We went on second, which I was pretty happy about. Not because I think we deserve to not open, but because the sound guy doesn’t get into the groove until the third or fourth band and I like to be closer to that groove. We are a high maintenance live band, three vocals, DIs, etc. I was pretty nervous, this was our first time back, first time with this new thing. There’s a thousand things that could go wrong, we don’t have the chemistry yet. We don’t normally do it, but I called a short huddle before starting the set, and then it happen. Our set started with an intro track, followed by a single snare hit into our first song, which is a very driving straight-forward tune. At no point during the set did I think “something is going wrong” or “this doesn’t feel right”. I let it happen exactly how it was going to happen. Other than some monitor issues we didn’t stop. It felt right. We were on autopilot. We let our faith in each other be the glue, we just did it like we’ve always done it and it was outstanding.
Sammy: What is the process behind the songwriting in WAAR? Do you bring full songs to the practice space? Do other members pitch in?
Brandon: I write the majority of the music for the band. I have folders upon folders of riffs and song ideas on my computer and from time to time I’ll finish one and bring it to the practice space or bring some parts and ask the band to work on the song with me. Finn is our bullsh*t filter: he’ll tell me when a part isn’t good enough. Sometimes we’ll work on a song for hours and get stuck and Finn will say “this all sucks besides this part and that part”, it’s about 50/50, sometimes I show him more and he gets the big picture, but that input is invaluable.
Sammy: When can we expect a release from you guys and what are your plans for the future?
Brandon: We have ninety percent of a single tracked, it is fifty percent mixed, but we’re waiting on a high profile guest vocal to cut the intro of the song. We haven’t set a date because of that guest vocal. Mixing shouldn’t take long and we’ll probably go to Zach Sebastian at Third Eye Studios (http://tinyurl.com/kfpekwo) for mastering. Go ahead and quote me on this: if this thing isn’t out by the beginning of May, there is something seriously wrong with us. There will be tactful campaign to back up the release, press photos, teasers, etc. We have our ducks in a row, just have to finish these things and release them. After the single is out we’ll finish up and release the EP, currently torn between two names for EP at the moment. But it’ll be three familiar songs, one that has been rewritten, maybe one or two orchestral interludes. Soon, to further answer your question. Soon.
Sammy: Any tour plans?
Brandon: At the present moment two of us have SUVs, we have access to a small minivan. We don’t want to stay in Cincinnati, it is a black hole, it’s clique-y. We spent nine months with the last lineup playing every show we could possibly get our hands on, to little to no response from most crowds. I want people to respond, even if it’s negative. The gig last Saturday with this new line was the second best crowd response I’ve ever had. That’s rare here. We hope our base of operation can move to Dayton, and then we can venture out to other cities in the region. The sooner we can get out of here, the better.
Sammy: Thanks for taking the time to talk for a bit and answer some questions Brandon, I cannot wait to see WAAR again.
Brandon: Anytime Sam, thanks for coming out.
LoZ cab = best cab ever
I had a great time interviewing Brandon and I can’t wait for the WAAR EP to come out. He showed me a sneak preview and it should turn a few heads in the Cincy scene, I recommend everyone check out this band.My band, The Requiem, will be playing with We Are As Ronin and a few other bands tonight at Tacocracy in Northside at 9pm. Come out early for tacos!