[Photo: Jake Gravbot]
The music scene of 2017 is both strikingly different from and oddly similar to the music scene of 2005. Emo is discussed regularly, Warped Tour is alive and well, and anniversary tours let us celebrate the albums and artists who stole our hearts over a decade ago. Some of the most prominent bands of the early 2000s have disbanded or stopped making music while others have reinvented themselves entirely to form new projects. One band from this era seemingly disappeared after releasing an album that many consider their all-time favorite, but fortunately that wasn’t the end of their story.
For many years, the idea of new music from Acceptance didn’t look promising. Flash-forward to 2015 and, to the amazement of many, the band announced a reunion. Virtually every music fan privy to the genre and the works of Acceptance had something to say about the revival of this Seattle-based outfit, and those who attended their performance at the Skate And Surf Festival in New Jersey, as well as the subsequent show at Gramercy Theatre in New York, seemed genuinely inspired. Seeing people so passionate about a band is incredible, and in turn, that passion inspired the musicians themselves.
“We were a band for a long time, starting when we were teenagers. We started the band in 1997 and ended up stopping in 2006,” notes Acceptance vocalist Jason Vena. “Part of what got the band back together was this idea that there was a lot more interest in the band than we’d ever expected.” Years ago when the group released their debut album, Phantoms, the process was much different than anything they had anticipated.
“We put out our first full-length record out almost 11 years ago, and it’s a funny story. The record was coming out on Columbia Records and they were excited for it. It was going to be a record that had backing from a major label and that was very important for us,” recalls Vena. “I still remember having one of the first promotional meetings with the label. Back then, social media was really there in the form of sites like AbsolutePunk. In our world, message boards were the social media,” he notes before adding that the label never planned to market the band in that digital realm. “They didn’t understand—the Internet wasn’t a ‘thing’ like it is now.”
“It’s fascinating and so different from what it was before,” adds bassist Ryan Zwiefelhofer. “Nobody really wanted to harness what was happening in an online space then. We saw it with Phantoms—being able to stream or download. The label didn’t know what to do with that.”
The process of releasing music and reaching fans has changed significantly since 2006, and the band couldn’t be happier to take advantage of the new opportunities to connect. “The world has just gotten a lot smaller. It’s easy to get yourself in front of people without having to tour all the time. We never really had that opportunity; it took being out in front of folks for nine months out of the year to have the same effect that you could with being connected with fans and people who care about what you’re doing online,” says Zwiefelhofer.
Acceptance made an impact on fans when Phantoms first came out, but the affinity for the record only grew over time. People had time and the ability to discover the music with ease. In 2013, Bad Timing Records released 1,000 copies of Phantoms on vinyl across three different variants. Every copy sold out almost instantly, and when the band heard about it, the idea of fans being that passionate and supportive started to fuel their ideas for the future. Once the opportunity arose for the reunion at Skate And Surf, the band knew they couldn’t pass that up. “It happened so organically,” Zwiefelhofer recalls. “When we really started to realize that this was a thing people were talking about and really care about, I think it made the decision pretty easy for us. Even being in the same room for rehearsals before that Skate And Surf show felt different. It felt like the best parts of when we were doing this 10 years ago.”
“There was a conversation between us about what would happen if we went past a few concerts,” Vena says. “We decided that if we went past that, it had to be about something more. You have to be evolving and connecting with new people and reconnecting with those who love Phantoms and giving them something new to fall in love with.” That was the mentality when the band set out to write and record their new album. They know how special Phantoms has become to their listeners, but they didn’t want to try to make the exact same record over 10 years later.
“When we made Phantoms, we just wanted to make the best record we possibly could and we wanted it to be real. We feel like regardless of the sound of the music, we could potentially give our fans the same feeling if we do it that way again,” explains Vena. “That’s what we did with this record—we went in with the mindset of whatever we do, we need to feel it and be 100 percent in.”
The band’s sophomore album, Colliding By Design, captures the feeling of an Acceptance record without being an exact copy of their previous work. The band aimed to create something that reflects the passing of time and discusses something real, and each of the 11 tracks does just that.
“I’ve had 10 years away from music and I’ve gone through a lot in my life,” shares Vena. “I reconnected with these guys in the band and we’re so different from what we were 10 years ago, and that was really important to me. Taking that in and writing about it was really cool.”
When asked about his favorite song on Colliding By Design, Vena didn’t hesitate before naming “We Can Escape.” “That song is big for me. It’s really about my relationship with our drummer, Garrett Lunceford,” he shares. While the band returned to their current lineup for Colliding, there had been a few roster changes throughout the group’s career. “Before we got back together, I hadn’t talked to Garrett in a long time and then we reconnected. The song is about me growing as a person and learning a lot about life and how to love.” The working title of that song was “Feels” and it’s easy to see why, but the theme of thoughtfulness and honest emotion runs through the record as a whole. It’s something especially present in the song “73.”
Vena explains, “While recording, we were all connected to the movie Almost Famous. The working title for that song was ‘Stillwater,’ which is the name of the band in that movie. ’73 is the year that they went on tour so that’s where the song title comes from, and it’s the first title I’ve ever used where it doesn’t relate to the song itself.”
“That’s actually a great look at how we’ve approached this thing,” notes Zwiefelhofer. “It’s a very important project for all of us and we’re putting ourselves into it. It wasn’t a joke title, but it was the moment that we were trying to capture. Every experience has gone into this record somewhere,” he adds. “The title ’73’ is a really conscious, poignant nod to what we tried to put into this record.”
Lyrically, the song addresses a moment of questioning the direction of your life. “I was dealing with loss and other things, and the realization that you have to be able to pick yourself up and be the best you you can possibly be—however that looks,” shares Vena. With the chorus lingering on the words “I’m still here,” it serves as a beacon of hope for both the band and their loyal listeners.
Colliding By Design has given the band an opportunity to both reflect on the past and look to the future. They have a lot planned for this new era, but they also strive to set an example for bands just getting their start. Vena stresses the importance of collaboration and asking for help and opinions, especially early on in a group’s career. “You shouldn’t allow your preconceived notions to be so strong that you can’t evolve and grow,” he adds.
Releasing a new record isn’t all that the band has planned for 2017. “We’re very passionate about having a lot for our fans to connect with and for us to put out there. We’re trying to manage our adult lives, and through talking to other bands it seems like we’re all trying to figure that out,” Vena shares. “So what’s the balance where you can love music and love playing music, stay connected to the people who are supporting you and want to hear your music? That’s what we’re navigating right now.”
They seem off to a great start with finding that balance. The group will join Taking Back Sunday for a run of shows in Australia this March. As for fans in the U.S., the band says you’ll likely see them in a town near you through the summer.
“We’re grateful,” adds Zwiefelhofer. “Another thing I’d tell bands is to appreciate it. Not a lot of people get a single chance to go do this and definitely not a lot of folks get two chances to do it. We’re all more appreciative and in tune with how grateful we are for this opportunity.” S
This feature can be found in the current issue of Substream Magazine, which is on sale now. Acceptance’s ‘Colliding By Design’ is out this Friday, February 24 through Rise Records. Pre-orders are still available in a variety of formats and bundles.