Ryan Burchfield: bass, vocals
Gordon Heckaman: drums, samples
Dan Noonan: guitars, vocals
James Mills: guitars, vocals
Jeremy Penick: lead vocals
It was only some five years ago the Los Angeles-based Depswa was considered perhaps one of the heaviest burgeoning bands in California. At the time, such an accolade was one the group was proud to be associated with. But, more recently, as the hard-working young musicians searched to discover their true musical identity, the heavy expectations became a creative burden.
"After writing one way for a long time, we came to the realization that if we were trying to write songs to appease people with one particular kind of taste, then we weren't being true to ourselves," says guitarist Dan Noonan. "It got to the point where we were throwing away songs because we convinced ourselves that, 'Oh, people won't like this.' But it soon became clear that most of all; we needed to write the songs we liked. If other people liked them, tooŠ great." "That decision turned everything around," says vocalist and founding member Jeremy Penick. "To do anything else, we knew, would have been totally plastic."
Their fateful determination spurred the band forward with a musical and performance output that eventually found them in the studio recording the forthcoming TWO ANGELS AND A DREAM, their Geffen Records and full-length debut. Sessions began in February 2002 with producer Howard Benson (P.O.D., Blindside, Mötorhead) and engineer Mike Plotnikoff (Kiss, P.O.D., Cranberries) at a pair of Southern California studios, in both Valley Village and Calabasas. Recording continued on and off throughout that winter before acclaimed mixing agent Chris Lord- Alge was welcomed into the process.
Comprised of songs written primarily over the past two years, TWO ANGELS AND A DREAM thrives under a compelling and often convention-defying mix: raucous, ringing guitars; driving, frequently chomping rock rhythms; wide-ranging, sincerely shaped vocals; and engaging arrangements, all cast within a powerful melodic current. On this dramatic sonic canvas, songs shift from such explosive, dynamic numbers as "This Time" with backing vocals by Brad Kane (Disney's Aladdin & The King of Thieves) to such tracks as the stirring, unplugged "The Traveler's Song" with guest backing vocals by solo artist Sierra Swan (Cold, Black Eyed Peas). "The Prom Song," features added programming from former Yes contributing keyboardist Igor Khoroshev. Thematically, TWO ANGELS AND A DREAM explores the inner-workings of both self-doubt and self-confidence, relationships gone hopelessly wrong and wonderfully right, and the fragile balancing act that determines the course of so many lives. "All the songs are very close to the heart," says Jeremy, "but the motivations change all the time."
The story of Depswa traces back to Modesto, California in the mid-1990s when guitarist and music-obsessed college student Jeremy Penick launched the progressive instrumental trio, Carcinogen. After releasing a 4-song EP, CLEANSING, in 1995, the group saw its star steadily rise on the Northern California rock club scene. Early the following year, the group opened the door to new bassist and well-regarded local musician Ryan Burchfield, a move that coincided with Penick's decision to tackle vocal duties and shift focus from writing six-minute instrumental pieces to a more song-oriented approach.
1998 found Carcinogen earning new fans both through the release of a self-titled 6-song EP and an emerging reputation for blistering live shows on stages across Modesto, Sacramento, and San Francisco. After playing a series of highly successful gigs in Los Angeles late that year, the band permanently relocated to the City of Angels and in February 1999 recruited Penick's longtime friend and former bandmate Dan Noonan to take on guitar duties.
The move sparked a creative awakening for the band, one that centered on greater attention to song structure and arrangements along with Penick's fast-changing vocal style. "When we moved down to L.A. with Dan, we knew what we all wanted to do," says Penick. "It came to a point, maybe it was part of a maturity process, but I realized I didn't want to be like everyone else. For so long, I was trying to sing in a way that wasn't me trying to emulate other people. Eventually, I had to get real. That meant getting over my fear of singing, really singing. When that finally happened, it opened up our music overall and everything just started to feel really good." With that, Carcinogen became Depswa, a Swahili word meaning "deep behind the moon." It is also a South American term for tribal healer. The newly monikered group went on to record the 4-song EP, FAITHLESS, in early 2000, a year that saw extensive touring through California and Arizona, marked by notably packed-house concerts at L.A.'s Whiskey, Roxy, Viper Room, and Troubadour. The Depswa team reached fighting weight with the October, 2001 addition of drummer Gordon Heckaman and the Spring, 2002 enlistment of second guitarist and NoCal native James Mills (just in time for him to contribute to a pair of tracks during the TWO ANGELSŠ sessions).
To a band that prides itself on an overarching team spirit, adding new members required serious deliberation. "Above anything in Depswa, we're great friends," says Dan. " So when we got James and Gordon in the band, their playing wasn't as much an issue as how we got along with them. When people started getting interested in signing the band, we had to take a step back, look at ourselves, and ask, 'How is this band going to have longevity?' We came to the conclusion, yes, musicianship obviously has to be there but overall we have to be friends and be able to live with each other on a cramped bus for weeks at a time." "That will kill a band in a second no matter how good the players are if you're not able to solidify those kinds of bonds," adds Gordon.
For Depswa who have already shared stages with the likes of Nickelback, Down, Disturbed, Sevendust, Stone Sour, Rob Zombie, Danzig, Chimaria, 40 Below Summer, Kottonmouth Kings, etc. the best possible affirmation of their efforts came a year ago when they played a sold-out New Year's Eve show before 2,500 fans in their old Modesto stomping grounds. "I walked out on stage and got chills," says Ryan. "The place was going wild and I had an ear-to-ear grin on my face."
In the fall of 2002, the band embarked on their first nationwide tour, playing in support of Illinois rockers Mudvayne and Ann Arbor's TapRoot. "On that tour," says Ryan, "every night we got out on stage we just looked at each other, as if to say, 'Wow! We're getting that chance to have a chance.' It's already been an amazing experience and nobody out there has even heard the record yet."
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