Among Criminals, an eclectic genre-hopping Philly band, knows all about reinvention. It was in the midst of making their latest album, Darker Sweetness, when COVID-19 crashed down, grinding everything as we know it to a halt for months to come.
‘Darker Sweetness’ is a new horizon for the band in sound and subject matter, yet its release was ultimately downplayed due to the pandemic.
Instead of admitting defeat, this band took to home recording (as most did) and still managed to produce the album (albeit without the reception they wanted or expected). Among Criminals, thus, learned more in the making of this album than anything they’ve done prior and here is what frontman Ryan Gaughan had to say about the band’s resourcefulness.
Let’s talk about ‘Darker Sweetness’. It’s a pivot from your last album, ‘Kill The Precedent’, in a sense that it’s more laidback in tempo, yet still heavy in theme. What spurred the change?
- AC: It was actually my buddy — the bassist and keys player on the record, Mar Carson. We were sitting at a coffee shop talking about an upcoming tour and he mentioned an old song of ours, “War”, which had exponentially more listens than other tracks. We knew our fans gravitate to our reggae side more, so he had the idea of doing a quick summer release. We would just record a few songs live(ish) in a day and release it. We ended up going to our buddy and singer of Three Legged Fox Kyle Wareham’s studio to cut “If You Don’t Die Too Soon”, then did the rest at Cambridge Sound Studios in Philly. At the end of the day, the producers, as well as the three of us, started to realize these songs were coming out better than we thought.
- It was also fun taking songs that were in different time signature and about some really dark ideas to the sound. We were always influenced more so by The Police, The Clash, Rancid, etc., so this record was a tamer version… almost has a second wave, English Beat sound at times! And, since our sound is aggressive, especially on ‘Kill The Precedent’, the lyrical content still floated there. So many bands do a great party reggae, SoCal sound; we never felt a kinship to that vibe and also understood there’s nothing we can really add to what those bands are already great at!
The album was recorded in one day! What was the vibe in the studio with such a deadline?
- Yes and that’s due to the band, the studio and — full admission — I did the vocals afterwards. Branden King and Mark Carson are amazing players; we were in the middle of a short tour with a day off, so we were in the right gear. We also did have one track done, so we just flew through what we could. It was nice, because we didn’t mind if we only got one song — we had no real plans then! Funny thing too about the second single “60,000 Messages” is we were done for the day and I was going to start layering vocals, but Mark said, “Let’s do another, we have the studio a little longer”. So, they went for a smoke break and I wrote it in the back room on the spot. I also lied to them about it! [Laughing] I said it was an old idea.
You mentioned that COVID-19 presented problems in the album’s release. What happened? How did you get back on track?
- Well, we had the release all planned for March 2020. Obviously, with everything happening in the world, a record release was nothing to even think about. We were all in a group text that went quickly from “hey guys, let’s see what happens” to “well, everything is shut down now, so no release!” We still haven’t all been in the same room playing, yet! It feels strange, now that I think about it…
What advice do you have for bands, struggling to overcome similar obstacles in this crazy time?
- Now is an amazing time to explore, learn and grind out your skills! I actually decided to go back to Berklee College of Music online, which would have been so difficult last year. Be creative with what you put out online, as well. And, if you can’t get into a room together to do a live feed show or record, no one minds seeing some old live footage. Just keep the fans engaged.
As this tumultuous year comes to a close, do you feel that the album’s songs apply more than ever now versus their March release date? Less?
- I think personally they apply less. They were self-reflective of an odd admiration I have for death. Now, seeing what’s happening both with this country’s systemic racism and how COVID has affected the world as a whole, the songs mean a bit less to me. It would be almost selfish of me to have those thoughts now… although there is a strange personal tragedy involving the song “If You Don’t Die Too Soon” with a very close friend. So, that song and the video especially will always be held very close.
Now that ‘Darker Sweetness’ is out, what’s next for Among Criminals?
- I think we’re about due to start the next EP! We do have a live studio EP coming out soon and I’ll be releasing some acoustic solo music, as well. But, the plan is getting back in the studio in January and having something for June! We would love to tour and get back to Europe, but baby steps, I suppose!