“The way that I make is my own, but I know what I’m in for,” sings Tim Warren, front man and co-founder of The Alternate Routes.
Whatever fate has in store for this promising young band, it’s sure to make for a good story…and an even better song. The Alternate Routes have never been afraid to roll the dice during their brief and turbulent journey, always relying upon their heartfelt brand of music to pull them through the ups and downs that come with the territory. It’s a trait evident in their powerful Vanguard Records debut, Good and Reckless and True, a memorable, incredibly confident opening statement from a band that takes nothing for granted.
Warren recalls the initial meeting with his future songwriting partner/lead-guitarist, Eric Donnelly, between classes at Connecticut’s Fairfield University. “Eric and I appreciated the same things about music,” Warren says. "When we started out, we didn't really fit in anywhere. We played everywhere we could, at bars, clubs, coffee shops …but we always believed in what we were doing. We believed our music was important and we’ve never lost that feeling.”
The duo’s path crossed with that of bassist Chip Johnson during a brief residency in the Boston area. He was a skinny, mild-mannered presence—a kid who could pick up any instrument and make it his own. “I always say that Tim and I had the songs, but we didn’t have a band until we met Chip,” says Donnelly.
The months following Johnson’s arrival were important ones, the trio hung onto their music, their ideals, refining their sound and never lost focus. They turned each humbling moment into a lesson, each gig into a learning experience and established the all-or-nothing attitude that has come to define them.
The songs and sound quickly began to take shape. They scratched together cash for their first EP and a year or so later, had songs for a second. Unfortunately, money was hard to come by and there wasn’t enough to press the record. On their way from Boston to Connecticut after a gig, Donnelly was intent on turning the band’s $200 payday into a much larger sum at a local casino. Warren, the driver, resisted, anticipated losing rather than winning, but Donnelly insisted. When the exit for the casino came, without further discussion, the two quietly pulled off the highway. Donnelly gambled, Warren slept. By sunrise, Donnelly emerged, with $1,985, enough to pay for the pressing, cover the month’s rent and McDonald’s breakfast.
They paid for the record and hit the road hard. They snared opening slots for bands like O.A.R., Duncan Sheik and Marc Broussard and plugged into residencies in Boston, New York, Philly and D.C.
The roadwork paid off. Over 100 tour dates later, their live act became convincing, and audiences were reacting. Their presence in Boston led to airplay on an influential radio station. A highly publicized gig in Nashville knocked a Vanguard executive flat. He grabbed a demo that night and spoke with management the next morning. The good vibes were mutual and the deal that followed is a hand-in-glove fit. After all that work, there was a ray of light.
Good and Reckless and True is the band’s songbook so far and the culmination of years of hard work and belief in the cause. Produced by Jay Joyce (John Hiatt, Patty Griffin, Derek Trucks), during a furious three-week period in Nashville, these are songs borne of experience, pain, personal tragedy, belief and ability, and they reflect passion, humor and desperation, their collective character. "The songs," explains Warren, "were born out of an optimistic struggle to try to understand what to do with yourself when you're left to your own vices, in a world that will still exist after you're gone."
On the opening track “Ordinary,” Warren sings, “When you die will you be surrounded by friends? Will they pray for a heaven out loud, a hope that somehow they will see you again,” a sparse, haunting sentiment that resonates through to the final track, framing and summarizing all that is to come. “Who Cares?” and “Aftermath” are straightforward, driving rock tunes marked by explosive hooks and robust arrangements, while “Hollywood” demonstrates the band’s ability to switch gears to a profoundly emotional ballad. “Time is a Runaway,” the album’s gorgeous centerpiece, offers a melancholy take on the passage of time, set to a soaring melody, lush sounds and a hypnotic rhythm. The final track, “Please Don’t Let It Be,” offers heartbreaking and inspiring moments, climaxing with Donnelly’s definitive guitar solo.
Warren’s voice sits central to the mix while Donnelly’s guitar decorates the space around him with rough-cut chords and subtle-hued arpeggios. As a whole, the record and its plain truths ring out with honesty and straightforward but sublime rock.
Currently based out of Donnelly’s hometown, the decidedly blue-collar Bridgeport, Connecticut, the band members have collectively and individually gotten their hands dirty as a matter of course, whether it has been releasing their initial independent recordings or moonlighting as a furniture .., as has been known to be the case for Warren.
The band has realized and exceeded the live potential of Good and Reckless and True thanks to the two most recent additions to the cast—Stephen Chopek, a motivated drummer with several years of touring experience under his belt, and Mike Sembos, an old friend of Donnelly’s who had fronted bands of his own. Chopek’s approach has inspired the band to move beyond the arrangements of the album and to seek new dynamics within the songs. A former music journalist and an accomplished songwriter in his own right, Sembos brings a unique perspective to the band, and another voice to the harmonies and vocals that have become an integral part of the band’s live identity.
A classic example of a whole being greater than the sum of its parts, The Alternate Routes are now poised to spread the word and take on whatever new challenges come their way. “We always feel like we’re at the beginning of something,” says a determined Donnelly. “Even five years into this band, I still feel like we’re at the beginning and I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen next.”