“When you’re holding a wolf by the ears, it’s a dangerous situation and there is no way to escape without injury. For us, it’s like a build up of energy that can’t be restrained forever,” so says Francis Mark, drummer and newly minted frontman of the hard rock band FROM AUTUMN TO ASHES, when talking about the title of the seven -year-old band’s fourth full-length release.
Mark, along with guitarist Brian Deneeve and bassist Josh Newton, are so proud of the music they created on Holding A Wolf By The Ears (4/10/07, Vagrant) that they sound a little surprised with themselves.
“I think this is the way our band was always supposed to sound, “ comments Deneeve. “It’s taken over 6 years and 4 records but this is the most significant thing we have ever done.”
“This record IS us,” states Newton. “When I listen to what we did, I just can’t wait until we start playing these songs live.”
The music FATA created on Holding A Wolf By The Ears heralds a new beginning for the New York-based band. “I want to do everything I can to get people to realize that this is really like a new band,” says Mark.
The most recognizable sign of this reinvention is Mark’s recent shift from drummer to drummer and full-time vocalist, a result of the departure of former lead singer Benjamin Perri. But over the course of the album’s 12 tracks, it becomes clear that for the band, that more has changed than just a voice.
Holding a Wolf by The Ears finds From Autumn to Ashes playing with a level of passion and intensity not seen since their 2001 debut, Too Bad You’re Beautiful. Fans will still find the searing guitars and bone-crunching rhythms, but there’s a new duality – a much heavier sound buoyed by the focused melodies that introduce the listener to Mark’s surprisingly dynamic vocal range.
FATA formed in 2000 when Mark, Deneeve, and Perri were just teenagers. Too Bad You’re Beautiful sold over 100,000 copies and the band quickly rose out of the underground and became one of the progenitors of the modern hardcore sound. The band signed to Vagrant in 2003 and released the blockbuster disc, The Fiction We Live to an even larger fan base and rave reviews. Massachusetts native Josh Newton joined on bass soon after and the band crossed the continent multiple times on a rigorous touring schedule for the next few years.
Much has been written and even more has been speculated about the band’s internal conflicts surrounding 2005’s Abandon Your Friends that culminated in the band taking a 5-month hiatus.
However, after a Summer 2006 stint on the Warped Tour, reconnecting with fans after their long break and more importantly, with one another, the members of From Autumn to Ashes found themselves itching to get back into the studio, and fast.
In September of 2006, the band rented a practice space and began hashing out what would become Holding a Wolf By The Ears. Enlisting the help of producer Brian McTernan (Senses Fail, Thrice) the band prepared to enter the studio, with the exception of Perri, who had yet to show for any of the rehearsals. “He never came out to any of the practices and he had no involvement. But that was also the way it was when we wrote Abandon Your Friends.” It soon became obvious that Perri was not planning on showing up and was no longer part of the band, leaving Mark with little choice but to step up and track the vocals himself, a turn of events which, for Mark, actually turned out to be a relief.
“As the time approached when Ben was supposed to come down and start tracking vocals,” remembers Mark, “I started to get a lot of anxiety about it. A big part of me didn’t want to hand this stuff over to him. I’m working very hard and writing and revising very personal lyrics, and I’m supposed to just hand them over to somebody else? A part of me didn’t want to have to do it.” However, as Mark began tracking the vocals, it became clear that this was exactly what From Autumn to Ashes had been in need of. “It immediately seemed like that’s the way things had been all along,” recalls Mark.
For Mark, one of the most important tracks on Holding a Wolf By The Ears is the album’s opener, “Deth Kult Social Club,” which recalls the visceral, raw hardcore that inspired him as a youth. “I was pretty happy with that song, because we started tapping into certain elements of hardcore bands that I was really inspired by as a young kid,” he explains. ”When I was 13 or 14 and started going to hardcore shows, it was a battle. People were so passionate about what was going on that they were hanging from the ceiling. So when I heard what we had going on with ‘Deth Kult Social Club’ I remember thinking ‘I can’t wait to play that song live.’”
“Once ‘Deth Kult…’ came about,” adds Newton, “I knew we were headed in the right direction. (Producer) Brian McTernan was a taskmaster, but we loved it.”
Adds Deneeve, “We went through a lot and came out the other side – like Super Bowl champions! I think if we made this record with anyone other than Brian we wouldn’t be able to say that.”
Lyrically, Mark found inspiration for the songs on Holding a Wolf By The Ears in his own daily life. “Most of the record is just about living. At this point I don’t think that music inspires me to make more music. Going out and living inspires me to make music. It seems like most people don’t believe in themselves enough to take risks,” he says. “So many people are unhappy – they let their happiness take a backseat to their obligations, and our society really reinforces that. Also, it seems like the middle ground between having total faith and not having any is vanishing and that middle ground was what functioned best. A lot of lyrics are inspired by the idea that extremes are dangerous.”
Mark also sees a certain amount of subconscious prescience in some of the lyrics on the album, which though written before Perri’s departure, seem oddly predictive. “When I was writing these lyrics, I didn’t know yet that he wasn’t coming. But perhaps I did know on some level, because when I go back and look at a lot of these lyrics, they’re very foretelling of what was about to happen, which is crazy. It was a prediction that ended up coming true.”
One thing Francis Mark can’t predict is the reception that Holding a Wolf By The Ears will receive from the band’s dedicated and worldwide fan base. “I know that there’s no bullshit on this record. What I wrote was direct from my heart, as honest as can be. And I’d like to think that that’s what people can relate to.”
Fans will get plenty of chances to experience this “new” band, with multiple tours already lined up for 2007. With the aid of guitarist Rob Lauritsen, who joined the band last summer, and the addition of a new touring drummer, From Autumn To Ashes have nothing holding them back.
“Music is the one thing on this planet that brings me the most enjoyment,” confesses Mark. “I don’t have a plan B, because if I’m not doing this, I don’t intend on doing anything at all.”