By: Alyssa Aldrete / Arts & Entertainment editor
It’s about two hours until the first act of the night at SOMA is called to begin their set, and a fairly exhausted Craig Owens is lounging in the back of a tour bus, enjoying the last few moments he has before he joins his band Chiodos onstage.
The Michigan-based post-hardcore group is scheduled to grace the San Diego stage as the headliners of the night in a mere two hours, and the frontman is eager to take his place at the center of the stage, despite his jetlag.
“We played Arizona last night, and I live in Malibu,” Owens said, “So I flew from Arizona at 5 a.m. to my home, slept for two hours, then came here. I’m like out of my mind, super tired. But I think tonight’s going to be great.”
The band’s headlining gig for the night comes a little over two years after the announcement of their reunion with Owens and original drummer Derrick Frost.
Chiodos has gone through multiple lineup changes in the thirteen years of its existence, but nothing shook the fanbase down to its core more than the departure of Owens back in the late summer of 2009.
When the vocalist formed the band Destroy Rebuild Until God Shows (often shortened to the acronym D.R.U.G.S.) in 2010, many of the die-hard Chiodos fans lost all hope that the band they fell in love with in the beginning might be done for good, and in many ways, so did he.
After just two years of being a band, D.R.U.G.S. began dealing with many internal issues.
“Everybody wanted to take it in their own direction, so as that was falling apart, I was like ‘I don’t know what I’m doing anymore,’” Owens said. “My manager asked me a question that no other manager had ever asked me. She said, ‘If you could make one record, any record that you wanted, what would it be?’ And I jokingly said, ‘the next Chiodos record. But that’s not going to happen.’”
Little did Owens know, a small joke would lead to some of the most important steps of his career.
After playing a few exclusive reunion shows, the band (Owens, Frost, keyboardist Bradley Bell, bassist Matt Goddard and guitarist Pat McManaman) realized they couldn’t stop there.
“We realized that people still cared and we could make an impact,” Owens said. “All we really want to do is make art. I think all of us have our own individual goals within this, but we do have a collective want to continue to make music together.”
When the five existing members came to that realization, they made their next decision, which was to not only reunite, but reinvent.
After former lead guitarist Jason Hale decided to continue his education and thus leave Chiodos, the band looked to ex-Fall of Troy guitarist Thomas Erak.
“You couldn’t ask for anyone better,” Owens said. “He brings a lot of energy, which is awesome live, because I feel like it alleviates a little bit of the pressure from me.”
Once the six men had their lineup fully established, all that was left to do to begin the recording process was to bring a fresh face to the production table.
Enter Grammy award-winning record producer David Bottrill (Muse, Tool, Circa Survive), who brought with him, not only the expertise necessary, but the artistic freedom that a dramatic band like Chiodos needs.
“We wanted to make a record that was timeless, not just instant gratification, Owens said. “David was perfect for that.”
After retreating to Dreamwood Studios in the latter half of 2013 to record their fourth full-length album, Chiodos released “Devil” on April 1, 2014.
With nearly seven years passed since the last release featuring Owens and Frost, Chiodos has come back with a rejuvenated vengeance, creating some of the grittiest riffs fans have heard, as well as some brighter tones that haven’t been as obvious in the band’s discography thus far.
The songs “3AM” and “Under Your Halo” are two of the prime examples on the record that feature a side that Chiodos isn’t particularly known for, including romantic lyrics and a beautiful string section that swells the heart of the listener and automatically takes the otherwise dark journey into an uplifting turn of hope and love.
“We wanted a natural evolution but we didn’t want to stray too much from what we do,” Owens says of the reception of these particular songs. “We didn’t want to make the record that everybody wanted us to make, and not because it was out of spite, but because that wasn’t what we wanted to make. We’re fans of music first, so we make music we want to hear.”
Of course, Chiodos will never stray from the theatrics they are known for incorporating in their albums.
There’s the soul-shaking screams coming from Owens’ throat, to violins transitioning one song into another, to the sounds of doors creaking in such an eerie way that they could easily be mistaken for sound bytes taken from the first on-screen Dracula entrance.
“Nothing on this record is fake, everything’s real, from the harps, to the French horns, to the champagne glass breaking, to me doing creepy weird little kid voices,” Owens added.
But no matter how well the record is received, the evidence of true support is most apparent at shows, where fans can be seen packed as tight as can be in every venue where Chiodos makes an appearance.
And just as the passion can be heard from the fans screaming along, it exudes from Owens and his bandmates on stage.
“Every night I pray for the courage and confidence to go out and impact someone in a positive way,” Owens said. “I’m not trying to change their life or anything, but I just want to give people an escape. I want to make them feel comfortable, and I want to make them feel like they have a place to go when the rest of the world makes you feel like an outcast, because that’s what shows were for me. It was like the one place I belonged.”
We are now halfway through the year 2014, and with a dynamic album and incredible, commanding stage presence, the guys in Chiodos have taken back their crowns as the kings of post-hardcore.
So what’s next for the band in the coming year?
“Our goal is to reconnect with Chiodos fans. To let them know that we acknowledge the fact that we’ve been inconsistent, that the ups and downs have probably made it a little hard to trust us,” Owens said.
“I think that in order to have a favorite band or to let a band really impact your life in a massive way, you kind of have to have a level of trust with them. I just want to reconnect with our fans and the people that supported us and enabled us to make art and let them know that Chiodos is back.”