Rolling into its forthcoming self-titled fourth album, We Came As Romans figured they knew what they were doing — especially after 2013’s Tracing Back Roots debuted at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and No. 1 on the Independent Albums chart. But We Came As Romans producer David Bendeth (Papa Roach, Breaking Benjamin, Killswitch Engage, Paramore) provided a rude awakening.
You can hear some of the results of his efforts on the track “Tear It Down” below.
“We went in and he said, ‘OK, play your best songs,’ and we did and he was like, ‘This is horrible! This sucks!'” recalls WCAR frontman Dave Stephens. “He said, ‘You better play something right now that’s gonna impress me, ’cause this isn’t.’ At that point we had 12 songs and he pretty much shot down every single thing we came in with. It was absolutely shocking. He really called us out; ‘This is your fourth record. You’re doing the same shit you’ve been doing every other record. You can’t get away with it.’ That’s why we went with him, though; we really needed somebody to force us to push ourselves creatively as musicians. David wouldn’t let us put anything less than great songs on there.”
After the first Bendeth meeting WCAR went back to the drawing board, working at home in Detroit as well as in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Nashville — and writing with collaborators who have previously worked with 30 Seconds To Mars, Black Veil Brides, Papa Roach, 3 Doors Down and Asking Alexandria. The group came back with another 23 songs, winnowing that list down to the 10 that appear on the album. “It took a lotta lotta writing,” Stephens recalls, “and it was a huge battle to decide which ones were going to make it. Each member was in love with different songs for different reasons, and I feel like everybody lost one of his favorite songs along the way. I knew I lost a couple. If they weren’t the best songs, they weren’t gonna make it.”
Even then, Stephens adds, there were plenty of machinations to make the chosen songs right — Stephens mentions another new song from the album, “Who Will Pray”, one of the tracks written in Los Angeles. It was one of the few that was relatively unscathed from start to finish. “That didn’t change lot,” Stephens says, though he adds that it was the most difficult song for me to sing. I probably sang that song 200 times until it was right. It’s a pretty deep song; We like to keep our lyric open-ended, but it’s about that feeling of when you’ve lost something in your life you can feel very separated and very confused. There’s this feeling sometimes of, ‘Where am I gonna go from here? Who’s gonna be there for me?’ When we lose what we thought was the light of our lives, it’s easy to sink and lose yourself. It makes it even more difficult to know you can never go back. The ‘who will pray for me’ isn’t meant to be religious but rather wondering, ‘Who cares about me?’ After all, you only pray for those you care about.”
Stephens adds that WCAR’s lyrical concerns overall ran deeper and well beyond aggro angst throughout the new album. “We’re full-grown men at this point, compared to our first record,” he explains. “We definitely see the world in a different light than we used to. As we get older, we realize there’s a lot of things going on in the world, going on in America, that we don’t like. We used to think we had to write positively about change; on this record we realized that to point out something negative or that we don’t like or makes you angry doesn’t mean positive change can’t happen.” And, he adds, under Bendeth’s guidance, “We stopped writing novels and instead put all our thoughts that would be on an entire page of paper before into one line. That was extremely tricky, but I think it came across really well.”
WCAR is playing this summer’s entire Vans Warped Tour and expects a long tour in support of We Came As Romans. And Stephens, who’s singing more clean vocals than ever before, is benefiting from training with a British voice coach who put him through some new paces, including an adjusted, low-acid diet.
“I’m a really visual learner, and she was able to explain things in such a visual way to show me how I’m supposed to be singing,” he says. “She made me do things like get on my knees and sing with my entire back and butt and feet against the wall and show me all kinds of strange things to show me how to sing properly — not to mention practicing two to three hours a day. But it worked; my range improved, my tone improved. My bandmates like to walk by and mock the weird noises I’m making when I’m warming up, but that’s just part of improving my instrument, and the results are speaking for themselves.”