Intensity. Integrity. Independence. These three words encapsulate the style and stance of Crossfade--one of the most powerful and inventive new hard rock bands to emerge thus far in the new century. Intensity defines the driving, bottom-heavy sound and stirring melodies of this Columbia, South Carolina, four-piece. On the group's debut album, Crossfade originals like "Starless," "Cold," and "So Far Away" combine indelible melodic hooks with the relentless power of the band's live sound; their carefully crafted arrangements lend depth and variety to such standout tracks as the confessional ballad "Dead Skin." Integrity has guided Crossfade's progress at every step of the way. To follow their dreams, the musicians turned their backs on the cover-band syndrome, on parental expectations, and on the chance for well-paying careers outside music.
Independence is the spirit that led Crossfade to build and equip their own studio; to manage themselves for a time; and to produce and record their debut album themselves, with post-production by engineer/mixer Randy Staub. (His credits include sessions with Metallica, P.O.D., Nickelback and 3 Doors Down among others.)
Crossfade began with nothing--literally. In the late Nineties, Ed Sloan (lead vocals, guitar), Mitch James (bass, vocals) and Brian Geiger (drums) formed a band called The Nothing--a kind of "heavy-metal Wrathchild America and Metallica takeoff," in Geiger's words. The Nothing worked hard to create original material and a sound of their own; at one point, the group relocated to Atlanta, Georgia before returning to their Columbia, South Carolina, home turf. Ed began constructing a home studio, while Brian took on management duties.
The addition of Tony Byroads, a vocalist and DJ who had moved to Columbia after graduating high school in Buffalo, New York helped to expand the sound of the band. "Tony was a veteran of the club circuit who could sing any style," says Mitch James. "As a writer, he shared our drive to create songs that were catchy, energetic, and still musical enough to keep from boring us!"
With Tony on board and in recognition of their evolving style, The Nothing changed the group's name to Sugardaddy Superstar and set to work on new music in the Sugarstar Studio, which Ed Sloan describes as "a brick garage at my house that was made into livable space with some added soundproofing and basic gear."
Without any formal training in engineering, "we found ourselves experimenting with a lot of different techniques--not really knowing what was right or wrong but just going for the best sound we could get. It took about nine or ten months to complete the recording of the album. The ability to record at home and on our own time was a great asset. It gave us complete control over our environment and allowed us to experiment in ways that, in a normal studio, would not have been possible due to budget and time constraints."
Local radio stations began airing some of these self-produced tracks, and Sugardaddy Superstar signed up with Taxi, the LA-based independent A&R company. The group also came to the attention of Chris "Hot Rod" Long, an experienced Los Angeles promoter who had worked with acts like Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against the Machine, and Kyuss--now known as Queens of the Stone Age. Chris flew east to catch the band's live show; two weeks later, he signed on as their manager.
In November 2001, Sugardaddy Superstar was one of only three (out of 8,000 member groups and artists) to perform at Taxi's "Road Rally." The buzz continued to build when the group played a March 2002 showcase in Los Angeles. The band returned to the studio to re-engineer and remix an album they originally called Cold. This self-released set, issued regionally in September 2002, contained eight of the ten songs that now comprise Crossfade, the group's major label debut.
Earshot Records A&R man Doug Ford had been following the band's progress for the previous year. "As soon as Doug heard the album," Ed Sloan recalls, "we were flown to New York to showcase. We played four songs for the Columbia brass and were signed within days. They liked our own recordings enough to release them with only a little touching-up from [engineer/mixer] Randy Staub."
"The story of Crossfade is still unfolding," says Mitch James. "But since some defining moment in our lives, we've all known that this is what we were destined to do."
The Musicians of Crossfade
Ed Sloan (lead vocals, guitar) grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and remembers his mother "always playing piano and singing hymns throughout my childhood." He began piano lessons at age eight and within a few years was learning songs from the radio and from records. He joined his first band, Darkchilde, in the eighth grade. "Soundgarden, Faith No More, Alice in Chains, and the earlier Metallica were my main influences during and after high school," he says. "The Deftones, (hed) pe, and Staind are some others who really hit home for me now." After several years of growing local notoriety, Ed left Darkchilde in search of older, more experienced musicians. He found bassist Mitch James and drummer Brian Geiger--they played the local circuit as The Nothing while Ed studied for his BS degree in computer science at the University of South Carolina.
Brian Geiger (drums), another Columbia native, grew up "dancing to country, soul, and rock and roll in the living room every night with my mother and sister. I always wanted to play drums: My stepfather played in an 'oldies' cover band, and I'd go to practices to learn from his drummer." Brian's drumming influences include Tommy Lee, Dave Grohl, Tommy Aldridge, and local hero/mentor Darren Butler; Deftones and Sarah McLaughlin are among his favorite recording artists. Brian left Celestian Slant, Brian's first semi-pro band, to explore new avenues for himself." When Geiger joined Ed Sloan and Mitch James in The Nothing, he became the band's manager--using business experience he'd acquired while running his own car detailing shop. With Geiger's own studio at home for recording drums and writing songs, Brian continuously refines his musical edge.
Mitch James (bass and backing vocals) had an epiphany at a David Lee Roth concert when he was in his early teens: "Billy Sheehan ripped into his four-stringed instrument and made it grind, whine, and sputter like a Harley--after that, I was forever sold on the bass guitar." In his first band, Mitch learned "every Metallica and Megadeth song ever written" before hooking up with Ed Sloan to form the songwriting core of The Nothing and later Crossfade. "It took a long time for us to realize that writing hit songs could fulfill our creative destiny as well as make us all happy. That journey has made us into more complete players and songwriters."
Tony Byroads (vocals, turntables, sampler) grew up in Buffalo, NY where "music was a part of my life from a very young age. I had a great love for lyrics and could remember the words to songs very easily." Tony's influences are almost equally divided between rock (Elvis Presley, Robert Plant, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson, Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy) and hip-hop (Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Eminem). His high school band, Final Wave, played in Buffalo area clubs and at school functions until he relocated to Columbia, South Carolina, after graduation. "I met some guys in a band called The Nothing who were in the process of changing their sound. It was perfect for me: I'd been doing DJ stuff for a while--like turntable scratching and sampling--but not in a band context. These guys allowed me to bring those elements into the sound that became Crossfade."
Crossfade Heating Up Thanks To 'Cold'
Band saw its first hit as 'just this quirky little song,' according to singer Ed Sloan. In their first year on the rock scene, South Carolina's Crossfade saw their song "Cold" become a national rock-radio hit and garner a spot on the popular Now That's What I Call Music! 17 compilation.
Not bad for a track that the hard rockers never saw as more than a novelty song.
"At first, it was just this quirky little song we had," said lead singer Ed Sloan. "We didn't think much of it until other people started to hear it and hear things in it. We were pleasantly surprised."
For a band that has subscribed to — and continues to live by — a DIY ethic, Crossfade has embraced every bit of success they've had since their debut self-titled album hit stores in April.
"I think it's just the benchmark of what we've tried to do for so long," Sloan said of Crossfade's successful year. "We struggled, but we struggled knowing that the single was picking up speed and snowballing, and everything has been positive this year. We have not had any setbacks. Everything's been going ahead — a lot of bands never get that and we did it right out the gate, so we're thrilled."
Crossfade started in the late 1990s when Sloan, bassist Mitch James and drummer Brian Geiger formed a band called the Nothing. DJ Tony Byroads soon made the trio a quartet with his samples and backing vocals (Byroads sings the refrain on "Cold").
The band changed its name to the ostentatious Sugardaddy Superstar and began recording in its own Sugarstar Studio, eventually completing their debut album, Cold. As local radio stations began to air the band's self-produced tracks, the buzz began to build, eventually leading to a record deal with Columbia Records subsidiary Earshot Records.
After adopting the more rock moniker Crossfade (the name comes from a recording technique) and adding two new songs to the album, Cold was re-released as Crossfade in the spring of 2004.
Sloan said his lyrics stem from incidents in his life and "seeing the experiences that other people go through. ... 'Cold' is about a past relationship of mine that is now no more. At the time, I was trying to say I'm sorry for a lot of things, and that's where it came from."
Right around the time of the album's re-release, Crossfade decided to end another relationship: Geiger left the band and was replaced by James Branam, who had two weeks to learn the songs. After four days with the album, Branam showed up for rehearsal and played each track flawlessly.
"We were really happy about it," Sloan said. "Then he told us that his drums were all packed up and he hadn't actually practiced — he just listened to the CD for four days and was able to do that. We knew something was good."
Since then, Crossfade have been on the road almost nonstop for six months, playing with Alter Bridge, Smile Empty Soul and Shinedown. Though it's been an intense few months, the guys said they love every aspect of the lifestyle and the fans they have made along the way.
"I think another reason people love us so much is because we're truly in love with our fans," Byroads said. "Every single one of them — it don't matter. If they like our music, they like us."
Fans will have another two months to return Crossfade's adoration as the band takes off on the SnoCore Tour with Helmet and Chevelle, which begins January 22 in Vail, Colorado.