“We wanted to make the best rock record of the past ten years.”
From the opening moments of ‘Are You Real?’, its clear Beware of Darkness are full of confidence, as ‘Muthafucka’ stomps in with larger-than-life fuzz guitars swagger complimenting Kyle Nicolaides’ strutting vocals. It marks a transition for the Los Angeles-based trio, especially Nicolaides.
‘Are You Real?’ is the band’s second full-length and is another attempt to correct the wrongs that 2013’s ‘Orthodox’ produced. “Making ‘Orthodox’ was the worst experience of my life,” states Nicolaides, “so with ‘Are You Real?’ I wanted to see if we could make it the best. When I wrote the first LP, I was so naïve, I had no idea that people would actually hear the songs. With, ‘Are You Real?’ there was so much more focus and intent behind the songwriting and production. We had goals and intent. We wanted to make the best rock record of the past ten years.”
It is no doubt that Nicolaides’ ambition shines throughout ‘Are You Real?’. Each track is delivered with enthusiasm as Nicolaides, along with bassist Daniel Curcio, and drummer Tony Cupito put their own modern spin on classic rock. At the core of the record is a lyrical substance that sees Kyle taking a retrospective look at his life as a rock star.
“I’d sum it up as looking at your life and current situation, and making the decision that you don’t merely want to survive, but to thrive. It’s an album about overcoming darker seasons of your life and making a conscious choice and effort that it won’t define you, and you will prevail, better and stronger than you were before. There’s a line on the LP that summarises it well, “if I can overcome myself, I can overcome anything”.”
Having re-accessed himself and the band’s position, Nicolaides and company turned to producer-engineers Jim Kaufmann and Catherine Marks with a slew of demos that would eventually become ‘Are You Real?’ For Nicolaides, his aim was to make the recording process completely positive, making sure everyone involved was satisfied with what was being created. Beyond his role as band leader, he would become “a mediator of good vibes and a cheerleader for everyone.”
“It’s an outside-in way of working; make sure that everyone else is happy and treated well, and the quality of life and work will skyrocket,” explained Kyle. “I wanted to make sure that everyone working on the LP had the best experience they’d ever make recording an album and figured that if I worked outwards and thought about everyone else, the good energy would come back to me. We just had a great little team, and the balance was just right. For a moment in time, we had a little family.”
As for the writing process, Nicolaides crafted each song with care, swapping ideas and re-writing extensively. “I’d say the writing process worked in two completely different ways. A song would either be written in around 20 minutes, and everything would be entirely finished or it’d be the total opposite. Sometimes I’d have to write a song six different times, and then combine it with another song to get the final version. My rule of thumb for this LP was I had to like every single part of a song I wrote – I couldn’t settle for anything less. I’d write a song, would like the chorus, but not the verse, so then I would write a new song around the chorus, and keep on crafting in that way, unlike I got something I loved. Sometimes a song would sit for a year, and I’d bring it back and rewrite it.”
In addition, Nicolaides’ songwriting experimentation would lead him to use drum looping machines and analog synthesisers to write his guitar parts round. “I would wound up writing guitar parts that I would never have written if I were just sitting down with an acoustic. I’d compare that process to meditating, where I’d be aiming to dive into the subconscious, create and find a beat I could get lost in until I’d find some sort of flow, and then ideas would just pour out.”
“I think the greatest impact that LA has had on us, was we wanted to be successful so we could get the hell out!”
While tracks such as ‘Muthafucka’, ‘Blood, Sex, Violence, & Murder’ and ‘Dope’ gives the impression that the band openly take in the LA lifestyle on offer, however, Nicolaides says the influence of the city isn’t quite that. “At the time, my LA lifestyle was living in a 300 square foot Burbank bungalow that a contractor built for his mother for her end of life season that was two blocks from Walt Disney Studios. It was very sedated. I think the greatest impact that LA has had on us, was we wanted to be successful so we could get the hell out!”
Undoubtedly the grandiose rock sound that ‘Are You Real?’ offers stems from the trio’s hunger to get and play shows around the world as Nicolaides continues, “I think a pivotal moment for the influence of the album was (when) we played a headlining slot at a festival in Slovakia, and getting a taste of what that was like. I think it’s probably like trying heroin for the first time. We got a taste of that, and it always kept in our memory, and we wanted to make stadium ready music. It was a lot bigger than LA.”
Throughout the process of making ‘Are You Real?’, you get the impression that the experience was one of catharsis for Nicolaides. It’s a term that could be used to sum up the atmospheric and lethargic closing track ‘Delirium’. “It’s about codependency, control, and freedom,” says Kyle. “Codependency is mind blowing because I don’t think a lot of people really know what it is, or how it affects their lives and relationships, yet it’s so prominent and everywhere, and can control your whole life without you being aware of it.”
Ultimately, Beware of Darkness are embarking on a new chapter. One that thrives on self-belief in their creativity and unity as a collective.
‘Are You Real?’ by Beware Of Darkness is out now on Bright Antenna Records.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)