In some parallel universe, if Molly Ringwald had been cast in the Mad Max movies, Shades Apart would be the perfect soundtrack. Raised in a decade defined by John Hughes movies, bubblegum pop and escalating nuclear arms, the members of Shades Apart shared a passion for bands from the first wave of punk's invasion (energetic lads like the Jam, the Police, Generation X, and the Clash). Shades Apart's new record, Seeing Things, taps these sources to deliver a modern fusion of pop, punk and new wave. The single from their previous record, a uranium-fueled cover of the synth classic "Tainted Love", received loads of commercial radio airplay last year and eventually turned up on MTV. Not bad for three suburban-bred New Jersey-ites who started playing for something to do during summer vacations.
Shades Apart released their debut album in December 1988 on Wishingwell Records, a chiefly straight-edge hardcore label based in California. Two EPs followed: Dude Danger on Sunspot Records and Neon on Skene Records, which caught the ear of Descendents leader Bill Stevenson. Shades Apart jumped at the chance to work with their proto-punk icon, and Mr. Stevenson (along with bandmate Stephen Egerton) became the producer of their next LP. 1995's Save It was the product of that union. The band found a new home on Revelation Records and toured North America several times in the next year, converting legions of new fans and garnering critical praise along the way.
Interviews and Reviews
Made in the Shade
[Shades Apart] May. 14, 2001
By Matt Schild
Shades Apart There's something to be said of not fitting in perfectly. If it weren't for outcasts of the puffed-up music world of the '70s, punk wouldn't have ever been pioneered. Without many musicians... alienation from the hardcore and punk scenes, it's doubtful that the post-hardcore scene that sprung up around the likes of Fugazi and Braid.
As much as the punk scene would like to think of its solidarity as its biggest asset, it's also one of the biggest causes of musical stagnation. After all, once a band gets too comfortable in the punk world, it tends to relax and become a fixture in the underworld. Punk's biggest asset isn't its sense of community, it's its members' traditional desire not to fit in: Shades Apart can prove that. Though the band sprung from the punk underground, its blend of pop melodies, fast-action riffs of punk and hardcore's hard edge made the band walk amongst punk circles, though never truly fall into file with the marching order of any of punk's sub-genres.
Now, as the band prepares to release its second major-label release, Sonic Boom (Universal), and embraces a style that's twisted its punk roots around new-wave melodies and straight-up rock power, it's clear that the larger horizons it now looks to explore could never have been withheld in the confines of strict punk rock.
"We always fit into the scene, but we were always sort of a little different than everyone else, not that we were specifically trying to do it," says bassist Kevin Lynch of his band's early days in the punk world. "At times, I almost felt we were on the outside looking in on that scene, but at the same time being welcomed by the same people who were checking out the music. Now, we're playing to a different audience now. I don't think we were trying to do that, but we were always capable of reaching a larger audience because our music was not so pigeonholed."
Lynch returns with singer/guitarist Mark V. and drummer Ed Brown for Shades Apart's sixth full-length release this month, and embraces a style that transcends the limits of punk rock while still holding the energy and ethics of its roots close to its heart. Though when Sonic Boom is placed alongside its more fundamentally punk records like Save It (1995, Revelation) there's all sorts of new wrinkles - check out the Elvis Costello-esque "Got Shot Down" or the shot at a guitar ballad with "Rebel Teen From Mars" - it's simply a matter of the band slowly coming into its own style, Lynch says.
"I think we've always had the broad influences, so maybe we've been able to bring them in a little more," he says. "I guess on some of our earlier records we were more interested in showing the aggressive side of our records. The Revelation records were really up-tempo, maybe a little darker sounding. As we were getting to our last record, before we did the major, we had signs of other influences coming out of the record like songwriter type of influences. Bands like The Squeeze and Elvis Costello."
Anyone who's kept an eye on the band since its early days shouldn't be too surprised by its development. While the trio cut its teeth during the same time that the sounds of Fat Wreck Chords and Epitaph bands dominated the punk scene right down to the smallest local acts, Shades Apart broke from the mold with a sound that stressed scratchy melodic guitars and melodic bass lines. It was enough to make them stand outside the normal bounds of the punk scene of its day.
That subtle difference wasn't just a coincidence. While most bands were busy immersing themselves with a one-track mind in the standard punk and hardcore catalog, Shades Apart had grew up on a variety of music. Those wide-ranging influences would immediately start playing out in the band's music.
"When we were in high school, we all listened to stuff like Elvis Costello, The Police, Big Country, Midnight Oil. Bands at the time who were considered alternative rock, before alternative rock was even a genre," Lynch says. "It was more like college/indie/alternative. At the same time we were getting into bands like The Descendents and Agent Orange, California style pop punk. Us growing up on the East Coast, we also had the influence of the New York hardcore scene, which was real heavy. We took the West Coast pop punk thing and made it a little heavier like they were doing on the East Coast. A hybrid of those two things is kind of what Seeing Things and Save It became."
The band's distance from the norm in punk rock circles not only gave it the freedom to indulge its eclectic influences, it was also freed from the ties that frequently bind a punk band to the underworld. While many punk acts have found disaster after their sounds grew out of the boundaries of the punk world, Shades Apart's been able to maintain its fan base as its style grows.
"We've had two different waves of fans. We've gained so many new fans now than we ever had before, so there's more new fans than old fans," Lynch says. "I don't think we ever fit really neatly into that Fat Wreck Chords or Epitaph sound that was going on in the punk scene. We didn't really betray any fans because we never really fit into that genre to begin with."
As clear as the band's expanding horizons are on Sonic Boom, Shades Apart's production values have also been given a kick in the pants. This time around, the band's indulging a fuller sound that places its guitar tracks in a dominant position in the mix; the result is a beefier sound. Lynch says the shift in production values isn't as much sonically a change of direction, but rather the end result of being able to record with major-label funding to back them up.
"We've always been a pretty guitar-oriented kind of band. It's only a three-piece so everything in the guitar cuts through pretty well," he says. "I guess the last couple of recordings we did, it wasn't necessarily the producers as much as the money we were able to spend on the records, then therefore be able to go to better equipped studios that would have better, vintage analog tape machines. We was able to spend a lot of time on it."
Whatever enabled Shades Apart to position itself as one of the largest bands to come out of the punk rock underground, it's nothing the band needs to explore. Growth, Lynch says, has been a natural process, and one that's let the band continue to take its songs to new ears.
"We've been a band now for 10 or 12 years, so our music has just evolved," Lynch says. "Sometimes it's slowed down. We still have aggressive songs on the new record. I think we're just hitting a bigger audience now."