Two years ago, members of The Air I Breathe, a New Jersey metal band, decided that no one was going to hand them a career on a silver platter.
They decided that, in order to attract attention and take it to the next level, they had to build a following beyond The Garden State. To make that happen, they self-recorded an EP of original music and hit the road.
"It wasn't easy, heading out there as an unsigned band," said Tony Dougard, vocalist for the band, calling from a tour stop in Danbury, Conn. "We'd sometimes have 10 shows on the schedule and get to the gigs to find seven of them get canceled."
Despite some lean times, the gamble paid off. The recording, and the buzz they created with the fans, attracted the attention of Rise Records, the metal label that helped launch the careers of such bands at The Devil Wears Prada, Fear Before the March of Flames and Ever We Fall, and also lured veteran acts like The Bled and From First to Last.
The Air I Breathe's Rise release, "Great Faith in Fools," arrived in 2011. The band is now headlining for the first time, on a tour that brings the group to Mojos Caffe & Gallery on Wednesday, May 9.
The band (which includes band founder Greg Diamond on drums; Colin Klika, bass; Cam Baptista and Jesse Butler, guitars) recorded "Great Faith in Fools" with the help of two heavy-metal heavy hitters.
Andrew Wade, who runs The Wade Studio in Florida and who has worked with bands like A Day to Remember, gave the musicians the space to record and his production know-how. Working to mix and master the record was Joey Sturgis, who has produced, mixed and mastered acts like Asking Alexandria, We Came As Romans and The Devil Wears Prada.
"Andrew Wade was great to work with," said Dougard. "He is pretty awesome with working on vocal harmonies and stuff like that. Then Joey Sturgis just has mastery of that full sound. It was a great combination."
One of the surprises in the studio, Dougard said, was that Wade and Sturgis didn't tamper too much with The Air I Breathe's overall sound.
"We had a lot of music already written. But I assumed, when we went into the studio, that producers would kind of be like, 'That part is cool, that part is not.' I'd heard that about pop producers, so I was kind of ready for it. That did not happen. They didn't try to change much of the actual music, just guide us."
Dougard said the band also learned about building parts in the studio, and mixing them together later.
"It was intense the way everything was recorded in sections," he said. "The first week, you make a huge chart to plan what you do when. Then you might knock out the drums that week, and the next week, you get another instrument down. We've got really talented guitarists, so those were very complex and took a lot of time. And then I had to get down my vocals. Those were long days. I can remember right before the break for Christmas Eve, we started recording at noon, and it was about 3 a.m. before we got done."
Scream and clean
Dougard is a singer who can tackle both styles of hard-core singing -- clean, the fairly typical soaring pop vocals, and scream, a guttural, growling style.
To keep doing both styles for more than a handful of years takes care and discipline. Dougard has learned both from experience and trial and error.
"When we got in the studio, I was not really ready for it," he admitted. "So, if I started to get hoarse, we'd work on bass or something like that. Back then, my techniques were not that smart. ... I was under the impression that milkshakes made me better. It was purely a mental thing, I think."
The milkshake diet was not a good idea for two big reasons. One, vocalists are usually partial to warm drinks to soothe the cords, not the cold delivered by shakes. Two, Dougard is lactose-intolerant.
"Another thing I've heard is to drink straight honey to coat the throat. But my body does not like that, either. I tried it with my first band, and I puked. But I can drink it in tea, and that seems to help."
He has also watched and learned from other vocalists he has toured alongside the last two years.
"Back when we did the record, I didn't have any warm-ups. Now, every single day, I do a half-hour of vocal warm-ups. And it's paid off. My voice is so much stronger than it used to be. When we record the next one, which we want to do in late summer or early fall, I know it will be better, and easier to do. It will be awesome."