Review: Aaron Gillespie – Out of the Badlands

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There is truly no denying Aaron Gillespie’s love of writing, recording and performing music. Even after his time as drummer for legendary post-hardcore act Underoath came to an end, as did his alt-rock side project The Almost, the Clearwater, Florida native has kept himself busy as the touring drummer for rock powerhouse Paramore, along with a smattering of other projects. While researching for this very review, I found that he had released another worship album just last year.

You can buy Out of the Badlands on iTunes.

You can buy Out of the Badlands on iTunes.

Thus, without proper context, Gillespie’s latest offering, Out of the Badlands, could potentially be labeled as lazy. Featuring only three original songs, the release largely consists of cover tracks and re-imagined songs from Gillespie’s past. However, one listen to Out of the Badlands makes clear that these songs were anything but mailed in.

Seeing as how Gillespie was a founding member and an integral songwriter for my favorite band of all time, he had me at “Underoath.” It’s true: Out of the Badlands features stark new versions of “A Boy Brushed Red… Living in Black and White” and “Reinventing Your Exit” – two fan favorites. Once a fast-paced screamo anthem, “A Boy Brushed Red” now finds itself as a patient acoustic track, with Gillespie’s plea of “This is where we both go wrong” sounding more painful than ever.

That’s what makes Badlands so captivating – even though we’ve heard many of these songs before, there’s an added depth and grief to be found in the wake of divorce. It’s fascinating to hear songs written over a decade ago find a new powerful meaning. The three original tracks on the album make clear where this new influence has come from.

“Raspberry Layer Cake” has a throwback country vibe with Gillespie using a deep raspy delivery to drop the sorrowful lines, “When everything you have is taken away / Like a lie on your wedding day”. By the time the album comes to a close with the journal entry-esque “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”, the pace has increased significantly, even if there is still little solace to be found. Even so, Gillespie’s voice once again sounds familiar on the soaring chorus as he extends his range to resolve the raw melody.

Other highlights on Badlands come in the form of a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, existing as a stripped down slow burn. The best of Gillespie’s The Almost reinventions is “No I Don’t”, transforming from an explosive pop rock track to an indie rock song highlighted by the same infectious melody. Both “Say This Sooner” and “Southern Weather” fail to differ enough from the originals in any remarkable to warrant their inclusion here.

All in all, Out of the Badlands serves as a time capsule showcasing some of Gillespie’s greatest hits, while also providing as a salve that surely proved therapeutic during the recording process. These new revisions give an insight into the artist as a weathered adult and oddly stand strong alongside his new entries. With this effort, Gillespie appears primed to close another chapter and embark on the next stage of his continually ambitious career.

3.5/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Aaron Gillespie and William Beckett Celebrate the Past on Summer Tour

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On Saturday, September 12 in Chicago, William Beckett will step onto the stage in front of roaring crowd at Riot Fest as the lead singer of The Academy Is… to perform Almost Here for what will likely be the final time. On July 31, Beckett took the stage at the dimly lit Emerson Theater in Indianapolis, silently strapping on his acoustic guitar as a small, quiet crowd looked on.

For Beckett and tour mate Aaron Gillespie, art and performance exist independently of audience size. Both singers are familiar with crowds both large and small, and have spent the better part of their careers gaining a rabid following, thanks in large part to the passion they pour into their many projects. Tonight in Indianapolis is, in a way, about giving back, as the two perform acoustic numbers from both past and present.

Gillespie, formerly the drummer of Underoath and lead singer of The Almost, now spends his days crafting songs for his solo endeavors when he’s not on the road as the touring drummer of Paramore. A multi-talented artist known to play a myriad of musical instruments, Gillespie masterminded this tour as a way for fans to relive a decade’s worth of songs and moments.

William Beckett

William Beckett

Beckett saw The Academy Is… take flight in the summer of 2005, just as Gillespie and Underoath were bringing heavy music to the flocking masses. In part, the two helped signify the bridging of a gap between heavy and light in a scene that became a melting pot for new alternative sounds.

On this night, Beckett not only takes time to play old Academy classics, but also shares his wildly underrated solo material. Truth be told, time has been quite kind to Beckett, whose vocals now sound even more crisp than in his early days as an energetic and flailing frontman. When he sings “About a Girl”, a soaring chorus that once appeared to take everything his vocal chords could give, now appears effortless, as he holds incredibly high notes for extra beats, just for good measure.

His 2013 debut solo album flew largely under the radar, but Genuine & Counterfeit is chock full of the gorgeous melodies that made Academy such hit, even as he relies far more on his pop sensibilities than his punk and emo tendencies. “Hanging on a Honeymoon” sounds just as wonderful in this acoustic setting as old favorites such as “The Phrase That Pays”.

Beckett’s ability to capture a crowd while on stage has long been lauded, but it’s clear that he hasn’t lost a beat. As exciting as the upcoming Academy reunion at Riot Fest may be, it’s even more exciting to know that Beckett is planning on sticking around for the foreseeable future.

Aaron Gillespie

Aaron Gillespie

Gillespie’s set finds a treasure trove of hits to choose from. Both The Almost and Underoath have provided a large collection of fan favorites through the years, but stripping these songs down for this acoustic setting was surely a challenge. Even so, the melodic leanings of They’re Only Chasing Safety-era Underoath tracks like “Reinventing Your Exit” and “A Boy Brushed Red Living in Black and White” make for obvious choices. Likewise, calmer numbers like “Dirty and Left Out” and “Some Will Seek Forgiveness, Others Escape” lend quite well, too.

With an acoustic guitar and a single pedal-powered drum, Gillespie is able to add dimension to the songs as the crowd sings along. When he picks up pace for “Say This Sooner”, the audience goes into full choir mode during the chorus. Gillespie has made a name for himself with his ability to capture the moment with both gentle and explosive deliveries. Red in the face, he belts out the high points of “No, I Don’t” just as if a full band were on stage to back him up.

Even with such an expansive catalogue to pull from, Gillespie still makes time for cover songs from U2, Oasis and Tom Petty. The highlight of the night finds Beckett and tour mate Nathan Hussey of All Get Out joining Gillespie on stage for a performance of “Free Fallin’”, featuring a delightful three-part harmony during the song’s chorus.

A longtime fan of Beckett and Gillespie, I’ve found myself in attendance for numerous concerts from both throughout the past decade. The music of The Academy Is… and Underoath are likely to remain timeless for me – a touchstone to a coming-of-age period in my life. Truthfully, it’s hard to think back without remembering their voices as the soundtrack. All of these years later, it’s a pleasure and an honor to sing along again.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.