June 10--Over the past decade, the ability for artists to record music in a digital format and distribute it via the Internet has drastically reduced the costs of producing and releasing albums.
In the wake of these changes, the dynamics between performers and their labels continues to fluctuate, creating an environment where more bands are opting to leave the confines of the majors to go into business for themselves.
That's what Knoxville-based hard rockers 10 Years did after delivering their third and final album, 2010's "Feeding the Wolves," for Universal Records.
"When we first signed our deal with them, it was 2004," drummer Brian Vodinh said by phone last week from Tennessee. "At that point, they hadn't completely abandoned rock 'n' roll, but they were on their way. And we knew for us to survive as musicians and as 10 Years, we had to break away and do just exactly what we wanted. We're selfish, man, and we don't want to put that passion and love for what we create on the sidelines to try and fatten somebody else's pocket."
So Vodinh and his bandmates -- frontman Jesse Hasek, guitarist Ryan "Tater" Johnson and bassist Lewis Cosby -- got off the road after nearly two years of touring in support of "Feeding the Wolves" and started their own label, Palehorse Records.
It was a big step for the group, who'll take the stage at Phase 2 June 13, but they soldiered on, setting up shop at Vodinh's home studio -- dubbed Kashmir Recording -- and went right to work on self-producing their next disc, 2012's "Minus the Machine."
For an alt-metal band competing in a field of alpha males with pierced, sloping brows, the agile, even intrepid 10 Years have an awful lot of yin in their yang. The quartet's blunt lyrics are, at times, juxtaposed with neck breaking riffs that alternate between swaying grooves and thunderous beats, which rip, swell and climax into a tidal wave of brooding emotion.
"Hung by your self righteous hands/Get ready to meet your maker now/Backlashing, back at you liar/Backlashing, back at you run coward," Hasek menacingly wails on the track "Backlash," just before a soft piano melody floats to the surface and triggers an airy breakdown of reverberating guitars and tempered drums.
"That one came about because I had a seven-and-a-half minute long, almost Nine Inch Nails sounding, crazy, chaotic song of music," Vodinh said. "Our singer, Jesse, came by the studio one day to check it out and immediately was like, 'Dude, we have to use it.' So I edited the crap out of it and started chopping parts out and made it something that would work under the 10 Years umbrella."
As the title suggests, "Dancing with the Dead" is a rather unnerving cut off the "Minus the Machine" LP, one that serves as an elaborate metaphor for emotional isolation.
Hasek's vocals soar during the song's hook, piercing the listener's ear with a thrust of control and release, as he sings, "Take me all the way to the end/Show me how you want it to end/Keep dancing with the dead/Go ahead/Keep dancing with the dead."
Most of the band's songs start with sharp, biting guitars and rolling, visceral percussion that steadily build into perfectly timed explosions of sound. But 10 Years' knack for coiled tension somehow makes the whole thing work.
And maybe it has something to do with their newfound independence.
"Before, it was write all the songs first, then decide what you want to record, and then record in a rush," Vodinh said. "But I think that we are now afforded the luxury of, basically, inspiration again. The studio is walking distance from my bed so, anytime I had an idea, I would just go and sit and work. That's a luxury we've never had."
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