Thousands of small-scale bands around the world tirelessly submit demos to labels in an effort to get signed and gain the recognition they deserve. Cleveland, Ohio, USA metallers AFFIANCE lived that dream for years, and recently decided to take matters into their own hands with their crowdfunded release Gaia, a full-length EP and their fourth full album since 2007. The band kicked off a North American tour to promote the March 11 release of the record, starting things with a bang and a free EP release show at The Agora Ballroom in their hometown of Cleveland. Metal On Loud had the chance to catch up with vocalist Dennis Tvrdik the night before their kickoff show to find out what’s on his mind.
Can you tell me about AFFIANCE for people who don’t know who you are?
There’s a lot to say. I mean, we’ve been around as a band for nine years, and we’ve been a nationally touring band for six years, and internationally touring band for just under three years. Well four, I guess, if you include Canada. We’ve put out three full-length albums with Bullet Tooth Records and our self-released EP, which will be our fourth official, professional release which comes out tomorrow [March 11, 2016].
How did everybody meet?
Well, there were a ton of member changes— we currently don’t have a bassist, which we’re completely fine with. It’s a lot easier to, you know… Less mouths to feed. But the core four that have been doing this since 2009… Brett [Wondrak, guitars] and I are originals, and we eventually we just playing shows. WE played a show with Dominic’s [Dickinson, guitars] old band and we asked him to join, we went to Buffalo [New York, USA] to play a show once and we met Patrick [Galante, drums]. At the time, he was actually a vocalist, and uh, I had no idea he could play drums. We hit up his old band’s drummer to ask if he wanted to play for us and he said, “no, but Pat might.” So we hit up Patrick, and he moved to Cleveland and lived here for four years. He currently lives back in Buffalo. He’ll just come in for practice and whatnot. We’ve been the core four, minus a couple of pieces, since 2009.
Let’s talk a little bit about your crowdfunding effort. How did you come up with the idea to do that?
Well, we had done it before to raise money for a van. Our van died [while on tour] and got hosed a little bit by a mechanic down in Florida [USA]. We were on tour with Killswitch Engage, which was the biggest tour we had ever done, and it was pretty intense that we weren’t going to go home. So we had to rent a van, and just scramble and whatnot. We burned through a lot of money making sure we never dropped form that tour. So did an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for a van, and, you know, gave out shirts and CDs and all these bonus items. Our contract was up after our last release, “Blackout,” we weighted our options with labels and we were like, you know, it would be nice to own something completely, have no middle-man and maybe just put an EP out or something. And we teamed up with Mike Mowery at Outerloop Management, and he had seen some success with some of his bands doing this before. So we were like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” We have die-hard, loyal fans, and they love to support us, regardless of being on a label or not. And we were right. We raised almost double what we asked for, and we just put out a kick-ass music video like five hours ago, and that was made possible by our fans. So it was very successful, and it works for a lot of bands. I mean, Protest the Hero changed the game when they raised $341,000. That’s insane.
Being from the area, I know a handful of people in the scene who have been following you guys for a while. I’ve heard some of your really long-time fans from Cleveland are having some growing pains adjusting to the little bit of different sound that you have on Gaia this time around. What was the inspiration for the change, or did it happen organically?
I feel like our changes are really more just growth. As musicians and writers we don’t want to write the same CD over and over again, and it’s kind of been a natural progression from our first to this EP where we’ve become a little heavier and a little bit more progressive every album. But, on the same token I’ve been toying around with singing softer, too. So on this EP I scream the most I’ve screamed, and then I also sing lower and softer the most. And I plan to have a wider dynamic like that, even more so, on whatever we do next. I get bored, we all can get bored. We’re artists, you know? And I can sing many different styles of music, and it’d be nice to do some more dynamic stuff, and that was one of the main motivations behind what we did on Gaia. I haven’t heard of anybody having growing pains, though. I guess that’s a good thing then, if it’s not what people expect. That’s definitely what we wanted. I guess this was kind of a rebranding, not so much stylistically but just, we’re angrier, a little bit more aggressive vocally, and then just musically a little bit heavier and a little bit more progressive as well. That’s cool, I guess.
Lyrically, Gaia seems a little disheartening with the message, so where did a name like “Gaia” come from with this kind of dystopian-esque message behind it?
Well, I don’t know—I mean, the lyrics of the whole EP are very much about how we are going down a path where we’re destroying the earth, and destroying ourselves, and if we don’t change the course relatively soon or start to make adjustments then our fate is destruction. Whether that’s of us, or the earth, I mean it’s our home. So that’s why it’s called Gaia, definitely, because without Earth… The title song "Gaia" is “how can we live if she dies?” And Gaia, the representation of the Earth as a woman, and so yeah it’s kind of like in the same vein as a lot of our other stuff, where it’s kind of just a call-to-arms, action, wake up and realize that we have to make some changes, you know? Individually and collectively.
I’ve seen some mention online a little bit about how this message may be targeted a bit more toward Millennials. Can you elaborate on that?
Um, did I say that? Ok yeah, I guess I did do a quote about how basically our generation, just assuming you’re a Millennial [writer’s note: begrudgingly, yes I technically am], that all of us who were born in the ‘80s and ‘90s are the ones that are going to be presented with some very, very serious questions on how to handle things for generations to come. And if you don’t think critically and find a balance between compassion and pragmatism, then we can ruin it for our children and our grandchildren. Never before in history have we been so connected globally, and a lot of things are coming to climax, tensions, and things that have not been dealt with. So I guess that’s s kind of been the message of Affiance from day one—it’s just an evolution of where to put that focus, or how detailed it is. The EP is definitely based on the concept of more of a, “if we don’t change our ways, we’ll lose out home.” That’s something we definitely think rests in the hands of our generation.
So, moving on to tomorrow night’s show [March 11, 2016 Gaia release show at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, Ohio, USA]… Who’s playing bass for you?
No one. An iPod. [Laughs]
Is that your permanent new bassist?
Well, we’ll say temporary. I mean, like I said, being a smaller touring band, there’s just a lot of expenses, and a lot of money that just goes “bye-bye” so fast, and we can barely pay ourselves just a little bit to pay our mandatory bills to keep everything moving. So having only four of us to worry about makes it a lot easier to have money saved up for when the engine blows up, because it’s going to blow up. I promise you. The engine will blow up. Something will go wrong, it always does. And so at least in this phase, we’d love to blow up and tour with Justin Bieber. I’m joking. I don’t ever want to tour with Justin Bieber. But, size-wise, if we get to the level of, say, I don’t even know anymore, let’s say August Burns Red or Killswitch Engage, that’s clearly a level where we can hire a bassist and pay him well, but until then we kind of learned from other bands. Finneus has been a four-piece when they’re a five-piece instrumentally for years, and it works. Architects, I guess they do have a touring bassist most of the time, but as far as the core four, it’s just the two guitarists, drummer, and singer, and then they have a hired gun so to speak. And we’re like, let’s just not worry about it. When it’s time to audition and find the right guy, we’ll do it. So on this tour, no bassist. More room to run around onstage. And we’re really, really excited about tomorrow night.
How important is it to you that you do this release party and show in your home town?
Extremely. I would be really, really bummed out if we had to do it somewhere else, or even worse, couldn’t have one. This is the first time we’ve ever done a free show, so it’s just really special, I feel like. We love Cleveland. It’s our home. It’s always had our back, and we’ve always promoted and supported the local scene. Tomorrow night, it kind of stinks that we’re starting the tour in Cleveland because there’s no way in Hell any other city’s going to compare even closely. It would be really cool to come home to that at the end, but it is what it is. It’s going to be awesome.
What are you looking forward to most tomorrow?
Walking out on the stage, right at the beginning of our set, and just seeing everybody cheer; look into the crowd and just feel like—it’s almost like reassurance when you have a bad day, or you feel doubts, or anything negative about what you’re doing—in this case music, and being poor, and just living the dream, keeping the dream alive. But just looking out and it all makes sense, it all clicks, and I’m where I’m supposed to be, and this is why I do what I do. And then just feeling like a million bucks, you know?
What can you tell me about your partnership with Alternative Press for the debut of your EP?
We hired a publicist to take care of all the publicity, and I don’t actually have much a relationship with AP. I’d love to have more of a relationship—I’d always kind of hoped that they would, because they’re down the street and they’re local, I would kind of hope that they would do maybe a Cleveland segment featuring us, because I love this city. I’m kind of a wannabe tour guide. I wish my side job was being a tour guide for the city. Maybe someday. I feel like AP’s crowd has changed quite a bit over the past six years. They used to include a lot of metal, and now it’s not as metal, and I just assume that that’s probably why we don’t get hit up very often by them. But I was very thankful that they were willing to do the streaming of the EP.
Do you have anything else you’d like to talk about that we didn’t touch on?
I’m excited for this tour, and we just released the music video for Reboot, that was a lot of fun. The video was awesome, definitely watch it. It was a lot of fun. I basically got my ass kicked and brainwashed, but it was cool. It’s the same guy who did our last video, where we were set on fire. We were literally, literally on fire. It was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It was professional, we weren’t like idiots or something.
We’re also going to Facebook Live the whole set tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.
Gaia is available everywhere digital music is sold. You can check out the recording of the band’s Facebook Live broadcast of the March 11 show here.
View photos from AFFIANCE'S Gaia release show at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, OH, USA on 11 March, 2106. Photos by Erin Beese.