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From the bottom there is only one place to look... upward. From the pit comes the opportunity for new plateaus. And from a place of seeming hopelessness a chance for inspiration develops, a chance to defy the odds and rise again.
For the Classic Crime the future was uncertain, at best, only months ago. After releasing three critically lauded albums, the band found themselves without a record label for the first time since their humble beginnings. Their best-laid plans had turned to ash. Unaware of the outcome, they launched a Kickstarter campaign on a whim and a prayer, wondering if their fans would respond…
A month later, with over $85,000 raised, they had their answer, and their fourth installment, Phoenix, was born.
“Phoenix is our rebirth,” front man and songwriter Matt MacDonald reflects. “Conceptually, it's about the time spent in the ashes, between death and this new life, wondering if we’d ever get out. The whole process has restored our hope in the value of what we do. Our Kickstarter backers have revived our confidence in the fact that we are not alone and there is still work to be done.”
TCC has always been known for their ability to meld accessibility with experimentation. With a singular sound, they have always rested somewhere between rock, pop, emo, indie, and post-hardcore. On Phoenix, the band has honed this balance to perfection, with every element of their array of artistry on full display; Phoenix comes complete with singular instrumentation, unparalleled emotion, and uncanny melody. But the element which makes this new release soar above their catalogue is the spirit of reawakening—Which came as a result of partnering directly with their fans.
“I think we're less afraid to do what we want this time around,” MacDonald explains. “We were less afraid of trying things, of dreaming up parts that we previously would have discouraged because of our inability to pull them off live as a four or five-piece rock band. The comfort of knowing our fans have our back has inspired our best efforts, and our deepest creativity. Knowing that they are behind us, we feel completely rejuvenated and reborn.”
After raising the funds necessary to deliver a record that was up to the high sonic standards of their previous efforts, TCC embarked on a journey into uncharted waters; MacDonald wore not only songwriting and vocal hats this time around, but the production hat as well. And for very good reason-this allowed the band the extra time necessary to make the record the best it could possibly be.
“I had an extra two months to work on vocals and programming, which is unheard of in a normal recording situation. One of the reasons I produced the album is because I wanted to sit with the songs and let the parts marinate, so I could add more layers as inspiration struck. We couldn't have done it if we booked 4 weeks with another producer, because we would have been on a schedule and would have been saying ‘Good enough, lets move on’ much more than I'd like to.”
When it came time to mix, however, the band turned to renowned producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette (Incubus, Story Of The Year), who has been involved with every full-length TCC release to date. Combined with MacDonald’s production, the result is a collection of music that has depth, candor, individuality, and next-level sonics.
Speaking of honesty, Phoenix was largely written during the period of uncertainty prior to the band’s Kickstarter campaign. The result is a thematic lyrical journey through the threat of hopelessness, which resolves in the ultimate payoff: a happy ending to a situation in which all seemed lost. On “You and Me Both,” the albums leadoff track, MacDonald speaks on the lure of self-destruction: The guardrail is tempting me, standing like a sentry to the left of me. It’s guarding adventure that’s certain to be life threatening. On “Beautiful Darkside” he addresses the downward pull of self-indulgence: The faster I find the bottom The sooner I turn it around. It seems as though I’ve forgotten just how far down I can go in an instant and I can take you there. I can take all my friends and family and I won’t care. And on “Dead Rose” He speaks on the death of The Classic Crime, cloaked in metaphor: Dead rose, you were once so vibrant as you stretched out towards the sun... Dead rose, tried to keep you alive, but you drank the water dry and now you’re facing down. Your pedals scattered on the ground. The level of transparency shown in MacDonald’s words is fearless and universal. Anyone who is facing a desperate circumstance should connect with these songs.
Though their first three albums were released on Tooth and Nail records (known for releasing many Christian music artists), the band has always resisted the label of “Christian band.” This has resulted in a good deal of questions, as their stance has been polarizing for some. MacDonald sheds light into their spiritual approach:
“The original Christians didn't label themselves... they were called that by onlookers because of the way they lived. Their actions came first, not the label. So, the idea of having Christians label music “Christian” is backwards. People should know us by our actions— in our case, our music—first. In a perfect world people would be able to think critically and make decisions based on conviction, rather than rely on labels and stereotypes to define what is good or bad in art. Obviously we don’t live in a perfect world, but we would love to play a small role in redefining the stereotype.
Ultimately, Phoenix is therapy. Therapy for The Classic Crime. Therapy for MacDonald. And hopefully, therapy for all those who face a hopeless scenario in their lives. It is the medicine that many need – an honest record from an honest, fearless band with genuine supporters.
“Music has been a way for me to name my struggles over the past few years. The best way for me to heal is to hear these songs done, and to know exactly what I felt when I wrote them. It's also so meaningful to know that somebody out there will feel the same way and use my words to articulate their own struggle... it's just powerful stuff. Music is a personal thing for me, so I'll always write songs, but it's also magic in a sense that it connects you on a deep level with the people who hear it. Nothing brings us together like mutual struggle channeled through music.”