Local guitarist and songwriter Chris Eden has been in many bands, but he hopes After Rome is the one that sticks around.
Co-founded in 2014 by Eden and drummer Jack Seaberg, After Rome also features Eden’s brother-in-law Jeff Narlock on bass and Jordan Steffen on vocals and synth. The foursome named the passion project after a Ben-Hur reference about the fall of Rome, seeing similarities in the demise of the music industry as they knew it. After Rome’s debut album, House of David, is a curious combination of ancient storytelling and ‘80s-era rock, equal parts antiquated and contemporary.
We spoke to Eden ahead of the band’s CD release show at O’Gara’s on Friday.
City Pages: Given that you’ve been in many bands before, what is it like to start a new band? Is it exciting? Or is there some dread about having to start from scratch with your audience again?
Chris Eden: I feel like there’s not a lot great bands anymore. I feel like a lot of people don’t want to be in bands. Now you can create so many sounds through your own studio and your computer, so what does it mean to be a band? Starting a new project is a big undertaking. You’re rebuilding your audience. There’s some carryover from our last band, Star Again. But for the most part, you’re making a new path, you’re making a new vision. So that excites me. Innovation excites me. Being in the recording studio, writing, pushing the boundaries of storytelling and ideas and arrangement, that’s what excites me. It’s the other stuff, when you go out to do promotions and you’re playing a lot of shows and you’re practicing, that can be a lot of work. If innovation wasn’t part of it, I think I’d get burned out by it. But because we’re still creating something new and we’re always moving forward, I love it. I think the whole band loves it.
CP: How does After Rome compare to the other bands you’ve been in?
CE: Jeff and Jack bring a very unique sound and passion to the group that me and Jordon do not have and did not have in the past groups we were in. The last band that me and Jordan were in, Star Again, I feel that we had a little bit of a branding problem. Many of us grew up on British rock and we’re also really into folk music. The last band I was in, I wrote a song that was almost country and we actually ended up doing a double disc because I had to separate the sounds. With After Rome, what we’ve really tried to do is build our sound. That still has a lot of variance in it. There are some songs that are very rock ‘n’ roll, some songs that are definitely more Americana or folk. It’s a marriage between the two that we’ve been focusing on.
CP: This line in the band’s bio really stands out: “If music has no impact, then why create it at all?” What is the impact you hope to have with After Rome?
CE: We want to make big music. We’re an independent band, but we’re not really in the indie scene. I grew up loving bands like Oasis, early U2, the Killers, Bruce Springsteen. We’ve all been moved by music. I personally feel like albums and songs have changed the direction of my life. We want people to feel something. As a lyricist, I think a lot about: How do you convey a message but also leave it open for interpretation? We care about catchy melodies, we care about great rhythms, we care about great arrangements, but for me, I want there to be a message to it, for someone to be affected by it. Because it has affected me. I know how much it’s meant to my life.
CP: There seem to be some Biblical references in your debut album. Is that right?
CE: Yeah. It is a concept record. We always thought it would be a cool idea to make an album that somebody would want to listen to start to finish. We wanted it to be something that was worth it, where somebody felt like they went on a journey. We use a lot of the history of the Bible. It’s kind of the idea that these two people leave their homeland to find something greater, something that’s promised to them. Along the way, they kind of get lost. Kind of an interesting premise. In a lot of ways, the album’s like a love story. There’s a lot of the faith background, a lot of the imagery, and almost this apocalyptic feel, even in some of the arrangements.
CP: Do you and your bandmates come from backgrounds of faith?
CE: I think all of us [in the band] have some sort of background in the Christian faith. My dad is a minister, so I grew up in the church. There’s no doubt that it influenced my upbringing. I definitely pull from a lot of that influence.
CP: Many faith-influenced bands are adamant about not being identified as “Christian bands.” Do you feel that way? And what is that about?
CE: That’s a loaded question. It can mean a lot of things to different people. Part of it is you’re always fighting stigma. If someone is a doctor, for example, you would never ask them, “Are you a Christian doctor?” I’m not ashamed of my faith. I will tell you flat-out that I’m a Christian. I believe the Bible. I try to live by that. I’m a follower of Jesus. I think there’s a little bit of a difference between the Christian music industry and people that write about their faith. I might write a song that doesn’t have to do with my faith. It could be about something that happened in my life. It could be a social justice matter. It could be something else. I think everybody who writes songs is impacted by their upbringing and what matters to them most. I don’t shy away from telling people that we are people of faith but at the same time, we want people to enjoy our music even if they’re not and maybe be able to relate to it.
CP: What do you know now about music that you wish you’d known when you started out?
CE: That’s a good question. I’ll take it from a songwriter perspective. I think influence is huge in songwriting, but you have to be able to tell your own stories, create your own characters, find your own inspiration. It took time to develop that. When you grow up, you hear great songwriters. I’m a music fanatic. I’m a Beatles fanatic. I’m a Bob Dylan fanatic. I used to study those artists. I still do study them. But at the end of the day, it’s like: How do I make my impact? One of the conversations we had earlier in the band when we started making this album was: If I found out that I had a terminal illness and I was going to die in six months, would I hang it up and just spend time doing whatever I want? Or would I complete this project? To me, it’s part of a legacy. I think music gives us an opportunity to express ourselves. If I went back and told myself something ten years ago, it’d probably be, “Stay focused. Stay focused on your vision and see it through.”
With: Poppa Bear Norton and Nathan Anderson
When: 7 p.m. Fri. March 9
Tickets: $7 - $10; more info here