I Wish We All Could Win is the debut of the Afters, a Texas quartet whose slick alternative pop settles nicely between Switchfoot and Fountains of Wayne. They avoid the latter band’s sardonic wit — after all, Win is a joint release between Epic and Christian imprint INO. Instead, the Afters concentrate on bright and hopeful, but also pretty trite sentiment like “On this beautiful night/We’ll make everything right/My beautiful love,” and “Love Will You Make You Beautiful.” Of course, they also tinge their pop hooks with wrangling guitars and the occasional whine of feedback (“Someday”; the Fuel-ish “Way You Are”), and Josh Haven’s voice has a way of suggesting Thom Yorke’s, so there’s a little bit of Radiohead’s dramatic dourness in “Beautiful” and “Wait” even if it’s ultimately consumed by surging strings and the implication of the capitalized pronouns in the liner notes. The Afters wear their faith on their sleeves. But I Wish We All Could Win has plenty of crossover potential since, like Switchfoot, the band gathers their melodic sense from mainstream radio.
We interview Josh Haven.
HIP: Was the same album out as an indie—did Sony just release it?
JOSH HAVENS: It’s the same record. We basically signed with a smaller label and they had a distribution deal with Sony and the album got passed around and it ended up in the hands of Steve Barnett and he flew out to see us and he loved our record and decided to release it just like it was.
Some bands will be on an indie and a major label will release it with new songs or whatever. So the album must have sounded pretty good the way it was.
Yeah, well we were excited that they wanted to release it just the way it was. We made the record we wanted to make and the fact that they didn’t want to change anything or re-record it showed they must have enjoyed it. (Laughs)
Did you figure this was just another step hoping a label would sign you and that they would probably want you to record a whole new album?
Well we’ve been an independent band for about seven years; we met at a Starbucks in Dallas. We’d bring our guitars to work because we would practice with our other bands and we would play our guitars and started writing songs and it really clicked. We started building up our fanbase in Dallas and decided to put together a band and we had a pretty decent following in Dallas and would play shows to eight-hundred to a thousand people. Then we branched out to Texas and did an independent record at that time and sold about twenty-five thousand records in the North Texas area. We were happy being an independent band. We were trying to get distribution and booking because we were doing it ourselves and when a smaller label wanted to work with us—we were friends with them—and it worked out well. It wasn’t part of our plan to get on a bigger label. But when Sony came to us and watched the showcase it clicked.
What is the music scene like in Dallas?
It’s kind of in a weird place right now. When I was in high school it was incredible. It was probably one of the better scenes in the country. We have an area called Deep Ellum its where all the early ‘90s grunge bands would play like Chili Peppers and Nirvana. All the big tours would go through there and then a lot of local bands started popping up. A lot of bands came out of that area like Tripping Daisies, the Toadies, and Bowling For Soup. But recently a lot of those clubs dried up. That area started getting a little dangerous so people stopped coming.
Is your tour going to be opening for someone or will you be doing a grassroots tour at smaller clubs?
I think we are going to be doing both. We are building up our grassroots fans—those are the diehard fans that will drive hours to see you and go to any length for the band. But then obviously touring with bigger bands gives you the opportunity to tap into a whole new fanbase. We like playing more intimate club shows where there are 800-1000 people. That is my favorite sized show. It’s small enough where you can make eye contact. That is my favorite. But there is a rush playing with a bigger act in an arena.
I’ve talked to a lot of bands who have played arenas—and they still love the smaller shows.
I understand that because it’s really hard to connect.
With a big show there is a huge disconnect with the band. It loses a lot of that energy.
I think there are a few bands who have mastered the large arenas where they make everyone feel like they are important, like Bono. He’s the master of that. He makes everyone feel like they were invited personally.
Great bands like Radiohead don’t work in big arenas. I’ve seen them in both sizes and it doesn’t work in an arena.
I know what you mean. It doesn’t translate. Plus, some bands when they play in an arena—people in the back tend to talk.
Yeah, that’s what happened when I saw Radiohead open for Alanis.
(Laughs) Yeah, its like ‘shut up!’ (We both laugh)
Who inspired you to even think music was an option.
I’ve always been a fan of melody. I’ve been a fan of hook driven music. Early on the Beatles were huge. My dad had all the Beatles records and gave them to me and I fell in love with all of the songs. Those songs stick with people and connect in powerful ways. When I started writing music, when I was pretty young, I tried to write hooks people would remember. I always tried to write melodies.
I always wonder if the Beatles were around today and wrote a song like “Bungalow Bill” if they would get crushed by the press. Because it’s a stupid song and yet I really like it.
I wonder that too. If a band came out and didn’t have the history they had and wrote the White Album there would probably be a segment of the population that would think they were brilliant and they’d get torn up by the rest. I think it worked because they already gained people’s respect. They came out with the bubble gum pop and then they gained an enormous fanbase—which was a huge example of how to do things right was they brought their fans with them on a musical journey. Bands try that today but they lose a lot of their fanbase. But they grew and matured—but they always kept their great melody.
Do songs come naturally for you?
I can’t find a way to explain it. It’s so sporadic. It comes when it comes. I tried to be a disciplined writer and tried to write an hour a day and would waste an hour. There are days I try to write and it doesn’t come. But some time at three in the morning I’ll wake up and spit out a bunch of them. Sometimes you strain over a song and it isn’t there and then it comes. It’s like you tap into this creative consciousness that doesn’t always want to show itself.
+ Charlie Craine