Arrows At Dawn: On the verge of a bullseye

Arrows At Dawn, with two new members, are placing their mark on the Twin Cities and are on the verge of their second release, a five-song EP due out early this year. Photo by Sarah Olson/Echo Photography

Arrows At Dawn began as something fun to do, but somewhere along the way it became more

On a chilly Sunday afternoon Arrows At Dawn founders Tim Andrews and Patrick Zak are waiting outside of the McNally Smith School of Music in St. Paul, waiting for the two newest members to arrive for rehearsal.

"We are very committed. We work hard and everything we do we are extremely excited about." Tim Andrews-singer/guitar

It’s a cold wait and Andrews is itching to get in the building, not to warm up really, but to rehearse.

In a short amount of time new guitarist Matthew Walberg and drummer Adam Szczepaniak show up and the foursome heads inside. Not long after they are in a small classroom, setting up and tuning — Zak gets the job of putting the set-list on the marker board.

“Because your handwriting is better,” Andrews quips. Zak thinks for a moment and then begins writing out the list. There’s a mix of songs, some from their debut album “Out of Touch” and some from their upcoming CD, “No Place to Hide.”

Then the band begins jamming. There are the starts and stops one would expect from a rehearsal, mistakes to get shored up and new things to try. As the rehearsal takes on an almost fluid nature one thing is clear, AAD is back with a new energy and forceful purpose. Although the new album is still a ways off, the band members — new and old — are excited about what it indicates.

“We are very committed,” Andrews said. “We work hard and everything we do we are extremely excited about.”

It’s probably easier to view it as a continuing process from a time when the band was pretty much anchored in Blooming Prairie, where Andrews and Zak hail from.

“At first we were doing it for fun, but every year it got a lot more intense and we got a lot more support,” Zak said.

New faces, fresh sounds

Guitarist Matthew Wallberg rehearses with the band at The McNally Smith School of Music in St. Paul. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Before a new album can be discussed, there are the new faces in the band. Both Wallberg and Szczepaniak have plenty of background in music and both have been in or are in other projects.

And they are busy.

Besides holding down jobs in the Twin Cities, they are heavily dedicated to the bands they play in and on top of that Szczepaniak is a student at McNally for music production.

“It’s just such a deeper value,” Andrews said. “We listen to real cool stuff, we’re all into the same stuff.”

The two new members replace guitarist Phil Lesniak and drummer Tyler Crabtree, both of whom left for personal reasons in good standing.

Both new members have a history with music that starts out when they were young — your typical musician story, but it’s how they embrace the music that giving life to AAD.

“We melded right away, real quick,” Wallberg said. “Everything takes time and things get tighter with every show we have. The natural energy is there. It’s good now and getting even better.”

Wallberg currently is a story of two bands. His other band, Cliffton Wales, is a different beast altogether, playing with a heavy blues and jazz sound fronted by the voice of Brianna Tagg that reaches deep with a soulful sound that easily compare to old-school blues and jazz.

“It’s very fun at this point in my life,” Wallberg said. “I like to create art with lots of people. I think it’s beneficial for me. Going from style to style can mold you into a very special guitarist.”

"I’m just a music fan in general." Adam Szczepaniak-drums

Szczepaniak is a man of everything, sucking up the music around him like an appreciative musical sponge, naming off genres of music and labeling himself nothing so complicated as just being in love with music.

“I’m just a music fan in general,” Szczepaniak said. “My parents would blast R.E.M. on road trips in the car. I love creative control and doing what I want to express myself freely.”

Szczepaniak has no problems expressing his music behind the drum set, often times having problems sitting down. It’s an energy that comes out from the kit in waves.

“Growing up I always idolized certain drummers — Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Neal Perth (Rush) — for their technical ability,” Szczepaniak said. “I like to have as much stage presence as I can get.”

Eden plays directly to that with an arena-expanding sound that harkens to Muse and 30 Seconds to Mars. They are also a band that tries to be on the edge of what people expect in an effort to create a lasting expression.

“We try to be different,” Szczpaniak said. “We always try to be the band that did that. How can we add something that’s awesome, something you have to be there live to see?”

All in all, the band couldn’t be happier with the direction of the new look Arrows.

“We’re very happy with our new members,” Zak said. “They bring a lot of energy to our band. We’ve established a reputation in the Cites as being one of the most energizing bands to see and these two are really upholding that.”

Something different

Arrows At Dawn doesn’t hide, but embraces its mission of driving, in your face rock ‘n’ roll. That mission is taking the band into some new areas though, especially with addition of Wallberg and Szczepaniak.

The new album will be a giant example of that. Often times, as rehearsal moved forward on that Sunday afternoon, talk of the new album or the new songs would devolve into smiles and knowing nods — this could set the band onto something big.

“We’re seeing a lot of stuff open up more,” Wallberg said. “We’re looking at shows with people that may not have seen us. I don’t think we’ve even begun to scratch the surface of finding out what we are all doing.”

As the album goes, it is a five-song EP, a cut in the number of songs from the first album representing a different strategy by the band to get their best songs to the public while still trying to keep the price of recording down.

“I think nowadays, especially for local bands, it’s really expensive to make a record,” Andrews said. “That’s why it’s been two and a half years since we released anything.”

The plan isn’t about Arrows doing less, however. In way it’s a cut to make more, a process that will ultimately, as the band hopes, lead more releases in quicker amount of time with more quality songs.

“We’re focusing on putting our best songs out there,” Andrews said.

Hand in hand with that philosophy is an evolution of sorts by the band itself.

“I would say there are parts that are darker than the first record,” Andrews said. “Punchier, energetic: It’s a better representation of us.”

In that vein, the process in itself from one version of Arrows to the next is a true evolution.

Arrows At Dawn bass player Patrick Zak rehearses with the band. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“Every year we’re better,” Zak said. “Better writers, better musicians.”

In turn, the band believes it will get a better idea of what Arrows is doing thanks in large part to producer Wally Niemiec.

Working with Niemiec has been an eye-opener to what Arrows is trying to represent and achieve, a powerful element to the AAD experience.

“It’s been incredible,” Andrews said. “He’s like a rock ‘n’ roll manual.”

Andrews and the band heard the effect of that talent almost immediately during the recording of “No Place to Hide.” Niemiec’s experience in music was able to capture the band from the get go.

“We’re a really loud and raw rock band when it comes to recording,” Andrews said. “It’s really hard to capture raw energy in a recording. He’s captured that.”

Pays off big

Aside from a polished project in the their second release, there has been another advantage to picking up two musicians from the Twin Cities — a cross listen to a variety of musical tastes both rural and in the Cities.

Andrews and Zak, both originally from Blooming Prairie, have been cultivating an area fan base since forming the band in 2008 while Wallberg and Szczepaniak are opening things up in the Cities and surrounding metro area, through Cliffton Wales and Eden.

This combination is taking AAD to areas it hasn’t quite reached yet.

“Arrows is not really from the Twin Cities area,” said Szczepaniak. “We’ve had the opportunity now to play in Owatonna and Mankato. Eden has never gone there so it’s really, really exciting playing in different areas.”

It’s also opening a door for bands working together. Recently AAD shared a stage with Eden thanks to the new connection between the new bands. This kind of informal collaboration wasn’t always existent in the Cities which is boasting a vibrant independent scene, but often saw bands fighting for the same fans.

“I think it works well for both bands,” Wallberg said. “Bands can be kind of paranoid and controlling of the fans they’ve got. I think I’m starting to see a lot more people embracing bands playing together.”

All of this energy coming together has boosted a fan base that was always pretty tight with Arrows.

“It’s pretty good,” Wallberg said. “It’s really great and really helped us break through this year.”

As the track into the Twin Cities progresses so does the idea of touring starting with the very real possibility of a regional tour.

The idea has always been there, but with the amount of notice the band is garnering recently, it’s become more than an idea.

“It’s always been one of our goals,” Zak said. “The wheels are starting to spin on it now. It’s starting to be a realistic goal. We’re on the right track now.”

As far as where the tour could go, the band doesn’t know, but they aren’t exactly picky either.

“We’re not really picky as long as we can draw people out there and put on a good show,” Zak said.

Time for burgers

After an hour of rehearsing the band packs up their gear and leaves McNally for Mickey’s Diner, just a block away downtown St. Paul. Along the way the band talks about upcoming shows, things to try or work on and general chit chat between a group of guys who could have been friends since childhood.

All of this together has solidified a strengthening base for a band that’s looking to expand and grow even further in an attempt to put Arrows not only on the area map or Minnesota scene but something even bigger.

“Obviously it’s going to get better,” Andrews said. “You keep writing you get better. These songs are more polished. Lyrics, songs, guitar tech — everything is just better.”

Arrows At Dawn rehearse in a classroom at The McNally Smith School of Music in St. Paul in January. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

On the Side

Both drummer Adam Szczepaniak and Matthew Wallberg are in other bands involved in the Minneapolis/St. Paul scene.

Eden

Lineup: Adam Szczepaniak – Drums; Danny Fromm – Guitar; Jonny Capello – Guitar, Backup Vocals; Sarah Olson – Keyboard, Backup Vocals; Currently looking for Bass player /Lead Vocalist

Listen: http://edentheband.bandcamp.com/music

Cliffton Wales

Lineup: Brianna Tagg – Lead Vocals, Keyboard, Acoustic Guitar, Songwriter; Matthew Wallberg – Lead Guitar; Aaron Rose – Bass

Check ‘Em Out: https://www.facebook.com/cliffton.wales?ref=ts&fref=ts

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