Having cut their teeth on hard rock, this ultra-talented quartet born out of rural Pennsylvania has been on quite a journey the last two years. Comprised of vocalist Ryan Hoke, guitarist Jeremy Edge, bassist Jamie Morral, and drummer Brian Dugan, the group turned heads straight away, by beating out over 10,000 other bands to win the 2010 national Guitar Center “Onstage” contest, which landed them an opening slot for KISS. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS specifically chose the band from among 22 regional contest winners. As a result, CLR had the honor of opening a show for KISS in Pittsburgh in late 2010. They followed that success by putting out two releases on Imagen Records, to touring around the country and playing on “The Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival” to having the single “Demons” hit #30 on the rock charts last summer, the band has literally exploded onto the scene.
The band’s newest release “Reclamation” due early this summer is a summation of the band’s mixture of hard hitting riffs mixed with melodic songs and heartfelt lyrical content. Morgan Rose (Sevendust/ Call Me Noone) was brought in to produce last year’s “Demons” EP and the chemistry was evident immediately. Four months later, they teamed up again to write and record “Reclamation.” “After recording the EP, I knew the bar would be set very high and I think that we surpassed that with ease.” says producer Rose.
The band’s first single off “Reclamation” entitled “Feel the Same” was released to radio in mid April 2013. With Candlelight Red’s reputation growing as a high energy, in your face, live band and a new collection of intense and diverse material, the sky is the limit for this small town band as they prepare to overtake the national scene. The band has recently been on tour supporting Sevendust, Coal Chamber and Lacuna Coil and plans to continue touring relentlessly throughout 2013 in support of the new album. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with frontman Ryan Hokes to discuss his roots in music, the creation of the band’s powerful new album, ‘Reclamation,’ and much more!
It is great to catch up with you today, Ryan. I want to start at the beginning and learn how music came into your life.
Actually, it is kinda funny because I never really had a desire to be a musician or to write music early on. I guess it started when I was about 14 or so when I was getting arrested. My mom told me I needed a hobby, so she got me a guitar. We had a few people in our family who played a little bit and they taught me a few things. I guess I developed a healthy obsession with it! I played guitar in some bands and bass in others. I ended up losing a singer in one of the bands I was in, so the rest of the guys said, “You can sing can’t you?” The rest is history! I stepped up to the mic and never looked back!
Who were some of your musical influences in those early years?
I was into a lot of different music and I didn’t have one particular style of music I was into. I jumped around a lot because I wasn’t into music when I was very young. My influences were kinda compiling as I was learning my craft. I try to take a little something from everyone I can. Even bands that open for us in some random town. I will watch them and try to learn a little something in the process. I just try to soak it all in and use it in my performance.
Since you didn’t get into music intentionally, what made you pursue it as a full-time gig? What was the catalyst there?
Once I started getting into bands it inspired me. In my very first band, I tried out to be the bass player and I never even played bass. I tried out and got the part. I think our first show was in front of almost 2,000 people. When I got on stage for the first time, with those 2,000 people staring at me, it was a crazy feeling. That was it for me! I realized at that moment, this was something I wanted to make a career out of.
For those who might not be familiar with Candlelight Red, how did the band form?
I had been in other bands and Jamie Morral and Jeremy Edge were in a different band. We used to play together, in those bands, back in the day. Their band ended up breaking up and so did mine. Jeremy was looking to play again, so we hooked up with some other musicians whose bands had called it a day. We ended up jamming, playing some shows and started making some waves around Pennsylvania and the Maryland area. That was is it! The rest is history!
It seems to be working out pretty well for you!
Yeah! [laughs] So far, so good!
That leads us to your latest work. Candlelight Red is about to release an exciting new album called “Reclamation.” How did the title come about?
We had written about nine songs in two weeks. That is nine more on top of the four songs that appeared on the “Demons” EP. All together, it was about three weeks where the album was written and recorded! The songs are about as real as it gets lyrically. There is no bullshit! It is everything from day-to-day events, to things I feel strongly about to political issues in America. All of the songs started having the same target, if you know what I mean. The songs are all about different topics but they are about life as we know it. America is in a pretty bad place right now, so “Reclamation” just seemed like the right title and that is what we went with.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process? Are you doing anything different these days?
The first record we did, “The Wreckage,” we were able to spend a lot of time in the studio and do a lot of pre-production. We did a couple of months worth of pre-production before we even got to recording. This time around, we just went into the studio on a wing and a prayer. We got in there and started hashing out riffs and building songs from the ground up. I take the rough mix, go to another room and write the lyrics and melody, while the rest of the guys are starting another song. We don’t get a whole lot of breaks because we are on the road a lot. When it came time to go into the studio, we were in North Carolina and drove up to New Jersey to start recording. I took a couple of days and went home. I had some songs I had been writing. I was able to demo them at home because I have some drums, guitars and stuff at the house, so I am able to do rough recordings of some ideas I have. I took a couple of days, wrote a couple of songs and had a bunch of lyrics written. I went down and showed it to the guys and we were able to take a couple of the songs and use them. We took some riffs from here and there and just compiled songs. I tried to get as prepared as I could but two weeks isn’t a whole lot of time to write an album. It is funny because it is unlike anything I have ever done in a band as far as writing music goes because everything was done so quickly. Actually, I think I am starting to prefer this way more. I feel the finished product sounds better. I would write a line for a song, a verse or something, and we would go right in and track it. Because of that, almost everything on the record that you hear is pretty much the first time we have ever played it. It is still fresh and has energy and isn’t like a song I have been singing for two months and am getting tried of already. It makes it exciting and there is a lot of energy and emotion that is captured in my voice and in the playing.
For those who heard the EP and are anxiously awaiting the album, what can they expect sonically?
I think the album falls right in the footsteps of the EP. If you liked the EP, you are going to love the record. We took some turns higher and lower and went from one extreme to the next. We went both heavier and lighter than the stuff on the EP. It is completely bipolar! It is up and down, it is everywhere! There is definitely something for everyone!
What were your expectations for this album when it came time for you to finally hit the studio?
World domination, that is all! [laughs] I am really excited about this album. It is by far the best record this band has ever produced. I truly believe that. I just hope the rest of the world loves it, allows us to keep coming back making songs and keep coming to shows and watching us!
You have a great producer for “Reclamation” in Morgan Rose of Sevendust. How did you guys get involved with him and what did he bring to the table for this project?
We did about 30 days on tour with Sevendust. We were out in Texas with Trapt and we were getting ready to go out on the Rockstar Energy Uproar Festival. We really wanted to release something new before the Uproar Festival because it is a huge tour and we were coming off of a year touring on “The Wreckage.” We wanted to bring something new and have some fresh material. We had to find a studio and someone to produce it. One of the people who came to mind was Morgan Rose. We had heard him talking about wanting to get into producing, so we just gave him a call and he remembered us from the tour. He loved us and was really excited to work with us. He is a great producer and it was a terrific experience working with him.
Looking back on making the album, what do you consider the biggest challenge along the way?
I don’t think we had any real hiccups. Time was the biggest hurdle for us because everything was always a race to the finish. We stay as busy as we can, we want to stay working, relevant and in people’s faces as much as possible. Trying to find time to write these songs was a challenge. For the EP, we wrote four songs in five days and recorded them. That right there was the biggest hurdle. Originally, we all thought we were going in to write one song, so we had a single for radio that was new and ready for release for the Uproar Festival. We ended up doing four songs, which just blew my mind! They are great songs and I love every one of them. There are a lot of bands out there that go in thinking they need to write 30 to 40 songs and pick 12 of them for the record. We wrote 13 songs in three weeks and every one of them are great songs!
The band picked “Feel The Same” as the lead single. What made you select that song as the lead off track?
It is a great song. It is a little softer than some of the other songs we have done in the past. When the whole team came around, the band, the radio team, the record company, sat down and listened to the songs, it seemed to be an overall favorite amongst everybody. Hopefully, there will be a few more off this record to share with the world but “Feel The Same” is the one we chose first. Hopefully, it does well. I feel it is a really good song.
Absolutely! The band seems to be in a great place creatively these days. Is that a fair statement to make?
Yeah, I think so. Ya know, from “The Wreckage” until now, we had a few band members change out. We had some guys who tried touring and felt it wasn’t for them. Once we got Jamie and Brian in the band, it really took a different direction. We have a different style of chemistry in the way we work together. We work together well! We live together well. That really helps!
What video aspects are you considering in support of this album?
I did hear some talk of a video for “Feel The Same.” I can’t say anything more right now. Just keep your eye out on our website and Facebook page for any developments.
As you mentioned, you are no stranger to touring. How has life on the road been treating you?
It’s great! This is the first band I have ever been in that really tours like this. Our first summer out, we hit 47 states, I think! It is definitely a really cool experience. Over the past two years, we have toured the entire country and played multiple times in the same cities. We make friends in these cities and it is always nice to go out to California, show up in LA and have a bunch of people we know there along with people from other bands. It is like having a second family on the road! You get used to it. It is a cool lifestyle and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
What does the summer look like for Candlelight Red?
We are gearing up to leave in the beginning of June. We are going out to do some dates with Theory of a Deadman. We have some dates with Pop Evil and then some with Trapt. We are also playing a few radio festivals and trying to stay as busy as possible!
Speaking of touring, it seems like everyone has a “Spinal Tap Moment.” Have you had anything totally unexpected happen to you while on stage?
Oh man, you are making me think! There has been a ton of stuff. I remember one time, I was on a smaller stage. I stepped backwards and stepped on my guitarists foot. He was also moving backwards, so when I stepped on his foot he was hanging backward! I raised my foot and he flew backwards and tackled his entire guitar rig! [laughs] The guitar stopped and it sounded like every string had broken! He really smashed the rig! We ended up pulling it off and everything else was good from there. That is the first thing that comes to mind for an unexpected moment.
Looking back at your days in the music industry so far, how have you evolved as an artist?
I guess a big evolution for me was becoming as comfortable on stage as I have. We have always been a band who likes to be in your face and who likes to keep the crowd moving. When I look back at videos of when we first started touring, I looked a little erratic and all over the place. When I see more recent videos, I definitely look more at home on stage and have more of a charisma or something. I am more slowed down and it looks like I am supposed to be there! [laughs] Before it looked like I had to do everything as fast as I could before they kicked me off the stage or something! [laughs]
I am sure you have seen a lot of things in your days in the music industry. What is the best piece of advice you can pass along to aspiring musicians looking to make music their livelihood?
I guess I would say the same thing your high school guidance counselor might tell you — stick with it. You are going to fail many times. It takes courage to fail, pull yourself back up and keep on going. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you want to do. If you put your mind to it, stick with it and it will happen — on any level! I know bands who are national touring artists that just tour regionally and make great money. There is a way to make money in this business — all over the place! You just have to find your niche.
Is there anything you would like to say to the Candlelight Red fans out there who have been anxiously awaiting the album’s release?
Absolutely! Thanks for your support. We are really excited about “Reclamation.” Keep coming to shows and pick up the record! We will see you in the pit!
Thanks so much for your time, Ryan!
Thank you, man! Later!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.