Justin McCain Speaks Up
By Shout Omaha Staff
Emphatic, the local band turned national success story, has been through enough trials and tribulations in its short tenure as a band than most bands go through in a lifetime. Formed in 2004, Emphatic exploded on to the local hard rock scene with guitarist Justin McCain and vocalist Patrick Wilson at the helm. After multiple controversial lineup changes and two different record labels, Emphatic found a new home at Epochal/Capitol Records. The new lineup includes McCain, vocalist Toryn Green (former member of Fuel), guitarist Bill Hudson, bassist Jesse “Saint” Nunn, and drummer Patrick Mussack. Emphatic is released its third full-length album, Another Life, which dropped October 22, 2013. Another Life showcases the band’s newfound sense of maturity and creative firepower as they belt out a powerful dose of groundbreaking hard rock. Rejuvenated creatively, the band is now firing on all cylinders with a line-up that matches the intensity of their songs. Packed with gigantic hooks, powerful melodies, the album tells the story of an inspiring triumph over adversity.
Rather than waste time speculating on what happened, let’s get to the point. McCain opened up to bluntly discuss the sudden departure of Wilson, Emphatic’s record deal with Atlantic Records and the band’s new chapter.
Shout Omaha: Why did Patrick Wilson leave Emphatic?
Justin McCain: It’s no secret now that Patrick fractured his larynx in a fight and was unable to sing for almost a year after that. I had two different guys fill in for Patrick during that time so we could continue to tour. Grant Kendrick from the Omaha rock band The Wreckage (who I recently signed to Epochal/Capitol Records) was the first to fill in. He joined us for the Carnival of Madness tour. Bryan Scott from the Houston rock band Dev Electric filled in for the Art of Dying tour.
Was it hard to replace someone you had such great chemistry with since the beginning?
It wasn’t difficult to find another singer. I knew I wanted Toryn Green, but I didn’t know him and I had never met him so I was unsure of whether it was realistic or not. I actually reached out to him on Facebook and he called me about an hour later. I told him about the situation I was in; he happened to be a fan of the band and was excited to join me for this new chapter. As we got to know each other we found we were a lot alike. We share the same determination and drive to succeed and we work very well together.
What happened with Atlantic? I heard you went in another direction.
After months of Patrick being out and showing very little sign of fully recovering, I was approached about replacing Patrick. I had replaced people in the past and it’s a very tough thing to do, especially when they’re friends. But what people sometimes don’t understand is that its music “BUSINESS.” At a certain point, it becomes more than a hobby and sometimes there are tough decisions that need to be made in order to pave the way for success just like any other business owner may encounter. I put the music and our fans first, but at this level there is always business and politics involved. With that said, I decided I wasn’t going to give up on Patrick. He and I had been together since the beginning. He was the voice and face of the band. In my opinion, he couldn’t be replaced. And even if he could be, I wasn’t ready to deal with that reality. I worked with Patrick in the studio for years and invested so much time in to developing his skills and honing in on his raw talent so it’s hard to just give up and throw that all away. He is one of my favorite singers and one of the best front men I have ever seen and even though some of those skills were acquired through the years when it comes down to it, Patrick was born with that star quality that few posses. By making the choice to keep Patrick though, we lost some momentum internally with the label because their hands were tied. What do you do with a band that has a singer that may not ever be able to sing the same again or at all? Patrick did eventually return to join us on the Halestorm tour but it wasn’t the same and at that point, there was building tension between us and we weren’t the priority at the label like we were before due to so much time passing and the label having other projects and records they were in the process of working (Shinedown, Halestorm, Skillet) so about halfway through the Halestorm tour I found out the label wasn’t going to pick up our next option on the contract.
How has the new lead singer changed the musical climate?
Toryn has naturally brought a new vibe to the band. His voice is much different than Patrick in ways but at times they share similarities… obviously anytime you replace a singer the sound of the band will change although in our situation I have always been the primary songwriter so that combined with Toryn’s voice allowed us to still sound like the same band but with a new take on things.
What’s the new album like?
Lyrically, much of this record tells the story of the past year of my life, as well as Toryn’s life. Musically, we added elements that we hadn’t tapped into on the last record. It’s bright, it’s dark, it’s angry, and it’s happy; it’s a bit of everything. It’s kind of bi-polar [laughs]. I didn’t want to replicate the last record so when Toryn and I were writing we decided not to put a “Bounce” or a “Get Paid” on this record. Although those songs are fan favorites, we always have them so Toryn and I wanted to go another direction this time. I think the new songs will connect with people and that’s what is most important some may be a bit taken a back by the different sound, but I believe we made the best record we could, especially with the time we had and I’m very proud of it. I put everything I had into this record, not only did I write or co write all the songs I played all the guitars with the exception of 2 solos that feature our amazing new guitarist Bill Hudson. I also did some vocals, keys, samples, and I produced it.
Was it scary to split with Patrick? Is he sore about the whole situation?
It wasn’t as scary to split with Patrick as it was sad. It was an absolute shame to have something with so much potential fall apart and have a falling out with someone I had worked with for so long. We had an amazing team of heavy hitters backing us; Atlantic Records, In De Goot, William Morris, Jeff Blue—all these people have worked with the biggest names in music and they believed in us. There was no limit to what was possible with this band. It took me years of hard work to meet the right people and kick the down doors so we could get to that point. I can’t tell you how many times I got in trouble at my day job for being on the phone calling labels, agents, promoters, radio stations, managers, but it all paid off. I did what I promised myself I would do. I got us another record deal.
After Patrick got injured, I went through a self-destructive phase. I couldn’t believe we had everything we could ever dream of but it was all slipping away over a stupid decision. I basically became what I didn’t like in Patrick and he became what I had been since we met—a family man. His voice was getting better, but while he was gone he had a baby and was starting to see the tour life wasn’t for him anymore, especially since it’s almost impossible to make money in this business unless you’re a songwriter and he didn’t write the songs. Truth, I hold a lot of anger towards Patrick because I think some things could have been prevented but people make mistakes and I can assure you I’ve made plenty of my own and I could’ve handled some things differently, too. I will always care about Patrick and he will always be like a brother to me, despite any of our hardships. I’m not sure the feeling is mutual, but it doesn’t really matter now. His voice is back he has a new project and they’re incredible. I wouldn’t expect anything less from such a group of talented musicians. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be. Patrick is very smart and his concept with his new project is very interesting, to say the least. He’s back on stage where he belongs—in Arson City.
Were you happy with how the last album was received? Why or why not?
I was very happy with how the last record was received. We gained thousands of new fans. I would constantly have people message me or talk to me at shows and tell me that our songs had moved them and helped them through certain struggles in their lives. Obviously, I’m not referring to songs like “Bounce,” although I know many people had fun with that song and sometimes that’s what it’s all about. Everyone needs to have some fun in his or her lives! Any time I can help someone through music, it just inspires me that much more to continue. We have the most incredible devoted fans and they have been right there with us on this crazy rollercoaster ride and they really helped us do great things with the last record. The record hit #9 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. We had 3 songs chart in the top 40 and we had one chart in the top 20, as well as spending several weeks at #1 on Octane. We also had a feature on the hit TV series Criminal Minds with our song “Do I.” We also did a song for the WWE and did a cover of Metal Health, which was on the Footloose soundtrack, as well as selling thousands of records and downloads. I’m so grateful for all of that. It was all a team effort and when I say team that includes the EMPHATIC ARMY.
What’s the best part about being in a band?
The best part about being in a band for me is seeing the importance that music still has in people’s lives. The traveling, the money and the fame doesn’t come close to comparing to being on stage in front of thousands of people while they’re singing your songs back to you… that’s a high that I cant even explain. And even if it were just one person, it’s an amazing feeling to know I can have a positive impact on someone with doing something I truly love.
What are some of the challenges?
The challenge with music today is surviving. It’s a different world, people can get music for free so many ways now that it’s hard to make money and it’s hard to sell records. There are far less rock radio stations than there once was so being in a rock band means you are fighting everyday to get a spin that tons of other bands are also trying to get. That’s the name of the game though so it has to be about the music and you have to want to fight the fight in order to win, if you have songs that connect with people and you work hard enough eventually its possible to create a path to success and success in my eyes isn’t being rich its about waking up everyday blessed enough to still be here doing what I love to do and having so many people support it.
At this point, what are your hopes for the future of Emphatic?
My hopes for Emphatic are simple: keep writing music, keep touring, continue to touch peoples lives, give them an outlet to escape, and a reason to believe in us. We have a fresh start, a great label and eyes to the sky. There’s no limit and I won’t stop until I take my last breath and even then the ghost of me would probably try to keep going [laughs]. The bills are paid and there’s food on the table so as long as that’s the case and I can provide for my family, then I will always give this everything I got because I don’t know how to do anything less.
Emphatic with 9Electric, Kaleido and The Impulsive, December 12, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., 8 p.m. Tickets are $10/ADV and $12/DOS. Visit www.onepercentproductions.com for more information.