Arson City Asks ‘Which Side Are You On?’
By Now! Omaha Staff
“This is my first time going on the record to divulge all of the deep dark secrets of what really went down,” Patrick Wilson admits. “I spent eight years of my life with Emphatic. Most of them were great. I had two record deals. I got to tour around the country with amazing bands. I spent three months in L.A. recording an album. My voice was heard all over the country, hell, all over the world thanks to satellite radio. It was a dream come true, but not really.”
As former lead vocalist of local-turned-national hard rock band Emphatic, Wilson figured out first hand what he wanted and what he didn’t want. He also learned a lot about the inner workings of major record labels and realized he might not want to be a part of it.
“Emphatic was never my band,” he says. “It was a band I was in, but I had no control over any decisions that were made. It was nobody’s fault but my own though. While I was out trying to live the ‘rock star lifestyle,’ Justin was at home writing. He was doing all the work while I was getting drunk every night. I could have been writing songs, but I thought partying was more important. It was easy to let someone else do the work. It came with a price though.”
Wilson is referring to guitarist and chief songwriter Justin McCain who has been a core member of Emphatic since the group’s 2004 inception. Since the very beginning, Emphatic has been caught up in a whirlwind of controversy. Many of the original members were kicked out when they got their first major record deal with Universal because they weren’t the “right fit.” Then Universal didn’t even release their album and dropped them almost immediately. However, not all was lost. In 2009, Emphatic signed with Atlantic Records and released their debut full length, Damage, which was released in 2011. Just when things seemed to be looking up, Wilson reportedly suffered a massive throat injury before the group was to go on “The Carnival of Madness Tour” in support of Damage. Rather than throw in the towel, McCain grabbed another vocalist and headed out on the road while Wilson recovered. Ten months later, Wilson rejoined Emphatic, but things weren’t really ever the same.
“I was unhappy,” Wilson says. “I knew I could write, but I had lost my chance by letting someone else do it for so long. The higher ups (label) liked my voice, but overlooked me as a songwriter. The only thing I contributed to the songs was my voice. I felt like a puppet.”
During this time, Wilson’s personal life was also drastically changing, which ultimately led to his decision to leave Emphatic—permanently.
“I was unhappy, but there was a new happiness in my life,” he says. “My son was born. Kids change the way you look at life. He changed the way I was looking at my own. I wanted to be with him. I missed the first three months of his life because I was touring. A lot of musicians can do it, but I couldn’t. It was a tough decision, but family comes first. I chose my son over the road. He is the reason I left Emphatic.”
Many people couldn’t believe he left. So many musicians work their entire lives for a chance to get a major record deal, go on a national tour and, of course, get paid to do what they love for a living. Wilson sees it another way.
“I wasn’t upset at all,” he explains. “It was my own choice to leave the group. No one forced my hand. To be honest, there is no bad blood between Justin and me. We don’t talk to each other as much as we used to, but that’s to be expected. We have two completely different lives now that don’t revolve around one another. People move on. Times change. I actually talked with him on the phone last week. I have nothing but respect for the guy. He is super talented and I wish him and the rest of the guys in Emphatic nothing but success. They deserve it.”
There’s a sense Wilson has indeed grown up throughout this journey with Emphatic. He’s changed for the better and learned many priceless lessons along the way.
“The biggest thing I learned from my experience with Emphatic is that you can’t be lazy,” he explains. “Nobody is going to give you anything. You have to take it. You have to contribute. Don’t wait for someone else to do it or you lose control. If you want to be a rock star, you have got to put in the time and lots of it. This isn’t easy.”
As Wilson settled into fatherhood and his new life off the road and out of the studio, he knew deep down there was no way he could stop performing.
“I thought I was done with music to be honest,” he says. “I hung up my microphone figuratively speaking. Luckily, my friend Matt Denker, who also used to play in Emphatic, called me up and asked if I would be interested in joining a new project with all of the musicians from the band The Wreckage. They parted ways with their singer and were looking to keep going. I knew all of the guys were great musicians from all of their previous projects so it was a no-brainer for me. Who was I kidding thinking I was done with music? It’s in my blood. I was in. I’m blessed that a talented group of guys came to me. I’m very thankful to all of them.”
The new band is called Arson City. It’s not a far cry from the hard rock/metal influences found in Emphatic. The sound is gritty and raw. With Wilson as the focal point, it’s also full of unbridled, infectious energy. Comprised of guitarist/programmer Mark Beckenhauer, guitarist Eric Whitney, bassist Matt Oliver, and drummer Matt Denker, Arson City is one of the most unique Omaha bands in the area. It revolves around a fictional city and the individual citizens that make up the place.
“It’s different,” he says. “Because Arson City is a ‘themed’ band about its ‘citizens,’ we are free to be as creative as we want in writing the songs/stories. In the fictional world of Arson City, there are about a million citizens. Each one of them is unique and each has a different story. For example, we just collaborated with Phil Anson of Venaculas on one of the heaviest songs I’ve ever been a part of writing. It is called “Angel’s Decay.” The Angel’s Decay is one of the most rundown districts in Arson City. It’s a song about one citizen’s inner battle to be good or to cause harm. The next song we are about to record is an acoustic song written from the point of view from a girl that is fed up with her hometown and decides to leave it all for a chance in Arson City. The two songs are like night and day. We are writing songs about the citizens for the citizens. We are the collective voice of Arson City. There is a war going on in Arson City. The only question is, ‘Which side are you on?’”
While Arson City has collectively decided not to release any full-length records, they are going to try to put out three EPs a year, which will contain three to four songs on each one. Wilson is ecstatic about the warm reception Omaha is giving them so far.
“Maybe because Arson City is such a weird concept, people are standing back and giving us a chance to do something new,” he speculates. “Omaha is full of artists and musicians. If you do something abstract and outside of the box, I think other artists/musicians will respect you for the creativity. They may not like it or even understand it, but they will respect you for being an artist. I am so thankful that the Omaha World Herald had Arson City as band of the week. Hell, we had only played one show before that! We were shocked. We had no idea. It was a really good feeling. I’m from Omaha and I love Omaha. Positive feedback from my community is the biggest compliment I can think of.”
Wilson could have been bitter about the whole Emphatic situation, retreated into his private life and never step into the spotlight again. Instead, he picked himself up, dusted himself off and started over. If that doesn’t show maturity and growth as a person, what does? At this point, he’s grateful for everything he’s learned.
“A lot has changed,” he says. “I grew up for starters. I learned a lot about the music business. The only person that is going to take care of you is yourself. I learned to be a good person to as many people as you can. Nobody likes a dick. Be grateful for everything you have because you never know when it might all go away. I learned how to change my radiator on my truck. I recently learned Taco Bell now serves breakfast. I have yet to try it though. All in all, it goes back to just being the best version of yourself you can be. Smile more often. Give compliments. Surround yourself with as many friends and family as you can. They are the ones that matter most of all. So yes, I think I’m on the right track.”
Arson City with Venaculas, July 31, at The Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St., 8 p.m. Tickets are $12. Visit www.waitingroomlounge.com for more information.