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There's an adage in the business world that goes something like this: You've got to spend money to make money. It's a mantra Tempe metal band The Asylum has taken to heart, and so far, it appears to be working.
"It's dedication to quality product," says guitarist and founding member Vince LuPone. "We don't just buy $300 amplifiers. We run expensive rack systems. We've got custom drums. We paid for the top-notch studio in town. We're all about making music that we love and making a product that we love and we can be proud of, and that's a stage show, shirts, studio album, everything."
It's unusual for an unsigned, local metal band to have stage banners, high-end equipment, and a full line of merchandise. Then again, it's also unusual for a local metal band, signed or not, to regularly draw hundreds of fans to shows at 1,000-plus-capacity venues like the Marquee Theatre and the Venue of Scottsdale. Drummer Dan Edwards says people frequently mistake The Asylum for a national act at such shows, asking how their tour is going.
"With all the banners, all the T-shirts, we're kind of trying to put on that we're kind of bigger than we are," admits Edwards, but unlike some "fake it 'til you make it" local acts (we're looking at you, Hollywood Heartthrob and Sonny Long), The Asylum actually walk the proverbial walk. They understand the importance of marketing and Internet hype, but they realize that it must be backed up with — wait for it — actual music.
The band is currently gearing up for the release of their second album, In Death and Tragedy, and, not surprisingly, the're going all-out to promote it. In addition to CD-release shows this weekend and next, The Asylum are hosting a listening party on September 10 at Hot Topic in Tempe Marketplace, where they plan to sell their new album, new T-shirts, and tickets to the upcoming shows.
The album is a marked departure from The Asylum's debut, featuring a more modern, metalcore sound that LuPone attributes to the input of his fellow band members.
"The first album was a lot of just me writing it," LuPone says. "I'm an old-school metal guy — Megadeth, Dream Theater, Pantera, that type of stuff — whereas these guys are more into Avenged Sevenfold, Bullet [for My Valentine], Trivium, and whatnot. So writing together, you're gonna have more of a cohesive influence than just one guy."
The Asylum essentially started out as "just one guy," with the release of LuPone's mostly instrumental solo album, Screaming Into the Abyss, in 2005. LuPone was contacted by a drummer interested in collaborating with him, so the pair began auditioning singers. They eventually decided on Jason Kendall, whose only previous experience was singing — or, more precisely, screaming — in a hardcore band.
"I was auditioning him against different tracks that I had," LuPone says. "I could hear him screaming really well, but I could also hear that there was some melody in what he was doing, so I put a really melodic track up for him, and he sang. I basically said to Jason, 'Look, if you want to keep screaming, this is probably not the project for you. But if you want to scream and sing and really use the full range of your voice, then let's develop this and let's work together.'"
The original drummer had no interest in touring, so LuPone and Kendall searched for a replacement, leading them to Edwards. After a few more lineup changes, The Asylum's current roster was completed by bassist Bill Elliot and guitarist Adam Huck.
Throughout an interview at Applebee's in Tempe (go ahead and try to say that's not first class) the band members (minus the absent Elliot) alternate between laying out their multi-tiered business plan and ragging on each other like a group of longtime friends. Like characters in a Judd Apatow film, they delight in finding creative ways to call each other gay, but despite their affable exterior, the new album's title is no ordinary exercise in metalcore melodrama. The Asylum have seen their fair share of death and tragedy in recent years.
In the two years since their debut album was released, The Asylum have lost two grandmothers and a step-grandmother. LuPone and his wife suffered a miscarriage two days before Christmas. Late last summer, Kendall learned that his dad had been diagnosed with hepatitis C, prompting him to leave his bandmates behind and move to Seattle to help his parents. On September 26, 2008, just a few days before Kendall was scheduled to leave, one of his high school friends was fatally stabbed in downtown Tempe. Soon after Kendall's move to Seattle, his father was also diagnosed as bipolar. Needless to say, it was a rough stretch for the band.
For four months, the remaining members of The Asylum wrote and rehearsed in Kendall's absence, but they never considered replacing him. LuPone would e-mail MP3s and lyric ideas to Kendall, who would flesh out the lyrics in his free time. Surprisingly, the band even continued to play the occasional local show.
"We'd have to book a show two months out and tell Jason as soon as we knew," Edwards says. "He'd book a flight to come back a week before the show so we can get tight with him and play the show."
Kendall eventually moved back to the Valley in January, and the band quickly began working on their new album. Since Kendall's return, the band has also played several shows with local heavyweights Digital Summer, whom Edwards credits with inspiring The Asylum's dedication to professionalism.
"They're like the kings of fuckin' advertising," Edwards says. "They have success, so we kind of followed what they did, as far as street advertising, stickering all over the place. Everywhere you go, you'll see a fuckin' Digital Summer sticker on a stop sign or something. We're doing stuff like that, viral marketing, heavy online promotion. One thing that [Digital Summer singer] Kyle [Winterstein] told me really hit home. He's like, 'A lot of [people] could have a band, but no one puts the time into being personal.' Like on MySpace, I'll never not respond to someone. We get a lot of comments, a lot of messages, but we respond to everyone. People are always shocked."
The two bands are co-headlining this weekend's show, and according to Digital Summer bassist Anthony "Guido" Hernandez, the admiration is mutual.
"Aside from them being great musicians, they have a good grasp on the business side of things, which is important," Hernandez says. "I think it's a really big factor in how much success they've been getting recently and how much they've been growing."