Islander May Have Created the First Rap-Rock Concept Album | Phoenix New Times

Mesa Native J.R. Bareis' Band Islander Might Have Created the First Rap-Rock Concept Album

It's not as crazy as you'd think.

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Many budding teen musicians pay attention to the music that’s selling now or the art of influential legends. Most don’t do much more than mimic what’s around them — let alone get discovered by Brian “Head” Welch at the age of 15, join Welch’s solo effort Love and Death, and eventually, work alongside Korn. Yet Islander guitarist J.R. Bareis did all that by the age of 19.

Now 21 years old, Bareis’ story is a Christmas dream come true for aspiring rock musicians. Growing up, Bareis didn’t anticipate the musical direction his life might take.

“I was never a fan of those bands that I actually might sound like now. Growing up, I didn’t go to concerts and wasn’t a die-hard fan,” explains Bareis. “Finally, when I started playing guitar, I dove into bands I had never heard of.”

He created his own style, one that draws from diverse influences, more or less a creation of where he came from, and where he’s going.

His story sounds like a fairy tale. The year was 2011. At 15, J.R. was in high school, playing guitar at home for fun and posting videos on his YouTube channel. He put up an audition video for Thousand Foot Krutch, which was looking for a guitarist at the time, “not thinking I would win; more just because I was hoping more people would subscribe to my channel,” he admits.

Somehow, Brian “Head” Welch stumbled upon the audition video. At the time, Welch was looking for a guitarist for his Phoenix-based band Love and Death. As difficult as it was for Bareis to process the fact that the legendary Korn member liked his guitar skills, he still needed a very important wish granted. He was, after all, still a minor.

“I think about a month before that happened, I switched to online high school, because I wanted to be able to pursue music more,” he explains. “My parents were totally supportive.”

A week later, Bareis was on a bus, going on his first tour. The band’s debut album, Between Here & Lost, came out in January 2013.

When Head returned to Korn later in 2013, Bareis continued working as his guitar tech, even filling in when he was sick. Just 19 years old, it was a dream come true for Bareis — not to mention invaluable experience he could later share with other young musicians.

“It showed me personally that it is a lot of work to get there, to where the guys in Korn are at,” he says. “It was inspirational. No matter how hard it may seem for bands that are truly good, it can happen. A lot of it has to do with knowing it’s about the fans and not you. I think a lot of bands have started to forget that.”
Bareis met the members of Islander when he was working for Korn at Mayhem Festival, and then a few months later, frontman Mikey Carvajal recruited him for the band.

His skill set fit in perfectly with the recently restructured Islander, which fuses rap and alt-metal with hardcore and punk rock — think Korn meets Glassjaw meets My Chemical Romance.

After almost the entire lineup was dismantled in 2014. bassist Ezekiel Vasquez and drummer Arin Illejay — the latter of whom had recently left Avenged Sevenfold after four years — came on board in 2015, and Islander released their second full-length, the concept album Power Under Control, in August 2016. The well-crafted sophomore effort shows the band striving to appeal to mainstream rock radio while still carrying an undercurrent of unpredictability, proven in the shifts between intricate, heavy grooves, soaring melodies, dashes of hardcore, and shadows of reggae.

When it came to recording Power Under Control, the band looked back to the days of how musicians used to get it done.

“We locked ourselves in the studio for two weeks straight,” Bareis says. “It’s become so digital now; like, you can be in different parts of the world and write stuff and it comes together. But there’s something magical about being in a room and writing together.”

Power Under Control deals with several characters — characters on their way to freedom, overcoming challenges and frustrations, and representing how people nowadays think about their problems. According to the band, the album is to be listened in the same manner a book is to be read.

“A lot of people don’t even deal with them, and that pent-up anger and pain is reflected here,” adds Bareis.
According to the band, the album is to be listened in the same manner a book is to be read.
Bareis’ favorite track off the new album is one that they most weren’t expecting to write: the last track, “Wait for It.”

The diverse influences and styles on the record are striking, from the reggae-esque jam “All We Need” to “Darkness,” a track that wouldn’t be out of place on an early Korn album (this was also the first video, which Rolling Stone premiered), to “Devil Red,” the fastest-written song on the album, where Bareis’ guitar skills truly shine.

The album is notable in how it unabashedly dabbles in rap-rock and nu-metal, genres that continuously have to fight for acceptance in the world of hard rock, no matter how heavy the instrumentals. During those genres’ heyday, Bareis was barely a toddler.

“I feel like it is starting to come back around, in a sense. I’m seeing it come back with bands like Papa Roach and Korn; they are starting a new wave,” Bareis says. “Plus, a lot of people grew up in that pool. But we want to be a band that can rock on either side — to go out with Tyler, the Creator, or to Coachella, or a metal festival.”

Whether you think Bareis’ story is a musicians’ miracle or not, the guitarist plans to be back home in Phoenix in December, and is excited to have a hometown show before the end of the year. Islander is playing at the Nile Theater in Bareis’ hometown of Mesa on December 18, along with the Word Alive, Volumes & Invent, and Animate.

“I’ll be home for Christmas to play the last show of the tour, and then I’ll be home with family,” says Bareis, full of excitement. 
Bareis also has high hopes for the future of Love and Death, Welch’s solo outfit that first brought him into his dream. Originally, the band was going to try and have an album out in December 2016, but all the members are currently in different bands, making collaboration difficult. However, the band has the work laid out — now, it’s just about finding the time record. In March, the band released a new single, “Lo Lamento.”

“After I started touring, I really wanted to find out more about the Phoenix scene. We have so many die-hard people who go to all the shows; I recognize people now because they are always there. It’s so important to not be close-minded about certain genres, and I love how there are all different types of genres in Phoenix,” Bareis says. “It’s people’s art and they put their blood, sweat, and tears in it.”
So don’t be surprised to see Bareis out and about at local shows.

“Whenever I’m home, I feel like I have to go out and support bands. Even if there’s an Arizona band out while I’m on tour in an area, I’ll go see it. I like to hear stories from people about how our music is helping them get through things and life and challenges,” he adds. “I never thought I’d be here at my age.”

Islander is scheduled to open for The Word Alive at Nile Theater in Mesa on Sunday, December 18.
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