Home Town Hero
Home Town Hero heralds the arrival of a positively valiant rock 'n' roll band. The group's self-titled debut album is a dynamic and diverse 12-song collection fueled by Aaron Bruno's urgent vocals and guitar, Drew Stewart's sprawling six-string assaults, and the brute-force rhythms of bassist Todd Burnes and drummer Ray Blanco. But while the band's members are barely into their 20s, Home Town Hero's music possesses a craft and maturity that belies their youth. Tracks like "Questions," "Eighteen" and "Bleeds in Blue" are infused with the pugnacious spirits of power-pop, garage rock and punk, while moodier tunes like "Everything Out of Water" and "Bed of Dreams" deftly toe the line between hallucinogenic alternative pop and impressionistic balladry. In all, Home Town Hero is much like life itself - unpredictable, uncompromising and interrupted by welcome fits of humor, romance and transcendent grace.
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Home Town Hero's debut disc is the result of an ever-evolving musical vision. Hailing from the same far-flung L.A. suburbs that hatched Linkin Park, Incubus, Hoobastank and Onesidezero, the band first won exposure as part of the 2000 and 2001 Vans Warped Tours, where their powerful performances and songwriting-prowess attracted major label interest. But long before those tours transformed the band from a hard working club band to global rock contenders, they worked diligently to formulate the fiery chemistry that animates their music.
Home Town Hero's roots extend back to the mid-'90s. That's when Bruno and Stewart - both students at Southern California's Westlake High School - discovered a shared passion for hardcore punk acts like Operation Ivy, Rancid and Sick of it All. "One day I was wearing a Bad Religion t-shirt, and Drew came in wearing a 10 Foot Pole t-shirt," Bruno explains. "Drew was the only guy I knew who seemed as obsessed about music as I was, so after that we started playing and ultimately writing together."
Recruiting a rhythm section, Bruno and Stewart formed a band called the Ice Monkeys, which later evolved into a band known as Insurgence. Bassist Todd Burnes joined followed thereafter by Ray Blanco - who was drafted in to replace the original drummer. Finally, their creative vision was coming into focus.
The newly streamlined band began combining their punk sound with more melodic influences like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana. "When I started playing with this group, we were basically a hardcore band," Blanco explains. "All along, you know that it can only go so far, but you use it as a starting point, a stepping stone and move forward from there."
"For me," Blanco continues, "I always knew I'd be in a band just like this. I dreamed about it. The goals were always set, it was a matter of making a decision at the right time to put those goals into action".
After Blanco's arrival, the revitalized band was performing in a variety of clubs, including famed Los Angeles venues like the Roxy and the Whisky A Go-Go. Just four months following Blanco's recruitment, the band confidently entered a friend's studio and recorded their independently produced EP. "The EP was a challenge because the overall sound of the band was just beginning to evolve," Bruno explains. "I think we all realized we had to improve as writers and players. But as hard as it was, it was also a really valuable learning experience."
With a renewed perspective and resultant EP completed, the band also elected to change their name to something that encapsulated their underdog ethic: Home Town Hero were born. The foursome loaded up the van and hit every city they could reach. The combined allure of the EP and manic performances ultimately resulted in a Maverick recording contract.
Working with producer John Travis (Kid Rock, Buckcherry, Save Ferris), Home Town Hero entered the studio determined to combine their pop sensibilities with the powerful, hard-hitting dynamics of their live shows. "This band has a lot to do with vibe," says singer-songwriter Bruno. "When it comes to our music, we're really instinctual. We work off each other. In this band, we push each other to get the best out of ourselves."
"We rewrite parts over and over just to capture the right feeling," echoes guitarist Stewart. "To me, that's what good music is about - a feeling. It's not something you can explain, you just know it. Basically, that explains our approach. Everything we do has got to feel right."
By the time they completed their debut album, Home Town Hero had found their distinct musical voice. Yet for all the attention to detail, the sessions remained an organic process. "We adopted a simple yet focused philosophy of writing solid songs and not over thinking the production," explains bassist Burnes. "We wanted to make a really honest record that was a true reflection of our live shows. There's no samplers, or DJ's of any kind on this record. It's four guys playing music."
The end result can be heard in the massive, spiraling opening riff of the first track "Bleeds In Blue," which descends like a torrent then mutates into a tranquil pop lullaby. Primal drums lead the listener into "Perfect Night" then segue into a series of exquisite choruses, while "Eighteen" combines the melodiousness of vintage pop with the brute heaviness of contemporary rock. Its abrasive guitars and hulking rhythms notwithstanding, "Saturday Morning" erupts into a sinuous, slow-burning rocker. "Everything Out Of Water" offsets fractured waltz rhythms against reverberant, wall-of-sound vocals.
The album's infectious debut single "Questions," may best articulate the sound of Home Town Hero with thrashing guitars and anxious rhythms that collide with sardonic lyrics. "It's about feeling beaten down and uninspired," Bruno states simply. "It's a good song for people to work out their aggressions."
Home Town Hero bears testament to the timeless appeal of exuberant, pop-inflected rock 'n' roll, and the inseparable camaraderie of four musical brothers who share one common vision: To make music that inspires; to write songs that are intensely passionate and personal, unnervingly melodic and undeniably powerful.
"I think we're a million times better for having made this record," drummer Blanco states. "That's the exciting part about this whole process - we've learned that we can grow musically and as individuals. We don't even have any idea what the next record will sound like, but we do know the music will be heartfelt and will continue to evolve."
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