Bars, speaker systems, rafters, chains, tables, humans, boxes — it doesn’t matter: If it is a physical object and available, the men behind So Many Ways will be climbing it and shouting in your face from atop it. The passion is real, and the thrashing pop-punk tunes of the Chicago quintet never let you forget.
It’s mid-summer in an un-air conditioned college house in Kent, Ohio. The Chicago band is slaying riff upon riff on a crowd of rowdy muscle heads as the room begins to choke with sweat from the overbearing heat. Guitarist Jason Milbank shreds through a ripping solo atop an empty beer keg and spends the last half of their song “37 Chambers” on the shoulders of an audience member without missing a note. The reality: This is nothing but normal for a So Many Ways show.
Formed in a college dorm room freshman year, guitarists Murphy Welch and Jason Milbank, two friends who found out they played guitar, decided to jam. Two EPs, three rhythm sections and a frontman later, Welch finally uses the word “solid” to describe their current state.
From the confines of Welch’s poster-plastered Chicago bedroom (including The Bled and At The Drive-In), he and Milbank opine on the band’s past, present and future.
“We got the choice riffs,” Milbank said. “The shred: That’s really what it all comes down to.” The duo’s fascination with fast, technical guitar work screeches through their varied taste and musical output. Milbank’s obsession with technical death-metal act Revocation and Welch’s adoration of Kid Dynamite and Dillinger Escape Plan, only scratches the surface of how a sound has influenced and shaped them into the unique act they have become.
“I think it’s something about progress and not writing music that’s been done before,” Welch said. Their desire to push outside the boundaries is seen in all aspects of their newest self-titled effort. From shred-tastic solos and ripping riffs to huge, anthemic choruses and aggressive shouts, the musical smorgasbord never seems to end.
But their dedication doesn’t end at their records: Their entire merchandise line has been designed by Welch, a photography major at Columbia College. Following a similar ethos as their music, Welch says on his designs, “It’s about not settling for something that’s easy to do.”
In a similar fashion, Milbank spent his college career studying guitar performance and has extensive knowledge of traditional music theory to bring to the writing process. Not often seen in modern alternative music, Milbank sees his training as a blessing but also feels the repercussions while writing from time to time. “It sucks you in because you want everything to adhere to the guidelines that theory teaches you,” he said. But, he recognizes he doesn’t always have to buy into those guidelines, adding, “I’m writing this music. I can make it sound however I want to.”
As a band with a dedication seen in few others on the scene right now, there isn’t an aspect left unanalyzed. Speaking with vocalist Colin Corley while he works his shift at The Metro’s ticket office during the Digitalism show, he, too, shows a dedication to his craft and the burgeoning So Many Ways ethos. Taking time for himself in between releases, Corley speaks of spending his days listening to the likes of Lifetime’s Ari Kats and Every Time I Die’s Keith Buckley, looking for inspiration.
“I listened to singers who had something to say, who were very aggressive,” he said. “I wanted to have an aggressive voice but have it come off as melodic, in a way. I think I did a better job [this time].” He also voices his desires to work on avoiding musical clichés in his lyrics. “So Many Ways is very much an outlet for me to get anger off my chest,” Corley said. “I put it on paper and scream it in a microphone.” Anger is an easy emotion to pinpoint on their record, with “Oak Island” screaming out for a certain political cause.
“At the time, there were certain instances where homophobia was very much a part of who I was around,” Corley said. “For some reason within that time frame I had heard on more than one occasion people using the word ‘faggot’ and homophobic slurs just as if it was nothing. It really pissed me off.”
With the chorus grandly resounding “If you never existed/Then we’d be better off/Judge based on one’s character/And not who they choose they love,” Corley’s anger toward homophobia is directly expressed. “It is mind-blowing that some people can’t look past who a person chooses to be with because of their own religious reasons, or they are just ignorant to being around those kinds of people, so they are very judgmental,” he said.
Political activism doesn’t shroud their entire lyrical persona, though. “‘Murph’s Life Hints’ is about people who believe what they want to believe because they believe it and that’s it,” Corley said. “A couple of the songs were written solely based on being angry at certain individuals that I knew personally and getting that off my chest.”
As their catalog and presence build in the music scene over the coming year and they head out on multiple tours including January’s stint with Latin For Truth, So Many Ways are proving to be a force to be reckoned with. So what does the young band stand for?
“Progress. Motivation. Choice Riffs. Hard Work,” Milbank said. If those aren’t qualities that create great music, may music rest in peace.