The Columbia, S.C., outfit’s third album, due on Eleven Seven Music in July, delves into familiar lyrical themes of betrayal and isolation—but there’s also more than a hint of renewal and resolution.
“A lot has changed over the past three years,” offers lead vocalist and co-songwriter Ed Sloan. “Being down and out is something I’ve had to confront like never before. There’s been pain, but I’ve also learned to dwell less on the negative, so there’s a feeling of rebirth, too.”
The set’s 10 tracks, produced by the band, maintain the sonic thunderclap of Crossfade’s previous efforts, while propelling its guitar-grinding signature with a tapestry of orchestration and programming, and a flourish of keyboards, thanks to the addition of Les Hall to the permanent line-up, alongside Sloan, bassist Mitch James and drummer Will Hunt.
The evolution marks a tidal shift in Sloan’s previous role as Crossfade’s singular commandeering voice, but he is the first to admit that sharing duties with Hall was an organic, if not essential benchmark in the band’s growth.
The pair has been buddies since the seventh grade in South Carolina, where they were both regarded as young guitar prodigies. As an adult, Hall was writing music for film scores and serving as a session and touring musician for the likes of Trey Anastasio and 70 Volt Parade, Howie Day and a number of local Columbia, S.C., acts. In 2006, “I randomly stopped by Eddie’s studio to hear tracks for Crossfade’s second album, and he told me they needed an additional guitar player to tour,” Hall says. “I learned both albums in a day and played through one song with the band and that was it; we went out and did our first show together. It immediately felt like home, playing this heavy stuff with your brothers.”
Hall longed to contribute in a fulltime role with the group—as a songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist and arranger—which Sloan embraced. “I had to decide whether to tour with another band and collect a paycheck, or invest in something I really believed in,” Hall says. “Eddie and I had such a bond and mutual respect for each other. I told him I’d quit everything else and join the group if I could be part of the writing.”
Crossfade’s debut self-titled, self-produced album was released on Columbia Records in 2004, which spawned top 10 Mainstream Rock hits “Cold,” “So Far Away” and “Colors”—propelling the album to platinum status. Follow-up 2006 disc “Falling Away,” fostered hits “Invincible” and “Drown You Out,” but with second album sales down amid an industry-wide slump in the music business, the band was cut from the roster.
Being dropped by Columbia choked Sloan’s creative momentum. He admits, “Coming from the success of the first record and losing our way after the second album hit me hard. You get signed, everything is golden and you think it’ll go on forever. After we were dropped, I was consumed with self-doubt. Music had always been my escape, a friend, but then, music became my enemy. I shut down as a songwriter—and actually, pretty much as a human being.
“Les came in, took me by the boot straps and helped me to step forward,” Sloan adds. “After a year of me self-medicating, he just said, ‘We’re going to write about this and make a third album,’ which forced some of these songs that talk about the dark side of life. Les had a big part in rejuvenating my soul, to get out of my slump and focus on music again. He helped me to live my life—and write about it in the moment. It was therapeutic and an inspiration. He woke me from my musical coma.”
The collaborative effort continued to pay off throughout the creative process. With previous efforts, Sloan would record his vocals to Crossfade’s instrumental tracks in solitary confinement. “I’d hit record, run back and listen. But this time, I sang into the mic with a brother on the other side. I would spend four hours getting out what was in my heart, as Les made sure every line was great.”
Because it was Hall’s first hands-on run at recording a full album, “Les had a lot to say. He’s an amazing musician, very skilled on guitar and keyboards, and his programming savvy is awesome,” Sloan says. “He brought in so much sonic goodness. Over the course of a year and a half, he transformed bits and pieces of songs that were near and dear to my heart into masterpieces. We shared such a similar mindset and it became a much more personal experience.”
For his part, Hall says his mandate with the album was to keep Sloan’s familiar vocals front and center, while cultivating a distinctive new production stamp for Crossfade. He says, “The common threads were Eddie's voice and knowing that we still wanted songs with a message and as strong a sound.”
“Honestly, I had no interest in creating the same sound,” Hall notes. “The goal was to discover something fresh that felt real. I’m not a fan of bare bones mixes, so I wanted to help Eddie make this epic, with a lot to hear, all packaged around a well-written song. If we had focused on what the band was and tried to recreate that, I don’t believe the songs would have come out right. When you have no limits, no expectations, things come out better.”
Highlights on the third album include “Dear Cocaine,” a slow burner that addresses letting go of addiction; “I Think You Should Know,” offering a deceptively temperate arrangement behind a lyric about escaping reality by retreating in sleep; and “Killing Me Inside,” a straightforward assailing classic Crossfade rock ‘n’ roll anthem, albeit with a touch of crafty orchestration.
Sloan and Hall maintain that cutting the ties associated with a major label also helped to charter that new path. “It was a fresh start. We spent two years writing whatever we wanted, with no expectations, no deadline,” Sloan says. “Who knew if we would even release another record? It was a blast to have no obligation to copy the past.”
Sloan also lends credit to bassist Mitch James. “He’s been very patient over the last few years as a friend and confidante. He had a number of suggestions that helped us turn things around, and I respect him as a brother and friend that has been with the band since its inception.”
Ultimately, Sloan is convinced that followers of Crossfade will find comfort in familiar lyrical themes, while appreciating the new aural amplitude. “Crossfade fans will hear and feel the things they know from us,” he says. “It’s pouring out our hearts, as we’ve always done. But sonically, there is a new inflection. As a band, we have been reborn. We’ve always been dark, and people need that as a backdrop to things they’re enduring in their lives, but I like to think it’s poignant, too. There’s a new level of positivity that gets you ready to face the day.”