"I like the feel of getting dirty / I like the feel of high octane."
Those words can be found in "Get Paid," the second track on the Atlantic debut album by Emphatic, an Omaha, Nebraska, six-piece rock band that is indeed dirty and high-octane -- and gritty, slamming and aggressive, all in the best possible way. DAMAGE marks the arrival of a fully formed, hard rocking unit that's been honed by working the clubs and opening in arenas, the kind of old school dues-paying and development you're hard-pressed to find these days. But Emphatic boasts nothing less than the virtues of hard work, some hard times and an abundance of the kind of vision and talent that's marked the best and most enduring bands throughout history.
The group certainly shares creative values with the generations of great rock groups that have preceded it. "People know when you're telling the truth; they connect with the song and with what you're saying," says guitarist and chief songwriter Justin McCain. "Our songs really are about the truth."
That authenticity is all over the 10 tracks of DAMAGE, whether it's the heavy, husky grooves of "Do I," "Beg," "Put Down the Drink" and "Get Paid" or the metallic punch of "Original Sin," the sinewy propulsion of the libidinous first single "Bounce" or the ringing, balladic dynamics of "Don't Forget About Me," "A Place to Fall" and "Tonight." They're songs culled from real life, but they're not so specific that they can't reflect universal emotions.
"My wife was the inspiration when writing the song, 'Tonight,'" McCain explains, "But my goal in songwriting is to write about my experiences in the hope that others can connect and relate to them in their own way." Frontman Patrick Wilson adds, "Our music hits home with a variety of people. We have a little something for everyone from heavy aggressive songs to melodic ballads."
Emphatic has sharpened that approach over time, ever since McCain and Wilson joined forces in Omaha's active music scene. "We've been very fortunate to have a solid base of local fans from the beginning, and we never take that for granted. The great thing about the Omaha rock scene is that there's such a diversity of bands in the area, from indie rock bands to death metal." Wilson, in fact, was on the extreme end of that community when he and McCain decided to start working together.
"All I wanted to do was scream," Wilson, a self-confessed choir boy turned wild child who cites Korn and Pantera as primary influences, says with a laugh. "Originally we wanted to just be an in-your-face band, screaming and offending people. But over the years we just kind of changed and developed our sound a little bit better. It's something we grew into and seems to be what everybody around us likes more. We still have our heavy roots, but we just want to make good music."
For McCain, who's been playing guitar "for as long as I can remember" and grew up listening to AC/DC, Bon Jovi and Billy Squier via his parents before picking up on Korn, deftones and Linkin Park on his own, Wilson represented "a diamond in the rough," someone who clearly had an individual style and a drive to raise his game.
"He had a cool-sounding voice," McCain recalls. "I knew it would be a little bit of a challenge trying to get him to break out of his comfort zone and go for it and get where he needed to be. At the same time I felt he had what it took, so I told the guys I was playing with at the time that, 'Patrick's the guy. If you don't like it, I'm leaving and starting a band with Patrick.'"
Emphatic was well-received from the get-go in Omaha, building a fan base at venues such as the Waiting Room and Sokol Auditorium and opening for the likes of Stone Temple Pilots, Buckcherry, Avenged Sevenfold, Papa Roach, Breaking Benjamin, Flyleaf and Five Finger Death Punch. The band released a pair of independent albums, a self-titled set in 2005 and "Goodbye Girl" in 2008, the latter of which spent 17 weeks on Billboard's West North Central Heatseekers chart and sold more than 10,000 copies.
Signing with Atlantic just after Christmas of 2009, Emphatic hit the studio in California with Grammy Award-nominated producer Howard Benson, whose voluminous credits include My Chemical Romance, 3 Days Grace, Seether, Papa Roach, Skillet, Halestorm, 10 Years, Daughtry and scores of others. Besides being "a dream come true" to work with him, McCain says Benson provided some much-appreciated perspective that only made Emphatic's music better.
"He helped me out so much as a person," McCain explains. "I've always been the detail guy, not just writing and playing but managing and taking care of the business. At one point Howard pulled me out of the studio and said, 'Justin, I can tell you love what you do. You're great at what you do. But if you want some advice, take a step back and take a breath and listen to everything and don't focus so much on the tiny details.' He got me to loosen up a little bit and understand there has to be real life and real character and real feelings on these songs. He really helped to show me that, which was a gift."
McCain and Wilson are hesitant to name their favorite songs on the album, but there are, of course, standouts. The guitarist describes "Bounce" as "sexual, not a love story, just upbeat, fun." "Get Paid," McCain says, is "almost like a strip club song" but goes deeper than that; "It's a pissed-off song -- I want to get paid, I'm tired of working my ass off and not getting anything for it. What's life about if you can't enjoy it?" "Put Down The Drink" is "a flip-flop" in which the guy pleads with the woman to change her ways.
"Pride," meanwhile, delves into a bit of social commentary. "That one's really hitting home with the economy and what's going on right now," McCain says. "When it's all said and done, the song says, the most important thing is family and friends and everyone that supports you. Material things are nice, sometimes, but ultimately you're not going to take away someone's pride by taking away their house or car."
Emphatic, meanwhile, prides itself on bringing those messages home when it plays live, and the group -- which also includes guitarist Lance Dowdle, bassist Alan Larson, keyboardist Jeff Fenn, and Dylan Wood on drums -- is looking forward to pushing DAMAGE by hitting the road and playing anywhere and everywhere they can, for as long as it can stay out there.
"Playing live is what we live to do. We just want to pour our souls out," says Wilson. "We bring an audio onslaught every night. We really do give everything we have up there. Come on out and you'll see what I mean."