The members of Bayside were asleep in their van on Halloween morning 2005 when the vehicle hit a patch of ice near Cheyenne, Wyoming, and skidded out of control. The driver tried to correct his steering but was unable to keep the van from rolling.
"I remember when the crash first started," singer Anthony Raneri recalled. "I had no idea what was going on. I was jolted, and then I hit my head and passed out. And I woke up after the van fell."
While Raneri and guitarist Jack O'Shea escaped with scrapes and bruises, drummer John Holohan was thrown from the van and killed; bassist Nick Ghanbarian broke a vertebra in his back and, after undergoing intensive surgery, was bedridden for six months.
As he lay in the road in a state of delirium, Ghanbarian heard a paramedic refer to Raneri and O'Shea as "walking wounded." The phrase stuck with the bassist. So when Bayside were looking for a starting point for their new record, Ghanbarian brought it up as a possible title.
"It was perfect and really inspirational — we built this whole record around that title," Raneri said. "We've always seen that everybody in the world is wounded in some way, and everybody is walking around as if nothing happened. So we really wanted to make a record to inspire those people by saying, 'Look, we got through this, and anybody can get through anything.' "
Virtually nothing on The Walking Wounded directly addresses the accident, and, overall, the record is spirited and energized. Rather than expressing self-pity or helplessness, Bayside were determined to be optimistic, playing for the future instead of focusing on the past.
"We wanted to take what we've been through in the last year and show what we turned into after that," Raneri said. "There's two possible outcomes of anything disastrous like that. You can either start drowning in depression or you can keep your head up and it can make you stronger."
The latter ethic drove the band throughout the album's creation. While he was convalescing, Ghanbarian practiced bass constantly and learned how to play with his fingers instead of a pick. Raneri became a more thoughtful songwriter, and O'Shea brushed up on his metallic frills and blazing leads.
The band also concocted new ways to express themselves beyond the confines of emo. The Walking Wounded displays a range of instrumentation, including tuba and piano ("The Walking Wounded"), xylophone and strings ("Head on a Plate") and trumpet ("Duality"). These passages were influenced not by a love for other dramatic modern acts, but by Raneri's latest musical passion.
"I've been listening to a lot of show tunes recently," he admitted. "Growing up in New York, in Queens and Long Island, all my friends were Jewish, and all their parents were old Jewish people. 'Fiddler on the Roof,' 'Les Miserables' and 'Phantom of the Opera' — that stuff was all pretty massive. When you're 13 years old, you're not really allowed to say you think 'Tomorrow' [from the musical "Annie"] is really awesome. But now I'm an older dude, and I'm allowed to say what I want, and I dig show tunes."
The addition of classical and Broadway elements gives The Walking Wounded extra dimension. At the same time, the music is still rife with screaming guitars and thunderous tempos.
"Every show tune takes you on a journey," Raneri said. "Musically and lyrically, there are highs and lows, and I really wanted to bring some of those aspects into this record. But we wanted to rock, too, so there's both. Also, I experimented a lot more with vocal layers. Usually there's a lead vocal and you harmonize with that, but I layered as many as 15 vocal tracks on a lot of songs to create this chorus in the background."
Such experimentation was challenging but enjoyable. Far more difficult was the band's realization that in order to keep going, it had to hire a new drummer. The initial rush of media attention and complete confusion just days after the accident had clouded the band's judgment so much that they put the thought out of their minds for as long as they could.
"At first we got caught up in the whirlwind of everything," admitted Raneri. "We were like, 'Aw, man, our drummer. What's Bayside gonna do next?' But then we started to get our heads out of our asses and said, 'Wait a minute. Our best friend's dead. That's what we should be dealing with.' "
Performing as an acoustic duo, Raneri and O'Shea finished the tour they had been on at the time of the accident (other bands on the bill were Hawthorne Heights, Aiden and Silverstein). Getting back on the road, especially with friends, helped them to regain their balance; the Acoustic EP and DVD, released in February 2006, which featured Smoking Popes' Josh Carter, further cemented their bearings. Then, after Ghanbarian had fully healed, Bayside started working on Raneri's new songs and finally began the search for a new drummer. Knowing the band's situation, Chris Guglielmo started hanging around Ghanbarian in Long Island until he was eventually noticed.
"He kind of hustled himself in, but we didn't know it at the time," Raneri said. "But it's cool. The first time we were together it felt like we'd played with each other forever."
Bayside started practicing songs for The Walking Wounded last July and entered the studio in September with Kenny Gioia and Shep Goodman, who recorded the band's self-titled 2005 disc. Drums were tracked in a barn the band rented in upstate New York, and the rest of the music was recorded at General Studios in Queens. Despite the complexity of some of the songs, Bayside finished the entire record in just over two months.
"We worked really long days, but we were totally fired up," Raneri said. "We had something internally and externally to prove. We wanted to show everyone we could really get back in there and put out a great record. And I think we've done that. This is an album that shows strength."