We Were Astronauts have more in common with a rocket than a fleeting reference to outer space. Sleek, streamlined, shiny, their’s is a sound scientifically crafted and honed for a big impact. This is no bar band, nor an irony-soaked pastiche of sonic affectations. These are four dudes cruising comfortably in the upper stratosphere of the local scene, ready and eager to trigger the boosters and blast off towards the next big thing.
I first came across We Were Astronauts at this year’s Rock Hunt. For the record, this was a hell of a year for WBRU’s annual rock and roll throwdown. Nearly every band showed up with their A-game and a unique sound. For We Were Astronauts, that meant a sweeping, sing-it-from-the-guts kind of alt-pop. I may or may not have called them New England’s Kings of Leon when describing them to a friend, but you know what I mean, right? No? Then give their latest EP, 2014’s Artificial Light, a spin.
Crammed with born-for-radio hooks and a big enough sound for a full LP, these five tracks – engineered by Phil Allen, who won a Grammy for his work on Adele’s 21 – show Artificial Light as a textbook case of less is more.
“There are so many songs where space alone, created by few notes or even a single note, have the ability to grab hold of you and take you for an emotional rollercoaster,” says lead singer Antonio Casasanta. “I find that to be a powerful and inspiring thing.”
“Keep It Together” in particular stands out as an powerful example of that. You can hear the band getting the most mileage out of interesting, yet straightforward progressions, letting the production and arrangement create a stadium-filling sense of sound and scope. No one element ever hogs the spotlight, but they’re all there under it, gunning for the stars and taking listeners along thanks to an undeniably catchy sound.
And I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so. They may not have won the Rock Hunt – though they secured a primo spot in WBRU’s Summer Concert Series, opening for St. Motel on July 31 – but they were recently named the 2015 Rock Act of the Year by the New England Music Awards.
“We had no clue we were winning the award,” says Antonio, giving the impression that he and the rest of the band – Christopher Rando, Steve Paddock and Tim Corrigan – still aren’t quite sure if this is real life. “The competition was fierce and it was truly an experience of a lifetime just to be part of it. And amongst so many amazing talented musicians.” Though at the time of our interview no cats were ready to be let out of any bags, he did suggest that the award presented the band with some exciting new opportunities that they’ll be announcing soon.
All of this is great for them, obviously. They have an exceptionally well-produced new record and are getting accolades hand over fist. But does that in-studio sound translate to the stage? Actually, yeah, it really does.
Seeing We Were Astronauts live was impressive, but after hearing their studio recordings I started thinking back and tried to recall instances of lip sync shenanigans. Obviously there weren’t any, but good gravy these dudes are tight on stage. Almost every note maintained the same slick, fine-tuned-for-precision performance found on their records, proving that production won’t get you too far if you don’t have the live chops to back it up. It certainly won’t get you all the way to the stars. And with a name like We Were Astronauts you want to be the ones going to the stars, not just puttering around in a low orbit like some Soviet space dog.
“I think we can all admit at one point or another we have looked up at the vastness of space with awe and wonder,” he says. “As kids, some of us dreamed of being astronauts, and I think that dream transpired into grownup dreams of being rockers.”
Opening for St. Motel on July 31, Waterplace Park