Artist Interview: all under heaven

Posted: by The Editor

Photo by Luke Ivanovich

A few years ago, New Jersey alternative rock / shoegaze band all under heaven released their debut EP Collider on Texas based indie label Sunday Drive Records. Though the band originally began in 2017 with vocalist/ guitarist Nick DeFabritus and drummer Aaron Brenner, it wasn’t until 2020 that the project was revisited and revitalized by DeFabritus and bassist Michael Cucci. Having played in New Jersey hardcore band Shackled together for years alongside fellow bandmate Jake Rubin on guitar, Cucci had approached DeFabritus over quarantine to pursue the project further as they wrote new music that was more inspired by bands like Starflyer 59, Team Sleep, and Title Fight. Their debut album What Lies Ahead of Me makes for a stunning LP that’s based more on abstract exploratory feelings than any concrete notions and drifts into engrossing somber atmospheres while spiraling out like a slow burning supernova. We spoke with Nick DeFabritus and Michael Cucci about their origins and the making of the album. 

While still in high school, the band had initially self-released a handful of rough recordings that were essentially melodically driven alternative rock ballads, but their main focus at the time had been their hardcore band Shackled. At the start of the pandemic, they returned to the idea of all under heaven as Cucci shares, “Jake played with Nick and I in Shackled as well, and Jake and I have also played in different projects together going back awhile. We’ve been friends for over 10 years now. I met Nick and Aaron after I started dating my girlfriend Alanna because they were all in the same friend group. Nick and Aaron had formed the original iteration of AUH and they had a demo and played some shows, but ultimately things kinda fizzled out. A couple years later I suggested bringing the band back and now here we are.” After the release of Collider in 2021, a split with fellow alternative rock / shoegaze peers in Leaving Time and Glare, and a couple of singles in 2022, the band have slowly developed their own identity within the modern alternative rock landscape and their debut full length album does not disappoint. 

The beginning of What Lies Ahead of Me immediately recalls a late ‘80s / ‘90s tone as it opens with slow tempo electronic drum beats and gossamer-like melodies on top of dialogue borrowed from the seventh episode in season 5 of the renowned science fiction TV show The X-Files. The voiceover coupled with the ghostly instrumental track depicts an image of desolation as Agent Scully grimly says,

“It begins where it ends, in nothingness. A nightmare born from deepest fears, coming to me unguarded. Whispering images unlocked from time and distance. A soul unbound – touched by others, but never held. On a course charted by some unseen hand. The journey ahead promising no more than my past reflecting back upon me. Until at last, I reach the end. Facing a truth I can no longer deny. Alone, as ever.”

On using the sample, Cucci shares “That’s my favorite show of all time and I’ve been wanting to use a sample from it for years now. While we were working on ‘Alone As Ever’ in the studio, the idea of using a sample came up and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to use something from The X-Files. I’m really psyched how it came together, and obviously that’s where we pulled the title of the song from too.”

As a band that started out within the realms of shoegaze, all under heaven have progressed as an atmosphere heavy band while still incorporating fresh textures that make for a compelling variation of songs on What Lies Ahead of Me. The new album showcases DeFabritus’ somber vocals more clearly and offers their overall sound a stronger steady emotional tone even as he experiments with different modulations in each song. For instance, the crooning on space rock single “Always” resembles a more morose version of Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green, while the dreamy slacker jam “Demon Time” delves into a full deadpan before turning a corner onto the liveliest track “Believer.” As a drum / guitar teacher outside of the band, DeFabritus expresses that he doesn’t listen to music as much as he would like to and the process of the album came together naturally, in a way that was more instinctive than deliberately thought out or directly inspired by other artists. 

Previously when the band had written for the EP Collider, much of the writing process had been a private process in which DeFabritus mostly wrote alone. When it came to What Lies Ahead of Me, the writing process was far more collaborative and involved Brenner and Cucci writing some tracks as well as forming more of the lyrics and structures of songs. This approach has made for more progressive songs from the band and lays the foundation for what lies ahead for them (pun intended) beyond their first full length album. 

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Wyatt Oberholzer (Year of the Knife, Simulakra, Foreign Hands) at The Knife Lair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Oberholzer has been a part of the majority of the band’s recorded material. “Up to this point, we’ve recorded all our material with Wyatt with the exception of one song. We have an amazing relationship with him and he always knows what we’re going for, so it was a no-brainer to work with him again on the LP. The process was super chill. We always get our work done, but have a lot of fun together too. Wyatt has lots of amazing ideas that really help bring new and exciting elements to our songs,” Cucci shares.

Photo provided by all under heaven and Sunday Drive Records

Aesthetically, when looking at the black and white album cover coupled with pink lettering, The Smiths and their legendary album The Queen Is Dead come to mind. For What Lies Ahead of Me, Cucci had taken a photo of the Circus Drive-In sign in New Jersey to use for the album cover. He also shares, “It was a restaurant on Route 35 in Wall, New Jersey, that has since been closed and torn down. I’ve always loved that photo and thought it was a really striking image. For most of our releases we’ve always used photos of mine for the artwork. When thinking of what to do for the LP cover, using this photo was the first thing that came to my mind. Coincidentally though, Jonathan (who runs Sunday Drive Records) did the design and layout for the LP, and did reference the cover of The Queen Is Dead. He chose the same shade of pink they used for our cover. I was really excited when he mentioned that because they are one of my all time favorite bands.”

What Lies Ahead of Me explores a wide range of emotions sonically in contrast with the vocals that makes for a compelling exchange between each member throughout. As the album progresses, it gradually expands and reveals songs that are more complex and diverse in the second half. DeFabritus shares, “That was something we were thinking about the entire time while putting the record together. We really wanted it to have a natural and exciting flow to it for the whole thing.”

One of the standout songs towards the end of the album is “Believing.” Pulling inspiration from the dark wave kings of cultivating moody yet uplifting atmospheres, The Cure, it meanders in and out of an encroaching darkness, searching for existential meaning. As one of Cucci’s favorite songs on the album, he shares, “I think the song I had the most fun working on would definitely be “Believing.” While we were recording the record it was originally going to be seven songs, but Wyatt suggested we do eight. We didn’t really have any other demos of songs or ideas that we thought would be a good addition to the record, so we just wrote a brand new song right there on the spot. I’d never done anything like that on the fly in the studio, so that was really fun and exciting. I think that energy comes through in the song.”

The album closer “Right Here” is massive, dreamy, and explosive as it draws on everything the band pulls off so well. Upon first listen, it would seem as if the pinnacle of the album begins and ends with “Believing,” but as the album comes to an end, “Right Here” blossoms into one of the most satisfying endings in recent memory. It’s a clear cut statement that identifies the band as future behemoths of modern alternative rock as it ends the album on a powerful note and rings out like a star collapsing on itself. 

What Lies Ahead of Me is out now and available on all streaming platforms. 

Loan Pham | @x_loanp

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