We often joke in the office that it’s a small world, and I have a connection to everyone.
That joke resonated here a few weeks ago when a friend of mine from Pittsburgh sent me a text – “dude, you need to check out this band.”
Knowing my musical tastes – which many may find unconventional – I was excited to open the link he sent me.
Most who see me around town would likely be surprised to know my background in the late 90s/early 2000s as a hardcore kid. I listened to anything hard, rebellious or driving. Bands with names like Snapcase, Earth Crisis, Finch, H2O and many more. Fact is, I still do, even if I’ve mellowed a bit and like some melody thrown in for good measure.
So when I clicked on the link he sent, I immediately appreciated the pounding drums, the staccato guitar licks and the alternating screaming/singing coming from the speakers.
It was a music video he had sent me, so I lifted my head for a moment to look at the screen.
“Wait, I know that girl,” I said to myself.
I went back and watched the video again and was sure I knew that girl.
“That’s Adriana,” I yelled out to no one in particular.
Adriana Bustamante – recently named the Best Community Leader by the Culpeper Star-Exponent for her work with Theatrical Artists – was the actress on my screen, portraying a young lady struggling with substance abuse.
I quickly shot off a Facebook message to Adriana to confirm my suspicions and she answered right back. Yep, that was her and this band that I was enjoying was Contending from Culpeper.
Go figure, I have to hear from my friends in Pittsburgh about a band in my own backyard.
My interest piqued, I quickly set forth to meet the guys in the band and sit down and talk to them about their journey, the music video for “The Storm,” and with them and Adrianna about the heavy subjects broached in the video and the rest of their EP – From Ashes.
Contending, consisting of Trevor Payne on vocals, Nick Multari on guitar and vocals, Jason Jones on bass and Johnny Mullen on drums, formed originally in 2012, but took a break in 2015 after performing in Culpeper Has Talent. The band reformed in 2017, took third in Culpeper Has Talent and released the EP. Last week, they hit the road for their first tour – traveling to Georgia, South Carolina and Charlottesville.
Contending struck a chord with me because of their uplifting message and the uniqueness that they are a faith-based band – something many people don’t equate with post-hardcore bands.
The subject matter on From Ashes touches on suicide, substance abuse and post traumatic stress disorder – the topic the music video for The Storm was based on.
Through it all, the message is an uplifting one – that you can persevere.
“Anytime you can do something a little rebellious it adds to the mix,” Jones said. “One of the main reasons I find people listen to music is for an example. To generalize a little bit, there’s a lot of kids in our genre that are probably looking for a message to listen to, to give them a little hope or strength. I think it’s awesome, I think it’s a great audience and all of our fans that have heard it so far really like it.”
Mullen, who Jones calls the driving force behind the band (“his baby,” Jones said with a laugh), was also going through tough times as his friend Joseph Fleming had passed away just weeks before filming The Storm – and the band filmed parts of the video at his family’s home.
So let’s start with the single The Storm, and break down why the video and song is having such an impact on listeners.
The song and video is dedicated to Jones’ friend Adam “Wolfgang” Muelleman and Fleming. Muelleman, who suffered from PTSD, committed suicide on Aug. 8, 2016. Fleming died from a drug overdose – cocaine that was laced with fentanyl – Oct. 13, 2017.
Jones called Muelleman one of his closest friends who could relate to what he was experiencing as a medically retired Air Force veteran. They met in 2002 in Alaska while stationed with the Air Force there.
“We just kind of hit it off,” Jones said. “We became best friends overnight. We hung out a lot, listened to a lot of music. We got really close and then as the military does best, it rips things apart and we went our separate ways.”
They kept in touch for a while, mostly through Facebook but Jones knew that his friend was fighting similar demons.
“We kept in touch when we could and we were kind of each others support for a lot of things,” Jones said. “He was one of those guys that when you met him, he was strong willed and he was one of the smartest dudes I’ve ever met.”
It was through Facebook that he learned of his passing from Muelleman’s brother.
“It sucked,” Jones said. “It was a reckoning moment for me because I thought I’d never have to hear those words that Adam had committed suicide. It was a lifeline that I lost, more than just a friendship.”
To cope, he started to write. He had never shared his poetry with anyone, but showed the band his writings and they became “The Storm” and “Silence of it All.”
“The guys took it and they turned it into this beautiful thing I’d never be able to do on my own,” Jones said.
Jones said that the video and the song have become bigger than the struggles he has faced, helping others along the way.
“That’s what it’s all about, is getting the message out there,” Jones said. “As cliche as it sounds, you’re not alone. Everybody is fighting a battle in some way, shape or form.”
Bustamante became acquainted with the band through Culpeper Has Talent and was quickly contacted by Mullen about staring in the video for “The Storm,” directed by David Borges of Efileno Arts and Media.
“When they performed the song in the finals of Culpeper Has Talent, they had introduced why the song was written,” Bustamante said. “You can already feel that it’s special. I knew it was deep. There was a couple times when I was getting into character, I try to put myself in the character of Jane and put myself in that mentality.”
As a community leader who works with the youth – an educator at Epiphany Catholic School – and not far removed from high school herself, Bustamante can relate to the struggles addressed in the song and the video. She admitted that when younger, she thought about suicide, so that aspect of the song spoke to her. It helped her relate to the role of Jane.
“I think it’s not so tough getting into character, I think it’s giving it justice that’s hard,” Bustamante said. “I’ve been through internal issues like that before, but not as bad. As an educator, I see it and there are children around me that are going through stuff.”
Bustamante said that she has talked to students who deal with issues similar to what is addressed in the video and she wanted to be able to give them an outlet to see it’s not just them that have to deal – it’s an issue anyone can face.
“It’s different for everyone,” Bustamante said. “For this character, who decides she wants to take drugs to overcome the fact her dad abuses her…I believe somebody is going to connect. I wanted to be able to mirror it so someone could go ‘oh yeah, that’s me.’”
For the Fleming family, they had suffered the loss of their son and brother just weeks before filming.
“Joe and I basically grew up together,” Mullen, who worked with him at Merchant’s Grocery, said. “Working in that environment was heavy to say the least. There was a lot of pain there but it was a healing process as well.”
The subject matter of suicide and substance abuse is one that the Culpeper community is too familiar with. The band hopes the video and the song open up conversation about the epidemics.
“I think it’s really important because it’s not a topic people want to talk about,” Bustamante said. “I know they’re trying here, with different programs. I know in the schools it’s kind of taboo, and I understand why because it’s a hard topic. But it’s that population that tends to go to that. If this is a way for them to see and understand while enjoying music, why not? It’s important for them to know that.”
Going on tour, the future
The song and the video has garnered a lot of attention for Contending, as it’s available on Apple iTunes, Spotify and most streaming networks. They were featured in New Noise Magazine and Rock Revolt and their tour has opened them up to a whole new audience.
They’ve received a lot of feedback and they’ve reached all over the East Coast – as I witnessed when my buddy alerted me to them.
Their sound is unique, blending melody with metal and incorporating a multitude of influences.
“I had a target sound I always went for, this kind of big full bodied wall of sound,” Multari said. “ We all come from very diverse backgrounds and I think that all gets into our music. Our sound has been evolving significantly over the years.”
Multari met Jones in the Air Force as well and moved to Culpeper in 2005. Still a reservist, he juggles his two full time jobs while creating the music he loves.
“We want to set ourselves apart by not just screaming and singing about everything that is wrong, but the fact that if you can really push through anything,” Multari said. “We wanted to provide an alternate take, about how you come out on the other side. All of us in the band have gone through traumatic things, but we’ve come out of it better people.”
The tour is a culmination of a lot of hard work the band has put in.
“I’ve dreamed about going on tour with my own band since I picked up the guitar at 17,” Multari said. “This is bucket list stuff for me.”
“This has been a dream, a passion, pursuit of mine since I was a small child,” Mullen said. “I went through a lot of young child career plans and phases, but on the subsurface has always been music. Music has always been a driving force for me. The fact we’re able to take this on the road now is beyond a dream come true.”
They’ve been writing new music for months now, debuting a new song, “Cold Existence,” on tour and hope to have another release out soon.
“The product that has come out of it is just incredible,” Mullen said. “We’re taking this a day at a time, an opportunity at a time.”