What does Volumes' fourth outing mean for the band and their story so far? "I can't really put my finger on what exactly it is for Volumes other than just the best music we've made," vocalist Michael Barr begins. Jumping straight in, 'Happier?' is surmounted by the simple realisation of: "What are we doing? Like, are we going to make the same record that we've made for ten years or are we going to do something different and take that leap of faith?"
Opting for the latter, that leap of faith also extends to Michael's relationship with the turbulent band he left back in 2015.
He returned to Volumes in 2020 after founding vocalist Guy Farias left at the end of 2019 due to "personal differences", his thorny relationship with Michael publicly airing in a 2017 tirade at his solo career. Gus' brother and founding guitarist Diego also left in 2020, sadly dying that same year. It's not been an easy ride.
Comments on recent music videos comparing his rejoining the band to Gandalf returning in Lord Of The Rings are an apt metaphor for their tempestuous journey. It feels like an epic that requires its own tetralogy now that they're back for round four. Indeed, everything about the band is maximum impact, to a detriment sometimes.
Proving quite adept at creating a rod for their own backs, the LA metalcore stalwarts have had controversy, sadness, and instability shadow them for the best part of a decade. But now, they're ready to make amends and to show the world that they're not going anywhere.
The four-piece - Michael, along with his initial replacement Myke Terry, drummer Nick Ursich, and only Volumes constant bassist Raad Soudani - are currently hitting the small venue circuit. Something they've not had to do for a fair few years now, mostly thanks in part to touring restrictions, it's led to a serendipitous unpacking of their journey so far.
It takes guts to admit you've fucked up. Holding your hands up and acknowledging a mistake instead of burying your head in the sand is an integral part of maturing. This is something Volumes are reckoning with as they've begun acclimatising to being back in the world.
Recalling a recent interview the band completed, Michael notes the opportunity it offered. "We were typing the questions, and I was like, 'let's just put everything out'. I mean, we're not going to hide from, you know…especially in this niche scene. Bands make mistakes, people fuck up, things happen. We very much err on the side of, it's sexier to own your faults than to like, spin them a different way or just act like they're not there.
"We're just really transparent about the history of this band in those times because a lot of bands go through it and in this day and age, how accessible everything and everyone is, it's like, the cat is out of the bag, for sure. Let's just own up to it. You know what I mean?"
That's not to say Volumes are reckoning with anything especially dark. The band started at the perilous age of eighteen. When unleashed on the road, especially for Michael, it was a matter of choosing between two paths: "There are bands that go on the road and touring, and what comes with it goes over their head, and they end up fine. And then there are the other types of bands that just embrace everything.
"We were very passionate about music, but we also love to live. We also love to have a good time, and I think we're at a point now where it's very much more professional."
An untamed few years led to a turbulent journey for Volumes. "I think the consensus is we used to be a pretty wild and carefree band," Michael admits. "And we'd definitely get ourselves into some sticky situations. I know I did, out there on the road. We've all changed a lot, and we've all realised what the most important thing is the longevity of this band and making sure that we connect with fans in the most deep, intimate and passionate way. Instead of, you know, thinking our heart's in the right place, but it's not."
Some of those situations involved the party roving onward from the venue to, well, wherever. "I'd end up at someone's house," he recalls. "'Where are we going? What are we doing?!' That's the detrimental part I was bringing up."
"None of us regrets it; or, I don't regret it. I mean, I have lifelong friends because of those situations." Their party-hard lifestyle was, in part, born from a desire to keep grounded. "What you want to do is provide a realness." He continues, "At every show and as the band grows, as the vehicles get bigger, as the production gets bigger - making sure that I'm still the same person."
With various incidents taking place throughout their early years, from scraps with security to general wanton chaos, this current tour is not only a chance for this new formation to stretch their legs. It's also a chance for some repentance.
"It's definitely a reflective moment. Sometimes I walk into venues, and I remember something horrible that happened or someone that I pissed off years ago, a promoter or whatever," he says with a bright honesty. "You're thankful for the opportunity to come back, show a face and clean the slate. There's a lot of transparency going on. We love to go around and shake hands again and just let people know this is a different iteration of the band, more professional for sure."
This is where their fourth outing, 'Happier?', comes into play. With Michael back in the band after pursuing his solo artistic desires, in more of a mellow R&B vein, a period he describes as being filled with "very sobering moments, but character building." Watching him take stock, sitting back in a chair in the rear of a tattoo studio on this tour stop in North Carolina, doesn't feel like watching someone shove jigsaw pieces together, hoping for the best. There's sincerity behind each string pinning together. Proving those nights of nearly-empty rooms on his solo tours were necessary for this next step.
It's tantamount to their rough 'n' ready phoenix-from-the-ashes moment. His return was signalled last year after the departure of Gus. Initially, only temporarily, that move soon became permanent. That's not to say it was an easy choice.
"100%. Absolutely." He laughs while reaffirming any potential trepidation. "You know, I'm 31. We started this band when we were 18. So much has transpired since, and yeah, I tread lightly. It was a big decision, but in the end, I don't know why I waited so long. I don't know why I spread out the option to come back because it feels like home, and it's just been a no brainer since I've pulled the trigger."
Did it feel like popping on an old pair of shoes, especially now they're deep in a tour that's underplaying by Volumes standards? "That's a good question. You're very much one person in your 20s, and you're very much someone different in your 30s, and it's blending the two," he considers. "I have these moments on stage where I'm doing the same things and the same tactics to get the crowd involved I was 10 years ago, when I first started this band. It's interesting to see the growth, and even I surprise myself some nights in some stuff that I do or something that I'm not used to with this format of music."
'Happier?''s cover also features four clear masks, in case you needed a visual of what their new transparency looks like. The faces of four sons of the niche 'djent' genre of metalcore, founded, in part, by Swedish metal band Meshugga. Volumes' journey from ardent purveyors of brutality to effacing pop enthusiasts and back again, picking up bits and pieces along the way, has resulted in this forceful compendium of Volumes both new and old, expertly twirling the two worlds between its fingers like a master dealer. It also holds a wealth of cards being laid out on the table. Which is truly what Michael stresses is different.
"We're a tiny metal band who plays very obscure music. And it's just like you have that physical platform standing on a stage; you have the digital platform. Even if it's 600 fans to 6000 fans, like yes, someone is probably looking up to you without you even knowing it. It's very important to recognise those things for sure."
Now, onto that title. The word 'happier' in itself feels loaded, but lobbing that question mark on the end is like cocking the trigger on a lethal level of questioning. With all the reasoning Michael gives behind this choice, including "is anyone, after this pandemic, gonna be happy again?", there's only one question left: are the band actually happier these days?
"Yes, we are," he says after chewing on it for a hot minute. "This has been the best and most reflective time for the band, and every day we wake up and are happy to be sharing the same space, which is very rare for a band to have. It takes a long time to get there for some, and that's very much our band. The past few years making this record, to this day in North Carolina, it's just like a band of brothers - very family-oriented vibes. So I think it's safe to say we are."
Taken from the December 2021 / January 2022 issue of Upset. Volumes' album 'Happier?' is out now.
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