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Reverb And Roar: Roman Lions To Bring Mixture Of Shoegaze, Hardcore To Caravan Lounge

In Music
San Jose post-hardcore band Roman Lions find a balance between shoegaze and metal.

San Jose post-hardcore band Roman Lions find a balance between shoegaze and metal.

Matt Tracy, drummer for San Jose post-hardcore band Roman Lions, admits his iTunes library looks like it belongs to an “insane person.”

“I kind of go all over the map,” Tracy says. “I still listen to tech and death metal stuff. I love the post-rock and shoegaze stuff pretty much equally. But I’ve been going through a lot of throwback stuff recently. I’ve been going back and listening to like Texas Is The Reason, like old-school emo stuff.”

It’s through this love of heavy music and older emo and screamo that Roman Lions was born. Tracy and his brother, Justin—both in their early 30s—grew up in Baltimore and were a part of the hardcore punk and metal scene there.

“For years, from my teens up into my late 20s, I was playing mostly aggressive metal stuff,” Tracy says.

When his brother started venturing into more singer-songwriter territory, the two grew apart musically for a time. But then, in 2010, life took the Tracy brothers from Baltimore to San Jose. It was here that their musical interests re-aligned, as they charted a path somewhere between shoegaze and hardcore.

The resulting fusion combines echoing leads and lush, reverb-soaked chord progressions, with throat-shredding screaming and pummeling drums.

The brothers first began writing songs as a duo, but quickly realized they would need a bassist and a drummer if they ever wanted to take their show on the road.

With the addition of John Ugalde—a killer bass player,” according to Tracy—and lead guitarist Robert Kinsella, the lineup was settled and the quartet wasted no time getting to work on their hard-hitting but melodic debut.

On Roman Lions’ three-song EP, The Lights Just Go Out, the band displays a command of music that is powerful, yet beautiful. Kinsella’s leads are bright and soaring, while Justin’s vocals are angry and tortured. Tracy’s raw drumming fuses with Ugalde’s bass lines to propel the band forward. Slow, driving tempos abound with slow-burning, melodic fury throughout.

The band’s influences—including the British post-metal group Rinoa, the Japanese post-hardcore outfit Envy, and older Hopesfall—can clearly be heard on The Lights, an album that also calls to mind the San Francisco-based Deafheaven or a slowed-down, less experimental version of Liturgy.

The brothers mostly composed the music on the three-song EP, which came out in 2013. But the band is fully collaborating on the music for an upcoming eight-song LP. With six songs in the bag, Tracy said the music is “more intense and more emotionally satisfying” than anything they’ve ever written before.

“The music we’re playing now is more in tune with how we feel about music and the emotional direction we want to push it,” he says.

Tracy says the band is very “deliberate” in their songwriting process. “Which means it takes us forever.” In fact, he notes, some have criticized the band for taking too long to write material.

“But we want to wind up with something that we’re happy with. We don’t want to just churn out a bunch of songs in order to give a full-length. We care very much about the songs.”

The band is also playing around with song structure, with some following a typical verse-chorus-verse format while others have no repeating parts.

Tracy says that his band will play some of their newer material at their upcoming Valentine’s Day show at the Caravan Lounge.

“It’s … an interesting date to have a show,” Tracy says. “Fortunately, all our girlfriends are very understanding. They know how serious and how passionate we are about playing. So they all gave us a hall pass for the show.”

It’s the band’s debut at Caravan and their first show in several months. As such, Tracy says he is excited to show off new material to a hometown crowd. There’s nothing better than seeing people connect with his band’s music for the first time, he says.

“The best part for me is playing a show, and even if there’s just one person in the room—having that one person lock on to the band and just kind of following the rhythm, just being in the moment with the band—that’s nothing short of magic.”

Roman Lions play Feb. 14 at 10pm at The Caravan Lounge. More info.

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