We are simultaneously shaped by absence and presence.
People, memories, experiences…all are molded by items both here and not.
Bands are the same way. Lyrics form via the things that happen and the people that depart, for one reason or another. Melodies emerge from everything heard before and the desire to create something never heard before. And even a band’s name can come from leaving out a single character and leaving in the inspiration it brings.
Absence and presence have aligned to bring us Samestate.
“Within the five guys in the band, there’s such a wide range of life experiences,” says Samestate guitarist Darren Harms. “We’ve all grown up in such different environments; it’s crazy to see how vast a life space five guys can cover.”
Yet, from a musical standpoint, the five guys that make up Samestate (Darren Harms, vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Dalton Diehl, bassist Ryan Lytle, guitarist/keyboardist Raymond Wyatt and drummer Blake Leoni) certainly make it work. The sonics found on the band’s Sparrow Records debut The Alignment mesh seamlessly, taking each member’s disparate musical influences – be it a whole bunch of rock and pop, a touch of Americana, a smidge of country – and merging them into a sound that’s infectious and approachable.
The bombast of the nominal title track “Realign” and follow-up “Sons and Daughters” counteracts, but doesn’t fight with the emotional, Avett Brothers-esque “Upside Down,” the jangly romp of “Love Remembers You” or the quiet, strings-driven ode “Symphonies.”
And then there’s “Hurricane,” The Alignment’s first single, with a simple message of hope. The song reminds us that if we do everything or even if we do nothing, God’s love will always find a way back to us. It’s a sophistication of thought, syncopation and lyric coming together all at once that wedges that message in our heads, and gives us a glimpse that the members of Samestate have a maturity well beyond their years.
For all of us
Who have a hard time getting it through our brains
That all we did was nothing
But love still came, and it’s bringing in good news
Love is coming back for you
-- From “Hurricane”
But again, it is absence and presence that inform a good deal of the lyrical content of Samestate’s songs, notably some of the people missing from principal songwriter Dalton Diehl’s life. “I lost three family members to cancer in the span of two years, right as the band was starting,” Dalton says. “So, on the back side of that emotion and the healing, and realizing that if I’m going to make it back to being able to talk about hope and what we stand for, I’m going to have to start putting more of my trust back into God.”
Dalton used both the losses of close family members and the gains of his creative pursuits coming together to shape The Alignment’s messages, notably those on “Upside Down”. “You don’t realize it, but if you’re having a rough day and you’re asked to write a part, it’s going to be a little more emotional and aggressive than normal,” Dalton continues. “Those things do come out on a song like ‘Upside Down.’
“It’s been interesting to see how God has used some of these songs to really speak to me,” he says. “I often feel like I’m just writing a song, but then a couple weeks later, I’ll realize God was trying to say something to me in that time, and it finally clicks. I hope the fans have that same kind of experience.”
The members of Samestate came together initially at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, KS, a small town 25 miles outside Kansas City. Dalton called Blake and Darren to sit in on some shows he was doing in 2008, soon bringing in Ryan on bass to fill out the low end, and adding Ray to complete what would become the band’s emerging sound.
“Something you always have to consider with music is the experience,” Blake notes. “You have to set an atmosphere. The really great bands know how to do that. For instance, Ray is probably the most in touch with his emotional side, where sometimes I’m very analytical and it can show through in my drumming. So there’s room to keep both those approaches in mind within the music, and that’s when our personalities show through and create that experience.”
That notion of God taking hold of experiences and using them to mold greater things is nothing new to the members of Samestate. Each band member comes to the work of the whole with their own skills and challenges, and all see how they’ve been led to this time and place.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve noticed is how the band has allowed each of us to connect and find strength and confidence in a community,” Blake says. “Ray is one of my best friends, and he was brought up with a pretty tough childhood; his mom was in and out, and his dad passed away when he was young.”
“We met in junior high, we kind of grouped together and it’s been really exciting, especially over the past three years, to see such exponential growth in his confidence and his outlook on life,” Blake continues. “Just having a community that so many kids in his similar situation don’t have. As for me, my parents divorced when I was in third grade, and Dad moved away when I was in sixth grade, so I kind of turned to music as an escape. It was something I was good at and could find identity in, so I really consider it a gift from the Lord that He’s letting me continue to do it at this level.
And I think that’s something we want our fans to realize as well, that God will find you right where you are, and make great things happen out of what you might think are your worst moments.”
The guys of Samestate recognize that the idea of absence and presence generates one more thing that goes along with their experience, both onstage and off. “This is a community,” Darren says. “And we’re a band for many more reasons than just for us and for fans to like us. We want to offer what we can because we’re also going through life’s struggles and it’s great to be able to offer help, advice and encouragement to each other and to the people we meet on the road.”
It’s a little about honoring the opportunities and people that are absent. It’s a little about being present in the moment in front of you.
And it’s a lot about seeing how the similar states all line up in front of you to make an impact on the world.