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Say hello to City Of Ghosts (and Goodbye to Hail Archer)
Music Notes talks to members of year-old band with roots in Hail Archer and In Like A Lion


City of Ghosts. Brian Tombari (center) and Mike Nelson (second from left)
Photo by Sean Drews

From 2008 through 2010, Hail Archer established itself as one of Milwaukee’s up-and-coming rock acts, and even earned praise from numerous national music outlets. Thereafter, distance and opportunity spread members around the country, causing the raucous rock act to go silent for two-plus years. During the ongoing lull, members of Hail Archer joined forces with alumnus of another disbanded Milwaukee project, In Like A Lion, to form City Of Ghosts.

This weekend, old and new will come together, as Hail Archer will take the stage for one final show, to opened up by the relative newcomers in City Of Ghosts. Before the show, Music Notes got together with Hail Archer/City Of Ghosts singer Brian Tombari and City Of Ghosts bassist Mike Nelson.

In looking at the band’s lineup, I see that every member of [Mike's] last band, In Like A Lion, is in this band.
Mike Nelson: It’s weird because it kind of reverse-engineered itself. There was no plan for that band to evolve into this band. This band was actually more of an evolution of Hail Archer because Brian, Andy [Balfour], Evan [Menzer] and Sam [Laun]… and Chris [Bodjanac] were all playing in Hail Archer.

Brian Tombari: The songs were starting to evolve into something different than we were doing before, so we thought, “Well, maybe we should change the name and start fresh because it’s a new idea.” Mike was in Japan at the time. Andy moved out to San Francisco, Evan went to New York. Sam and [Chris] were getting along pretty well, they had chemistry, and Sam was like, “Well, Mike will be back from Japan in a month or so” and it kind of progressed from there.

MN: It was weird because I heard the EP they did that I wasn’t involved in; I was overseas. Sam was keeping me updated on songs, and I was like, “Wow, this is cool. It’s definitely something I’d want to do if I was there.” But I was listening as just a totally objective third party. I was into it.

BT: Well, obviously [when Nelson got back to the U.S. and took Evan’s place in the band] the chemistry with Sam and “Bodj” (drummer Chris Bodjanac) from the previous band was there, so it made it an easier transition, I would think. It’s such an organic feel when it comes to writing songs, which is good, really.

With City Of Ghosts, with [Mike] moving back and with all of you writing new songs with each other, did the fact that you all knew one another already and the fact that all of you previously played with at least one other member before, did that help shorten the overall learning curve? 
BT: Well, our other guitar player, Shane [Langenfeld], wasn’t in Hail Archer or In Like A Lion, but he did some touring with Hail Archer with his old band. Knowing one another makes the transition much easier, much more organic, and makes the songs come together a lot better.

MN: It’s weird because I never really thought about that aspect. I knew that myself and two other guys [from In Like A Lion] comprise three-fifths of the band. I already had a very good rapport with them. And Brian is an extremely friendly guy who’s easy to get along with. Shane and I have a lot of shared interests. I mean, he and I started a podcast since starting the band. There’s a pretty good internal dynamic between members of the band.

As awkward and difficult as it is to answer, what does this new band sound like? What’s the end product of your different influences? 
MN: Well, it’s D-tuned, so it’s has a heavy feel to it, but we tend to play with heavy metalcore or hardcore bands. I guess we fit into that, but we always hear “Oh, you guys are so different.” We don’t feel like we’re especially progressive.

BT: A lot of the shows we play are with metal or hardcore bands, which is great, but we’re a little outside of that [realm].

MN: Brian has a really strong voice and we’re all extremely aware of that. So when we’re writing songs, it’s not like we write every single part of the song to cater to Brian’s vocals, but we are writing the songs with the intention of creating a cohesive melody. We’re trying to write songs. They’re not in the really strange, esoteric format or anything. It’s definitely verses, choruses and bridges. But we wouldn’t be writing stuff if it didn’t make us excited. There’s definitely a huge change between the EP recorded last year and the direction we’re going now.

BT: It has the same kind of feel, but you can tell with the two new members that it’s changing—for the better, I think. We’re progressing, which is the goal.

Why after this long away did you decide to do a last Hail Archer show?
BT: A lot of our guys suddenly moved out of the state. Adam had a scholarship at a school in Chicago; Andy our guitar player got a really nice job in San Francisco; Evan moved to New York to pursue some things. Everything kind of dissolved. We weren’t touring full-time anymore, so we kind of did our own thing and they spread out across the country. We decided we’d put it on the backburner for a while and do a last show later.

Then it worked out that Adam’s birthday is coming up and he was like, “Hey, can we do the last show now?” Evan and Andy planned a flight back. Jon [Kraft] still lives locally, so it seemed like a perfect time.

Hail Archer will plays its farewell show Saturday at Cactus Club. City Of Ghosts will open the show, which also features Avenues. The show begins at 9:30 p.m. City Of Ghosts debut EP, Daylight, can be streamed or downloaded on the band’s Bandcamp page.





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