Meet Ehson Rad, singer-songwriter of Devil Met Contention. Radio Milwaukee recently sat down with him to talk about the band's upcoming album and embracing the future.
If you already knew Devil Met Contention, you may have noticed that their new single, “Take a Chance,” hints at an evolution of sound. And, if you didn’t already know them, you should.
Devil Met Contention frontman Ehson Rad has a distinctive mournful croon that is powerful, but also aches for something more. The band’s new single, “Take a Chance,” expands the Ennio Morricone leanings of its previous efforts with more texture and layers and leans more on studio effects and synths than their Americana tools of accordion and violin. You’ll still find the roots rock influences of Springsteen, but with the help of producer Daniel Holter, the sound is cast in a more modern light. Which, according to Rad, is closer to what he’s always envisioned for the group. While you may have recognized the group from their matching suits that suggested a throwback sound, they’ve cast them aside in favor of embracing the future.
How did you get started making music?
I started writing songs as I was graduating college in 2010. I didn’t really know what to do, so I signed up for this class called Rock and Roll History Through 1965. I was like, “What is this? Whatever I’ll take it.” There was a workshop and I wasn’t involved in the Milwaukee music scene, but it gave me this great avenue to perform for people who were interested. I took the class a few times. Other Milwaukee musicians were in it too: Trapper Schoepp; Graham Hunt of Midnight Reruns; Max, the guitarist from Tigernite… so many Milwaukee musicians who are working today have taken the class. He was really encouraging.
When I was younger, I always wanted to be Kurt Cobain or Bob Dylan. One day, I discovered Radiohead and it challenged all the pre-conceived ideas of being a “man.” The alternative music scene in the 90s was hyper-masculine, like Stone Temple Pilots, and they had these big, deep voices. I love Pearl Jam, but I couldn’t connect with Eddie Vedder’s voice and there was so much of that. I liked rock, but I couldn’t get into it. Then, I heard Radiohead and it was just as sad as I was, but really interesting.
I think the first time I wanted to sing [was when] I heard the Wallflowers’ song “One Headlight.” I don’t remember when it came out, but I was really young. I remember hearing his voice and thinking, “I can’t sing like that, my voice doesn’t sound like that.” But, that’s the first time I remember wanting to sing.
How did Devil Met Contention come together?
Very, very slowly. It started out as a solo thing, but I wasn’t achieving what I wanted. I wasn’t interested in learning lead guitar. I only wanted to learn how to write songs. So, I started with a guitarist, and we had different ideas and different paths. A couple of members came in and out, but I kept the name. It was probably three years of that, until I found Nez, my drummer. Eight years before that, I saw him play and told him, “One day I’m going to steal you for my band.” I was like 18. He was like, “Okaaaay.” But, I eventually did that. We found David [Schuyler] because our guitarist had a health problem and couldn’t play. David was going to be a temporary fill-in until we could figure it out. He turned out to be the best guitarist I had ever seen and played the songs like he wrote them. We put up a random poster looking for a bass player in a coffee shop. Max [Nemer] saw it and emailed me. I had him come over to a basement to play with us. He did, and we kept him. All of these guys are solid and care about the music and are just really talented. Being patient paid off.
I hear you’re breaking away from the suits. What’s changing and what was the impetus for that?
When we got together, I thought the suits were an appropriate way to present ourselves with the music we were playing and it made us feel like a band. Especially for a new band, it unified us and made us stand out. Now that everything feels like a group and we’re changing the music, they don’t seem appropriate to keep wearing, especially when we’re trying to expand our sound and what we’re doing. Now that everyone is comfortable on stage, we don’t really need them anymore. The music is a little closer to what I want to express and not held in by a genre, so there’s not a reason to do a throwback thing anymore. We’re not looking backwards. I told the guys the first time we brought in a synthesizer and electronic elements into our new recordings, “This isn’t Americana or rockabilly so we aren’t going to be wearing the suits anymore.” And, they thought that was great.
This story is from our partner 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.