I once attended a Beneath It All show where the energy was so palpable you could see it physically emanating from lead singer Derrick Jackson. It was a cold fall night on an outdoor stage, and Jackson was surrounded by a halo of hot mist that dissipated into the air around him. The surreal scene was the perfect stage for their progressive, melodic metal music and as unforgettable as the band’s original songs.Formed in 2009 by Jackson with founding member Tony “Pinky Tony” Rudny, Beneath It All have been cranking out fist-pumping metal for nearly five years. The lineup includes Rudny and Brandon Payton on dual lead guitars, Ian Bender on bass, Aaron “Babydude” Manfredonia on drums and Jackson at the helm with vocals.
While Beneath It All’s sound is decidedly metal with a plethora of metal sub-genres from which to choose, they chose to play outside of classification. Their music is sometimes melodic, sometimes gravelly, always catchy and intricate.
The group is busy building up material and raising money to record a full-length album, but for now they have a two-song EP released in 2012 and a few more studio recordings online.
Their recordings have all the elements of great metal, with intricately written dual-guitar solos and a combination of smooth, soaring vocals and gravelly screams. Heavy riffs are layered to back up more complex breakdowns and create a multi-dimensional sound.
The aptly named song “Addiction” is compulsively enjoyable. Coming in with screams, it breaks away to labyrinthine guitar work and, eventually, Jackson’s soulful vocal melodies. Beneath It All have a talent for finding a good balance between emphasis on elaborate music and vocals so that neither overshadows the other, a deliberate move on their part.
“I think the cool thing about our music is that the choruses are catchy; even though there is complexity in the music it’s an easy listen for anyone,” Jackson said, “from the avid metal rock musician who loves the intricate parts that Tony and Ian and Brandon play, to the regular listener who likes the catchy choruses that I like to write.”
Beneath It All’s songwriting process is one that usually begins with a guitar riff and ends with lyrics after many reincarnations and re-writes. But Jackson says that as much as the lyrics are written for the music, the music itself writes the lyrics.
“The notes that these guys play bring words to mind when they play them.” Jackson said, “so I know that when Tony hits a particular note on the guitar, the feeling that he’s portraying on the guitar will bring out an emotion in me and I’ll think of something to write that matches. And that’s really how the creative process goes.”
The first priority of the group is to make music that will blow their audience away. They’ve refined and perfected their songs to the point that it’s hard for them to choose a favorite. Their catalog is filled with music they’ve worked on until they themselves are amazed by it. Band favorite “Kraken” and crowd favorite “Fight” are what they hold up above the others for now, until they write their new favorite song.
Jackson penned the lyrics to the passionate and urgent “All In Vain” after the bombing of a school in the Middle East, but he said the lyrics are open to interpretation. If listeners or even band members want to take home a different, more personal message from the song, it can be about whatever experience they get from it. This is essentially the ideology behind their name and a lot of their lyricism.
“Beneath it all, beneath all the circumstances and all the events of this world, there’s a story or a song that can be written about everything,” Jackson said. “Everybody has their own interpretation, and beneath our music, there’s a meaning that is deeper than just what’s on the surface. There’s a story there.”
Their talent, diverse music and passionate, opaque lyrics have helped them build up a sizeable audience over the years, going from expecting just a handful of audience members when they hit the road to expecting a few hundred. And they plan to work to keep that number growing exponentially.
“We’re going to keep playing shows, keep rocking out, keep the local music scene alive for now. It’s all about numbers these days, and you have to treat it like a business in a sense,” Manfredonia said. “You get your numbers up and you get asked to do the shows. Get the ball rolling and it just snowballs until you reach that peak where you’re playing all over the world. We just have to keep our nose to the grindstone, creating great music, keeping the great chemistry.”
The festival circuit Beneath It All will be playing this spring will undoubtedly be putting them before bigger and bigger audiences. With festivals in Indianapolis and Detroit, including Detroit’s Metal Bow, the ball is rolling faster now.
But they plan to keep pushing and working and writing until they can share the music they already love with audiences all over the world.
“We just have to keep grinding on towards the goal. “Jackson said. “We have to believe that our original music is going to get us where we need to go.”
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