Devil Met Contention needed a change.
“We’d been playing the songs off of our last album for a while,” says DMC frontman Ehson Rad. “We did some small tours in the Midwest for them, and then we recorded them and then we played a lot—quite a bit—last year. It just felt like if we wrote any more the same way, we would just be repeating ourselves.”
Those songs Rad and company (guitarist David Schuyler, bassist Max Nemer, drummer Nez) were afraid of repeating had certainly served them well. Beginning with a self-titled 2012 album and culminating in 2016’s Fuel The Lights, Devil Met Contention had successfully mined a dark, sepia-toned Americana folk-rock vibe full of hardscrabble towns and hardscrabble love. On stage, the band presented itself as identically dressed troubadours—all shiny blue suits and tightly coiled energy. But the suits were fraying and Rad was evolving. Something had to give.
“With things changing personally, you’re writing different songs,” he says. “The subject matter of the new songs I was writing didn’t fit the whole formula of this brooding, dark, heavy-hitting, Southwest stuff. It didn’t feel appropriate.”
Enter “Take A Chance,” a bold reinvention of Devil Met Contention sound, a terrific pop tune, and a glimpse of things to come. Recorded and mixed by Daniel Holter at his Wire & Vice studio, the song replaces the band’s dusty outlook of old with a sleek, smoldering, synth- and sax-flecked jam. Previous influences like Dylan and Springsteen are still there, but they’re now crammed next to Bowie and ’80s New Wave.
“I love The Kills, and they love Iggy Pop, and I started getting into ’70s Iggy Pop,” Rad says. “I had somehow never heard The Idiot before, and then I found out David Bowie produced it and co-wrote a lot of the songs on there. For the longest time, I just thought that Bowie had a lot of hits, everyone loved him, he’s from outer space, and that’s great. I kind of wrote him off, because he was just everywhere. And then I realized how much darkness and pain and isolation can be in those songs that everyone loves to sing along to. New Order has that. Classic country western music has that. Everyone is crying in their beer but they’re having a great time listening to it. I really love that.”
The decision to record with the on-a-hot-streak Holter, who has recently worked with the likes of WebsterX, Lex Allen, Abby Jeanne, and many more, didn’t come easily. It took a fortuitous run-in with another Milwaukee music star to seal the deal.
“Daniel was giving me the tour, and I wasn’t sure,” Rad says. “He had these spare rooms and I asked, ‘What’s that room? There’s nothing in there.’ And he says, ‘Oh, Chris Porterfield is moving in that room. He’s going to use it as a studio.’
“I love Chris’ songwriting. He’s the best. I just respect him and his songwriting so much,” Rad continues. “And then he came in! ‘Oh, Ehson! What are you doing here? Are you going to make something here? You should make something here! You guys should do it! I’m so pumped you guys are working together!’ And then he just left! And I was like, ‘Okay, let’s do it.'”
Even with Porterfield’s blessing, there was some apprehension within the band about changing Devil Met Contention’s tired-and-true formula.
“We were sitting around and someone said, ‘Do we really want electronic instruments? I don’t feel like they belong in our band,'” Rad says. “I said, ‘Whatever we want can belong in our band. We shouldn’t just limit ourselves to “All we can have is a violin because we’re a western rock band.”‘ I just thought that’s bullshit. If we were going to do that, we might as well just be a cover band.
“From there, once everyone realized that we could do whatever we wanted, that we could push it farther, we just kind of went for it,” Rad says.
“Take A Chance” is currently one of two new songs Devil Met Contention has recorded with Holter (the second will be released this fall), though the band will be going back to the studio in the near future. A full-length album is planned for sometime next year.
“We’re moving towards something a little more energetic and less broody,” Rad says, “even though this song is broody as hell.”