2017 is a year of breakthroughs for The Living. The band has just wrapped up their West Coast tour, and is currently preparing for the release of their first full-length album. Their self-titled record draws heavily from the same ‘70s progressive rock influences that inspired their 2015 EP The Living, but this time, with a new tone of desolate loss. Whereas previous work by the band possessed a sinister anger, their upcoming album’s flowing guitar solos and sorrowful lyrics transition the band’s sound from wrathful to bittersweet.
Made up of four friends who all grew up together in the Bay Area (two from Redwood City, and two from San Mateo), The Living currently reside in San Francisco, where they live out their childhood dream of performing and recording music. SF Weekly talked to lead vocalist and guitarist Derek Barnes about illustrating feelings through rock, the importance of liking your bandmates, and the musical heroes that he loves but doesn’t imitate.
SF Weekly: How would you describe your debut album to new listeners?
Derek Barnes: If I had to boil it down to one word, and this is a word that gets commonly thrown at us, it would be “emotional.” [Our music] sits somewhere between rock and metal — there’s definitely an aggressive side to it, but at the same time it’s very introspective and emotional.
SFW: Is the album written about a single event or experience?
Barnes: It’s a few different things. Lyrically, it deals a lot with repeating toxic behavior over and over again, and still somehow expecting that things will turn out differently. It also has a strong lovelorn theme all throughout, talking about things like betrayal and deception. In general, I try to make the lyrics open. But honestly, as important as the lyrics are they’re usually the last thing I consider.
I haven’t had a hard life or anything, so I’m not going to try and shoehorn that into a song so that I can sound deep. As of now, when I write lyrics I write from what I know, and I’m a pretty introverted dude so I just write about my own personal experiences.
SFW: Do you need to be in a darker headspace when you record your music?
Barnes: For me, when I write I definitely need to be by myself. I can’t be out and about in a social setting — I usually just have to be alone in my room, writing words. But when the band all gets together in a room to play music, I think we all just respond to each other’s personalities. The cool thing is that we’ve all been friends for a really, really long time. None of us found each other on Craigslist or anything — we all pretty much grew up together. So we all respond right off the cuff when we’re playing together.
SFW: There are a lot of instrumental stretches on the record. Are there emotions that can’t be conveyed with lyrics, or is there a different reason for the occasional lack of vocals?
Barnes: We’re all fans of instrumental music and older, progressive rock, and a lot of that kind of music had long stretches of instrumental sections. And yeah, I personally think that there are some words that can’t describe everything. You can get an emotion across just as well, if not better, with a well-executed instrumental section.
SFW: Who are your musical heroes?
Barnes: For progressive rock, we like Pink Floyd, King Crimson — those kinds of people. But in terms of influences, it’s kind of funny because a lot of what we consider to be influences don’t come through that much. Like, our guitar player Julian is really into folk music, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any folk sound on our album. The bigger influence is our own personalities. Pretty much everything we wrote was written in rehearsal from just jamming together right on the fly.
SFW: What’s your song “No Love Gets Away” about?
Barnes: That song is very much relationship-inspired. I think it deals with wanting to control an outcome, and manipulation and not being able to let go of something. I think that’s the heart of it — dwelling on memory and allowing that to control your present thinking.
SFW: Do you believe that no love gets away?
Barnes: I don’t know actually. You’ve stumped me on that one. I think it can go both ways, depending on the person. It’s something that you have to deal with yourself. It would be scary if there was a universal answer to that question.
SFW: Any final thoughts? It can be anything from “See us on tour” to “Hi, Mom.”
Barnes: I’ll preface it with “Hi, Mom” — I’ll say it for the whole band, “Hi, Mom.” We’re just finishing up this West Coast tour and then we’re going to be getting ready for our album release show at Neck of the Woods on September 29th. Our record officially comes out September 22nd, and all the while we’re just going to continue to work on our music, continue to expand, and continue to get music in people’s heads.
Learn more about The Living on their website, and listen to the first single of their upcoming album below: