While Onesidezero’s return to the stage at the Viper Room on Aug. 18 has been billed as a reformation, these melodic L.A. alt-metallers, despite not releasing an album since 2007, never truly went away. What’s different this time is a new lineup, promise of a new full-length, and a determination to recapture the spirit of brotherhood and adventure that propelled them to major-label “buzz band” status in the early aughts.
“We never really would say that we’ve stopped,” says vocalist Jasan Radford, who formed Onesidezero with guitarist Levon Sultanian in 1997. “We’d go into the studio and we’d do some B-side stuff and put it out. … We wanted people to know that we were still here and hopefully stay with us as life goes on.”
Propelled by popular support generated by online file-sharing of their early demos and the power of their live performances, Onesidezero were snapped up by Maverick Records, which released the quintet’s debut album, Is This Room Getting Smaller, in 2001.
It’s easy to understand the massive belief in the band at the time. Onesidezero sounded like Tool without the polyrhythmic prog-iness and deliberate mystique, and offered all the angst of nu-metal sans the knuckle-dragging mob mentality. This was thoughtful, intelligent hard rock presented in Everyman fashion: heavy subject matter delivered in athletic jerseys and ball caps, with an honest enthusiasm that defied a trend in metal back then for eye-rolling, faux-tortured performance.
Is This Room Getting Smaller is an ultra-dynamic emotional roller coaster distinguished by twin- and often triple-guitar interplay, burbling basslines and Radford’s rich, enormously versatile timbre. It was an introspective yet inclusive record that tackled universal themes through contemplative, poetic passages punctuated by enormous outpourings of youthful yearning and confusion laced with a singular, reaching optimism.
Onesidezero toured with the likes of Incubus and 311, on the then all-powerful Ozzfest, and performed on TV alongside Linkin Park. Yet Is This Room Getting Smaller didn’t sell as expected. Convulsions within the major record labels after they famously fumbled the digital distribution opportunity offered by the fledgling internet compounded the band’s woes (Maverick was owned by Warner Music Group), as did shakeups in radio programming in the immediate wake of 9/11, wherein songs with perceived morbid lyrical content often were sidelined (Onesidezero’s 2001 single “Instead Laugh” opened with the words “It’s suicide”).
Yet Radford remains endearingly untainted by bitterness.
“We had a lot of support from the label,” he recalled before a recent rehearsal of his reinvigorated band. “We had great tours; we made relationships with all the bands we toured with — some of the biggest in the world — and we’re very grateful for that.”
Disappointed by sales of their debut album and drained by constant touring, Onesidezero asked to be released from the recording contract before, in 2003, disbanding. Radford and Sultanian promptly reappeared in Abloom — an absolute hurricane of a semi-supergroup (featuring Roy Mayorga, Cello Dias and Mikey Doling, all from former Onesidezero tourmates Soulfly), which also fell between the cracks of a rapidly disintegrating “traditional” music industry. By 2004 Onesidezero had already reunited; they toured for much of the following two years, before releasing a self-titled sophomore album for indie label Corporate Punishment Records in 2007.
“In a way, we didn’t want to let anyone down, so we kept trying to have these little reformations of the band with the original members,” the goateed Radford says. “But conflicting family lives and schedules — it’s nobody’s fault, it just wasn’t on the cards then.”
But Onesidezero 2018 is as much a reinvention as a reformation. It’s now a four-piece, with two new members — aforementioned ex-Soulfly/Abloom bassist Dias and Michael Tarabotto on drums — and long-term ambitions for a long-overdue third album, due early next year, and sustained touring. As they prepare for their unveiling at the Viper Room, where the original lineup played some of its early, reputation-making shows, one challenge for the reinvented band is re-creating its older, three-guitar songs with the current, shrunken lineup.
“Cello’s such a brilliant bass player that he’s able to pick up a lot of those nuances in [guitar] parts that would normally be there in some of the older songs,” Radford says. “It gives me the freedom to just sing and gives Levon the freedom to not be restricted as well.”
The new compositions that will make up their third album are truly collaborative efforts, with Onesidezero’s new members fully contributing, according to Radford.
“We’ve always written what we’ve felt and I think we’re 100 percent back to doing that again,” he says. “It’s still very much like an original Onesidezero sound, but it’s more ‘adult.’ … We’ve grown up and appreciate everybody and the people we’re playing with.”
Having benefited from early fan file-sharing at the turn of the 2000s, and largely staying in touch with their fans through online releases over recent years, Onesidezero are utterly comfortable in the “new” music industry into which they find themselves re-emerging.
“We’re tryin’ to bring it back to that original feeling of when you left a show with your favorite band’s album … and you’d listen to it all the way home because you just fell in love with it,” says Radford, who now helms his own artist development and management company. “We’re tryin’ to re-create that in a social media and digital age.”
More than anything, Onesidezero’s return appears fueled by a sense of love and mutual respect that can only be conducive to the creation of compelling music. In stark contrast to so many former “nearly” artists, Radford oozes positivity and passion for his medium, blames no one, and seems driven by the joy of relationships and musical co-creation rather than just a lust to “make it.”
“As hard as this industry is now, there’s still love in it — because it’s an art [and] people play music because it’s their passion,” he concludes. “This is the first time in a long time that I’ve loved coming to rehearsal … and leaving there and going, ‘Man, that’s rad!’”
Onesidezero play with With Our Arms to the Sun and Broken Machine at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 18, at the Viper Room.