Just like in high school, it doesn't pay to be too different in the metal scene. That's the conclusion reached by Dennis Tvrdik, lead singer of Cleveland metalcore act Affiance, whose avoidance of larynx-shredding growls has put his band out of step with its contemporaries.
"Musically we're melodic metalcore or a shreddy metal band with breakdowns, and I'm singing all the time. People either love it, hate it or just don't understand it," says Tvrdik. "But it works everywhere else. We draw 50 percent more in Canada, Europe, South Africa. Even though I've gotten pretty good at screaming, I try not to do it too much, because then we'd start to sound like every other metal band."
The price of individuality has been access. Affiance set themselves on fire and still couldn't even squeeze a blog entry out of their hometown Alternative Press. Both Affiance and the once-underground metal-loving rock magazine hail from Cleveland, but the band couldn't get any attention for last summer's incendiary video single "Fire!" — despite their donning fire-retardant suits and performing with flames moshing about their body.
Attempts to get on the Warped Tour have met the same dead end. Despite following the tour for anywhere from one to three weeks the last five years, hanging in the parking lot, selling merch and making contacts, they were dismissed by tour founder Kevin Lyman as being "too weird for Warped Tour," according to Tvrdik. It bugs him, and is emblematic of changes he's seen the past few years.
"We stood out there in the [Warped Tour] lines this summer talking to 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, and they were like, 'I feel old,' and I'm like, 'YOU FEEL OLD?' Holy shit," Tvrdik laughs. "I think merch companies took over Warped Tour and it became more of a cheese-pizza festival. You buy a T-shirt and hang with your friends and it's less about seeing specific bands."
Not that he's complaining. Coming out of Cleveland, Tvrdik's comfortable getting no respect and having to scrap for anything they get. It's sort of a way of life there. But his dreams haven't been circumscribed by the hard circumstances.
The result is a "why not, you already lost" sort of bravado. It was a similar reasoning process that led Tvrdik to abandon his pursuit of a degree in public planning to pursue a career in music.
"People would always say, why don't you do something with your voice?" explains Tvrdik, who was deeply influenced by the operatic '70s metal vocals of Ronnie James Dio and Sebastian Bach. "Eventually I was like, I could be a city planner when I'm 60, but I can't be a touring musician when I'm 60, unless I'm Judas Priest or something."
Three albums later, Affiance is back on the road promoting last September's Blackout, a heavier, more solo-laden work. The sound's crisp, reminiscent of European power metal ("except they always sing about dragons and Mordor and stuff," Tvrdik says), while the lyrics have a heady, political cast more consistent with punk.
And while Tvrdik may continue to complain about the Warped Tour's kiddie takeover, he's not too concerned. Affiance has always cut its own path, and isn't dependent on the favor of teens.
"At the end of the day, we're a man band," he says. "We need to be playing man festivals, not Warped Tour."