- Escape artists: Nothing cheers up a band like driving off a cliff in the tour van and making it out unscathed.
Nobody in their twenties expects to die, which is why near-misses like that experienced by Pennsylvania quintet Balance and Composure strike so deep. In 2013, while supporting their indie breakthrough The Things We Think We're Missing (which reached No. 51 on the Billboard Album charts), they had a harrowing accident near Cleveland that sent their van and trailer tumbling into a deep ravine.
Drummer Bailey Van Ellis was driving when they encountered an unlit construction area without a white line marking the shoulder. When Van Ellis went off the road and tried to correct, the trailer fishtailed, sending them across the other lane and through the sole 10-foot patch of road without a guardrail. They were airborne, seemingly forever, as they fell more than 75 feet into the ravine and tumbled another 50 before coming to rest, only to walk away unscathed.
"It was the longest four or five seconds of all of our lives," says Van Ellis, the only one wearing a seatbelt. "It was one of those life-check kind of things that really puts everything into perspective."
But still they remained touring musicians. Indeed, they headed back out a week later with a new vehicle to replace the totaled van. They hadn't been on tour for a week when they hit a deer.
"It was about 15 minutes from where we went off the side of the road," Van Ellis reports. "At that point everyone was kind of like, 'Fuck this, we need to go home. The juju isn't right.'"
Yet even that didn't deter the headstrong Doylestown twenty-somethings. That winter, they jumped the pond and toured Europe for three miserable months. The experience produced Van Ellis' song "Postcard," one of the lead tracks off last October's third album, Light We Made, a propulsive track with chiming guitars reminiscent of Muse.
"No one really wanted to do that tour and it meant being away for Thanksgiving," he says, reporting that one night the tour manager caught them trying to sneak off to Heathrow early. "I wrote ["Postcard"] literally the day we got home. It's just what came out."
"It's a cool thing when songs can come out that easily," he adds. "But it's also so annoying, because you spend so much time trying to work and perfect songs, and the ones that come out in the least amount of time are the ones everyone likes the most."
The album represents a marked departure from the band's first two efforts, which possessed a grungier Nirvana/emo vibe. Here, synths, jangling guitars and knotty rhythms reign, favoring hooks over riffage.
"We went about songwriting differently. We tried to build things around melody more," Van Ellis says. "There was also more emphasis on drums and bass; we were trying to make it groovier and make it a living-in-the-groove kind of song structure."
The whole album turned out to be more collaborative, and the sound was brighter and more forward-looking.
"We're all getting older, and I think that's kind of a coming-of-age thing," says Van Ellis, noting how even the title Light We Made is a far cry from The Things We Think We're Missing. "Especially if you look at the titles, it sheds light on a less dark, angsty mood, and I think that's evident in the sound."