The Overseer's Will and Way

The band's discipline paves their path, despite full-time jobs, member changes and the closeness of death

Photo by Solid State

Darren King wakes up and finds himself sprawled out on a hardwood floor in a room he has never been in. He’s not exactly sure where he is, where he’ll stay tomorrow or when he’ll finally get a chance to bathe, but the fact that he is sleeping in a room instead of a van means that today is a good day.

Typically there is no time or money to waste on the road because he needs to arrive at the next venue for load in as fast as possible. If it’s a good tour, his band might even get a sound check before going on.

But first is getting to the venue. The only goals for the morning are to grab a coffee and breakfast from the nearest gas station, try not to be irritable and get to the next destination so he and his friends can wait for hours before they go on. Until then, they can see fans, get dinner, explore the town, hangout in the green room and find other ways to kill time before their 30-minute set.

This is just another day in the life of The Overseer.

“Touring is nothing but hurry up and wait,” King says. “You have to be somewhere at a specific time, but once you get there, you set up your gear and then you wait for a few hours. After we play, we usually go out to the merch tables and hang out, or we will take shifts so if people want to come talk they can. It is always fun just to hear if (the audience) liked it.”

Positive feedback isn’t the best part about talking with some fans.

“Some people will come up to and tell (me) they didn’t like it,” he says. “It’s always the most entertaining thing ever. If someone has the balls to come up and tell you that, it’s always fun to pick their brains and talk to them. It makes you a better (writer). You either get bent out of shape about it or you go, ‘OK, now I know where I need to improve.’”

Hanging out with fans helps sell merchandise. If the band wants some extra money, they are now in theoretical competition with the other bands on tour to get fans to buy their albums and shirts. They have nothing else to do but wait for the rest of the bands to finish their sets so everyone can leave. The next stop could be anywhere from one-to-10 hours away.

“(Being in a band) isn’t as glamorous as I thought,” King says as he reflects on his teenage visions of touring. “It can be rough; it definitely (takes) a special breed of person to be able to do it. You have to be willing to give all of yourself to it. It takes a ton of time, being gone for months at a time. It takes a lot of money when you’re starting (out). I don’t think people realize how much of our own, personal money it takes just to get through and finish tours.”

Being in a band pushes you. King has left behind the comfort of certainty that comes with a nine-to-five job and traded it for the challenges of being in a traveling band. He has been on the tour throughout the last few years, and he will shortly find himself back on the road to promote the band’s new album, Rest and Let Go. Despite the hardships, this is exactly what King has wanted to do since he was a teenager.

“I (was) pretty young, like 14 or 15, (when) I knew wanted to play in a band,” Darren explains. “I started playing bass when I was 12 and started playing with my brother and cousin from the age of 13. I grew up playing in church, too. It wasn’t until The Overseer started when I was, like, 17 that I realized this is what I actually want to do; I want to actually pursue this, not just play locally. Since probably like 2008, we were serious and decided, Why not?”

Prior to joining his three friends in The Overseer, King had only played bass in a local band. When his band fell apart, he was asked to play guitar in a newly formed version of the band. There was just one problem.

“I didn’t play guitar,” King says. “I didn’t own a guitar. I didn’t own any amps for guitars. They were just like, ‘Aww, no, we’ll have gear.’”
Needless to say, the original practice sounded awful. If you want to reenact the experience, try asking three musicians if they want to jam with you. Show up to the practice with an accordion you’ve never touched. The experience is foreign and altogether unpleasant. Despite the wretched noise, the band responded with the last words King wanted to hear: “Come back whenever we have our next practice. We’ll just keep playing.”

“I don’t know why they wanted me to come back,” King laughs. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t palm mute. I’d never palm muted before. I was a bass player. You don’t palm mute on bass.”

The chemistry was enough to get the band rolling. They clicked as people before the music fell into place. It became less of a job and more of an opportunity to hangout and create something together. Unity is an important factor when you plan to be surrounded by a band 24 hours a day, on tour for months at a time.

“We’re all pretty close,” King says. “The reason we’ve been a four piece for so long is because we could never find that fifth member that clicked with us. We’re actual friends outside of the band, which is, sadly, something not really common these days. When we’re home, we hang out a lot. I think I’ve seen Abishai almost every day this week.”

No matter how close the members are, the road finds ways to push the boundaries of their relationships. Heads butt, tempers fly and buttons are tempted to press. His friends know exactly what will make him laugh and hurt. The fellowship is often incredible and encouraging, but the lack of personal space has proven to bring out both the good and the bad in each member.

“It’s like any other relationship,” King says. “Your relationship with your parents or your girlfriend or your wife, it’s the same thing. I’m in a four-way relationship with three other dudes that I play music with.”

On the road for the last three years, the band has been able to grow drastically as musicians thanks to playful competition.

“We’ve been on some great tours (and have) met a lot of great musicians,” King explains. “They push you to be better. Not that it’s a competition, but you’re always like, ‘Oh, I want to write a record that these guys would think is cool.’ We’re always competing with each other as well. We’re always trying to write the best stuff just to try and impress each other.”

Beyond competition, there is something deeper that keeps King making music: creatio ex nihilo, or the God-like nature of creating something out of nothing. It brings him a thrill he won’t outgrow.

“I’ve worked construction for a really long time, rebuilt motorcycles and have worked on cars with my dad ever since I can remember,” King reflects. “I’m a hands-on person. The fact that I can sit down and literally just have an idea of something and create this song out of nothing is really cool to me. It’s something I haven’t really gotten over yet. It still blows my mind.

“When I write something, it’s something that literally pops in my head one day. I start writing the song and the next thing I know I have this thing that I’m playing with four other people, and (then other) people are singing along.”

King isn’t just creating songs that will sell, but is making music that takes risks as it naturally evolves. They were given creative freedom when signing with Solid State Records and they plan to take advantage of it. For them, this creative freedom has meant taking a cue from bands that constantly push themselves. One of these bands is Thrice. Thrice put out six incredible, but very distinct, albums, along with numerous EPs in their career. Each was different. After creating their well-received post-hardcore album, Vheissu, they put out four drastically different Alchemy Index EPs. Each album sounded different and more mature, but was undoubtedly the same Thrice. This is exactly what King strives for with The Overseer.

“We sat down and tried to write better songs, not just cooler parts,” he reminisces on the songwriting process. “Everything we wrote, we were like, ‘OK, there shouldn’t be a song on this record that isn’t better than the last one.’”

“Writing better songs” means so much more than writing music that leaves listeners blown away by talent. For King, it means writing songs listeners can feel on an emotional level. This can be seen clearly in their new album.

“I think We Search, We Dig is a good record, especially at the time that we wrote it — but I know we can do that. I don’t want to make We Search, We Dig. Part II, I want to try different things, explore different avenues, use different instrumentation and push ourselves. If we’re not pushing ourselves to do new things, what’s the point in making music?”

But something happened while recording their new album that changed the way they would write.

‘Rest and Let Go’

Two years have passed since their debut album, We Search, We Dig, came out in 2012. The band has evolved and matured from being on the road with each other, but something far more drastic caught their attention while writing the lyrics to their sophomore effort, what would come to be known as Rest and Let Go. It isn’t the trials of touring, but the death of friends and family that hinder the mind of each member.
There are very few things as relatable as death. Most people can think of a time when they lost something they will never see again. For some, this brings frustration; for others, it brings despair. For the members of The Overseer, death is what brought this album to life.

This is not an upbeat record. The songs are authentically somber. They aren’t birthed out of hypothetical situations but are the band’s reaction to the world falling apart around them. When they write about life with transparency, the lyrics will not always be sugar-coated. Life can be bleak, and The Overseer didn’t want to hide it.

“We’ve always tried to be really honest with our music,” King says, “whether we are the happiest people in the world the day we’re writing, or if we just hate life and don’t want to see anybody the day we’re writing.”

This time around, the album was written during a dark period in the lives of the band’s members. In the last two years, both Anthony (vocals) and Abishai (drums) have had family members pass away.

“Lyrically, the record is dark,” King says. “There are some songs that sting; it’s personal stuff, but because of that, the record means a whole lot more to us. When we got done with it, (I) was like, ‘Oh, wow, do we really want to say this?’ Not that it’s anything bad, it’s just stuff that’s personal, going out where literally anybody that wants to hear it can hear it.”

The death of a loved one demands a reaction. Some will handle the experience alone, others as a family; some will handle it with frustration, others with rejoicing. For The Overseer, the reaction was confusion. This uncertainty comes out most blatantly in a song King helped write with Abishai whose father recently passed away.

“It’s a song about confusion through the whole thing,” King begins, “how we confuse ourselves about the situation instead of taking it as a part of life. When (death) happens, you never run to the positive side of things. You just look at the negative and think, ‘Why me?’ When you hear the song, it (doesn’t sound) that deep, but if you know the situation, it’s pretty gut-wrenching. This is 100 percent where Abishai was at in his life.”

Writing a song as a means of catharsis takes a transparency many people are not willing to show. For Abishai, it means being vulnerable and admitting he doesn’t understand why his dad passed away. With his passing, a sense of grief hung low, the lack of understanding is dominant. He wants to hold on to what needs to be released, but he isn’t sure how to kick it or why it’s him.

The band is able to explore the emotions and struggles of holding on to something you need to release in the album title, Rest and Let Go.

“The ‘rest’ part,” King explains, “is that we can’t hold onto these feelings; we can’t hold onto the guilt or remorse of a loved one passing away. We just have to let go. Their time is done. Be OK with moving on.

“The ‘let go,’ for us, is (that) you can’t worry about (death). It is 100 percent going to happen. I’m going to die and you’re going to die. Everybody’s going to die. There’s nothing you can do about that. Just be OK with the fact this is something that is going to happen. If you live your life the way you want or the way that you feel is correct, then at the end, you shouldn’t be afraid of death. Let go.”

He argues that one of the most important jobs humans have is to find out what to believe regarding their own faith, humanity and their place in the world before they die. These beliefs are what drives and teaches you how to react to tragedy. Faith is the scope through which you see all these things.

“We’re all believers and have faith in Jesus Christ,” King says. “So with a few of the deaths, especially Abishai’s father, we know that he’s in a better place now. We know that he’s not suffering anymore. We can move on from that and let go of it.”

Just because you know a loved one is a follower of Christ doesn’t make their passing easy. There is a season for mourning. Jesus cried with Mary and Martha as they wept over Lazarus; David wept for Saul’s death; the members of The Overseer have wept for their friend’s dad. Weeping, like death, is a part of being human.

But there is a peculiar peace when a believer dies. Just as the Apostle Paul writes in his first letter to the Thessalonians, we are not to grieve without hope. King finds the band’s faith brings comfort where others see tragedy. It is in this peace King hopes listeners find something to gain from their album.

“There’s definitely some sense of hope in every situation (on Rest and Let Go)” King says. “I think if you really dig into it, you’ll see that. I want people walking away after hearing this album (to) know that they’re not the only people that have felt the way they do. They’re not the only people who have had insecurities and confusion about death.

“(It’s) definitely a scary thing to be like, ‘OK, I’m going to put out this thing that I put a lot of time and effort into for anyone in the world to be able to criticize if they want.’ I think that’s also part of the thing we love.”

The Overseer was posted on April 5, 2014 for HM Magazine and authored by .