Sometimes before you can identify who you really are, you have to discover what you aren’t.
That’s the road Maps for Travelers took in producing “Change Your Name,” its first full-length record.
The four-piece rock band from Kansas City was born in 2010, after RL Brooks and Zach Brotherton started talking about working together. Brotherton’s band, Thunder Eagle, had just broken up. Brooks had been without a band since late 2008, following the breakup of Flee the Seen.
“I was kicking around ideas for a new band with other guys,” Brooks said. “I was feeling like, ‘I really need to find someone else. I can’t write by myself.’ So I called Zach. Long story short: My buddy Josh Enyart started playing drums, and we got Derek White to play bass, and Zach and I started writing. …
“We’d both played in heavy, intense bands. We wanted to figure out if we had anything else in us, like if we could write pop songs. And we learned we could write like 100 of them, like Hall and Oates. We could kick them out like crazy.”
In 2011, Enyart left the band and was replaced by Jason Trabue, who eventually left to be a drum tech for the band Thrice. He was replaced by Kevin Medina, another guy who was between bands.
“Kevin had been in a band called Walking Oceans, a real shoe-gazy, post-rock instrumental band that had just ended,” Brooks said. “He was young, only 20 at the time, but he was phenomenal.”
“After Kevin joined, our songs became even more focused,” Brotherton said. “They felt easier to write. We all communicated what we did and didn’t like. Kevin is really good at calling people out.”
So good he suggested to Brooks that maybe his best strengths aren’t as a lead singer.
“Zach sings way better than I do,” Brooks said. “And Kevin had no problem confronting me with it. He’s a lot like me: really opinionated. But he’s right-on most of the time. He said, ‘Hey, you’re good at this, but let Zach do the other stuff. This is my role; this is your role.’ It really helped us develop a focus and a synergy.”
In February 2012, work began on “Change Your Name.” The story is a long one that can’t easily be made short, but it goes something like this:
“It was kind of a wild scenario,” Brooks said. “Kevin was on the road while we were doing production and we rushed some things. We should have waited.”
Brooks turned post-production over to a friend and producer he’d worked with. What they got back wasn’t what they expected, and it took time to repair and reconstitute the project.
“He really pushed us into a poppier side,” Brooks said. “It was pretty good. In some ways, it sharpened our sound and edited some fat. But it wasn’t who we are. We didn’t feel any passion in it.
“It was a setback.”
So work began on salvaging parts from those sessions and getting the music to represent what the band had become: one that forges melody, heaviness, vocals and changing dynamics into songs that come and go briskly — in about 3 1/2.
Some parts of the first recording were salvaged; others were re-cut. Brooks credits Joel Nanos of Element Studios in Kansas City and Jason McEntire, a collaborator in St. Louis from the Flee the Seen days, with getting eight of the 11 songs to sound the way the band wanted them to sound.
The process was stressful and painstaking, and it took more than 16 months to complete the record, Brooks said, but it also galvanized the band. “A light went on,” he said. “It got us to define ourselves even more: ‘This is what we want to do. This is who we are.’ We wanted to get it right.”
After the remake of the album was complete, they sent its eight tracks to Chris Hansen, who owns No Sleep Records, a label in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“He hit us back immediately,” Brooks said. “He said, ‘These are killer. What do you want to do?’ It was kind of a weird question coming from a label.”
What they wanted to do, they said, was release the record and tour. Hansen thought eight songs weren’t enough, so the band went back into the studio, this time with sound engineer Paul Malinowski, and recorded three more songs, two of which made the final cut. They sent those to Hansen and waited.
And Hansen’s verdict: “This is awesome. Let’s do it.”
So they signed with No Sleep Records in early July. On Friday, they’ll throw an album-release show at the Riot Room, where they will say farewell to White, who is getting married and starting a career, and introduce new bassist David Fleming.
Brooks and Brotherton expressed a deep sense of satisfaction with the results and relief that the process is complete.
“This is an album I would listen to every day,” Brotherton said. “It’s heavy. It’s melodic. It’s dynamic. You hear so much stuff on the radio that sounds alike. We take take a lot of ideas and influences, including things we’ve done in the past, and put them together and make something that’s mature and really thought-out but different.”
For Brooks, the record establishes his band’s identity, one rooted in the old-guard sounds of Kansas City but refreshed with some new ideas.
“I really feel I’m getting to pay homage to a lot of music I love on this record,” Brooks said, “whether it’s Quicksand, Shiner, Life and Times or Season to Risk. When I moved to Kansas City in 2001 or so, it was almost the end of that era. There was a changing-of-the-guard going on. But that music became a big part of me, and we definitely have some roots in it. A lot of people say that we sound familiar and old-school but there’s something new about it. That’s exactly what we want.
“It’s great to see it so clearly now who we are. It seems to fall into place naturally. And that’s important. You have only one shot to be authentic.”
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