Reach the Sky figures to earn another nod next year on the strength of its recently released second full-length, Friends, Lies and the End of the World, although "hard rock" isn't the most accurate description of its sound. The group's fast-driving hardcore punk has its brutal side, but it's also packed with catchy twists and positive messages.
"I think that we wrote our first record as a really traditional hardcore record, and we wrote what I called then hardcore songs with melody," Larrabee muses, wrestling with semantics. "This time around I think we wrote melodic hardcore punk songs. And there's going to be a portion of people that were into us going, 'Aw, this is crap,' but I think it's just a logical step forward. I still think it maintains its integrity and it's still a hardcore record, but it's got a different feel too."
Some alienated fans might think Larrabee has reached too far into mainstream territory, but he maintains that it's too early to start tossing around the "p" word. "I don't know if we have the talent to write a hit pop song," he admits, "but we might be able to pull something off."
If the group ends up penning a crossover hit, the prodding of producer Brian McTernan likely will play a major role. Larrabee gives McTernan, who also produced the group's 1999 debut, So Far From Home, credit for refusing to settle for less, even if recording under his watch isn't exactly a rollicking good time.
"Not fun at all," Larrabee says. "He kicks everybody's ass in the studio. He's really rough on bands, but I think that's because he's dedicated and committed to it. You know he's not going to just be saying, 'Oh yeah, that's fine.' He gets in your face. He'll say, 'Okay, that's not good enough.' He's rough in the sense that he's got an idea for a sound and he knows you can do it and he just gets it out of you. He's not a drill sergeant barking at you the whole time, but he's constantly like, 'Let's do it again.'"
McTernan's boot camp process beats the best out of Larrabee's lyrics, which often are derived from his own life, though that revelation comes with a disclaimer. "I live my life very drama free, but you wouldn't think that reading those lyrics," Larrabee says. "Our approach to the band and our music is to be very honest. We're being very honest with ourselves and how we play the music, so if a song inspires me or leads me to some story in my life, that's what I put into the song.
"We're trying to make these songs matter to people," he continues. "If we can write a song and make the lyrics a little more generalized so nobody's just listening to me whine about my life but it resonates to them, that's more or less what we're trying to do." Evidence suggests that Larrabee has reached his listeners. "People tell me all the time, 'Oh, this song meant this to me,' or 'This song related to me breaking up with my girlfriend,' or something. And that's maybe not what the song was about in the first place, but if someone else can relate to it on that level, then that's exactly perfect because it makes the song their own and it becomes important to them."
Although the subject goes unmentioned in the group's lyrics, child welfare is of great importance to Reach the Sky. In the liner notes to Friends, Lies and the End of the World -- near an endorsement of tattoos by Mike Lussier at Art Freek in Providence, Rhode Island -- the group mentions several child welfare organizations. The band's Web site (www.reachthesky .org) also provides links to such groups.
"I think it's obviously a universal problem, but in hardcore and punk rock, there's not a lot of talk about it," Larrabee says. "People talk about animal rights and this political cause and this social movement, all ad nauseam, but nobody ever really speaks about the welfare of children. You would think they would, just by sheer number and sheer effect, because the hardcore scene is made up of so many kids from so many walks of life that a lot of them have experienced [abuse or neglect] personally or know somebody who has on some level. We don't really talk about it, and the songs aren't about it, and I don't get onstage and yap about it, but we have it available on the Web site."
Another of Reach the Sky's main concerns is the strength of the hardcore scene. "It can only build up, and I think that what's good for one band is great for everybody else, so hopefully it's on the up." A moment passes before Larrabee adds, "At least I hope it is, because I quit my goddamn job."