Pillbox

We The Living captures the audience

Carnegie Mellon’s Underground certainly isn’t your usual venue, with the surrounding café lights somewhat dampening the exciting, anticipatory gig atmosphere you’d probably expect.

“I’ve never performed a gig on a stage over a couch before,” We The Living front-man and guitarist John Paul Roney said, peering at his modest audience from a makeshift stage behind a pile of chairs and couches, “but I love Pittsburgh. It’s my favorite U.S. city. It’s so different!”

Making the best of a badly run situation, however, the independent Los Angeles-based band from Minnesota, made up of singer and guitarist Roney, drummer Benjamin Schaefer, bassist Jasper Smith and guitarist Matt Holman, don’t fail in capturing their crowd with a mix of catchy, pop-rock tunes with heartfelt lyrics from the smooth, entrancing voice of Roney. Opening the show with an upbeat number performed by the somehow mismatched-looking boys — Roney with his laid-back, casual style, Smith with a slightly more indie look, Schaefer sporting the Richard Brand skinny jeans and high hair, and Holman who could be mistaken for one of the musicians of Fall Out Boy — from under an array of white light, toes are forced to tap, heads to nod, and smiles to spread.

They didn’t disappoint, from the catchy sing-alongs such as “Atlantic” and “75 and 17,” to the beautiful keyboard-driven melody of “London Rain.”

Although the boys showed passion and drive throughout their set, it wasn’t until they played “Half the Girl” that Roney really let go, completely giving himself to the music. And he, along with the rest of the band, held onto that magnificently throughout the remainder of the set, not shying from eye contact with their audience, fully engaging us with the beats, the melodies, and lyrics that everyone can relate to.

Having been compared to the Fray and OneRepublic on sites such as Perezhilton.com, I asked Roney after their set, and after he scrambled over the couch mountain at the front of the stage in order to reach me, how he felt about this.

“The Fray and OneRepublic are different kinds of bands from us. I started a band because I felt like I had to spread a message about philosophy and how that’s missing in people’s lives, and I felt that through music was the best way to do that. I like OneRepublic and the Fray, but I feel like they’re just bands — they’re just trying to make good music. And it’s gotta be more than that,” he said.

Of the lyrics I’ve heard, I can’t say I’ve been able to draw any philosophical meaning from any of their songs, each one being, albeit very catchy and nice to listen to, just another story about a new love, a failed love, or a lost love. But maybe I’m just not listening hard enough. One thing that does portray the band’s philosophical roots, however, is their name, which is the title of a book by philosophical writer Ayn Rand.

“I read a book by her called Atlas Shrugged, about how there are two kinds of people — people who are trying to put energy into the world, and people who are trying to take energy out. It filled me with this big sense that if I was fighting really hard to put things into the world, someone somewhere was fighting equally as hard to take it out. That made me want to do something big,” Roney explained. “When I started this band I wanted to call it Atlas Shrugged, but that’s not a very good band name. So I went for We The Living, which is actually, ironically, my least favorite of all of her books.”

The band is currently touring with around 250 shows a year, playing to college students across North America, in a bid to promote themselves.

“Since free downloading started there haven’t been as many people willing to put money into promoting unknown bands, and so you have to build up your own fan-base,” he said. “We like colleges because people we want to target are all together in one place, and word of mouth can spread. It really makes promoting a whole lot easier, and it’s nice to meet friends along the way. Some of the best friends we have we’ve met through touring colleges.”

Touring and bringing in a new fan base is important, but like all bands, We the Living can’t ignore the future completely. Paul thinks that the next step for the band is moving toward club shows, and eventually touring internationally as well, with the United Kingdom being considered for tours in the near future.

After the success of their first album, Heights of the Heavens, on iTunes, the boys are currently working on their new album, Depths of the Earth.

“We’re really excited about the new record; it’s going to be a little bit rockier than the first album. It’s good to show we can do different things,” Roney said.

So there we have it: a new band that refreshingly argues the point that being in a band and making music can’t be for the sake of doing just that; the music and the lyrics have to mean something. It’s not all about the rock and roll lifestyle. It’s about working hard and generating as many fans as possible, touching people’s lives through your music, and putting more than your fair share into the world.