The first half of 2018 was shaky for Australian rock band Awaken I Am. From parting ways with their long-time vocalist Adam Roger Douglas in January to the passing of their guitarist Connor Verner-Oakley in May, the remaining three members [Ned Jankovic, guitarist; Ryan Oxford, bassist; and Luke McKenzie, drummer] underwent several transformations, a new lineup being one. In just a few short months, they welcomed new vocalist Jimmy Alexander as well as guitarist Jay Sibthorpe, with plans to release an EP early next year.
“I feel like this has been one of the most solid lineups considering all [of] the shit that’s happened to us in the past,” said Oxford. “I feel like we’re in pretty good hands now.”
Alexander first performed with the band in February in support of melodic emo pop band We The Kings, while Sibthorpe had been a longtime friend of the band, having substituted for Jankovic on several occasions over the last few years. “I’ve known Jay for a very long time, and he was very close with Connor,” said Oxford. “Having someone who didn’t mean anything to Connor standing there would be probably one of the hardest things. Having Jay makes it the best thing in the world of the shittiest situation ever.”
July marked the first-ever U.S. tour with the new lineup, playing from coast-to-coast alongside A Royal Thunder, CKY and longtime pals Slaves, who Awaken I Am supported in 2016 during the California post-hardcore band’s Australian tour. “I think that’s where the friendship sort of started,” said Alexander.
However, the band’s very first run-in with Slaves was in 2013 during vocalist Jonny Craig’s solo tour. “He came to Australia, and we were lucky enough to do the Brisbane of All Ages Show, and we just started talking with him,” said Jankovic. “We said, ‘hey look, we’re about to record an album. Do you want to be on a track?’ Within the next couple of weeks…he sang the track for ‘The Depths.’ It was super simple.”
While the members of Awaken I Am were ecstatic to reunite with the Californians during their second tour in the U.S., according to Jankovic, the preceding months had been difficult. “It’s been a rough few months, but it’s good that we’ve all got each other,” he said. “We’ve become even more of a family than we were, which is the only positive thing that can come out of something so bad.”
According to Alexander, that wasn’t the only positive outcome. The loss of their guitarist inspired the production of several new songs that will be formed into an EP. “We weren’t even planning on rushing into recording like we did,” he said. “But after that happened, we pretty much pulled out Label Victory and told them we were coming in to record straight away.”
The upcoming EP will feature five tracks, including “Dissolution,” the last single recorded with Verner-Oakley. Apart from two songs written before his passing, remaining titles will focus on his loss, with the EP in its entirety, a tribute to him. “We wanted to get something out while we’re all in that stage of life and in grief and make something that will live on forever, and that Connor would have been proud of,” he said.
In June, the band held a memorial concert in hometown Brisbane for family and friends of Verner-Oakley, and for the first time ever, live streamed the show from their Facebook page for those unable to attend. With tremendous support, McKenzie sought this experience as future opportunity to connect with fans on a more personal level and decided to stream from the studio, where each stage of production, from writing to recording, would be live.
“Luke wanted younger bands and younger fans to watch us write and see that ‘although their ideas suck at first,’ it’s the same process for everyone,” said Alexander. “We have the same issues that we run into and the same way of overcoming them when we write.”
The band plans to release two singles from the EP over the next few months, with extreme buzz surrounding one tune in particular. “That one I think is gonna be a bit of a surprise for people,” said Jankovic. “You listen to Shields and Crowns, the first record—it’s heavy—but I think this song is gonna surpass all that.”
“The vibe is just heavier things with poppier things at the same time,” said Alexander.
While the songs may be written—and the band, excited to play them—there are more goals to be achieved before introducing them live. “We’re trying to get a feature,” Alexander told Intrigue. “We got one person from Australia that we really want on our track, which might be happening.”
Until then, fans can only hope to hear new tunes live during the band’s upcoming fall tour in Australia with American rock band Picturesque. “We sort of want to have a lot of material with it, not just songs,” said Alexander. “So, there’s a lot of work to be done, but we’ll get there.”
“It’s the best that we can do,” said Jankovic. “Just keep on keepin’ on.”
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