Cleveland, Ohio band You’re Among Friends wants their fans – and everyone else for that matter – to feel welcome and comfortable when hearing their music or watching them perform. Comprised of Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars), Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals) and Chris Szuch (drums), You’re Among Friends play a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock that just makes you feel good while being entertained.
You’re Among Friends was born in 2007 when Anthony and Kevin, who’d both played in another band, rechristened it with the new name and began reworking songs from the previous band’s repertoire, all of which had been written by Anthony. When I asked him about how they came up with their band name, he explained:
“Kevin was the one who first suggested ‘You’re Among Friends’ while we were kicking around some ideas for a band name. Around the time we started playing together, Kevin had a roommate who played guitar in a band called ‘Wisconsin.’ At one point, [the state of] Wisconsin was using ‘You’re Among Friends’ as a tourism slogan on their bumper stickers and stuff. So I guess Kevin’s initial idea for our band name was meant to be a subtle nod to his roommate’s band, but I think it was us wanting to be welcoming to listeners and fans that ultimately won me over.“
The band’s had five drummers over the past ten years, and Anthony and Kevin have been through many life changes during that time period as well. Anthony described the bonds that have kept them together as a band:
“Kevin and I have been through a lot together over the years. We’ve watched each other get married, start careers, buy houses, have children, etc. Sadly, we also both had younger brothers who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. Over the decade that this band has been around, Kevin and I have gone from being carefree kids in our early twenties to being in our thirties with all sorts of adult concerns, regrets and responsibilities. Oddly enough, we seem more committed than ever to our friendship and making this band work.
Our outlook on playing in this band has changed drastically over the years. We used to take a lot of things very seriously and get all bent out of shape when things didn’t work out exactly the way we planned it. We’ve learned to take it easy and go with the flow, especially when the situation at hand is out of our control. We appreciate all of the opportunities that come our way to be able to share our music with people. We also just thoroughly enjoy playing together. Some groups of guys go bowling or go to ball games together. We go out, drink a few beers and play our songs for people. This isn’t a bad way to hang out with your friends if you can pull it off. Sometimes we even get paid for it!”
Based on the kindness and gratitude Anthony has shown me in our conversations by email, I would definitely like to hang out with him and the band over a few beers.
You’re Among Friends released their debut self-titled album in 2007, a solid effort featuring 11 songs. They followed a year later with a six-track EP In Due Time, then dropped a double-sided single Enjoy Life & Half a Thought in 2010. You can check out these earlier releases on Spotify or Bandcamp. The band took a hiatus in the early 2010s and didn’t play for four years. As Doran explained to Scene Magazine: “There wasn’t a falling out; it just happened. We started to have kids and had a lot going on at that time.”
Once they reconnected in 2015, they began working on a new album As We Watch the Years Go… Seven of the ten songs on the album had previously been written by Anthony and three – “A Way to Get Away,” “Calling Anyone” and “Dreaming of the Past” – were co-written by Anthony and Kevin. As evidenced by its title, the album explores life and the passage of time, and how it’s affected friendships, relationships, and the band itself. Anthony stated that “being able to record those songs for this album in 2016 seemed like we were finally wrapping up unfinished business.” The album’s cover – a photo of a baseball field – is a tribute to their brothers, who both liked the sport, and the album is dedicated to them.
As We Watch the Years Go… was released at the end of July 2016. The band’s previous drummer Adrian Higgins played drums on all the album tracks. Chris Szuch joined the band as the new drummer in July 2016, just in time to play his first show at the band’s CD release party. The band’s music features nimble guitar riffs, anchored by sturdy bass lines and just the right amount of percussion to keep everything moving along smoothly. I hear touches of Steely Dan, Elvis Costello and The Grateful Dead in their sound, and Anthony’s vocals really channel Randy Newman at times.
The album kicks off with “Years Go,” which serves as the title track and really sets the tone for the album. Lively guitar riffs, accompanied by a bluesy bass line and gentle percussion, make for a mellow rock and roll song. The lyrics are upbeat yet nostalgic, addressing the inevitable passage of time that seems to move ever faster as we age: “Remember when we were younger, and the summer seemed to last for years. Now the years are passing, summer moves so fast now. All those days disappear. June turns into July, July turns into August. Soon there is the fall, as pumpkins go to harvest. Then comes the snow, where did the year go? Now I’m an age I never thought I would be. It’s not so bad growing older, because you’re here with me.“
Kevin’s funky bass has a starring role on “Any Day Now,” a song about staying optimistic in the face of life’s adversities, both big and small. Anthony lays down some tasty riffs on this track. Being an irresponsible, immature screw-up is the theme of “Building Bridges to Burn,” while “Dumb Complaints” is an honest admission of a chronic whiner (a song I can identify with, being a whiny-ass complainer myself). Anthony plaintively sings: “I can hear you loud and clear babe, you’re sick of all my complaints./ I complain no matter what’s going on. Reach for the moment, and it’s gone. ‘Cause I wasted it on dumb complaints.”
One of my favorite tracks is the funky “A Way to Get Away,” an ode to the preference for personal freedom rather than romantic entanglements. “Sneak attack, you’re trying to back me against the wall. You got me under siege, but you’ll never get to watch me fall./ I need a way to get away. I’m looking for a way to get away.’ The terrific distorted guitar solo at the end of the song is pure ear candy.
The guys play the blues on “Sour Grapes,” with some nifty Southern blues-rock guitar riffs over Kevin’s buzzing bass line. And the intricate, layered guitar work on “Calling Anyone” is awesome.
Another of my favorite tracks is “Dreaming of the Past,” a melodic ballad that’s a bit of a departure in sound for the guys. The song begins with lovely synth chords that continue throughout the song, overlain by Anthony’s skillful handling of his guitar, proving without a doubt that he’s quite the axeman.
The album closer “Rope” speaks to ridding your life of toxic people who’ve used you and brought you down. “Give them enough rope, maybe they’ll hang themselves. You won’t have to blame yourself anymore. Don’t make another excuse for the way you’ve been used, by all of your so-called friends.” I really like the jangly strummed guitars on this track. But then, I love the guitar and bass on all their songs!
As We Watch the Years Go… is a fun and mellow album that makes you think a little bit about life in all its craziness as you’re enjoying the music.