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Pennsylvania-bred rock band Concrete Castles took their name from one of the first songs they ever wrote together, a wildly cathartic anthem called “Thrill” As frontwoman Audra Miller reveals, the song was inspired by the pure joy that she and her bandmates Matt Yost (guitar) and Sam Gilman (drums) have found in chasing their dreams with no backup plan, a sentiment that’s fully reflected in the track’s radiant energy and triumphant gang vocals. With its shimmering guitar tones and massively catchy hooks, “Thrill” perfectly captures the essence of Concrete Castles’ soundan ultravivid collision of alt-rock and pop, immaculately crafted but emotionally raw.
Like all the songs on Concrete Castles’ forthcoming full-length debut, “Thrill” draws its power from an explosive convergence of elements: Miller’s heartfelt lyrics and magnetic vocal performance, Gilman’s visceral drumming, Yost’s gracefully inventive guitar work. Despite their young ages—Miller’s 19, Gilman and Yost are 20—the trio possess a profound instinct for the intricacies of song construction, thanks in part to the many years they’ve spent playing in First To Eleven (an Erie-based cover band whose YouTube channel boasts over a million subscribers and more than a quarter-billion streams). Produced by Stephen and John Gomez of the band Twin XL (whose production credits include The Glitch Mob and CallMeKarizma), Concrete Castles’ debut builds off their tightly honed musicality to create a brilliantly detailed sound all their own.
True to the endless complexity at the heart of Concrete Castles, each of their songs unfolds with a delicate balance of sensitivity and defiance. On “Porcelain,” for instance, the band brings kinetic rhythms and reverb-drenched guitar to the track’s exploration self-image and strength. “That song’s about having people see you as someone who’s very fragile, and then breaking out of that and showing them that nothing’s going to get in the way of doing what you want,” says Miller. On “Just a Friend,” bright melodies and shapeshifting textures form the backdrop to Miller’s finespun meditation on jealousy and its cost. And in one of the album’s most exhilarating moments, Concrete Castles unleash the epic intensity of “Half Awake,” a track whose Drop B tuning adds an undeniably heavy feel to their soundscape. “We wrote ‘Half Awake’ around the time when we were deciding whether we should go to college,” Miller recalls. “It’s weird when everyone else is taking a more traditional path and you’re going off in your direction—but we all really love what we’re doing, and we wanted to give it a shot.”
Equal parts brutal and beautiful, “Half Awake” hits with a powerful impact that’s got much to do with the ingenuity of Concrete Castles sonic approach. “A lot of our songs are inspired by drone metal bands who stack their guitars in a way that’s so heavy it makes your heart shake, but at the same it’s also very understated,” says Yost. “There’s probably about eight guitars at the chorus to ‘Half Awake’—we liked the idea of pushing the boundaries and bringing in all the instrumental aspects of a heavy song, but then having Audra’s voice on top instead of the screaming you usually get with heavy music.”
Concrete Castles ultimately shaped a dynamic sound that speaks to the eclectic nature of the band, whose members grew up on everything from country (Miller) to ’80s hair metal (Yost) to classic rock and emo (Gilman). “Matt and I listen to a lot of heavy music but still absolutely lose our minds over a Katy Perry song,” Gilman points out. “And Audra tends to listen to very polished pop stuff, but then there are times when she’ll throw on some stupidly heavy rock band. It’s definitely a very yin-and-yang situation with us.”
In looking forward to a post-pandemic world, Concrete Castles are particularly excited about performing their original material to a live audience for the very first time. “I think live we’ll really be able to crank up the energy and open the songs up in a whole new way,” says Yost. And in the meantime, the band remains focused on following their intuition to the next onslaught of songs. “We’re basically always working—and if we’re not, then we’re sleeping,” says Yost. “Our idea of having fun is just stumbling into things and finding what sounds cool to us, and then seeing what we can build from that.”