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The Jagged Turns of Life

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When it comes to Brad Heller and the Fustics touring to promote their newly released album “American Burden,” along the eastern seaboard, frontman Heller masters the art of multitasking. Quite literally. Driving up to Richmond, Virginia, for a show on a Wednesday afternoon, he talks about the band’s regular schedule, something he savors personally as a means of bringing them together.

I’ve always liked the road,” Heller says. “I’ve always liked the open space … the landscape … the interstate and the camaraderie with the guys in the band.”

Comprising Zeke Roland on electric guitar and back-up vocals, Rusty Wood on bass, and Randall Canady on drums and backup vocals, together, they have cultivated an Americana sound a little over a dozen years in the making. What started as an acoustic trio in Wilmington in the mid-2000s, eventually the Fustics evolved into a four-piece hard rock outfit.

Though different band members have come and gone throughout the years, some bowing out to family and job obligations, the additions have brought more options. Their transition from softer, acoustic instruments to a full electric band came about when they realized they wanted to reach a bigger audience. According to Heller, it has diversified their sound, thanks to new instruments like the violin, mandolin, keys and saxophone.

“Any time you’ve got more people in the band or more variety, it opens up more opportunity to explore,” he notes.

The tightly constructed Fustics now parallel folk-rock, blues, punk and country sounds. Original songwriters, as heard on albums like “Conscience of Sin” and “Beyond this Life,” their latest release, “American Burden,” follows simple melodies that shine against pop-like sensibilities. It supports Heller’s self-proclaimed aggressive lyrics.

What took about a year to complete, “American Burden” reverberates with themes of loss and frustration. The songs consist of forward rock melodies and harmonies, but are tinged with somber lyrics, such as in “It’s All Too Real”: I walk with passion/but the pain blocks my path/I’m caught in the storm of death/and I can’t escape its wrath/It feels like a dream/but it’s all too real.”

Though heavy, they get carried by a steady percussion and calming electric guitar.

Heller’s been writing songs for 15 years now. “Only a third of them are actually good,” he quips. Based on real-life experiences, many are not uplifting—something he is conscious of. He tries to negate this effect by “uplifting” the harmonies and melodies.

“We’ve gained a lot of great response from it,” Heller states. “Both on the road and from our fan base. It’s the most followed record by far.”

Heller refers to the road as “more of a lifestyle than an experience.” Over the last nine months, they covered most of North Carolina, and will embark on journeys to New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey within the next couple of weeks. Come November, they will scour the upper midwest for a short two-week tour—a more reasonable excursion in terms of money and travel.

It has not been an easy endeavor: the experiences throughout their tours have been characterized as interesting, a layman’s terms for a non-musician. Whether meeting an array of impressionable characters, sleeping on different floors and couches, or overcoming the random tire blowout—and inevitable, long wait for highway patrol—they take it all in stride.

These kind of predicaments are the basis of “American Burden.” Heller focuses on everyday experiences. Like life, it doesn’t walk a straight line but takes jagged turns that send us into unpredictable directions. Even with his penchant for characterizing the Americana genre, he keeps a (pint) glass half-full attitude. Heller attributes his positivity toward the response he receives from audiences—when he does receive one, at least. He appreciates any emotion reactive of fans; it’s the most rewarding part of being a musician.

“I can’t think of a better high actually,” he says. Even through the highs and lows that come with the everyday strife of living as a musician, Brad Heller and the Fustics have overcome the biggest obstacle: finding a creative unit to keep the Fustics’ music alive. To Heller, collaborating with other musicians who share the same love of songs can be trying.

“It’s difficult,” he admits. “But I still find guys that will go out on the road for the same amount of money and with a shared vision.”

Lots of beer doesn’t hurt, either.

DETAILS: Brad Heller and the Fustics
The Calico Room • 107 S. Front St.
Friday, October 4th • 10 p.m.
$3, 21 and up; $5, 18 and up

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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