The Way Back When, a local band whose new EP “Kenai” just dropped on Friday, Oct. 13th, doesn’t conform to one genre but rather blends alternative, punk and emo to form a unique sound. The album is available on Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music and iTunes.
The Way Back When was originally created as the solo acoustic folk outlet of Connor Lenihan in his hometown of Glen’s Falls, NY. Lenihan met the band’s lead guitarist, Thom O’Rourke, in his freshman year at the University of Rhode Island after living across the hall from one another and the two began writing music together. Lenihan then reached out to his friend Jeremiah Bermel, who plays bass, and drummer Kane Rusell joined to round out the lineup. It only took one time hearing Russell perform for them to realize his talent, with Lenihan stating that he is “one of the most phenomenal drummers” he has ever played with.
A joke Lenihan and O’Rourke shared last week sums up the members pretty well: Lenihan brings the words, O’Rourke makes the songs sound big, Bermel makes them sound groovy, and Russell brings the ruckus.
The record consists of five songs: “Narragansett,” “Powder,” “Bitter,” “Licorice,” and “Indica.” It was was released following their first single, “Licorice,” which dropped back in February. A lot of the band’s lyrical influence comes from Lenihan’s personal life and the lives of his friends. When asked what inspired the album, Lenihan said that it relates to “family and friends experiencing hard times, whether it has to do with relationships, drug use, or anything.” He said he strives specifically for nostalgic lyricism because he likes the feeling of “listening to something and being able to totally relate to and understand” what the song is conveying.
This nostalgic lyricism is present throughout the whole album, and begins with the title. Kenai, [pronounced Key-nigh] is the name of a large peninsula in Southcentral Alaska, and was what Lenihan’s dog was named after. Last year, while away at school and during the writing process of this album, Kenai passed away. Lenihan describes this as time as being really difficult, because he couldn’t be home and process the loss there. When it came time to name the album, “Kenai” was suggested and nothing else seemed right. The title is a personal one to Lenihan, but is also something that many can relate to. Whether it’s loss or absence, being away from home and the lives we lived for so long can be difficult, and it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the memories we have entwined in these places.
In terms of a song writing process, Lenihan, along with O’Rourke and Bermel would sit down and write all of the instrumentals, with Lenihan later adding a melody and lyrics. “Indica” is an exception, as it originally was written as an acoustic song by Lenihan, and later the band made it a “bigger, fuller sound.” The songs chosen for the EP were very deliberately selected, with the band selecting the ones that really felt the most like them.
The first song on the album is titled “Narragansett.” Lenihan described the track as “my favorite song I think I’ve ever helped to write.” He describes the song as really dynamic, and very fun to play live. Lenihan finds solace in being alone, and the song reflects upon his dealing with hard times and figuring out ways to get through them. In taking time to himself and reflecting, he ended up spending a lot of time by the ocean. He describes the beach as being “soothing and cathartic.” Anyone who has been to Narragansett can certainly relate to this.
Music has always been a big part of Lenihan’s life. Growing up in NY, within the small population of his town there was a diverse blend of music and genres, ranging from metal to folk. He looks back fondly on this musical upbringing and how intermingled everyone was, and it’s clear this inspired him not to feel pressured into conforming to just one specific sound with The Way Back When. Furthermore, it was here where his love of writing about geographic locations was born. Back home, Lenihan lived in the Adirondacks, so he wrote a lot about the mountains and the woods. After moving to Rhode Island, he still wanted to appeal to the people he was near, and soon found himself writing about vast and open areas like the ocean.
All four members come from different hometowns, which diversifies their creative inputs as well as their fan base, who stem from all over. Lenihan asserts that one of the most important parts of being in a band is paying attention to the people who are listening to you. “If it weren’t for our fan base, we would just be playing by ourselves in our house.” The fans of the original solo project that The Way Back When began as have all loved the transition into a full band.
Rhode Island is a convenient location for a band because aside from Rhode Island’s rich history in music and venues to play at, it’s also positioned near the cities in New York, Providence and Boston. The band’s first out of state show was in New Hampshire, and since then they have played in Mass., Conn., and New York. Lenihan recalls their New York show fondly. It took place at The GEM Festival (Glen’s Falls Entertainment & Music) in his hometown, and the crowd was packed tight with old friends and new fans.
As a whole, the band listens to music like alternative and pop-punk. Lenihan said that lyrically, he describes their sound as similar to The Menzingers, and instrumentally, as similar to The Menzingers, Joyce Manor, and Pup.
I was curious to know about what Lenihan perceived to be the advantages and disadvantages of being a musical artist in 2017, especially with the ability now to release music on streaming platforms. Lenihan raised interesting points. He said that it’s usually people from older generations who assume that “it’s so much easier now for bands to get big because of the Internet” but what he wants people to keep in mind is that because of this, there has become a very crowded market of music, and that it’s become increasingly difficult to “make yourself unique” and to stand out amongst a sea of so many other artists. When asked if there were any negative aspects about being in a band, Lenihan had little to complain about. Besides the occasional booking difficulty with their conflicting schedules, being in the band has brought a lot of creativity and excitement to the music, and he’s loved playing with such talented musicians.
The band is nothing but appreciative for all those who have helped them along their way. The Musicians Guild on campus has been great at hosting them for concerts. Brian Michael has helped book multiple shows for them (including the aforementioned GEM Festival) and a lot of thanks has to go their producer Tim Sullivan, who really helped them figure out their sound and complete this great album.
The band is excited for the future. They are always writing new music, and have plans to play a lot more shows in the upcoming months, especially over school breaks. The Way Back When are very excited to be hosting an EP-release show this Saturday, Oct. 21st in Narragansett, along with the bands Cavalier and Rocketship.
For more information on this, and how to listen to “Kenai,” you can find and follow them on the following: facebook.com/thewaybackwhenny, Instagram: @thewaybackwhenny, Twitter: @dawaybackwhen, thewaybackwhen.bandcamp.com