credit: Joseph Matteson
Incremental progress. Monumental setbacks. Small victories. This is the story of American Opera.
After eight years of nonstop touring, Brooklyn-via-Michigan singer-songwriter John Bee found himself alone in a once-crowded van, wandering through the circulatory roads of America. It was during these long months, with a handful of newly-inspired songs, that American Opera was born — an unrepressed light emerging from a sea of misery.
“The never-ending road of try, fail, try, fail, try again, fail again — all of that is miserable,” says Bee, “but there are moments, and I think this is true in life, that make every little piece of the puzzle worth it. Tiny glimmers of hope that tell you to keep pushing and keep going.”
Fast-forward to 2016. That tiny glimmer has grown to a burning sun. With over 300 North American shows in the books (direct support for the likes of The Avett Brothers, Josh Ritter, and Cursive) and multiple Warped Tour appearances, American Opera is no longer wandering — the band is at full tilt. 2016 will also mark the arrival of the final missing piece of the puzzle — a debut record, aptly titled Small Victories.
More than a record, Small Victories is a collection of moments, both devastating and victorious. Ominous nostalgia confronting hopeful reemergence. Sonically, think Manchester Orchestra meets Ryan Adams, Brand New meets Langhorne Slim — polished stones in a bed of gravel and grit.
“The idea behind Small Victories is that the world is going to grow fists and start swinging at you, but you need to find reasons to get back up,” says Bee. “Lyrically, there are common threads in the songs that explore heartbreak, hope, loss, religion, mental health, and more. Some of the songs are about failure — I lovingly refer to them as ‘pep talks to myself.’ Maybe if I sing them over and over, something will change?”
Small Victories was self-produced and almost fully-performed by Bee in Atlanta, GA with the engineering assistance of Matt Goldman (Underoath, Anberlin). The result is a stunning eleven-song rollercoaster exploring a complete spectrum of emotion and experiences. It is an album of dynamics — a perfect balance of the fragile and explosive.
“Musically, I wanted to honor the ups and downs that the lyrics represent. I wanted big celebratory parts with horns and all the bells and whistles that would make you think you’re at a parade placed right next to a sobering nightmare where you’re having a conversation with the devil,” says Bee. “I wanted to take beautiful strings and quietly picked guitars and place them next to full-fledged rock songs. I wanted to show triumph and failure, the good and the evil, and the wins and losses.”
In the end, however, it may be that the small victories are all we remember and were all that mattered in the first place. The silver linings were not just that after all, but rather small glimpses of a larger hope that can sustain us through even the most miserable of seas.
“There are signs of hope in each song that are pushing me forward,” says Bee. “They’re holding me up. If they aren’t there, I fall apart."
While American Opera focus on the going, on Small Victories, listeners will experience the bands true arrival, and the beginning of a journey that both collective parties will embark on together.