On their debut full-length album, which is titled The Weight And The Cost and is available now via Equal Vision Records, the Maryland-based crew Be Well have captured an emotionally stirring and musically captivating portrait of forging ahead through an emotional storm.
The new melodic punk band features the talents of some folks who’ve been active in heavy music for awhile. Brian McTernan — vocalist for the classic hardcore punk group Battery and founder of Salad Days Studio, where he’s produced records from Turnstile, Thrice, Hot Water Music, and others — sings for Be Well, and the group also features guitarists Mike Schleibaum and Peter Tsouras, bassist Aaron Dalbec, and drummer Shane Johnson. (Schleibaum is also in the heavy metal group Darkest Hour, while Tsouras and Johnson are in the rock group Fairweather. Dalbec’s other experience includes his role in the hardcore punk group Bane.)
Emotional & Creative Foundations
The musicians behind Be Well definitely feel like they have captured an emotionally rich journey through tumult. On their new LP, the melodies hit hard and the performances are ferocious, and the controlled but truly upheaved tunes feel like a sincere depiction of lurching for some kind of stability. It’s as if the music captures moments of hanging on tightly while stuck on a sailboat in the middle of a metaphorical storm.
“I literally wrote the songs from a point of having things inside of myself that I needed to express, and a pure love of creating things,” McTernan explains. “I would always say this to bands, because it’s really easy to lose sight of how important these opportunities are, but there’s very few things you’ll ever do in your life nobody can take away, and making a record is one of them. I truly believe that and I believe in the magic of it, and I just kind of said to myself, like I don’t really care what comes of this, I want to pour everything I have into it, I want to be able to walk away from it and be able to say to myself: I couldn’t have cared more, I couldn’t have worked harder, and I do feel like I can say that. I really don’t know what lies ahead, but it’s been a trip, and it’s already far exceeded any expectation I ever had of what it could become, so it’s rad.”
McTernan and the other folks behind Be Well drew from their substantive experience making music, but they developed onward from that point, the singer explains. “I wasn’t really worried that what we would create wouldn’t sound good or be professional or anything like that,” he shares. “I really, really, really wanted to make something that was an honest representation of where we are in our lives, and it was really important to me — I think all the reunions and all that stuff is really cool, but this is like decidedly new. We didn’t say, oh let’s make a record that caters to Darkest Hour and Bane fans. It really was like — this is who we are. This is where we are in our lives.”
McTernan feels like the creative collaborators involved in the project succeeded in the mission of capturing a lightning bolt of emotional sincerity in a bottle. “I wanted it to be super clear to anyone who ever listened to this record that we put everything we had into it and this is not some kind of trying to get back to former glory that we had kind of thing, because that’s just fleeting,” he shares. “I wanted to make a record that I’m proud to have exist in the world and really wasn’t about anything except who we are now and where we’re going. So I feel like that part of the process we did accomplish.”
The Sounds of The Weight And The Cost
As for the particular sonic direction that the band took, Be Well perform a very melody-centered punk, with raging tides of ferocity that seem funneled through melodies that feel designed to depict a place of frequently tense emotional self-assessment. There’s some upbeat brightness in the sound, but Be Well definitely don’t gloss over tension that lines the path up to that point. “Strength for Breath” and “Morning Light,” for instance, seem particularly heavy and fast. Meanwhile, the album’s title track features staggeringly poignant melody front-and-center. It’s difficult to miss the emotional impact of the music itself.
McTernan sings quite accessibly, and his lyrics also occupy a prominent place on the record. He delivers the lyrics with emotionally rich, dynamically diverse singing that really captures the sentiments in the words themselves, which work through issues like depression, coming to terms with past struggles, and more.
“Lyrically, it’s a personal record. It kind of details my journey through a lot of shit that had been simmering and that I hadn’t quite expressed for a long time,” McTernan shares. “Musically, I think that we just wanted to make something that felt like the hardcore and punk records that we grew up listening to, but with a kind of fresh feeling, and with a lifetime of making music to draw from. I really wanted a record that was fast, energetic, catchy, and memorable and immediate but also had a lot of nuance and detail to it as well.”
McTernan’s work as a producer helped keep his creativity fresh. “What’s interesting is I have been playing music for like 28 years, and I played my first show in 1990, when I was 14 years old, which says it all, and I was always in bands and always writing songs,” he shares. “I was writing songs before I could play an instrument; I would hum riffs to myself and had a guitar that my mom had bought me that I didn’t know how to play or tune, but I would like make little riffs on one string.”
McTernan opened Salad Days Studio around the time he was 18, he explains. After Battery originally broke up, he stuck to record production. “Up until I did this Be Well stuff, I had really not written any music of my own for almost 20 years. That being said, as a producer I’m pretty hands-on, so I was always really involved with the creative process with the bands I was working with, and I also did a lot of co-writing with people, where I would have a riff or they would have an idea or they would come to Baltimore and we would work together on things. So, I never stopped being creative in that way and being involved in creating music. Even in 2014, I closed the studio for a short period of time, and even during the time when I wasn’t producing records, I was still co-writing with people and, so, when I started writing the Be Well stuff, it was just very natural. I didn’t have any expectations for what would come of it, and I think that helped it be natural.”
A Place in the Community
Notably, some of the folks who McTernan has worked with apparently weren’t all-too-familiar with his own music-making. “One of the really cool things for me is having all the bands that I’ve worked with over the last 25 years, getting them to be able to see this side of me — like Brian McTernan, the record producer is such a different kind of thing,” he shares. “One of the most rewarding things for me has been all the messages that I get from all the bands that I’ve worked with who are like holy shit, is that you singing? Like — a lot of them never heard me play or sing or didn’t know any of the bands that I was in, so now they’re like holy shit, this is crazy, and I love that. I really enjoyed that part of it as well.”
Some of the bands who McTernan has been a fan of lately include Sunstroke, who are from Philly, along with Truth Cult and Praise, who are both from Baltimore, and who’ve all got “a little bit of a throwback DC vibe,” he notes. “I really love everything that Turnstile is doing,” he adds. “They’re good friends with me, and I went and saw them play and I was like totally blown away by how inclusive their show was.”
Taking its place in a lineage of emotionally propulsive hardcore and punk records, The Weight And The Cost emerged amidst a time of nationwide — and really, worldwide — tension thanks to problems like the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a lot of isolation and loneliness is a pretty strong theme throughout the record, and I think there will be a lot of people who are going through pretty rough times. I mean this is just rough. This is a strain on everybody — either not being able to work, or not being able to see your family and friends, or not being able to be connected to the world the way you’re typically used to. I kind of hope that people are able to find things in this record that they can identify with,” McTernan shares, adding: “I honestly think that if you take all of the kind of emotional heaviness that exists on this record at times — one, there is a hopeful thread throughout it all, and two, for all of the heaviness, it’s a really fun record to listen to. I feel like it’s like high-energy and catchy, and it’s like an album — you listen to it from beginning to end, and it makes a whole lot more sense than any of the individual components, which I love in a record, and I also feel like just from like a production and detail point of view, there’s a lot to listen to that you’re not going to get on the first listen… We hope that it’s a record that people are able to find some comfort in and enjoy listening to.”
Photo via Casandra Strafer