Nick Giumenti, lead singer and bass player of the Columbus, Ohio, quartet My Ticket Home, has fond memories of the band's first tour. "I think back now — we were just so dumb," he recalls, happily. "We had never played outside of Ohio. We didn't really have our shit together. The shows were probably terrible and we probably sounded like shit. None of that mattered. It was fucking awesome. When you're that naive, there's a joy to that."
But that naiveté — and the euphoria that accompanied it — wore off, scraped away by the creative confines of the metalcore scene the group was operating in. "There's a million bands all doing the same sort of thing, and we were one of them," Giumenti says. "Once you've seen behind the curtain, it just kind of loses the appeal." So the group set out on a course to shift its sound, resulting in a five-year tug-of-war with fan expectations that culminates on Friday (October 6th) with the release of unReal, My Ticket Home's invigorating third full-length.
Like many bands, My Ticket Home formed thanks to a combination of geography and coincidence. Giumenti and his brother Marshal, who handles drums in the group, were exposed to rock primarily by their father. "System of a Down, Disturbed, Puddle of Mudd," Giumenti says, sipping black coffee in Manhattan near the office of the band's new label, Spinefarm Records. "So I wasn't a stranger to any of that." The pair started taking music lessons at the same music shop as guitarist Sean Mackowski; an enterprising teacher encouraged them to work together.
This proto-band was motivated further when Giumenti started seeing other groups gain traction around him. "During my teen years, that whole scene exploded [in Columbus]," he explains. "Maybe that's just how I remember it 'cause I was young, maybe it wasn't that hot. But for me it seemed like there was always a show or friends in bands that were playing. In high school I met other people that were in bands and had already gotten further along than us. Once you see someone that comes from the same world as you doing something, you think, I can do that, too."
Immersing themselves in the Columbus scene paid off when My Ticket Home befriended members of Attack Attack!, who had inked a deal with the label Rise Records. When My Ticket Home played at Attack Attack!'s album release show, "the label came to see them, saw us, and liked us," Giumenti explains simply.
My Ticket Home's lineup went through a number of changes early on — the Giumenti brothers, who are currently joined by Derek Blevins on rhythm guitar and Matt Gallucci on lead, are the only constants in the band across almost a decade — but in 2010, the group held a roster together long enough to release an EP, The Opportunity to Be. It's full of stop-start riffs and roared vocals from Giumenti; Mackowski handled the melodic counterpoint. Two years later, the group released To Create a Cure, which explored the same style over the course of a full-length. The record cracked Billboard's Hard Rock Albums chart, but already the band was tiring of its own sound. "After two-and-a-half, three years of doing that, you want to do something different," Giumenti says. "That's a good thing — it's not about what other people are doing wrong, it's about what we want to do right."
But it's not easy to leave behind the scene that birthed you. While working on their second album, 2013's Strangers Only, "we didn't know what we wanted," Giumenti explains. "It took us a while to find that out. That's what Strangers Only was." The equivocation was reflected in the final product. "I listened to Strangers Only, and to be honest, I wasn't too stoked," says producer Fred Archambault, who has worked with Avenged Sevenfold and the Deftones in addition to manning the board for My Ticket Home's new LP.
"We knew that we were gonna lose fans and a lot of people weren't gonna get it," Giumenti acknowledges of their decision to evolve their sound. The we're-just-happy-to-be-here attitude of the band's early days had hardened into something more complicated. "You have to try not to care about the money and the sales and try to focus on the music, but at the same time, that's the yardstick that everyone judges your band by," the singer continues. "It's really hard not to fall into that trap. The minute you do, the music takes a back seat. Then what's the point? You're just another business."
After the dust settled on Strangers Only, My Ticket Home cut ties with Rise Records. "We weren't the closest with our label," Giumenti says. "I don't have anything bad to say about them — they plucked us out of obscurity when we were just kids — but we just didn't fit with them anymore, and it was pretty clear for both of us that it wasn't really clicking."
With no label attachments and time on their hands, My Ticket Home were able to do whatever they pleased while working on unReal, and they took full advantage of their freedom, digging deep into influences far outside of the heavy space. "Some of my favorite singers are, like, Jeff Buckley and Oasis' [Liam Gallagher]," Guimenti says. "Matt just showed me this band called Catherine Wheel that I'd never heard of. They're so fucking sick, dude!" During recording, Archambault remembers Giumenti "making breakfast singing Oasis at the top of his lungs every morning."
"The way Nick approached the top-line melody was kind of haunting in the way that Thom Yorke does later in his career, where your note choice creates a tension," the producer enthuses. Archambault loved the group's hard left turn. "Holy shit, this is like a completely different band," he remembers thinking. "They're really trying to get out of the cocoon."
This was a difficult but deliberate process for My Ticket Home. "Someone would suggest something and we'd be like, 'Dude, that's not us,'" Giumenti says. "But is it cool in the song? If it's cool in the song, guess what? We're doing it. I feel really strongly that a lot of bands don't step out of the box very intentionally. They're too focused on the fans and the critics and being afraid to be different."
Band members were so intent on ducking expectations that when Archambault threw them a few melody ideas he describes as "stock active-rock melodies that fucking work at radio," he was rebuffed. "They're like, 'No way,'" Archambault recalls. "It was really reassuring to know they had a good filter. That's a sign of identity."
But there was one final wrinkle in the making of unReal. "We were writing different stuff, and Derek didn't feel that comfortable singing it," Giumenti says. "We had been putting his voice on these demos. It wasn't bad, but it never felt like we found an identity with it. He was like, 'I don't want to sing anymore. When he said that, we were like, 'Well, what do we want to do?' They were like, 'We want you to sing.' I sang on the last album probably 50-50 with Derek. But never was I, like, the singer."
You wouldn't know that from listening to unReal, which Archambault describes as "Alice in Chains meets Nirvana meets Deftones." (According to Guimenti, "Matt's been bitchin' about [Deftones comparisons] so much lately: 'I'm sick of people saying the Deftones — they need to learn some other fuckin' bands!'") There's hardly a scream to be found, relative to the band's early albums at least. The second track, "Flee the Flesh," is surprisingly funky; the final track, "Visual Snow," is surprisingly hushed; "Redline" is a surprisingly pitch-perfect approximation of classic grunge.
"The album sonically stands out the same way Highly Suspect stands out on the radio and in the active-rock genre," Archambault says. "It's not all processed drums and guitars — there's some air in there. It's a little more understated. It's about pulling back and letting your mind fill in some of the tension and the angst."
Funnily enough, by hitting back at what was expected of them, My Ticket Home have ended up close to the blissful state they performed in starting out almost a decade ago. "Never have we played these songs live before. Never have I sang a whole set and played bass before," Giumenti enthuses of the excitment of stepping into the unknown again. "I'm having a lot of fun."