When tragedy strikes, musicians can often take one of two roads; they can suffocate themselves with self-pity, alcohol, and drugs, or they see the heartbreak and tragedy as a very potent source of inspiration and use music to help understand, express and cope with their emotions. Brisbane’s Awaken I Am have led with the latter for their latest EP, The Beauty in Tragedy – a soul-crushing, emotional yet beautiful tribute to their late brother and guitarist Connor Verner-Oakley, whose life was cut short by the hands of an intentional reckless driver last year.
“It was something that we decided to do, realistically, just for us,” explains guitarist, long-time friend (and previous fill-in for the band) Jay Sibthorpe, who stepped in for the band to record the new tracks. “We went into this whole project of recording to put out how everything went down, but also for us personally. We have spent a long time touring and playing music, we only really know that, so this is our way to heal.”
While recording the EP was a chance for the remaining members to be sad, angry, confused and try to find a way to come to terms with the grief the best they could through music, it wasn’t a decision that came easily for the grief-stricken band, who were initially scheduled to head back out on the road less than two weeks after the tragedy had happened.
“We went and spoke to Connor’s family about everything and just said, ‘We understand this is a hard time, but we just want to get your advice on what to do?’ Obviously, there’s not really a manual to what you do in these circumstances,” Jay explains. “We talked about the fact that obviously Connor would want us to do these things, and want us to keep touring and keep pushing on, but we were questioning what the realistic thing to do is in this situation? We were thinking, ‘do we actually keep touring and keep writing, or do we need to pull away for a bit and deal with things?’.
“As a team, we just decided that we needed to do these things, not only for Connor, but for us personally,” he continues, “because as you would know, when things go down in your life, it’s a lot better to be around friends and family and this was kind of our way to make sure, especially as a band, we were around each other.”
With the blessing from his family, the band decided to honour Connor and his love for music, bringing Jay permanently into the band to begin the writing and recording process with revered producer Taylor Larson (The Word Alive, Asking Alexandria). “I only went into it just thinking I was going to fill for the guys while they sorted it out, but then I just didn’t want to leave,” he smiles.
Following the release of their full-length sophomore effort, Blind Love, which soared with professionalism and technical prowess back in 2017, The Beauty In Tragedy (released earlier this year on Oakley’s birthday April 26) sees Awaken I Am take their whole sound into tender, anthemic, and brave new territories.
An unquestionably rich conceptualisation of what beauty can come from tragedy, the EP establishes itself as a cathartic collection of tracks that have resonated with friends, family and fans near and far. Apart from two songs written before his passing, the other three tracks serve as a tribute to Connor, including a revenge track (‘Kin’) fuelled by angry and bitter lyrics, dedicated to the person responsible for taking Connor’s life, and a heartbreaking anthem (‘The Stages of Grief’) which sees the band try to come to terms with their grief in a series of tear-jerking lyrics.
“We didn’t go into this hoping for this release to be successful and for people to like it; it was more just something we had to do for us and we had to do it for Connor,” Jay says in response to the amount of support the EP has received by people affected by it. “For people to be enjoying it and connecting with it as well, it’s a bonus. It has really blown us away with the way that people are connecting with it and enjoying it as much as we enjoyed making it.”
With The Beauty In Tragedy giving Awaken I Am the closure they need to move on to a new chapter, the band have since transitioned into a four-piece, taken the EP across the US with San Diego post-hardcore rockets Secrets, signed to Scarim Management team in America, and have planned to tour Aussie shores again before the year is out.
“At this point in time in the band’s career, we’re probably the most focused and driven we have ever been,” Jay shares. “We’re constantly working behind the scenes and writing, but our focus is really just to think and create a plan about what’s going to come; we’re just making sure we’re doing everything right behind the scenes to make sure next years touring is even bigger.”
Release: The Beauty In Tragedy EP is out now on Victory Records.