The past year has been cruel to many musicians; for others, the pandemic has injected life into their aspirations.
The members of Illumination Road spent the shutdown defining their sound through the trials and tribulations of 2020. The Pioneertown band includes Chris Ayden, lead vocalist, songwriter and guitarist; Chad Shlosser, producer, guitarist, bassist and engineer; Greg Cahill, multi-instrumentalist; and Michael Johnson, producer and drummer.
The group just released debut single “The Modern World,” accompanied by a music video. The song and video combine hard-rock influences with theatrical production values—all with the desert landscape as a backdrop.
“I was in L.A. for the last 15 years,” Shlosser said during a recent Zoom interview. “I had a studio in Hollywood with my buddy Matt Sorum, from Guns and Roses. … Just seeing how things were getting a little more crowded and expensive, I kind of wanted to escape. I ended up at a ranch called Escape, and it’s just been the most productive year of my life. I’ve been able to refocus and re-energize out here. Really, it’s just been an incredible place to be creative. There are no distractions up here. It’s quiet, and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something going on down the street. There’s nobody down the street here.”
Shlosser explained how the four came together.
“We’ve all known each other for quite a while,” he said. “Michael is a co-producer of mine, and we’re actually business partners in a record label. We’ve known each other for about 14 years, but we really didn’t start working together until a few years ago, when we ended up co-producing a record together, and it turned out amazing. We have a great working relationship in the studio. Chris and I, we were actually in another band. … We had kind of worked on the rock ’n’ roll thing, like a throwback rock-trio vibe, but it didn’t hit, and we weren’t really comfortable releasing anything. About five years ago, we kind of rebranded and started thinking in a different direction, and that’s when we met Greg Cahill. We actually found him on Craigslist last-minute, because we got asked to go play a show with Aerosmith in Sydney. We needed to put a band together quickly, so we found this kid Greg, and he’s just a virtuoso on everything and really rounded out the whole thing. Over the last year, we were able to all get together here at my ranch and get it all figured out.”
Schlosser said the band members have one thing in common.
“Our relationships were always centered around music,” said Shlosser. “But everybody comes from their own backgrounds. Greg has played with a bunch of killer Americana-bluegrass bands, even one of the best Bob Dylan cover bands I’ve ever seen. Michael has toured the world extensively as a drummer with his own projects, and he’s been signed to every major label possible. Chris, I’ve just known as a songwriter who I’ve been working with for years, and he’s an extreme talent in that regard. We all had a thing in common; it was just about us all getting back in the same room and zeroing in on the goal, and I think we nailed it.”
Shared trust helped Shlosser realize the potential of this group.
“We don’t really have to guide anybody,” he said. “When it’s Michael’s turn to lay down some drums or percussion, we trust his vision. It works the same way with Greg when he hops on the Hammond. I think that’s the ultimate goal of any band—just to be able to trust the other guys to do their jobs and know that what they bring is contributing to the final product.”
“The Modern World” is not only the band’s first single; it’s the first song the four worked on together.
“This first song is kind of a re-creation of a song that Chris and I had for a number of years that we’d gone out and played before,” Shlosser said. “It was a little bit more of like a heavy progressive-rock type of thing, with really big stereo guitars and smashing stadium drums, but it just wasn’t us. It didn’t feel like our vibe, because we’re a little bit more Americana-leaning, and we wanted more space in the productions and whatnot. ‘Modern World’ got stripped down to nothing, and we reformulated the whole thing. That started during quarantine. Chris lives in Nashville, and the other guys live in California, but we all get together for like a week or two at a time. The first meeting was for ‘The Modern World.’ We reformatted it and pulled it all together, and it came really quickly. That’s kind of how we found our sound—the four of us getting together and being stuck together at the ranch here for a week or two at a time.
“It started off as just like, ‘Let’s just get some awesome recordings going,’ because we’re all studio rats in a way; that’s how we make our livings, is making records for other bands. We just wanted to get in here and utilize the space to really create some awesome products. We want to build up that whole catalog of stuff that can be released over the next couple of years. Once all that is organized and ready to go, then we can focus on the live thing, and not have to worry about the next angle, or following up with content and all that type of stuff.”
Schlosser said Illumination Road has a plan, of sorts, for live shows.
“It’s looking more like the random show type of thing,” said Shlosser. “I don’t see regular touring coming back at any point soon. It’s also kind of something that we didn’t really want to do from the get-go anyway. I mean, we obviously want to go play shows, but the ‘weekend warrior’ type of schedule seems a little bit more apt to us and what we want to do. We have some festivals that are getting booked right now … and that’s just the most ideal situation for us right now. I think for promoters and artists in general, that’s going to be kind of where things are at. … I see the risk of trying to book a 20-day tour, and then somebody comes down sick. We definitely plan on going out and pushing it as hard as we can with that in mind, so that includes a few festival dates, and playing around the West Coast a little bit this late spring and early summer.”
This approach will also allow the members of Illumination Road to keep their other commitments.
“I’m still in the middle of a bunch of different projects, and so are Michael and Greg; we all have our things going on,” Shlosser said. “You do want to focus on this, but it’s just going to take spreading some time between shows.
When Illumination Road does play, the people taking the stage won’t necessarily always be the four core members.
“It is a band in the regard that there are obviously four of us who are taking photos together, but when we hit the road, we’re going to have a few more players onstage,” Shlosser said. “Lineups could change depending on people’s schedules, but the core group is there. Chris and I were working on this project for years before we had Greg and Michael come in to complete it, and it’s going to kind of still work that way. We’ll each individually and independently do our own things that contribute to the band, but we don’t all have to be in the same room to get something done a lot of the time.
“We don’t have any desire to ever sign with a label. We do all of our own promo; we’re self-sufficient in every way. We have our own label deal with our own distro and everything. We’re not a band out there hustling, trying to get the deal; we’re just going to create our work, put it out, push it the best we can, tour independently—and just hope that that works.”
For more information, visit www.illumination-road.com.