Story by Trent Opstedahl and Josie Flatgard
The smell of sweat, perfume and a hint of alcohol fill the air inside the compact yet comfortable concert venue. A crowd of about 200 begins to erupt with song and cheer as the house lights dim and the stage lights begin flashing in chaotic patterns.
A few more seconds of delayed action to heighten anticipation and finally band members of Paradise Fears infiltrate the stage and welcome their fans to the last show of their Live Forever Tour.
“I spend 23 hours of the day being a human being and then one hour being on stage,” said Sam Miller, lead vocalist. “If you let it take that kind of importance, it’s impossible to view any show as not exciting.”
Miller and the other five members of the band have been on tour for the past two months, making 32 stops across the U.S. in that time. The Vermillion-based band completed its tour Saturday in Minneapolis — a bittersweet moment for band members as the Live Forever Tour was Paradise Fears’ first full-band headlining tour.
“Headlining this many times consecutively gives you really a different perspective and clearest look at what your audience is,” Miller said. “It’s cool to see amazing turnout where we didn’t think we’d get any audience; less cool to see smaller turnouts, but all in all getting to play this many shows is the coolest.”
Please be advised the audio interview below contains the use of profane language.
Saturday’s performance at Mill City Nights was Paradise Fears’ largest show of the tour, Miller said. Touring with opening acts Hollywood Ending, Against the Current, Nick Thomas and William Beckett, band members said switching roles from being an opening act in the past to being the headlining performer was an enlightening experience, but not in the way they were expecting.
“It’s all about doing what’s best for the show instead of what’s best for the camp,” acoustic guitarist Cole Andre said. “We’ve gotten really tight with them.”
Traveling cross-country in a 10-person van, Miller and Andre said the tour brought the band closer together in many ways, ultimately strengthening their dynamic. Despite the recent departure of former drummer Lucas Zimmerman, who announced this summer he would pursue opportunities to provide support to third world countries, the addition of live drummer Joey Russ proved to be a positive change for the band.
“It’s definitely different. Joey has been great, he’s a really talented drummer, hard-working,” Andre said. “The dynamic is different among all of us.”
Although the tour has wrapped up and things will start slowing down for the band, Miller said the next three months are going to be busy preparing for the release of their sixth album in early 2015.
He said the first single off the album, “You to Believe In,” provides some insight on what fans can expect from their new releases and said the album focuses largely on the band’s happier moments in life.
“It is a very difficult time to be a human being. It is an incredibly difficult time to be a 22-year-old trying to find your way in the world and it’s really an easy time to be pessimistic or angry at the world,” Miller said. “There’s no reason to be pessimistic, because if you’ve got this person to believe in, then you’re fine.”
Since the jumpstart of their career in 2011, Miller said the band’s path has always been fairly undecided.
“I am 100 percent certain that when I turn around and look back on this when I’m older, I will be able to say ‘We made it,’” he said.
Choosing to forego a degree at the University of South Dakota, Miller and Andre said while they wonder what would have happened if they had gone to college, they don’t look back.
“We’ve gotten so many cool opportunities besides just being in the band now because of the band,” Andre said. “It’s almost like the band was college.”
Jill Tyler, Miller’s mother, considered the possibility of realized religious transformations and sexual orientation, but the thought that one of her children would decide not to go to college after graduating high school never came to her mind.
“It’s a perspective I’ve never had, one I never expected to have that perspective on a band,” said Tyler, associate professor of communication studies.
Though it took some time to get used to the idea, Tyler and the other members’ moms knew they were going about it the smart way, even with some naivety of being young.
Tyler said she knew the band members wouldn’t have the type of real-life business experience had they been in college, but knew the relationships the members had with one another made the transition easier.
“One of the things that’s impressed me the most is their friendship,” Tyler said. “Their friendship started, some of them in middle school, some of them in preschool.”
When they began their journey, Paradise Fears knew it would take time to get where they are now, but their friendship was important and doing it together, Tyler said, has helped them remain levelheaded throughout the years.
Tyler was able to attend their performance in Omaha this tour and said she was again blown away by the number of fans who have been affected by the music of Paradise Fears.
“I hope they keep doing this for as long as they love doing this,” Tyler said.
While admitting his envy for those who chose to attend college, Miller said the various projects everyone is involved in outside the band are similar to those a 22-year-old graduating college might be involved with.
“When I think back on it, if I had gone to college at the time I was supposed to… I’m afraid I would have kind of ended up doing something I didn’t really want to do,” he said.
Miller said ultimately a person just knows what is right for them.
“You’re only a human being for a certain amount of time so you should probably go do it,” he said. “If you can love what you’re creating (through your passion) then go do it.”
Reflecting on the band’s career thus far — which includes 13 tours prior to the Live Forever Tour — Andre said if he was to give one piece of advice to USD students considering taking an unconventional risk, it would be to remain passionate.
“If you work hard and have the right idea about it, I think you can pretty much do it,” he said. “Live it up. Tomorrow could be completely different.”
(Photo: Paradise Fears band members Jordan Merrigan, left, Sam Miller, front, Joey Russ, back, and Marcus Sand, right, perform at Mill City Nights in Minneapolis, Minn. Sept. 27. Malachi Petersen / The Volante)