When Northern vocalist Ryan Valero decided to come up with the title for his band’s new EP, he wanted to find the saddest phrase in the English language.
After a profusion of research, Valero landed on these four words: “It Could Have Been.”
“When you really think about it, it is,” he told Revue. “It leaves so much to be desired, and so much room to speculate what it’s about.”
The phrase encapsulates the major theme Valero wanted to have with Northern’s first EP as a band. And, in a way, it illustrates a lot of what he and his band mates have been through musically and personally up until now.
Before the evolution of Northern into the band it’s known as now, Valero had kicked things off with a solo project back in 2012. Only 19 at the time, the young frontman used the more personal project as a way to find therapy for himself.
“(Music) was my escape from a lot of things, a lot of problems that I had,” Valero said of how he came into his post-hardcore influences. “I would relate to lyrics, and I would relate to bands, and I started writing my own poetry and other things that eventually turned into lyrics.”
At the time, Valero was also in the emerging local metalcore band Designs with current Northern guitarist/vocalist/co-songwriter Eli Ames. When both grew tired of what they felt was the “generic” sound of Designs — which imploded after various member changes — they decided to rebrand with the more diverse, mature direction of Northern.
“The lyrics that I write are very personal and they’re very intimate,” Valero said. “A lot of lyrics on this EP deal with addiction in some form or another, whether it’s addiction to a substance, happiness or even a girl. There are a lot of different things about this EP that I’m drawing from my personal life.”
Following some more member changes, Valero, now 23, and Ames, 22, enlisted the help of drummer JR Kotrč, who had previously played with Valero in the band We Call This Irony nearly a decade ago.
“We just kind of reconnected because I heard what he was doing and I thought it was sweet,” Kotrč said of rejoining with Valero in Northern.
The oldest member of the band at 27, Kotrč had left music for a few years and found that stepping away gave him some much needed perspective.
“I had a little bit more experience just because of my age, unfortunately, to shine the way a little bit,” he said of developing Northern’s new direction with his younger bandmates. “Getting out of the whole party boy scene and building our reputation as musicians was really important to us. We want to be one of the best local bands out there.”
Along with bassist Jacob Lackey and guitarist Andrew Lidgard, the members also hope to help unite Grand Rapids’ fractured metal and hardcore scene. They’ve solidified that mission around another simple phrase: “Support Who Supports You.”
“I don’t know if it was Ryan, but we started (that whole) thing,” Kotrč said.
“Yeah, I definitely got that from a Trinidad James song,” Valero quipped back.
Following the shutdown of The Mixtape (MXTP) in 2012, the band felt lost within the vacuum of all-ages local concerts in Grand Rapids.
“The local metal scene has been very segregated and almost dead for the last five years,” Kotrč said, citing the difficulties many metal and hardcore bands face trying to pull younger crowds into smaller bars. “(But) house shows have had a resurgence, which has really gotten bands back to their roots. I personally used to frown upon them, but after playing a couple this year, I am in love with it. It’s good to see kids bring this raw energy back.”
Following a slot on Martyr for Madison’s CD release show back in February, Northern felt the scene starting to come together again, and are excited to have friends in Drifter, Sleep Waker and Heart At War also join in premiering the band’s new music at The Pyramid Scheme on Dec. 16.
In all, It Could Have Been has taken Northern nearly two years to finish. The band tracked the EP’s six songs themselves and have gotten help from local producer Nick Scott with mixing and mastering.
Before the release of the EP, the band also plans to premiere a new single recorded in the studio with Lee Albrecht of Seraphim.
“I’ve got a solidified personal brand for Northern,” Ames added about what to expect from the band next year. “I want the EP to sort of get your feet wet for an album that we’re going to work on.”
Northern: It Could Have Been EP release show
Wsg. Drifter, Heart At War, Martyr for Madison, Sleep Waker
The Pyramid Scheme
68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Dec. 16, 7 p.m.
$10 advance, $12 day of show, all ages
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758