Apollo Hero Album Release Party
Saturday, Aug. 19, 9 p.m.
The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Art is one method of immortalizing both the talent and memory of its creator. The release of Azalea City alt. rock outfit Apollo Hero’s self-titled debut not only fulfills an endeavor that began years ago but also memorializes a band member who left this world too early.
Considering the history of this band, Apollo Hero has combined talent, emotion and innovation to create a unique collection of songs that the band planned to release years ago. All the while, guitarist/vocalist Cade Cashen says the album’s completion has also been driven by the memory and musical talent of fellow guitarist/vocalist, friend and founding member Nick Markow, killed in an accident involving a drunk driver.
“We want to make this a celebration about this thing [the album] that so many people that knew us were looking forward to that we never got to have,” explained Cashen. “We want it to be a celebration of that and Nick’s life. Also, we want everybody to appreciate and love what we did, because we think it’s awesome. We love it, and we couldn’t be happier with it.”
Ten years ago, Apollo Hero began to take form at the Mobile location of Guitar Center, where Cashen and bassist James Patton worked. After a few casual jams between Cashen and Patton, Markow was added to the mix, but their career paths put the project on hold.
Markow and Patton left to pursue music in the Big Easy. Cashen moved to Atlanta to gain experience in music production. Even though distance separated them, Cashen and Markow continued to work together. Modern technology allowed the two to collaborate on song ideas.
As the two began making plans to move back to Mobile, Cashen and Markow began solidifying songs, with plans to restart their project in familiar surroundings. After reuniting, the duo began performing their songs as an acoustic act. With each performance, the two began to recognize a musical bond strengthening not only between themselves but also with their audiences. Cashen says the feeling was akin to an artistic destiny fulfilled.
“Everywhere we played, it was just an awesome reaction every time,” Cashen said. “It seemed like the crowds got louder every time we played. When we were writing a new song, it felt like the new song was better than the last one. Every day seemed better. We felt like what we were doing was right.”Cashen and Markow traveled to northern Alabama to lay down the acoustic versions of their music on an EP recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Even though they were circulating the EP, Cashen says he and Markow always envisioned their music played by a full band. This vision came to life with James Patton’s return to Mobile. Patton also recruited drummer Lance McAskill into Apollo Hero’s ranks.
The group did not waste time in laying down tracks for what they planned to be their debut album. These tracks reflected a band that paid careful attention to its elaborate arrangements — 10 versatile tracks showcasing influences ranging from alt. rock to blues.
Halfway through the recording process, tragedy struck. The last time the group saw Markow alive was a happy one. The members of Apollo Hero were at a rehearsal dinner for a mutual friend’s wedding at which Markow would serve as best man. Cashen says he and Markow filled the night with jamming and singing with friends. The next day, Patton woke Cashen with the news Markow’s life had been cut short. According to Cashen, Markow’s passing not only ended a rare bond between artists but also the bond of friendship.
“I firmly envisioned a life, a band and a career with Nick,” Cashen said. “I thought that after I graduated college that I didn’t have to get a job, because I would be playing with my band. We all thought that. We all thought what we were doing had enough there to make whatever we wanted to happen happen.”
Three years passed before Cashen and McAskill reconnected at a social gathering. The two began what was intended to be a new project, but the two found themselves going back to Apollo Hero’s recordings. The need for artistic closure began to plague them. Cashen and McAskill wanted to finish what they had started years ago.
The completion of this debut was encouraged by not only their confidence in the album’s material but also the desire to immortalize Markow as both friend and artist. With a newfound determination, Cashen says, the group began an extremely ambitious task of completing the debut with Markow’s musical imprint on the album intact.
“We really wanted to finish it, because we still believed that it was good,” Cashen said. “Beyond that, this is my life’s work, and it’s also Nick’s legacy. Since he’s gone now, nobody is going to know what a great person he was and what a great player he was if we didn’t finish it.”
Even with his musical production knowledge, Cashen says finishing the debut was quite a challenge. The band had recorded its initial foundation tracks on tape live in the studio, but had yet to finish the album’s vocal work and other overdub tracks, including Markow’s contributions. Cashen began to pillage a wide range of previously recorded material from the band in the hopes he would find appropriate tracks. Cashen harvested Markow’s guitar tracks from demos recorded in a storage unit off Schillinger Road, as well as “templates” he and Markow had sent Patton and McAskill while they were still living in New Orleans.
Cashen filled in any blanks created by the absence of a solo track from Markow. However, Cashen says including the late guitarist’s vocal work proved the most challenging. This obstacle was especially difficult to overcome with songs like ‘Overdose,’ which features harmonies between Cashen and Markow.
“We had no recordings of it [Markow’s harmony], except for a demo that we had sent to some kid that we were trying to get to play drums,” Cashen explained. “It was an MP3 from when we initially wrote the track. What I had to do is take the track and make duplicates to phase cancel out as much of the track as I could to isolate enough of Nick’s vocal to put behind my vocal to generate the harmony behind my vocal.”
After mastering by Grammy winner Bernie Grundman (Tom Waits, Steely Dan), Cashen is not hesitant to say the album turned out better than he expected, and he can’t wait to perform the tracks live. The lineup for this album release party will feature all the original members with guitarist Dave Smithwick’s (Patton’s cousin) guitar and vocals standing in for Markow. Sherry Neese will also be on hand to provide her vocal talents.
In addition to the album’s tracks, Cashen says the evening will include an improv jam and a selection of covers the original lineup wanted to perform. As far as the future of Apollo Hero, Cashen’s answer consists of three simple words.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “To be honest, we’ve spent so much of our time finishing this record that we haven’t spent as much time as we would’ve liked thinking about where we wanted to go in the future. So, I know that there will be something on the horizon, but I don’t know what form it will take.”