A Course of Action
at Rocklahoma 2015
Earlier this year ACOA released their sophomore album Treason through Star 1 Records featuring the single “Who We Are,” a bluesy, soul-searching rock ballad that showcases lead singer John Culberson’s vocal expertise.
I joined ACOA after wandering through the dark for ten minutes as the rain poured and my shoes gasped for air as they suffocated in the mud. Entering the god-like dryness of their RV, I noticed a man bouncing up and down on the roof to the distant sounds of Slayer. Inside, the rest of the band and their manager laughed as they listened to John Culberson bang and crash around on the roof, just waiting for a scream and thud. They were enjoying a few beers and “seasoned” maraschino cherries, relaxing while they killed the time before their set.
When the rest of the band finally forced Culberson inside for the interview, he spoke about how Slayer has shaped his guitar playing.
“I don’t want to age myself,” laughs Culberson, “but I’ve been listening to Slayer since I was younger than you [16-years-old].” In all his time, even playing festivals and touring with different bands, he had never seen Slayer until that day, from the roof of the trailer.
Although Slayer has influenced Culberson’s guitar-work a great deal, his vocals pull from a more contemporary set of inspirations.
Bassist Wes Johnson says in a possible Freudian slip, “When you separate his guitar-work and focus on his vocal [pause] issues—well, on his vocals, his influence is more from Phil Collins.”
Through the years as musicians in different bands, they have grown and developed. “As this group specifically, we’ve learned to write music together,” explains Johnson. “What sells is a song, and we have this common understanding that we have to concentrate on the song and not so much on the individual [parts] of it.”
This is important, Johnson elaborates, because a musician can focus solely on the sounds coming out of his/her own instrument, but being in a band requires opening the ears to the surrounding musicians and working your sounds into theirs.
“The thing about music is that progressing through it is no different than you or anybody else progressing through life,” says Culberson. “It happens without you even realizing it. You do it for so long that sometimes you don’t realize the changes that are taking place or the maturity that you’ve developed… The cool thing about it is that if you’re able to be in a band that’s been together for as long as we’ve been, you start developing a sort of chemistry and a bond without even realizing that it’s going on. It’s not something you have to work on. It’s that over so much time, you start to gel together.”
Lead guitarist Jonathan Byrd summarizes the thought, saying, “I’ve played in many different bands, but I’ve never played in a band that’s like us.” Laughing, he adds, “We can finish each others’ sentences."
This leads Johnson to another thread of thought. “Another unique thing about this band is John’s [Culberson’s] lyrics. They’re not completely about racecars, girls, and rock n roll. There’s some substance to them. Everyone can relate to them from different angles.”
Culberson adds, “Every song that I write, lyrically speaking, is based on the same things in life that everybody is going to be going through.” He gives as an example the song “Beautiful” off their newest album Treason. “‘Beautiful’ is a song that’s written about depression, which is a subject that relates to so many different people.”
“There’s another song,” says Johnson, “called ‘The Question,’ and the question is, Why do we still do this?”
The band, without hesitation, answers in chorus, “Because we love it."
When A Course of Action opened for Halestorm, drummer JT Silvestri's daughter was turning sixteen. Sheree Byrd got her backstage passes to meet Lzzy Hale, and at the end of the show, all the members of Halestorm sang “Happy Birthday” to her. Mrs. Byrd said, “She thought she’d died and gone to heaven.”
They must be fantastic parents, since I ended up spending an hour with them, and had a complete blast. We were laughing and teasing each other, and when my dad started texting wondering where I was, they got on the phone with him and reassured him of my safety.
What struck me the most during the hour I spent with them is their obvious friendship. At this point in the game, these guys aren’t just dudes who play music together, they’re brothers.