To Plant a Seed: We Came As Romans' Dave Stephens Talks Grieving and Resilience with 'Darkbloom'
written by Yvonne Villasenor
Post-hardcore group We Came As Romans were teenagers when they formed the band in 2005, forging a path of their own in the genre with ongoing themes of hope, positivity and brotherhood.
Hailing from Michigan, the metalcore rockers stood out with their unique sound, merging aggressive music with melodic passages, accompanied by a distinct contrast between Kyle Pavone’s unmistakable, clean vocals and Dave Stephens’ ever so commanding screams.
We Came As Romans saw massive success with their debut album, To Plant A Seed, in 2009 and continued to expand their fanbase with singles including “Hope,” “Fade Away” and “Cold Like War.”
However, on August 25, 2018, the band and music world was struck with tragedy when Pavone unexpectedly passed away. He was just 28 years old. Pavone’s family established a foundation in his name to bring education, awareness and compassion to those suffering from addiction, as well as their families.
Following Pavone’s passing, We Came As Romans announced they would continue making music as a five-piece band with no plans to ever replace him.
And now, five years since their previous album, Darkbloom marks the next chapter of We Came As Romans without Pavone. Released on Oct. 14 via Sharptone Records, the long-awaited 10-track record is filled with heavy and relentless tracks that pay tribute to Pavone’s legacy and their commitment to their craft.
“It's our most honest work we've made. It's all just us completely,” Stephens says. “We didn't use a lot of outside influence on it — it was just what we were feeling. It’s a wide range of music, and it's a wide range of emotions. You can feel the pain in it, and you can feel the hope in it as well.”
After Pavone’s death, Stephens admits he and the band didn’t know if they wanted to carry on as a band. All he knew, he says, was that they wanted to be on tour so they could grieve together.
Stephens shares that at that point in his life, he didn’t feel like anyone could relate to what they were going through as bandmates and how the band wanted to be around one another more than anything.
“Those were the people I wanted to be with most during that initial grieving process,” he says. “It was sometime after the tour that we decided that we were going to keep going and make another record. It all kind of came to us that it's what Kyle would have wanted … I don't think he would have wanted us to call it quits on his behalf. So, we decided to keep going.”
The band had plans to write an album right before Pavone’s passing and had even started demoing, Stephens says. Following the tragic event, the album was delayed for several years.
The quintet began writing Darkbloom six months to a year before the pandemic started. And as emotional as it was to write the album, Stephens says it was therapeutic and not a stressful process considering they’d previously written records with a lot of time constraints and deadlines.
“I think the only silver lining to come out of the pandemic was we had so much time to work on the music, take our time writing as many songs as we wanted and tweaking the songs that were good — and not being scared to scrap the ones that weren’t because we were going to run out of time,” he says.
From a songwriting perspective, Stephens says the band learned the importance of taking their time making songs, and if the song’s not clicking, to move on to something else and come back to it.
“Sometimes, I feel like we force ourselves into writing songs, and we will force ourselves at an idea, and we'll keep going and going,” he says. “I think we learned that when it clicks and it's easy to write, those are the best songs.”
Stephens says he was confident the band would write the songs they needed to and that they’d put the emotion behind them that they needed to. Darkbloom perfectly portrays each emotion that comes with the grieving process — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“We didn't want just a completely sad record because that's not how grieving is,” Stephens says. “You’re not sad all the time. Some days, you wake up and you're really pissed. Some days, you wake up and you're sad. And some days, you wake up and you can feel some kind of, I don't know, hopefulness. There’s a wide range of emotions — and that’s what we wanted to portray in the record.”
With as much confidence Stephens had in the album, there was one element that he was worried about.
“For me personally, I was concerned about stepping up to fill the void that used to be Kyle, singing the songs and selling them in a way that he would have and that our listeners would have appreciated,” he says. “I just knew I had to work my ass off and show up to the party. That was one of my biggest worries with the record. And it took a ton of work, but I'm really proud of it.”
Part of that showing up was taking vocal lessons to expand his range. “I was having to use parts of my voice I’ve never used, in particular, the lower register stuff … Trying to figure out how to put character behind my voice when I’m singing in a lower range was one of my main focuses.”
We Came As Romans took an experience as devastating as the loss of their bandmate — but above all, friend — and chose to move forward by honoring him with an album they had completely poured their heart and soul into.
Stephens reflects on exciting moments during the making of Darkbloom:
“We would go back to our Airbnb after tracking and stuff, and we’d put the songs on the sound system we had at the Airbnb. It was cool because there were some days we'd go back, like, ‘This isn't quite there yet.’ But then there were a few nights we went back, like after ‘Daggers’ was redone for about the fifth time, we were like, ‘This is it! This is it!’ in our living room jumping around. We knew we finally got it to the point we wanted it to be at. It was kind of the same with a few of the other songs on the record … Moments like that were always exciting.”
Stephens says the band had to sit on the record for a while due to supply chain issues. During that time, they received positive feedback from those they showed it to. From that point on, he says he stopped being as nervous about it, and instead, became more confident and excited for everyone to hear it.
“Some of the ways that we wrote songs are different than we've done in the past, and I do think we've pushed ourselves creatively more than we have in the past. We just tried to write what we were feeling from the heart,” Stephens says. “We've had records in the past where I think we listened to too many people's opinions and didn't really write honestly. And I think the fact that we wrote so honestly and from the heart is why fans are gravitating more towards this record than anything else we've released.”
The Darkbloom U.S. headline tour kicks off on January 19, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pa with support from ERRA and Brand of Sacrifice. Get tickets — HERE.