For 15 years, Samuel Spivey and his band Authmentis were active in the Reno scene.
Then the pandemic hit.
“We were around for a really long time,” Spivey said.
Most bands don’t last five years, let alone 15—and the pandemic wiped out many bands who’d previously had staying power.
Spivey has now started a new solo project, A Desolate Light. It features Spivey tackling (almost) all the instruments, the songwriting and even the production aspects for the personal project that explores alternative rock, metal and elements of prog. Debut single “Suppressor” is a sonic journey that starts ethereally with spacey guitar, before leading into an anthemic back half featuring heavy rock. For more, visit adesolatelight.bandcamp.com.
“The biggest difference is, this project is just my own thing,” Spivey said during a recent interview. “I was in the middle of trying to make a couple of these songs that are on this record happen with Authmentis, and after things fell apart, I decided to try out a solo project where I write and create all the songs, and record them and mix the songs and all that kind of stuff on my own.
Spivey learned that going from playing one instrument to playing them all is not easy.
“I have a little bit of background in most of the instruments,” Spivey said. “I know how to play drums a little bit. I can play the bass; I play guitar. I was the singer of Authmentis, so I have all the tools; I just never sat and did all of the parts on my own. The biggest learning experience is figuring out how to write counterpoints—stuff that supports a melody here and there, and actually performing the instruments. Bass was a trick, because I found that to sound like you’re in time with the rest of the band, you’ve got to play against the beat a little bit.”
Getting a song out into the world can sometimes be an easy process, and sometimes it can take years. With A Desolate Light, Spivey had the latter experience.
“Bringing a song into the world is hard anyway, because it always starts in, like, a dream, or some kind of intangible thing, so it kind of feels like you’re crazy carrying around these ideas with you,” he said. “Trying to raise those into reality, it’s really gruesome on your own, because you’ve got to figure out how to translate the whole thing as one person. When you write with a band, it’s really easy to find a flow state, where everybody picks up and gets the idea of things and moves along. When you’re doing it on your own … when things aren’t right, you have to troubleshoot on your own and figure out, ‘Oh, why is this not working? Maybe I should play this instead of that.’ You just have to try a bunch of shit until something actually works, and you like it.”
He talked about his trials and tribulations in finalizing “Suppressor.”
“I’ve had that song probably for four years, and I had started working on it with my previous band, and probably did about 12 or so iterations between the end of that project and releasing this where I would just tweak little parts, change lyrics, try things out or extend areas of the song,” Spivey said. “I would have to try it out and then sit with a mix or a demo of it for a couple of days and see my thoughts about it. It’s a lot more work on your own when you don’t have a team, when you don’t have an engineer and stuff like that.”
Spivey has found some help when it was absolutely needed.
“The only help I’ve really gotten on this project so far is in hiring a drummer, because I don’t have a drum set,” he said. “Trying to buy a drum set, and then figure out recording it at home—by the time I walk away from what that would cost, I could just hire a guy. I actually wrote the drum parts in MIDI, built the song around that as a demo, and then I sent the song out to a guy online and had him track the part that I wrote. That actually worked out pretty well. I mixed it from there, and then I also had somebody master it in their own professional facility.”
The lyrics on “Suppressor” are emotionally charged, with lines such as, “Break down until I disappear,” and, “All I can do is keep searching.” Spivey said going solo allowed him to become more personal in his writing.
“Writing for a band, you do drafts of lyrics, and then you run it by everybody, and if there’s stuff that they really hate, maybe you change it,” Spivey said. “I was going for a feeling with this project. I actually started with the concept before I really focused on the music; I’m trying to tell a story with this project. I’m trying to personify an experience of an identity crisis through each of the songs that are going to be on this record, so each song is going to represent a step in that journey of how to deal with that kind of a problem.”
Spivey said he thought his music would be relatable, because, he said: “Something kind of happened to all of us over the last few years to some degree, right?”
“For me, it’s just a culmination of a lot of things,” he continued. “I would say midlife crisis, because I am of that age, but I think it’s really an identity crisis that has an age countdown. I think everybody’s going to go through some kind of situation where things get too overwhelming, and their identity gets challenged. Who you think you are, and stuff you believe in, and things that used to work for you—all of that hits a breaking point at some point. Not everybody goes out and buys a Lamborghini. Everybody deals with it in a different way, but I do think people hit a point where life kind of breaks them down, and they have to figure out how to move on as a changed person.”
The rest of the upcoming A Desolate Light album, tentatively scheduled for a Nov. 30 release, will expand on Spivey’s problem-solving process, and be loosely based on Zen ideology.
“I have the steps mapped out, and I’ve been experiencing them all, but it’s funny, because this path is circular,” Spivey said. “I based the journey of this album on a thing called the Zen Compass, which is a Zen concept from a book called Dropping Ashes on the Buddha that I was referred to a long time ago. It’s kind of a journey of enlightenment, but it’s represented as a circle, and you start at zero degrees, and then you move to 90°, 180°, 270° and then back to 360° where you started—but that journey where you return, you have the experience, and you’re more informed of what’s going on and who you are. Maybe nothing in the external world has changed … but you will be able to move forward without the suffering that you had in the first place, and that makes you a better person to help the world.”
Spivey is aware that this concept may be foreign to some, but he hopes he can craft songs that make the thought process understandable.
“It sounds a little too deep, like, ‘Oh, we haven’t smoked enough weed for this conversation,’” he said. “I wanted to try it myself, and I also wanted to show people that if you are in a spot like this, maybe this is a journey that you could take that will get you pumped up. … If it’s helpful, great, and if not—hey, it’s a great record.”