Weird things can happen to people when they reach middle age.
They have personal crises and transformations, go through divorces, switch careers, and move away from the city where they ve lived most of their life.
And sometimes musicians like Steven J. Athanas go through it all and come out the other end with an excellent batch of songs that make their first CD released at the tender age of 53 an out-of-left-field rock and roll winner.
The longtime front man for popular Toledo cover band The Homewreckers, Athanas is in record stores for the first time in his life as a solo act with We Are Our Own Parade, which was released today.
It kicks off with a bracing splash of electric guitars courtesy of producer and veteran local musician E.J. Wells on (I m Thinkin ) You re Wrong Again and then slams through 15 songs that cover the stylistic gamut from hard rock to folky singer/songwriter fare, Buddhist chants, and quirky, stylish adult pop.
The disc was recorded in Wells Happyland Studios in Waterville when Athanas journeyed back from Baltimore, where he has lived for the past two years, teaching art and nursing himself back from a painful divorce.
Writing songs was therapy.
Being alone, and I mean alone with a capitol A in this city, I had to do something, or I would ve gone crazy, he said in a phone interview. It was very good for me. God knows what I would ve done.
Athanas, who is an art teacher, mined his emotions from the painful breakup of his second marriage for the subject matter of the songs.
I guess it s that old adage that you write what you know, and, man, I knew it for those two years.
We Are Our Own Parade brims with confidence and professionalism. Athanas is a vocalist with personality and a knack for funny, smart lyrics, able to rhyme epistle with guided missile and not sound like he s reaching too far.
He credited Wells, who plays almost all the guitars and helped Athanas construct the songs, with the muscularity of the tunes, citing the disc s centerpiece, the anthemic Little Fish Tattoo as the best example.
I took him these songs and they were just folky singer/songwriter things and he morphed them, Athanas said. Little Fish Tattoo was just this little Donovan-like ditty and he ran with it and I cannot praise him enough.
Wells said Athanas would bring him the songs and play acoustic versions before they worked on arrangements that were beefier. The idea of Little Fish Tattoo was to sound like David Bowie meets U2 in the middle, just a huge production. The emotional content was there already, which made it easy for me.
He and Athanas played together years ago in the band Loved By Millions, and when Wells had his studio up and running he heard his old friend was going through some tough times and invited him to record there.
I always had a certain amount of respect and admiration for him as far being a front man and having that entertainer gift, but I also heard some things he wrote back when we were in that band and I always thought he was a decent songwriter and good lyricist. He s a smart guy.
Next up for Athanas is figuring out how to market the disc. He s planning to sell it online at www.cdbaby.com and at local music stores like Culture Clash and Ramalama Records, and he s planning a show with Wells and other musicians Dec. 23 at the Village Idiot in Maumee.
He also still plays once a month or so with The Homewreckers, when it s worth the money to drive back to Toledo, but the plan is to try to find musicians in Baltimore who can play the new songs.
Athanas said that while the divorce was at the center of We Are Our Own Parade, he s already writing about other subject matter for a follow-up.
I touched everything. I touched the broken heart. I touched the anger, the fear of being alone, so it was there and I ve promised those people close to me that the next one will have little to do with that.