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Sonnder | photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | jeremy-zim.com

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2016 incredible. Today, Sonnder frontman Ryan Weidman reflects on the importance of staying alert on the road and the music that helped him do so 2016. The band plays the TLA on May 20 with Civil Youth, more information can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.

2016 has been a year full of mixed feelings, leading to many a mixed drink I would say. Whether it was frustration over politics, celebrity passings, or personal grievances, it is safe to say society has somewhat infamously labeled this year as one of pure misery, at least on social media. As a musician, the concept of celebrity deaths has become one of implanted glorification by the so called “27 Club.” Greats such as Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, and Amy Winehouse to name a few all met their untimely demise at this age; so much creativity was given a period mid sentence. Musicians are serenaded with these stories at young ages, generating a morbid allure of making it that far. Turning 27 myself this year has brought out this obsession with death, making me feel like this is going to be my last year on earth to get everything I want to share out to the masses. I know what is going through your head, “Ah yes, the typical whiny musician opening his chest wide about his boo hoos towards his romantic attachment to death.” No. Some weird stuff has gone down in life leading up to my birthday last week, causing some very haunting reminders of my fragility in this world.

The week of Halloween began with me finally taking time to hang out with my terminally ill grandmother who was diagnosed with stage four cancer in the fall of 2015. It had been a little while since I had time to spend quality time with her, so I was glad and ready to take the day to catch up with someone who has literally been there with me my whole life. I walk in on her finishing up a sandwich sitting in her chair watching TV. She gets up, and I meet her with a warm embrace. We walk to her patio and exchange stories and much of what is discussed is in regards to the beauty of the landscape. Within minutes of us proceeding back into her apartment, she faints, struggles for breath, and dies right before my eyes. I could have spent time with her anytime beforehand. Isn’t it strange that the one time I decide to seriously be there she leaves us? Nothing really preps you for witnessing things like this especially so abrupt and unexplained.

The weekend after, we (Sonnder) were invited to join the rambunctiously delightful band Baby Baby in NYC and Philly. What better what to expose the emotions I was feeling and do what I could to channel them and release them? Needless to say, most musicians don’t quite do just one thing. So much must be done for the struggling musician to keep the dream alive while also making sure one’s own body and soul are fed. For instance, I teach music in the Central Bucks School District as a music substitute as well as subbing random subjects when applicable, I am currently assistant directing a middle school musical, I sometimes work at Bourbon & Branch running the door, and I work at the local mall at Express from time to time, all while trying to maintain and push Sonnder forward professionally and creatively. Damn. I’m tired after just typing all of that out! Moreover, not much sleep was obtained the week leading up to our weekender with Baby Baby and was thus scarce in between the shows. Man oh man do I wish I would have slept more that weekend.

Of course, every great show is accompanied by the late night drive home. Every touring band’s grave enemy. Why isn’t teleportation a thing already?!? With the lack of sleep, that last drive home was brutal. Luckily, I was driving with no passenger or equipment in the car. It’s close to 5 a.m., the weekend of shows is over, and I am but 5 minutes from my bed. I must have closed my eyes for a moment. In that instance, I felt a presence of death. I felt my grandmother and even swear I saw her. Next thing I know, I am awaken by impact and my body twirling inside my car. 6 seconds. I shake my head and spit out bits of glass from my mouth only to look up and see the steering wheel on the ceiling. I realize I had flipped my car, rolled 360 degrees, landed on the passenger side, and finally settled upside down. I come to my senses and accept this is reality now and bust my way out of the driver’s door. Looking at the heap of metal, I could not believe I was up walking around feeling so well. I couldn’t believe I survived!

I call 911 and get taken to a nearby hospital. After th hours of waiting in a bed and some tests, I am released. I only endured the tiniest scratch on my knee. THAT’S ALL! How does one walk away from something like that practically unscathed? Perhaps, my grandmother was watching over me, protecting me to ensure I live on to do whatever it is I must do. Is it because I am supposed to make many more albums? Or are there many more lessons I must learn in this life before my bell has rung? I don’t know, but it seemed death was following me, reminding me how easily we can be removed from this life. Lights on. Lights off. Mortality. Furthermore, Thanksgiving was tainted by high fever and severe abdominal pain. Turns out that I contracted some rare virus that causes the lymph nodes of the intestines to swell up. WHO GETS THAT?!? Then, just last week on the night before I turned 27, my girlfriend and I found two teenage girls in a car that had flipped a few times right in front of my house, blocking access to my driveway. We were the ones that called it in and waited with them until authorities and paramedics arrived. Fortunately, both girls survived and only one suffered visible injury. What a crazy way to begin year 27! After these kinds of experiences, not much time is spent worrying about what was or what will be. The now becomes the focus more than ever, and what was once a murky pond becomes a clear see to the bottom watering hole to confidently drink from…but I digress.

Ultimately, I am here to share my personal top eight list of songs I have blasted in 2016 on late night drives home from gigs to ensure that I stay awake and continue to cheat death:

1. Jimmy Eat World – “Pass The Baby”

Jimmy Eat World are one of my all time favorite bands and influences. In fact leading up to my birthday, I just saw them 3 nights in a row last week in Philly, Asbury Park, and New York City. Their catalogue is so expansive and versatile that any songwriter is bound to discover some intrigue. Their latest full length effort “Integrity Blues” came out this past fall and is probably their finest work since the fan favorite “Futures.” Specifically, the new track “Pass The Baby” features an outro of the most heavy riffage the band has ever released that is sure to smack you awake on any late night drive home.

2. Saosin – “The Silver String”

Saosin returned this year with original frontman Anthony Green (Circa Survive) to bring the world their new album “Along The Shadow.” Within moments, the opening track “The Silver String” hits with feedback and a quick drum fill leading us into the soaring gritty vocals of Mr. Green. This jam always sucks me down the abyss of chaotic energy but with direct intent and focus. A great substitute for caffeine!

3. Ryan Adams – “Do You Still Love Me?”

Ryan will always be one of my favorite songwriters. The way he goes about writing is something I relate heavily too. I am very much looking forward to his new record Prisoner coming out in February. The lead single “Do You Still Love Me?” has been a jam I have very much loved cranking up full volume over the last few weeks. The song begins with a dreamy ethereal synth line only to punch you in the gut with the guitar hits as Ryan delivers his love message.

4. Blink-182 – “Stockholm Syndrome”

Say what you will about what blink-182 has become, but their 2003 untitled record was dope. It totally redefined their sound at the time, showing a more mature approach compared to their preceding albums. I remember being in 8th grade and putting this album on and being like, “WHAT!?! This is blink! What the hell?” I personally still think this is their best album to date. Come on, Robert Smith of The Cure was on this record! I know it didn’t come out in 2016; but it was so influential to me growing up, that I still keep it on deck in my car. The fifth track “Stockholm Syndrome” delivers one the hardest hitting intros the band has ever put out. As soon as this song starts, I am immediately amped and ready to drive all the way to Mexico.

5. Thrice – “Hurricane”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eC3xaEw9PSM

Thrice are among the bands that have always released great music with each album exploring something new from the last. I was so bummed when they announced their hiatus in 2011! This year was made better with their full length return “To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere.” The opening track “Hurricane” teases you with the light acoustic guitar strumming away only to unleash an uplifting distorted soundscape that will prevent anyone from catching those z’s on I-95.

6. St. Lucia – “Dancing On Glass”

“Matter” was one of the first records I purchased in 2016. It brought a lot of color to the bleak winter nights; and thus, it has come full circle into rotation. The lead single off the album “Dancing On Glass” always gets me in the mood to ride that hype wave. It’s like rainbows pour out of my car speakers and into my eye sockets filling my skull with that good vibe sunshine or maybe those are all hallucinations from being so tired….well whatever it keeps me conscious.

7. Brand New – “Vices”

Again, I know this jam dropped in 2009, but Brand New is always a much welcomed click away for me. “Vices” is the opening track off of “Daisy” and always strikes you in a jarring manner. I mean just listen to the song…there is no way you are drifting off to sleep to that cacophonous depressing nightmare…well…unless you are slightly deranged. Cheers!

8. Bon Iver – “Creeks”

I know what you are thinking, “Bon Iver? Really!?! The beauty would just gently guide me off to that good slumberland.” However, this fantastic a capella track taken from this year’s 22, A Million literally sounds like your car is having a conversation with you when you blast it loud late at night alone on the road. It can be a bit creepy, but in the most harmonious way. Is that even a thing? I don’t know…Just stop doubting and try it!

Honorable Mentions:
Radiohead – “Burn The Witch”

Frightened Rabbit – “Woke Up Hurting”

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