Grabbing the microphone. It's a simple enough action and New Found Glory's Chad Gilbert has done it hundreds of times. However, while performing in Los Angeles in March, Gilbert suddenly collapsed onstage, the victim of an electric shock courtesy of a faulty mic.
"It was definitely scary and weird," says Gilbert, who was rushed to the hospital where he stayed overnight for testing. "They had to monitor my heart for the night to make sure it wasn't beating irregularly."
In between getting shocked and holding down his position as lead guitarist in the long running pop-punk band, Gilbert has been striking out on his own with his new band, What's Eating Gilbert. Eschewing the current trend of punk rockers growing beards and playing folk, What's Eating Gilbert — who will perform at Tremont Music Hall on April 24 — finds Gilbert making music reminiscent of 1950s rock and roll, the kind he heard his parents play.
"With What's Eating Gilbert, I'm inspired by a lot of the music I heard growing up, 'oldies'" Gilbert says. It's the earnestness of those early pop songs, from artists such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, which Gilbert draws much of his songwriting inspiration from, even if it means putting too much of himself out there for the world to see.
"When you listen to those songs, they're not metaphoric; they're pretty much straight to the point," he says. "That's sorta my favorite writing. I never like it when an artist tries to be too much of an artist and forgets that they're there to make music and sing songs. That's what I do. I don't know how to write another way than being straightforward."
What's Eating Gilbert's sound is as basic as its words, harking back to the 1950s while giving a nod to the pop-punk Gilbert cut his teeth on as a member New Found Glory. It's the penchant that early pop music had for melody and earnestness that Gilbert is shooting for with his new band, hoping the simplicity says more about the tunes than affiliations to any sort of genre.
"I feel like with music, that's how it used to be. People just liked good songs," says Gilbert about the contrast between today's tastes and those of a simpler time. "Lately, people only relate to one [type] of music, but with this style of music it doesn't matter what your favorite is. You can enjoy it and that's what I'd like to try to bring back a little bit more."
What's Eating Gilbert is a fairly new project, one without pressure or any sort of outside expectations, letting Gilbert do things at his own pace. New Found Glory amounts to a full time job, paying the bills and keeping its members sharp while requiring them to be on the road a large part of the year.
"New Found Glory is at a place in our career where we'll never get any bigger and we'll never get any smaller," he says. "We'll always be New Found Glory. It's awesome, I love being in that place. But because we're at that point, it gives us more freedom, it's given us more time off. I love writing music, so with What's Eating Gilbert I like to fill that time with being creative and touring and playing music."
What's Eating Gilbert finds Gilbert in the lead vocalist role, but he says it's not too much of a stretch from NFG. "It's nice being the front man," he says. "With New Found Glory I do a lot of the talking anyways on stage because New Found Glory has the most humble but also [the most] insecure singer in the world."
Although he's known for his work as the vocalist for hardcore band Shai Hulud and his gravely backup vocals in NFG, for What's Eating Gilbert Gilbert's voice is smooth and almost unrecognizable to fans of his previous work.
Although WEG has released several EPs and singles over the past few years, Gilbert is finally planning to record the band's first full-length by 2013's end, and his back-to-the-basics ethos for the band will find him recording the album in the same way his predecessors did in the '50s and '60s.
"I wanna record the meat and potatoes of the record live," Gilbert says. "I wanna do what they did back then, where we get in a room and play the song and sing it, and if it sounds good [we'll] keep it and that'll be the recording. I really wanna try to stick to the old tradition as much as we can."
In between recording and touring, producing other artists and running his new record label, Violently Happy, Gilbert may be one of the hardest working men in music, which he attributes to his background.
"Honestly, the key to it is just loving it," he says. "I feel like my heritage is a hard working heritage. I'm lucky that my hard work isn't waking up at 6 a.m. and mixing cement, it's playing guitar. So, I wanna use all my time to work and contribute, because I love doing it."
After several years on the backburner, What's Eating Gilbert is finally getting to do some honest-to-God touring, with a recent West Coast tour under their belts and an upcoming run up the East Coast. Gilbert is hopeful that his new band will attract a crowd outside of the one that gets sweaty in the mosh pit at New Found Glory shows.
"This music could be for anybody," he says. "If you love New Found Glory, I want you to come see it because I think you'll dig it. If you don't love New Found Glory, I want you to come see it because I think you'll dig it. I feel like this music speaks for any sort of genre, and I wanna try to play for anyone."
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