Tell Flyleaf guitarist Sameer Bhattacharya that his band’s debut sounds more professional than most records made by musicians in his twenty-something demographic, and he’ll laugh in your face. Not in a mean way, since Bhattacharya and his bandmates are nice Christian kids who met in 2000 as members of the same small-town church youth group. His chuckle is more a gesture of incredulity. “We’re still new at this,” the Texas-based guitarist says over the phone, kicking back at home the day before he heads to Hawaii for a brief (but long-awaited) vacation from the tour Flyleaf have been on for much of this year. “We don’t know what we’re doing.”
That’s debatable: the self-titled Flyleaf is a masterfully rendered goth-pop marvel, full of tortured, anthemic choruses and crunching arena-doom guitars. They coil tightly around frontwoman Lacey Mosley’s singing, which switches easily between delicate piano-ballad crooning and a full-on metal-core yowl. Far from the happy accident Bhattacharya suggests, it’s music that sounds like it was made by people who know exactly what they’re doing—namely, capitalizing on the demand fellow Southerners Evanescence stoked three years ago for fresh rock that’s pretty and ugly at the same time. It’s the same demand ex-Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody has been helping formerly squeaky-clean tween-pop stars like Kelly Clarkson and Lindsay Lohan satisfy lately.
This isn’t to suggest that Flyleaf’s stuff seems contrived or calculated (anymore than great pop always seems contrived and calculated); feeling pretty and ugly at the same time is what being a young person is all about, and in that respect, Flyleaf’s carefully manicured noise nails their peer group’s innate sense of internal drama. “Our songs are about real-life events,” Bhattacharya says. “Things you go through in life that trouble you and leave you scarred in some way. And we write about finding hope in that, taking all the crap you’ve gone through and turning it into something positive.”
The guitarist says that’s what connects Flyleaf to Korn and Deftones, the two veteran metal bands headlining the Family Values Tour that brings Flyleaf to Starwood Saturday night. “There’s a lot of negativity in what Korn does,” he admits, alluding to gems such as “Dead Bodies Everywhere” and “Shoots and Ladders,” in which singer Jonathan Davis describes “hidden violence revealed” and “darkness that seems real.” “But at the same time they’re singing about stuff their fans can relate to. And I think that’s totally what kids want—someone to share their experiences with, who can say, ‘Yeah, I know what that’s like.’ ”
He’s not worried that Flyleaf’s atmospheric streak might turn off meat-and-potatoes metalheads, either. “We haven’t really thought about the balance” that defines the band’s music, he says, explaining that it’s simply the natural product of the members’ varied backgrounds and influences. “Overall, I don’t really even listen to much heavy rock. I learned to play guitar along with the Gin Blossoms and Counting Crows. We’re not gonna write certain songs in a certain genre for certain fans; whatever comes out comes out, whether it’s a soft ballad or an aggressive riff. We just want it to be intense.” –Mikael Wood