Toni Fisher, who joined local electro-rock band Rites of Ash about a year ago, joked about the “boys club” that it was then, and admitted that she had reservations about joining a hard-rocking act. Her experience was as a pop and R&B singer, and she didn’t know how to sing metal. But Rites of Ash didn’t want her to.
Rites of Ash began when guitarist and keyboard player Ken Lasso was a student at Christopher Newport University, with a few friends fusing electronic and acoustic elements in their music. When he returned to the Washington, D.C. area, where he is originally from, he sought out like-minded musicians. He met lead vocalist Alex Like through an online ad about seven years ago, and the two have since been unified in their idea of how the band should sound. Finding others who shared their particular vision proved a challenge, though; the band has seen a revolving cast of musicians since its inception.
“They had very different artistic visions than what Ken and I had,” Like said. “I think that’s what kept Ken and I together, the fact that we were always kind of in tune with what we wanted to do.”
It’s a moving target, though. They started with a harder, more industrial sound which has evolved over time as the band attempted and settled into a more radio-friendly style – “more palatable, more poppy,” Lasso said; “definitely way more polished,” Like added. Fisher’s vocals, they say, contributed to that shift.
“She was very tempering to what we were doing before,” Like said. “I feel like we finally found four other people that click with what Ken and I are trying to do musically.” They round out their order with Stephen Rowley on drums, Tuomas Easton on keyboards, and a bassist who joins the group for live shows.
The end result is an electronic rock outfit with catchy beats and singable lyrics, one that can pull off a dubstep breakdown (like in the single to its latest EP of the same name, “She’s Out for Blood”), and also embrace the vocal harmonies in Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” to record an amped-up version all their own.
Audiences can see Rites of Ash, fresh off of an appearance on the Dew Tour in Ocean City, Maryland last weekend, at Jammin’ Java Sept. 4, and hear how the vocals of Like and Fisher are woven together for the kinds of complex harmonies on stage that machines just couldn’t duplicate. They’ll also see the debut of new video material shot by Falls Church photographer and videographer Ben Powell in a multimedia performance Lasso praises as a “scaled-back” version of an arena concert. A synchronized lights show and the styling and choreography talents of Avisa Shandel are included in a stage show that Lasso says is only limited by space.
“If somebody’s coming to a small club that can only fit 200 people, we’re going to bring them a world-class show,” Lasso said.
Though the band is not signed by a record label, they still release music and craft their grand stage shows with what resources they have. They look to the Internet for guidance in actualizing their ideas and duplicating aspects of other concerts they like, and tap into their “day-job” know-how and paychecks (City of Falls Church residents might recognize Lasso as a public policy analyst for Public Utilities) to augment their passion for making music.
“Every one of us knows that music is what we’re supposed to do,” Fisher said. “We know it doesn’t matter really how long it takes, we know we’re going to be heard.”
• For more information about Rites of Ash, visit ritesofash.com.