In a day and age where it’s a challenge for hard rock records to sustain the listener’s interest for a full dozen-song cycle – let alone sound innovative – Submersed rises up on its landmark effort Immortal Verses. Perfected by frontman Donald Carpenter, bassist Kelan Luker, guitarist TJ Davis and drummer Garrett Whitlock – with meticulous assistance from producer Rick Beato (12 Stones, Shinedown) – the Texas-bred, Florida-based quartet’s second Wind-up offering thrives on musical ingenuity and heartfelt lyrics.
For Carpenter, the roaring, contagious opener and lead single “Better Think Again” is an honest and cathartic look back on Submersed’s experiences since its 2004 debut, In Due Time. “We were trying to find a song that works as a first single but maintains the integrity of the record it precedes,” says the singer. “It talks about our frustrations as a chess piece in a game called the music business these days. As an artist, you definitely start feeling less like a person and more like a commodity sometimes.”
“When it came down to the words, I didn’t really feel like I could be honest at first about the way things were bothering me because I didn’t want to tick people off who helped us out,” Donald explains. “But the label told me to go for it. And although I was a little leery of putting that out there, the real message of that song is that – as a band – we carry the keys to our own future.”
It’s a notion that’s evident in the diverse but cohesive course of Immortal Verses. Long on strong, innovative songs that boast airwave affability while still retaining their sense of self, Submersed goes deep, from the vast, powerful “I Feel The Change” to the swooning, devotional anthem “At First Sight.”
If the former evokes the classic, hard rock tack of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” Carpenter confesses it’s no accident. “Chris Cornell has always been a pretty obvious influence on my singing,” he says of his delivery on the track. “When I was piecing the lyrics and the melody together, I sung it in this low type of vocal range. And it just really gave the chorus somewhere to peak and somewhere to go.”
Elsewhere, “Wonder” – a rare uplifting rocker that takes the listener in a number of musical directions while maintaining continuity – and the prog-tinged revelation “Life Without You” each exhibit the musical depth Submersed possesses on Immortal Verses. Those soul searchers, like the heartfelt “Answers” play to Carpenter’s poetic strengths.
“For a little while, I was trying to work on story songs, until I realized I’m just much better at conveying my own experiences,” Carpenter explains. “I’ve been through some crazy things in my life and I figure, ‘Why not use them?’ I just feel a lot more comfortable and it’s a lot more genuine for me to take ownership of songs that are real and truly a part of me.”
As a result, the Submersed mouthpiece feels his live performances have only gotten better. “It’s just more emotional, it’s more believable, and it has so much more of what I used to see from the bands that I admire,” Donald adds. “You see these guys that really have the ability to get onstage and let it all pour out of them. And I’m sure that it’s because it is an expression of what is real.”
After working and jamming on the record in Atlanta, the group focused in on the sessions for Immortal Verses. Submersed aligned with Rick Beato for the current album. “We recorded “We All Make Mistakes” to see how things would go, and hit it off,” says Carpenter. “Then Rick and I worked on a couple of tunes together and it all took shape. It was different from the standpoint that we put two years of searching for where we wanted to take the band. It was more focused, more centered. We knew what we wanted to get out of our record and [Beato] helped us achieve that goal.”
If the men of Submersed seem to hold themselves to high standards, it’s because they understand that the opportunity their music has afforded them comes with certain responsibility. Says Carpenter, “People like John Lennon had a real intention behind what they were doing. They were driven by something more than just trying to make money and get popular. And let’s be honest, that’s why the music business thrived. People knew it was genuine.”
That same authentic approach may explain why fans that discovered the group in the wake of In Due Time and its radio breakthrough “Hollow” are extremely loyal. “There aren’t a lot of passive Submersed fans in our audiences,” Donald observes. “And I’m grateful because I know they will be behind us, even as we win over more people.”
“We’ve grown and gotten better,” he continues. “And I get emotional about it. It always feels good to know that when you’ve gone through something difficult, you come out stronger and wiser. And in the years between our first and second records, I’ve gotten more confident in who we are. We’re willing to stand up for ourselves and we respect our art, we respect our music.”
“We recorded this album with a survivalist approach, because we’re still not where we want to be, and we’re scratching and clawing to get there,” Carpenter concludes. “But listening to the completed version of Immortal Verses, I know we can hold our own now.”