Detroit post-punk band Antighost straddles two identities. One is where the band enjoys national recognition and has performed its mosh-pit-inciting anthems to crowds at Vans 2017 Warped Tour pit stop in Detroit and Bledfest, a one-day musical extravaganza held in Howell's Hartland Performing Arts Center that drew in hundreds. The other, which Antighost believes to be more accurate, is one of a rising band that plays wherever they can, and does whatever they can to get to the next gig. That sometimes means securing low-cost and free "venues" in obscure places, like a farmhouse in the middle of a remote Pinckney cornfield or a random garage in Indiana, and playing for a group of six. Life on the road can entail sleeping in an Alabama public skatepark while sustaining on fresh fruit from a farmers market that the band dices with a sword they purchased at a Nashville mall.
"You can have some days where you feel like the biggest rock star in the world, and then there's others where you're like, 'Yep, [we] still got a really long way to go,'" admits 23-year-old Sean Shepard, Antighost's founder, lead vocalist, and guitarist. Shepard, drummer Dylan Vanderson, 21, and bassist Joe Bida, 24, promise an energetic performance with every tour date, regardless of the size of the crowd.
"We put a lot of work into our shows and try to make it an experience for fans. Nowadays, people are so comfortable staying at home and watching Netflix for hours. So if someone is going to give us their time, we're going to give them our 100 percent," Shepard says.
"We play the same show to 500 people that we do to five," adds Vanderson. "Our band mantra is if we can make one fan at a show, we did good."
Shepard started Antighost in 2016, and recorded and released his solo debut EP, Wolves & Sheep, with close friend Mark Stewart, owner of the recording studio Raydon Studio in Keego Harbor, that same year. Shepard produced the EP as a way to attract potential bandmates. Vanderson responded to Shepard's Craigslist ad soon after. For a period of time, Shepard said that there was a "revolving door of bassists" for Antighost, but Bida, also a founder of multi-genre rock-inspired band Den of Greece, joined the band in 2018, in the midst of Vanderson and Shepard producing Animal Panic — the band's second EP, released this past February. Shepard may be the lyricist behind Antighost's discography, but the three find a way to collectively channel the emotions they, and plenty of other millennials, are experiencing right now — anger, depression, and anxiety — into their songs. "I'm rarely writing when I'm happy because I don't feel like that a lot, and I know the music wouldn't be genuine," Shepard says. "I write music when I'm depressed because that's what gets me through that period. Sometimes I wish I could write happier music, but I don't know how good it would be."
Antighost's growing and fiercely loyal fan base doesn't seem to mind the absence of rainbows and smiles in their songs, like "Sober" and "I Can't Feel the Sun." The dark, raw energy they express onstage is befitting of the unpolished spaces they play, and the enthusiasm of every crowd they perform for a testament of their ability to connect with their listeners outside of music streaming services. One of Antighost's first out-state-shows took place in a one-bedroom apartment in a major Midwestern city that the group deemed to be one of the dingier DIY punk houses they often perform in. Fly tape hung from the ceiling like party streamers, and the carpet, covered in cigarette butts, squished with every step they took due to a combination of piss, spilled beer, and mold. The bathroom was simply non-existent and the microphone provided by the owner, also covered in beer, shocked Shepard throughout the night as he sang.
Not only did show attendees seem to dig the atmosphere, as the space was packed tight with moshers and emphatic cigarette-smoking fans, but it was a safe space for punk kids and societal outliers to come together — this is becoming an increasingly important aspect for Antighost when scouting performance spaces. "We've had to step away from a lot of venues because we found out the owners are racist, homophobic, or express some form of prejudice," says Shepard. "Everyone should be welcome at our shows, so we try to play at places that will accommodate all." Venues of this gamut are ascribed an "unknown" address on Antighost's website tour page to not only protect these spots from the police, but also ensure that everyone attending is "there for the same reason," says Shepard. Fans must direct message the band through Instagram for the show's location and time.
Possibly the most ambitious endeavor of Antighost's is the band's upcoming national tour. The band is set to perform at 13 venues in 16 days, leaving little room for recuperation and personal space. It took roughly four months for the band members to arrange the escapade. The tour kicks off at Ferndale's Loving Touch on Friday; then, they'll drive more than 2,700 miles in a van whose seats fold down and provide enough space for the three to sleep. Bida has found the roof of the car to be a comfortable place to snooze. "We're dipping into new waters, being in the car with each other for so long," he says. "It's the real test if we can be a band. It's going to be rough, but we're all addicted to being on tour. We hate coming back to reality."
Bida, Vanderson, and Shepard say they're determined to make Antighost their everyday reality. The unpredictable nature of playing shows can leave them scraping their van for coins to fill up the gas tank and hustling band-tees to pay for food — though, they say this comes with the territory. "There's so much glorification surrounding being out on the road," says Bida. "It's not easy, but it's like you love the struggle too. When you're doing what you love, you're willing to make sacrifices, and you don't feel like you're in a shitty place." Shepard adds, "As long as we can support ourselves, that's the goal. We don't need to be selling out Wembley Arena or headlining major festivals. All of that would be cool, but that's not what we got into this for. We want to make music, and if we can do that and it means we never go past playing smaller clubs, I'm totally fine with that."
Antighost perform with You Rest, You Joy Life; Southpaw; Baggage; and Tall Boy on Friday, Aug. 16 at the Loving Touch; 22634 Woodward Ave., Ferndale; 248-820-5596; thelovingtouchferndale.com. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. All ages.
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