Josh Berwanger describes his time and state of mind while leading The Anniversary (whom you might remember as one of the more substantive bands in the category called "emo") and his eventual arrival as de facto leader of a new band, The Only Children:
"In the Anniversary," he says, "I was writing…when I was 17-18 years old. I was still learning how to write and sing. [And] honestly, I have no idea how I wrote some of those songs. I can’t listen to that stuff anymore."
Although the psychedelic pop on The Anniversary’s final album, Your Majesty, foreshadowed change, that was when Berwanger officially snapped out of it, realized he had music in him that had intent, and came from a deeper place. Soon afterward (that’d be mid-December of 2003), The Anniversary dissolved. Berwanger, having already sealed a deal for a solo project with Austin-based indie Glurp Records, immediately took up with Anniversary mates James David (bass) and Christian "Janko" Jankowski (drums) and jettisoned any "solo" aspirations. Whatever they did, it would be as a full band. And it would incorporate Berwanger’s long neglected influences, such as John Fahey, Neil Young, Lightnin’ Hopkins and the Anthology of American Folk.
"I wasn't even looking at influences with the Anniversary," Berwanger muses. "I don't think I had learned that as a songwriter yet."
But as he, David and Jankowski worked, they hit upon alchemy—genuinely inspired music that ached and elated, and sounded more like what was in their souls. As friends and fellow musicians heard the demos, they heard the same thing. Berwanger’s good friend, NYC blues artist T.K. Webb, initially courted as a guest contributor, asked to be a permanent member. Heidi-Lynne Gluck, at the time performing with Juliana Hatfield’s band Some Girls, was immediately smitten and brought her Wurlitzer piano, accordion, and beautiful vocals to join the newly-formed band (Josh Berwanger and The Holy Ghosts, they were called for a time) in a barn/rehearsal space in Lawrence, Kansas. Another close friend, Hot Rod Circuit guitarist Casey Prestwood, signed on to play pedal steel guitar and within a month of solidifying the line-up, The Only Children made haste to Colorado to record Change of Living with producer Marc Benning.
Change of Living is rooted in classic blues rock like Beggars Banquet-era Stones and classic country rock like Harvest-era Neil Young, and finds Berwanger raiding his influences for the first time. His plaintive story-songs and dusty vocals (beautifully complemented by Gluck’s sweet warblings) are the sepia-toned picture of rustic Americana, without stooping to crude imitation; flickers of power pop, AM radio pop and blues rock tint the rootsy elements. This music resonates with authenticity and the joys of expression and chemistry—chiefly on the album closer, "The Circle Will Not Be Broken."
"The Circle Will Not be Broken" was the last song I wrote for the record," says Berwanger, "and it is pretty much just about The Only Children being one and coming together and whatever happens between us, we will always have the time we spent recording and making the record."
At the same time, it’s a goodbye to the past...
"It is also about the Anniversary breaking up…how nothing is permanent but in the end, if you do what you believe in, whether it goes unnoticed or not, what matters is you’re happy with what you did."
And lest there be any question, Berwanger is proud of The Anniversary, which can boast 80,000 records sold, and world tours with everybody from Cheap Trick to Guided By Voices and Modest Mouse, among other things. More worthy of his esteem, though, is the fact that there is still good music to be made with good friends. And when you have that, everything else is gravy.
"Making it, to me these days, is just having our name on a CD. If it doesn't sell, so what? We've accomplished something many bands never do—we have our name on an album. And if fame-money-success comes our way, well, that's all just shits and giggles. When we are playing together there is no one else on earth but us, and that's that!"