Ashes of Soma Reveal What it Takes
to Make Music That Stands The Test of Time
Story by Alley L. Biniarz
Photography by Syx Langemann
What does it take to stand the test of time as a musician? Is it grit, signing with a record label, or producing original songs? Windsor-based band Ashes of Soma would say it comes down to the heartbeat: that steady rhythm that moves you to keep pushing forward even when the going gets tough.
“There’s really no magic formula to make it somewhere,” Randy Gray, songwriter and guitar player for Ashes of Soma, says. “Aside from constant work, writing good songs and a bit of luck.”
The core band is composed of Randy, Mike Preney (guitar), Paul Doman (drums) and Joel Bishop (bass), and they’ve been playing together since 2003, but the idea to start a band came about years prior. Randy and Mike have been playing guitar together since the age of 16 and originally started a band named Day Trip. “It was a terrible name but we were inspired by Days of the New with our acoustic sound, two bass players and a drummer,” Randy says about their early years of playing music. They later reconstructed the band into Knematic, where Randy was no longer the lead singer and the vibe was more in line with Rage Against the Machine.
After a few years they transformed their sound again, and Randy was back to playing guitar and even writing more original music. They decided to try a new band, pulling their Knematic drummer Paul along with them, and then brought Joel on to play bass.
“Like anything, we started off playing small joints with four people, and then 10, and all of a sudden there were 500 people in the room just to watch us,” Randy talks about the slow progression of their success. “Eventually we were playing in front of 15,000 people and it’s something you get used to after a while. You ease into it without being swept away but the feeling of excitement is still there.”
Ashes of Soma has since gone on to do a few tours with Candle Box, travelled around North America, and played iconic spaces like House of Blues, DTE, Pine Knob and The Fillmore. It was during the excitement of producing music and touring that they were, like many other bands, pushing to score a record deal. As their name grew, they were eventually offered one and were surprised that they didn’t jump at the chance like they’d thought. The band quickly realized that in today’s market, if a label owned their sound, they’d own everything.
“Of course there would have been perks like better tours, lineups and more radio play, but they’ll often hold you hostage and it’s not worth it.” Randy says they’d heard story after story about bands or artists signing their lives away, not realizing that their original works were now in the hands of someone else and often getting ripped off in the process. “For us, it didn’t make sense to sign over the control. A lot of people have told us that we should have just done it, but at the end of the day it was our choice. We didn’t care, we wanted control over our lives.”
Even without the record deal, Ashes of Soma has gone on to be recognized worldwide. When CD sales turned into modern Spotify downloads, countries like Poland and Finland were able to access their content, and now it shows that the number three country that listens to their band’s music is Australia. “We get questions all the time about when we’re doing an international tour, but with new careers and families, it’s tough to take off on tour like we would before,” Randy says.
The original band of four has stuck around but has expanded to welcome featured artists and guests over the years, inviting singers Dave Creed or guitar players Shawn Walstedt and Brian Fry to join. “We have the mentality of surrounding ourselves with the best musicians that we can possibly find. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m not the best, so then why wouldn’t I bring someone else on for their talent or opinions?” Randy says that rather than let ego get in the way, it’s been beneficial in the long-run to bring in other ideas, diverse talent, and to talk to new bands who all have a common goal: to make good music.
Having broadened the band’s sound, Randy has also stepped deeper into his role of writing music. “I’ve got hundreds of snippets of songs in my phone just waiting to be created into something,” Randy illustrates the countless audio and video recordings of him. He grasps the idea right away, because the muse can come out of nowhere. “As a songwriter, music just appears with no rhyme nor reason. It’s hard to explain this thing that just falls into your head. All musicians would say the same thing: it’s like a gift from the gods.” Having the recorded tunes helps to prompt his mind at a later date, once the band is all together creating new music.
Ashes of Soma has survived the test of time thanks to their unwavering motivation to try. They’ve extended themselves playing shows, built their audience from scratch, put out the best songs that they could and collaborated or asked for help from others to pull the pieces together. That’s it. No other magic formula other than doing things the old-fashioned way and for the right reasons.
Their plan moving forward is to release a new song every month and they currently have a backlog of 30 new songs waiting to be finalized and wrapped up. For now, Ashes of Soma is going to keep playing music together, just because they enjoy it and not because some label is making them. “And we’ll keep doing that until the brain stops creating. Until that gift from the gods one day doesn’t appear.”
You can listen to their two latest singles, Addicted To The Drug released late in 2022 or Bombs Away which was released Boxing Day. Both are available on most major streaming services along with their other releases.