Phantom Power

Acceptance broke up before its promising debut could make its mark. Eight years later, the band’s members are discovering it did anyway, without them.

In a review of Acceptance’s debut album, Phantoms, posted on on November 21, 2005, the reviewer praised the record, asking readers “Can you even imagine the kind of impact an album like this will have on the MTV generation? It’s going to be huge.”

The album never did get huge, thanks largely to the fact that Acceptance called it quits just a year later. But thanks to East Coast label Bad Timing Records, the album is getting a second chance. Initial reports indicate that its impact might indeed have been great. The label announced on Monday, July 15 that it was releasing a vinyl reissue of Phantoms. When the preorder went live the next day, all 1,000 copies sold out in just over four hours. It was a modest accomplishment, but it surprised everyone.

“I think the vinyl release was the first time it really hit me that we may have had a bigger impact than we ever knew,” says lead singer Jason Vena in an e-mail.

The alt-rock band formed in Seattle in 1998 and released two EPs on independent labels, 2000’s Lost for Words and 2003’s Black Lines to Battlefields. The second effort eventually made it into the hands of both super-producer and Def Jam founder Rick Rubin and Matt Pinfield, then vice president of A&R at Columbia Records, who helped sign the band. Acceptance then began work on their first full-length with producer Aaron Sprinkle at The Compound in Capitol Hill.

“It’s really fun to work with people where, a, they get really excited about what’s happening in the studio, and, b, where I’m as excited as they are,” Sprinkle says about recording Phantoms. “I remember key moments like that where things really clicked.”

The album they produced was filled with lyrics about love and loss and instrumentation that managed to be both catchy and complex. Sprinkle’s seemless production held it together, while Vena’s powerful voice put it over the top.

Things were looking up for the band back in 2004. They were working on a promising debut album, had the support of a major label, and had opportunities to tour with pop-rock hitmakers like Fall Out Boy and Yellowcard.

Then it all started to fall apart. Phantoms leaked months before the April 26, 2005 release date, which negatively affected first-week sales, and Columbia pushed “Different,” a ballad, as the lead single, while the band and Sprinkle felt the more upbeat “Take Cover” would have been a better representation of the album as a whole. Phantoms was also one of the albums affixed with the copy-protection software that later landed Sony BMG, Columbia’s parent company, in hot water, causing the label to pull all copy-protected albums from shelves.

“Not only did our label shoot us in the leg at the beginning of the marathon, but it shot us in the heart at mile 13 as well,” guitarist Christian McAlhaney writes in an e-mail.

As bassist Ryan Zwiefelhofer tells it, the label’s not-so-positive response to the demos Acceptance was working on for a second full-length, mixed with exhaustion and frustration, led to the band calling it quits. Vena was the first to announce his departure.

“One of the things that I have always heard [from] our fans is how much the music connected with them on a personal level, and I think that comes from the pure passion we had when we were creating or performing music,” Vena says. “Once I realized that I couldn’t give that same level of passion, it was time to be done.”

Drummer Nick Radovanovic says Vena’s decision made it easier for the other members to follow suit. “We were all in a weird place when he mentioned that to us,” he says. “We were like ‘OK, we’ll just be done.’ Looking back, that was stupid of us to do.”

Guitarist Kaylan Cloyd agrees, saying he thinks the band threw in the towel a little too soon. “Looking back on it, I would’ve loved to do another record. I’d still like to,” he says. “There’s parts of that whole chapter of my life that I really miss a lot.”

Post-Acceptance, some members continue to work in the music industry in some capacity: McAlhaney plays guitar and sings backup in Florida-based rock band Anberlin, and Radovanovic works as an engineer and producer at Skies Fall Media Group, created by ex-Skillet guitarist Ben Kasica, in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Others, though, have enjoyed stepping away from the business altogether. Vena has worked at the same non-music company for seven years (though he contributed guest vocals to a song by pop-punk poster band All Time Low and another, produced by Sprinkle, for Tooth & Nail rockers Ivoryline). Zwiefelhofer works at a digital-marketing and web-design company, and Cloyd, who continued to play locally for two years after Acceptance ended, drives a wholesale milk route, delivering to coffee shops, restaurants, and markets.

With the members otherwise occupied, it is Thomas Nassiff and Zack Zarrillo, the co-founders of Bad Timing Records, who are keeping the band’s legacy alive. The decision to re-press the album, which will be sent out this week, was made for love, not money. “They fill a niche for pop music that no one else did or has done,” Nassiff says. “[Phantoms] feels nostalgic the first time you hear it.”

After the overwhelming response, Nassiff and Zarrillo are planning on a second Phantoms pressing later this year, and working on placing copies in retail stores like Hot Topic and online stores like SRC and Interpunk.

Following the vinyl’s success, the band is receptive to the idea of a reunion of sorts, though no one seems to want to pull the trigger. The logistics alone are daunting, with members spread across the country, many with families of their own and those full-time jobs.

Whether or not this vinyl release reignites a spark in the band, Acceptance is going to hold a special place in record collections for years to come, evident as Sprinkle continues to work with artists who call Phantoms one of their favorite albums.

“Though it wasn’t considered a success by the label and it was the last thing the band did, it has such a strong presence within the music community,” Sprinkle says. “Even though it didn’t go down the way we hoped it would, it still prevails in the end.”

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