Sea of Souls Resurface
By Jeff Maisey
Back in the 1990s, Sea of Souls was hands-down the most dynamic and popular hard rock band in Hampton Roads.
While the group had various members come and go it’s mainstay musician was bassist/singer Andrew McNeeley. Unlike many of their contemporary metal bands in the region, SOS wrote their own songs.
McNeeley and company recorded and released several critically acclaimed albums including “Titanic,” “Feed the Machinery” (1995), “Scars & Designs EP” (1996), “One Eighty One” (1998) and “Flowers & Landmines” (2002).
Perhaps the band’s most beloved live anthem was “Heroine,” which garnered regular rotation on local hard rock radio station FM99.
“We’ve been playing ‘Heroine’ regularly for 4 years, and it’s a proven winner for us,” recalled the program director Harvey Kojan. “As a matter of fact, in our most recent 500-song auditorium music test, ‘Heroine’ received its highest score to date, finishing in the top 10 percent of all songs tested. That’s pretty damn impressive for any song, let alone one that’s locally produced. Most important, it sounds great on the air – melodic and powerful.”
Sea of Souls toured the country and were highly sought after by major and indie record labels. By the time “Flowers & Landmines” was released, the group had made an all-out effort to tailor its sound and image to attract the elusive “big deal” they had long hoped for.
In my CD review of the album, I wrote this: “You could say Sea of Souls has a lot riding on this recording. In the past year, the Virginia Beach-based quartet has slightly augmented its image and sound to appear more commercially viable in the eyes of bottom-lining major record company executives. And, if you can excuse the pun, they have done so without selling their souls. In fact, “Flowers & Landmines” is their finest output to date.
“The first three tracks are undoubtedly hits-in-waiting. “Dumb” has that radio-playable, nu-metal grind with John Adkins’ voice spewing attitude and Michael Doyle’s guitar screaming like a frog stung by hornets (imagine the sound, then listen to the song). On “Gone,” the head-turning hook is found in the chorus where Adkins nails his falsetto notes.
“The song that best embodies all the qualities of the band in its present state is “Wasting My Time.” The exceptional composition is as oxymoronic as the album title, balancing seemingly opposite vocal styles where bassist Andrew McNeely’s psychedelia duels playfully with Adkins’ hip-hop-inspired lines. Drummer Bill Adams provides a thunderous backdrop on the bridge.
“Flowers & Landmines” is further proof Sea of Souls is the best unsigned band in the land.”
Ultimate success was not to be had. Nearly a decade has passed since the last version of Sea of Souls performed live. But churning inside McNeeley was a desire to resurrect the band.
A new lineup featuring Andrew McNeeley, Noel Winslow (guitar), John O’Neil (guitar) and Steve Archer (drums) will official trumpet the resurfacing of Sea of Souls on September 20 at The NorVa. The once and future kings of heavy rock hath returned.
Several years ago, McNeeley left Hampton Roads and moved to Raleigh where he found work in a small print shop. The time away from music was helpful for McNeeley.
“I got my head together,” he said. “I didn’t go out to clubs; I didn’t meet anybody. It was a self-imposed exile.”
For the reunion show, McNeeley said the band will draw exclusively from its considerable catalog of music. He hinted the group may write and record again, but that’ll take time.
McNeeley said the band originally started as a dictatorship.
“I had been in bands that were a democracy all my life,” he said. “I think when you compromise you lose a sub-point of focus. And art needs to have a sub-point of focus.”
Having a clear musical focus and direction – a vision – created immediate success for the band. Theatrics on-stage were part of the experience.
“Even the burning on incense is important,” said McNeeley. “If you attack all the senses then the show is going to be memorable.”
One of the last showcases performed by Sea of Souls was at the legendary New York City club CBGB. The band rented a large bus and brought nearly 100 fans from Virginia Beach to hoot and holler. Record label A&R folks attended, showed genuine interest, but no deal.
“We were always the bride’s maid, but never the bride,” recalled McNeeley. “I can’t think of any band that came closer to making it than we did.”
During McNeeley’s hiatus from music he’s come to view things less tragically.
“I came to realize that we really did make it in our own way. We have a large body of work and I’m really proud of the songs. I think they hold up today.”
Sea of Souls