How the Almost got famous

By Carole Giambalvo, tbt* writer
Published November 30, 2007

After much success with the catchy, fast-paced anthem, Say This Sooner, and persistent touring with fellow NBT7 performers Paramore and The Starting Line, the Almost returns home to Tampa on Sunday.

These local rockers are a side project of Aaron Gillespie, the drummer for Christian metalcore band Underoath, but they're much more melodic.

While the Almost has navigated the country this year, these hometown boys haven't forgotten their Florida roots. Tbt* spoke with guitarist Jay Vilardi.

You guys will be moving to the main stage Sunday due in part to the hometown response. How does it feel to be coming home to play?

It's good to come home, but radio shows are definitely a different sort of animal. I feel like it will still kind of be new because obviously we're playing a big place we wouldn't normally play, like the Ford Amphitheatre. There was this transition when radio and MTV started picking up our record. Once you broaden your fan base, it kind of changes things. It's a weird sort of success. But the bottom line is that we're stoked about it and we love Tampa! A lot of people hate their hometown - that's definitely not us.

I don't think any band likes being labeled a "side project" band (in this case, to Underoath). Can you give me your take on why you're not one?

No, we are definitely a side-project band. (laughs) We embrace it. These are the realities. Everyone in the Almost is doing other things involving the music industry ... especially Aaron. I remember when he first asked me to join the band. I don't think there was even a record deal or anything like that. Nobody really knew how well-received this would be.

I realize that you may not classify yourself as a "Christian rock" band, but Christian influences are there, correct?

We're Christian guys and we believe what we believe ... but I feel like the world sort of wants you to dumb down the fact you're Christian. Even if it hurt us financially, I would rather be considered a Christian band than be the exact opposite, which is sort of the rock and roll stigma - bands getting loaded and all that. But we won't tour with other Christian bands just because they're Christian. We'll tour with anybody if it made sense musically. If Slipknot or Slayer wanted to take us on tour and it made sense musically - which it doesn't (laughs) - we would do it.

In looking at the album title, Southern Weather, and the accompanying videos and album artwork, the South seems to a prominent theme for the Almost.

Aaron was born and raised a Clearwater kid. A lot of times people who live in Clearwater don't consider it the South, but it very much is. That rings clear when you're a touring band and you travel and leave the South - not just the literal weather or climate is different, but people's temperament and the pace of life. But the reason why I like the album theme and the title is because I realize how different the South is. And for everything I kind of get irked by regarding the South, there is always something I dig about it too. I think what we find important is just how the rest of the country, in some form or another, can take a page from the book of Southern hospitality.

I know you've played about a million shows this year, but can you offer up any personal highlights?

We played with Jimmy Eat World. We're playing shows with good friends of ours, the Starting Line, and we'll also be playing with Silverchair, which is so random. At the end of the day, those are the things that remind you of how totally lucky you are to have the job you have. ... When you play with bands that you're super into, or crazy stuff happens - like you're sitting at home with your 10-year-old brother and he sees you on TV and he loses his mind (laughs) - that's the ultimate highlight. Sometimes good things do happen and sometimes you do get dealt a sweet deck.