Corey Archuleta faced the kind of choice we all seem to face at some point. It’s the kind of choice that would make a great plot for a Disney princess, if, say, she wanted to play in a death metal band.
Archuleta had a job working for Colorado State University in sales and marketing. He liked it, and it was a job with a decent salary and the chance to move up. It was even fun, as a TV show came calling.
The benefits, including health insurance, were even more important. Archuleta, who graduated from Windsor High School in 2008, had some health problems despite his young age. He got a kidney stone on one tour a year ago, and a few weeks ago, he had hip replacement surgery. But Archuleta also played in a death metal band, which is a lot more fun than it sounds, and the two occupations were finally clashing with one another.
The job allowed him to live in a Greeley house with a friend, and even though there was an orange cat in the house, and the cat was overly friendly, and he was allergic to cats, he had a bed and food and a warm room in the winter. Plus the cat knew enough to stay off the bed.
The band he played with for five years now didn’t offer much. But it wasn’t a bar band that played Lynyrd Skynyrd covers either. The band had a weird name, but so do most metal bands. At least it was Allegaeon (it’s pronounced much like the word Allegiance) and not something like Cattle Decapitation.
The band did fairly well in the metal world. It just released its third album in late June, “Elements of the Infinite,” for Metal Blade Records, a big name. It, like the other two, got rave reviews from critics. It even felt like this album was something of a breakthrough.
“Elements of the Infinite is the third album you want all promising young bands to write,” stated MetalSucks, a web site devoted to the genre. “With ‘Elements of the Infinite,’ it feels like Allegaeon have finally arrived, and “Threshold of Perception” — the album’s opening track — is the perfect microcosm of everything there is to love about it: expertly crafted arrangements, orchestrations composed by guitarists, riffs, epic guitar solos and hooks.”
It was selling well, too, for a death metal record, better than the other two (for one week, it beat a recently released greatest hits record from Tom Petty).
True success, however, takes hitting the road, and Allegaeon, because of the success of the record, was finally getting a big break. A 160-day tour would start Aug. 5, part of it with Chimaira, a pretty well-known band.
Archuleta went on a few gigs but his attendance was spotty, at best, on past tours. He was the only one with a full-time job with benefits. The band filled his spot last December, and he turned out to be bad. A fill-in wouldn’t work this time. So either he was the guy or he wasn’t.
A tour meant traveling in a van in August with inconsistent air conditioning and four other cranky guys and trying to sleep in it at night after a long, hot show and tearing down their equipment. Dinner and lunch, if you got it, would be at a diner or a fast-food place or peanut butter and jelly. There would be no bed, not many showers and no personal space.
Touring, though, meant playing music, and he loved music. He played in the jazz band and orchestra in high school, and those were some of his fondest memories. Their love of music kept the band together, even when personality differences, magnified by sleeping in a van, threatened to split them up. They played in front of crazy audiences every night who sang to their music, seemed to understand the words and just got it. Their fans loved metal, a complex form of music that spawned cult-like obsessions and devout fans, something someone like Katy Perry rarely seemed to inspire, even if she had millions more who loved her.
It was a fun way to make a living, and it was a great way to explore the world, and honestly, most jobs don’t offer either one of those.
He had no wife or kids to force his hand, so the decision really was his to make. Security or your dreams. Archuleta was facing that choice. We’ve all faced it before. What do you think he did?
• • •
Archuleta was a fill-in himself, in 2009, only he wasn’t bad. He stuck with Allegaeon. He’d played with them ever since. When he’s asked about it, he talks about the band like a parent would talk about his first-born.
“It feels like five years, but it doesn’t,” he said.
He could mix odd jobs with a life in the band for quite a while. The band played the occasional gig and released two albums. It took commitment, but Archuleta could still work.
The band began by rehearsing two nights a week in Longmont, but that was too much, and it morphed into a silent code: Keep your chops up and learn the music. When it came time to make a new album, the band sent parts along in a Dropbox folder. Then they recorded it. The band, therefore, was a serious hobby, not unlike a runner who trained almost every day and would travel to races. When Archuleta returned home, tired, from work, there were days he didn’t want to work on the music, but the music was hard, and so he would inevitably do it, just like the runner who went out despite a cold, snowy day. It wasn’t as remotely fun as playing with the band, but working on the music is what kept him in the band.
The band never really toured much. Archuleta said the band didn’t approach it the way they should have at first, like a business. It’s hard to do, he said, and they didn’t do it, and that forced his hand to find a paying job. Now there are some new members, and everyone gets along better, but Archuleta was the only one with a job that he’d have to give up to tour.
That meant a job at a FedEx office, an internship at a radio station, some college classes and a job at a book store at Aims Community College. Then he found a job a few months ago at CSU, and that started to look like a career, not just a job.
He sold surplus property that CSU accumulated over the years. Computers, laptops, phones, all of it, was open to the public. He liked it, and the job became even more fun when someone from Texas, a drive-in movie theater owner, bought a modular trailer, and CSU had to find a way to ship it. The executive producer of the show “Shipping Wars” called him.
No, it wasn’t his dream job, but Archuleta could see himself in it for a while. It wasn’t going to be another job. Even after just three months, it felt like the start of a career.
• • •
In the band’s first single, if you want to call it that, Allegaeon decided to make something other than a concert video for “1.618.” In this one, the band spun a wheel with sub-genres listed, such as “Viking Metal,” and then acted out the part to fit it. Self-aware fans of Poison, one of the more popular hair metal bands, as well as the band that flogged the genre the most, will get a chuckle out of it.
Wait. A metal band with a sense of humor? Metal bands, more than most genres of music, take themselves a little too seriously. Most photos of them are in abandoned buildings with broken windows and concrete, for instance. But when Allegaeon posed for those photos — you pretty much have to — as soon as the shutter stopped, they cracked up.
“That’s how we are a lot of the time,” Archuleta said.
Metal fans won’t find that in the band’s music. You’ve still got the creepy artwork, sci-fi song lyrics and punishing metal (though it is more melodic than some death metal bands). That sense of humor, however, makes it easier to tour.
Ultimately, that could be why Archuleta decided to quit his job after just three months and go on tour. It wasn’t easy to tell his boss. It also leaves his life in limbo. That nice house? He’s hoping his roommate, whose parents own the house, can hold his room, but he packed up his stuff just in case.
He’s not sure how much money he will make on the tour. He hopes his hip holds up because now he doesn’t have insurance.
He hopes to be involved in the band business a little more. He wants to track T-shirt sales, CDs and other merchandise on the tour.
“I know it’s supposed to be all about the metal,” Archuleta said. “It’s not. It’s about making money. There are metalheads who would hang you for that.”
It is about surviving, so he can keep playing. No money, and the band goes bust. Archuleta needs the band to be busy, constantly busy is how he put it, and making enough for all of them to live and maybe even get some health insurance. He will give it a year.
As for that tour, he left earlier this week with the band. They are probably in the van as you read this, maybe sleeping off the night or driving to their next gig. Only now that Archuleta’s along, there’s one caveat.
“I can’t go a week without a shower,” he said.