Songwriters draw inspiration from all parts of life: the mundane and the spectacular, love and hate, pain and forgiveness, life and death. For Bryan Weinsztok, the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Soul Risin’, those latter themes supplied him the motivation to write the 11 songs on the band’s new independent album Rise & Fall. The CD was released on Tuesday, Oct. 16, a day connected to those inspirational ideas of life and death: Oct. 16 also marked the one-year anniversary that Weinsztok lost his father, Alejandro (Alex) Gabriel Weinsztok, to cancer.
“We’ve held the album for months to do that,” Weinsztok says of the new disc. “It truly is a tribute to him. It’s songs that I had been working on the whole time while I was with him, songs that I had in my head. And after he passed away I knew it was time to write an album and I brought all these songs to the band.”
Soul Risin’s roster also includes drummer John Capozzolo, Mike D’Ambrosio on keys, Adam Fisher on bass, Jim Dunham on percussion and guitarist Max McKee. The band of brothers will celebrate the release of Rise & Fall on Saturday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m., at the Westcott Theater, 524 Westcott St.
Although the band is usually wild and energetic on stage, as they toss jams among a group composed of serious talent, it will be interesting to see the quirky energy transfer into a more focused channel of emotion, especially if new songs like “Baby” and “The Door” make their way onto the setlist. Weinsztok, at times reminiscent of Dave Matthews in his guitar and vocal style, carries another Matthews trait: He can morph from a wild child/jam band leader to a perfectly subdued singer-songwriter who can communicate universal emotions through his carefully chosen words and matching music.
“My songwriting is kind of backward,” Weinsztok explains. “It starts off with me, late nights before bed, I sit in my music room and play guitar and I come up with little rhythms and melodies and usually the music leads the way. I come up with something, don’t record it and don’t write it down. If I remember it the next morning or the next time I sit down, it was worth playing, worth remembering, worth bringing to the band and worth working on more.”
During the writing of Rise & Fall, Weinsztok was witnessing the rise and fall of his own father as he battled back and forth with cancer. In September 2010, doctors discovered a tumor that had spread into Alex’s sinuses and around his brain. They started treatment, but within four weeks, he developed meningitis.
“Over the course of a couple days he was just gone,” Weinsztok says. “It knocked him out right away and we never got him back. They took him in for surgery and took out a majority of the tumor in his brain and they said there was a chance he might recover, but he wouldn’t be the same guy. And he wasn’t.”
Alex did recover slowly and, over the course of several months and several surgeries, the cancer was removed. Although his father was not his pre-tumor self, it was enough for Weinsztok. “We had him and he was cancer-free and he was alive and could still love us.”
But within a few weeks, the cancer returned and treatment only aggravated Alex’s condition. “It was killing him,” Weinsztok recalls. “It was making it worse and he was just like, ‘I’m done. Just let me go.’ We went with his wishes and he passed away in peace.”
Writing the tracks that emerged from this personal devastation was cathartic for Weinsztok, something apparent in the songs’ tone and lyrics, although the band doesn’t completely abandon their lively jam style. “Don Negative (Fool Like You),” “Rise & Fall” and “Punk” still bounce, leaving the heavy emotional lifting to numbers such as “Leaving Train” and “Part Two/Open the Door.” The variety of emotion reflects the variety within Weinsztok’s own life: Although he lost his father in October 2011, he became a father on May 17, 2012.
“I don’t think it’s a sad album at all,” he says of the mixed bag of songs. “For me, I think it’s hopeful and inspirational. It’s trying to find the light in a bad situation. It’s also trying to pull the love out of that.”
Keyboardist D’Ambrosio saw Weinsztok through the ups and downs of the year that resulted in Rise & Fall and recognizes the effect it had on the band. “We’re a very dry group of individuals,” he describes. “We tend to joke about things, have fun in rehearsals. But there was almost a seriousness that Bryan brought in with the songs he wrote. Progressively, they’re relatively simple; lyrically, they’re extremely deep, a lot of meaning. It wasn’t until the album was finished and we were sitting in the mixing suite listening to what he was singing that it all really came together, and we realized how deep and how much meaning these lyrics actually had and how well they worked with the music. Sometimes you get so obsessed with your parts, you lose the entire picture. And the entire picture was a really beautiful one.”
Soul Risin’ wants that positive, beautiful picture to spread in other ways. Partial proceeds raised through ticket and merchandise sales will go toward a family struggling with the reality of cancer. Weinsztok personally picked out Shelly Soltys of Syracuse, who is facing the 24/7 costs of chemotherapy, radiation treatments five times a week, other medical bills and the costs connected with raising four children as a single mother.
It’s not always the case that something beautiful comes from something as ugly as a disease that claims the lives of millions each year. But here in Syracuse, Soul Risin’ doesn’t just bring great music to the stage, they’re bringing a little help and a lot of hope, too.
Also on the bill for Soul Risin’s CD release party will be Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra and Boots n’ Shorts. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit thewestcott theater.com. The Syracuse New Times is also giving away tickets to the show; see facebook.com/syracusenewtimes for the lowdown.