Axon-Neuron brings it prog rock blend to Porch Rokr

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written by Brittany Nader

photography by McKenzie Beynon

Few local bands have featured the number of musicians that have lent their skills and style to a group quite like Axon-Neuron has. Pinpointing a particular genre for the musical outfit is almost as difficult as reciting all the members who have played with the group throughout the years. Upwards of 16 local musicians have helped create the band’s sound since 2011, resulting in a style that fuses the epic noise of progressive rock and metal with the artistry of jazz and classical orchestration. Each of these particular branches of music involves a high level of technical skill, which is something that sets Axon-Neuron apart is pushing the band to make its mark upon the local music scene.

The whole project began when The University of Akron alumnus and Kent State guitar professor Jeremey Poparad was searching for an excuse to play one last time with some musician friends who were preparing to leave Ohio. This jam session of sorts resulted in an entire full-length album that was written, rehearsed and recorded in just four months. Poparad kept the hustle going despite the departure of Axon-Neuron’s original lineup by recruiting players with a diverse set of skills and influences, allowing the project to turn convention on its head and incorporate many styles of music into a colorful display of sonic bravura.

Photographs courtesy of  McKenzie Beynon
Photographs courtesy of McKenzie Beynon

“Axon-Neuron has always been my laboratory to take all of the types of music I love and try to play them all at the same time,” Poparad says. “I’m of the opinion that good music is good music, regardless of the label applied to it.”

Poparad explains moving through different musical styles has helped him maintain a fresh perspective on writing and performing, which allows him to keep his skills sharp. He has recruited likeminded peers from school and musical theater, recognizing that each musician is often busy making a career out of their craft, so Axon-Neuron’s lineup is fluid and ever changing. (The group even had to replace a player who left to join the circus.) Currently, Axon-Neuron tours with vocalist Amanda Rankin – who was a student of Poparad’s – jazz pianist Steve Miller and guitarist Ryan McDermott. The group also plays live shows with prolific bassist Matt DeRubertis and percussionist Dylan Gomez, rounding out the sound and creating performances that are both proficient and memorable.

“Doing those types of shows, you tend to make good friends with people, as you’re stuck in close proximity to them night after night for weeks on end,” Poparad says. “I’m been pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic everyone has been when I asked them to play with us from time to time.”

Poparad points to Akron’s diverse music scene as inspiration for keeping Axon-Neuron going. He says he keeps specific local musicians in mind when writing, trying to incorporate each of their strengths into the arrangements and blend that with their own unique input and suggestions. Keeping his ear to the ground and remaining keenly aware of what other musicians in the area are doing has been an important element in the development of Axon-Neuron’s fresh and distinctive musical ideas. Because each of the current players is involved with a number of projects, the band is currently organizing its strategy to really get its name out there and familiarize locals with this particular group. Axon-Neuron is gearing up to performing at the Highland Square Porch Rokr Festival, which Poparad explains is a bit of a departure from the rock venue gigs they’ve been used to playing in the area.

Axon-Neuron is also in the midst of recording a new album, “Metamorphosis,” the grandest, most tenacious undertaking Poparad and his troupe of players has participated in thus far. The 16-song double release includes a 24-piece orchestra — quite the feat for Poparad compared to the band’s previous two recordings that, while still experimental and creatively composed, did not involve quite as much time, organization and participation as this bold new release. Poparad explains his degree in composition inspired him to write arrangements for a full orchestra, and becoming familiar with so many skilled musicians in the area allowed him the opportunity to make his dream a reality on the new album.

“The arrangements are lot more intricate — and difficult — than anything we’ve tried before,” Poparad says. “When I was sketching out the plans for this album, I realized I knew enough musicians from my theatre gigs to actually put together an orchestra, so I figured, ‘why not?’”

From every recorded moment to each band member’s creative bios on Axon-Neuron’s official website, Poparad strives to bring out the unique personalities and inclinations of everyone involved with the project. Working with jazz improvisers, especially, has been beneficial, as playful experimentation and reflection of each person’s characteristics as musicians has been a key part of Axon-Neuron’s natural, fluid progression sound wise. Poparad says after Porch Rokr, the group is lining shows up for September and October with a CD release party planned for January of next year, possibly held at the Akron Civic Theatre, which they hope to film so the visual aspects that make the band so unique can be recorded, allowing the musicians to further connect.

“The first time I got the string orchestra together to rehearse for the recording sessions for [our first album] ‘Brainsongs’ was spine tingling,” Poparad says. “The music for this band is really best heard live, so I’d like to capture the whole thing, orchestra and all.”

Catch Axon-Neuron during the Porch Rokr festivities Saturday, Aug. 29 at 1 p.m. on 40 Mt. View Ave. Follow the band’s journey recording “Metamorphosis” on its Facebook page, Facebook.com/axonneuron, or Instagram @axoneuron.

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