Teenage Wasteland

Local rockers 10 Years have a lot to live up to

It's been more than a year and a half since 10 Years' single "Wasteland," from their first major-label album, The Autumn Effect, went to the top of Billboard's Modern Rock chart. The success of "Wasteland" wasn't entirely a surprise—an earlier version of the song had appeared on their independently released debut album, Killing All That Holds You, from 2004, and was a big reason that Universal/Republic signed the band to a deal in 2005. But a number-one single, even on a niche Billboard chart, was an unprecedented accomplishment for a contemporary Knoxville band.

"It's one of those things we always thought we could do, but we never knew that we actually would," says guitarist Matt Wantland, who helped form the band in 2000. "It definitely opened some doors. We got on really good tours, were playing good-sized clubs all over the country on our headlining tours. It was a bold statement for a debut single, and people took notice, but it was all backed up by touring non-stop. We worked for it."

They're still working for it. The band—guitarists Wantland and Ryan "Tater" Johnson, bassist Lewis Cosby, drummer Brian Vodinh, and singer Jesse Hasek—played for stadium-sized crowds along with Korn and the Deftones on the 2006 Family Values Tour, and they just ended a string of dates with Atlanta veterans Sevendust. They're currently on the road with Papa Roach, and in December they're heading to Japan to play with the Japanese prog-rock group Dir en Grey. And for the last year, in the middle of all that road work, they've been writing and recording the follow-up to The Autumn Effect. Scheduled for release in March and tentatively titled Division, Wantland says the new record expands on the gloomy hard-rock template laid down on Killing All That Holds You and The Autumn Effect.

"It's going to be much different than The Autumn Effect, so if you're expecting to hear part two this is not the album for you," he says. "It still sounds like 10 Years, but we dug into a lot of our different influences, because in general we love so many different styles of music, we wanted to make a record that reflects that, something more timeless. And what we got was an album that is, in my opinion, much more open, relatable, and undefinable."

The pressure of what is, in effect, a sophomore record following a hit single was almost inevitable. Universal's expectations and the band's own ambitions have already led to some conflict over Division, and the band still hasn't settled on a single, even though one is due to hit radio in January.

"We definitely felt the pressure," Wantland says. "Not only because the label was throwing a fit about hits, which we weren't really sure how to take because we've never tried to write one—we just try to write songs we would want to hear. More of the pressure was internal, trying to push ourselves to grow beyond what we've already done, as musicians and people.... You know, there's a lot of debate [about the single] between not only us as a band, but everyone that works at our label, and at first we thought it was almost a bad thing. But then we kind of realized it's not really a problem to have, like, 10 different opinions, because that means people like a lot of different things on the record, and we have more options, and options are always a good thing."

Despite their big-league success, 10 Years has maintained a surprisingly low profile in its hometown. Local media covered them when they signed with Universal, and WNFZ supported "Wasteland." But much of the group's hometown following remains grassroots, built around MySpace updates, message boards, and word-of-mouth.

"You know, Knoxville is still really good to us," Wantland says. "I think it might be due to the fact that we hang out in the same circles and the same places we always have. We haven't treated the town any different so I think they return the favor.... We spend all our downtime here. As a band, we will always be located out of Knoxville. It's our home. There is a whole huge world out there and it seems to me it's kind of a shame not to explore it, but as long as there is a 10 Years, I and everyone will be right here together."