It's been said that a person or group's commitment to their beliefs can be measured in the lengths to which they've gone in order to nurture those passions.
Were that adage to be interpreted literally — reading "lengths" as actual distance, miles — then In Passing's dedication to their craft could be considered unassailable.
Since rising from the ashes of a Brandon high school band called Drive Through Winter a couple of years ago, the posthardcore quartet has consistently refused to let a little thing like geography stand between themselves and the realization of their vision on their own terms. Before playing their first gig, they traveled to Atlanta to record their debut EP This Boy Will Self-Destruct with rising emo-scene producer Matt Goldman (Copeland, My Hotel Year, A Small Victory). Some time later, upon discovering a vibrant all-ages community in Central Florida, the band immediately packed up and relocated to Orlando — though they spent as much time touring as they did building a loyal young fanbase along the I-4 corridor.
And late last year, when the logistical problems of undertaking nearly constant national roadwork from so-far-removed a home base became apparent, In Passing solved them by moving the home base. They headed for Harrisburg, Penn., where the foursome moved into the basement of guitarist Brooks Potteiger's grandparents' house.
"We could live [there] for free, and wanted to take the band full-time," says Potteiger. "We're actually not even really there, because we're touring most of the time. We still consider ourselves from Florida."
Their mail may now go to Pennsylvania, but the band's spiritual allegiance remains with the Tampa/Lakeland/Orlando post-'core scene that first embraced them. While the genre's more histrionic (see also screamo) and commercial (see also any number of airwave-clogging Weezerphiles) extremes have dented the mainstream, several harder-to-peg outfits originally from this area have quietly risen to underground prominence. It's these bands that In Passing consider their peers, and the relative success of fellow former scenesters like the buzzy Copeland gives them both validation and motivation.
"I definitely feel a personal pressure, just because I'm really good friends with the guys in [metalcore outfit] Underoath, and we've known [Christian indie-rock band] Anberlin forever," Potteiger allows. "It's more of a personal thing. I want to be at that level because I know we can be, and because people we know personally have done it."
The desire to achieve a higher level of success doesn't, however, extend to shaping In Passing's style to better complement the trendier emo sounds currently breaking on the FM dial. The group's new full-length, Look Alive — out on independent Georgia label Indianola — ably balances overt hooks with idiosyncratic arrangements, splitting the difference between easy barre-chord anthems and the esoteric textures of those indie bands too aesthetically adventurous for the Top Nine at Nine. In Passing certainly wouldn't seem out of place sharing a bill with the bands the mall kids recognize as emo; and live, some of their intricacies are lost to booming P.A.s, infectious crashing-wave dynamics and shout-along lyrical passages. But Look Alive is full of eccentric guitar nuance and inventive rhythm, the sorts of things that serve to set an outfit apart.
"We do make a conscious effort to write our own sound, because it's so easy to get grouped into dumb pop," says Potteiger. "We do try to keep the hooks in there, keep the kids interested, but we want to do our own thing. Me and Wes [Sumner vocalist/guitarist] do all the music writing, and it's a constant compromise to figure out what we want our sound to be. I really enjoy playing catchy, poppy stuff, and Wes writes stuff that's different, and has its own style.
"Writing music isn't easy," he sums.
Neither is finding one's niche while trying to avoid all of the obvious pigeonholes. In Passing often find themselves closely associated with the burgeoning Christian indie-rock scene hallmarked by such spiritually minded labels as Tooth & Nail and festivals like Orlando's annual Cornerstone. Potteiger himself makes no secret of his Christianity, but stops well short of calling In Passing a Christian band. This is mostly because he doesn't want to exclude any music fans, but also partly because of the growing cynicism and rumor-mongering that surround that scene — bands are regularly accused of buddying up to it in order to benefit from the automatic draw.
"I try to let people know where I stand, but I try not to market myself in any direction like that, it's just too sketchy to me. That's not what it's about. You can give what you're trying to do a bad name," he says. "We just make a conscious effort to be positive."
That attitude has helped guide In Passing through more van tours, sparsely attended out-of-town shows and floor-crashing than many musicians a decade their senior have experienced. Potteiger says such stuff never gets to him, that the only time he feels burned out is when the band is idle. Such a perspective only comes through determination, through looking beyond the current status toward what's next.
And what's next, naturally, is more van-touring and floor-crashing in the name of promoting Look Alive. But first, In Passing is coming home, to celebrate the album's release with the people who set them on their way.
"There was never any question — we knew we had to have our CD release in the Tampa area," Potteiger says. "Harrisburg is for the moment. We consider Tampa our home."
Contact Music Critic Scott Harrell at 813-739-4856, or [email protected].