You could look at the two-year hiatus of Durham’s Future Kings of Nowhere as a product of artistic burnout. Starting out in 2007, the Kings traded in frenetic “acousti-punk” where roughly strummed acoustic guitar met bouncing rhythms of bass and drums to accentuate the manic-depressive love songs of singer Shayne Miel. Full of irresistible hooks and emotive lyrics that plucked heartstrings with glee, they instantly made an impression on area 20-somethings hungry for a counterpoint to their post-modern angst.
For a while, the band fed on the success and treated their music as a primary occupation. Started around a crew of fast friends, the Kings became a professional outfit that toured frequently and did everything in their power to make it to the next level.
“It turned into a job, that’s why we all got mad at each other and quit playing,” says longtime drummer Mike Hacker, who now co-owns the popular Durham pizza truck Pie Pushers. “This is all fun. I have a full-time business now. It’s fully accepted for me to have a full-time business and be a part of this band. That would not have been part of the occasion a couple years ago.”
By the early part of 2009 the grind caught up with them, and they split apart. Miel got married and moved to New York and began demoing new songs on his own. In the group’s mind, it would be great if people focused on this side of the explanation. It’s unlikely they’ll get their wish.
In November 2009 Miel was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. He immediately moved back to Durham to be close to his friends and family. By April, the cancer had spread to his brain. During the summer he got back together with Mike to approach the Future Kings songs they hadn’t yet recorded. He was wasted on chemo and really in no shape to play, but they entered the studio anyway.
“I thought I would die, and I didn’t want the songs to die with me,” Miel says. “I just kind of wanted to make a record of them, so that they would exist even if I didn’t.”
Luckily, both he and his songs are still with us. Miel received a bone marrow transplant in Nov. 2010 and was pronounced cancer free last February. The band then hit the ground running, practicing up for what would be a sold-out reunion show at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall the following May. In August they re-entered the studio, laying down tracks that will form their first two post-cancer releases.
The Pirates EP, which drops in early 2012, features songs that were new when the band was touring hot and heavy in 2008. The album sees Miel reunited with Hacker and bassist Dan Kinney, friends and constant Future Kings collaborators that have been with him since the band’s beginnings. The five tracks resound with the rough and tumble catharsis that made the band’s self-titled debut so powerful. Composed of anthems that espouse following your dreams in spite of the world’s interference, Pirates is a celebration, a resounding cry of joyful purpose that ignores the trouble that preceded it. It revels in the elation of a long-awaited second chance; a well-deserved moment of ignorant bliss for a band that’s been to hell and back.
An LP will follow later in 2012, and it will feature a new-found maturity, both in its sound and lyrics. The songs will directly address Miel’s battle with cancer, enlisting a moodier pop sound to bear the weighty themes. It’s a wholly necessary part of Miel’s post-cancer expression, but, for now, it can wait. He and his band have waited a long time to have their fun again. Right now, enjoying the moment is statement enough.
“I think there’s two ways to say that cancer can’t beat me,” Miel says. “The first one is to say that I’m still the same me that I was before cancer. That’s what this EP says. The second way is I’m a better me than I was before cancer. That’s what the LP says.”