The Milwaukee-based, post-hardcore outfit American Bandit performs like an adrenaline-junkie’s vision of how a good rock ‘n’ roll concert should play out.
Vocalist Nicholas Heath jumps, climbs and dances his way through high-octane sets. Audiences might see Heath hanging from the rafters, swinging (and occasionally breaking) microphones and interacting with audience members — jumping on them, screaming into their faces and kissing consenting friends onstage.
But as natural as Heath looks onstage, he wasn’t always a frontman.
After a high school metal band called Ending Eris broke up — remaining members Ryan Roberts (drums), Alec Swartz (lead guitar), Nick Jerschefske (rhythm guitar) and Heath (at that time, keyboard) went on to form a new band with JT Braulio (bass) that became known as American Bandit. Without a vocalist, the band turned to Heath to step up to the mic.
“I was probably the most outgoing, but I had no experience with vocals,” he says.
Heath drew upon La Dispute’s harsh, raw whimper and Bring Me the Horizon’s death metal-inspired scream to produce the howl that permeates American Bandit’s sound.
In the first stages of its existence, American Bandit exploded onto Milwaukee’s metal scene under the name of Audacity, shaking up the genre with self-deprecating lyrics, a blues-inspired, post-hardcore sound and a high-energy live show.
The band released a self-titled debut album in 2014, followed by a split with the now defunct Milwaukee metalcore band After Hour Animals in 2015.
Shortly after opening for the Southern-inspired metal band Every Time I Die in Madison, Audacity changed its name. Jerschefske was leaving the band to work on another musical endeavor. Also, an older band from California was going by Audacity. So the remaining members decided it was as a good time as any to change the band’s name to American Bandit.
With the change, the band laid to rest most of Audacity’s discography, carrying over only a select few newer songs.
American Bandit formally launched its new identity with Lost, an EP of revamped Audacity songs and new songs. The new band also added Jared Gerbing to fill Jerschefske’s role.
Lost marks the start of a more mature sound — the music is a little heavier, but Heath toned down the angsty lyrics while fine-tuning his vocals. Whereas Audacity’s self-titled album reads like a post-breakup hate letter, Lost sounds like the monologue of a man haunted by his past and present.
“A lot of my songs are just about feeling like you’re not good enough, and that translates even to me being a vocalist, because I was kind of pushed into the position,” Heath says. “I was beating myself up internally and feeling lost and trying to make it work.”
Lead guitarist Swartz began contributing clean vocals, breaking up the relentless assault from Heath.
“We were all sort of starting over, so it has that feeling of being lost,” Swartz says.
Following Lost, the band released Summer Sessions, an EP that stands out among the band’s releases for its grit, experimentation and DIY sound. Even the album art — a cellphone photo of plastic cups filled with an assortment of beers sitting on the beach — contrasts with the band’s previous album art.
“Summer Sessions was just kind of thrown together because we wanted to put more music out,” Heath says.
The EP marked the first time the band self-recorded and produced its music.
While the self-production of the album is an obvious reason for the grittier feel, Heath also notes that he was going through a breakup at the time and felt disconnected from the writing and recording experience.
“I just wanted to get hammered and hang outside all day,” he says. “I can feel that personally when I go back and listen to it. It’s kind of difficult for me.”
In the fall of 2017, American Bandit began recording Loser’s Club. Heath was still unsure about his future in Milwaukee's music scene.
“I was ready to step down and quit the band,” he says. “I was in a really hard point of my life and I felt really disconnected from Losers’ Club.”
The EP is reflective of Heath’s self-criticism, something he’s not quite sure why he struggles with to this day. But once recording began for Loser’s Club, a spark was reignited in the band.
“We were all sort of in a lull back then, Summer Sessions didn’t do quite as well as we had hoped,” Swartz says.
Summer Sessions felt a little bit rushed, Roberts adds.
The production process for Loser’s Club was a little slower, but it came almost naturally for the band. Heath would show up with a line or two of lyrics and would end up finishing the songs on the spot, giving the recordings an authentic energy and emotion.
“It felt really natural,” Swartz says.
The result is the band’s most aggressive and cohesive release.
Heath has elevated his vocals to new heights — that high-end whimper is still present, but now he switches it up with a low-end growl.
The opening track, “Wasted Time,” is an invitation to the band’s updated sound — it’s a riff-driven crescendo that ascends into an explosive display of Heath’s vocal capabilities.
The band has embraced its dirty, Southern hardcore influences this time around, which is most apparent on the tracks “Set Me Free” and the titular “Losers’ Club.”
Swartz’s siren-sound guitar solos have a tinge of whiskey-soaked blues — a trait that is omnipresent on all of the band’s releases. But on Losers’ Club, the leads carry a sharp bite supported by the heaviest riffs the band has produced to date.
Losers’ Club is an obvious return of an endless energy and drive to perform that made the band so popular when Audacity began. It’s a welcome return after the band spent some time out of the local spotlight. With a fall tour approaching alongside fellow Milwaukee post-hardcore group Monorail Central, the band is looking to take its antics outside Wisconsin.
An American Bandit performance has never felt like the band was onstage reciting the same six songs that band members have been performing for months. The band is evidence that letting loose on stage is an effective form of therapy.
It turns out that being in the losers’ club is actually a lot of fun.
Listen to American Bandit's new EP Losers' Club on Spotify and Apple Music.