Billy Bottom has a different perspective on playing music than he did when he started Nights Like These in 2003.
"A lot of the people who knew us when we were younger aren't even in the scene anymore," Bottom said. "A lot of the young people coming up don't know about anything we did in this area. When we started coming around in the early- to mid-2000s, there was a high point for hardcore and metal. It was flourishing. It's just funny how things change."
Genrefying Nights Like These has always been difficult. Some have labeled them as a metalcore band. Others say deathcore. On the band's Facebook profile, they are self-described as "heavy shit."
Regardless, at 27, Bottom still dominates the stage. The vocalist's commanding presence and deep-throated screams are terrifying and entrancing.
Drummer Patrick Leatherwood, bassist Sebastian Rios, and guitarists Derren Saucier and Matt Qualls play together in a way bands only do after spending 200 plus days out of the year touring together.
But Nights Like These haven't toured in five years. "When I was first starting, I had no responsibility," Bottom said. "I was so focused on playing music that nothing else really mattered. As I grew up and got some more life experience, I realized I probably couldn't do it for a living."
All of them work full-time jobs now. Off stage, Bottom works as a registered nurse, covering his chest piece and tattooed arms in scrubs. Qualls is a freelance engineer at Ardent Studios, where Nights Like These will record their third and final album in January.
When Nights Like These started, it was less a band and more a group of kids looking for an outlet, which they found in punk clubs. Enamored by the local hardcore scene, they began writing.
Once they had their driver's licenses, Nights Like These started playing shows at now defunct venues like The Skatepark of Memphis and The Caravan. They generated a local cult following and became involved with Brian Vernon and Smith7, a non-profit record label that, since 2000, has been giving local, mostly underage bands the resources to get their music heard.
In 2005, Vernon, who had gotten very close with Bottom, fronted Nights Like These the money to record with Kurt Ballou of Converge at GodCity Studio in Salem, Massachusetts.
"Billy was family," Vernon said. "It wasn't even the kind of music that I understood. But I was cool with the other guys, and it was important to Billy. So it was important to me."
After finishing the songs, they began shopping them around to different record labels. Ultimately, they would sign with Victory Records, who had the band rerecord the GodCity sessions. The result was 2006's The Faithless, which sold more than 30,000 copies, according to the band, but didn't represent the sound they were trying to achieve.
"They told us, 'If you rerecord it, we'll make it sound bigger and better,'" Leatherwood said. "I think they tried to make us sound more metalcore, that whole mosh-metal thing, as compared to the hardcore we were closer with. We were marketed incorrectly, I think."
Nights Like These were stuck between who they were and who their label wanted them to be. After Victory released The Faithless, the band spent most of 2006 through March of 2007 on tour with bands that, although diverse, didn't always align with their sound. When they took time off to write and record their second record Sunlight at Secondhand, they had established a fan base that wasn't receptive when it was released at the end of 2007. The album pulled in 12,000 copies, give or take, according to the band.
"Looking back on it, I'm thankful for the opportunity," Bottom said. "But I definitely would have done stuff differently. We [and the label] didn't see eye to eye. The Faithless was released in 2006, and those songs were written in 2004 or 2005. That record was a juvenile version of what we wanted to become. They wanted us to be a polished version of what we were."
For the first two years of touring, Nights Like These was making $100 a night, and 10 percent of it went to their booking agent.
According to Qualls, who joined the band fresh out of high school before they recorded their first album, the idea of touring doesn't always align with reality.
"When I was a kid, I thought being on tour and making a record was the big time," Qualls said. "But being on tour 24 hours a day for a month and a half with the same four people will make you start to resent each other. But also, touring was the most influential time of my life for me to grow as a person intellectually and emotionally. I would never take it back."
In 2008, internal conflicts within the band led Leatherwood to leave and pursue a college degree. With no luck finding a permanent replacement drummer, Nights Like These went on an indefinite hiatus. Eventually, they ended their relationship with Victory, who wiped the slate clean.
After five years apart, the band decided to play what was supposed to be a one-off reunion show in 2013, a motion pushed mostly by Leatherwood.
"I tried to do what I thought was the right thing," Leatherwood said. "I regret it, but sometimes when you try to do the right thing, you end up lacking in some other aspect of your life. You always need something you're passionate about, and that's what drew me back to Nights Like These."
They moved into their old practice space, and, according to Bottom, it was like they never missed a beat. At one of the first rehearsals back together, a new song, "Ox Plow," was written in one sitting. According to Qualls, this sparked the idea to record a final album. "We thought it would be awesome to just come out of nowhere," Qualls said. "If it was all going to be as strong as this, why not?"
When the band goes to Ardent in January, Qualls will record their last record. It's in their hands now, and, according to Bottom, everything has come full circle.
"It's something I don't think I would have predicted," Bottom said. "This was my life for so long, and it helped shape me. But we aren't little kids anymore. This record will be a culmination of everything we've tried to do as a band, and it'll be nice to finally release a record we are 100 percent proud of musically and stylistically in every way."