Joseph Vadala, leader of the band Highland, turns life’s discord into rock music.
When his long-distance girlfriend blindsided him with a break-up, he wept and watched “Everybody Loves Raymond.” He stayed in his room. He didn’t eat or drink for 50 hours.
Finally, he went to his keyboard, and within 30 minutes he had written a song called “Won’t Be Tonight.”
“The verses are very much my tears on paper,” said Vadala, a senior and computer science major.
That song emerged not only from loss of romantic love, but also from the loss of his grandfather. Vadala said he believes sometimes we just have to endure this kind of hurt.
“Often, we are told we need to just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps (or) get over our hurt,” he said. “(But) sometimes we can’t. Sometimes we just need to hold on and wait until God gives us the strength.”
Vadala’s band, Highland, expresses this desparation in its music.
“I describe a lot of the music like (this): you’re in a tunnel, and you can see the light at the end of it, but it’s really far away,” Vadala said. “Some songs don’t end with the problem being resolved because that’s not life.”
“Won’t Be Tonight” is one of the hits on Highland’s first album, “The Night Doesn’t Last Forever.” The album was released in February 2014 and is available on iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.
Vadala wrote the lyrics, sang the vocals and played the piano.
Sam Parson, also a senior computer science major, recorded all the guitar riffs. Abraham Church, a senior computer engineering major, is Highland’s drummer. Jacob Secor, a senior computer science major, has played bass for Highland on occasion.
Most of the songs the band has recorded in its four-year lifespan have been written by Vadala. Highland’s debut album is a fully mixed and mastered album.
“(The album) was about three years in the process,” said Parson, who left the band this summer because of the time commitment. “We kept finding more and more ways to make it better.”
However, a downside to their emphasis on studio work was a lack of live practice.
“The idea was that (playing) live would be easier after recording because we’d already have a demo tape,” Vadala said. “Time will tell whether that was a good idea.”
Parson and Vadala met in an academic advisee meeting their freshman year at Cedarville. Soon after, they had a chat in Chuck’s about starting a band.
Before long, they were meeting in Lawlor to write songs and audition new members.
Though the band as it’s now known began in the earliest days of Vadala’s freshman year, Highland predates Vadala’s arrival on campus.
In high school, Vadala and his best friend were worship leaders at Highland Baptist Church. When they decided to make a band, they didn’t have to look far for a name.
“We chose ‘Highland’ as a testament to where we came from and what, at the end of the day, is most important,” Vadala said. “Not the church in particular, but (the fact) that we’re Christians.”
Yet, Vadala doesn’t consider Highland a “Christian band.”
“We are Christians. Firmly, 100 percent. (But) I don’t want to be put in a box,” he said. “If you write songs about whatever inspires you, (people) can take hope from that. Hopefully through that you have a doorway into good witness.”
Vadal said that good witness is established first by avoiding disreputable material and then by being honest, human and transparent.
“Our vision was (to make) music that anybody could relate to,” Vadala said. “(Relatability) is probably the most important thing from a songwriting standpoint.”
Highland’s musical style has evolved over the past few years.
Parson describes the early material as “adult contemporary,” but Vadala said he holds to a musical ideal of “true rock.” He said that means music marked by a certain “rawness” and “epicness.”
Vadala said three different bands define this conception.
“I see most of Highland music as (finding its way in between) that triangle of Vertical Horizon, Five for Fighting and Breaking Benjamin,” he said. “They are three very different artists, (but) the one thing they have in common is that they’re all very good lyrically.”
Vadala and Church are currently creating Highland’s second album. They aim to complete it before graduation. Afterward, though, they may disband.
“My goal is to get a real job rather than try to be a professional rocker,” said Church.
But Vadala wants to keep it going.
“(After college) I want to rebuild (Highland) because I believe in what it is,” Vadala said. “There’s nothing like performing (a song you wrote) with your friends. Humanly speaking, it’s a couple steps from heaven. There’s no feeling like that except for laying under the stars with the girl you love. That’s the close second.”
But if Highland doesn’t work out, Vadala said he won’t be devastated.
“I will always write songs, and I will always do music to some extent,” Vadala said, “but I fully expect (to be) a computer scientist. (And) after God, being married with kids is number one. I’d choose that over the band life any day.”
Nate Spanos is a senior music major and a reporter for Cedars. He co-authors a blog about growth in Christ called Understory. You can explore it at jesusknife.com.