Guitarist and composer Tristan Auman has bounced around the Carolinas throughout his 23 years. He grew up in Saluda, North Carolina; has lived in Lancaster, South Carolina; and has played with Columbia-based musicians while making Charlotte his home base for the past two and a half years. His electrifying playing and inspired songwriting, however, started with Boston — not the city, the melodic 1970s hard-rock band.
“The first song that sparked my interest in guitar was ‘More Than a Feeling’ by Boston,” Auman says. “I’d never heard anything like it.”
He was 7 years old at the time. Starting with the melodic arena rock that inspired him, Auman has mastered genres as diverse as straightforward indie/alternative rock and knotty shapeshifting progressive metal. As his solo-project-turned-band Sometime in February, he’s forged a distinct style that can be sampled on the video for “Frayed Knot” off his debut EP Here Goes, a collection of coruscating instrumentals.
The video focuses on Auman’s slipknot fretwork, where crunchy metal chords set up a siren’s call of lyrical solos. As the time-signature changing composition dovetails into staccato machine-gun picking, listeners may be reminded of fleet-fingered guitar hero Steve Vai, yet it’s the influence of another Steve — Yes axe-man Steve Howe — that imbues the bucolic interlude before guest player Sebastian Stevens unleashes a fusillade of see-sawing saxophone.
In his teenaged years, Auman had moved beyond classic prog-rock inspirations to embrace a more metal-imbued version of his favorite genre from Plini Roessler-Holgate and Aaron Marshall, guitarists who had launched their own solo projects.
“It was a type of music that resonated with me. I realized I could do that [too],” Auman says, “[but] I had to wait for the right time when I was good enough to play the type of music that I wanted.”
He passed that time playing in different bands and genres, developing his technique.
Auman calls his first band Theater of the Mind a “musical mish-mash.” Drawn from the Hendersonville/Saluda/Asheville area, the band members pulled in different directions: punk rock, classic rock and metal, in addition to Auman’s more progressive path. The band released an EP before splitting, but not before then-15-year-old Auman had grasped the importance of songwriting.
“Shredding a great solo is always fun,” he says, “but it’s the song as a whole that is the most important thing to me — and the most fun.”
Auman’s family moved to Lancaster in 2016. Three years later, Auman joined Columbia-based act Marley Erin, which morphed into the indie/alternative rock band The Unapologetic Kind. The group played Auman’s first Charlotte gig at Skylark Social Club in 2019.
At the same time, Auman was playing guitar for Columbia pop punk/emo band Aim High. He remembers being so busy that he had little time to work on his own music. That changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020, right as Auman was leaving Aim High. (The Unapologetic Kind eventually went on hiatus, playing its last gig in September 2021.)
“I … had time to sit down and write some of my own music,” he says. The result was Sometime in February’s first song, “Better Late,” released as a single in May 2020. The pensive, steadily building tone poem erupts in a burst of stuttering yet melodic guitar squall before tumbling into quiescence.
“It’s pretty straightforward,” Auman says. “I feel it has a lot to say [with] a good bit of emotional impact.” Auman feels he’s found his voice with instrumental music without vocals. “For my music, playing guitar is the most expressive way for me to say anything.”
Debut EP Here Goes followed in October 2021, produced by former TUK bandmates Robert Wilkinson and Nathan Crane, who had just opened their own recording studio called Rosewood Records in Columbia. Unlike Auman’s debut single, in which he played everything, the EP features flesh-and-blood bassists, drummers and other musicians, charting a sound that hews to the modern progressive crunch of bands like Periphery and Between the Buried and Me, augmented with techniques Auman picked up by playing indie rock such as guitar pedals and effects.
“I try not to make everything sound the same,” he says.
Auman recruited drummer Scott Barber (Trees on Mars and Pretty Women), and bassist Morgan Johnson from Aim High as permanent members of Sometime in February. The trio will play a July 22 gig at Petra’s.
Auman is currently working on material for an as-yet-untitled full-length album along with the two new band members.
“They are both probably the most technically proficient musicians I have played with,” Auman says.
That’s high praise from a young songwriter and musician who puts inspiration, technical skill and soul into intricate instrumental music that touches the heart.
“I hope [the audience] can see how much the whole thing means to me — and the other guys.”
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