To hear Be Well singer and lyricist Brian McTernan tell it, this new band was essentially willed into existence after a sharp, but meaningful verdict.
“It would have been a whole lot easier to just make this Battery,” he laughs, referring to the iconic straightedge hardcore band that he co-founded in the 1990s. “Built-in fanbase, booking agent, touring history, nostalgia. It’s just easier than starting something new. But Battery’s got a mold, and I had to accept that this was not that. And accepting it only made me more determined because I knew there was a place in the world for this.”
That point was almost two decades in the making: After Battery disbanded in 2000, McTernan redirected his energy into a prolific production career he started in the mid-‘90s, going on to leave his mark on seminal albums for bands like Thrice, Hot Water Music, Circa Survive, and Turnstile, among others. But as the music industry fluctuated, so too did McTernan’s livelihood: “The budgets were dropping, and I was just as busy as ever, but all the records that I really wanted to do, I was actually losing money doing,” he explains. “And the records that paid well made me totally fucking miserable.”
McTernan made a radical pivot in 2014, accepting a project management role for a construction company, and at first, the change in pace and career felt healthy. But after a major promotion to COO upended his previously sedentary routine—he traveled between work sites, often driving 400 miles a day—major issues in McTernan’s mental health began to unravel. Issues that had been previously sublimated by the nonstop grind of a producer’s schedule now had time and space to wreak havoc.
“For literally the first time in my life, I had to be alone with my thoughts, alone with things I’d felt ever since I was a little kid,” McTernan recalls, careful to choose the right words. “All of the shit that I had been hiding from with my work for my whole life? There was nowhere to run anymore.”
A period of severe major depression went unchecked for years, McTernan says, until 2017, when a temporarily reunited Battery wrote and recorded their first new song in 17 years. That song, “My Last Breath,” was markedly different from everything that came before it, and in many ways, its lyrics served as a spiritual precursor to what eventually became Be Well. “We wound up putting out a song out about being in a mental hospital and me being totally afraid that I was going to pass this on to my daughter,” he points out, “and instead of the world being like, ‘Fuck you, you fucking psycho,’ people were like, ‘Wow, I didn’t know that happened to you!’ It helped me realize that I needed to stay connected with this part of myself, so I started to write.”
The writing didn’t stop. After making that decision to start over, McTernan continued to process his experience through lyrics and turned elsewhere for collaborators. It started with Mike Schleibaum, formerly of Darkest Hour and Battery, who is arguably the one person who did the most to make this band move from idea to execution. (“Mike believed in me and felt it was important to do this,” McTernan says. “He was the guy propelling the project along and making me stick with it. He was this guiding light the whole time.”) An e-mail from a mutual friend reconnected McTernan with Bane’s Aaron Dalbec, an old friend who was coincidentally moving to Maryland after his own band’s break-up. When Dalbec signed on, McTernan adds, “that was the reinforcement I needed. That dude knows what the fuck he’s talking about.” Next came Peter Tsouras, whose previous band, Fairweather, recorded with McTernan, and finally, Fairweather drummer Shane Johnson. With that, they went to work on what would become Be Well’s debut album, The Weight and the Cost.
Make no mistake: This is an album that pushes well outside of the confines of what you know about its members previous bands. Be Well’s “ex-members of” status might, in fact, be the least interesting thing about it. Where most hardcore records conform their content to the shape of genre conventions, this album shows what’s possible when the content creates the shape: The Weight and the Cost follows McTernan’s deeply personal experience to get here and it is absolutely unwavering in its purpose. It is cohesive, relentless, and often seemingly quite dark. It is also, at times, both inspiring and uncomfortable. But McTernan is confident that this is an album that someone, somewhere, needs right now. And after everything he’s been through, he knows this might be his only chance to put it down and get it right.
“What I’m hoping is not that people listen to this and go, ‘Fuck, I feel worse now!’” he insists. “I am hoping people listen to this and go, ‘You know what? I need to tell the people around me what’s going on with me.’ And that’s where I think you get to the hopeful thread, because I think that, hopefully, I made it clear in the lyrics that there is nothing good about this feeling and I don’t want to carry this around anymore.” McTernan pauses, then exhales with either a sense relief, accomplishment, or both. “I’m never going to not have depression or mental illness. I’m never going to not have anxiety. But for maybe the first time in my life, right now, I don’t feel like I’m living as someone else. For some reason, in this setting, I feel like I can finally put it all out there.”
The Weight and the Cost is literally everything they have.