Cinders: Persistence of Vision

Cinders is a young band, but they started early. Together nearly a decade, the group has already toured overseas and become something of a hit on Spotify. The Salt Lake City-based trio chalks its success up to clearly defined goals, and the best friends in the world.

The group first came together as “one of those progressions from a silly high school band,” says guitarist/vocalist Montana Smith. Initially, he and Adrian De La Cruz both played guitar. “But we knew that a great guitar player can be a great bass player, so we made him play bass,” Smith says. The group quickly became serious about the music, adding drummer Brad Bennett. “We found him on Instagram,” Smith says. (“No,” De La Cruz jokes. “It was on Tinder.”)

The lineup has gone through changes since that time. “We like to say that we have different iterations,” says De La Cruz. In the beginning, Cinders was a six-piece band. And before long, they were playing dates across the country, and even some overseas shows.“By 2018, two of our members were married and had kids, and they decided that the touring life didn’t work for them,” De La Cruz explains. In early March 2020 – days before the pandemic hit – one more original member left. “So we whittled down to this trio,” he says. “The three original guys.”

Speaking of original, from the very beginning – even when Cinders was still a “silly” band – the group never played cover tunes. “We’ve always done our original songs,” says Smith. It’s one thing to listen to other artists; it’s something else to avoid ending up sounding like one’s influences. When asked about the sort of music they listen to, the three musicians tick off a wide array of genres; pop, punk, acoustic, jazz and more. But Bennett emphasizes Cinders’ unique approach to creating its own material. “When we’re writing,” he explains, “we stop listening to other music. We want to get inspiration from the universe, from on high, from whatever it is for you.”

Focusing on the band’s individuality is a core concept for Cinders. De La Cruz laughs when he recalls a couple of audience members approaching him after a set. “Man, you guys are great,” one of them said. “You sound just like Green Day!” Another chimed in: “Yeah, you sound just like Mumford and Sons!” Smith estimates that the band has been told they sound like “at least 50 to 100 different bands,” none of whom actually sound like one another.

De La Cruz recalls writing a chord progression that reminded Smith of a Paul Simon song. “But it ended up sounding more like The Cure,” he laughs. In the end, Cinders chart their own musical path, and if listeners (or individual band members) want to relate their style to another act they like, no harm done.

And for this group, the songwriting process is wholly separate from the experience of playing live in front of an audience. If an arrangement developed in the rehearsal room might create a challenge for the live set – maybe it has multiple guitar parts, or a keyboard section – they don’t let that slow them down. “We always joke to each other, ‘That’s a problem for future Cinders,’” Smith says as his band mates nod in agreement.

The three founding members agree that their collective vision for the group has remained constant. “Our goals remain the same as when we started,” Bennett says. “But they feel a lot more tangible and realistic now.” Displaying an affinity for long-range thinking, in Cinders’ early days the group put together a “vision board” outlining its goals. “I think it’s safe to say that every one of those goals from back when we were a six-piece is the same to what our goals are today,” he says.

The group recently completed a clutch of new recordings; they’re scheduling singles for release in the coming weeks and months. But one thing that isn’t a serious goal is getting a recording contract; Cinders is a decidedly indie band, and they like it that way. “If someone reaches out with a record deal, and if it makes sense,” De La Cruz says, “we’ll consider it.” But he emphasizes that the group is more focused on touring, playing in front of more and bigger audiences. “We always hear that it’s better for [a label] to reach out to us than us to them,” Bennett adds. “That’s when you know you’re ready for it.”

While details remain under wraps, the band hints that a late summer festival gig is in the offing. And as much as they enjoy playing live, Cinders doesn’t neglect the studio side of things. Four of their songs have each received more than one million streams each on Spotify. It seems to have happened organically: a few select YouTube personalities have featured Cinders’ music in some of their videos, but that alone can’t account for the kind of success the band is enjoying. Asked how they achieved those numbers without an aggressive online presence, they nod at each other before answering. “By having the best fans and friends in the world,” De La Cruz replies. “That’s the reality: we couldn’t do it without them.”