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Balance and Composure car accident: How the emo revivalists rebounded to make 'Light We Made'

The Pennsylvania band open up for the first time about the 2013 van accident that changed their lives

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Back in 2013, Pennsylvania post-hardcore band Balance and Composure wrote a short post on Facebook explaining why they had to cancel two shows. “Last night we were involved in an accident that totaled our van and trailer,” they wrote. “Everyone’s fine but we’re sadly not going to be able to make it to Canada.” They promised to be back soon. And they were. Within a week the group hit the road again, opening for Coheed and Cambria, when yet another scary but minor car accident spurred them to take a break from touring and a year and a half off from playing music together.

But now, as Balance and Composure are set to release a new, expansive album Light We Made, the band is speaking out for the first time ever about what happened on Oct. 6, 2013 in Painesville, Ohio, where they experienced what drummer Bailey Van Ellis, 25 calls, “The one time in my life I was pretty certain I was going to die.”

The story goes like this: Balance and Composure had finished a show at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom, where they played as part of their tour with fellow emo revivalists Title Fight. The entire band were driving east on highway IR-90 in their tour van, a white Ford Econoline, with a trailer filled with gear attached. Van Ellis was driving.

It was a rainy Sunday night and the band drove through an unlit construction zone on the highway, where one side was “uneven,” Van Ellis remembers. “They hadn’t painted the road yet so there wasn’t a white marker to show where the lane ended and the shoulder began. The road shifted and I didn’t know because there wasn’t a white line to indicate that.”

The police report describes what happened next in a succinct manner — “[the van] drove off right side of road, struck a construction barrel, and overturned” — but Van Ellis recalls, “Half the van went onto the shoulder and there wasn’t a rubber strip or anything. I tried getting the left side of the van back onto the asphalt and as soon as the left rear tire hit the asphalt, the entire trailer fishtailed out and we cut across into the right lane.”

He continues, “For some reason there was a 10-foot patch on the highway with no guardrail. It was literally just a 10-foot opening. We went right through it. We flew off the side of the road and it just dropped straight down into a ravine. We fell 75 feet and ended up 120 or 125 feet from the side of the road.” They eventually hit the ground, the van tumbling over itself until they landed on the van’s right side.

Photo taken at the scene on Oct. 6, 2013, courtesy of the band

“The one thing I remember,” Van Ellis says, “as soon as we went off I was like, ‘When the f— am I going to feel the ground.’ Because it literally felt like a year. We were just falling.”

The band crawled up the side of the ravine to get to the highway, and after police responded to the scene, checked for injuries, and drove the band back to the hotel. Everyone was, for the most part, physically fine.

“[Our tour manager] got a couple vertebrae broken, there was a broken nose, and I broke my toe,” he says. “Nobody was wearing a seatbelt except for me. It was nothing short of a miracle that all of us made it out alive.”

Their van and trailer were totaled, news that devastated the group. “When you’re a touring musician, that’s like your home,” Van Ellis says. “It just made so much sense during the whole thing that we weren’t going to live throughout it. The severity of falling through this guardrail, I think it just shook us to the point where no one wanted to think about touring or being on the road in any capacity.”

But a week later, after the band had sorted out the logistical and financial nightmares of renting a new van and trailer and bandaged up their physical wounds, Balance and Composure were back on the road, when a deer collided with their van about 15 minutes away from where they crashed in Painesville. Van Ellis was driving.

“It was super freaky,” he remembers. “I think at that point everyone wanted to go home. I pulled over and was like I’m not driving for a while.”

In the crashes’ aftermath, Balance and Composure chose not to speak about the severity of the accident or how it affected them as a group, emotionally and physically. “It’s easy to put something out there that brings attention to your band,” Van Ellis explains. “I think it would have been easy for us to do that … but that stuff gets in the way of art a lot of times. It’s something that happened that was more of a personal thing, the lives of normal individuals. It wasn’t at a show. It didn’t have anything to do with our [2013] album [The Things We Think We’re Missing].”

But after three years, Van Ellis says the life-changing event affected them and their music in ways they were hoping to ignore. The bands’ members are longtime friends all from Doylestown, Pennsylvania, but he says, “[The accident] brought us together as individuals a lot more. I think that might have produced some more chemistry between us. It really did have a big effect on the way we write. Part of me doesn’t want to feel that way because it’s just a way to cope with everything that’s happened.”

The chemistry shows on recent singles, the hard-rocking, wailing “Afterparty,” the newly released “Spinning,” and “Postcard,” which shocked fans with its surprising use of electronic percussions. Like all the songs on Light We Made, there’s no mention of the wrecks.

“We had one song [about the van accident], it was an early sample that [vocalist, guitarist] Jon Simmons wrote,” Van Ellis says. “But it was too literal. We knew that it would be talked about and we’d get questions in every interview about that song and the accident.”

Instead, they focused more on creating “the best music to live in and lose yourself to,” the same goal they had on 2013’sThe Things We Think We’re Missing. But now, Van Ellis promises, “[Light We Made] is our band thinking without limits.”