It all started with a revelation in a Ralphs parking lot.
Sitting in his car before grocery shopping, Tyler Connolly, lead singer of British Columbia-based quartet Theory of a Deadman, was listening to a demo he recorded but had yet to send to his bandmates.
The demo, a song in the same hard rock vein the band has been known for since forming in 2001, Connolly realized, was not up to par.
“I listened to it and I went, ‘Oh my god, this is terrible,’ ” he said with a laugh during a recent phone interview. “It was so terrible. I couldn’t even send it to the guys. I deleted it.”
In that moment, Connolly realized the band needed to think outside their hard rock box and do something they’ve never done before.
The result of that sonic switch up is “Wake Up Call,” which brings the band to the Knitting Factory on Saturday.
Connolly wrote much of the pop-rock album, the band’s sixth, on piano.
After about 30 years focusing primarily on the guitar, Connolly felt like his creative well was dry, like he’d played it all before.
Sitting down at the piano though opened up a new world of ideas for him.
“You’re in such a different creative space …,” he said. “Honestly felt like it was a new instrument and new songs and new band. It was really exciting.”
Once Connolly sent those new, more melodic, less aggressive songs to his bandmates – bassist Dean Back, guitarist David Brenner and drummer Joey Dandeneau – they were quick to jump on board with the new direction.
“They could see the potential of where we could go with it, which is great rather than having this push back like ‘I don’t know, man,’ ” Connolly said.
Pushing themselves even further outside their comfort zone, the band decided to record “Wake Up Call” with new-to-them producer Martin Terefe (James Blunt, KT Tunstall, Jason Mraz) at his Kensaltown Studios in London.
Terefe encouraged the band to bring demos rather than completed songs into the studio, allowing room for flexibility and experimentation.
“Time Machine,” in particular, was overhauled during the recording process.
Looking back on the first incarnation of the song, Connolly said it sounded dated, like a “Cher dance track.”
Though production on the song was finished, the band decided the right thing to do was delete that version and start over from scratch.
With a now-blank canvas, the band turned the song into the breezy, acoustic track that appears on “Wake Up Call.”
The people at Atlantic Records, Theory of a Deadman’s record label, were initially apprehensive about the new sound.
Connolly said the label loved the songs, they just didn’t know what to do with them, telling the band that their history was going to be the biggest roadblock when it came to promoting and releasing the album.
“I got it,” Connolly said. “Having people changing their minds about what we’re doing was going to be the hardest part.”
Connolly recalls talking with two fans who saw the band over the summer and then again in the fall. The fans told the band their show had become poppier, though when the band looked back at the setlists, only two songs had been changed.
“There’s still fans that do not like what we’re doing on the new record, but as a band, we have to progress,” Connolly said.
For the most part though, it seems that fans have taken to the band’s progression; “Wake Up Call” peaked at numbers four and five respectively on the “Billboard” Top Alternative Albums and Top Rock Albums charts.
With “Wake Up Call,” Theory of a Deadman hopes to open minds to what rock music can be and bring a broader, more diverse sound to the genre.
This album marks a turning point for the band and has them looking forward to seeing what they can accomplish on future releases.
“All we can really do is hope that some of these songs take hold where we want to go and then that will be a lot easier for us on the future records to really keep pushing in the direction where we want to end up maybe in five or 10 years,” Connolly said.