“Take my hand and look me in the eye. There’s still time left” opens the new single “Let It Burn” by Utah-based rock band Citizen Soldier. Brand new to the scene, formed only in early 2017, front-man Jake Segura wants the band to do more than make rock music, but also reach out to those struggling internally with depression and anxiety. This is the message in “Let It Burn”.
Their five-song EP, “Caroline”, was released at the end of October. While unsigned, Citizen Soldier has worked with a producer to record, mix, and polish their songs. The EP started as a 16-song album, but they decided to cut it down to an initial EP to demonstrate their various styles to a growing audience. I had the opportunity to talk to Segura about the formation of the band, his story in songwriting, and the release of the “Caroline” EP.
Segura grew up on rock albums like Shinedown’s “Sound of Madness” but never felt like he should be writing music. In high school, no one took him seriously as a songwriter so he never pursued it, and was even kicked out of a band for not being a good enough vocalist. Despite good grades in school, he started to struggle with depression, anxiety, and OCD, getting to the point where he could barely function. And he found himself unable to ask for help.
In November 2016, he tried to take his life.
In the hospital bed afterward, he wrote the lyrics to “Let It Burn” on a napkin given to him by a nurse. The song is a letter to himself (whom he addresses in the lyrics as “kid”), but also a message to anyone who has attempted or considered suicide, a plea for them to recognize their personal worth, move past their suffering and find something beautiful. In a sense, douse their past troubles in gasoline, light it on fire, and let it burn. This song is from the point of view of someone who has been there. Segura considers the role of the band beyond a rock performer and as a pathway to bringing the message of fighting the stigma of mental illness as weakness and encourage people to get help and work through their problems.
Musically, the five song selected for Caroline are excellent. It is hard to imagine Segura being let go from a band for not being a good enough vocalist. His pain and personal connection to the lyrics shines through the songs in his passionate singing. “Let It Burn” is a slow song that really does burn as it builds with a solid melody and pulsing rhythm in the pre-chorus as it covers a topic only touched on a few times in the industry, most notably in Three Days Grace’s “Never Too Late”. Lyrically, the song is powerful on its own, hitting home the metaphor of lighting your past on fire and walking away: “All this hell you’ve lived and seen/Drown it all in gasoline/And light a match, pull the pin/You are not who you’ve been/The past is just lessons learned/So light it up and let it burn”. The most striking lyric is in the bridge, “You will remember the day you burned it all to the ground” as Segura encourages those suffering inside from one who’s been there.
Their first single, “Buried Alive” reflects back to his feelings prior to his recovery where he felt trapped inside with depression and anxiety while no one notices: “Too late to fit in/Don’t you dare pretend/You know what it’s like to watch the world outside/While you’re buried alive.” The third single, “15 Minutes of Fame” is a moving song with a driving 6/8 rhythm, showing a different side of their songwriting. Chugging guitars in the pre-chorus lead into a powerful melody as Segura again sings about loneliness and not feeling like he is understood or able to voice is problems, asking “Now I have nothing left and I am scared to death/Will they remember me?” The song closes with an interesting outro rhythm on the lead guitar.
"Soldier" is the heaviest of the five songs and likens being bullied and beat down to being on the front lines: "If I face you now maybe I'm a soldier", and ends with Segura singing "I am an army of one". This song is constructed like the others where near the end the song slows with the band backing off and emphasizing the vocals, usually part of the chorus, before the band comes back in to end the song. All five songs do this. What is missing in "Soldier" is a bridge between the middle of the song and the ending chorus, which are highlights of "Buried Alive", "Let It Burn" and "15 Minutes of Fame". Finally, "Caroline" was the final song released along with the full EP. Each of the previous singles represented a different style of song for the band, but this song is similar in sound to "15 Minutes of Fame" only not in 6/8. This song is about a girl named Caroline that Segura knew and it's her story. On a broader scale, it's a song about being at rock bottom: "How far from heaven did she fall/With broken wings, she barely crawls/No reason left to stay alive/If there's a God, where's he tonight/For Caroline." It is a powerful final song release that again hits home the band's message.
New to the Salt Lake City scene, Citizen Soldier is in its infancy but the strength of their songwriting and musicianship should move them into the limelight soon. The guitar work is layered and precise, pulsing along behind Segura’s voice with a similar fire. The band’s influence by rock bands of the 2000s like Shinedown, Breaking Benjamin, and I am especially reminded of 12 Stones by both their sound and songwriting style. Segura chose the band name after hearing a movie review on the radio about a regular citizen struggling with life, like many soldiers do after returning home, fighting a battle within. The band name reflects the battles waged inside and the band’s goal to shine a light on people’s internal struggles. "Let It Burn" is the instant highlight as the song that reset Segura's life and the writing and performance of the song shows it, however the other four songs are also strong.
Check out Citizen Soldier’s EP Caroline and look for what they do next.