Photo taken at the Climate for Concert Action by Alif Ibrahim for B-SIDE
Feature by Nora Gosselin
It’s pretty rare to watch someone mount a stage using a walker, sit down and promptly proceed to shred on electric guitar. But at a recent AS220 show, Will Adams, one of the guitarists for Sons of Providence, wasn’t about to let a pair of broken legs—courtesy of a RIPTA bus accident at the start of this semester—get in the way of his rocking. Early in the set, he leaned forward into the microphone and said: “This next song is about summoning the devil.” Then he smiled shyly, paused and launched into an explosive opening riff. Again—pretty rare combination.
Sons of Providence blends tearing, metallic guitar licks with the deep blues vocals of lead singer Dhatri Abeyaratne, a recent addition to the nearly three-year-old group.
Dhatri has an undeniable stage presence—letting her long dark hair eclipse her face as she sings lowly into the microphone, then sharply wiping it up as her voice takes off, competing fiercely with the crackling amps for the most electricity. In fact, each member of the group powerfully commands their own space, the slats of stage wood sinking concavely beneath their relentlessly stomping feet. The ferocity and boldness of their performance is interestingly contrasted by the humbleness, almost shyness, that the group exuded when I sat down with some of them a few weeks after their impressive AS220 show.
After almost four years of friendship, and three years of performing together, it’s clear that the core unit of the band—Adams, songwriter Paul Martin, and guitarist James Janison—know each other down to the idiosyncrasies.
“On the first day I got to college, James was in his room playing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on his guitar so I went over and said ‘hi,’” shares Adams, with that expression seniors always have when they recall the eager awkwardness of their freshmen selves. “I told James that I also played guitar… so we sang and played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ together. Then we had a little jam session a couple days later with a bunch of people.”
Sons of Providence wasn’t officially born until over a year later, the name drawn from their first year reading that, as Martin comments, everyone hated or hadn’t read. Drummer Bryan Sutermaster and bassist Ian Boros joined the initial trio, and the fledgling group began figuring out their distinct sound and writing process, moving from freshman dorm jam sessions onto the stage.
Today, the band is a well-oiled machine when it comes to songwriting. “Usually we come up with the structure of the song and then the lyrics. We’ll bring it in with the rest of the band—everybody will add their input and we’ll all fine-tune it together,” explains Will. One of the final steps is often adding dramatic, sharp-inhale-explosive-exhale pauses, which, according to Dhatri, “make for some good stage jumps.”
With acrobatic stage maneuvers, back-and-forths between the two lead guitars, and belted out blues vocals, Sons of Providence is certainly defined by the ferocity of their performances. “[Performing] is the best part, especially because these guys have been writing for a long time, and I’ve just joined. So to be able to take the songs onstage is super fun,” shares Abeyaratne.
The band has endless stories from live shows, one memory sparking another, each shared with reminiscent grins. “We played a Halloween show and invited up different people up to play different guitar solos. That ended with [us] throwing kazoos out to everybody so that they could perform kazoo solos,” remembers Martin. Another night, during a set at Finlandia, “we ended… with a group of ten RISD students singing ‘Stairway to Heaven’ into one microphone,” shares Abeyaratne.
She adds, “I got super lucky. I literally just ran into Will totally by chance at the activities fair, during the first week of college. Before coming here I was like ‘shit, I’m never going to get to play music again.’ It’s been one of the most fun parts of being here, just playing shows with these guys.”
Martin jumps in—“we got lucky too. I remember Will calling me on the phone right after Dhatri sang for the first time [with us], saying ‘Paul, we’ve found ourselves a rock star.’”
The sound they capture on stage, the dedication that pulls them together even with broken bones, and the excitement with which they talk about a future of recorded songs—maybe an album? —clearly reveal just how lucky all members of Sons of Providence are to have found each other. And that light, hopeful excitement conveyed in heavy, searing rock —well, that’s another rare combination.