Behind the Grey and ASHFALL: Feb. 15, 10 p.m., V-Spot (906 Providence Rd., Scranton). $5.
Meeting The Weekender at Northern Light Espresso Bar in downtown Scranton, Will Perna is in high spirits, which is remarkable considering the past few months for his band Behind the Grey have been, in short, “hell.” Just on the rise at the end of 2012 when The Weekender last spoke with the dedicated guitarist, the Scranton-based metal group recently made the very tough decision to let their singer go, which led to a period of uncertainty. “There just wasn't a really good vibe. There wasn't a good vibe in the studio; there were a lot of learning curves that had to happen,” Perna began. “We thought, 'This is the bottom line for us. We have to be just as good as our record, if not better when we perform it,' and those performances were not going over well. We were not obviously able to duplicate vocally the things that were done on the record, so here we have this record, this five-song EP that we're all really proud of ready to release, and we couldn't back it up. It became an issue. “We had to really sit down with him and say, 'We're not getting to where we need to go. We're not getting the reviews that we want. We have to make a change.'” Thankfully, he took it well and respectfully finished out the shows they had already booked as they searched for someone new. With vocalists coming in from as far away as Virginia, they auditioned about 20 different singers, both male and female, and even experimented with multiple vocalists at the same time before meeting Eric Katchmore. Just before his audition, however, Perna received a text message from him that he was in the hospital and couldn't make it. “My initial reaction was, 'Are you OK? What happened that you had to go to the emergency room the day of your audition because you were really jazzed about this?' and he didn't reply back. I'm like, 'Oh my God, is this kid OK?' So we all go down to practice, we're hanging out, at maybe 5 minutes to 7, I just get, 'F—k it. I'll see you guys there. I'll be a little bit late,'” he said. “I told the kid dedication was a big point to sell on this, but not to the point of your health. He shows up and his mouth is swollen, almost like an Elmer Fudd kind of situation, like from 'Looney Tunes.' He had an infection in his jaw from an abscess in his mouth. He's like, 'I haven't slept in two days. They couldn't do anything. They just gave me antibiotics an hour ago, so it didn't even have a chance to kick in.'” Unable to support himself, Katchmore pulled up a chair and grabbed a nearby trash can. “We're like, 'Are you OK?' He's like, 'I think I might puke, but start the song anyway.' So we start doing (Deftones') 'Back to School.' I play the intro, the drums kick in, and he does that first scream where he's like, 'So run!' and it was perfect. And he did the entire song just flawlessly, even with the high notes in it. He never slipped out of key. The screams were there, and (our drummer) said he knew that was the guy because I had the biggest s—t-eating grin on my face,” Perna recalled with a similar smile. “This kid is like near death and he's that good? Imagine what happens when he's healthy.” What happened breathed new life into the quintet, which just changed bass players too before solidifying their lineup, which includes Bryan Munley on guitar, Dan McDonald on bass, and Mike Boniewicz on drums. “(Our old bassist's) identical twin brother plays bass for us now, so we're like, 'Well, we replaced our goldfish with another goldfish, so the kid will never know,'” Perna joked. Opening for ASHFALL, their original singer and Katchmore split the set list at a “farewell” show, then performed their single “Curtain Call” together as a “passing of the torch.” Since then, they've been rebuilding Behind the Grey, changing tunings to accommodate their new singer and re-recording three fan-favorite songs with him for a brand new self-titled EP that will be released this Saturday, Feb. 15 at the V-Spot in Scranton. “We're all in different places, but for whatever reason, we're all on the same page. There's no headbutting,” Perna noted. “We're lucky we don't fight. I like everyone I'm in a band with this time, so it's nice.” After just winning “Best Regional Band” in the 717 Music Awards in Harrisburg with votes from their fans, the 28-year-old axman feels that now – finally – the group is on its way to success as they finish up preproduction on a full-length record with plans to hit the studio in the fall. “In our last interview, you asked me, 'Do you think Behind the Grey can make it the same way you thought (your previous band) Absolution could?' and I really think now we can. We found that missing piece. The energy is more like it was in Absolution,” Perna enthused. “Everything is really high-energy. We're very tight, we're very focused on where we want to go, and everyone had made the sacrifice of, 'We're all going to be poor and we're going to be miserable now, but eventually we're going to be poor and miserable but doing what we love to do,' so everyone has basically hopped on that boat. We're stoked.”