MEB staffer Nick Niedzielski recently caught up with the guys in Driver Friendly to discuss signing to a label, the cons of being a band in Austin, preparing for Warped Tour, and much more.
You guys recently signed to Hopeless records. How did that process go?
Tyler Welsh (Vocals): Well, it was almost a year ago to the day. We were on tour and we got an email from a guy at Hopeless records named Eric Tobin. It said like, “Hey guys, I’d like to talk to you.” And we were like, ‘whatever,’ because we’ve been a band for a while so it was probably just another industry person yanking our chain and dragging us around. But we called him on the side of a highway in Florida and we were like “So what’s up?” and I remember the first thing he said was “I would love to work with you guys.” That’s the first time we had ever heard that phrase. It was like “I want to work with you guys” in a sense of let’s do something together, more than just “You guys are cool, you should send me some demos.” And so from there it was just a conversation for a couple more months. We had some conversations with some other people, but Hopeless just felt like the place where we were going to be able to do what we want to do and have people behind us that believed in us.
Juan Lopez (Trumpet): And it wasn’t just like straight up “Let’s go push you to radio and do all this,” it was like “Let’s make a career, let’s really push you guys and develop.”
Tyler: They really care about us too. They want to see us develop as artists, which you don’t hear a lot. Hopeless is just a really awesome group of people to work with.
What were the differences in recording Bury a Dream independently and Peaks + Valleys on a label?
Tyler: It’s a different process. We had been an independent band for so long and we were so used to going “Alright, this is what we want to do, we’re going to go do it, we’re going to go to the studio and we’re going to pay this amount of money,” and we would do it. And now there’s this whole other level of “Well, are these the songs that the label likes? Is this the producer the label was cool with? Do they feel this is the right move? Is this the right studio for us to enter?” And at first it was awkward for us because we’re like “we know what’s best for us.” And then we thought about it, and we’ve been an unsigned band for so long, maybe we don’t know what’s best for us [laughs].
Andy Lane (Guitar/Vocals): It took us a while to get used to people telling us no sometimes. We would be like “No, that’s not right” but then we’d think about it and it was right. They’re only going to be successful if we’re successful, so it’s a huge step of trust. But you realize that it’s only for the betterment of everything, which is cool.
So the Peaks + Valleys EP has three new songs and three songs from Bury a Dream. Was that something that they thought of or was that something that you guys pushed?
Tyler: It was definitely their idea. At first we were a little resistant to it, because we already recorded these songs – we’ve already put them out.
Andy: Plus it’s hard for us to write just three singles, not a record at a time.
Tyler: But they asked, “Well, how many copies of Bury a Dream have you sold?” [Laughs] Well, you know, maybe two grand if we’re lucky. And they were like “Okay, well we think these songs are amazing and not that many people have heard them, so why would you limit your audience? Why would you throw those songs away and put them on an album that’s going to be harder for people to find?” And so, it took us a while to come around, and now I’m really happy that those songs are on that EP. Those three songs represent where we were, and the three new songs show where we are going, and I think it’s a great bridge. I think that if you’re a brand new listener and you’ve never heard us before, it’s an awesome EP. I think it’s a great way to be introduced to a band that you’ve never heard before. For our older fans, we apologize that they’re like a year old.
Andy: And the mantra of the album is “build a bridge,” so it’s like, this is where we were and this is what we’re going to become very soon, and so it’s an in-betweener. We’re getting somewhere. So if you’re from the past, we’re building a bridge to where we all want to be.
Tyler: We’re learning that there are so many more stepping stones that we never knew existed. We just thought you put out an album, get famous, and make music for the rest of your life. But there are just so many steps that are involved. So it was their idea, but it ended up being the right idea.
Andy: I know a lot of hardcore fans are pissed off but, come on, there’s like 500 of you. [Laughs]
Were the three new songs written and recorded after the signing for the EP?
Andy: Well, not specifically. We’ve just been writing and those seemed to be the ones that caught us.
Tyler: As soon as we knew there was label interest we started writing. We knew that no matter what was going to happen, we needed more songs. We’ve never been a very prolific writing group in the past, and we knew that was something that needed to change. So we just started busting songs out and it’s awesome now because we have a full album’s worth of material right now.
Andy: When it came time for the EP, we were like, great, because we had stuff to choose from.
Tyler: So it wasn’t like we wrote them with the specific goal in mind of where they would end up, we were just writing.
Andy: And we chose those, along with the label, because those were the best match with the older songs. They sat well with them, and at the time they were just the three best songs that we had.
Tyler: That was our plan. To put out the three best songs we had.
Jeremi Mattern (Drums): Those were also the ones that the producer was most drawn to. So it was kinda like, let’s do it with him if he’s into them.
Tyler: And he helped us out a lot. Like [for] “Let the Sun Come Up,” that was not the arrangement that we went in with.
Andy: Yeah, his tambourine track was fucking killer [Laughs].
Are the new songs indicative of any kind of musical change or evolution?
Tyler: The word I keep hearing being thrown around is mature, which is weird and scary, but I think these songs are more mature. But that doesn’t mean that we’re backing away from the energy and what makes Driver Friendly Driver Friendly. We’re just trying to make that better, rather than departing totally from our sound.
Andy: It’s like when you’re an artist and you make dangerous attempts to do different shit with your music. So we’re still doing those dangerous attempts, we’re just smarter about arranging them to where it’s a bit more mature.
Tyler: We’re disciples of pop. It comes down to that. That’s the music we listen to. We want songs to get stuck in your head. We sit down as seven guys to make a song, we want it to get stuck in your head. So we’re just growing and learning different ways to do that.
I know you probably talk about it in every interview, but y’all were a pretty established band in the Austin area years ago with the album Chase the White Whale. Then you stopped playing. Why did it make sense to start playing music again?
Tyler: Well, the honest answer would be….
Juan: We went to a South By party…. [Laughs]. We left to go to my house. We drank a few vodkas and Monsters….
Jeremi: So, pretty much, we released Chase the White Whale when all of us were in our last year or two of college, and we had put so much into that, and there were so many people making us promises about all sorts of things, and things just always fell through.
Andy: We just got burned out. That was it.
Jeremi: I mean, we had all just finished college, we released an album, we pushed it hard for about two years, and we all just got burned out because we never saw any returns. And we all had to get real jobs and start paying our bills. But then after doing that for about a year and a half, we all realized “Wait a second, there’s something that’s missing in our lives.” And that’s when that drunken conversation happened.
Tyler: Something happened where somebody came up to me and said “Well why did you stop?” And I had to ask myself “Why did we stop?” And I thought there was a collective feeling in all of us that we just wanted to quit. But when we sat down and talked about it we were like “Well fuck, we should be making music. Why did we stop?” And it was a desire of all of ours to keep going. We kinda just all separated into different paths, for whatever reason, but once the decision was made to do this again, it’s been a whole different world.
Jeremi: It’s almost two different bands. We’ve been together since 2002, so it’s been 11 years, but it’s really almost not fair to say that. This time exactly two years ago, we took a road trip to a cabin in the woods of North Carolina and we wrote all of Bury a Dream, seven songs in seven days. So the path these last two years has been a huge step, but that’s not to take anything away from those first two years. We were learning a lot, but the past two years we’ve pretty much become a new band.
Andy: We started doing it for the right reason – which was just to make music again.
Was there any kind of transition period to get back into the swing of things?
Andy: Literally the next day, Tyler texted everyone and he was like “Hey man, I think we were onto something last night when we talked about that. I know it was a drunken thing, but I think that we should book some time and go some place not in Austin.” And we met up and talked about it, and we ended up having it happen literally the next day. So it really was a drunken epiphany.
Tyler: When we got to the cabin, it was like we had never stopped.
Jeremi: There had been so many built-up ideas in all of us that we were literally writing a whole song a day, which for us is a ton.
Tyler: And not just structures, like vocals and lyrics.
Andy: And it also helped that we were having three 3-hour sessions a day. And a lot of beer and a lot of food.
Tyler: And it was also nice because we’re used to writing in this place that has no windows, it’s like a black box of death. And now we were in this cabin in the woods that my grandfather built, on a mountain where you could see everything; it was wonderful. It’s a whole different experience to have that kind of inspiration instead of just a black death box.
Andy: We were writing till like 3 or 4 in the morning sometimes, like full-out drums because we were in the middle of the woods. It was awesome.
Tyler: But to answer your question, there was never any hesitancy. It was just automatic.
Y’all are based out of Austin, how has that music scene helped you out?
Or not helped y’all out?
Andy: What was it that Jim [Vollentine] said? Jim is our engineer on the record. He said, “You could be a big fish in a small pond or you could just leave that pond altogether.”
Tyler: We don’t care about the Austin music scene.
Do you feel that the Austin scene was holding you guys back?
Tyler: Not holding us back but…
Juan: We just don’t get no love.
Nathan Parrish (Guitar): We somehow managed to have seven dudes in a band and still not be trendy.
Tyler: We actually have fun on stage, and in Austin they’re like “Why would you ever do that?” That just doesn’t fly well. And we put out this EP out like two weeks ago and I was texting our manager and I was like, “Hey can we get press?” and he was like, “Well, the local press doesn’t really give you guys a lot of love.”
Nathan: I don’t think there has been a mention in local press that we’ve been signed to a record label. As far as they know, we don’t exist anymore.
Tyler: The thing is, we don’t care. We love the city. We love Austin. But there is no music scene. It doesn’t exist for us and we don’t care. We’re going to do our own thing because our vision is so much bigger than Austin.
Andy: I know it’s arrogant to say it, but we don’t give a fuck.
Jeremi: And that’s not to say there’s no good music in Austin. There’s phenomenal musicians in Austin. It’s just, they don’t like us.
Tyler: And that used to eat at us. It was part of the reason we stopped for a while. We thought we deserved recognition, but then we realized we don’t care. You can love us or hate us, we don’t give a fuck. We’re still gonna do what we do.
You talked about having fun on stage, and y’all definitely have a lot of energy in your live show. How important is it to have a good live show?
Tyler: You have to perform. But for us, it’s not like you’re putting on a performance, you’re just having fun and enjoying the show. It’s not like “Oh guys, we gotta remember to perform.”
Andy: I think that beyond, like, “Oh those guys are crazy,” we just really like playing. We have so much fun at our shows. There are so many bands you see, specifically in Austin, that just don’t even want to be there. They look like they want to go to sleep.
Tyler: It’s like you’re wasting their time by them performing for you.
Andy: Right. And it’s like, no, we’re here to have fun and party. We’re gonna listen to rock music. And I think that’s maybe what people see when they paint us as being energetic. But really we just like doing it.
Tyler: When I’m on stage, honestly I’m just doing what the music makes me do. It’s not a choice, it’s just what I feel. It’s not fake. And there are fake bands. We’ve seen choreographed shit, where it’s like “Oh, get on my shoulders and play the trombone and then do a backflip”…
Nathan: Well that would be pretty awesome. If only we could do backflips.
So up next you guys have Warped Tour. How are y’all looking forward to that?
Andy: Dude, we can’t wait. We’re all so excited.
Tyler: I’m so scared though. I feel like we’re gonna make so many mistakes.
Have you heard any horror stories?
Tyler: Yeah. We’ve been doing a lot of research.
Andy: That TV show Warped Roadies, I watched every single episode like twice trying to learn stuff. It’s like going to camp.
Tyler: There’s no better avenue right now to get our music out than Warped Tour. I think it’s going to be the perfect fit.
Andy: I just hope that we can survive it. I know it’s brutal. I’ve never even been to Warped Tour.
Tyler: Juan and I tried to go one year and someone broke into our car and stole our tickets.
Juan: They broke into my car and stole his bag, which had our tickets in it. It was harsh.
Tyler: But I really think it’s gonna be awesome and hopefully we reach a lot of people that we never would have before. I think it will be perfect.
Do you guys have any set plans for after Warped?
Andy: We’re talking about doing some tours, [but] we don’t know with who yet. We’ve been trying to get a tour in the fall. But we’re tracking demos like next week. We’re constantly trying to record.
Tyler: You kinda just have to take it day by day. I mean, tomorrow we could get offered a tour for six weeks. The goal is to be out on the road as much as possible this year.
Jeremi: It’s tough when you’re a band like us and you kind of have to be at the mercy of other bands’ schedules and other bands’ tours and what the label thinks is appropriate for us to do.
Andy: It’s literally like one month at a time. If you ask me what I’m doing one month from now, I can tell you. Two months from now, I can’t tell you.
Tyler: The cool thing is the names that are being passed around right now are awesome. We’re excited.
Jeremi: Just as big as getting signed by Hopeless was getting signed by our booking agent David Galea, who books Paramore. And they had the #1 album just like a month ago, and so that was phenomenal. It was literally like, we signed a record deal one day, Eric at Hopeless sent an email to David, he listened to like 30 seconds of a song and was like “Yeah, I like this band.”
Andy: And it helped that he played the trumpet.
Juan: Yeah. So don’t say I never did anything.
Is there anything else y’all want to add?
Tyler: I guess the only other thing we have to add is that we are so grateful to have people interview us or come to our shows. We’re just grateful. The fact that people listen to us is astonishing and we appreciate it. We joke around a lot but it really means a lot to us.