MEB writer/editor Tim Dodderidge recently talked to Rodeo Ruby Love frontman Zachary Melton. The two discussed the band’s current tour with Streetlight Manifesto, their recently released album The Pits, and the struggle to make the new record after the departure of one of the band’s longtime members.
How’s the tour been so far?
So far it’s been a blast. It’s been a lot of fun.
You guys are supporting a veteran act in Streetlight Manifesto. What’s that been like?
We got to do it in 2011 – we went on tour with Streetlight and Reel Big Fish – so we know the guys really well. It’s really fun to be back with them and see them again. You play your set, you do the best you can, but you always know before too long they’re going to be shouting “We want Streetlight.” There’s always the chants. We don’t take it to heart. It’s their fans.
I bet that’s humbling.
Yeah, we’re just happy to be here.
How could you compare/contrast your career to the career of a band like Streetlight Manifesto and what they’ve done?
Probably not very similar. Streetlight – Tomas [Kalnoky, lead vocalist] in particular – has really thrived upon this mystique, this kind of secrecy, and I think a lot of the fans buy into that. It feels like a close-knit club. He doesn’t do any interviews. They don’t self-promote. It’s all touring. We’ll promote. We’ll tweet. We’ll do all kinds of things just to get our name out there. But it’s encouraging to hear guys like Mike [Brown, saxophonist] and Pete [McCullough, bassist] say, “We started off in an RV touring.” They know what it’s like to be in a van. It’s always nice to hear that and think, “Okay, we’re on the right track.”
Rodeo Ruby Love just released a new studio album in The Pits. How’s the response been so far from both fans and critics?
So far everything’s been really positive. We had one really bad review, but he compared us to New Found Glory, and that was the first time we had ever heard that. It’s not for everybody, of course. All of our friends back home have been really supportive. They really like it. So that’s been really great. We’ve had a couple really good reviews. Some of the guys in the other bands have had some really nice things to say about it.
How do you feel about the songs you wrote and recorded for the album? How do the songs reflect the past few years you spent working on them?
I feel really good. We worked really hard on these particular songs. We started with 25 and chiseled them down. Some of them were just ideas, some were maybe just a chord progression and I was like, “Okay, I don’t want to work on that,” or, “This isn’t really working.” For a while, we were practicing four or five times a week really trying to nail down those parts and really hone our craft. I feel like there’s a really intense theme of home, leaving home, and that sort of thing. I moved from my hometown to Bloomington, Indiana about four years ago. This was like the first time I had to really reflect on that, so I think a lot of the songs are reminiscent of those times – a lot of Grant County/Kokomo, where I used to live and where I used to go to shows. I think it really reflects that time period of my life.
What was the writing and recording process like, and if anything, what was the most challenging part of making this album?
The most challenging part was that our longtime guitar player Kyle [Kammeyer] left. We were supposed to go into the studio in June, and he left in March or April. So it was like, “Okay, scratch that.” He’s been with me almost from the beginning, so it was really hard for me to adjust. I almost walked away and didn’t want to do the record, and the other guys encouraged me and convinced me. We worked really hard together. It was Ben [Claghorn], Kurt [Friedrich], Dillon [Enright] and I. We didn’t have a guitar player, and a lot of the songs were written without a second guitar. We had the help of Steve [Marino], who’s in the band now, and our friend back home, Dan Shepard, wrote and recorded some guitar parts as well. So if you listen closely, you can kind of tell the difference. I think they both did a spectacular job. A lot more responsibility was put on me. Usually I’m like, “Here’s a song, now you guys make it better.” We really had to come together and make the songs stick for us.
As far as lyrical themes on the album go, do you think any of that struggle is represented?
Yeah, actually a couple of songs got cut and didn’t make the record. But definitely the last song on the record, “The Problem,” kind of steps back and reflects on it. We had a brief flirt with success in 2011 on these Streetlight tours, but we went back to reality playing these basements and shows to nobody again. It’s just realizing what it takes to make it in this business, how starstruck we were for a second, and how much further we had to go. So yeah, I think it definitely reflects that struggle.
The album cover is a stained-glass window – something you’d find in a church or something. Were you or anybody in the band a churchgoer growing up, and how would that be represented by the cover?
My sisters, who are both playing with us tonight, and I all went to church growing up. I know Kurt, our keyboardist, went to church growing up. Dillon went to a Catholic school. I went to a Christian university. So faith is a huge part of our lives. On this record, it’s a huge part of my life whether I want it there or not. A lot of times, I wish I could turn away and walk away from it, but it’s there no matter what. I grew up with it and it’s a part of me no matter what I believe, and it’s always going to be in the back of my mind. It’s a huge part of this record, and it’s a huge part of our lives. There are very few believers in the band, but because we all kind of came from that background, we can all relate to it.
Just listening to the album feels like going to a church service with the keyboards and organs and everything. Do you think your sound reflects that part of growing up?
Yeah, it definitely is a tinge of that. And one of my all-time favorite records is Amazing Grace by Aretha Franklin, where she does two nights of gospel tunes at a church with this choir. It’s just such a spectacular record and it sounds amazing. Tonight we have the horns and two backup singers. It’s been a slow process, but kind of what I want to do eventually is like a Sam Cooke – Live In Harlem kind of feel, where it’s just a party nonstop. I think we’re getting there. We’re trying to figure out how we fit into that. Obviously we can’t escape the punk rock roots that we have, so how can we have both of those fit together?
You guys have been around for a while so you already have a lot of experience, but how do you see the band growing from here?
I thought this album was a pretty big step for us. It kind of pulled us out of the ska-punk genre that we were kind of pigeonholed into. It’s okay to be kind of shuffled into that genre. Nobody thought that’s where we’d end up. I think this record kind of pulls us out a little bit, and maybe some listeners before who wrote us off would be more interested. For us, we want to keep growing and keep writing songs. But more than anything, we want to keep touring and trying to nail down some opportunities, whether that’s playing more shows or schmoozing up to the right people. I don’t really know how it works (laughs). Hopefully we’ll play our cards right and get some opportunities to come our way.