Last month, my wife, Becca, and I had the privilege to sit down and share some drinks, laughs, and conversation with Seth and Crystal Dady and Tyler Shaw, otherwise known as Brother Wild, at the Dady’s home. After some initial recording difficulties, we got into some really great conversation about music, life, and what it means to use art as a Christian. On a side note, I have to say that Seth makes the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had.
March 8, 2015
IK: So Seth, What was your writing/creative process for recording White Flag?
SD: I had already recorded “White Flag” . . .
IK: Then you got the idea for the EP . . .
SD: Yeah, I think I even did the album art first. Josh Cook sent me this stack of his photos to use for The Well, and I’m scrolling through, deleting a bunch. Like, “This is the wrong size or dimensions,” then I came on that one [of the horse], and it was like, “Wow, that’s it.” That guy has such a great eye for photography, he just kills it. So anyway, I had “White Flag” and the album cover, and was like, “Ok, so maybe it’ll just be an EP,” and wrote 3-4 songs, even started recording them. And then I was just messing around in the studio with the other ones and was like, “I think I have like,12 songs.” I cut it down to about 9 songs, and then added “Gravity” to make it 10.
IK: I’m glad you did.
SD: That song was written about 7 years ago after burn-out—Crystal and I just walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death . . . . So we hit the studio in the Fall . . . .
TS: Yeah, around the end of August or early September.
SD: Yeah, so it was in the shared studio space with Aaron Strumpel, and I was able to get in there for a good bit. He hit the road for like two weeks, and Tyler and I got busy laying down parts. We started [recording] rough demos and then kind of fine tuning parts. Like, really we were writing parts on the fly in the studio and then it kinda got to a point to where I needed to mix and do a bunch more in the mixing process, and kinda hit a wall with Aaron coming back from tour and needing to be in the studio a bunch. I was in the home stretch and couldn’t just stop, so I just packed up and moved everything home to finish up the vocals and a few more over-dub guitar parts and subtle instrumentation. Then I found this pedal-steel player from Denver who played on “Gravity.”
I: That was great. The pedal-steel on “Gravity” is one of my favorite instrumental parts on the album.
SD: Yeah, he just killed it. He’s been playing for like, 40 years, he builds his own pedal-steels, which is a really intricate musical instrument. It has like a million moving pieces inside. So I just sent out some emails and three or four listings on Craig’s List, and I’ve had one other experience with a pedal-steel player from Craig’s List, and he was ok. But this guy we got, Glenn Taylor, he’s from the Bay area, started playing music in the hippie movement, and then got into country like a lot of hippies did. You know, like Grateful Dead—kind of the cross-over country stuff. He sees Jerry Garcia playing pedal-steel, and says, “I can do this.” Then he moved out here, got on tour with Patsy Cline’s band after she passed, and was playing all this tribute kinda stuff, learning all these country songs, and then got bored. Then he was like, “I’m gonna start playing jazz.” On a pedal-steel! [laughs] So I show up at his house, and was like, “Do you wanna get a pass through the song? Just like set up a little two-channel recording?” And he was like, “No man, just hit record.” I had only sent him the song like, the day before, but I figured, “He probably knows what he’s doing.” Pretty much the part that’s on the album is the part he did the first take. And he did the whole thing with his eyes closed—not looking, just feeling it. Then he said, “Cool man, let’s do that a couple more times so you have some options, and I think we’re about done.” So I recorded it two more times, and 15 minutes later we’re done. I was expecting to pay him like, four or five hundred dollars or something, because we never talked about the price, but he says, “You know what, I don’t really like taking money for music, ’cause I just really love to do it.” And I go, “Here’s the thing though, I’d really like to do this with you again. And I would love to have you come play my show or something. So here’s the deal: I brought a hundred dollars to pay you, can I give you a hundred bucks?” And he was like, “I was thinking fifty.”
IK: He was talking you down! [laughter]
SD: Yeah! I said, “But here’s the thing though, I only have twenties, so you have to take sixty.” And he said, “Alright, fine. I’ll do it for sixty.” I was thinking, “Who are you? Jesus?!” [laughter]
CD: I think your next song needs to be about Glenn! [laughter] Everything in my soul bucked against the way we recorded this album. Because it was everybody just doing their parts [individually]. It was amazing to watch the process, and to watch Seth just own it. But I was like, “Wait, so now you’re gonna run my vocals through this machine, and then run a filter over that, and tweak it?” And I was just like, “Oh gosh! Can we just do a retake and just do it until it’s perfect?” I just want it to be the pure, raw thing. I think that’s why I’m really drawn to older artists. They were just in a room with the musicians and sang their guts out.
SD: I think that’s what I’m really excited for for next time we do this. Because this time we didn’t even have a band, and we’re pulling it together.
IK: You had to piece it together.
SD: Literally songs were pieced together, and I was like, “Am I gonna do the whole thing myself?” And then I was like, “Nope. can’t do it. Tyler, come in let’s work on some stuff.” Danny Rankin plays bass on a few tracks, but the rest of the songs were pretty boring bass-wise, so I just borrowed his bass and knocked out the bass parts in few days. There were just a lot of parts where I just didn’t have time to drag this project out for a year. I would’ve gotten sick of it if we had to do it that long. So we either needed to just hurry up and get it done, and then kind of focus on figuring that sound out and figuring out some chemistry with people to do it live with.
CD: All that to say, I respect the process so much. It is an art form. And getting to watch Seth work and orchestrate something and say, “This is what I have here, and am bringing it to where it needs to be.” And just layering instruments and saying, “This is what I need to have.” So, it was beautiful see that, and I definitely grew in my respect of music and how it’s recorded.
SD: Probably the hardest part of the process was picking the song-order. Because I think of things in terms of how it’ll flow in terms of a live setting. I’ve never had to put together a full-length album to tell a collective story. So when we sat down with Dave Wilton to master it, he was super-helpful because he listened to it from a completely objective view. He was like, this is the story that I capture from all of these songs, and the way I feel like it conveys the story in a clear manner.” I was thinking in terms of key-changes, cause that’s how it works live—you know, like, “D-chord to D-chord, that’s easy!”—but that’s not how you do it on an album. That stuff doesn’t even matter. I think I sent Tyler a song order like, seven times.
TS: Yeah, we started tracking in what was the perceived order, with “Where I Belong.” We spent about two days on that song. A long time.
SD: There were a lot of days just kinda spent hashing out ideas, and we come back and scrap the whole thing and do something different. “Well, I’m not digging that one lets try this other thing,” or, “We like this one part, we just need to make the rest of it match.” Or we had a bunch of songs that had like, eight different guitar takes. We’re either gonna sound like Foo Fighters, or we need to cut a bunch of this crap out. So we did. We ended up just cutting out entire parts.
TS: We had a lot of craziness with guitar at first. We’d have a ton of effects and three guitar parts and then we were like, “Oh wait. We do have to play this live.”
SD: Yeah, there were certain songs that came more naturally, too. That, once you got into the groove, it was like, “This is flowing better.” “Leave It All Behind” was one of those songs. It’s based on being reminded of how awesome camping in Colorado is from camping last summer with my family, and it kind of brought up that time of me being on the [Colorado Trail], too. I always thought that song would be the weakest song on the album. [To Tyler] Until you liked it. You were digging it. You forgot we even recorded it!
TS: Yeah! I think we recorded it in an hour. I think we used first take on that one.
SD: I sent you a demo of “Leave It All Behind” with four other songs, and you were like, “What song is this?”
TS: Yeah, we did it so fast, I had forgotten it. We didn’t have any lyrics done; vocals weren’t done on it. Bass hadn’t been recorded; keys weren’t done on it. It was just a couple guitars and a drum beat, and Seth talking through what he was feeling on it. And we got it done in about two takes. Then I forgot about it because we went on to other songs. But yeah, we were talking about what songs we wanted to be our single—for lack of a better word—and we settled on that because, yeah, it just feels really great.
SD: It was about three weeks before the release, and we’d leaked a couple little fifteen second teasers, and there was an online radio station that was like, “Hey we’d really love to put some of your stuff on our radio station. Could you send us a couple tracks?” So I sent them over and they told us when to tune in. I didn’t realize you could actually watch the DJs. So we went to the website, and there were all these ads, and had all this pot imagery. I was like, “What kind of radio station is this?”
CD: The banner said, “Pot Talk with Uncle Nasty.”
SD: So we’re watching with the kids, right? And they’re just talking about pot. Then they get to this segment that’s about local artists—Hack it or Ax it—and the first track is a reggae band, and they’re like, “I’m feeling this!!” I’m thinking, “Great, they’re gonna rip my stuff apart.” Then the next track is this hip-hop—like, all stuff you’d wanna hear if you’re smoking weed. And then “White Flag” comes on, and they were like, “Oh! this has some energy!” but then it slows down in the middle, and they moved on to the next track, which was “Leave it All Behind.” We’re watching with the kids, and they were totally digging it, saying, “It’s so mellow. It’s so mellow!” It was this funny, weird feeling watching someone else react to your music for the first time. It was kinda cool.
And then “The Day I Saw You” was the last song I wrote, and it was literally a few days before I took stuff to mix that I wrapped up the lyrics. The music was done a long time before that. I almost didn’t put that one on the album either. It was kinda the wild-card. It has this southern-rock, alt-country feel to it. It’s kind of a play on when I met Crystal in church. So there are all these word-pictures of walking into a room crowded with pews, but I wanted to visualize it as an old Western. Because that’s what the song is. I knew I was going to call the song “The Day I Saw You” before I had written the lyrics, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to that place—to that line. So it was a lot of writing a page full of lyrics, and then scrapping the whole thing and starting over. I told Crystal, “It has to be good enough for this music!” Musically, it’s my favorite song on the record because it’s so fun. It ties to home and my southern roots full-on. And now that I listen to the whole album, it’s probably the weakest song [laughs]. But it fits, it’ll be super-fun to do live.
IK: And “House Fire” is a cool song, man.
SD: I love that song. I actually wrote that one when she was writing “You Won’t Stop.” So I was in the middle of writing that song out here on this couch, and Crystal came out and was like, “I think I finished a song,” and she threw her notepad down on the couch, and almost walked off. It was almost a drop-the-mic moment [laughter]. And I stopped what I was doing because I started reading the lyrics, and was like, “Oh my gosh!” She said, “I’ll be back,” and she walked out the door, and when she came back, I had thumbed on some chords and a melody. I asked, “What do think about this?” and she was like, “Yeah, that could be cool…” But it was never like, “Yeah, I like that!” There was never a real confirmation.
CD: Really? Well I was kind of singing it as I was writing it, and it was very down. But when he started writing music for it, it was very upbeat. And I was like, “That is so much better!” Because this is such a downer song. This is such a like, spousal abuse song . . . !
CD: And I was going to sing it, but I just told Seth, “You need to sing it.” It was such a great way to end an epic fight. [laughter]
SD: Yup! Write a song about it. I just think it was really cool how she just dropped the pad on the couch next to me! I was like, “Alright, cool! You just showed me up.” And at that point I felt so bad about my lyrics for “House Fire.” I was like, “These lyrics suck! And these lyrics she just wrote are so good!” I think you always feel that way about something you write versus something that’s not yours. Or you see somebody else’s lyrics and say, “That’s so good!” But it was cool, I came to her. I think I’ve always done this: I’ve come to Crystal with a song about 75% done, and say, “I need help finishing the last 25%.” I always have the melodies down, but the lyrical content is always tricky. Especially when you’re trying to tell a story, or phrase something right. It’s always like, “Does this make sense, or did I just make that word up?”
TS: We had a lot fun recording that song.
SD: We did, man. We were like, “Let’s think like Joe Walsh right now. Let’s straight up do some harmony guitar parts, and . . . “
TS: No, I meant “House Fire.”
SD: Oh, “House Fire” was awesome!
TS: We kinda like, fell into this slide idea. We saw this slide sitting over in the studio and said, “Hey, we should do some slide!” We did the lead part first, and that was cool.
SD: Yeah, we did, because of that amp that was sitting there—it was this 1940’s or 50’s Danelectro amp. And we straight up cranked the trash out of it, like all the way wound it out. Just total distortion, and the only effects back then were, like, vibrato. So we had this choppy vibrato, and Tyler starts playing, and I was like, “That’s so good!” And we almost didn’t layer in, remember we added like, kinda at the ending . . . ?
TS: Right, it like, swells.
SD: There’s this part that goes through the entire song, that’s just him sitting there with like . . . .
TS: We had to do it together, because my guitar is set up low and fast, which is really hard to play slide on . . . .
SD: With our hands on Tyler’s lap . . . [laughter]
TS: I’m holding down two strings, he’s holding down three strings, I’ve got the guitar in my lap, and I’m [working the slide]. And the amp is SO LOUD! And we’re sitting there doing this for like, four minutes!
SD: The entire song, we’re like, “Keep goin’ man! Don’t stop! Don’t stop! You got this!”
TS: I was like, “This is the awkwardest way of recording music!”
SD: When we finished, we were like, “Well, I think we’ve got all we needed there . . . . That’s enough of that.”
When we were done, though, that song was money. That was the one track I sent first to Strumpel, and I hadn’t even mixed it. I never did mix it. Whatever we did that day was the final. Because I sent it to Strumpel, and he was like, “Yeah, that one’s finished. Don’t you dare add another part to that song.” That was the only one I didn’t do anything to in mixing. I actually matched “Gravity” to it in acoustic tone and vocal parts and everything else. It kinda became the bar for the rest of the tracks.
TS: That experience made me buy a guitar just for playing slide.
CD: [Our son,] Quinn, the other day, I was looking though some old pictures of him from when he was a baby. We lived in a town home in Boulder, and he was like, “Where is that?” and I said, “That was our old house. Do you remember?” and he goes, “And Daddy set that old house on fire.” I was like, “Oh my gosh!!”
SD: That place was a piece. I did want to light that house on fire.
IK: Your songs are very personal and intimate. Even without knowing the backstory of the songs, it’s easy to catch that. What was it like inviting others into those stories and that creative process?
SD: I think that’s where Crystal helped the most, because I always second guess myself in terms of authenticity or “Does that make sense?” [To Crystal] “‘Cause you were there with me . . . does that make sense, is that accurate?”
CD: So, I’d like to give a little of the backstory of “Gravity” from my angle. We just had [our daughter,] Stella, Seth was building a house, and we were doing youth ministry in Lake City when we had this crisis. We [as a couple] were about done. He ended up going on the Colorado trail and I went to Texas to be with family. I was like, “I need help, I don’t know what we’re doing, I don’t know where we’re at.” So, we had asked for an emergency sabbatical from the church we worked for, and I didn’t know if we were going to reconcile our marriage or if we were going to go our separate ways—it was bad. We didn’t talk for two or three weeks while I was in Texas and he was on the Colorado trail. So, he called and said that he had a coming-to-Jesus moment . . .
CD: . . . He ran to the nearest town to call me, and said, “Book a flight. I want to see you. We just need to work this out!” And that was the first contact we’d had. So I flew back with our baby and saw him and didn’t know what to say. I got in the car and we both just sat there awkwardly like, “How’s it goin’?” and he just reached over and turned on the radio, and he had that song that he’d written and recorded while I was gone, and that’s almost the exact song that’s on the album. There’s like one more verse, I think?
SD: Yeah, I kinda changed the last verse to make it flow better.
CD: But basically the message was: some things just break, but I want to fix it; and want to enter in, but sometimes we just don’t have the solutions. So we need gravity, something that’s real. I remember sitting in the car weeping, that’s all he needed to say. And that song was literally the beginning of healing for us—which was a long road. So I knew we needed to bring that song back for the album, because it was on an album that was a folk project.
SD: That album was supposed to be just be instrumentals, but then I forced it into an EP that didn’t really work out. It was good back when MySpace was cool. The songs just weren’t as personal back then, I was still feeling out how to write music outside of hardcore metal where you just scream lyrics, you know, over and over. You have like, ten words—that’s all you need for a song. It’s super-repetitive. But in this kind of music, there’s a lot more story and narrative.
IK: So what was it like for you, Tyler, coming into these really personal stories?
TS: It was good. We were already good friends before we started this project, and I knew their story. There’s something about music that conveys emotion that conversation just doesn’t. It was like being brought into the musical side of a story that Seth had already told me about, to being involved in music, some of which he wrote during that season of his life as he was reflecting on it. It was really great, because it felt so personal, and also super-authentic to me.
IK: Yeah. It’s really different for me as a visual artist. I can paint something really intimate and personal in seclusion and isolation, and then just put it out there when it’s done. I can just walk away from it. I don’t have to explain it, I don’t have to include anyone in the creation of it. So, this is really cool to see how that goes down in this type of creative process. One thing i really like about a lot of the songs, that Bolder Beat picked up on too, is that you can tell that you guys are Christians, but the lyrics aren’t in-your-face, typical “Christian Music.” And I appreciate that. How do you guys see your faith influencing or working its way into your art?
SD: I think it’s an intersection that you can’t get away from, it’s not an either/or thing. If you’re a follower of Jesus, it’s all or nothing. To be able to do that just for the sake of good art, great songs, you know, that have to be written for the corporate Church, but something that people from all walks of life can relate to. Ultimately, that was Christ’s ministry: walking into people’s lives and being there with them and relating with them. As an artist to be able to be in that environment and place to share a stage or share a secular magazine review with other great local artists, and to do it with excellence and a greater purpose—to be able to glorify the Lord through that—is a great opportunity. And honestly, when Crystal and I were first talking about it and writing songs, that was the big-picture view. Like, “What if the the art was good enough to not just be for the Church and could be understood and related to by people outside the Church? And to be able to build relationships and community around that—for our church community to be able to engage the culture in Boulder, and for us as artist to mingle and rub shoulders with other artists in our community?” When we first moved to Boulder, I had a lot of those opportunities to be involved with other musicians in the city. I’ve maintained a lot of that, but more through running into people randomly. Like, I got to run sound once for Gregory Alan Isakov at one of his secret shows. We really hit it off and was a really good buddy. But I hadn’t seen him in years, and we go to see another show, and he’s sitting at the bar! And I said, “Greg! Man, what’s up dude? How’re you doing?” and it was a chance to rekindle one of those kinds of relationships that I [couldn’t] see ending on those [past] experiences in life, or the times we had previously in years past. Everything is a purposeful, meaningful relationship. I have to assume that God has you in my life for a reason, and for me to stay in someone like [Isakov’s] life, music has to be a part of that relationship. I can’t just call someone like him up and hang out, but I can connect with him around music. So being able to bring our church community—and what I feel is so meaningful and what I feel brought meaning into music for me—[to the greater community], is being part of a church plant that loves Jesus and loves the city that we’re in. It’s a great way to serve the city.
CD: And it’s a way for us to tell our story and share brokenness without Christianese—just straightforward brokenness. There’s been a lot of hurt, a lot of joy, and a lot of victory. And this is what it’s looked like in our life. And then let the layers be peeled back so we can know other artists and other people, and to not be superficial about it. Just straight-up, “Jesus is the reason we’re still together. He’s the reason we’re still married.” Like, the song, ”You Won’t Stop” I wrote from my perspective. So, seven years after “Gravity” and that whole ordeal, it took us having a knock-down-drag-out, terrible fight and a long conversation for me to get down to the root of why I kept hurting him, and it was because I hadn’t forgiven him fully and was so broken and didn’t get a chance to work it out. It was a revelation. So the next day, I wrote that song. I couldn’t stop jabbing the knife—I have so many wounds that I just want to defend myself, but he wouldn’t stop loving me and showing me grace over and over. Even in that, the Gospel is so infused. It could have been written about Jesus—how he died for me while I was still a sinner.
BK: Yeah, we were listening to the album while we were working on our house in Missouri. It was very calming to listen to, but on a lot of the songs, we kept asking each other, “Are they talking about Jesus or their relationship?”
IK: There is a lot of dual meaning there. But not like those kind of, “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs!
I: As musicians who are Christians, how do you see music made by Christians and that whole realm changing? Or is it?
SD: I think there will probably always be those artists that will identify as a Christian artist, you know? I think it was Matt Chandler that said, “Music doesn’t have a soul, so it can’t be Christian. It can either be good or it’s bad.” It’s either good music, or it sucks—there’s not a lot of middle ground in that. I think that’s really hitting the nail on the head. If we remove the “soul” aspect of music, and just write good music and do it with excellence, we can still glorify God through that. Honestly, it’s been really refreshing to work on music that wasn’t for the Church. I feel like it’s brought about inspiration for church music. So that was another thing that propelled, or got the ball rolling for me, like, feeling kind of in a dead spot creatively. Like how to rearrange even songs that we were working on [for worship]. And out of that I’ve got energy to do stuff for the Church again. So, you just kind of expand your vocabulary, and use different words that aren’t Christianese, you know? On one hand, writing music for the corporate Church, or rearranging hymns, or whatever it is, the purpose of that time is to be able to sing it corporately and sing it together [in church]. But this is definitely more of the story-teller thing. I think there will always be artists who will use Christendom to their advantage—to make a dollar, you know—instead of using it in an authentic way to tell a story; either their own story or the story of Jesus in an way that is creative and people can relate to. You know, without wavering from doctrine. I think that’s the tricky part with church music—you still have the consideration of doctrine and things to consider. If it’s my life story of how I was saved or how God intervened, that’s easy. I can’t mess that one up—I know exactly how that happened. I can tell that a thousand different ways, and paint different word-pictures. Even the name, “Brother Wild,” we joke about it being a nickname for [our son], Sutton [laughter], but it could also be my name, you know? Because it’s a prodigal story—to be the brother wild is like, it’s the story of the prodigal son. Which is my story and the story of every Christian that’s ever walked the face of the earth who found grace in the loving arms of their Savior. It’s a great place to be.
CD: I’ve seen you be encouraged by the artists in this area since we’ve moved. Like Adam Anglin of Fellowship Denver, who has a project called Doves and Wolves. They just make music and play around Denver. They are believers who are just being great musicians.
SD: They do some great stuff, yeah. We’ve talked about doing a show together. I actually wouldn’t mind them being a part of our CD release show. I’d love to get some stuff together, just because they’re in the same vein, similar type of thing. They actually brought in a musician from outside the Church to play with them. It’s like, three or four guys from their church, and then they ran an ad on Craigslist for a wild-card dude, and he plays keys, and guitar and lap-steel for them. Adam told me the first time they got together, he was like, “Wait, you guys all know each other already. Where do you guys know each other from?” And Adam said, “We all play at church together.” That’s a different situation than trying to bring a non-Christian in to play with you on a Sunday morning. If you go to [the recording studio]—that’s extremely creative, and maybe even an effective way to reach that individual for Christ—that you get to play music and do something that he loves to do. You’re speaking his language right now.
CD: . . . Without saying, “Come play music for us on Sunday at church, and we’ll pay you money.”
SD: Or trying to sell it like, “Church music is better than your music.” We all know that’s probably not true! [laughs] We all know there’s some great music happening outside the Church, so let’s just be real. And for [Doves and Wolves] it’s just been life-on-life with this guy. They all have families. They refer to it as “Dad-Rock,” it’s like, “Heck yeah, man! It’s kinda the only way to go these days!” I have another thing going too, with Danny and Tim and another guy from Fellowship Denver that is very Radiohead-esque, indie-rock thing called Foxblood. We’re going to start recording soon for that. But it’s a similar thing—it’s Danny’s brainchild. most of the songs are written based on dreams he’s had. It’s a little bit trippy—like, waking up with strange animals in a foreign land . . . . [laughs] It’s amazing. It’s gonna be really fun. But I think, all these guys, we’re all thinking the same in terms of: lets have some fun; let’s make good music; and let’s just love each other, love our city, and love Jesus in the process of doing that.
CD: Get out of the bubble.
SD: Yeah, we [would love to] take some good music into some good venues. There’s not much of a music culture in Boulder. When we first moved there, I was like, “I wanna create a music scene here!” It’s a big enough city, it’s a college town. [But] there’s just a lot of jam bands paying tribute to Jerry [Garcia]. And God bless him, but there’s been a lot of cool music that’s happened since the Grateful Dead. And some of the cool bands that have come out of Boulder have left—they now reside in Denver. Because they know the music scene is better in Denver. So, my thoughts were, “Hey, we’re the weekend warrior type to play a show a month, maybe.” Maybe not even that often. We’ll do one show, and see how hard that is. Put that together before we say, “Let’s keep doing this.”
IK: Cool! So real quick: Who were some of your influences?
SD: Oh my gosh . . . my top . . . .
SD: My top five artists would be, uh . . . Ryan Adams is my number one. Manchester Orchestra—although we don’t sound anything like them, but just because that dude’s a super-honest songwriter. Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons is a really awesome dude from Wisconsin that has a true Nashville sound with a hint of hippie-rock thrown in; oh my gosh . . . I’ve got to think through who I have the most records by . . . Frightened Rabbit—I can’t believe I forgot that one—they’re a Scottish indie-rock band. I’ve got more records by them than anybody. And I can tell you what all these bands have in common here in a second, and why I’m drawn to them, for better or worse. Man, and probably David Ramirez, a solo singer-songwriter guy.
For some reason, I’m drawn to artists who at some point in their life have been burned by the Church. Cory Chisel’s a pastor’s kid, and wants nothing to do with it ever again. Ryan Adams is probably the only one that was never really exposed to the Church because he was either [on the] East Coast or West Coast, and not a lot of Southern influence on his life. His family roots were in North Carolina, but I don’t know how much of the Church he got exposed to. Manchester Orchestra was a pastor’s kid—Andy Hull. Frightened Rabbit, they’re from Scotland, so they were exposed to the Anglican Church, which in different stages has been extremely offensive. [They talk about this] through their songs, like, “Walk around with your New Testament, your fancy New Testament.” There’s this common theme of like, “I HATE this! But there’s something in it that was inspiring enough for me to write a song about it.” So, to me, there’s something authentic in that to be able to go, “This is the problem I have with this. It influenced me at some level, even if I disagree with it at this stage because of what I’ve experienced.” And I find myself constantly praying that somehow those dudes end up singing with me in heaven for all eternity. Because they all have great voices [chuckles], and they’re all very unique sounds. Like, I’ve never heard a voice like Andy Hull from Manchester Orchestra. And Cory Chisel’s got this raw, raspy voice. I swear he smokes like, three packs a day. He’s just got this really sweet voice. Frightened Rabbit has this thick, Scottish accent in every one of his songs; and just—tales: anything from farmers in Scotland to . . . just these word pictures that are so elaborate and thick. Then Ryan Adams is just a great storyteller. David Ramirez, too, is another guy, at least from his songs, sounds like he’s been burned by the Church. Where he’s like, “walking the line between cocaine and communion wine.” That’s a line in one of his songs. They’re just rough lifestyle and stories, but all extremely genuine in their ability to communicate their life through song.
IK: It’s funny that you mentioned Joe Walsh earlier. I totally got that like, California, country-rock vibe from your album.
SD: Yeah, I dig that, man. And that’s what I grew up on. I remember my dad bringing that out to the garage. We had his receiver—it was a tube Pioneer stereo receiver set-up and these huge speakers. The only thing we ever had hooked up in the living room was the tape machine. One day he asked if he’d told me if he had a record player, and I was like, “No!?” So he brings it out, and I set it up in my room. The cool thing at that time was like, the 100 disc CD player, so they bought one of those, and he was like, “We’ve gotta get rid of all this other stuff, because everything’s going to compact disc.” So I set up the record player in my room, and I’ve never to this day heard a record player and set-up that sounded better than that one did. The greatest regret I have in my entire life, is that we sold that record player, receiver, the speakers, and a box of records for twenty-five bucks at a garage sale before we moved [from Texas]. I mean, we had Cream, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Eagles, The Beach Boys—I had everything. That box of records was massive, and this dude shows up and offers me $25. And this was in, like, 2005 or 2006. I mean the only people who selling records then were like, at Hot Topic. There were no vinyl stores unless you were in Chicago or something. So for all I knew, records were dying out, but now it’s the biggest regret of my life. Because I had first edition albums from like, Lynyrd Skynyrd, where the guitarist was engulfed in flames on the cover. My mom calls me up and says, “I just saw that album on Ebay for like, a grand!” I’m like, “Yeah Mom, that album’s long gone. You were at my garage sale. You helped me work that garage sale! You watched me sell that record for pennies!!” So that guy got a steal. He was an old rocker, though, so I was glad it went to a good dude. But still, I just can’t believe I did it. But anyways, I grew up listening to that—everything from Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin to Jefferson Starship and Genesis. Those were the only records I had that were secular records that I could have, because they were already purchased. It wasn’t like me spending my allowance on like, Nirvana. I’d go preview CDs at record stores, and that was like, my only exposure to secular music. That, and we carpooled to our private, Christian school, and one of our moms was cool enough to let us listen to alt radio.
CD: I remember the first thing I heard on the radio was Third Eye Blind.
SD: Yeah. That was the first record I learned guitar for from start to finish, was Third Eye Blind’s first album. Still to this day, that album is top three all-time, because of the production and how pure it was. I always assumed that that guitarist had a massive pedal board. But on that record, the only thing he used was a guitar, different amplifiers, and a wah-pedal. It’s still one of my favorite albums to rock guitar to.
TS: I think it was ’94-’95, I was 13 or 14, and I was over at a friend’s house who wasn’t a Christian, and it was kinda my first exposure to secular music. He was really into this Alanis Morissett album, and I was like, “This is horrible! This is just terrible!” Then he threw on Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and I said, “WHAT IS THIS?! I gotta to have this!” I got in so much trouble with that album—my mom kept throwing it out. She actually got so mad she snapped the CD in half. I went out and bought another one the next week.
[As far as influences go], Ryan Adams is definitely up there for me. I mean, I’m a lead guitarist, so most of my influences are very much oriented around the way how they play guitar. So for me, John Meyer is a huge influence musically. Like, anything after the [John Meyer] Trio album. Because he’s an incredible musician. He’s probably one of the greatest guitarists ever; that argument has been made. And he does it while he sings, too. I’ve seen him a couple times, and he’s incredible. And he’s a good storyteller in a more mainstream kind of way. I really like the artist called Pedro the Lion. He’s super rough and . . . very similar to these other guys. A lot of my misspent youth was on the punk-rock scene. I like a some stuff that’s got a lot more punk-rock flavor to it. Jimmy Eat World in particular, is a huge influence on me. Not as much guitar playing, but just emotion more than anything. They’re awesome, they’re so great live. I’m a big Foo Fighters fan, just straight-up rock and roll. Again, not a huge influence in the way I play, but more an influence in the way I think about music and the emotion behind music. Really, my other big influence is mostly my family. I came onto this project, but I’m not a country guy, I love rock and roll—that’s my thing. But my family is very rootsy, bluegrass kind of stuff. Kentucky and Virginia roots, so lots of memories of late nights on the front porch playing guitar and banjo, singing. Everyone in my family sings. Everyone in my family plays instruments. My dad played in a rock band in the ’70s. Other family members played a lot of bluegrass stuff. Bluesy, rootsy, down-home storytelling type of music. That’s really where I feel my soul is musically. I don’t know how to explain it. Because I hate country music. Country music is not my thing. At least in it’s current state. So I had just stayed away from anything country, but something about this project really struck a chord with me. It was kind of like, “Yeah! This is really natural.” I just kind of fell into it, and am hanging with it. Which was weird, but it’s been great.
IK: What about you, Crystal?
CD: I feel like I have more inspirations. I don’t see myself as a musician. I’m just a backup singer. [chuckles]
SD: She is my strong, better half! [laughs] That is way an understatement there: backup singer!
CD: Amy Grant at my earliest age . . . Point of Grace . . . Shania Twain! [laughter] My favorite inspirations are Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James and Louis Armstrong. Whenever I just wanna hear music, I turn on Big Band.
CD: She has. Sweet Adele . . . . And I love Amy Winehouse. Our kids know all the words to “Rehab.” It’s ok, but I’m like, “Eh . . .”
SD: I think Quinn’s first words were, “No, no, no!”
CD: Oh yeah! He’s like, “Mom, play ‘No, no, no’!” “Ok, I’ll play “Rehab” for you.” [laughter] I love raw, pure vocals. I’ve also always been drawn to awesome harmonies like, Johnnyswim, The Civil Wars, Angus and Julia Stone. Just guy-girl duos that have really tight harmony. Those are the one’s I just love.
IK: And you and Seth have really great harmony. So, what’s it look like moving forward?
SD: I feel like the kind of stuff I’m looking forward to is getting to do some singles, and kinda nailing down stuff we could do—what the next process would involve. A more set line-up, a full band picture. I think whatever we do, the three of us will be involved. But until we figure who’s available, is it going to be session player kind of stuff or what? And, you know, Danny can jump in on anything. He’s actually going to end up playing keys for us. Bass is his strongest instrument, but I think for this project he’d probably overplay, or I think it’d just be super boring for him. I’m like, “You wanna have fun! Let’s give you a keyboard with a bunch of effects and cool stuff. We don’t even need a rhythm guitarist, you just get to wail on some keys.”
CD: And I think I’m more excited about the live show [than the album].
SD: I am too! I think it’s going to be a lot more energy than the record. The record is pretty chill—it’s mellow. We had a whole outro built out for “When My Day Comes,” that we decided to save for the live show, because it’s just this massive explosion.
IK: Yeah, there were several tracks, honestly, that I felt you guys just cut short! I was like, “No! Keep going!” I had four or five track tracks that I had written down that needed a couple more bars—just let the instrumentals go a little longer.
TS: We cut a minute of “Where I belong,” we cut it right out of the middle of it. I was this total, Southern-rock solo. It was like “Free Bird” all over again.
SD: Yeah, it was seven or eight minutes long. So live will be a build-up/build-out, letting some things roll. Probably let Danny take a solo, let some things happen, let them develop more organically. So it’ll be Danny and Jonathan Witt on bass, and Ty Lee playing drums—all dudes from The Well. It’ll be really fun. Hopefully April. That’s what we’re thinking. Our first rehearsal is Friday of this week [laughs], so we’ll see how that goes. If it’s an arm-wrestling match, it may be May. Or we might just quit, start working on another record. That might be easier, I don’t know [laughs]. One thing we talked about was just like, even the songs that are more slow, is playing them out with a full band. Even like, do “House Fire” with drums, you know, in a live setting. We had a bunch of PR people from New York, and a few smaller record labels reaching out going, “What are you guys gonna do?” And we were like, “Nothing! A whole lot of nothing. What are you do? [laughter] I’m gonna sit out back and drink whiskey! What are you gonna do about it?”
CD: “I’m gonna go change my kid’s diaper!”
TS: We’re totally happy to tour . . . anywhere in Boulder. [laughter]
SD: I would say anywhere in Colorado. I would do some little Colorado stints, if there were some cool festivals and stuff that were local. I think it’d be fun. I think right now our biggest thing is trying to do some song placements with licensing and publishing stuff. Just because there’s not a lot of residual income in selling records. It’s just not gonna happen. We have what we need to be to be able to rub shoulders with artists in our city. In terms of generating any sort of income, it would happen through having a song placed somewhere. But we’ll keep writing, just keep going, keep on rolling.
This interview was edited for the sake of clarity. A HUGE thanks to Seth and Crystal and Tyler. An even bigger thank you to my wife, Becca, who recorded audio for me! Please go to iTunes to get White Flag by Brother Wild. Check out the other artist listed here, too!