The Nashville rock trio The Grayces will be releasing their new album Westing in 2014. The Grayces are Iz Stone – vocal/guitar, Patrick Ward – bass/bgv and Chas Cantrell – drums/bgv. You can learn more at: facebook.com/thegrayces.
For the ancient Egyptians, death was not a final nail in the coffin of one’s life. In fact, Egyptians had no use for coffins. Death was seen as just one more step in the process of life, a transition from the Earthly world to a spiritual one, and a cause for celebration. Each dead soul was believed to follow the setting sun into the western sky. Like the sun, or the star Sirius, which heralded the Nile’s flooding each 70 days, the soul would cross the western sky into the afterworld not to die but to dawn on a new stage of life.
This process was known as westing and it’s a concept that’s both familiar and meaningful to Iz Stone, founder of The Grayces. Since starting the band more than six years ago, she’s seen it go through multiple line-up changes and with each change the music has continued to evolve in its new state.
“Whoever is playing with the group has to have confidence and freedom to be who they are, but also be able to meld with the talent in the room. It can’t be forced,” she said of the band’s members.
Iz, who was born in Chicago, spent much of her early life on the road because her parents moved frequently, sometimes as often as every 3-6 months. She remembers, that like many others, her first exposure to music was in church.
“I was embarrassingly late to a lot of things,” she says. “I didn’t hear Nirvana until I was 16. I was in a van and we were driving to Boston. I loved it and wanted to know where I could hear Kurt play live. I was so clueless about them that I didn’t realize that of course I would never be able to hear him play live.”
During high school, Iz spent a lot of her time in the music room, skipping her regular classes to hear the music that the schools bands were playing. She was interested less in genre than in the honesty of the music. “Sometimes I see that as a strength, sometimes as a weakness,” she said. “But I’m not inspired so much by other band’s sounds as much as their boldness. That’s why I can pull from so many different things. I just love music that’s bold and honest, regardless of how it’s categorized. I love opera. I love Black Sabbath, Joni Mitchell, The White Stripes…and I really, really love instrumental Hawaiian music. That’s actually something the band likes to make fun of me for,” said Iz, laughing.
After graduating from high school, Iz went on to study classical voice at Berklee College of Music in Boston, but she didn’t finish her degree. Instead, she decided to travel, and eventually made her way to Nashville.
“I felt stifled there,” she said of her time at Berklee. “It was cookie cutter. I wanted to pursue writing music without being taught how to do it. I wanted to write whatever came naturally.”
On the road, Iz would meet lots of other musicians and it was then that she realized she wanted to be in a band. “I started finding people to jam with and that formed who I am. I began really understanding how people talk with music, how a band showcases what all the parties have to say. That’s why I didn’t just become a solo artist. It’s so unique what happens when you have more than one person playing.”
When she eventually ended up in Nashville with some friends, Iz wanted to pick a name for the band she was planning to start before looking for members. “I guess I kind of did it backwards,” she says. “But I figured ‘Name it and they will come.’”
“It’s that gray area, the black and white balance,” she says of the meaning behind The Grayces’ name. “It’s both sides, not one or the other. I wish that things could be pure and white, but that’s not reality. There’s always a little of both. Things are always good and bad and everyone seems able to understand and relate to that.”
As predicted, after coming up with her band name, the musicians started showing up and the band went through a few different line ups before finding its current members, Patrick Blackwell Ward on bass and Chas Cantrell on drums.
“This band is something that I’m not going to put down, ever,” said Iz. “So I want to be playing with people who are serious about it as I am. The band, and the changes to the band, have stood the test of time and it’s been a very natural evolution. All of the manifestations of The Grayces have been necessary for the music as it exists now.”
Iz first met Patrick on a Friday in 2010. The band had a gig coming up the following Wednesday, and they recruited Patrick to join them. Soon, the band would be recording an EP and they were looking for someone to play bass with them for the record.
“I already had plans to go to New York the week they were recording,” said Patrick. “But while I was there I spent half my money on a bass amp that I could use with the band. That’s how serious I was about playing with them. It was touch and go for a few months, not knowing when or if I’d be playing. But soon it became really apparent that the band was meant to be a three-piece. We’d had a guitar player, and it was kind of like when the groom doesn’t show up at the wedding. We were left standing there, so we just rearranged things a little bit and all of the sudden we [Patrick, Iz and the band’s former drummer] were a three-piece.”
In April 2012, Chas joined the band. After growing up outside Nashville with hippie, biker parents who exposed him to bands like Metallica and Van Halen, and playing with a myriad of bands in town, Chas moved to Las Vegas. He had recently decided to come back to Tennessee, though he was debating hitting the road again, when he saw a Craigslist ad that Iz had posted looking for a new drummer for The Grayces.
“What they said sounded great,” remembered Chas. “So, I emailed Iz. We met up at The Gold Rush and jammed that night. A couple weeks later she said I was in.”
“Now it’s like I’ve gained a brother and a sister,” he continued. “I’ve never had that kind of a friendship in a band, and it makes me have no problem with being home, in Nashville. It’s so rare to find people that are this dedicated and that’s what attracted me to this band.
“Music engulfs me. I’m not good at much. Music is what I do and I know that Iz and Patrick care about in the same way that I do,” said Chas.
“We didn’t have a drummer for six months,” remembered Patrick. “We needed the puzzle pieces to fit together and they didn’t until we met Chas.”
Iz says that she sees that Patrick and Chas both have the same desire she does to work toward a goal everyday. For her, their commitment to work together, and the friendship that formed as a result of their common goal, has allowed them to be very open with each other and to feel very comfortable bringing new ideas to the table.
“We trust each other enough to not be afraid to say what we’re thinking. Whatever ideas we actually go on to use are just decided by how we feel when we play them, but everyone has a role,” said Iz. “There will always be times when one person is more on the ball. Maybe last night Patrick had an epiphany about a song but Chas had a total rager of a night. We all balance it out for each other at different times.”
“Everything gets tried,” said Patrick of the bands songwriting process. “If we decide we don’t like it, we move on. But we give everything a chance. No one’s ideas are ridiculed or ignored. If it seems like a good idea to one person, we all care enough to give it a try.”
That ability to write together and the bands evolution has been critical to the songs on the forthcoming Westing. “It’s a beautiful thing,” said Iz. “The idea that when the body dies, the soul follows the sun into the western sky.”
Though several incarnations of The Grayces may have already died, each death seems to have only aided Iz in moving on to something that worked better and allowed her music to evolve. Each change has been critical to moving the band to a new place.
“When you think about it,” said Iz, smiling. “There is such a wonderment that death can bring.”by admin with no comments yet
Young Hines knows the 750 miles of highway that stretch between Chicago and his home town of Griffin, Georgia, well. He’s driven through the endless miles of wind turbines in Indiana, passed the 20’ tall plastic t-rex beckoning him to Dinosaur World in Kentucky and pressed on past the countless advertisements for fresh peaches and peanuts in Georgia. He’s traveled the roads countless times on tours and on his several moves, first from Georgia to Nashville, then on to Chicago, then back and forth between the two towns.
Though Chicago and Nashville have both been influential to Young, his love of music first became apparent in his Georgia town, where on the rare occasions that Young (appropriately named as the youngest of the seven Hines children) found himself alone, he realized that he liked to sing.
He remembers singing along to “Thriller” before starting to write his own songs at just 12. Young’s oldest brother was also a musician and, in time, would come to serve as an important guidepost for the fledgling songwriter as he began to connect with other creative spirits in the small town outside Atlanta.
“Though Griffin’s in the south, it’s very cool and progressive. I started noticing lots of musicians being around,” he recalled. “And my brother was there and he has always been a good critical thinker to run things past. He doesn’t just think anything’s good. He examines things.”
At the age of 21, and on the advice of new found friend Robert Reynolds, bass player of The Mavericks, Young would make his way out of Georgia, heading North on I-75, crossing into Tennessee through Chattanooga and starting up I-24, where he would settle in Nashville. He set a goal that each day he would do three things that would further his music career, whether it was writing an email, making a phone call, or applying for a job that would allow him to make connections. During that period, Young got the opportunity to work with two different Beatles cover bands, American English and 1964: The Tribute, both based in Chicago.
“I don’t think imitation is suicide,” said Young of his decision to join the cover bands. “There are some things it’s good to recreate. You have to learn the building blocks. If a guy has been flipping hamburgers for 50 years, and they’re great hamburgers, you need to learn how that guy flips burgers. The same thing with the Beatles, if people want to hear those songs, somebody has to learn how to play them.”
While living in Chicago, Young played with American English and 1964: The Tribute, about 120 nights each year. That left him with lots of free time to explore the city, play his own shows and eventually start writing more of his own music. During that time, six years ago, he met Enisa Gonzalez, and gave her one of his CDs. She would eventually become his girlfriend and drummer.
On his many free nights in Chicago, Young was writing songs like “Freezing in June,” inspired by his first winter there, when it was cold clear through the spring and snowed on the first day of June, “Fire Escape,” about driving back to Nashville when he needed a break from the tolls and traffic of the city, and “Lost in the Mix,” about always feeling things could be done better.
“There were lots of references to the cold in there,” Young said of the songs he wrote during his time in Chicago. “You know, that’s a big change for a southern boy.”
At the time, Young was recording his songs at home and never intended for his demos to make it any further than a tight circle of friends and family. Two of the friends that Young did decide to share his self-recorded songs with were a couple of Nashville based musicians who worked painting houses to make ends meet. Iz Stone (singer/guitarist for The Grayces) and Gaelen Mitchell (drummer for The Static Trees) were listening to Young’s demos while painting in songwriter and Raconteurs member Brendan Benson’s home. Benson overheard Young’s demos and took an immediate interest. Young was floored when he received an email from Benson himself in which he had included a cover he had recorded of one of Young’s songs.
Soon Benson signed Young as the first artist on his Readymade Records label and Young made the move back to Nashville to get started on an album. He presented Benson with 54 demos that he had cut in Chicago and Benson selected the ones he wanted to rerecord.
“Some of the songs we recorded were as much as seven years old by then,” Young remembered. “It was hard, in a way, to entrust someone with things that are so precious to you, that you’ve worked on for so long, but Brendan would probably tell some people that I was in his ear the whole time.”
The result, Give Me My Change, came out in April 2012 and started a long stint of touring for Young that even had him opening for The Raconteurs in Atlanta. Among the dates that Young was scheduled to play in support of the album was a 2013 slot at SXSW, taking the stage after Benson, The Howlin’ Brothers, and Eric Burdon, among others. Just days before the show, Young learned that his band wouldn’t be able to make the trip with him. Without anyone readily available to fill in, he asked Enisa to play drums during his set.
“She’d never played drums. She’s a painter, but I said, ‘You can keep a beat, can’t you?’” he laughs. “And it helped that she already knew the songs.”
“I knew all the songs. All the words, all the parts,” she remembered. “I would go to all his shows and I could tell you when things were played differently…I’ve ridden motorcycles, I’ve gone skydiving, but there was nothing like that rush of being on stage. And the people in the audience… Brad Pemberton was there. Eric Burdon was there,” she said, smiling.
“And until a few months ago, she’d never sang onstage either,” said Young. “Then we played at the Ryman with Brendan Benson in November and she sang onstage with the Howlin’ Brothers. Her first time singing onstage was at the Ryman and her first time playing drums was at SXSW.”
Still living in Nashville, Young’s now working on a new album which will feature just he and Enisa.
“There are a lot of songs that I’ve written since being back in Nashville and I just need to record them to get them out of my head. Plus,” he continued, “I’m excited to record the way I’m playing now, which is Enisa and I. If she’s free, and there’s room for a drum kit, she’s coming with me. There might be some one-off times where it’s different, that’s the freedom of being a solo artist. One night she actually went out and painted on stage while I did my set. We might do more of that. But, for the most part, this is how I see myself playing in the future.”
“I only had a vague idea of what I might paint when we walked on stage that night,” Enisa said. “But I felt out the vibe of the room and went from there. It was tough because I only had 30 minutes and it goes by really fast. But I loved painting that way and we’re going to do more of that.
“Young saw that was something I could do and wanted to do. He saw that I would be able to play drums. He notices things. What he sees is really unique and he has a great ability to word what he sees that has a certain charm about it,” she said.
“I’ve had to go all over to come to this place,” said Young. “But really, I think I can just understand how some people are feeling. I want people to listen to my songs and know that things have happened to me and it’s okay. If it’s happening to them too, it’ll be okay. It’s okay if you aren’t perfect; nobody is.”
Blackfoot Gypsies’ singer Matthew Paige wants to take you on all expenses paid, sonic vacation. He wants to give you something you’re never going to forget and then write you a little note to remember the trip by, just in case.
“When people hear us play,” said Paige, “I want them to walk away with a postcard in their brain. I want them to feel like they’re part of something that you really don’t get very often anymore.”
The band started out as a two piece, with Paige on vocals and guitar, alongside drummer Zack Murphy. And though they’ve recently transformed into a four piece, with harmonica player Ollie Dogg and most-of-the-time bassist Dylan Whitlow, it’s been a long road. “No matter what, I’m just going to be out there playing my songs,” said Paige. “But I don’t see us going anywhere. All the fun part is yet to be done.”
Both Matthew and Zack are quick to say that playing live is an addicting experience for them. And though their recorded work so far does a great job showcasing their songs, it’s nearly impossible to capture the energy that the band creates when they play together live.
“I have yet to find anything else that would make me want to wake up in a random, shitty hotel, drive several hours, load stuff in, just to get that feeling for an hour. It’s better than any other job,” Zack smiled, before admitting that even the biggest pitfalls of the job can be fun with the right people.
“It can all be pretty fun when you’re with your friends,” he continued. “These guys really are my friends. When I met Matthew, he had just posted an ad on Craigslist looking for ‘an old drummer in a new shell.’ I wasn’t looking for a band but he mentioned the Stones and Gram Parsons. I thought a couple times about calling him. Then it just seemed to gel. His style of playing guitar was exactly what I wanted in someone I would think about starting a band with. It wasn’t one of those things where there was nothing better to do. I wanted to play with him.”
“When I put up the ad for a drummer, I didn’t know anyone here or how to go about meeting anyone here,” said Matthew, who had just moved to Nashville from Portland when he began the search for a drummer. “I just packed up and came out with just one friend,” he remembered. “I had always loved old country music and I knew that Nashville was where it came from, but it was way better than I predicted.”
“My friend and I went through a long cycle of broken down vans and repeatedly running out of money,” he continued. “But I knew that this place had a really powerful energy that made musicians want to work together. And though I wouldn’t mind being near an ocean, beggars can’t be choosers. I’m begging for good music, and that’s here. So, I put up that ad.
I wouldn’t normally have done it and Zack wouldn’t normally have perused ads, but that day he was. We found that our influences really complement each other. And he’s the nicest person, if he likes you.”
Though Matthew and Zack had never really planned on playing as a two piece, they didn’t find anyone else they thought was right for the band at first. They started playing around Nashville frequently, recorded a self-titled EP, and then followed it with their first album, On the Loose. The two were staying incredibly busy and it was three years before they even began toying with the idea of adding additional members to the band.
“It had to be specific people that we were going to play with,” said Matthew. “We weren’t going to just string anyone along.”
Matthew and Zack first met Ollie Dogg, who plays harmonica with them, and then decided it was going so well they should think about adding a bass player.
“We were at this catered party,” remembered Zack, “the kind of thing we normally don’t go to and of course Matthew was wearing this big hat. One of the guys working for the catering company kept calling him ‘Pimpin’ and we got friendly with him. We were playing later and he said that he had a cousin, Ollie Dogg, who played harmonica and asked if his cousin could jam with us if he got out of church in time. Well, he didn’t get out of church in time that night but the next Saturday he showed up to our show at the 5 Spot, and he just kept on showing up after that. I love it.”
“Part of me is Ollie Dogg,” said Matthew. “We get along really well. He’s smart. He has good stories. He’s lived. If you’ll listen, he’ll lead you around walls you don’t have to run into.”
Shortly after beginning to play with Ollie Dogg regularly, Matthew and Zack decided it was time to bring in a bass player. They had always recorded with additional players and knew that it could open up more possibilities for their songs. For Matthew, Dylan was an easy choice for a bass player, even if his commitment to his own band, Static Trees, meant he might not always be readily available.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen with Dylan,” said Matthew. “It’s really a very current issue. When I’ve asked him to come and play with us, he’s said yes. But there might be a time when he’ll have to say no. He has his own band too that he’s already committed to.
“He’s one of my best friends and he’s becoming more and more important to the band,” he continued. “He’s super good at playing music and at playing with us. He has what I call magic and that makes not knowing what’ll happen worth it. I want someone to want to be there and I can’t make him if he doesn’t want to, but I kinda think he does.”
“We’d get tired of hearing people say ‘They’re good for a two piece,’” Zack lamented. “Things just feel much fuller now.”
Regardless of the form the band takes in the future, Matthew and Zack both see no end in sight. They recently recorded a new album, tentatively called Handle It, and plan to continue touring.
Matthew says he sees no point in ever stopping because he’s already doing what he would want to do during his retirement. “I’m addicted to playing live,” he said. “But most of touring is just Anthony Bourdain’s job. Find out where the good tacos are. Eat food. Play music. Meet people. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.”
“We’re never gonna stop doing this,” said Zack. “You can pay attention to us now or you can choose to blow us off but it’s not going to stop us.”
Matthew agreed, saying that though it’s easy to talk about what’s happened so far, they’re continually looking toward the future.
“As long as we don’t wreck the van,” he smiled. “We have lots of places to go.”
When Peter Stringer-Hye decided to join Promised Land Sound on rhythm guitar, it wasn’t the fact that he’d been friends with most of the band members for years, that they had opened for both Wilco and the Drive-By Truckers or that they’d done a live 7” for Third Man Records just a month and a half into the band’s existence that drew him in. What was most important to Peter about Promised Land Sound was their desire for their music not to be pigeon holed.
“People tend to fit themselves into one genre,” said Peter. “It’s comfortable to do that. But this band really breaks away from genre. That’s what I like about the band the most. It’s harder, but it’s worth it.”
Drummer Evan Scala agrees that the band wants to play what they like, regardless of what genre people want to categorize it as. “It may sound clichéd,” he started. “But we don’t want to be pigeon holed as alt country or garage country or alt rock or anything. We just want to play what we like, and that can evolve. We wouldn’t give a shit; we’d still play if they didn’t like it but people seem to be into it, so that’s great.”
So far, lots of people seem to be into what Promised Land Sound are doing. Their first album, released last year, was co-produced by William Tyler and they’re focusing on writing the second album now.
“Our first album was kind of rushed,” said singer and bass player Joey Scala. “We don’t mind spending months on this one. We just want to take our time and do something we’re proud of.”
“It would be nice to have it done by summer,” Evan added. “Right now, we’re not doing much touring, so we have time to focus on it. We’re still trying to figure out where it’ll be recorded and who’ll be producing this one. But we’re already writing and working on it.”
“We’re all involved in the songwriting,” explained Joey. “Sean [Thompson], our lead guitarist, is really good at coming up with a song’s structure. I usually write the words, because it’s nearly impossible to have several people trying to write lyrics. I’ll come up with a chord structure, but I’m not married to that structure. I want everyone to help. That’s the best part of being in this band. Everyone contributes.”
Sean says that the band’s connection and ability to write together has to do with being in tune to one another. “We’re able to communicate in a non verbal way,” he said. “We’re on the same wave length. We want to create in the same way. We like to jam a lot and sometimes songs will come from that. Joey is good at coming up with lyrics and chords. I’ll bring some riffs and we just work it out together.”
“I would say about 30% of the time, we just start jamming, and those usually turn out to be my favorite songs,” said Evan. “Sean might come up with a riff and then we all join in. We’ll decide if we think it’s worthy of actually using for something. But no matter how we write, we’re all part of it. Joey might not be the strongest on guitar and Sean might need an extra push with melodies, so we all balance each other out.”
Though Peter may have only been playing with the band a few weeks, he’s making his own contributions to their songwriting. “I am already a fan of their other songs, so it’s great to get to help with writing new stuff and I’ve already gotten to help on several songs,” he said.
The band had made several attempts at adding a fourth member before finally realizing that Peter was the perfect fit. Sean and Joey had played together in Pujol and after parting ways with that band, realized they wanted to continue working together. At the same time, Joey was playing in Denney & the Jets, with his younger brother, Evan, on drums. So, when he started hashing out his new project with Sean, Evan was a natural recruit for a drummer.
“I was always surrounded by musicians,” Joey explained. “But I didn’t pick up a bass until five or six years ago. Luckily, I had people around me who supported my creative endeavors. Then, later, when I was playing with Denney & the Jets, we needed a drummer, so I kind of got Evan back into playing, and he just keeps getting better and more confident.”
“We tried several fourth members,” recalled Evan. “Our friend Ricardo played with us a lot. Luke Schneider played pedal steel a lot. But Peter was just right. The first time we jammed with him, it was better than anyone else we had tried.”
“That first day, I was already noticing him making suggestions that were good,” he went on. “He has good input with songwriting, which is key. Sometimes we’re lost in that realm, shooting in the dark.”
Though Evan may think that the band is sometimes shooting in the dark, their songwriting has earned them a lot of attention in the year since the band formed.
“That Third Man thing,” Evan remembered, “we just got lucky enough to record an EP and then we got lucky enough for it to be heard by the right people. It was a super big deal, but we were just really lucky.”
Looking back on the band’s first year, Joey was grateful for all the chances the band has had thus far. “We like to jump on any opportunities that we’re presented with,” he said. “And we’re just really thankful for everything that’s happened so far.”
“Every town needs a mad hatter to point at,” said Tyler Tuohy, front man of Diamond Carter, as he reflected on what brought him to Nashville.
Thus far, Tyler and the band’s story has been an exercise in karma—or getting what you give, at least. From their move across country to learning to play a new instrument in one day, all the way down to Tyler’s unique vocals and requesting their songs on the radio, Tyler’s willing to do whatever it takes to manifest his vision for the band, which includes spawning an artistic movement where listeners interact and share with the musicians in order to continue a circle of inspiration.
“The word ‘Nashville’ was never even in my life. It wasn’t part of my vocabulary, but the cosmos started pulling me here. You know how something just starts appearing in everything you read and hear?”
So, knowing how to take a hint, Tyler packed up and moved from California to Tennessee in October of last year. A mere four months later, he made a bold proposal to his band members, Cameron Black and Trevor Hunnicut, who were still living in L.A.
“I asked them to give me five years of their lives,” Tyler explained. “I told them, ‘Give me five years. I guarantee it’ll be the craziest time of your whole life and you’ll talk about it forever.’ They were waiting for an opportunity like that, really. They’d been to school. Their whole lives had been laid out for them and they were waiting for their chances to come and weren’t sure if they ever would.”
“I knew this was the place we had to be,” he went on. “I knew we could be the hardest working ones here and give it all we had.”
Cameron, who plays sax, was ready when Tyler asked him to make the move. “I told him I was willing to come anytime,” he remembered.
When the two first met, Tyler had been leery of adding a saxophonist to the band. “I didn’t take Cameron seriously, at all,” Tyler laughed. “I just didn’t know how a saxophone would fit in the band.”
But the first time they played together, Cameron knew something special was happening. “The first song Tyler and I played together, we had an instant connection. It was not something I just wanted to have happen; it was more like something that I needed to have happen. By the time Tyler moved to Nashville, we completely trusted each other and by asking me to come out here, it just cemented that trust.”
For drummer Trevor Hunnicut, the decision to move wasn’t quite so easy. “It was a leap of faith for me. I had a lot going on at home. There was school. I was in three other bands. I had a girlfriend. But Tyler has real fans. He has a following. And ultimately, I believed in him.”
Early in 2013, Cameron, Trevor and three back up singers, who helped to define the band’s Motown inspired sound, joined Tyler in Nashville. Soon, they would add bass player Josh Cropper to the line up.
“A band is like a relationship,” Josh explained, as he thought back on joining Diamond Carter. “I had just broken up with my last band and I wasn’t looking to get into another relationship but the thing was, with these guys, it wasn’t awkward. I had to learn a lot, fast. But I was able to do it because the music they were playing was a sweet, comfortable, spot for me, that Motown sound with some fun things thrown in.”
Immediately after getting into town, Tyler and the band started calling Lightning 100 and requesting their own songs. “We harassed them. We would call over and over again using different voices,” said Tyler. “But it worked. They made us Artist of the Week and played ‘Let Your Self to be Loved’ all the time. And after just two days here, we entered their Music City Mayhem competition and we did great. We were in right until the end with Lulu Mae.”
According to Trevor, the band really found their place in Nashville. “There was a niche here for us and we found it. We accomplished way more than we ever could have in L.A.”
Though the band was getting off on the right foot in Nashville, they were soon dealt a major blow. “Things were really moving along,” Tyler recounted. “And then our backup singers decided to move back home.”
The decision for them to leave was crippling for the band, who were about to enter the studio to begin work on a follow up to Pink Balloon, an album they had recorded and released while still living in California.
“I met our backup singers while I was playing guitar in an R&B band,” he explained. “They were going to help us on our album as a favor, and they loved it and decided to come out with us and stay.” The backup singers had been an intregal part of Diamond Carter’s live performances in Nashville, taking over a lot of the vocals from Tyler and performing some of their own songs as well.
“Out of nowhere, they just said ‘Oh, yeah, we’re leaving,’” he recalled, shaking his head. “They had told all kinds of people first, but not me. There was no warning at all. I think they just hadn’t understood that the whole thing was going to involve a lot of hard work. And, we were supposed to be in the studio three days later.”
“We didn’t know what we were going to do,” Tyler confessed. “But we figured it out pretty quickly. We played around with some different sounds over the course of a few days, and had to rework older songs. But then we bought a sampler and we learned how to use it in one day. We wrote ‘Under the Spoon,’ and ‘What it Takes.’ We were in the studio three days later and we came up with eight more songs in that style. We’ve gone from being all over the board to having one distinct sound that we want and we really feel like is ours. We call it ‘Fuzzy Holly.’”
“We always work together and pitch in for each other,” said Cameron. “Whether it’s with money or songs and trying new sounds, we’re always going to figure it out together and that’s how we came up with it.”
‘Fuzzy Holly’ relies heavily on the use of the band’s Maschine, with Tyler’s guitar, Cameron’s sax and Trevor’s drumming layered in, and topped off with Tyler’s unique vocals. “People have said my singing sounds like an old lady with balls,” he says of his characteristic falsetto. “In one of my first bands, I didn’t sing lead. A girl sang lead. I would sing to her like that so that she would know what I wanted her to sing. Then, I just kept singing that way.”
Tyler’s vocals are one of the few things that remain consistent in both the old and new sound. “With this new sound, I really feel like I’ve buried Tyler Tuohy and birthed Diamond Carter,” Tyler explains. “Diamond Carter is a persona. It’s all of us and we all embody it now. We know what we want to sound like, but we’re thankful that our fans and friends have hung out and let us find our own sound.”
In order to thank their fans, the band decided to share some of the recordings they made after Pink Balloon but prior to discovering their now-signature ‘Fuzzy Holly’ sound. “We don’t want to hide anything we’ve done,” Tyler explained. “And we want to thank people for sticking around.” The result is Flowers of Evil: Searching for a Sound, Rough Cuts and Demos, which features 14 Diamond Carter songs, many featuring the back up singers, and recorded in various ways, including to Tyler’s cell phone.
Since the rebirth of the band, Diamond Carter has again been featured as Lighting 100’s Artist of the Week (though the single, ‘Evil’ did feature the band’s former backup singers) and took up a monthly residency at 12th & Porter, hoping to turn their shows into major events by playing out less frequently.
With Tyler always making outlandish (and frequently X-rated) requests of his audiences, their live shows are always spectacles, though they’re careful not to let the party outshine the music.
“It takes a nutter butter to front this thing. It’s a whole artistic thing happening, a movement. I want to give us all the opportunity to be free,” said Tyler. “And we want people listening to be part of it. Join us. Push us. Hate us in a way that’s fun. Tell us your most fucked up stories. I bet I understand. I’ll write a song for us. If you’re feeling tragic, I want to give you a sense of relief. You might think nobody will understand, but we can. It makes us feel kind of like musical martyrs. Don’t be afraid just because I’m a jackal. Dance with me.”
It took a full three years of friendship and living as roommates before Harry Kagan, Duncan Shea and Lee Putney realized they wanted to play music together and before Harry, inspired by the rock scene in Ithaca, New York, where the three were attending college, would approach Lee about starting a project of their own.
In the three years since they started playing together, the guys in Music Band have gone a lot of places they weren’t expecting: they’ve moved to Nashville, were mentioned several times among the bands expected to rule 2014 in the Nashville Scene’s 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Poll, and are currently touring with Those Darlins.
But just a handful of years ago, the three were college roommates—all with musical interests but with little to no skill at the instruments they now play in Music Band.
Though Lee had started drumming when he was about seven, he’d only ever had one lesson; Harry had started playing the guitar in 8th grade, but by college had basically given it up; and Duncan had been drumming since age seven, but had never played bass.
Nevertheless, with a blossoming rock scene in Ithaca that included lots of his friends, Harry was inspired to pick up his guitar and finally told Lee that he felt like it was time to start a foray into music again. Lee, too, had been a fan of all the music that was happening in Ithaca and he was itching to get back to drumming. “It turned out, Lee was dying to play too,” said Harry.
Though he’d never even attempted playing bass, Duncan volunteered to learn the instrument and fill in until a permanent bass player could be found. The opportunity to start playing bass happened to come at a time when Duncan had just begun to challenge himself to learn more about music.
“I had decided it was important to learn other instruments so that I could understand the music I was playing easier and how it all fits together,” he explained.
According to Lee, after doing some recording in Ithaca, Duncan decided to continue on with the band. “He sat in with us,” said Lee. “And then he just stayed.”
Though Duncan may have initially planned to be with the band only as a short-term arrangement, the chemistry the band has onstage makes it clear why he decided to stay. People frequently remark to them that it looks like they have a great time playing together and the members of the band seem to agree that their connection brings something special to their music and performances.
“It wouldn’t work if we didn’t have that natural relationship,” said Duncan. “We’re really, really good friends.”
In addition to providing a stable base for the band, their strong friendship has helped them connect with audiences. “We like to be goofy,” said Harry. “Even if it’s a bad show and we’re messing up, we try to laugh about it. People respond positively to that. There’s nothing worse than a meltdown or flipping out on a band mate. It’s important to find lightness and humor in everything. Hopefully it comes out in our demeanor and relationships with each other on stage.”
“We have the same sense of humor,” said Lee, of his relationship with Duncan and Harry, both of whom he still rooms with. “We’re always clowning on each other, like brothers. We get each other. We butt heads too, but we’re always cracking up.”
“That chemistry is present on stage,” he continued. “Sometimes we laugh at ourselves more than people exactly laugh with us. But people see our chemistry, even if they don’t get the joke. The chemistry in the band is really what propels us forward and if someone were to decide to go in a different direction musically, it wouldn’t necessarily break up our friendship, but it would be hard for the band to go forward. Anything we have reservations about has been put on the table so we’re all on the same page.”
When it came time to start a new chapter for the band, it really became evident that Harry, Duncan and Lee were all in it together. After playing around Ithaca for about a year and finishing college, they decided to look for a new home base for the band, along with a few other friends from school, including the members of the band Duncan played drums for, Tropical Punk.
Duncan knew immediately that he would go wherever Music Band went. “I knew I wanted to move with the band,” he remembered. “I wasn’t a huge part of deciding where we moved geographically, but I made it clear I wanted to continue.”
At first, Harry had his heart set on moving the band to Brooklyn. “I have a sister in Brooklyn and I thought it was a good idea. It had always been the plan in the back of my mind but after finishing school, I realized it was not the place for a band to try to establish a name. It might be the place to base an established band, but if you’re unknown, you could probably play a show every night and nothing would ever happen. I think it was my mom who actually said, ‘Check out Nashville.’”
So, in 2011, the band made a pit stop in Nashville on their way to SXSW. They fell for the town immediately. “In a way, it was a shot in the dark. We only visited once before moving, but we met some people and bands that we liked a lot. Everyone had good things to say about the city. It was kind of like the rock scene in Ithaca but on a larger scale,” said Duncan.
“When we stopped in Nashville, we saw Those Darlins at the Basement. Everyone was so hospitable and there were so many bands we loved,” remembered Lee. “It was a toss up between here and New York but now it seems like a no-brainer.”
“We had a good time when we stopped here,” explained Harry. “We got an amazing vibe from the city and the people. Part of the reason I love it here is just the people I’ve met and friends I’ve made. In 2011, people wanted to know ‘Why Nashville?’ but now everyone that comes here falls in love with the city.”
When he first moved to town, Harry was surprised at the daily differences he saw in peoples’ lifestyles in Nashville versus where he grew up, in Chicago. Harry says that in Nashville people live at a much more relaxed pace.
“It really is a much slower, more laid back lifestyle and I’ve really taken that on and adopted it. What sets it apart from other music cities is that the scene is really supportive and people are interested in what you do from the get go. If you’re sincere, people appreciate that. If you’re not nice, you’re not going anywhere. From our own experiences, it’s much better to be nice and bad than mean and good,” he explained, laughing.
For Harry a lot of what the band tackles in their songs comes down to the age old battle of good versus evil. “I’m not religious,” Harry started. “But I think about the devil a lot and what that means in rock and roll music. I think having sympathy for the devil is really interesting. A lot of our music and ideas have to do with good versus bad and figuring out what that means.”
In Lee’s opinion, their music is an amalgamation of the interests of the different members. “We all had to start from the beginning, to learn how to play and how to play together,” he said. “I never thought I’d be in a band, even though I really wanted to. So, after being in Music Band for a while, I decided I had to contribute to the songwriting. I got a guitar and fiddled around. I still don’t know theory. But I just had to contribute. Now, I write songs. When we started, just Harry sang. Now we all do. We’re all a part of the songwriting.”
“We all have different likes and influences,” Lee went on. “I’m going through a mid to late ‘70s punk phase and that’s a driving force in my songs. Right now, Harry is bringing this kind of Sweetheart of the Rodeo influence and Duncan’s a wild card. He might throw in a little Pavement or Andrew W.K. We’re different enough to bring something new to the band but similar enough to be able to consolidate it all into one song. And Music Band—that name is vague enough to encompass so many genres. Our sound is always evolving.”
“None of us were very good at our instruments when we started playing. But we’ve grown as musicians by playing together. The band is a representation of all our progress and growth,” said Duncan.
Not only did Harry, Duncan, and Lee have to learn to actually play their instruments, since moving to town they’ve started focusing more on determining what their plans are as a band.
“We weren’t very well versed in what our goals were,” said Harry. “And one of our friends said we needed a mantra. I’ve been thinking about that. What sets us apart from other young rock and roll bands? And I think it’s just being as nice as we can be.”
“We want to be conscious of what we’re doing,” he went on. “And not just try to break into the music scene but to be a part of it in other aspects as well. We came here with the intention of living here first. It’s hard for a band that’s been together for a while to go somewhere new, but, in Nashville, if you’re interested in making real friends, it’ll set you in the direction you want to go and I’m so thankful for being welcome here.”