Badass Band #23

It’s time to take BBB up to the Great White North because it seems to me that Vancouver is teeming with some absolutely kick ass bands. I picked one hell of a band to begin to give you a little taste of what is brewing up in Canada. This band is by far one of the most diverse bands I have ever come across and is oozing musical talent. They call themselves Rags to Radio, and they will blow your music loving minds.

I happened across Rags To Radio probably close to a year ago through a band called 100 Monkeys which I also happen to be a fan of. I heard they were opening for 100 Monkeys and I wanted to check them out. I Youtubed RtR and in just seeing the opening screen of ‘Cat Bones’, I remember thinking, “Oh shit, these are just kids!” and wondered what they were going to sound like. Sure enough though, I was blown the hell away. I cannot even begin to describe their sound, it’s entirely different from song to song, some are more jazz inspired, swing-ish music, some straight rock n roll, some country-esque, and really they are just a jumble of ear-pleasing awesomeness.

The band is made up of four guys, Layton Keely- Guitar/Vocals, Zack Keely- Keys/Trombone/Vocals, Jake Holmes- Drums, and Josh Erickson- Bass. These guys may be young, but damn do they have an insane range of musical training and talent, as you will read in the interview below. Clearly I have only seen RtR in video format, because they have yet to venture down my way, but these guys seem to put on a damn good show, and have the kind of silly, fun energy that spreads easily into a crowd and is even contagious in video format! They have a five song EP out, entitled ‘With Gratitude’, that is available on their website. It includes tracks titled- ‘Cat Bones’, ‘Cup of Tea’, ‘Gallows Humor’, ‘Farewell Fairweather’ and ‘Cheats’. Their lyrics are just as fresh and unique as their melodies. If I had to pick two songs to show their diversity (there is no way I could pick favorites), I would say listen to ‘Cup of Tea’ and ‘Gallows Humor’. You will be doing yourself a huge favor in buying this album. There will not be one song you don’t dig on it. Rags to Radio are working on a full length album to be released later this year. Their fan base has grown insanely in just the last year, so don’t expect these guys to be ‘small time’ for long.

The guys of Rags to Radio were kind enough to chat up BBB during band rehearsal not too long ago and below you can read up on things like their car pump up sessions, why their slogan is “We’ll do it live!”, and which band member has been to over 130 live shows!

When did you start playing?

Layton- I started playing the guitar when I was younger but I hated it because my teacher wouldn’t teach me chords because I am quite a small individual and he said my fingers weren’t long enough to do it. It was boring and tedious. But I picked it up again in grade 12 and I taught myself how to play.

Jake- I started playing the drums when I was roughly 11 years old, and I am 19 now, I turn 20 in March. So about 9 years.

Zack- I first started in grade 5. I played recorder all throughout elementary school. The first instrument I really started playing was the bag pipes. I was trained to be in a pipe band. I took a year’s worth of lessons and stuff. Eventually, a lot of kids in my class made fun of me so I started playing bass guitar in grade 6 or 7. In HS I picked up trombone with classical and jazz bands and it kind of moved on from there.

Josh- In grade 4 I started playing Ukulele. I played in a Uke ensemble from grades 6-8, but then stopped after that because I got bored of it. In grade 10 my parents bought me a guitar and then Layton and I played in a few bands together in HS but he didn’t play guitar at the time. Those ended and we still were friends. So he started recording, and then we started playing acoustic together. Eventually we became a three piece and after a while he asked me, “Have you ever thought of playing bass?” and I said, “Not really, no.” and he said, “Would you like to?” and I said, “Sure!” Then I picked up the bass and I have been playing bass with Layton ever since.

How did you all meet?

Layton- I went to school with our bassist, Josh, who is one of my best friends. We played in several bands together in HS. After HS those bands all kind of went by the wayside and I was going to start something. We got together and started playing as a three piece, bringing Zack, my brother, in to play trombone and keys. Then time went on and we had a couple roster changes, but it stayed as Josh, Zack and I. Then we met Jake our drummer now, and it’s been a perfect fit. We have now been playing together for about a year and a half.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up? How does that differ from what you listen to now?

Layton- Big difference. In elementary school I was listening to you know, Prozac and Chumbawumba, Backstreet Boys and NSync. I was also listening to Elton John, and Supertramp. I grew up with that kind of stuff. In high school I listened to a lot of Sum 41, or pop punk bands that were coming through in the early 2000’s. Coming out of HS I turned more to blues and soul, and garage bands. Johnny Lee Hooker is my favorite blues musician, and Etta James with the soul, who actually just passed away. That is generally what I listen to now. That, along with a little bit of gangster rap, gotta keep it level.

Jake- I have listened to a different range of music starting with a lot of classical music. I watched Fantasia and hummed music from the Free Willy soundtrack and I just loved that. So a lot of classical to start. Then Genesis, Rush, Supertramp, stuff my mom and dad listened to and I love it. Through HS as I got more into music I listened to jazz, a lot of jazz. I actually do the occasional jazz gig. I used to play with the Chooluck Symphony Orchestra and have done some classical work around here. Now, it’s hard to say. I listen to a youtube famous band Pomplamoose and Jack Conte. There is just a lot of stuff I listen to.

Zack- Oh man. The first artist I ever really listened to properly was Elton John. My mom forced me to listen to Elton John as a kid. I went through a Beatles stage, I even had a really weird Beatles haircut. Then I started getting into punk and pop punk, and I listened to Blink and Simple Plan. Then when HS hit I got into electronic music, I still am right now. I do listen to a lot of classical as well, mostly because I play in classical and jazz bands. I think it’s important to keep in touch with someone who plays an instrument you play and be inspired that way. So I am kind of all over the map.

Josh- It differs quite a bit. The first band, if you want to call them a band, that I ever really got into was The Backstreet Boys in grade 5. Then I discovered bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and started listening to more rock. Through HS I got into more bands like Sex Pistols, Rancid, The Clash, and straying from more mainstream stuff. Then I started hearing bands like The Pixies and Sonic Youth and that kind of helped shape where my musical taste was going. Now, some of my favorites are No Age, Kurt Vile, and Cut Copy.

Which musicians do you admire? Why?

Layton- I admire Pete Doherty of Babyshambles. He has a lot of things that I don’t admire about him, but he is quite creative and a very good songwriter. Another person that I also admire is Jackson Rathbone. He is quite busy and stills has time to play in a whole bunch of bands and is writing and singing. His idea of music is kind of what I am all about as well, gotta keep it real, don’t cheat and play music how it should be played.

Jake- One musician I have admired for a long time now is Jack Conte, he also plays in that band Pomlamoose. But he writes all his own stuff, he records it all, he plays all the instruments and then puts it online independently. So he makes all his own money from it and he doesn’t go through record labels and he makes a living off it. So there’s him and numerous jazz performers. One whom I have actually played with, from Chilliwack, has moved to NY, and her name is Bria Skiluwack. She is a trumpeter and singer. She does very, very well.

Zack- I love Bob Dylan. I like his song writing, I don’t necessarily like his musicianship per say. I really like Elton John, I saw him once in Vegas, it was amazing. Matthew Bellamy of Muse is very innovative with guitar and he really puts a spin on guitar playing.

Josh- Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. TBK as a band has changed a lot since they started ten or eleven years ago. He has always stayed true to what he loves. He wears his different influences on his sleeve and doesn’t try to be coy about it, he tells people where he is getting his inspirations from. I think that is a big part of music, where you get your inspiration. Some artists feel the need to hide it. I don’t really feel that’s necessary. He is someone I really look up to even though he is a guitarist. Jack White I respect the same way. He is someone I like a lot. In terms of bass playing would be Chris Novoselic from Nirvana for sure, I have always loved Nirvana. They broke me of my BSB phase. *Insert yelling in background here* Jake is an NSync guy so that means I am going to have to fight him after this interview. It’s going to be a mix of break dance fighting and actual fighting. Throw it all in there, MMA with break dancing. I also really like Kim Deal from The Pixies because her bass playing is so simple yet really prominent. The first band that made me think playing bass was really cool was when I discovered Death from Above 1979. They are just a two piece band, just drums and a bass and they are one of the most intense bands I have ever listened to.

Do you get nervous before a performance?

Layton- Never, ever. I don’t think any of us do anymore. I don’t know if we ever did. We get more excited and antsy to play. We more anxious to start and play because we are having so much fun. We don’t like to wait around before we play.

Any rituals before a show?

Layton- My ritual is a cup of tea. I try to get one all the time. Sometimes it hard. I try to bring one or find a coffee shop close by.

Jake- Honestly, being a drummer I kind of have to do stretches to make things less tense. I keep my body limber. It’s never a bad thing to keep a little food in my stomach or I get grumpy. I think that is the case for almost everyone in the band anyway.

Zack- Other than the fact that we eat tons of food, like ridiculous amounts of food? Sometimes in the past we used to have car pump up sessions where we packed as many people as possible into a car and listen to really loud music and frolic around. The guy in the front usually ended up in the back by the end of the pump up session. Also, we toured with this band GSTS!, they are awesome guys. They are a post hardcore band. Before a lot of their sets they like to strip down into their underwear and put paint on themselves. So one time we played a show, and the ritual before the show was to put paint all over ourselves. Of course if you met me in real life, I am all for making a good impression and looking good. So everyone else has theirs on and I just had face paint because I am boring like that.

Josh- Well, I don’t like shows where you have to like, rush to the venue, get there and play. I like getting to a venue and then chilling out with friends and stuff before a show. I like not really thinking about what we are going to be doing later in the night. I like decompression time. My ritual is kind of an anti-ritual, I don’t like to get pumped up, I chill out.

Describe what it’s like to perform for a crowd.

Layton- For me, it’s kind of cathartic, you have all these feelings and these songs that you have written or a really bad day/encounter that you can kind of let out on stage. For example, there was this one time we had a bad encounter with someone at a show, names will not be named, and we had a bit of a disagreement to say the least. Let’s just say I have never screamed at someone before, until that day. But for me, that show was quite cathartic because I was able to get all that out while we were playing. It’s a great feeling being up there and getting a reaction from the audience. It’s hard to describe the feeling when you are up on that stage in the moment.

How does your creative process typically work?

Layton- My number one rule is I don’t sit down and write a song. I don’t say I am going to write a song now. It just happens. I have talked to several other musicians and they kind of have a similar process, just comes out of nowhere. If I try to do something musically, it just doesn’t sound very good. If I don’t try, relax and let it come to me, it works. When I get an idea I bring it to the band and come together and fill in spots with our instruments.

What do you think you biggest break or greatest opportunity has been in your career so far?

Layton-Playing with 100 Monkeys has been big. One time, we played a total of 3 shows with them in a total of 16 hours. Our fan base grew a lot in that time. They are great to open for, they fit quite well with us and we fit well with them. A couple years ago, in 2010, before Jake was in the band, we played at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. We didn’t play inside the venues, it was outside of the venues and it was all acoustic. So what happened was we would set up outside the venues like the coliseum, or the speed skating oval or whatever it was, and we would entertain the crowds that were lined up and going into the venues. Our fan base grew a lot from that as well.

What has been the biggest challenge for you so far?

Layton- Right now, we are currently close to finishing writing our first full length album. That is quite challenging because we are going to write quite a few songs and then narrow it down for the album. Our brains our almost mush at this point because we get these ideas and we work hard at them, but then at the end if we still don’t like them we scrap them and start over. I am sure though that it will prove to be quite rewarding in the end.

If your band had a slogan, what would it be?

Layton- The other boys might say otherwise, but I think if we had a band slogan it would be ‘We’ll do it live!’. It comes from Bill O’Reilly, whenever we have a “But what about this?” moment on stage or whenever, my brother or Jake or Josh or I will yell, “We’ll do it live!”. We are a live band so it’s just the pinnacle. Well, that or ‘Just Do It’ but hopefully Nike won’t sue me.

What are you working on now, and what can we expect from you in the coming year?

Layton- Full length album. A tour. We don’t know where yet, we want to go across Canada, but you never know where or what things will unfold. We have found we expect one thing and that either happens or doesn’t and then something even bigger happens and we kind of go from there. We’re working hard and just kind of waiting to step up a little. We are hoping for a lot of things this year.

Do you have plans to venture into the US for any shows this year?

Layton- We would absolutely love to. What we want to do first is get our workers visas so we can do it legit. The US is quite strict and we don’t want to step on any toes and get kicked out of your beautiful country. We do have quite a few fans in the states and we definitely want to go visit them. We have a few fans in Louisiana even that send us gifts and they are just beautiful people. We want to send them as much as we can back. We want to at least make it to Seattle and Portland in the coming year. I would also love to go to Detroit, Chicago, California, Texas, and New Orleans. We might even be going to LA to finish the album.

If you had the opportunity to change something about the music industry, what would it be?

Layton- I don’t know. I am kind of still learning about the music industry. One thing that kind of makes me mad about it, a lot of times bands are not treated very well when they are coming up. Sometimes promoters and venues just don’t respect you as artists or a band. When you are up and coming you need to get paid a little, we try to at least get gas covered. A lot of times they think that because you are playing at their place, they own you for a night. We have steered away from that, we have found people that treat us very well and we work with them a lot. Also, where we are from in Abbotsford (well, we are from all around Vancouver), all the music places are shut down because everyone thinks that because a music event is happening their teens are going to drink and do drugs there. So all we have are houses and the houses get and raps also because they think they are partying. But really everyone is going there to enjoy the music locally and its so hard for us to hear it. The music industry, its definitely difficult to make your way and we are paying our dues. There just needs to be more credibility for bands who are out there touring, and writing their songs for themselves and everyone else to enjoy, not to please a label.

Random Portion

One song you never get tired of.

Layton- ‘Men in Black’- Will Smith

Jake- ‘Xanadu’- Rush or ‘Swan Lake’- Tchaikovsky.

Zack- ‘Hard to Explain’- The Strokes

Josh- Can I list three? ‘The Baser’- The Pixies, ‘Ambling Alps’- Yeasayer, and ‘Niggas in Paris’- Jazy-Z and Kanye West

What is the best live show you have ever gone to?

Layton- Tie between The White Stripes at Deerlake Park in Vancouver, The Hives at the Commodore Ballroom, The Raconteurs at the Commodore Ballroom and The Dead Weather at The Commodore Ballroom.

Jake- Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, they played two songs the whole night, each over an hour long. One called ‘The Rite of Spring’ and that one is done by Igor Stravinsky, it’s about 45 minutes long and its absolute mayhem. That was a total musical highlight for me.

Zack- Elton John was amazing, that would be at par with Muse.

Josh- I keep a tally of all the shows I have been to, I think I am at 130-some odd right now. I have seen over 400 bands. It is getting hard. I’ll give you a quick top 5-Gogol Bordello, Muse, Modest Mouse, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Andrew WK.

Favorite movie?

Layton- Currently- ‘Fivel Goes West’ and ‘The Runaways’.

Jake- ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’

Zack- ‘Emma Lee’ (French Film)

Josh- ‘Toy Story’ & ‘Reservoir Dogs’

Favorite book?

Layton- “Huckleberry Finn”- Mark Twain

Jake- “A Million Little Pieces”- James Frey

Zack- “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”, Roddy Doyle “The Bear Count Trilogy”

Josh- “The Watchmen”

Favorite things to do NOT musically related.

Layton- Play pinball, A good cup of tea, Chill out at home- I can be a bit of a recluse or a hermit. I am pretty involved in Judo, both Zack and I are involved in Judo. I like to keep busy.

Jake- If I am really just dead bored, I’ll take out a notepad and blabber. I’ll write whatever comes to mind, whether it’s really sweet or weird. Could be lyrics, or a story. I like to take drum stuff apart and do maintenance.

Zack- I love skiing. I love soccer, I do Judo, acting, art and I try my hardest to be a renaissance man. At this point in my life I want to make sure I have tried everything out and there is nothing that I have missed.

Josh- I love cats. I am wearing a cat t-shirt right now. I love to travel, this year I went to Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. I love the internet. Cats and internet go hand in hand. I get into the Youtube black hole some times.

If you could be a fictional character, who would you be?

Layton- Peter Pan

Jake- Buzz Lightyear

Zack- Neville Longbottom

Josh- Aldo Raine from Inglorious Bastards

Pet Peeves?

Zack- People who are intolerant or homophobic and don’t accept people for who they are.

Josh- Farting on tour. The other guys are such smelly bastards. *Laughing in background* Seriously, we were driving to Saskatoon and there was a blizzard. I was driving and I was like, “Okay guys, there is a blizzard so don’t pull any shit!” So I am driving and someone farts. Then someone farted shortly after and the can was like a toxic wasteland. I could not breathe. I had to open all the windows even with the blizzard and we were all freezing to death. I told them, “You all brought this upon yourselves!” They are all laughing right now.

Best prank you have ever pulled?

We went on tour with tour with our good friends GSTS! last March and we would have these wars. We had two vehicles, and we would pull up side by side and throw stuff at each other. One time I rolled down the window and said, “I wanna talk to you.” and I threw an entire bag of M & M’s in their window. We would throw all sorts of things, it’s actually pretty dangerous.

Zack- So, I am just finishing HS this year, and my friend and I won the Presidential campaign at our school. So in celebration we decided it would be hilarious to pack every guy that wanted to join in, into one of the smaller bathrooms in our school and have a massive dance party. So we put up posters and didn’t expect many people to show up. Little did we know, everyone was going. So we fit something like 80 kids into the bathroom and this is a tiny bathroom, like two toilets. We had a massive dance party and it was disgusting and our principal got pissed at us.

If you had only 5 minutes on Earth to perform one song what would it be and why?

Layton- First, I would ask for more time. Then we would play ‘Brown Vest’, and we have a conga line in the song so I would be able to live longer because the conga line lasts as long as Jake goes on the drums. As long as he is living I would be okay. That is one of our bands favorite songs. Sometimes it can go for ten minutes. It’s the song that never ends, sometimes.

Jake- George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ but the thing is, that is a 25 minute song. I guess if I had 5 minutes to play one song, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would be quite a pleasure.

Zack- I would somehow, through a crazy series of events perform ‘Knights of Cydonia’ with Muse, and I would be able to play all the guitar parts and sings all the harmonies and it would just be amazing. Then I would die, I would like light on fire, like combust. Go out strong.

Josh- Are we assuming I have god-like powers and can play any instrument? If so, in this fictional world, I play drums and I would play Phil Collins, ‘In the Air Tonight’.

Check out Rags to Radio here:

Twitter: @ragstoradio

Facebook: Facebook.com/ragstoradio

Web: ragstoradio.bandcamp.com or ragstoradio.tumblr.com

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