This band snuck up on me, as well as the rest of the crowd that stayed late to see them at The Satellite back in April. They’re one of those bands that reel you in quickly and drag you along on a beautiful musical journey. Badass Band 110 is Folk Riot.
They’re exactly what their name sounds like, a folky, southern rock n roll band with a big sound, engaging anecdotal lyrics, killer harmonies and great energy. As I watched their set for the first time, I was engulfed in the feeling of euphoria that only comes with finding a band that doesn’t just sound like every one else in LA.
Folk Riot has a seven song self-titled EP available, along with the recent release of one of my personal favorites, “Bow and Arrow”. Each track is unique, yet they all fit together perfectly. So I’d suggest you start with a sampler of:
- “Bow and Arrow”- This is definitely the prime example of the southern rock n roll I mentioned earlier. Gruff vocals with guitar/bass/drum lines that are clear and each very distinct, while they work together to perfectly to embody the element of searching that the lyrics describe.
- “Summertime Road”- This song absolutely and completely embodies summer in musical form. It almost sounds like a jam around a campfire with your best friends. It kind of reminds me something Steve Miller Band would do.
- “Drinking Song”- This is an fun track, despite the serious nature of the lyrics which happen to be about love being a game to a girl who sleeps around, and a guy who is just sees himself as another fool that will keep drinking to keep the pain of this fact away. It is a great take on an Irish drinking song.
Recently Brandon, Mike and Tyler were kind enough to meet up with me for coffee and dished about why they started playing music, what it was like to play Occupy LA sandwiched between Tom Morello and Danny Glover, and why they hate defending the fact that they are musicians to strangers.
When and why did each of you start playing music?
Brandon: Me? I started playing music when I was about eight. My mom was very musically inclined. I grew up in Calcutta, in India, and the first band I ever saw was these musicians my parents had hired to play a party. I remember looking out my bedroom door and watching them. I remember everyone ignoring them and I was like, “Are you guys seeing this? Are you kidding me?” I realized it was a job. “You can do that? It’s a job?” They were just destroying, and everyone was completely ignoring them.
Then we moved to the United States, to Austin. I started hearing a lot of Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, all that stuff. Amazing. I didn’t really know it as a rock star thing, but as a job job; a blue-collar kind of thing. I started playing guitar when I was about eight and started writing songs when I was about 12.
I had hardcore lessons because of my Indian mother. I didn’t enjoy it for the first eight years. I wanted to go outside and play. That’s it for me; that’s how it started.
Tyler: I only play the tambourine.
Brandon: And the voice.
Tyler: Well, I’m getting to it. I come from a pretty musical family actually. Both of my parents owned guitars. It’s weird, I don’t remember them ever really playing. My mom taught me one song on the guitar – It’s a Peter, Paul and Mary song I still know.
Brandon: This is how I find out.
Tyler: I know, right? My older and my younger brother both play and both write music, but I was always the singer in the family. I got my start singing in church choir. Every Wednesday night they would drop us kids off in the church basement and we would learn basic harmonies and hymns, then we would do a show once every six months or so. I did that growing up, and then in high school I did choir and I was in the Acapella chorus. I lettered…I could’ve gotten a varsity jacket – And you guys don’t know this – but I could’ve gotten a varsity letterman jacket in choir, one-act play and academic team, but I didn’t. Anyway, choir, that’s actually how I got in here for harmony, and that’s what made it so much fun to going to work with these guys; to sing. I came out here for acting. We lived in the same apartment complex. I actually crashed on Mike’s couch when I first got here.
Mike: For a little bit too long.
Tyler: Mike was very gracious, and then he was like, “I want my couch back.” We started jamming one night and it was so much fun to sing with Brandon. That’s my story.
Mike: I went to private school as a kid. I was forced to play music. I had to play piano until my piano teacher died. 80 years! She started pretty old.
Brandon: What if that was your parents’ stipulation? “You will play this until she dies.”
Tyler: That’s some Whiplash stuff.
Brandon: And you killed your piano teacher.
Mike: We also had to play violin and be in boys choir; all that sort of stuff. When I got to seventh or eighth grade, I started playing saxophone in the school band because I didn’t know anyone; I started going to public school. I got pretty good at that. When I got into high school, I dropped it. I got a guitar and messed around with it a while. In college I played a bass a little bit. Luckily, I had that solid background. When I came out here, Brandon and I met through mutual friends; Tyler I used to tour with for a job. They were friends and I liked playing with them so I put a lot of effort into getting better so I could participate. I didn’t intend to be in a band before I met these guys really. When I moved to LA, I wanted to be a film editor.
Who did you guys listen to growing up?
Tyler: My answer’s so lame. Spice Girls; I was really into Spice World. I had the T-shirt and saw them on tour five times. It was like Phish for me. For me, really, I grew up on oldies. I remember when I moved to Atlanta when I was eight years old, my family lived in this family summer house when we were trying to find a place of our own, and my older brother and I would go to bed listening to the oldies station. We wouldn’t go to sleep in forever. We would listen to two-hour blocks of whatever was on the radio; stuff from the 50s and 60s for that early development portion of my life. The 90s happened and we lived in Atlanta so there was nothing but country music; Garth Brooks was one of my favorites. A bunch of other really shitty 90s bands- I was the worst kid. I didn’t know who Nirvana was until I was in seventh grade. I was way behind the eight ball on that one.
Brandon: The first stuff I listened to isn’t what I played. When I first picked up a guitar and it was my decision what to play, I was full-on heavy metal shredder. I loved Steve Vai. To me, it was how fast can you possibly play this instrument? I had a friend who was way cooler and he made me a mixtape with R.E.M., The Cure, The Smiths and all that. I listened to it and I was like, “These guys aren’t playing fast at all,” then I listened to it and I was like, “This is so much better.” It dawned on me that songwriting was way cooler than trying to be a shredding metal guitar player. I started to get really into R.E.M.; I’d say R.E.M. would be the band. Especially on the East Coast – I’m from Virginia originally – but they were like the dudes from Athens, Georgia that made music seductive for the first time. All of their I.R.S. recordings were amazing. They had a great work ethic. They completed a 12-record contract with I.R.S. Give me one band that could do that now.
Mike: As a kid, I loved Queen; that’s all I listened to pretty much. I would fly my airplanes around and listen to Queen.
Tyler: You flew airplanes?
Mike: Toy airplanes. I think really dramatic, rock opera type of stuff as a kid I really liked. When I got to high school, I was really into the nerdy stuff like Weezer, math rock, Radiohead; that’s all I can think of right now. In Texas, everyone has a background in Texas country, so Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings.
Brandon: I think that’s what we all have in common: When I moved to Texas, that’s what I heard. It was my dad’s music. I love all that stuff.
Tyler: There’s an integrity to that Texas country music. It’s not Nashville. It’s not sold-out. The songwriting is so pure.
Why the name Folk Riot?
Brandon: The origin was: I saw my very talented friend, Billy Stovo, playing at Three Clubs, and he was doing a one-man-band show. He had the tambourine between his knees; the whole thing. I was watching him and was like, “Are you kidding me?” He got off stage and he was like, “What’d you think?” I was like, “Dude, you’re like a one-man folk riot.” We both looked at each other and I was like, “No, mine!” This is literally the most uncool story: I ran home, got on GoDaddy, looked up folk riot dot com, it was available! The actual name came from that, but then I think we found meaning in it for a bunch of stuff. We played Occupy LA.
Tyler: Literally the front lines of Occupy.
Brandon: We had actually played on the steps of city hall, the three of us.
Tyler: It was a really cool vibe.
Brandon: The feeling like the first days that Occupy – I know that’s whatever it’s been, whatever it is – but it felt so cool. It was weird. I’ve played gigs my whole life; always you talk to the booker, you do this. I called these guys and I was like, “Let’s go down there.” I don’t know how this gig works. It’s a protest. We haven’t done anything like that before. We just looked at each other and went, “It’s important.” It felt really important to go do it. We got sandwiched between Tom Morello and Danny Glover. It was insane. We were determined. It turned out the way that the hierarchy fell was: The guy who owned the P.A. was in charge. Suddenly, politics take over. Corruption happens at every level. He had the power; the irony of that was hilarious because that’s exactly what we were protesting. Then we got to know him and we’re like, “We’re going to play next.” It was all crazy and disorganized. We pushed our way onto those steps. We played for people, and it was incredible because it wasn’t just like, “I like this song;” people were like, “What are you saying?” It had that meaningful feeling at first, and I say that because we ended up there on that last day, too; it was a much different thing.
We ended up playing for people and having this – I don’t know, the name made a lot of sense. Riot, especially today with Baltimore, it’s not the greatest word, but in a way it was. Folk Riot. It’s also kind of a description the way the music sounds.
Tyler: It’s also appropriate because the name came when it was still just the three of us. We were basically an acoustic act to start off with, because it was you two on guitar and I had a tambourine; which I could barely play because I’m white. We just started with those. We played a house party at Mike’s place in Silverlake, and we got a guy who was interested in being our keyboard player for a little while. We found a drummer through, a guy I went to church with became our first drummer. It started off as very folky act with this rock edge, then we got the drums, we got the keyboard – Well, we don’t have keys now – then we got a bass player. That lineup actually filled out the sound. I’ve always really enjoyed how scalable it is. Brandon and I were doing some acoustic sets around town and we played the same stuff; it translates, it’s a lot of fun.
How does your creative process typically work?
Brandon: Usually I come up with the nuts and bolts of the song with the acoustic guitar and then bring it to the band and we flesh it out; classically that style. The cool thing is that we have a cool, kind of factory now, where Mike churns it into more rock because he’s on electric and Tyler makes the vocals sound amazing. Nathan, our drummer, and Nicholas, everybody adds their thing. Typically it starts as a little acoustic bedroom song and then turns into a rock song by the time it goes down the conveyor belt.
What do you think the hardest thing is about being a band in Los Angeles?
Brandon: I have an answer for this. You know what it is? This happened last night. I hate having to defend myself to every. Fucking. Person. What other job do you have where any stranger is like, “So, really?”
Tyler: “So, you’re in a band?”
Brandon: Then suddenly they’re like … This woman last night at Three Clubs, she was a lovely woman, but she was like, “So do you just do it because you like it, or is it a job for you?” Suddenly you’re just like, “It’s meaningful and I have something to say!” What other job does somebody have to sit there and defend it to strangers? My friend is a restaurant owner and he’s the same way. He’s like, you walk in, “This tastes weird. Fuck you.” We have a common Venn diagram bond there. If someone says they’re a doctor I don’t say, “Really? Doctoring? All day?” No one else gets that.
Tyler: There’s also that really shitty thing, and I get it as an actor too. When I tell people I’m an actor, it’s always, “What do you do for work?”
Brandon: I wish it was slapping people in the face.
Tyler: “I slap people like it’s my job, and I’m on duty right now.” A little bit of a bitter end to the Folk Riot guys.
Brandon: Do you know what I mean? It’s so insulting.
Tyler: It’s not really something I feel comes up a ton for us. It’s all positive. We get to rehearse together and hang out; we’re all friends and we have a great time. We have really fun shows. If that’s the hardest thing – and I would agree that it really is – that’s …
Brandon: That’s nothing. We’re a little bit lucky with this band. I’ve been with a lot of bands over the years and it really felt like pushing a boulder up a hill. This band, I don’t know, people like it, easily. I guess that sounds a little odd.
Tyler: That’s always the weirdest thing to me. After a show, I’m fortunate; because of my job I meet a lot of people. I’m able to bring a lot of new folks to our shows. Every single time there’s that surprise of, “Oh, you guys are actually good. Oh, thank God.” Surpassing people’s expectations is actually one of the great things of being in a band. They don’t expect much of you, and when you clear their bar, they’re amazed. It causes them they raise their bar the next time they go out, which I think in a lot of ways makes the world a better place.
If you could change one thing about the music industry right now, what would it be?
Brandon: It’s such a weird thing. This is the anti-musician comment, but I think music, if it was a thing and it was anthropormorphized – $10 word – it wants to be free, and people always slam it, but it’s always been something that’s been freely traded, so the word industry is a weird word. Sadly, I think it always breaks out of whatever the thing is. It’s going to continue to do that. It’s bigger than us. X amount of chords and we all use them and we borrow those from each other. You know what? In Berlin, if you’re a songwriter, you get an apartment, you get X amount of money. If you’re in Canada you get this amount. I guess it would be nice for America to put some importance on the arts; which would go over more than just music, to acting, theater, everything like that. There’s some Chinese proverb that says a society that doesn’t put importance on the arts, the grease and the wheel, it all falls apart.
Mike: I think people’s attention spans are shorter lately. I feel like less people go to shows to actually watch the shows and respect the artists and get inspired by it. It’s secondary. A lot of places, you go to a bar and you drink and there’s music going on. I remember as a kid – maybe I’m just seeing things different as I’m older – but as a kid, it was impressive to watch someone play an instrument. You’d pick a favorite band member and watch them play their instrument and you wanted to do that. Now, I feel like there’s a smaller number of people that respect it in that way. They might like music and listen to it, but the live experience for a large amount of people is not the same. Maybe it’s the electronic music I’m starting to like some of.
Tyler: I would love to see the album come back. The whole arc of the record. I just remember the first time I ever sat down and listened to Redheaded Stranger, I was already in my 20s; I didn’t grow up on Willie Nelson because that’s not what my parents were into. I remember I was living in New York at the time and I sat down with my buddy; it was also one of the first times I ever smoked weed.
We sat down and he said, “I’m going to play you this record, man.” I was like, “All right. Fine. Let’s do this.” It was amazing. It’s like sitting around reading a short story or watching a fantastic episode of Breaking Bad where everything fits together and there’s this thematic element that goes through; no matter what the subject is, the pain is always still there. I love that, and I think that’s something that’s gotten lost. To plug us, I think that we have that going on in our songs. There’s a through line in the songs that we play that the themes are there. This idea of the wanted man, the desert, there’s a lot of outlaw sensibility to the songs. I feel like it fits and it’s cohesive and it tells a story.
One song you never get tired of listening to?
Brandon: (singing) Why you gotta be so rude? That song gets stuck in my head; it’s not my fault…Not really. It’s just stuck in my head all the time. I love “The Highwaymen”, which we cover; which to me is the greatest song, it’s got no chorus. Anything by Jimmy Webb to me. A million R.E.M. songs, too. = Everything about R.E.M. is beautiful.
Tyler: I would say there’s a song by Robert Earl Keen called, “Feeling Good Again,” that it’s a song that makes me think of heaven. It’s this guy who walks across the street to his old favorite bar. He’s in from out of town and he walks down to this basement bar and sees everyone he’s ever cared about just being; being in this bar. The guys playing pool and a couple of guys standing at the jukebox singing like they’re the Tabernacle Choir. He looks across the room and he sees the girl he left behind and she smiles at him. The chorus is, “It feels so good feeling good again.” I could listen to that song over and over again.
Brandon: That was the feeling songs used to give you. It would take you somewhere else. Maybe because we have so much internet and so much stuff now you don’t get to go away in your mind anymore, but I loved that about songs when you could just go.
Mike: Back to your album comment from earlier: I think Okay Computer by Radiohead is the most listenable album from beginning to end. I’ve probably listened to it 1,000 times. I know every word to every song on that album. That’s probably mine.
Best live show you’ve ever gone to?
Brandon: The Cure, Disintegration Tour. Back when things weren’t called the “Phone Center”; it was called the Capitol Center and it was amazing. Three guys on stage in front of 20,000 people and these cool broken pillars. He’s wearing his crazy high tops and it’s just Robert Smith making so much sound. It was awesome. It blew my mind. I didn’t even know that was possible for that few people to make that much noise. There were no backup tracks or any bullshit.
Tyler: Garth Brooks. 1996 Crushed Horses Tour. He’s one of the best live performers that’s ever lived. I was 13 years old and it blew my mind. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life probably. The best live show that I’ve seen over and over again: Nickel Creek. I saw them toward the beginning of their career in 2003, and then I saw them again in 2006 or 2007 right when they broke up, and then I saw them on their reunion tour last year. They’re fantastic.
Mike: I would say the best show I ever went to was Wilco right after 9/11. It was a crazy experience. The air conditioner was broke in Dallas at the Gypsy Tea Room. Everyone was sweaty, the place was packed full of people and as you walked in, they were handing out little American flags so everyone had an American flag to wave. It was right after the record deal fell through for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which just was released a couple of weeks ago officially, but they were touring it anyway because it had leaked on the Internet. They have this song “Ashes of American Flags” and it was written and recorded before 9/11, but it was so…it was poignant. It got to me, it got to everybody. It was a great show.
Favorite things to do not musically related?
Brandon: I like drinking.
Tyler: She said not musically related.
Mike: I don’t know that I do much besides drinking. Let’s see, boning in the bone yard…I like to work. Honestly, I’m not much of a person to enjoy something and be there and be part of the party; I want to have a role there. I enjoy working on things and feeling like I accomplished something. I feel like if I don’t something in a day, then I’ve wasted that day.
Tyler: Not musically related, I guess it goes back to acting. All my friends who are outside the band are actors or related to that industry in some way. Pretty much when I’m not doing Folk Riot stuff, that’s the other half of my life. Again, I wish I could be a little bit more like Mike and be like, “If I haven’t done anything, I’ve wasted the day,” but I am also the laziest person in the history of mankind. I need this band. That’s one of my favorite things to do honestly, burn a day down. I know that about myself so I purposely give myself a bunch of stuff to do. This is one of the favorite things in my life, then when I’m not doing this I’m either at my acting studio, hanging out with people, putting projects together. Sundays, I burn Sundays to the ground. I make breakfast with my best friends, we play video games, watch football during football season and drink the day away. We all end up crashing at my buddy’s place. I go to work the next morning in the same clothes. It’s awesome.
Brandon: I like talking to strangers. My favorite thing: Sitting in a bar – I like to go to bars by myself – and just be like, “Hello!” This guy goes, “I’m a cab driver,” and I’m like, “What’s that like? That’s amazing.” I really enjoy meeting people I have no connection with and are totally different than me; kind of like doing what you’re doing, getting the whole life story. It’s fascinating to me how different everybody is and similar.
Tyler: That’s how we got our drummer, Nathan, too. We were sitting and having this conservation. I think it was you, me and Billy – my buddy, Billy, the photographer – just having this conversation about country music. Somehow we started talking about Kenny Chesney, and this guy sitting next to me goes, “You know, he’s in the closet, right?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?”
Brandon: I already knew that.
Tyler: He turns to us and we start having this conversation about Kenny Chesney, and it turns out he’s a drummer. We’d just lost our original drummer because he moved to Nashville. He was buddies with that guy; we never had met before. He’s also a drummer, played at the same church where I met Allen. He’s just like, “I’m looking for a project.” He came to rehearsal with us and he’s been with us two and a half years now, three years? Talking with strangers at the bar.
If you ran Badass Bands blog, what are some bands who you would feature?
Brandon: I really like Gold Star, as far as local bands go. I really like Joywave, but I think they’re really popular now. They’re really badass. I really like the High Drags. They’re awesome.
Mike: I was going to second Gold Star. I think that they’re awesome in this genre of music.
Brandon: And The Janks.
Tyler: I’ve always liked Noah Engle.
Brandon: All the Piano Bar guys, they’re like family now. Nostalgia is really good. They’re weird. I booked at Three Club for years. Freaking Aaron Embry.
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