The Rocketboys + The Whistles & The Bells

The Rocketboys + The Whistles & The Bells

The Colour Monday

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

8:30 pm

Soda Bar


Tickets at the Door

This event is 21 and over

The Rocketboys
The Rocketboys
Mainstays of the Austin music scene for nearly a decade, anthemic ambient rock band The Rocketboys have steadily built a loyal following over the course of two LPs and a handful of EPs. Their dynamic, majestic songs have earned comparisons to Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Band of Horses, and they’ve captured audiences nationwide with a soaring, stirring live show.

After nearly five years without a full-length release, The Rocketboys return with Certain Circles-- a seasoned and cohesive LP that combines the grandiosity of the band’s debut 20,000 Ghosts with the soul of sophomore effort Build Anyway-- with a sprinkling of their 2015 EP Left | Right's pop-sensibility.

The band's brief stint on an indie label in 2015, despite bringing notable accolades (single Viva Voce on GLEE and over 1 million Spotify streams), left them never quite feeling comfortable in their own artistic skin. Once they parted ways, songs that had been set aside during that time for not being “hit-worthy” resurfaced, and new songs were written with a focus on creating beautiful music regardless of immediate commercial appeal.

“It’s liberating to return to doing what we love, remember why we were playing music in the first place," says keyboardist Justin Wiseman. "We’re incredibly proud of all of the music we’ve created, but with this LP, it feels like we’re back to doing what we do best.”

Lead singer and guitarist Brandon Kinder agrees. “We’d gone from small Austin studios, to big LA super studios, to bedrooms, to literally the back of the van. This time, we mostly recorded at my home studio in Austin because we wanted to be able to spend a lot of time experimenting with sounds and parts. It was nice not to feel the pressure of an expensive studio. I think this is the best thing we’ve ever done because of the extra time we were able to spend chasing down ideas.”

For their last few releases, Kinder says, the band had drifted toward writing songs with an agenda behind them. And it was never really supposed to be that way.

"When we started this band (in college in Abilene, Texas, circa 2005), it wasn’t to make money, or to write a hit, or to hear our voices on the radio," Kinder says. "We just wrote songs that we thought were cool, and we had fun playing them.

"I wouldn’t trade the experiences we’ve had for anything, because I think we’ve grown a lot as songwriters and musicians because of it. But I wanted to get back to that innocence, back to writing with our fans in mind, and not a dollar sign.”

"It’s why we love standing in front of a microphone and an audience-- and about what it is to chase a dream until you almost want to give up. Most of the songs on Certain Circles reflect that journey.”

Adds Wiseman, "Although we loved the songs on Left | Right and relish the successes it brought, we knew there was something better in terms of what this band can be. Ironically, we wrote many of the songs before and after that label stint during some long periods of just...waiting.”

The title Certain Circles refers to a Venn diagram. "It’s one group pulling us one way, and a different group pulling us another," says Kinder. “We didn’t realize until we started making this record that there were some groups of people who had one idea of what they thought The Rocketboys should be, and there were other groups, other circles that had another idea of who we are. And at least for me, I lost my direction. I just thought I’d plow along and see what happened. But when we started making this record, we realized we wanted to take it back to where we started, and that's just making music that we love.”

Talk, a live staple of the band for almost two years, makes its recorded debut on the new LP. "It was going to be one of the main songs on Left | Right, but at the last minute it was axed," says Wiseman. "To be able to re-think it gave us a chance to give the song far more meaning. I think it’s probably one of the best songs we’ve ever done. It always gets a big reaction when we perform it live.”

The Land that No one Promised Us went through an evolution on its way to the final tracklist. “Originally it was a super-poppy and fun song, and it would’ve probably ended up being our most upbeat track ever," says Wiseman. "Then randomly Brandon did a version of it on piano, playing all seventh (jazzier) chords and way slower. At first it sounded like a joke. But then we couldn’t get past this new take, as it fit the lyrics perfectly. Brandon also did an amazing job with the guitar solo and some other little nuances.”

Kinder describes one of his favorite tracks "You’re Just Going To Let Me Down Again" (an angst-ridden accusation of a song) " was already one of the best in my opinion, but we were able to add some really interesting keyboard stuff on it," he says. "And Away We Go -- the ending still gives me goosebumps everytime I listen to it.”

The Rocketboys’ traditional DIY spirit lives on. The band did much of the recording themselves, but employed engineer Kevin Butler (Black Books, Quiet Company) and Andy Freeman (Eisley, Manchester Orchestra) to mix. It’s a natural progression for a band -- a streamlined, but ambitious effort. Certain Circles stands to bring nostalgia to longtime fans while standing out as The Rocketboys' best, most creative material to-date. The end result sublimely captures the arc of the band's circuitous career. Ten years of highs and lows are compressed neatly into 40 minutes of music.

Having previously toured with bands ranging from Twenty One Pilots, The Mowgli’s, and Relient K, and fresh from a nationwide tour backing Thrice frontman Dustin Kensrue, The Rocketboys previewed much of Certain Circles on a short fall tour at the end of 2016. With several tracks slated for release this year, the band will release Certain Circles on May 12, 2017.
The Whistles & The Bells
“I wanted to make a record that sounded like some great cosmic dinner party,” explains Bryan Simpson (aka The Whistles & the Bells) of his sophomore LP fittingly dubbed Modern Plagues. “Not a gross, homogenized one where people bludgeon their intellect with one-sided conversation but more of a ‘if you could invite four people from history over for dinner who would it be?’ kind of shindig. Where some strange collection of human heavyweights sit around discussing the odd pilgrimage that is life. I wanted to sonically interpret what a cosmic intersection of such varied DNA might sound like. Except fast forward the evening past the pretense and the niceties of the appetizer course and push record as the party polishes off the last drop of an encore bottle of wine.”

Modern Plagues' 11 expansive tracks find singer / songwriter / producer / multi-instrumentalist Simpson delivering eye-opening lyrical insights and audacious verbal imagery, while displaying a freewheeling sonic sensibility that draws inspiration from a bottomless well of genres and textures. Collaborations with The Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson resulted in such out-of-the-box tunes as "Harry Potter," "Small Time Criminals," and "Zombie Heartz,” where Simpson's revealing lyrics and richly compelling soundscapes mix to create a singular, personally-charged vision of organized chaos. This extends to remarkably candid tracks like “Year of the Freakout” and “Playing God” when Simpson’s satirical observations call into question how we all cope with the turbulent times in which we live; and, more introspectively, to songs such as "Good Drugs" and "Highlight Reel" that sonically grasp, and for that matter, celebrate the fragility and ferocity of man. As the album culminates with the funky, almost playful, apocalyptic closer “40 Years,” Modern Plagues leaves no deadly sin untouched, no false idol unexposed.

"I wanted to make an immediate record, one that people would get from the first listen," asserts the Nashville-based Fort Worth native. "I was dead set on not making some kind of ‘ninja’ record, where the enjoyable bloodletting doesn't begin until the fourth listen when it sneaks up out of nowhere and cuts your throat. I wanted to make something more forthright, more honest. I've made records that are slower to blossom, and some of my favorite records are like that. But I wanted this one to jump out and make its point. I want listeners to be able to imagine and feel the spirit of a night where the air is thick with cigar smoke and opinions, brazen jokes and deep truths. With the whimsical, the mundane, and the transcendent all sharing the same bed of nails.”

Simpson's route to Modern Plagues has been an unconventional one. Prior to launching The Whistles & the Bells, he had already won substantial success as a bluegrass mandolinist, serving a seven-year, three-album stint with the acclaimed progressive-bluegrass quartet Cadillac Sky. That group was broad-minded enough to collaborate with both bluegrass icon Ricky Skaggs and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, which eventually led to an in-demand spot on Mumford and Sons’ 2010 North American Tour. Meanwhile, Simpson also carved out a lucrative sideline as a mainstream songwriter, composing hit tunes for many of today's chart-toppers.

With those achievements under his belt, a long-gestating musical and spiritual awakening pushed Simpson in a more iconoclastic direction, resulting in The Whistles & the Bells' independently released self-titled 2014 debut. That album chronicled the artist's bold reassessment of his personal and creative choices, and struck a responsive chord with those fortunate enough to hear it, winning acclaim from such notable outlets as Rolling Stone and American Songwriter.

"I don't necessarily feel like this is me, but it's a portion of me that I'm willing to unveil and explore, "Simpson notes. "I could say, 'Go listen to that Bryan Simpson record,' but that idea is just confusing to me. I don't know what Bryan Simpson sounds like, but I'm starting to understand what The Whistles & the Bells sounds like. It's more of an idea than an identity, and I had to get to a certain point in my life where I had the keys to unlock that vault."

The Whistles & The Bells' debut effort won an impressive amount of attention for an indie release, leading to Simpson's current deal with New West Records, which gave the first album a national release and set the stage for Modern Plagues.

"The first record was about spiritual transformation, and about me coming to a place of recognition of my own humanity and a better understanding of my place in the universe," Simpson says. “And as much as it has liberated me elsewhere in my life, perhaps the greatest tangible increase has been creatively. I know the record that I probably should have made. The sophomore record that would have been a much easier transition for everybody involved. But we kept asking ourselves: what record CAN we make?! If there’s a sound or an idea we hear, why not chase it? I want to continue to stir up conversations within myself, and within the people who listen to the music."

For Modern Plagues, Simpson collaborated with co-producer/engineer Eddie Spear (Judah & the Lion, Lake Street Dive, Rival Sons), and a crew of like-minded players, including his longtime cohort and former Cadillac Sky member Matt Menefee. In addition to co-writing “Year of the Freakout,” Menefee plays banjo, electric guitar, synthesizer, piano and mandocello on the album. Also contributing to the sessions are rising singer/songwriters Brooke Waggoner and Phoebe Cryar, who trade co-lead vocals with Simpson on "Supadope.” Many of the album's players will join Simpson when he takes Modern Plagues on the road.

“My cosmic dinner party might have ultimately turned out a little more like a muggy Saturday night in Coney Island with Soren Kierkegaard and Malcolm Muggeridge eating hot dogs and nervously climbing in for a second ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl only to exit 40 minutes later the best kind of woozy.” Simpson divulges while reflecting upon the finished work. “But this record is where I openly embrace the weirdness of my existence. Eleven songs, till death do us part.”
The Colour Monday
Venue Information:
Soda Bar
3615 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA, 92104