Novels, Tropics, and Rock & Roll, a conversation with rock band The Amends
Rock and roll is far from an extinct music species. Four piece rock group The Amends is keeping the genre alive and well, with two hard-hitting, full length albums, an infectiously fun EP, and an innovative new project that promises to change the way people experience rock and roll. After releasing their albums, EPs, and touring the states, multi instrumentalist Tyler Taylor journeyed around Central America, and wrote a serialized novel project about his experiences, and regrouped with The Amends to score the adventure narrative with eight brand new tunes to be released in tandem with the chapters of the story, The Ruins of Tropicalia.
The Amends is comprised of Drew Weikart (lead guitar, vocals), Chris Childress (bass), Shay Byington (drums), and Taylor (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and is based in Boulder, Colorado. New songs will be available every week starting the 24th, as well as installments of The Ruins of Tropicalia. Check both the band’s website and the novel main page for updates of music and mystery.
I got the chance to contact Taylor and Weikart about the band, the fiction project, and their thoughts on music and general. Enjoy this rocking interview!
How did you guys get started and what drew you to rock and roll?
TYLER: Drew and I met each other through our job in Boulder about four years ago. At the time, we were both smokers and on cigarette breaks we’d talk about music. We both had been in musical projects in the past, and wanted to do something bigger and more focused.
DREW: I went over to Tyler’s house and we started jamming. A couple songs, including “Dance”, from our first record, came out of that first session. I already knew Shay. He was in music school in Boulder. Chris came later, after our first bassist left to focus on school. Chris is the best “pure” musician of all of us. As for what drew me to rock n roll… I don’t think I ever had much of a choice. Rock and blues. It was always the style I was most in tune with. It’s what I learned how to play because it’s what I felt like I should be playing.
TYLER: I bet he wanted to say, “rock and roll was drawn to him” [he laughs]. I’m joking, but there’s a little truth there. Drew is one of the best rock guitarists I’ve ever seen, and certainly ever played with. He and I have different styles—I’m more on the indie rock spectrum, and he’s more the classic rock/blues style, but that’s why we work well together. Combining different styles into something that may be new and fresh.
What’s your usual songwriting process, and how has it changed since writing what appears to be a soundtrack for an innovative novel project?
DREW: When we first started, I would bring a song to the group and teach it to them, and then flesh it out a bit as a group. And Tyler would do the same thing. We both had our own, individual songs. But towards the end of our first album, we began to write more collaboratively. And things began to gel more that way. Our first album was a bit schizophrenic (and rushed). We hadn’t figured out our sound yet. When we started writing together and combining our different influences, that’s when it happened.
TYLER: Drew’s right. That process has necessarily changed a bit for The Ruins of Tropicalia. At least lyric-wise. Since I was the one who had been on the trip south, and who was writing most of the book, I was the one who had an idea of what the songs should say. But we wrote the music together collaboratively again. I’m not sure we ever talked about this before, but in the past, we would occasionally have a very… unique way of writing lyrics. As we were writing a song together at band rehearsal, Drew would start singing gibberish to find the melody. He’s the best at that. He can sing complete nonsense words that actually repeat and rhyme, in order to build a melody. So often, I would record that gibberish and take it and write actual words to it—based on the rhythms and cadences he had already established. It was usually a fun challenge. It gave me parameters—a box whose lines I needed to stay within.
And the funniest, most surprising part is when there are keeper lines from the stuff Drew made up from the top of his head. “I’ll make it up when she’s gone” from our last album is like that, and even parts of “Hotel Lobby”—“I’m in the hotel lobby, holding off the weight of the world”. All that was made up on the spot and then songs build around them. That happens very often actually.
Can you explain The Ruins of Tropicalia? What genre would you put it in, and how was the experience of writing a novel with rock accompaniment?
TYLER: “The Ruins of Tropicalia” is a literary, serialized adventure story, accompanied by our music. It’s a blend of prose, music, and some other hidden elements as well. We’ll be releasing two chapters per week, and one new song per week, starting on June 24th. Although inspired by a trip I recently took to Central America, the story evolves into something much bigger and stranger than a simple travelogue. You’ll see that by the end of the first chapter. The music is meant to evoke and add to some of the themes explored in the book. The first single we’re releasing is called “Reappear” and it’s about a mass disappearance that affects all the people involved in the TROT story. The writing experience for me was an odd combination of solitude and collaboration. The writing of the story was mostly me locked in a room, writing for hours at a time. But the music, as always, was collaborative. It was a bit complicated to balance at first, but in the end it was refreshing. Whenever I’d get burned out on one element, I could return to the other.
In Europe, where I’m based, the focus is more on electronic music. The one time I went to Boulder, I got the sense that instrumentalism was still highly important to the scene. How has your reception been inside and outside the States, and where do you place yourselves in the current atmosphere and industry?
TYLER: It’s true that instrumentalism is still highly valued in Colorado. But then again, Diplo was the main draw/headliner for a music festival in Denver this past weekend. So make no mistake, that EDM etc., is getting big here, too. Boulder is often called “the Boulder bubble”—insulated from the reality of much of the rest of the world. And as such, the kind of music that’s popular in Boulder isn’t necessarily popular in many other places. There are a lot of jam and reggae bands there. We’re not a jam band, but we do share the love of playing natural (or as natural as an electric guitar gets) instruments. Although I do appreciate a lot about electronic music. Although not fully electronic, Radiohead and LCD Soundsystem are two of my absolute all-time favorite bands.
DREW: With the exception of Jack White and the Black Keys, and to a certain extent, bands like Cage The Elephant, rock n roll is not the most popular genre right now. There are still big bands out there, but few of them are young or new. We like to think we’re doing our duties to do our best to help bring rock n roll back to the top.
Why did you guys choose to release songs digitally and not all at once as an album?
TYLER: It was the natural choice once I decided to serialize the book. That way we could release the songs that went along with certain parts of the book at the right time. And hopefully, it will keep people immersed in it.
What albums, bands, or songs, have stayed with you as musicians and as music lovers?
TYLER: My all-time favorite artists, in some particular order are Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, The Beatles, Modest Mouse, and Jack White. Very little of that ends up super-directly influencing me. What a lot of my favorites have in common is that at some point they all blew my minds with showing me what music could be—how it could expand and explode out of its usually defined roles.
DREW: My influences are usually more on the blues and classic rock side. Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, The Stones, et cetera.
And what do you and the guys listen to, to be inspired?
TYLER: Pretty much the same as above. But I can be inspired by all types of music. Sometimes I’m careful about listening too much to favorite bands when writing music though, so that I don’t start subconsciously ripping something off.
How did you come up with the 11th greatest rock band thing (they say, “Striving to be your 11th favorite rock n roll band” on their website)?
TYLER: We’re ambitious, but not delusional [he laughs]. We’d like you to like us, but we won’t ask you to replace your Top 10 favorites with us.
Do you guys have any pre-show rituals, or plan on utilizing Tropicalia in your live performance?
DREW: We don’t have many pre-show rituals except for maybe a drink to calm our nerves. We’re still a little nervous each time we play, and I’m not sure that will ever go away.
TYLER: Once TROT’s run is over we plan on playing several live shows, with a good possibility of another tour. We know which songs from the new set are our favorites, but we’ll also see which ones resonate most with our fans, and which are most conducive to playing live.
I know this one’s a cheesy one, but I have to ask; what does rock and roll mean to you?
TYLER: I know what rock n roll used to mean, or at least the promise it held. It used to promise freedom and the possibility of revolution. Personal freedom, societal freedom, breaking norms, all of that. Over time, as it’s become an ingrained part of the pop culture, it’s lost a bit of that. I’m always trying to find new ways to bring that feeling back. Actually, I explore that a lot in the book portion of TROT—what rock n roll means to me, where my place in it is, and how I can create/say something new. That’s where TROT comes in. By blending true events, prose, and music, I’m trying to make something new.
DREW: It’s still about freedom for me. I’m happiest when I’m playing. It’s a release from all the other distractions of life. It just feels right. It feels like it’s what I should be doing.
After speaking with Tyler and Drew, I got a chance to listen to “Reappear,” a song off their new set of releases. For those who dig an old school rock sound, this is quite an awesome tune, filled with heavy rhythmic instrumentation, classically rough and powerful vocals, and garage-thrash guitars. Overall, a triumph of The Amends’ particular brand of resurgent rock and roll. As well, I was able to preview some of the story, and the writing is enigmatic and fun, the perfect accompaniment to many listens of “Reappear.” Taylor, who stayed in contact after the interview, was able to answer a few more lingering questions I wanted to ask.
How did you get the name The Amends?
We had been trying out multiple names for a long time. We played our first few shows without a name. Every time we’d find a name that we all agreed on, we’d do some research and find out it was already taken. My favorite name we almost chose was “Claptrap”.
We could have just thrown some random words together that sounded cool, but we wanted to make something that could have some meaning. I don’t remember who came up with “The Amends” as a possibility, but we all agreed on it. Some of the subject matter of our early songs was “apologetic” in nature. But I like its use as a verb more. Basically it means “to change”. And that’s what we always try to do. Case in point being the fact that instead of a third album, we wrote some songs and a book and tied them together in hopefully a new way.
Any chance of making it to other continents in the world? Where would you guys tour if you could, or where do you plan on taking your music?
I would love to. Europe is an ideal place to tour as a band. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent there personally in the past. I spent a lot of time in the UK, and I’ve been to France, Italy, and a brief stay in Spain. I would love to explore more, and if it’s as a touring band, all the better. I would also love to tour South America, because there is a rather surprisingly big rock n roll fandom there.
What are the main differences for you between indie rock and rock and roll, and how do you combine the elements?
I realize the term “indie rock” has become muddled and it means different things to different people. To me, it’s become a certain style or type of rock n roll. Originally, it described the sound of various bands in the 80s and 90s who were truly independent, surviving and thriving outside of the purview of major labels. Today, the term is applied to bands who share that sound, but who aren’t necessarily independent.
I think we incorporate elements of both definitions, or at least try to. Throughout our four-year existence, we’ve done most everything on our own, independently. And we also incorporate the sound of those indie bands into our own mix, which also combines blues, classic rock, and alternative styles.
Why do you think rock and roll isn’t as popular as it once was?
Hard to say. Part of it may be just the usual generational shift in interest—seeking out different interests than your parents. But some of it is also from a shift in general culture and lifestyle. Electronic music has become an appropriate soundtrack for the faster-paced, pulsing lifestyle that 21st-century technology has brought about. Many of our lives are driven by computers, so why shouldn’t the music?
I have nothing against electronic/EDM music. I like a lot of it. But rock n roll speaks to me in a way that EDM doesn’t. It just feels right to me. It feels free, like it can go anywhere, and surprise you in more ways than a beat-drop. Rock n roll is in a lull period right now, but I know it will come back, in some form or another.
The first song on the collection of eight rock tunes came out June 25th, a new one set to be released every week until the full album is available online. And The Ruins of Tropicalia will be releasing chapters on the same schedule more or less until audiences have received the full narrative, which promises to be as epic as their rock and roll.