Colorado-based rockers Rose Hill Drive –- featuring guitarist and vocalist Jake Sproul, lead guitarist Daniel Sproul, bassist Jimmy Stofer and drummer Nate Barnes -- released their third album, Americana, on July 12 via their own label, Slow and Shirley Records.
The album is the band's first as a quartet; when they returned to the stage in June 2010 after a 17-month hiatus, Stofer had joined the band, allowing Jake -- the former frontman/bassist -- to switch to the six-string.
The result? The band says their writing, recording and performing processes have never been so fruitful. And these guys are having a great time making music.
I spoke to the band before their recent show at Classic Park in Eastlake, Ohio, a quiet city 20 miles east of Cleveland. They opened for Stone Temple Pilots, with whom they’ve been touring throughout the summer.
So that last year has been really good to you guys, since you got back together. Let’s talk about the new album and how that got started. How about the name, Americana? What were you guys trying to do with this album?
DANIEL SPROUL: We were trying to get into old school rock with a new feel. We just wanted to make the best music we could possibly make in our favorite genre. And we added a member, Jimmy, on bass. And music sucked without bass.
How has the transition gone, going from the trio setup to bringing in the fourth guy?
D. SPROUL: It’s a lot easier to play.
NATE BARNES: When we did the last album, we sort of just got creative in the studio and ended up with this album that was kind of hard to play as a three-piece. It was always kind of a frustrating aspect, so it just made sense. If we’re going to write and record four-piece music, we should be a four-piece. And just playing live, it adds a whole new element. Jake was frontmanning and playing bass, so he was always kind of detached. So we would just have a locked rhythm section. To me it’s cool, because it’s hard to play off someone and make eye contact when they’re singing into the mic with their back turned to you.
I’m sure it had an effect on lead guitar. Did it help expand what you were doing, Dan?
D. SPROUL: Totally. I always felt like I was a part of the rhythm section. And that’s cool in a three-piece when you can make those sounds with three guys. But it’s limiting. I want to be able to have parts in a tune when I’m not even playing, so that I can play something that really means something, as opposed to just hammering away at the rhythm. It’s awesome. Finding Jimmy in particular, the chemistry was so immediate. It’s something you can’t really plan. It’s divine.
So how did that translate to this album? How about in terms of the lead guitar on Americana?
D. SPROUL: I love it. I’m doing a lot more with pedals. I used to just be a purist in a way. Just an amp and a signal boost and that’s it. Now I’m starting to experiment with a whammy pedal and more reverb - just different ways of recording. It eliminates the inside-of-the-box stuff we were trying to escape. Without even trying, it just happened. Everything was completely changed.
BARNES: And sonically too. When we went in to mix this record, we were all really involved in the mixing process from start to finish. And sonically, there was the way things were sitting with Daniel taking on more of a lead role and Jake playing rhythm. On the last record, we kind of had these “wall of sound” guitars and it was harder to get everything to sound big, just because of the nature of the parts. And now, just part-wise, sonically, I feel like this just sort of opens things up and everything has it own space to sit in. And it was a lot easier to mix. It all gels together. You don’t have to take anything out to make room for other parts.
And it definitely sounds like it on the album. How has it been going for you, Jimmy?
JIMMY STOFER: It’s been amazing. Early on, there was a lot of chemistry and it felt right. And the album too – I’ve never been a part of an album that’s had a really cohesive vibe and a feel to it. There’s a certain energy with it throughout every song. It’s not just a collection of tunes. It’s been great. I feel like we’ve been playing for years.
D. SPROUL: It feels like you’ve been here the whole time.
It sounds good from the audience’s end of things. Was the writing process different, compared to the last two albums? Did you guys approach this one differently with the fourth person?
D. SPROUL: Definitely. It was very collaborative. Taking that break, there was a bunch of creative energy that just got stored up and it just exploded when we started writing and writing and writing. We recorded about 60 songs. And we’ve never done that before. It used to be: Record 14 or 15, and 12 made the cut. This time there was just a plethora of creativity. We got to pick the cream of the crop. To me, that was probably the biggest thing that provided the fruits for the record. It was a year of just writing songs and recording.
BARNES: It was very evolutionary. It wasn’t like we did these 60 tunes and then asked, “What’s the best out of this whole group?” We picked out of the last 20 that we wrote and the earlier 40 were almost just like us finding our new vibe and new sound as a band with a new member.
SROFER: It’s funny, considering each little section. We’d go in and do a few songs here, a few songs there and each section would have its own sound. And eventually, we’d say, “That’s it. That’s what we want.”
The whole album really does sound cohesive. But there are a lot of different sounds you guys were exploring. From one song to the next, if you take them one by one, they do sound different in a good way. The cohesiveness is definitely there, but it’s just awesome that you can go from the beginning of the album and by the end so many sounds have come up. It sounds like the writing process went real well.
JAKE SPROUL: It’s good too, because with the three-piece we were focused on trying to make it sound like three-piece music. With this, we opened up. We were trying to explore just what the possibilities were. I think it has a more modern feel in that sense, as opposed to doing the throwback thing. It sounds like old school rock and roll, but I think that it’s definitely our take on that. And we like that better. It’s not just us mimicking some genre.
I see where you’re coming from. With the first two albums, there was that power trio vibe. But now it seems like you guys are really coming into your own with this one. It’s really cool. One of the unique features of that is the new record label. Could you talk about that?
J. SPROUL: It’s crazy, because you don’t really need a record label these days, unless they’re going to team up with you.
BARNES: They’ve got to put a lot of resources into you.
J. SPROUL: And, understandably, the resources aren’t what they used to be. I think that just being able to release it on our own and have the backing and the help that we have just makes the most sense. It’s so easy to get music out these days. And if it’s going to be popular, people are going to hear about it. With social networking and the Internet, it seemed so timely. We can record the album and put it out really close together, as opposed to waiting six months.
BARNES: We have a bunch of tunes that we want to release from the batch. And we want to do that sooner – and we can.
J. SPROUL: Yeah, no one’s going to say, “Well, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
STOFER: It was pretty funny how fast it happened. It was one phone conversation. We were sitting there, saying “OK, we have this album. What labels are interested?” By the end of the conversation, we decided, “Why don’t we just release this? Do we want to start a label? Yeah! What are we going to call it?” And Jake said, “Slow and Shirley.” “Done!”
BARNES: It’s cool to just call all of the shots and to be able to inject our vibe and the way we like to do things into the side of releasing and making music videos and things like that. It just feels good, rather than have some label rep there who demands to give opinions and decide what songs are going to be on the record. We have the freedom to call our own shots and just record an album and release it when we feel like it. As a band, we’ve always been a little bit ahead of our release schedule creatively. By the time that last two records came out, we were already onto the next thing and it made it tough to go play songs that we had already been playing for seven or eight months before the record came out. We’ve been trying them out on the road before we record them. And then we record them and it could be six to nine months from the time we wrote the tune to the time the record comes out. And then we have to a nine-month tour to support it and, for us, that’s just ridiculous.
D. SPROUL: It’s not the speed of creativity at all. Not even close
BARNES: We recorded it at the same studio that we did the last record. One of our business partners owns it, so it was just there for us. It just made sense. If we could go in and make whatever kind of music we want to make, why not just release it when we want to release it?
And with the Internet you can just post music all the time.
Barnes: Yeah, we can throw a couple new singles up on Bandcamp. The possibilities are limitless. These days, with digital distribution being the main thing, it’s so much easier for a group like us to do a worldwide digital release and we’re not a big label. We don’t have a ton of resources. We’re just six guys, basically. So that’s kind of the exiting part. And we just released a music video and we’re working on another one. And we’re just going to try to keep pumping out content as we see fit.
So with the recent release of this latest album, what are you guys trying to do with your sets these days?
BARNES: Most of these STP shows are 45-minute sets. There are a couple songs from the older stuff. But it’s going to be a lot of the newer songs now that we have that CD out and we can sell it at shows. That’s kind of the way we’ve been. We always want to play the latest stuff.
D. SPROUL: On the last album, right when we started touring behind them, we were already playing the next songs. It’s really fun to be able to go out and play and it still feels fresh.
J. SPROUL: We’ve been kind of talking in general about how refreshing it is for not only us, but also for people who follow us – people who follow bands in general – to see that they’re trying to push the envelope creatively and business-wise. There’s creativity in the business area and musically. With DIY releasing and marketing, well, thank God for the Internet. Also, there’s so much stuff you can do at the speed of light, basically. It’s creating a whole new model and I think people are getting bored of the old ways of doing things. That’s just our path through the last century and into this century. Things just change when they have to. And right now, the only thing that’s not changing is the record labels. And I think our band has seen that. We started at the beginning of the decline of record labels and we saw that firsthand. And thank God we didn’t sign with the majors in the beginning. That would have fucked us. We would have been mentally too tired to do anything.
I’m sure that that kind of platform keeps you creatively limber and fresh. Do you guys generate a lot of ideas on the road – crafting jam sessions with new ideas frequently?
J. SPROUL: It’s kind of all-around. I think it just depends on where everybody clicks. Sometimes, it’ll be someone’s idea or sometimes it’ll be someone’s jam. What Dan writes can turn into a brainstorm session. And that could be new business ideas or really anything.
STOFER: What’s fun is that nowadays, you can be creative in so many different ways. That’s especially true because we could control how and when the music is released. We just shot a video ourselves on iPhones. That, to us, was a way of being creative. That’s one of ten different ways this band can be creative. Obviously the music’s the most important thing. But it’s fun with all these different avenues of finding ideas. It brings forth new ways of being creative about it.
So with the new album, and your new sounds in general, what kind of gear are you guys working with? What kind of guitars do you use?
D. SPROUL: I play Gibson Les Pauls. I’ve got a couple different models. Jake and I are both playing the new Hand-Wired Vox Amplifiers, which are just amazing. They’re so sick. They’re club-friendly too. Or you can blast them wide open, like in these situations.
You mentioned exploring new sounds with pedals. Any favorites?
D. SPROUL: I feel like I’m 20 years too late on discovering the whammy pedal.J. SPROUL: You play it so well though, dude.D. SPROUL: Playing with that has been great, because it’s like playing two instruments at once. It’s really cool. And I love my Holy Grail reverb and Memory Man Deluxe. Those things are so versatile. And they don’t make this kind anymore, so it’s kind of a little treasure. The most important pedal I’ve got going is the Bad Bob.One of the things that really stood out to me in the album is catching all of those different tones and effects. Were there any big, standout moments to you? What kind of sections of the album really stood out to you as “Aha!” moments?J. SPROUL: I think the solo on “Telepathic” is great. That song was the last song we did. Our engineer wanted some more material and we pulled this idea out. And out of nowhere, that solo shows up at the end. It was supposed to be fade-out material, but it was like, “God damn, we’ve got to keep this whole thing.”BARNES: We doubled the electronic kick and added some 909 claps. It was really effective. We set up the drums in a big room in the back. It was a big, roomy, out-of-control setup. We blended the electronic drum sounds with the big vintage, roomy sounds. That’s how that big, whacky drum sound came about. STOFER: I think “Americana” was a big song for me. It was the first one we tracked out of all of them. We were messing around with all of these sounds in a new way. BARNES: That setup was something that we always wanted to do. Listening back, we were like, “This is the sound of the album.”Any last comments on the new stuff?J. SPROUL: Something that was really cool was that sometimes we would be really meticulous about the sound and sometimes, the more you didn’t give a fuck, the more you wanted to just roll with it. It was kind of a lesson for all of us. With the guitars and everything, you kind of move it until you think that there’s a vibe. You don’t need to stress out about trying to get the majestic sound from rock past. You can just go with the flow. And sometimes the most fucked up sounds are the coolest. D. SPROUL: We did a lot of experimentation with just going directly into the pre-amp and into the board - just overdriving it, like on “Psychoanalyst.” That guitar sound is going straight into the board. It’s like The Beatles did on “Revolution.” There’s that tight rhythm with the nasty distortion. That’s one of my favorite things. It’s right in your face. It’s smooth, but nasty. BARNES: And you can control it. There’s room for other sounds. D. SPROUL: On “Telepathic,” we mic’ed the amp and sent it through the 6176 pre-amp and cranked that. It’s amp distortion and a little bit of that extra fuzz on top. I think that’s my favorite sound.Americana, the new album by Rose Hill Drive, was released July 12 on Slow and Shirley Records.