Driver Friendly - Peaks + Valleys EP
Producer: CJ Eiriksson
Release Date: June 4th, 2013
Hometown: Austin, Texas
Awaking after a long four years, 7 piece Austin outfit Driver Friendly released their Kickstarter-backed second full-length Bury a Dream in April of 2012. It bled with passion from all angles and the hard work paid off. Their Tom Hanks-inspired music video for "Messidona" caught the attention of the man himself and, more importantly, the record caught the eye of Hopeless Records, who signed them in October of that year.
Their first agenda item on their new path to success? A six-track EP that packs the biggest punch of the band's history. Pick up Peaks + Valleys but be wary... you won't put it down.
Peaks starts unleashing its havoc with "Run," a floor rattling anthem with a chorus fit to move mountains. Vocalists Tyler Welsh and Andy Lane tag-team the verses while Lane delivers the chorus: "We stared defeat down into the bottom of its soul / we put back the pieces till we felt whole." The band did their research to polish the chorus off perfectly: "...the vocals were finished after listening to a ton of Katy Perry and trying to figure out how to put a great pop vocal over our style of music," mentions Welsh. Trombonist Andy Rector and trumpeter Juan Lopez are the brass lining of the song as their blaring horns add that golden touch. The songs climactic final 30 seconds are remarkable; close your eyes and hear synergy course through the ether.
The EP rolls right along with "I Can See Canyons." Drummer Jeremi Mattern experiments with some well placed drum tracks here, while bassist Chris Walker tears through the song's crowd friendly bridge. Bass work has always been a strong point for Driver Friendly; clever off the beaten path bass lines are abundant throughout their discography. Besides his work in "Canyons," look out for Walker in the bridge of "Run" and the verses of "Messidona."
"Canyons" and "Run" showcase the EP theme of building a bridge and crossing a giant canyon with no idea what's on the other side. Welsh broke it down for me: "The bridge metaphor is something we introduced in the EP and will definitely be exploring more in depth with the full length. But to really answer the question, it’s not about “what” is on the other side. It could be a question of “who” or “where” the other side might be. Where do you want to be in a few years? Who do you want to be in the future? What dreams do you want to accomplish? The bridge doesn’t necessarily lead anywhere and really the what’s on the other side doesn’t matter, it’s about the journey of building it and trying to cross it." I look forward to the continuation of this theme on the next release.
It's no surprise that "Ghosts," which made its debut on Bury a Dream, makes a reappearance on the EP. It's the most well put together song of the band's career but clocking in at just shy of two minutes, it's a crime that it's not a bit longer. If you're lucky enough to catch the band's live performance, they've been including an epic extended intro to the song that starts the set off nicely. Its haunting mantra, "It's not death that scares us / it's the ghosts we cannot see that scares us," is only enhanced by the live sound.
It's not just "Ghosts" that translates exceptionally well live. I had the chance to see the EP performed intimately in a small venue space in Philly, and also during a downpour at the Camden Warped Tour. Lopez and Rector's horn section sounds much more pronounced during the live sets, and Tyler's frenetic stage presence is a must see. The band works well together, and their enjoyment on stage carries right into the crowd.
With seven members, a horn section, and two vocalists, there's more than enough to set Driver Friendly apart. Besides the obvious, I asked Welsh what else made them stand out as a band: "One thing about Driver Friendly that we try to emphasize in everything we do as a band, whether it's music videos, live performances, or in the songs themselves, is we try distinguish ourselves from other bands by being a source of positivity. Music should be fun, inspirational, and cathartic and listening to a lot that’s out there these days you wonder what greater purpose some artists are trying to accomplish. We really are trying to do more with a song than just merely entertain your ears, we’re trying to give you something to believe in."
"Shark Cave" possesses a certain grace in its sound coupled with a slightly darker lyric set. One of my favorite lines of the entire EP, and a good example of that positive mentality, makes its appearance in the tail end of the chorus: "I want to look with my eyes and say I am alive / when I am broken." It was my go to "bad day anthem" for quite a while. It competes with "Run" and "Let the Sun Come Up" to be the catchiest song on the EP.
Closer, "Let the Sun Come Up" almost didn't make the cut until producer CJ Eiriksson (Jack's Mannequin, The Rocket Summer, Hoobastank) pushed the band to complete it: "Our producer really felt that song could be something special and pushed us till right before we entered the studio to finalize all the parts, and it came out quite nicely. Somewhat of a departure from our normal songs," Welsh mentioned. The result is a soaring, uplifting mosaic that closes off Peaks even stronger than it began. Rector and Lopez shine yet again; they manage to offer up a captivating subtlety in every song.
Driver Friendly's music is so intricately layered, they're almost like an equipment check for your headphones or stereo. I've picked up so many subtleties in their songs, making me want to come back again and again. Play it loud and you'll hear one thing, then play it quiet and you'll pick up on something completely different. I had listened to "Let The Sun Come Up" maybe twenty times before picking up the synth and piano. Often at work, I'd listen using just one ear-phone. I then listened with the opposite ear-phone and picked up on tons of things that I was missing.
With Peaks including some tracks from Bury a Dream, I asked Welsh if they'd include some of their older tracks for their next release: "We definitely would love for our previous work to be accessible to a larger audience. Unfortunately, it's not entirely up to us for how that gets released. But we do have some plans of releasing some of our older material in a way that introduces new fans to our previous work, and lets the older fans get their hands on some great songs. That being said, we are constantly trying to improve and evolve our sound to become a better band than we are now. We want the next big full-length release to really stand on its own and be representative of where we are as a band at that moment."
Peaks + Valleys is a great re-launching point for Driver Friendly. All eyes are on them and their major label full-length debut which, if they continue their course, will be a force to be reckoned with. They have an arsenal of already polished tracks and are writing the best songs of their career with every recording session.Their energetic and refreshing tunes only get better with each listen, and the live performance is a different experience entirely.
They're not home yet, but they're certainly getting closer.
Since I'm from Houston I've been listening to these guys and seeing them perform since before Chase the White Whale came out, and I've loved everything they've put out. So excited for their next full-length. This was a great write-up too.