When Driver Friendly last left us, with 2008's Chase The White Whale, they were an up-and-coming rock band who used horns and synths in a way many of us weren't accustomed to. And lots of us dug it. Like, really dug it. But then, the sort of thing that happens post-2000 happened; they stopped making music. For lots of reasons and because of lots of things. Sad. Very sad. Yet, against the odds and against our overwhelming musical pessimism, the band is back with Bury A Dream, which officially drops April 24th. You can preorder it here, but take a look below and get a feel for what it takes for a band to overcome every hurdle imaginable. Find out what it takes to hit a wall and burst through.
AP: I guess we should start with, where the heck have you guys been since Chase the White Whale came out in 2008?
Tyler: About a year after the release of CTWW, everyone in the band seemed to be going in different directions. A lot of life changes occurred (graduation, marriage, jobs, etc.) and while CTTW did gain a lot of attention and success, we were all a little dismayed that it hadn’t taken off like we had originally envisioned. So for awhile, it wasn’t official, but we were essentially not a band, barely practicing, not really playing shows, and not writing music. It wasn’t until spring of 2011 that we all realized that something had to change, and it had to be drastic. That’s where we came up with the idea of a retreat to the mountains.
Wandy: The time spent away from CTWW was time we needed as a band. We probably could have done this record a lot sooner, but apart from graduation, careers, marriage, and even my Grand Child project, we just really needed to step back and realize what it is we really have. Within that period we wrote a bit here and there and came up with some great ideas, but it was too much thought and not enough heart. Who really wants to listen to a record when the artist has to force creativity? After we had distanced ourselves for a bit, we began to really appreciate the music and, ultimately, the fun that we have writing together. We knew this was a good thing and we needed to (again) use the tactic of stepping away from our norm, and put ourselves in a more creatively stimulating setting (The Appalachians). There we wrote the majority of this record.
Jeremi: Absence make the heart grow fonder. Sometime when you step away for a minute you learn to truly appreciate what you have. And I think all of us went through that in some sort of way.
Nathan: There was a combination of things... we all got busy, and we also got into a creative rut that made things difficult. Our process has always been to get in a room and bounce ideas around until something gains traction and we start to create something. With everyone on different schedules, energy being spent in the various places we’ve been going with our lives, a slight creative impasse as well as a general disappointment with how far we were able to go with CTWW really took a lot of the wind out of our sails. Instead of bouncing ideas around, we were banging our heads against the walls, and with all of us spending our energy on different projects, the band gradually moved to the backburner, on a simmer. With the help of some outside influence, we kinda realized what we were letting slip away. I think we did need that break to recalibrate ourselves, but with this album the band has gone from a simmer to a flambe, and I like that.
AP: Kickstarter has been a hot topic around these parts, and you guys used it to help fund Bury A Dream. What made you go this route?
Tyler: For CTWW, we were lucky enough to have a private investor that helped finance the recording and production of the album, so something like Kickstarter was not really necessary or that popular in 2007. But, when it came time to record we knew we were flat broke, and that we weren’t going to be as lucky as last time, and essentially Kickstarter was the only option. Without it, I personally don’t believe the album would have been made.
Nathan: I think Kickstarter was a wonderful resource for this project. We couldn’t have made this album without it. We could’ve made a different album. One where we had to cut every corner and bring DIY into the equation as much as humanly possible, and donate plasma or run up personal credit card debt to pay for manufacturing the CDs. Even as a band that is relatively resource heavy, with our trumpet player Juan being a recording whiz in the making, and Jeremi no slouch at the protools rig either, we couldn’t put together an album like this without any money, and we didn’t have any money. Our only other option for making this album would’ve been to find an investor, and I have to say (no slight to people who have wagered sizable sums on our future success in the past) it is much more gratifying to owe small investors an album and maybe some perks than to owe bigger investors points on the album. And frankly, it warms my heart for this album to have been executive produced by people who just want the album to happen. And I hope that by putting money in for the creation of this record, people feel more invested in and are more excited about the birth of this album.
AP: What do you see as being the pros and cons of the Kickstarter service?
Tyler: I think the pros are bands now can make an album without the help of anyone else but their fans. At then end of the day, we don’t owe a single dime of this album to anyone, and we own it 100%. Something like that is just so rare these days, so it’s really a game-changer for bands our size. Also, it allows for fans to become directly involved in the support of their favorite artists. It’s always hard to know how to directly help out your favorite indie bands these days, and with Kickstarter you know exactly where your money is going and you get prizes! The cons are at times you feel like a beggar on the streets, peddling your wares for strangers to finance your art, and in this economy, not a lot of people have extra income just laying around. But beyond that, I think the positive by far outweighs the negative.
Bandy: Once the kickstarter went up we all watched it constantly. It was really amazing to see how many people truly do believe in what you're doing. Like Tyler said things are tough out there, and our fans really stepped up to the plate to make this record possible.
Nathan: I covered this a bit in my answer to the previous question, but I think the cons are mostly on the backers’ side. Yes, there is the cut that kickstarter takes, but it is reasonable. The con is that once the minimum has been met, there’s no guarantee that the project finishes and delivers the reward to the backers. As far as this album is concerned, it was mostly pros. It allowed us to produce this album without going into debt and without ceding ownership or points of ownership to any outside parties, and there was also a kind of emotional element. Hundreds of people putting in money to help you achieve your goal, it really emboldens you and kinda gives you a moral imperative to deliver. I guess a con would be that if we hadn’t met our goal, it would be a bit of a moral blow, and that’s probably the crux of using kickstarter. I’ve seen kickstarter projects that have made me think “what????”, and with our kickstarter we weren’t sure where exactly we could set the bar. We debated and wavered over what to set our goal, and when we not only met but exceeded our original goal.... damn, it felt good. We can make a fantastic album with this budget, and people who believe in us have opted to give us this money with no guarantee for any return on their investment. I owe them all a hug on request at any time, and I am happy to deliver.
AP: When you saw that so many people donated over $6,000 to help you, did that add any more pressure to the act of writing and recording?
Tyler: I don’t think any pressure was added after we got funded, in fact it was really inspiring. We were all just like, “Wow, people actually remember who we are, and have donated all this money to help us realize this dream!” At that moment it became more than 7 dudes making some album, it was now 100+ people all across the world who collectively were working together to make this happen. It just made us that much more determined to make the best album we could create.
Jeremi: If there was any pressure it was on the way to the cabin to write the album in June. We told ourselves as long as we write at least one song at the cabin we’ll be happy but deep down I think we all really wanted an album. So after the album was written getting the Kickstarter money was just part of the album’s natural progression and there was no way we weren't going to make a new record.
Bandy: We’ve spent enough time in the studio, and worked enough with Jim Vollentine, that we don’t worry too much about the recording process. The key was to write the songs we wanted to write, then just go to the studio and let Jim make it great.
AP: What was the recording process like for Bury A Dream? After so much time off, and with so many members, did it take a while to find your musical footing again?
Tyler: I think recording this time around was so effortless, mainly due to the fact from the time we wrote and demoed the songs to the actual time we were in the studio, was about three months. Which, for us, is a record. CTTW was written and recorded over the period of two years and was almost exhausting to finish. For me personally, I feel we were so prepared and focused it all was a smooth process.
Wandy: Everything was so quick and effortless this time around. The songs were there and Jim was on board 100%. I don’t even recall a moment that any of us were stressed in the studio. We all have been on the same page with so much recently that the vision of what we wanted the record to sound like was completely mutual. We want it to not sound too huge, but be thin and rocking. We wanted to incorporate delay as a sprinkle but not so much that it was entirely noticeable. We also wanted the album flow to get across the theme of the record, but still highlight the singles. For the degree we wanted, all of these were achieved.
AP: What kind of significance did going back to your old name, Driver Friendly, mean to you?
Tyler: The name change originally was an effort on our part to avoid lawsuits back in 2006. So when you have to change something important as your own name and not on your own terms, it always left a sour taste in my mouth. Last March, when we started getting back together and motivated to do the band full time again, the name change was the first thing we wanted to do, to really take ownership of the band and feel like we were controlling our destiny this time around. But honestly, people can call us whatever they want, Driver F or Driver Friendly, just call us.
AP: Jim Vollentine has produced for some of the biggest names in Texas rock music (Spoon, Old 97s, Trail of Dead). How did he help you guys find and expand your sound?
Tyler: Jim has worked with us from our first EP, and each album we have done with him he finds different ways of pushing our sound in different directions we never would have gotten to without his guidance. From the moment he heard the demos for Bury A Dream, he approached us with the idea of keeping everything as simple as possible so all the parts of a song could really shine. Jim is best when he makes us realize when to pull back on the reins rather than go crazy experimenting with unnecessary production ideas that don’t enhance the song.
Jeremi: When making a record, Jim has great vision on what he wants an album to be. From listening to demos he’ll find the sound he wants to push the album towards and he’s always spot on.
Juan: When we returned from the cabin, Jim and I spoke for hours about how to approach the recording of the album. We knew everything would sort of fall in place on its own because of the songwriting and experience we have had together in the studio. Being one of the horn players in the band, we mostly discussed the interaction of the horns and guitars on the album. We knew it could get tricky with this record, but the addition of another guitar player made the approach to the horn sound easier. On CTWW, Jim suggested the horns take the role of a 2nd guitar. This resulted in the horns playing more melodic lines and sometimes doubling guitar parts. On Bury A Dream, there was a slight shift in the role of the horns. A 2nd guitar was added, and the horn parts were in a way set in their own space creating tension and chiming in when needed. Jim has always pushed us to keep things simple and lean towards the idea of “less is more.”
Nathan: Jim has had a huge influence on us since the Not Home Yet EP. Our writing reflects his influence, and we wouldn’t be the band we are today without him.
AP: What would you say was Vollentine's biggest contribution?
Tyler: I think Jim’s biggest contribution would be the idea of trying to get a really hi-fi feel to the record, but at the same time making a dirty, indie-rock album. Also, to really push what we could do with two guitars and essentially be a better rock band.
Juan: Jim’s ability to not get burned out and stay positive was a great contribution. He always kept the session moving along in a positive way, even after several 12 hour days.
Nathan: Jim is a master. He’s phenomenal as a guy to inspect your song craft, and he knows exactly how to record your stuff like it needs to be recorded. There is nobody who I’d rather work with.
AP: Being part of the Austin music scene must be very inspirational. What do you think makes the town so forward-thinking and helpful for fledgling bands?
Tyler: Austin is such a progressive community in general I think it provides numerous outlets and opportunities for creative individuals to really produce awesome things whether that be film, art, photography, or music.
Bandy: We love Austin, but she can be a tough city. It is exciting to start playing again, especially since things have changed so much in the industry since our last big push. We’re just hoping she’ll have us back.
Nathan: I love Austin, but I’m not so sure how much of a part of Austin music we’ve been. If we’re being lumped in the “pop-punk” category (as I think we have), I’m not so sure we’re getting any Austin love.
AP: Can you talk about some of the overarching lyrical themes of the record? Obviously the line that the album's title is taken from must hold some significance ("Bury a dream / Watch it grow"), but what else guided the lyrical process?
Tyler: Lyrically, this album is probably the darkest we’ve ever done, but if you really take the time to listen you can see the hope within it. I wrote lyrics for CTTW when I was between the ages of 18-20 and a lot of things change as you get older. The concept of death became a topic I really started to focus on. For the first time in my life, I lost close family members and also thought I was witnessing the slow death of the band. I think my faith was challenged and I really had to meditate on what all this meant to me. It occurred to me that dreams do die and that there is this constant struggle (whether it’s when you are awake or sleeping) to keep them alive. These lyrics represent that struggle to always be fighting those doubts, nightmares, and visions but to also know it’s in the struggle that you are truly alive. To not be afraid of the end and to embrace the doubt, overcome the fear and get on with living. Dreams do die, but sometimes they grow back as something more beautiful than you could have ever conceived.
AP: As a band who basically came back from the brink of collapse, what do you think is the most important quality necessary to stick it out?
Tyler: We’ve been a band for nearly ten years now, and we have seen a lot of bands come and go. I think the most important thing for bands to stay together is to always believe in what you are doing, and to be doing it for the right reasons. I think for awhile we were misguided in our intentions and we lost the purpose in what we were doing and our personal relationships suffered from that. But, ever since we realized we should be doing this because we believe in writing honest music, it’s been a whole new experience.
Jeremi: Honesty and friendship.
Bandy: What Jeremi said, i can’t imagine being in a band with people that I wasn’t as close to as these 6 guys.
Nathan: Believing and enjoying what you do.
AP: Just getting hypothetical for a moment: When you sit your grandchildren on your knee on some rickety old porch 50 years from now, what will you tell them about Driver Friendly?
Tyler: I’m going to tell them that Driver Friendly was the time in my life when I was able to be with six of my best friends doing something few people ever get to do, create music and share it with people all across the world. And hopefully, this will segue into the story of how we made our first platinum record.