One of 2012's best kept secrets was Gulfport, MS's Rosco Bandana. The group, which released full-length debut Time to Begin, on Hard Rock Records in September of last year, are currently touring in support of that album. The band recently stopped by Orlando's Downtown Food and Wine Festival for an hour-long set (A review is forthcoming). After the set, principal songwriter/vocalist/guitarist and founding member Jason Sanford sat down to talk at length about the band's roots, the Hard Rock connection and how it all came together.
That was a pretty strong set. I think that was the entire album from start to finish and two extras?
Thanks, man. Yeah. We actually have about three hours worth of original material that we could play. We have a lot of songs. The last two, "Tempest," and "Under the Gun," were not on the record, but we recorded them when we made the album. Our producer just felt like we should save them for later.
The producer was Greg Collins, right?
Describe what that was like working with him. He's such a big name who has worked with a ton of people and he has a really good sense of how to separate things?
He does, he does. He's a great director, good to work with. He wanted to keep the flavor and tone that Rosco started with and help guide us more, ya know? And he took our sound and helped us understand, I guess how to really make a song pop. It was an honor to work with him.
That was not your decision though?
No, that was definitely Hard Rock.
I was going to say, if it were up to you it would probably be someone like Jeff Mangum?
Yeah, absolutely. His songs are magical, man. God. I've been a Nuetral Milk fan for about eight years. I actually tried to start a Neutral Milk cover band, a tribute band back in my hometown.
I can't imagine that would go over well in Gulfport though.
No. Not at all. I mean, where we're from man. It's mostly cover bands. There are not any original bands. So that would've been something.
You just alluded to having three hours worth of material. And the set itself was strong enough to point to the fact that this Rosco thing obviously didn't come over night. So how long have you guys been doing this?
Well I've been writing for about eight years. It was when I picked up Elliott Smith, and Neutral Milk Hotel that I started diving into songwriting.
Those are the kinds of records that make you think, huh?
Yeah, exactly. It just really started speaking to me and getting stuff out of me. And I was going through, I guess what you would call your first real big break-up. And you hate everything, and I just started picking up the guitar and getting it out.
You grew up playing the guitar?
o. I didn't. I started playing when I was 18.
You started late.
Yeah, I did.
And despite starting late, you've got a pretty good album to your name.
Yeah. <laughter> I guess we do.
You're too humble for that. You'll probably give credit to God and deflect the praise.
<laughter> Yeah, God, sure man, absolutely.
I bring that up because its widely documented that you grew up in a religious background. And often times musicians who grow up in that environment want to leave, and despite that, they'll find a way to stay rooted to it.
Yeah, you're right, absolutely. I mean it's still in me. I really like to keep Saturdays as a day of Sabbath. I try and make it a day of rest.
So no going out on the town or staying out late?
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, man. I definitely take from that, from how I grew up and what I've experienced and my parents influence. And growing up with them, I was Baptist, then I was Methodist, then I thought about being Catholic. And then I fell out of the church, and I'm not hating on it. I love everyone. So anyway, I tried to chart my own course, and around that time 18 or 19 when I started to find myself and become comfortable in my own skin and music pushed those boundaries and helped me. I mean any time you play and get in front of somebody, you're putting yourself out there, and throwing yourself. And ya know, people are mean
So how much of the songwriting is personal and how much is built upon broader-based themes?
I mean most of my writing is very personal, and just kinda relating stuff that happened to me . Or some of its a prayer, where I'm just trying to put myself in that place and look back on it.
So from the live set it appears you guys have been doing this awhile, what's the back story behind all of this?
I guess it started with me playing open mics. I was trying to promote culture through my art. I had just gotten into Elliott Smith and Wilco, Neutral Milk and Bright Eyes, and I was just trying to channel some of that.
That sounds like the kind of thing that might go over better in Brooklyn that in Gulfport.
<laughter> Yeah, exactly. And we got a band together. It was just five of us. I'm sure you can find clips of us on YouTube or somewhere on the Internet. But it wasn't the same seven that it is today. Our drummer Barry [Prebyl Jr.] was playing the cajon and a lot of hand drums. It was different from what it is now. But we had two songs, and those songs were what we used when we entered the Hard Rock contest.
So explain that, how does your band go from being in the Hard Rock Rising contest of 12,000 bands to being the lucky winner?
Man, I don't even know. I mean I guess it started when I was gardening. Some of the people I gardened for were these little old ladies, because I like hearing their stories and I like people and I needed some side income cause I was also working at a coffeeshop at the time. And there was this woman named Miss Jones and she kept telling me to take a shot and try playing at the Hard Rock Battle of the Bands in Biloxi. So I took those two songs and because of Miss Jones, I gave it a shot. And then it just went from there. I don't even know how. We won in Biloxi, and then went to the next stage and won that region, and then because of online voting and Facebook, the whole Mississippi coast got behind us, and I don't know. Somehow we ended up in Hyde Park, London as part of the 40th anniversary of Hard Rock, and yeah, it's just crazy.
That must have been pretty surreal.
Yeah man, it was. I mean we came back and it was six months afterwards and we were like 'well that was fun. I guess we can use that as a building block. We won.' And then James [Buell, co-director of A&R for Hard Rock Records] called and said that he wanted us to be on the label. And by that time, I want to say it was 2011, we were interchanging players. You know how it goes. So we brought in Jackson [Weldon] on bass and I brought in Patrick [Mooney] on lead guitar. I knew him from my childhood, and I knew he had a real knack for songwriting. Actually, Barry, who started this with me, is a friend of mine from middle school. So he's a family friend too.
So is the whole band connected through family friends?
Yeah. All seven of us actually. We're all interconnected through our families in some way or another.
Having your name attached to the Hard Rock brand must be pretty never-wracking. I mean they are an iconic name in music. What exactly was that like?
Oh gosh, yeah. That was the hardest part. I mean, we were the first band signed, so there was that pressure. I mean, recording was interesting. I was caught between two whirlwinds. Greg wanted the album one way and the label wanted it another.
And you knew it had to be perfection or close to it because this is Hard Rock after all.
Yeah exactly. I mean I feel like I've gotten pretty good at meshing and compromising. And he [Collins] is the professional, not me, so I let him guide the way, ya know. I feel like most of the songs stayed true to the original idea. We made some shorter. I think only about four of the ten songs had 60 seconds taken off. I mean we write short songs. I'm fine with the way they are.
You were the first band signed to Hard Rock Records? Is it just you, or are there others?
Yeah, we were the first. But now there's a band called Flashlights. They're actually from here in Florida, and a band called Hey Monea, they're from Ohio. And those are the three bands on the label right now. But we were the first. <laughter>.
I mean to ask this earlier, whose idea was it to record the Blur cover "Tender."
That was all Greg. I mean we obviously know Blur and are familiar with them, but I can't say that's the kind of band we are. So it was pretty cool to be able to put our own spin on it.
You had mentioned before that you have a ton of material for another album. Any idea when that will see the light of day?
Yeah, I don't know. I'm always writing. I have a side project. It's a bit more jazzy and abstract. I figure that might be a good way to keep the creativity flowing and make some money on the side. I sort of need that outlet. It's really a breath of fresh air to be able to play those two new songs today and just play new material. You play the album so much, it's just nice to be able to do something different. We have a one-year contract with Hard Rock, so we'll be touring until September and then we'll take it from there. Hard Rock has been really great to us. They gave us a great booking agent, New Frontier Touring. They've been a huge asset.
So the album came out last September and you guys have been on the go non-stop and straight on through to September of this year. Will you guys get home at all?
Yeah. After this weekend we'll actually be back home for a little bit and then we'll go back at it.
As someone who is close to his family, that must be hard.
Yeah, man it is. I try to have the Sabbath with my family. I mean they understand that this is how it goes. And this really is a test. I mean all seven of us are new to this. We've never done this before. But I think that has made us better and strengthened us as a band. There's something to be said for sharing a space with people both on stage and then in a van and then in cramped rooms. You really do get closer and being out on the road has helped us get to where we are.
You had also mentioned that in addition to your side projects, the other band members have quite a few.
Yeah, Barry, our drummer has a side project called White Horse. Emily and I have a thing called Innocent Bones. Emily has a side project called Della Memoria.
You have mentioned you were influenced by the likes of Neutral Milk Hotel, Elliott Smith and Wilco. But there's definitely a country vibe to the album, ho else did you listen to?
Definitely The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
But you grew up in a pretty strict Christian household, so how was that able to happen?
<laughter> I mean, my parents pushed that Christian music and it just didn't touch me. I couldn't get into it.. They let me listen to an oldies station and all the classics and it was from there that I heard Bob Dylan, The Beatles and that kind of thing.
So you pick up the guitar at 18 and you end up falling into Wilco and Neutral Milk Hotel. How did that happen?
I was playing the guitar and I was about 18 and I went to this smoke shop. I was on a break from Chick-Fil-A. There's seven and a half years of my life I don't want back. And there was this guy behind the counter who sold me cigarettes and he was just really tapped into Wilco and Iron and Wine and Bright Eyes. And I mean all my friends back home at the time liked pop country and rap, and I just couldn't get into that. It just didn't work for me. It was just shit. It was just not appealing to me. So I just learned some Elliott Smith and Iron and Wine covers. And in playing those covers I felt more like myself. But after hearing all that, I wanted more. So I got into My Morning Jacket, and Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, and Mumford and Sons and Avett Brothers.
Bon Iver is something else, isn't he?
Yeah, I mean, he blends so many sounds. Its jazz-oriented. It's got a Preservation Hall Jazz Band kind of thing. There's even some 80s kickback on it. Yeah, he's just great, man.
So who else are you into, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, anything else out there right now?
Arcade Fire. I really like The Suburbs. That's a great album. A real 80s vibe. Neon Bible was alright, but I really like Neighborhood. I think that's what it's called? Their debut. It's pretty great.
Mumford and Sons are pretty great too.
Yeah. I actually got a chance to hang with them when we were in Los Angeles. They're so grounded. They're not celebrities at all. It really is so refreshing.
I bet it'd be pretty cool to share the stage with them.
Absolutely. I actually think we're playing a festival with The Avett Brothers later this summer. The Summer Camp Festival in Illinois. I'm pretty excited about that. We're big fans of them.
So "Time to Begin" is credited as being the first song you wrote, is that correct?
Yeah, no, the first song we wrote as a band. It was me and Barry. Barry thought up the riff. I thought up the chords. We started singing it. And we kept going back and forth between the three of us. And I just sort of put the chorus together in a few minutes and it was just that magical kind of moment. I think in total we worked on the song for about an hour and we were just in the right mood at the right time and it just clicked, and we kept fleshing it out from there.
Does it always come together that quickly or was that just a great coincidence?
I mean it does. It definitely does. But its not that common. I can't say it happens that often. This is going to sound funny, but I mean for me as a writer, I try to write before I have something to do. <laughter> Does that make sense?
So Jason Sanford writes songs before he goes grocery shopping, I can write that down? -<laughter> Yeah, man. Make sure you put that down. <pause> What I guess I mean is, like, before I have to go meet up with someone or before I go to work and do something I don't really want to do. I'll try and write something. And force myself to put a song together.
You had mentioned that you were working in other projects. Can you shed any more light on that?
Well, we have this contract until September and we have tons more material. We may even make the next record a double album. <laugher>.
I meant to touch on this earlier. How important is the South as a whole to your music. A lot of times you hear roots music and it has a distinct regional tone to it, but yours seems a bit more authentic. Was that intentional or did it just come out that way?
I think it just came together that way. I don't think its intentional. I mean it's funny. Barry didn't even like it at first. He's used to pop beats and hip hop and that's his background. But he started listening to it and he started getting it. The whole idea that less is more. So he started collaborating more heavily and we went from there.
Building on that idea of the South, you guys recently wrote a song "Feels Like Mississippi," what exactly can you tell me about it?
Well. The governor wanted a new state song and he was thinking it would be either us or B.B. King. Patrick wrote it. And I put my twist on it, critiqued it, and worked on it some more, and it went from there. I think we finished it in a day.
So is it the official state song yet, or is that still to be determined?
I don't think it's been announced yet. We did a radio show a few weeks ago though and they introduced it as the official state song. And that was kind of news to us. But I think it's too early to say its official. It would be pretty cool if that were to happen. I mean, just wow. What a blessing.
Well we will certainly cross our fingers.
Yeah. I got my fingers crossed.
So it seems that Mississippi is important to you. A lot of bands just sort of don't seem to take much pride in their hometown and are just whatever about it. You seem to actually have a real sense of pride about it.
Yeah. I mean, we owe all of our success to Mississippi. We wouldn't be on the road touring if it wasn't for Mississippians. We really do owe it all to the coast, to Gulfport and the state as a whole.
Jason, I thank you so much for the time.
Thank you so much for taking the time. It means the world to us. Thanks so much for listening. This was really great. I enjoyed this a lot. Thanks again.