BD: Thanks for taking time out to talk with me, better start with the state the world finds itself in at the moment. With touring at a standstill for the foreseeable future, how much of comfort has music been to you? Has it inspired any creativity music-wise?
RJW:Listening, playing, and writing music has been extremely therapeutic in this time. It’s inspiring but at the same time writing a song directly about the quarantine seems a little too on the nose for us. We’re just trying to stay focused and get done as much as we possibly can. It’s really easy to just forget that there’s still a world outside.
BD: Several bands have done live gigs on social media, is that something you’ve considered?
RJW:We just did a live stream for a restaurant in Laguna Beach, CA where I live and it went great. It was to help support the community and promote getting takeout from local restaurants. We have a few more streams planned and are trying to figure out how to do more. We miss playing with each other so every opportunity to get together in the same room safely is a blessing.
BD: Can you introduce the band for the uninitiated? Where are you from? When did you form?
RJW:We’re from Orange County, California. Myself, Steve, and Andrew have been in the band for 10 years playing clubs all around the United States and Europe. We’ve gone through a few lineup changes but our guitar player Henry James and our bass player Warren joined in 2018 and have been tearing it up ever since. We’ve opened up for Rival Sons, Black Stone Cherry, Joe Bonamassa, Peter Frampton, Vintage Trouble, and the list goes on. We’ve had some ups and downs but we finally hit our stride with this new line up.
BD: You’re billed as being ‘Southern Rock’, are you comfortable with being pigeonholed?
RJW:Every time we hear that we take it as a compliment but for us, it’s kind of limiting. We love southern rock, we love slide guitar, and we love country and when we mix those things together I can understand how people would generalize it as such. We also love outlaw country, we also love the Laurel Canyon sound and the Grateful Dead, we also love everything that came out of the 90s and 2000s when we were growing up and we definitely have songs that directly point to all those styles. So we don’t hate it when people call us Southern Rock because they’re putting us in some pretty high regard, but we just want to make music we love without trying to pin it to a place and time.
BD: Your cv is very impressive, toured/played with some great bands. You must have some great tales to tell?
RJW:There’s too many to count. Most of our stories are about us being stupid kids when we were touring with acts that were much bigger than us. I can’t believe the Rival Sons guys still talk to us.
BD: The new album (your fifth ?), Last Light On The Highway, is due for release next month, is that going ahead as planned?
RJW:Full steam ahead. We talked about if anything should change with the release schedule and it just didn’t make sense to change directions. Obviously we can’t support it live in the way we’d like but we’re doing everything we can to support it digitally.
BD: The first single and opening track ‘Oh Miss Carolina’ dropped on the 31st March, excellent it is too, have you had any feedback?
RJW:People have been loving it! We knew this one was going to be strong the first time we rehearsed it. We played it live a few times before the single came out and saw people singing along before they knew the song. That’s the kind of magic that you can’t make on purpose, it’s just a gift.
BD: This is a truly international album, with the inclusion of certain Australian ladies who toured with Joe Bonamassa last year, Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Jade McRae, on backing vocals. How did that come about?
RJW:Joe Bonamassa and his team were nice enough to have us out on his Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea Cruise in the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas. What they’re doing is amazing. They started their own charity foundation that’s raised a ton of money for music around the country while giving people such an amazing show and introducing the great blues artists to a new group of people. Anyways the RJ boys do what they normally do and start talking and drinking with everyone on the boat and we ended up meeting Joe’s background singers. We wanted to be respectful because they were so talented so we kept in touch and asked if they would sing on the record and to our surprise they said yes. They really made it magic brought the record to the next level. We can’t thank them enough for their contribution.
BD: You’ve included a horn section on track 2, ‘Work It Out’ together with some cracking sax work recorded and arranged by Jason Parfait. The title, I understand, refers to the relationship within the band. Can you enlarge on that?
RJW:The song is about relationships in general. We’re getting into 10 years of dealing with each other and it’s different than when things first started. You really have to compromise and deal with your problems rather than hold them in and let them explode. When you know you’ve made this commitment to your brothers for life you don’t have a choice but to work it out. Warren and I just got engaged and being in a romantic relationship is the same process. Living a long life is about building a future with people, not expecting that first magic moments to last forever.
BD: The aforementioned ladies come into their own on ‘Can’t Stand It’, a more commercial, catchy song, would you agree? (The interplay between yourself and Henry James isn’t bad either !)
RJW:Can’t Stand It started as a Steve idea. It was much different when he brought it to the band, it had a great hook but didn’t quite fit. Andrew had the idea of turning it into a shuffle and it just started to sound like the Eagles so we went with it. We also gave Henry a lot of space to figure out the lead line for this so he could put his stamp on it. The girls put the icing on the cake and the song became a hit. We don’t think about pop or rock or anything while writing, if something is good and we remember it, we keep it.
BD: Going through the tracks, it dawned on me that a) the whole band share songwriting duties and b) the lyrics are so reflective. Unlike so many ‘younger’ bands/songwriters, it is apparent that you’ve experienced the hard times you sing about?
RJW:A lot of our first songs were about relationships and figuring them out. When you’re in your twenties you feel a lot of big feelings and it’s easy to tap into that. As we’ve gotten older and better we’ve realized that none of us individually have to be the star of the songwriting and that we’re all on the same team. We want the best songs no matter who wrote them in the band or helped us get an idea. With that songwriting machine built, it’s a lot easier to do more with less and a lot less pressure to come in with a song. So now it’s not just based on one person’s experience, but rather based on whole band’s individual experiences compiled together.
BD: Did you have fun going back to your youth on ‘One Last Time’?
RJW:One Last Time started out as a campfire song about not being scared to take chances in the moment. We’re all going to die anyways. The ending, however, was definitely a nod to the grunge bands we grew up loving. Even Henry James, who isn’t old enough to have grown up in the grunge era, has the same love we do for those heavy riffs and wah solos. This is one of those songs that starts to encompass all the things we love in a way we never thought possible.
BD: Closing the album with ‘Last Light On The Highway Pt 1 and Pt 2, in my humble opinion, a masterstroke, taking me back to my youth with its’ influences, all in all, a contender for album of the year!
RJW:Thanks! We’ve always had longer instrumental songs on the records and we love to jam. At first, it was a nod to the Allman Brothers but we started to use those songs to take more risks. The hits were for the people but the instrumentals were for us. When we got to LLOTH it started out as a ballad with Andrew and Steve but it still felt like a piece of something bigger. The band took it and created the best thing we’ve ever done.
BD: You were due over here in Europe on a headline tour next month, as well as recording a double live album. Obviously this will have been changed, can we get updates anywhere?
RJW:We will post updates as soon as we get them on our social media. Our live record has been rescheduled for 2021. We have an email list as well where we communicate with fans. Go to robertjonandthewreck.com and you can find all of that.