The Rocketboys, out of Austin, Texas, are an independent band on the scene since 2005. For an unsigned act, they have quite the track record, already having released three EPs, two live DVDs, and a full length with another record in the works. With the release of their newest single “Bloodless” off their new album, Build Anyway, and a busy show schedule including the 2012 South By Southwest, The Rocketboys are ready to explode into the airwaves, and The Airspace.
I recently had the chance to talk with Brandon Kinder, Josh Campbell, and Justin Wiseman of The Rocketboys.
Kris: You just released your newest single “Bloodless.” This is the first piece of music that you’ve released since the departure of two of your members. Can you talk about how it was to write a song without them? Was the process much different?
Rocketboys: It was a lot different this time around. Typically in the past we’ve been able to just come to the table and play the songs together that we were writing and work stuff out real time. But this time around, we went from six members to three members, so it was more of just recording demos and listening to them and working from there. It took a lot longer than just playing everything together at once, but I think the songs are a little bit better for it.
Kris: You have a very distinct sound, but I can notice a slight change between “Bloodless” and your earlier songs. Would you say that this is because of the leaving members or just you all maturing as a band?
Rocketboys: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. I’d like to thing that we are maturing as a band but at the same time we are missing three creative minds that we had in the past.
Kris: When you would write songs originally, would you all sit in the same room and jam out ideas together? Now do you just sit down and work demos and add off that?
Rocketboys: Yeah, for the most part. Usually in the past someone would bring a small idea—it could be anything form a little riff to a whole a song, but it would usually be pretty stripped down—and then we’d add everything together as a group from there. This time it was a lot of sitting in front of a computer and recording stuff, emailing it to each other, and going from there.
Kris: What bands influence your sound? What are some of your favorite bands?
Rocketboys: That’s a great question and a really hard one to answer because [our favorite bands] always change. We’re pretty up to speed on what bands are popular; we like what everyone in this genre seems to like. But we have some little random tastes from classical music to R&B. We listen a lot of things that anyone who listens to indie music likes. We like Bon Iver, The National and stuff like that; as long as it is captivating in some regards and really meaningful and beautiful.
Kris: I can definitely hear variety in your sound. You have that popular sound but at the same time you have atmospheric presence which really adds to your sound.
Rocketboys: For a long time we called ourselves an ambient rock band and it’s kind of weird because our music isn’t ambient. But we add keyboard textures and layers to make a real big sound. It’s not like it’s ambient though in the sense of something that it is something really spaced out. We’ve consciously added that presence in our sound.
Kris: I see you went on a hiatus for a while where Brandon did a solo album. What did the other two members of your band do with this time off? What were you working on in that period? What inspired you all to come back and make music together after that period?
Rocketboys: It was less of a conscious decision to come back. I think the whole time we were thinking [getting back together] is what we were going to do. It just took us a while to figure out how to do that after the other guys left. I think the idea crossed our mind that maybe we shouldn’t do it for maybe five seconds. But we always knew we were going to do another record—we always knew we were going to stick together. We just had to figure out how to do that best. It took us a while to even find players that could go on tour. There was a lot of guesswork to figure out what we wanted to do next. We knew we wanted to do another album—we knew we had to figure out how to do that first.
Kris: What members did actually leave your band?
Rocketboys: We had a drummer that was the first one to go. He was playing with us and this band called This Will Destroy You at the same time. It was a little bit too much for him. That equaled him being on the road one hundred precent of the year by touring with us and them. He decided to go with them. We had a couple guys filling in for a while and then two of our guitar players, Mitch and Daniel, left early last year. They were two of the original members.
Kris: Do you guys think you will ever replace them, or will you stay as the current three-person band?
Rocketboys: We won’t ever be able to replace them as people, but we definitely want to have a full band again. We’ve had some guys who have been playing with us for a while though and they are great. But we made a conscious decision when everything went down that we wanted to do this record ourselves before we worried about that. So I guess now it’s getting to that time where we have to worry about it.
Kris: The Rocketboys seem to always work with big names in the industry like CJ Eiriksson, who has mixed for Phish and U2, who is mixing your new album, as well as having an album produced by Louie Lino who has produced Nada Surf as well as Matt Pond Pa. What has your experience been like working with these fine men? What did they help contribute into your music and sound?
Rocketboys: Well CJ has been really good because we recorded all this album by ourselves at home, and that was kind of a big decision. But we decided we could do that well and adding CJ has really helped because he is really amazing [and can] make a kick drum that already sounds really great sound incredible. That has probably been the coolest thing… hearing all things that we’ve been perfectly proud of and then he adds his touches to make all the big parts sound even bigger—and the small parts fitting perfectly underneath that perfectly. It’s also cool when he talks about Steve (Phish) and Bono (U2) like it’s no big deal. It’s funny sometimes. Obviously it’s not just because he has a great résumé that we chose him, but mostly because he’s really good and he’s wanted to work with us for a while. It was just the right time and place that we got to work with him.
Kris: On a related note to big names, I saw you guys played at Homer Hickam’s birthday party, whose book influenced your band name. How did that happen and how was that experience?
Rocketboys: Originally for a long time we were called Homer Hiccolm and The Rocketboys and it wasn’t until early 2009 that we took off the “Homer Hiccolm” part but that’s a whole other story. It has been really cool; he’s a really sweet, supportive guy. He actually just posted on our Facebook page the other day.
Kris: How did that happen? Did he just know who you guys were, have you been friends before you were in the band, or did he just see that your band name is similar to his name?
Rocketboys: We got an email from him years and years ago right after we started the band. We were like there is no possible way that this is really him; this has got to be somebody just joking around. We emailed him back and sure enough… He was really friendly and was like “you know if you guys want you can spell my name correctly.” I just guessed on how you spell it, I’d never really seen it written out, so I just guessed. We’ve kept in touch relatively well the past couple years. We didn’t know him at all; he just somehow heard of the band. He got an email from a family member or something, and he invited us to play in this place in Huntsville, AL, where he lives. It was fun to get to know him. It was kind of cheesy for a little bit because normally at a club nobody gets up and announces your band. He came up and thanked everyone for coming and it was pretty fun.
Kris: You fellows are unsigned despite releasing a full length, three E.Ps, and two live DVDs as well as having your next full length on the way. That is extremely impressive. How do you do all of these things by yourself? I’d imagine it would be extremely stressful.
Rocketboys: We just work really hard you know? It’s not like we don’t appreciate help. For the last EP we did a Kickstarter campaign. So we got fans and friends to help out with that. It’s just something we know we want to do and we find any way possible to do it.
Kris: How do you feel about record labels? Are you holding out to find the right record label to present themselves to you?
Rocketboys: There is no negativity towards it necessarily. We were just lucky, or not. Wwhen our band started we had a lot of friends who had been in bands for a while and we got all of these stories of things not going well. So I guess it made us really cautious toward that sort of thing. It’s really not impossible, and it’s not like we do everything on our own, but [we're] independent in terms of not having a label and releasing music. The perfect situation just hasn’t come about and if something really great comes along, we wouldn’t feel conflicted like we’re going against what we believe in. It just hasn’t happened to happen. I mean, we probably have made ourselves out to be more independent than we really are. There have been a lot of great people that have helped us. We have two people who manage us really well; we’ve got a couple people who have done some really great PR campaigns. You can’t do it all about yourself but we wanted to be in a band so well that we figure out a way to work so we decided we’d go to any extra mile that we need to or can to do this.
Kris: How is touring?
Rocketboys: It’s so awesome. I mean I’m sure it’s even better touring if you’re a huge band that is not independent, but just being on the road and playing music is what we love to do. It’s hard because sometimes it feels like we are hustling people and endlessly exhausting our contacts, but it’s fun really. It would be great if we didn’t have to work really hard and hustle people and be like “please come out to our shows,” you know? It’s not like we have to do that ,but it would great if just a ton of people came out and saw us, and we didn’t have to poop in disgusting bathrooms (laughs), and we got catered food. That would be awesome. We get to meet tons of new people and share our music and regardless of who is there, we enjoy doing it.
Kris: I also saw you guys are on South By Southwest. How did you guys get involved with that?
Rocketboys: We live in Austin and it’s just an Austin thing. There were one or two years where we tried to get in and we didn’t, so we still played some shows in Austin anyways. But this is our third or fourth year to be an official of South By and I think there are so many opportunities for a band to play at South By. We are just lucky to be a part of it.
Kris: Yeah I would imagine. Every year I see the line up—it’s so awesome—so I’d imagine it would be a great time to play.
Rocketboys: Yeah it is. It’s so much fun because since we are based in Austin, all of our friends that we’ve ever played a show with are coming down and hanging out. It’s a lot of fun just to see everybody you’ve met along the way and just hang out in your home town.
Kris: With the release of your new album coming very soon, June 5, if I’m not mistaken, how are you managing your set at South By Southwest between new songs and old songs?
Rocketboys: We are definitely going to have a nice mix. Different shows are going to cater to different things. We are playing this film party at one point [where] we are playing some more cinematic music, if we can say that. We are definitely going to play some new stuff at shows as well. But not leave out any of the oldies.
Kris: How do you feel the power of your music is conveyed live? Do you notice a difference between your studio recorded songs and your live performances? Do you lose anything?
Rocketboys: We’ve always heard that our live performance is better than our albums, and we always also try and make our albums as good as possible. I think we’ve always just been a live band, and we’ve gotten to record some really great albums that I think sound incredible. I think we definitely put on a good show. People have always responded to our live performance in our past so I think it translates well.
Kris: I know you were mentioning early how in some of the songs you work with the keyboard to build layers of sounds. Is that harder for you to do live?
Rocketboys: Well I have five hands… so… (laughs) no I’m just kidding. I mean yeah, kind of. But the way that we recorded—and this is a little different just because of the nature of our band, and there is only three, well four people if you count Josh Rodgers who recorded drums, recorded our album—but all that to say in the past, the way that we did our album we didn’t add tons and tons of stuff that couldn’t be replicated live. This album may be a little different, but at the same time we tried to slim it down to make sure we can perform it live without plugging in an iPod and pressing play for 50% percent of the set. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but we just like trying to perform everything. It’s kind of hard and challenging but we play as a five piece now. We replaced the two guitar players with one guitar player so what we lost in some of those parts we make up for in other parts.
Kris: It’s cool that you guys make a conscious effort when you write to put your live shows into that, I feel like a lot of bands just want to make that sounds great instead of thinking of their live shows as well.
Rocketboys: I never wanted anyone to miss anything when we performed live and there is just really disappointing when you love a band so much and you see them live and its not the same. If anything, that was an inspiration always just to make sure there wasn’t a letdown in our live shows.
Kris: Back to your new album, where can we except this album to be released? Are there any chances the album will be pressed to CD or vinyl?
Rocketboys: Yeah, we’ll have CD and vinyl of it. Hopefully we’ll have vinyl on June 5th as well. For 20,000 Ghosts it took a little longer than expected. We’ll definitely have CDs and vinyl as well as digital
Kris: Where can we except to buy these? Do you have an online store? Will they be in stores?
Rocketboys: At this point we won’t have it distributed to stores. We hope to at one point—that would be great. I guess there are a few record stores independently that carry our music, but it will be at on our online merch store which is a merchline store and at our live shows and hopefully at Kmart. (Laughs)
Kris: To close out this interview, is there anything else you would like to say about your new album or the band’s near future? Are there any big tours coming up?
Rocketboys: We’re excited. In May, we are doing just a little bit of a prep run to set up some places that we’ve gone for a long time, and we will be playing some new music. The album release tour is getting worked out at the moment and that will be a more extensive ordeal with hopefully more to come.
Check out their official merch store.
Photo Credit: David Ruiz