Monday, September 19, 2016

Interview Flashback - Talking Bob Dylan Influence With Love and Theft

I have been blessed to write contributions/reviews/interviews/opinion pieces for several country music and roots-oriented websites and publications over the years including Saving Country Music, Nashville Scene, Country California, Country Weekly, American Noise, The 9513 and Engine 145. As a regular contributor to the last two in that list, I did close to a 100 interviews with different artists- and since both of those great sites have come down, I will reprint some of those interviews here to give them a home in perpetuity. This interview was originally published in January 2010 on The 9513.

1984. Ronald Reagan is re-elected President. The Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Transformers are unleashed on the world. And from three different points across the United States, three baby boys are born that will eventually form the country group, Love and Theft. 

Stephen Barker Liles grew up in Palm Harbor, Florida on early gospel and contemporary Christian music. Eric Gunderson was raised in Charlotte, North Carolina developing a deep love for his family’s favorite artists such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and the Eagles. Brian Bandas spent his youth in Austin, Texas. His was a very music-oriented family with his grandfather and uncle both were well-respected jazz players. 

All points converged on Nashville just a few short years ago when all three came to Music City looking to make their mark in country music. They first began working with one-another as songwriting partners, but as they began to work out demos, they realized that they had something unique in their ability to fluidly trade lead vocals and in their love of harmonies. From there, Love and Theft was born. 

They signed with Disney’s Carolwood Records- now Lyric Street after a consolidation- and opened up for Taylor Swift’s 2008 World Tour. (Swift’s song “Hey Stephen” is widely accepted to be written about Barker Liles.). In March of this year, they released their first single, "Runaway" which ran away to number ten on the Billboard Hot Country Songs charts. They followed up that with the debut of their first album, World Wide Open.  

The 9513 had a chance to catch the guys in person before going on to do a fundraising performance for the Sacramento Sheriff’s Toy Project to chat about their first full year on the national music scene. 

Ken Morton, Jr.- I recognize the name of the band from an old Bob Dylan album, what made you guys decide on that as a band name?

Brian Bandas- We are influenced heavily by all kinds of classic music. It could everything and anything by Dylan, Elvis, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash- anything in that classic musical style. When we started looking for a name, we started going through old discographies of artists we had idolized for years. We came across that name and loved the phrase. And as songwriters, who better to pay tribute to than Bob Dylan? We think he’s one of the best songwriters of all time. And there you go.

KMJ- How did you guys all meet up in Nashville?

Eric Gunderson- We all got there around the same time but we didn’t know each other then. We all dropped out of college and moved to Nashville with the hopes of getting a publishing deal or a record deal somehow. We all met through the songwriting community in Nashville. We met through some mutual friends of ours and different roommates we were living with. We actually wrote a track together- it’s the last track on our album called “Drowning” together. We recorded in the attic of my house and when we were putting the harmony part on there, we thought, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” And now we’re Love and Theft. 

KMJ- You guys mentioned some classic country artists that you were influenced by. Are there some more modern country artists who you’d say you influenced by as well?

Stephen Barker Liles- Tim McGraw is one. And the fact that we’re going to be on his tour next year is amazing.

BB- Yeah, that is pretty amazing.  George Strait. I think I have every single one of his albums. And he has a lot of albums. (Laughing)

KMJ- For someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to hear your new album, World Wide Open, describe it from the artist’s perspective.

BB- We wrote everything on there and our first goal was to not have any filler. We didn’t want to have three or four good singles on there and fill up the rest with eight more tracks. We wanted to put the same amount of energy and passion into every song. We wanted every song to stand on its own. We feel like we accomplished that. It’s definitely a work of passion, it’s all very personal to us. Everything comes from something in our lives, something that’s happened to us. Any of us could sit down and write a song about anything.

SBL- Like Bill Nye the Science Guy.

BB- It’s about one of us coming into the room and saying, “This just happened in my life,” and us writing a song about it. It’s writing about it from that point of personal place. That’s something we’re proud of, that sort of raw kind of authenticity. It’s a little scary kind of baring your soul like that. You’re kind of open to the world like that. 

KMJ- Is that where the title of the album, World Wide Open, comes from?

BB- Absolutely. Eric wrote that song about a specific situation he found himself in and after he wrote it, we all felt it applied to our own lives and to the band as a whole. This ride could go anywhere, we just don’t know where. 

KMJ- It’s not often that bands will share lead vocals like you guys do. Was that a conscious decision to do it differently or did it just evolve that way?

EG- A little bit of both. We all came into it as solo singers. So I don’t think any of us were anxious or willing to totally give up the lead vocals. We all love to sing and we all love that time when we get to sing solo. 

SBL- If you look at the Eagles, they tried it out that way. And it worked out pretty well.

BB- Yeah, we’re huge Eagles fans. 

EG- As for as lead vocals and group harmonies, that’s really what we’re striving towards. It really never ever came up though between us who would sing what. I never had to defend my position and say, “No no no, I want to sing too.” No one even ever asked that question. We all sing. We just all kept singing. 

KMJ- Were you guys ever encouraged to do it differently and find that one lead singer?

SBL- (Stephen pretends he’s a music executive) “How are you guys going to do that without one lead singer? That’s impossible to establish.” We just told them, “You know, we’re going to try it.” 

EG- Especially when we were going around looking for a record deal at different studios. I don’t remember who it was, but they were like, “You guys sound great, but I can’t see this ever working in this town. It’s hard enough with one lead singer, I don’t know how they’ll ever react positively to three.” Which is valid I guess.

BB- But that was definitely one of the biggest responses and reactions to our thing. “We love it… but the multiple lead singer thing isn’t going to work.” But through all of our songs, we’ve never had a problem of who was going to sing what. It’s never really mattered. I think the three of us have worked enough together so we know who sings what parts best. Now it’s only our first record… (laughter from all three)

KMJ- What’s been the highlight of the year for each of you so far?

SBL- The Jason Aldean Tour was the highlight for me. Oh, and playing the Grand Ole Opry. We’ve got a chance to play the Grand Ole Opry three times this year which is awesome. And this last time, we got to play the Ryman. Incredible. 

EG- For me, that’s probably our favorite thing this year. It was our second time playing at the Ryman. The first time we got to play a J.D. Souther tribute. That was an incredible honor for us. We got to get up there with Lee Ann Womack. But then we got the chance to go up and do the Grand Ole Opry right there at the Ryman. So that was pretty special. 

BB- For me, it was Jimmy Fallon. For years, that was one of my little pipe dreams. “Someday, I’m going to be on the Late Night Show.” That was the coolest thing for me.

KMJ- Great experiences for you guys. Stephen, you wrote a track on Martina McBride’s latest album Shine called “Wrong Baby Wrong Baby Wrong.” That has to be a pretty remarkable accomplishment for you this year in itself.

SBL- Yeah. I mean songwriting is my favorite thing in the whole world. I was very honored that she picked it to record. And I just found out it’s going to be her next single that’ll be coming out right around the end of the year. I’m so very excited about that. 

KMJ- You guys opened up for Taylor Swift in 2008. How important was that to your successful launch?

EG- At that point we didn’t have a single. We didn’t have a record.

SBL- Anything.

EG- We didn’t have anything. Halfway through that tour we recorded a live EP because we wanted people to have something that wanted it something to take home. But it was really important because it gave us the opportunity to go out in front of 6,000 to 10,000 fans almost every single night. And it helped to fine-tune our live show and our acoustic show. There wasn’t any pressure to out there and sound like our record because there wasn’t a record. We could go out there and work on performing in front of a huge audience. So it was really unique in that perspective. And it was very cool for them to take a chance on us. 

KMJ- You guys mentioned the upcoming tour, you’ll be going out with Lady Antebellum and Tim McGraw. How many dates- how long will you guys be out on tour?

EG- I think forty-something dates.

SBL- It goes from April to August. 

KMJ- So you won’t be seeing anyone you know- no family or friends- for five months, will you?

BB- But that’s how it’s been all year long, anyways. I think we’ve only been home 30 days the whole year. But we love it.

SBL- Yeah we do. We had like six days off at home. And I started to feel weird. We hadn’t had that many days off all year. So I actually had to go to Florida to take a vacation and go do something. 

BB- It does feel weird. I know for me, I get antsy if I’m not doing something with the band, if we’re just not doing anything.

KMJ- This last one’s meant pretty open-ended. What is country music to Love and Theft?

EG- For me, country music is really just all about the song. Songwriting is such a big part of country music. From Johnny Cash to Waylon to Hank to all these others great songwriters- all those great writers that came before us make it really inspiring to go back and listen to their songs and then go write a song. It’s cool to me to see that they were writing about some of the same things back then. It’s just the world evolving and moving on a bit. It’s about relationships and the things you love. It’s all about the songwriting. 

BB- That has been the other thing that has been eye-opening through this process. It’s the fans. It’s these people that are passionate about it. They put it on as they’re driving across the country or are listening to it as they’re working in the shops or whatever it may be. This is their soundtrack of their life. And they embrace it passionately. We’re constantly blown away by what it means to people, what a huge part of people’s lives it is. 

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