dallas, Tx | 6.7.17 | Club Dada
words by Liz Watts
Wow, folks. We've had our eye on joan for some time now, and were absolutely stoked when we saw they'd be supporting the COIN boys on a few dates during their summer tour! We got to sit down and chat with Alan Thomas and Steven Rutherford before their show in Dallas, and get to know them a bit! Their single "Take Me On" is the boppiest of bops and sure to climb it's way onto the top of your summer playlist. While that may be the only song you can stream on Spotify, every song they played onstage was a mega-hit. Truly. By the end of each song, joan made you wish you knew the words- so you could've danced and screamed along, obviously. The crowd waiting to meet them after the show was insane, and I saw more than just a few joan t-shirts, hat's, and even fan art. FAN ART!! If you haven't guessed yet, these guys are definitely on the road to somethin' real good and we are so diggin' it.
We’ll start off with the boring ole’ questions and go from there! How did you guys start?
Alan: He was in the band Brothers + Company then I was in a band called “Canopy Climbers” and we both did like a church worship thing together. We go to church at the same place and we actually went to the same college too, just at different times. I’m a little bit older, I’m 28. So, real old. We got together and we just hit it off as friends. He had just graduated college and I do music as a living and he wanted to do music as a living. We thought that maybe we could do a licensing project, just something like writing songs for film and TV and see what happens. The first day we wrote, somewhere around last September/October, “Take Me On” was the first thing that happened. We kinda looked at each other and we didn’t know if it was necessarily great or not but we knew it was good. We wanted to pursue it harder than just our licensing project and so we kept writing for a few weeks and ended up recording a song called “With Somebody Else” that we released softly through some blogs, then we ended up getting in contact with the label that we signed a single deal with for “Take Me On.” The rest is kinda history. This will be our seventh or eighth show tonight, like ever. We are a baby band!
And it’s a really good band you’re with!
Steven: Yes! COIN are the greatest dudes.
I feel like COIN fans are so open excepting so they’re probably like “HECK YAAA!”
Steven: There’s probably like 20 of them that have gone to all three Texas shows and last night they were saying that at the Houston show they recorded all our songs on their phone through video and played it on the stereo going into the next show and they know like all the words. They’re very uhm…vocal about their openness.
Alan: And for us, we are coming in as an opening band and that can be really scary because, ya know, it isn’t that our music isn’t energetic, but it isn’t the same “up” thing always, so I’m like “How is this gonna play? Are they even gonna like this?” Then hear to hear them say “We were really happy that you were the opening band” is great. It’s a mutual liking.
How did you guys get hooked up opening for COIN?
Alan: The story we kinda heard was that our label guy, Chad, knew their manager or something. But Chase said he heard “Take Me On” and pitched our name to management and when they found out we were available for dates that they needed support, we were like “of course!” I mean, our first tour ever with a band like COIN? Of course. But yeah, we’re not really sure, but somehow it happened.
Cool! So you guys are signed with a label?
Alan: Yeah! It’s brand new one called 20XX, we are like the second artists to sign.
There are so many bands that are so successful doing everything independently, so were you guys hesitant at all to sign with a label?
Alan: We asked a ton of questions before putting pen to paper, for sure.
Steven: What we wanted to do was just focus on one song at a time and kinda put it out there slowly for people and that’s what he wanted. He’s super artist-friendly and like just wants the best for the act. It’s been great.
Have you guys gotten any significant career advice from other bands or artists?
Alan: Two! COIN. Ryan is awesome. The first night, he just took us in his arms and was like “We are big fans, we love you, we are here if you have any questions,” just very big brother kind of feeling. And Jake Goss from LANY is a really good friend of ours, and same thing with them. We look up to those bands a lot so it’s been neat. We’ve both done one-offs and DIY tours and stuff but like I said, we are babies with this and we are figuring it out as we go, but to have guys like that who reach out and offer to help and it’s been so nice.
That’s really cool because COIN is at one level and LANY is at another in their careers so you can definitely look at what they’ve done and use it as a guide.
Steven: It’s been good for us because we are in the middle of building a great team and trying to just get Team Joan put together and it’s been nice to look to them and talk to them about their experience. It’s been cool.
Alan: With our newest single that will be coming out, hopefully soon, we sent mixes to Jake to get his input. Even the little things like that, he knows what he’s doing. They’re all great guys.
What’s the music scene like in Little Rock? Do you plan on staying there?
Alan: There’s definitely music in Little Rock, but no one is moving there with their laptop and band to “make it.” What’s beautiful about that, though, is that when bands like us catch a break, it’s a great way for us to represent our hometown and be like “Hey! You actually can make it anywhere!” To answer your question if we’d want to move, we would if we absolutely needed to, but part of the beauty of our team- our management, our booking- they all love that we are from Little Rock and not from a saturated market. We love Little Rock, it’s my home town and my whole life I’ve been in the city or 30 minutes around it.
Steven: We haven’t seen a need to move so the plan is to stay.
Alan: Our families and wives are there, and I’d hate for my wife, Lola, to be stranded there while I’m on tour for a month and have no support, except from his wife, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
Even though Little Rock does have a growing music scene, are you guys still a little more special/unique being an indie-electro pop duo? Are any other bands taking up those same vibes in LR?
Alan: Not that I know of. I mean, I don’t go to a ton of house shows- I go to bigger shows in town. We have Riverfest which used to be more of a family fest with music, but they’ve revamped it and have been trying to make it a full-fledged music festival. The line ups are getting better and better every year, and we were able to play it a couple days ago- we played the main stage which was amazing- but other than that and the touring acts, our good buddies Knox Hamilton were the first band I think in a while to have alternative stuff that has kinda made it to that next level- that I personally know of. I don’t know the metal or country scene, so there may be other bands!
Steven: We’ve seen people move to Nashville where they can catch a break and do it full-time, but it’s hard.
Alan: One of our buddies is a fantastic country writer and he’s from somewhere in Arkansas and moved to Nashville and is now writing hit songs for Dan and Shae, Lady Antabellum…
Do you like country music?
Alan: I grew up on it so there’s a nostalgic feeling…but I like the good country, not the bro country. I like rootsy-folk stuff. Dave Ramirez…he sounds like Johnny Cash.
What do you guys think about new bands who people compare to older, maybe even classic bands? On one hand, they are breaking the mainstream mold and not making “futuristic” pop or electronic music, but on the other hand it’s almost identical to what’s been made already. So there’s nothing really “groundbreaking” about them. What are your thoughts on that?
Steven: I think the hard thing is that there is so much, sooo much music, and only so many sounds you can use. I think it’s hard to not, somewhat sound like other people. I don’t think it’s insulting, we kinda just brush it off.
Alan: the only bands that we’ve heard ourselves compared to are all flattering- they’re all heroes! So if someone says “You sound like this band,” I’m like “Well I love those bands!” We don’t actively sit and dissect other music and rewrite that same melody.
Steven: Like “Take Me On,” whenever it got reviewed a lot, people said it was like a hybrid between St. Lucia and The 1975 or something like that, and that just feels good. That’s good company to be in!
Alan: What’s interesting to me is the people that do review negatively saying “This band sounds too much like this band,” I’m like “How do you listen to any major genre right now? Listen to rap or EDM or pop. It all sounds the same.” Being in the company of like for bands verses a whole genre, I’ll take the similarities.
Steven: We’re not writing to sound like somebody, which is a hug lift off our shoulders. We are trying to just do our thing and see what happens.
Alan: And it helps when you have a third ear. With our first two singles, our buddy Tim was doing co-production with us, and he’s done stuff with Walk the Moon, St. Lucia, Knox, COIN. He’s a genius, and having that third ear really helped us if we sounded too much like someone else and needed to shift lanes or anything. And it ends up being even better.
Do you always feel like you have to be writing? Whats that process like?
Alan: *holds up phone and scrolls through a HECK ton of voice memos* This is our writing process. Thousands of voice memos of him thinking a melody and singing it to me and I’ll come up with a verse, record, program, then work on it in or studio.
Steven: We write pretty much every day together. But, it’s not in waves, it’s all the time. Maybe in a year or so it won’t be so much, but right now we’ve got tons of stuff.
Alan: Right now, we are probably sitting on four, five, six, pretty well thought out ideas that aren’t quite arranged, but we have a verse and chorus we love and it feels powerful. We just gotta figure out what’s next. And then maybe seven, eight, or nine songs totally finished and ready to be recorded.
Do you have an EP you’ll be releasing?
Alan: We have an EP’s worth of music, but we are sticking with singles. We are working with our team to figure out how to tickle us out. It’s hard because people attention spans are getting shorter and like he said, there’s so much music. We like the album-based bands and I can pinpoint albums that shaped who I am musically, but now like, it’s just harder because it’s all single single single and we are figuring out the best way to introduce ourselves.
Steven: It’s weird, too, because it’s divided a little bit. I feel like half the industry feels like you need to be focusing on a record or EP and the other half is totally against that. We are in a cool spot because we can focus on writing a song at a time and we love records as a record. Like Bleachers just put out an album and it feels from beginning to end that it all works and is written together. Us doing singles lets us put a little bit of ourselves into each song and it feels good.
That’s a good idea because there are some songs on albums, even if I love the band, that I skip through.
Alan: it almost feels like they had four tops, good songs, and they just really wanted an album so they filled it. And we don’t want anything to do with that. I get writing songs that you know will work well live, but I’d rather every song just be awesome. Take a note from Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream. It’s literally pop-gold in every song. There was an insane amount that charted, and they could all stand on their own. I’m interested in that.
To back track a bit, what helped shape your love of music?
Alan: Our stories are pretty similar I think. I played community sports- baseball, basketball- and I was the small little runt. I skipped a grade because I was in a private school and it came to the point where I picked up my first pair of drumsticks when I was eleven and I stopped caring at all about sports and that became my entire world- music. And it was just drums, that was all I was concerned about. My dad could shred on guitar and write, and he bought me my first acoustic little Fender guitar in 10th or 11th grade.
So you’d say your parents were super open to you doing music?
Alan: Oh yeah, massively supportive. And I think they saw in us at a young age that if they put their minds to this then they might be able to something with it.
Steven: I watched School of Rock and that was the start. And then my parents were really supportive and took all the stuff out of our downstairs basement and let us [Steven and brother, Marcus] have all that room to practice. Me and my brother were in a terrible band together from like middle school on. We started in a screamo metal band.
Did you scream?
Steven: Marcus did.
Alan: I was in an emo band for sure, it was all rooted in emo.
Did you both get support while pursuing this as a career? Even going into the music industry myself, I’m constantly told “Oh! It’s risky!”
Alan: I feel like the music business is something you have to go in 100% or you can’t do it, and both of our parents knew that pretty quickly. It’s cool and different than usual. I went to school for music and my parents paid and were supportive of that. We always had a dedicated music room and I’d go in and play my electronic drum kit until my heart’s content. And they took me to talent shows and stuff like that, too.
Has anyone ever just straight up told you that you suck- as harsh as that is? Do you get negative feedback?
Alan: We have gotten some negative feedback, and I’m not saying we are legendary or anything but we aren’t un-listenable!
Steven: As far as face to face, it’s been just great.
Alan: As long as we don’t piss people off!