If Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown haven't visited your town, check your local ordinances for rules against Stratocaster abuse.
The hard-touring collective is by its leader's own admission out to "spoon feed" people the truth of the blues through a fierce brand of thick, homemade heavy rock stew.
Front man and lead guitarist Bryant tells Q104.3 New York's QN'A that he fell in love with the guitar at a young age, thanks Elvis Presley. By the time he was a teen, he was radicalized by the blues, thanks to greats like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lightnin' Hopkins, Freddie King and his mentor, Roosevelt Twitty.
Born and raised in Texas, Bryant moved to Nashville, Tennessee, at age 17 to find his voice as a songwriter and hone his chops on the guitar in a scene of other inspired musicians. More than a decade later, this year, Bryant and his band dropped their third studio album, a raucous, blues-infested nod to grunge called Truth & Lies.
Beyond his compact songwriting and fiery guitar playing, Bryant's appeal is easy to grasp: he's a humble personality (rare in a front man) with a contagious love of music that he's keen on sharing. If he's not listening to music, he's writing it, and if he's not recording, he's playing live with his band. There's just not that much else he's interested in doing, and the dedication is paying off in increasingly well-crafted songs and exciting live shows.
You have a tour coming up in a couple weeks with STP and Rival Sons. The Shakedown is well-seasoned on tour, so how do you go about preparing for big shows like these?
We pretty much grab our toothbrushes and go. I think rehearsing, for us, is really like the songwriting process because we get together and jam. That’s how the songs end up coming out. We kind of use sound checks and shows to continually fine tune. We’ve done so many shows this year, to rehearse unless we’re entering in a bunch of new songs sort of sucks some of the fun out of doing it live.
You can overdo [rehearsal] sometimes. It takes away some of the spontaneity that I love about our band. I think rehearsal for me is [listening] to the records and [familiarizing] myself.
A week at home means a week of making up new songs and playing stuff that you’re not playing on the road. So I have to go through and reacquaint myself with our material.
At this point, you know yourselves pretty well as a band.
One hundred percent. Caleb [Crosby], the drummer, and I have been playing together for 10 years now. He can just look at me and I know what he’s thinking, and vice versa. We’ve developed such camaraderie as players where we kind of all, most of the time, can read each others' minds.
But when we can’t, that’s also exciting. ‘Is this train going off the tracks? What are they doing?’ It just adds a little bit of danger to the whole experience in my opinion.
Do you consider yourself a blues man? You're talked about sometimes as a nouveau blues guitarist; I hear the influence, but the band is a hard rock band, to me.
I see the band as so many different things, and I think that you can kind of hear that on the record. There are some songs that definitely have more of the bluesy, rootsy vibes, because that was a huge influence on me early on. I’m standing in my studio now and there’s Muddy Waters records and Chuck Berry records on the ground, but there’s a Soundgarden record on the turntable right now. It’s sort of just the sum of all of our influences.
I spent the morning listening to Tool’s new record. I don’t consider myself just a blues man. I love the blues, but I also love to rock out. And sometimes you rock so hard that you have to break it down, and we try not to shy away from being vulnerable in the songwriting and taking a minute to just have a quiet moment in a song.
You moved to Nashville as a teenager to pursue music; was your goal to start a band or to launch a career as more of a songwriter?
I moved there to become a songwriter. I was pretty desperate to make friends. I was trying to find people to hang out with because all my family and friends lived in Texas.
I was 17 and basically just looking for people to be friends with. I’d go to restaurants and try to start up conversations with people, and say, ‘Hey, I’m a guitar player, blah, blah, blah, whatever…’ — everyone’s a guitar player in Nashville.
And then I met Caleb Crosby. I had been writing songs, and we started playing together. Before you knew it, we had a band. We haven’t stopped; we’ve been going ever since. We just do it because we love it. We have a lot of fun making music. He’s out of town right now, but if he was in town, he’d probably be coming over today. We’d be setting up and trying to make up a song.
Songwriting led me to the Shakedown because the songs I was writing were way too bluesy for Nashville at the time. I would go to these blues shows — like if I went and watched B.B. King play, predominantly, it was old people at the show, and I would go, ‘Why are people my age not into this stuff?’
So in my mind, I thought I could use rock and roll to spoon feed people blues without them even knowing it. When we were out on tour with AC/DC, I got such a kick out of strapping on a resonator and playing “Walking Blues” by Muddy Waters before kicking into a huge rock song. People don’t even realize that they’re getting it half the time.
Were you intimidated at all by Nashville? Everybody plays guitar there and everybody writes songs. Was it hard to feel like you had a chance to stand out or measure your growth as a musician?
I think I came to town with enough piss and vinegar that I was very unafraid. Still I just always have tried to march to the beat of my own drum. It definitely was a move that pushed me in a lot of positive ways. When you meet someone randomly and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s a nice person.’ And they pick up a guitar and play circles around you, I never took it as discouraging; I always took it as inspirational.
'I’m not going to hang out with everyone tonight because I’m going to go home and try to get as good as my mailman at guitar!' You meet people.
One of my favorite things that happened was, as I started making friends, everyone was a songwriter. Everyone was writing these great songs. You’d have a party and people would play stuff that they were working on. I’d find myself in these situations that I couldn’t get out of fast enough, feeling so ready to go home and make something because you’re surrounding by it. That’s an important thing for any artist, no matter where you are.
Surround yourself with people who are hungry and creative and passionate about what they’re making. That doesn’t have to be just music.
I've wondered myself why blues isn't more popular with people our age. Do you have a theory?
I think there’s definitely a resurgence in people paying attention to more roots music. Things come in waves. But when you have [artists] like Gary Clark, Jr. or Larkin Poe or Rival Sons, you have all these people who are bringing roots music back to the forefront. Rather than music where you’re going, ‘What’s real and what’s not?’
To me, I think now is the perfect time and people are starting to dig in. Even with bands like Greta Van Fleet, they’re giving people roots music, essentially. Now’s as good a time as ever for some of those honest elements to make a comeback.
You said in your band's Fender Sessions episode that you wrote 55 songs for Truth & Lies. Is that 55 complete songs? How far along were those songs when you whittled it down to what you took to pre-production for the album?
They’re all complete and they’re all demoed. I have a studio at my house, which I often say is like an alcoholic living in a bar. Even since Truth & Lies was released, there’s probably seven or eight new songs already.
When I’m home, it’s what I do. Sometimes, I’ll just make a track to shred over on Instagram or something and do that and then go, ‘Well, what am I gonna do now? I kind of like that riff. I’ll explore that.’
It never felt like a job. We accumulated some songs over a little bit of time. We record them and then we drive around and listen to them in our car. We email them back and forth to each other and give notes and tweak on them. Then we try to play them live as a band [in rehearsal]. That’s where they either sink or swim.
How much do the songs change once you record them for an album?
Sometimes it’s minuscule, a kick pattern changes or you change a couple lines [in the lyrics]. There’s a song on the record called “Trouble.” It was written with an electronic drumbeat and it was really slow. I was calling it “Young Man.” It kind of took on a different life once the Shakedown got ahold of it.
Another song that changed drastically was “Couldn’t See the Fire.” I’d written that more as like a Bonnie Raitt [West] coasty blues vibe.
We were listening to Alice In Chains in the studio to get in the vibe for the day. We were just kind of admiring some of these songs that we loved. Next thing you know I’m playing a riff and [Shakedown bassist Noah Denny] is chiming in and a song that was going to be a blues song turns out to be this big rock anthem. It all just kind of depends. We try to follow whatever inspiration presents itself.
Since Fender brought us together. What is your live rig like on this upcoming tour?
I’m gonna try to take out one of those new [Fender] Tone Master amps. I just played one at NAMM. I’ve got a decision to make. I’ve got a Vibro-King that I love and I’ve got a Princeton [Reverb] that I love. So I’m like, 'Do I take out those or do I take out one of the Tone Masters just to freak people out?' I’m all about the technology that they’ve developed with those.
I’m not sure. It’ll probably be a concoction of Fender amplifiers and potentially other ones, Marshalls, I’m not sure.
As far as guitars, it’s three Strats and a Tele. I’ve got my two main pink Stratocasters, which are both 1960 Custom Shop reissues. One of them was a guitar that I got when I was a kid. It got stolen from me about six years ago, and it was missing for five-and-a-half years, and then I got it back. So that was pretty cool.
In the mean time, I got another shell pink Strat, which is called ‘Pinky 2.’ So there’s ‘Pinky 1’ and ‘Pinky 2.’ ‘Pinky 2’ has a humbucker in the bridge, so it’s a little bit gnarlier. Then I have a Strat called ‘The Judge,’ which is sort of a Frankenstein thing with a Tele pickup and a humbucker. Then I recently have fallen in love with Telecasters, so I have a ’59 Tele reissue that I’m taking out.
There’s a lot of what I'll describe, until you tell me otherwise, as relic’ing on the guitars you've been playing. How much of those looks are from the Fender Custom Shop and how much is from ... rock and roll?
Both of my pink Strats showed up with a couple of dings on them but looking very pretty and they had a lot of paint. And the same thing with ‘The Judge,’ that’s the white one. That one was flawless when I got it.
‘Pinky 2’ has taken the brunt of touring. When we started doing the AC/DC tour in 2016, that was sort of the beginning of the end for the paint on that guitar. We got wireless systems because the stage was so big. So I would catch myself, kind of bracing the guitar with my wrist ‘cause I’d be sprinting across the stage, just from bracelets and jackets and stuff. That guitar has really taken a bashing. It’s all me and there’s just a lot of time put into those instruments.