Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown have come a long way since cementing their lineup in 2012, and if you ask frontman Tyler Bryant, they’re living the dream. Over the last few years the band of four has toured with numerous rock titans (including AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and ZZ Top), played a bucket-list show for Bryant at Madison Square Garden and continues to make a living by touring and recording their own music. What Bryant most wants now is the freedom to continue—and to bring more people into the Shakedown fan base.
Talking with Blues Rock Review one week before the Shakedown’s third album release on June 28, Bryant was excited about the progress the band has made recently, especially in terms of songwriting. They’ve long since pushed past the rock ‘n’ roll stereotypes that intrigue many musicians who dive into the industry at young ages, and they’re finding the songs that speak most to them are the honest ones. The Shakedown have learned to trust inspiration and instinct—it’s what led to long-awaited ideas like “Out There” finally making it onto a record and personal struggles tip-toeing into the newer “Panic Button.”
All said, Bryant seems to have a healthy approach to the album’s release, as excited for it as he may be. The Shakedown aren’t looking for a hit record—this is a lifelong mission for them, and they’re playing the long game. “This is just another rock ‘n’ roll record. This is a snapshot of where we’re at,” Bryant said. “We’re just trying to do what we do and do it the best we can.”
The Shakedown’s new album Truth and Lies is due out Friday. How are you feeling about it?
I’m just excited for it to be out in the world. I’ve been doing so much press and talking about it, and I’m ready for the people to get their hands on it and sink their teeth into it. It’s exciting to be stepping into a new chapter and to unveil some new songs on the road. We’ve been slowly incorporating this new record into our live show. We’ve already been playing six of the songs, but we’ve got all of them ready. We’re excited.
I recognized a couple of the songs from demo snippets you’ve released on social media over the years. “Out There” is one I remember hearing a version of several years ago.
The thing about “Out There” is, I wrote that song like seven years ago. It’s been a while. I wrote that song before we had any record deal or anything. There have been so many people that have come up to me and said, “When are you going to put that song out?” Because it used to be called…I didn’t have a title for it, so the name of the video was “Re-stringing & singing,” and people kept asking about it.
I had a friend over one night and was just playing guitar after dinner. We were all sitting around and I started playing that song. He said, “Man, why is that not in the running for your new record?” And I immediately went downstairs and did a new demo of it. And sure enough… [Laughs]
In what ways has that song evolved since you first wrote it?
It hasn’t progressed much. A lot of the songs, some of them are never written with any expectation attached to them—you’re just creating to create. If I sit down and go, “All right, we’re writing for the Shakedown,” then it takes a lot of the fun out of it because you’re setting parameters on the creative process.
That song was written in a moment of inspiration, and then it was just kind of there. I don’t think it was ready for a Shakedown record; if anything, the song didn’t progress, but the band did. We had songs like “Wayside” or “Into the Black,” songs that were a little more vulnerable. It took us a second to accept that sometimes the train slows down for a minute.
That’s one of my favorite things about where the band is at now. I’ve always been really protective of that song, because it could so easily sound cheesy if you over-produced it. My favorite thing about songs like “Wayside” or “Out There” is it’s just the song—it’s just the lyric and the vocal. Everything else is supplementing that and not taking away from it. That was what I love about the recording of “Out There,” because I feel it’s so true to how that song was intended to be.
The Shakedown has in the last few years opened for so many artists that soundtracked the childhoods and adult lives of your listeners. How have you evolved as touring musicians in response to playing with some of rock’s most influential artists?
We’ve definitely grown as songwriters. When we were on the road with Billy Gibbons, we were doing an acoustic tour for 30-some-odd shows—and like Tom Petty said, if you can’t make a song live on an acoustic guitar, then it’s not much of a song. We were having to figure out which songs translated to an acoustic environment and make that work. Then it was a master class in songwriting from AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses for two years.
It drove home the point that simplicity is key. I think that came through a bit on the self-titled album, and hopefully even more on this next record. But I think the songwriting has progressed, and the live show has definitely gotten better.
Has that songwriting growth come from observations on the road or from tips that musicians you’ve toured with passed along?
It’s more just observing what’s happening, trying to be a sponge and not try to complicate things. Some of my favorite songs on this record were songs that were written rather quickly, where you’re not trying to make some big scientific creation—you’re just feeling the music and letting it flow naturally through you.
Songs like “Out There” or “Shape I’m In” or “Ride” or “Drive Me Mad”—those were all just written in 10 or 15 minutes and not overthought. I get so ADD in the creative process. Whenever there’s all these sorts of roadblocks, like, “We need a song like this,” or, “That’s a little bit too this,” and, “We need more of this,” my mind immediately shuts off because that’s sucking the fun out of what we all started doing it for in the first place, which was just to feel the music and be part of it in the moment. That’s honestly why in the process of making this record we ended up with 55 songs to start with, which got narrowed down to 27. I get so ADD in the creative process that it’s just not my speed to zoom in on anything too quickly, too much. Make it, forget about it; maybe it has legs, maybe it doesn’t.
You recorded this album quickly—within two weeks, right?
Yeah, it was quick. With that said, we recorded the album in two-and-a-half weeks, but prior to that we had spent weeks down in my home studio learning the 27 songs we agreed had potential. We had everything worked out beforehand.
How were you able to narrow down the song list from the original 55 to the 27 you went into the studio with, and then down to the 13 that ended up on the album?
We have these band meetings, which I think everyone always dreads. We sit around the kitchen table, and everyone writes down their favorites, what they’re feeling, what they think has potential. We go from there.
The 27, those were just the ones we all agreed on. It has to be all four guys agreeing on something. All four guys had 27 on their list—and maybe three guys had a 28th, but if it wasn’t on all four guys’ lists, we didn’t touch it.
You mentioned you’ve been doing a lot of press for the album. Have you been seeing a larger response overall as people wait for the new album to drop?
It’s interesting, because a lot of the things I thought we would be talking about when the last album came out, I feel like a lot of people are just now catching up with what we’ve been doing. We move pretty quick, and we never stop moving. We just flew to France and did 35 interviews in a day and a half, and I feel like it was the first time I’ve really talked about the fact that we had been doing the AC/DC or Guns tours. Even though we went through France, I’d never done any press talking about it. So a lot of the questions were, “What was it like to do this?” And we’ve already moved on; that’s a thing that happened, and we’re getting on to whatever’s next.
But it’s been positive, talking about the reaction. It seems like the press is pretty enthused about the state of rock ‘n’ roll, based on bands like Greta Van Fleet just absolutely killing it right now, and Rival Sons—it seems like people are really excited about what’s going on within the genre.
It’s a good time, but everything comes in waves. There are times when things are thriving and there are times when things are fighting. We’ve been fighting for rock ‘n’ roll since we started the band. That’s what rock ‘n’ roll is about: it’s about being relentless, regardless of what anyone thinks about it. That’s one thing I’m proud of this band for. We’ve had a million doors slammed in our faces, but for every five doors that get slammed in our face we might have one door open that is way cooler than the other five. You just have to be strong in where you stand and stay positive and focused on why you do it.
For me, that’s what that song “Ride” is about. It’s not about taking life too seriously. One question I get asked a lot is, “Are you nervous? Are you nervous about how the album will be received? If this isn’t your ticket, will you quit?” This is just another rock ‘n’ roll record. This is a snapshot of where we’re at. We’ve never been a band that’s made anything to try to get on the charts. We don’t play that game. We’re just trying to do what we do and do it the best we can and build it brick by brick.
Without the pressure of trying to make it on the charts or “break through,” is there something that you hope this album achieves for the band, a next step you’re hoping to reach?
I just hope that it brings more people into the world of the band and that we can keep playing bigger shows. We’re at a point now where we’ve done so many support shows that we’re focusing on headline shows. We don’t want to do too much support to the point where we’re just continuing to do that. We’re still going to do support slots here and there because it’s a good way to bring more people into the equation. But I want this album to keep bringing people to Shakedown shows.
Is there a specific area in which you hope to see the band grow or explore further?
That’s tricky. It’s hard for me to answer right now, because I feel like we’re already pushing the envelope within our creative realms. There have been times in the past where we’ve wanted to try incorporating other sounds; we experimented with sample pads and stuff. We’ve never run tracks; we don’t have computers onstage. What it’s adding is so miniscule, and we have to rely on what we do. I think that’s the thing that makes the band special.
I will say one thing I do want to happen in the future is for Caleb to incorporate piano. You can hear it on “Out There,” you can hear it on certain songs like “Shape I’m In.” I know I’m kind of throwing Caleb under the bus here, but I would like him to be able to play some of the keys stuff while playing the drums, because I’ve seen it done—and I know if anyone can do it, he can do it. He’s such a well-rounded musician and songwriter. Caleb and I have done so much writing together, and he’s just all around talented.
Press materials for this album mention that “Panic Button” was written to address the anxiety and panic attacks you’ve experienced. Artists like you who do experience these things have been particularly brave in recent years about addressing this topic publicly. What made you decide to engage with this through your music now?
I just started having these moments sometimes, even during our shows, where I found myself getting into my own head. And music has always been a way out of my head. “Panic Button,” that song was a perfect example of me using music as medication to try and work through some stuff I deal with.
The whole point of even having a band in my opinion is to try to make people feel the way you feel when you’re making the music. I like to think that the way I feel when I’m listening to Albert King’s Live Wire/Blues Power is how he was feeling. Whenever you start a band—especially a rock band—and you’re that young, you believe a lot of the stereotypes. You’ve got to wear shades inside, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to get drunk and do this.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that the music and the writers I’m most drawn to are the ones that I feel are speaking their truths. A song like “Panic Button” or “Shape I’m In” are as truthful as I can be at this point in my life. Maybe someone else needs to feel like that. It’s just me trying to use music to empower myself and whoever else might need it.
Interview by Meghan Roos