KCR One-On-One: Charlotte Sands

I had the absolute honor of sitting down with Charlotte Sands over Zoom to talk about her journey with music, “Dress” exploding on TikTok, moving on from your crappy ex and way more. You can watch the interview here, but you can also read it below.

I am so excited to have Charlotte Sands with me! First off, I just want to say congrats on the release of your EP, Special! It has seriously been one of the only things I’ve been listening to and it’s on a playlist I have called, “repeat.” But we’ll get more into that later.

CS : Thank you so much, I’m so glad you like it. That means so much to me.

Bangers. Been playing it on my radio show almost every single week. People are probably getting annoyed with me.

CS : Hey! They have to put up with it. Too bad. 

How did you start creating music?

CS : So I’ve been making music since I was really young. Luckily, I grew up with like two kind of creative parents. My dad was in rock bands when he was in his twenties in New York City, and that’s how him and my mom met. And she was doing theater and like all that kind of stuff, so I’ve been around artistic people, luckily. So when I was really young, I would basically just sit with my dad and learn how to play guitar and listen to him play and like always try to sing with him whenever he was doing stuff and learning how to record, all that kind of stuff. It was just kind of how we connected and bonded. I’ve just kind of done it since I was really young, I don’t remember not singing and not making music, even when it was so bad. I’ve been doing it for a really long time. It’s been like the only thing I’ve ever been good at, somewhat. 

Not me, I have no musical talent. I just said this in an interview recently, I did drum lessons and everything when I was little, but I just wanted to rock out. I didn’t want to learn the basics anymore, so I ended up quitting. 

CS : I totally get it. Drums were one of my first instruments I ever learned. And I loved it, but yeah, you got to stick with it! It’s hard.

Personally, I was raised on the Backstreet Boys on one side and then, I don’t know if you know, the Barenaked Ladies, but that was like the range of music I was raised on. And that definitely had a huge influence on my music taste. Do you think that the music you were raised on had an influence on your own personal style?

CS : Absolutely! I was just like you, in the sense of like, I was originally raised by my parents on Bonnie Raitt, Grace Potter, Cheryl Crow, all these really incredible women, female songwriters and musicians. Like Alison Krauss, all these super folky storytellers. So I originally found music and it was all that, all super acoustic stuff, all really really really high quality lyricism. Then, when I was in middle and high school, I found All Time Low, Mayday Parade and all these bands where I’m like, “Wait, this makes me want to break into a show and go see them,” which was like a complete different relationship, connection and energy I had towards music. It like went from me being like, “Ugh, this is beautiful and artistic” to being like, “Hell yeah, this is sick! I want to be front row at this show.” So, I think that 100% because of those two opposite genres, that have a lot of similarities and it’s still high quality lyrics on both sides. But for me, I was like how do I make a song that can be played on just a guitar and be as good as a song that is written by Bonnie Raitt or someone incredible, which I will never meet, I will never be able to be that good. That would be my goal. But then also be able to put on a show and make people feel the energy and the way that I felt when listening to those other bands that got me hyped up. Cause I’m a performer in the sense that I want to put on a show, I don’t want to sit in a chair. So I have been forever trying to find that weird middle ground of both those things. 

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Day

I think that’s why I like your music so much because it’s like exactly that. I think the first “emo” band I got into was Sleeping With Sirens.

CS : Oh my god, incredible, yes!

So I think that says a lot about me today. 

CS : Yes! That is a compliment!

So like I mentioned earlier, your EP Special just came out a little bit over a month ago. What was the experience writing and releasing your debut EP?

CS : Honestly, it was so crazy because I didn’t originally plan on releasing it as an EP. I just wanted to release it as all singular songs. Then, I kind of got this point on the last few songs where I realized that they all had a lot of similarities in the sense that I was talking about the same relationships and I was talking about the same experiences. It was kind of like almost every song felt like a different side of the same story to me. The happiness, and then the jealousy, and then the moving on, but then the not being over it. Every single song kind of felt like every phase that I went through during the last year of my life. So I decided that this is kind of a cool chapter to close and to move into a different narrative. It just felt really cool because it’s so different and I think all the songs are so different than each other. I think that genre is kind of dead, in the sense that I don’t ever want to be in one genre box, seeing as the fact that I want to release a folk album one day. I want to release a crazy metal album one day. I want to release a country album, like I want to be able to do all of that. I think that with me, I’m trying to release stuff that makes people see that I could be moving in any of those directions, not just like one thing, you know. So I’m excited about it. I’m really thrilled that it’s out in the world and it’s being received the way that it is because I’m glad that people connect with it. That’s the most important thing to me is that people feel represented and connection to it. 

I absolutely love it, and I agree. They all do sound different but they work very very well together.

CS :  Thank you so much. 

How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never heard your music before?

CS : Ugh, that’s so tough. I feel so weird always talking about what my genre is or what my sound is because I feel like if you say that you’re pop, automatically people think of tropical, top 40’s, like Ariana Grande pop. But then if I say, I don’t ever want to call myself punk because it’s almost disrespectful to actual punk music, you know. But I think that I’m a weird clash of 2000’s pop punk kind of stuff with also a little more classy folky lyricism, I guess. I think that’s what I’m trying to do at least, I don’t know if it’s working.

No, it’s working, it’s definitely working. 

CS : Ok, good! But I guess even in the live show aspect, it’s like a show with the energy of a pop punk band, but the songs are able to live in either a pop world or an alternative world. So I’m just trying to play all those fields. 

The song “Dress,” basically a stand against Candence Owens, can you explain the inspiration behind the song and how it came to be?

CS : Absolutely. Yeah, it’s a hilarious story. It basically all started even before everything with the Harry Styles Vogue cover. I was having a conversation with my best friend, Danen Reed, who is another one of the writers on it. Basically he produced every single song I’ve had out, he wrote “Special” with me and he’s also my drummer, he’s the best. Shoutout Danen Reed! Before that whole session, we were having a conversation because he was talking to me and was like “Charlotte, it’s so funny over the years how much your type has changed. You used to like these guys would like get into fights and had to like prove their masculinity and confidence to you. And now you like won’t date a guy if he doesn’t paint his nails.” It was like so funny because I didn’t even realize it at the time that my complete definition of confidence has changed so much over the last few years. And how I perceive someone as confident and how I feel confident, just the fact that I now see confidence as feeling free to dress however you want and be whoever you want to be and live your authentic life. Confidence to go against the norm is, I think, more attractive to me than just going with it, you know. It’s changed so much and it’s shifted, which I’m happy about. I’m really glad I’m not dating those same people. We were talking about that and then we went into the session and the whole magazine cover and the whole reaction of Candence Owens happened. We went into the session and I was just laughing because I was like, “I can’t believe this is still a conversation.” It’s like fabric, and she’s like up in arms saying that our civilization is going to be brought down because somebody decided to wear more fabric. Like it’s just so insane to me. Not to dull down the actual issues in our society that are there unfortanutely, but it seemed like such a stupid conversation. I was like, “Would you just mind your own business? And just let people live the way they want to live. It doesn’t affect anybody.” So we were kind of just talking about it, and then Danen was like, “Yeah, what if we’re just like talking about a guy wearing a dress? Like it’s like Harry Styles wearing a dress or like YungBlud or like any of these guys that are right now, currently in music going against the gender norms.” We wrote “Dress” and our whole goal was to make it as casual as possible, in a way that most people wouldn’t even grasp the fact that it was even about a guy for like a while into it. I was like I want people who disagree with the subject matter to like the song before they even realize what it’s about, that they’re forced to support it without understanding it. Trick them into agreeing with this because it seemed so normal, so casual, so conversational that they’ll be like, “Wait OK, it’s actually not that big of a deal.” You know? So that was kind of our goal, to make it such a fun, catchy song that even people who didn’t want to listen to it were like forced to listen to it. And then have to question their actual opinions and views because of it. That was my only goal and we had so much fun. It’s been such an insane reaction from people and it’s been really special because I think for the first time in my songs, people were able to get a part of my personality and who I am as a person and my views, instead of just me as an artist. It was like me as a human being, mixed with me as an artist. Being able to do that and show that is super rare in music and I think it’s super special. So I’m just really grateful that people cared and took me under their wing. 

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Day

So that song is actually how I found you on TikTok. [Dress] obviously blew up on TikTok and a lot came from that. Do you want to talk about that also a little bit?

CS : Absolutely. Yeah, that was such an incredible insane experience. It’s also just so funny because I was so new to TikTok when that happened. I was like one of the people who was pushing it off. I was like, “Please can we just pretend this is a phase and it’s gonna go away?” It’s not like something I’m going to have to create content for all the time because I just didn’t understand it at first. I didn’t have it and I was avoiding the whole platform. But, I had a conversation with my manager and she was like, “Charlotte, you just have to do it, you just have to make videos for it and put your music out there. Give people a chance to like it and feel represented. You deserve that and they deserve that.” It was this whole conversation where I basically just cried and was like, “I don’t want to make videos on an app. I don’t want to do this, I have so much stuff to do. This feels so stressful and irrelevant.” And then, I take it all back because the third or something video that I posted, a week after I was crying about it, ended up being just a teaser of that demo. Me not knowing how TikTok worked, not thinking anything was going to happen, all the sudden was at Thanksgiving with my Mom, looking at my phone like, “I wonder if like 500,000 views is a lot in an hour,” you know what I mean. I was sitting there like I don’t know what is happening, but it’s probably not a big deal because this stuff happens all the time, whatever. But it ended up being an insane experience because the coolest part was like, I’m 24, so I grew up where like if you put anything on the Internet, if you post any vulnerability, any songs of yours, anything like that, you get automatically bullied and rejected for it. It just never felt like a positive place for me, it always felt like a place you were being judged and you were being bullied or harassed in some sense. I’ve always kind of avoided doing that kind of stuff, and I think that’s why I was avoiding TikTok for a while. It was insane because there was like 14,000 comments on that video and I’ve liked and replied to like every single comment, and there’s not a single negative one. I’ve never experienced anything like that where there can be such a large group of people who are genuinely all spreading positivity and love towards each other and just supporting me, but also supporting this movement and this view. And just supporting authenticity and all these really really wonderful things. It was just so unexpected, I thought that maybe my mom would see it and my sister would be like, “Good job!” and that was it. It ended up being this incredible incredible thing that I was able to meet so many people and connect with so many people. We ended up releasing the song like a week later because we were just like whatever, we’ll just do it, you know, people are asking for it. It’s been crazy, it’s been the coolest thing ever. Like not being able to have shows as an artist where my favorite part of the whole entire music thing is performing, that’s been a really hard part of the year. So being able to have this kind of interaction, even though it’s on social media, actually being able to interact with new people, and meet new people and make friends and have this thing that connects us, has been the one thing saving me during this year and making me feel normal. Yeah, it’s been really incredible, I feel really lucky. 

TikTok is insane with artists blowing up like left and right on there. Which is awesome, it’s amazing that we have this platform now. It’s how I find a lot of my music recently as well. All the new artists I’ve been listening to, all TikTok. 

CS : Yep! And I know, it’s so funny how I’m like the complete opposite. I’m like I love it. I’ve met so many people. It’s the one app where I’ve realized people actually transfer over to other apps. People will find you on TikTok and actually go to your Instagram, actually go to my Spotify, actually go do all this work. And no other app, I just feel like people would leave it. Like they are actually looking to find connections, actually looking to find people they like and looking to find music they like, and support people and support each other. It’s just like a really wonderful community, at least my little bubble algorithm is. I know it’s crazy out there in the world, so still be safe, but for me, it’s been nothing but sunshine and rainbows. 

I only downloaded it because I wanted to watch my 16 year old sister’s TikToks because she has a lot of followers on there, so I just wanted to watch that. Then I got slowly sucked in and now I can’t stop watching TikToks. 

CS : Yeah, same. Me everyday.

What is your songwriting process normally like? Do you go in with just the lyrics first or a song idea? Or how does it all work?

CS : Honestly, it’s a little different each time. For me, all of my songs are from very specific things happening, every word in every song of mine is the truth. I feel like I’m not the kind of person who can just sing about stuff I don’t know, or sing about things I’m not experiencing or haven’t experienced. It doesn’t feel authentic to me in any sense. I feel like every single thing that I’ve written, it either comes from me having a drunken voice memo or something from the night before, or some sort of idea written down when I was just in a conversation or random things like that. I’ll just always kind of be writing, I can’t ever switch it off. Like I’ll be at a Whole Foods and someone will say something, and I’ll be like, “Oh my god, I have to record that!” It’s so weird and creepy. I do that a lot for song ideas. Honestly, a majority of the time I’ll go into a session and will try and build a track, try and produce just an idea of something of where we want the energy to go, if we want it to be upbeat or how we’re feeling in the room and if I’m in a good mood or a bad mood or whatever the vibe is. We’ll just try and build something and a lot of the time I just sing random stuff until something comes out that I like or that sounds good. It almost feels like my brain is subconsciously venting and its stuff I’m not even trying to be cool, it just is how I feel. That’s when I feel it’s the most vulnerable and most honest. Then we just roll with it. I’m just weird, I’ll just like sing random words in random melodies for however long and then just pick whatever things I like. Obviously I have co-writers and collaborators who do the same and help me weed through all of it. But yeah, that’s what we’ve been doing. Even the song “Special,” that the EP is named after, was like literally I was sitting in my car crying and a voice memo from that song is me being like, “Now you’re calling me up almost every single week.” And literally writing random stuff and the next day being like, “Oh my god this sounds so bad.” But then being like, “Maybe we can work with it a little bit and tweek it.” So I’ll just do random stuff like that.

I like that. Hey, if it works, it works

CS : Whatever works, you gotta do that. 

I need to ask about a lyric that literally just fits with the music perfectly, because I need to know how it came to be. In “Sweatshirt” you sing, “Woke up in the morning, you gave me something to wear home. Said it was your favorite from college in Colorado.” How did you get that to work so well? Because it is so catchy and just fits perfectly.

CS : That is so nice, thank you so much. Honestly, this sounds so weird, but when I grew up, my brother listened to a lot of rap music. The first time I ever started writing was honestly when I would just mess around with like kind of rap-y stuff. I would never say I could rap, because I can’t. But the lyricism of it, I was always so infatuated by the cleverness of rap music and rap lyrics and just how many syllables they would fit and rhymes and all that stuff. So I feel like I’ve always been the person who is like, we will fit as many rhymes and syllables and alliterations and everything into every sentence that I possibly can, which is sometimes way too much. I’m the kind of person where I need internal rhymes, I need rhymes all the time. It’s just how my brain works in the sense where I just think it’s one of the only things that I find kind of easy, just finding weird internal rhymes and be able to fit syllables and stuff like that. Sometimes it’s just way too much and I just need to kill it because I go overboard. That song was written so quickly. I actually had the idea for it. I had a Zoom session and I was with Megan Redmond, who wrote on that song with me, and someone else who ended up just not showing up to the Zoom session. And I was like, “Hey, Megan. This sounds like a really weird idea, but I realize that my whole entire closet, every single sweatshirt that’s in there is from a different ex. And I still wear them all the time because they fit really well, because I always wear XL sweatshirts. But I don’t want to get rid of them but I kinda feel weird that I’m holding onto them.” I was like, “Do you think that’s weird?” Then for like the next 15 minutes, we sat there and started writing that song, ended up coming back with Danen and getting another session in and figuring it out. But it fell out, it was one of those things where it just felt super natural. It was just, “gave me something to wear home.” 

It works so well, it really does. 

CS : Thank you so much. I always feel like I sound weird when I sing, like I’m in it and I’m doing, “Colorado.” 

I sing it the same way in my car, so I think everyone does.

CS : Oh my god, thank you. I’m glad you’re with me on that. 

Do you find it hard to be open and honest in your lyrics, knowing that the person in the situation that you wrote that song about, it’s going to be out in the open for not only that person, but everyone?

CS : Yeah, honestly, I go back and forth so much because for “Dream About You,” that song is literally the most descriptively honest song I’ve ever written I think. I mean, a lot of them are for different reasons. But that one specifically, that exact situation that I’m writing about was happening while I was writing that. Literally, not to give you too much information, but had just broken up with my ex, was kind of hanging out with this other person, woke up at their house and it was the first time I realized I didn’t feel guilty about it. That I kind of felt guilty because I didn’t feel guilty, you know what I mean. I was like I feel bad that I don’t feel bad about being here. I literally walked into the kitchen while he was sleeping, and recorded, “Laying in a bed with somebody else, hoping if my head’s on his chest it’ll keep my mind off you.” And that whole song, every detail in it is from that morning and that day. I went into a session later that day and we wrote that song. I didn’t put that out for an extra few months because I was so scared that my ex would hear it, which he would, and know that I was seeing someone else and that I was over him because the song is literally I don’t dream about you anymore. It really hurt my heart a lot to do that, but then I got to a point where I was like I think about the person who could potentially be going through the same thing at the same time. And the fact that them hearing the fact that I’m going through it at the same time, could help relieve any of that, and help them know that they’re not alone in those emotions in that moment. I was like that’s more important to me than his. Like, no offense, but me being able to be any sort of translator of emotions and make anybody feel a little less sad or lonely in any way, that’s my responsibility as a writer and as an artist and I owe that to them more than I do to my ex, or any guy. Sorry, but yeah that’s my priority and those are the people I want to affect. I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where if I am worried about hurting people’s feelings or doing any of that, then I’m not going to create the most honest art I possibly can. You kind of just have to let go of people’s expectations and judgement and comments, you know. You just have to completely let go and say, “This is what I’m doing. This is who I am. This is how I feel. My feelings are valid. You can disagree with them, but they’re still my feelings and I’m allowed to feel them and I’m allowed to write about them and be honest.” People deserve honesty, you know. Just kind of let it go and I definitely have a lot of hilarious phone calls and texts after every song I wrote gets released, consistently. There was one song where I had four people text me afterwards and ask if it was about them, which I’ll always say no because I want everyone to never think they’re important enough to write a song about just because they broke my heart. Like, no I would never! It’s always kind of scary, but you just gotta do it. You just gotta rip off the bandaid and just be yourself and let everything else go, you know. 

Good life lesson in general, not just about music, just in general. 

CS : Thank you, I’m here. 

Photo Credit: Jacqueline Day

I know it’s only April, but what has been your favorite releases this year besides your own music?

CS : Oh, that’s a great question. Honestly, anything All Time Low, they just released another song that’s so good. I feel like everything I’m about to say is technically last year. 

Last year, that’s where my brain’s at right now.

CS : I know. I honestly don’t even know where I am, or who I am, or what year it is. I’m still confused. But, I love the new Julia Michaels’ song that is like the, I wish all your exes were dead, one. I think that song is sick. She’s one of my favorite writers. Yeah, I don’t know. I listen to such old music that I feel like I’m always behind in the cool things. I would say those two. All Time Low and Julia Michaels.

I feel like I’m still in my emo phase. I feel like quarantine put me back in it, which isn’t bad because now I’m listening to all these bands that I listened to in middle school, all their new releases. Some of them are good, some of them are horrible.

CS : Absolutely. No, it’s so funny. We’re all going to come out of quarantine and see all the people we haven’t seen in so long and they’re gonna be like, “Why are you wearing black eyeliner?” And I’m going to be like, “I’ve been doing this for a year.”

I’m in public time, time to tone it down. 

CS : They’re like, “No, no, no, that was a phase.” It’s like, no mom! It was never a phase! 

Exactly, we’re going to be going through that again.

CS : She’s like, “Oh god here we go, I thought we were done with this Charlotte.”

Exactly! My sister, I think in the beginning of quarantine, she’s 16, she was like, “I’m so glad you’re not emo anymore.” 

CS : And now you’re like, “Uhhhh….”

She described me as her “emo sister” for like a very big chunk of time.

CS : Honestly, that’s a huge compliment.

I know! I was like, “Thank you!”

CS : Good! Run with it! I love it. 

Besides music, what else are you passionate about?

CS : That’s a great question. I always get asked about hobbies and stuff and I literally every time feel like I make stuff up because I feel like I don’t have any hobbies. I don’t know what it is. I know I should have hobbies because it’s probably not healthy to have all your eggs in one basket, in that sense. I love reading, I do love reading a lot. I feel like I only finish ¾ of every book, which is a problem. I always finish ¾ of a book, but then recommend them to everybody as if I finished them. I’m so weird. I’m passionate about animals. I’m fostering a dog right now. That’s been more than a hobby for me, it’s like taking up so much more time and energy than I was expecting. But he is so cute, he’s like a little pitbull puppy and he’s ruining my life, but I love him so much. If anyone’s looking to adopt a dog, let me know! But yeah, I don’t know. I need to go find hobbies because every single time I’m like, I don’t know. But overall, as a person, I would say I’m passionate about women, equality, you know. I’m passionate about people feeling respected and supported. Positivity. There we go, that’s my slogan now. 

Put that on new merch, just that. 

CS : Women! Equality! Energy! They’re like, “What is she talking about?”

I’d buy it! 

CS : I would buy that shirt, for sure. 

What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?

CS : I hope that people feel like our differences and what makes us different are celebrated. I think I hope that people know that nobody’s normal, like there is no normal. And that we should be celebrating the things that make us weird and we should be celebrating our fact that we’re able to be emotional people and we’re able to be rollercoasters of emotions. And that that’s really normal and it’s not weird. Just the concept of that like perfect as a person and as a life, just like doesn’t exist and there’s different levels of that we should be reaching for instead of just like one whole idea. I just want people to feel really safe and protected and respected and represented and know that they at least have one person out there that cares about them. And I think that probably doesn’t get through on maybe a lot of the songs that are just about shitty relationships, but that’s my goal, at least for the future, is to create more music that just makes people feel loved in some sense and makes them want to celebrate and be happy and you know, be around each other and spread positivity in every aspect. Yeah, I think the biggest thing is that I grew up listening to music, I was listening to 2000s pop punk music. The reason I loved it so much was because it made me feel like I had a group of people out there that listen to the same music, that we’re just as weird as me, just as misunderstood as me and didn’t fit in in the ways that I didn’t as well. It gave me hope that one day I would be able to find that tribe of people. So I hope that people listen to music and know that they also have a tribe and they also have a group of people out there that feel the same way that they do, and so do I. I’m pack leader, I got you guys. You’re not alone in your issues and in your problems and in your life. As long as people feel that way, that’s all I care about. 

I definitely, definitely think your music does that, at least for me. Can’t speak for everyone!

CS : That makes me so happy.

Is there anything else you want to add? Where can people find you and your music?

CS : All I would like to add is, hang in there. It’s been a really tough year, but we’re going to be back to live music soon. We already have tours and stuff that we’re talking about that I’m really excited about. And it’s all going to be okay, so just hang in there and like be happy. You know, give yourself a little love and an extra squeeze today because you deserve it. Did you say where can they find my music? Everywhere. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Tidal, YouTube, wherever. We now have two music videos up right now on YouTube as well. I’m super excited because one is in the back of a Uhaul, so go check that out, if you want to! 

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to sit and talk with me today!

CS : Oh my god, of course. Thank you for letting me! It’s honestly a privilege. I’m glad that you care about me! 

Of course!  

Cover Photo: Charlotte Sands by Jacqueline Day

Written By: McCaeley O’Rourke

KCR One-On-One: Beauty School Dropout

I got to sit down last week with Beauty School Dropout to talk about their music, working with Lauren Sanderson, Cole’s boyfriend Harry Styles, their clothing brand Dropout, and so much more.

You can watch the video here, but below is the lovely interview!

I am so excited today because I am here with Beauty School Dropout! How are you all doing today?

Cole : We’re doing great! 

Bardo : Excellent.

Brent : Waking up.

Cole : Kinda in a frenzy. I just got back from the beach, literally we all just walked in just before this meeting.

Perfect, perfect. So let’s just start this off by individually introducing yourselves and your role in the band.

Cole : I’m Cole, I sing and play guitar. 

Brent : Ok, I’ll go second. 

Bardo : Save the best for last!

Brent : I’m B, or Brent and I play bass.

Bardo : I’m Bardo and I’m a producer and I play guitar.

Cool! I’m not musically talented whatsoever. I played the drums when I was ten, but I gave up because I kept learning the basics and I wanted to learn songs. So my mom sold my drum kit. 

Bardo : I sat through lessons my whole life and I just always end up quitting or like getting kicked out because I never actually did practice. I would just write songs or manipulate the teachers into opening up GarageBand and writing songs.

Brent : See I’ve been nasty since I was born. 

My drum teacher, it was like this very tiny room, and he had very strong smelling arthritis cream that he would put on like right before we started every time. This room would be 2×2 and just smell like arthritis cream, so now you understand why I quit.

Cole : Yeah, that’s pretty funny. Just BENGAY stinking up the room. 

Brent : Ah BENGAY.

It made no sense. 

Cole : Wow, fire. 

Yup

Cole : I’m so sorry.

But how did you get into making music together? 

Cole : Oh, together? It’s kind of a long tale. It’s serendipitous how we all met. Our story is a little bit funnier. There was this girl I had a crush on and I saw that her friend was in my hometown, so I hit her up when I was going home to San Diego, and I was like, “Wanna hang out?” and she was just like, “Can I bring my boyfriend?” And I was like, “Yeah! I would love to meet your boyfriend!” 

Brent : I’m the boyfriend. 

Cole : And this was the boyfriend and we ended up becoming boyfriends too. 

Brent : Yeah! My favorite part is imagine you’re the boyfriend that’s showing up. And I just bought him coffee because I wanted to swoon him. I was like, “wow this dude is so hot, I’m gonna make him my boyfriend.” 

Cole : Yeah, it was pretty mutual. And then we met at a show. I used to help co-produce events at this spot called Winston House. We had a mutual friend who was performing and he showed up. At that time it was still kinda a solo project / we were just starting to figure out that we wanted to play shows together, and so we ended up kind of forcing him into the corner. And we were like, “No, no, you’re joining this band.”

Bardo : At the time, I was producing for other artists and just doing the whole songwriter producer thing. The first session we did it was just like these two guys came over and we just started making stuff. We’re like, “Oh OK, cool.” At first I was like I’m not going to be part of this. 

Brent : “I’m just going to produce.”

Bardo : I’m just gonna watch this thing.

Brent : And you never left.

Bardo : And here I am. Cole never left.

Cole : That was also on the decline of my last relationship, so I like started staying on the couch or something. It was hectic. 

Bardo : Everyone left the session one time, and I was literally about to go to bed. It was like 3 in the morning and for some random reason, I just decided to walk back downstairs. My phone was dead or some shit, and I hear this banging on the outside door. I look outside, I thought it was a homeless man. It’s Cole, back from his house, and he’s like, “can I sleep on your couch?” 

Cole : My girlfriend kicked me out. 

I mean hey, it all worked in the long run because here you are!
Cole : Yeah, yeah. Definitely. It all happened for a reason.

Wild stories, but great stories. Probably one of the best I’ve heard honestly. 

Photo Credit: Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich | @natribaus

How did you come up with this name Beauty School Dropout?

Cole : So, I’m so OCD about naming things and when this was still technically my solo project, I was running through various different monikers that I was trying to figure out what I wanted to go under. One day, I kinda just popped this one into my brain, and threw it in my bio. This was probably like 6 months before we even started doing anything together, any of us. Then at the time when we started working, I was like I think this is what the name should be. And everyone has been really kind and loving about it, so we kept it.

Catchy, but if you do search your name on Google the first thing that comes up is like stuff from Grease.

Brent : Wait so we have a new metric for ourselves. Once we’ve beat that, we’ll know we made it. 

That’s like Of Mice & Men, the band, the same deal, the book comes up. But now they come up, which might just be my Google. 

Cole : It definitely does. I grew up listening to them too.

Bardo : I get scared when people search on Spotify. Does like Grease come up or do we come up? 

I think you do on there thankfully.

Brent : We got Frankie Avalon on there.

Cole : I don’t mind all too much because I love that movie and I feel like somehow people will remember it. Even if they don’t find us, or are intending on finding us, or vice versa like, it just sticks. They’re like, “oh! Beauty School Dropout, that band!” 

Bardo : I saw this cover, or someone was covering Beauty School Dropout Grease, the other day. I looked on YouTube and I’m like what?? Then I was like, oh. 

Wrong one, wrong one.

Cole : Like wow people are covering our songs.

Bardo : But it’s cool because I mean like certain people aren’t necessarily going to remember, a lot of younger, Gen Z kids, aren’t going to remember Grease. They may not have seen the movie or they just ya know. So Beauty School Dropout will just be this thing that is more of a saying, which is kind of cool. 

I honestly forget that there are people younger than me out there. 

Cole : We watched a video last week of what, kids or teeenagers reacting to Nirvana and Paramore. 

Paramore???

Cole : Being like, “Oh what is this?” Like what? Who raised you?

Brent : They’re like, “Oh I’ve heard this song before.”

It’s like this song recently, Potential Breakup Song, because Aly and Aj just did a revamp of it and made it explicit. But I have two little sisters, they’re 18 and 16. They’re like, “Oh yeah that’s the song from TikTok.” I looked at them and I was like, “that’s not a song from TikTok, that’s my childhood.”

Bardo : That song slapped. I remember buying it on iTunes. 

You gotta get the explicit version now because it makes you even more mad. 

Bardo : So good!

Brent : Oh, I know that song.

So good. 

Bardo : The Cowbells movie. 

Oh my gosh! I talk about that all the time and my sisters won’t watch it with me! It’s a classic! 

Photo Credit: Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich | @natribaus

Let’s talk about this year already for you all, since you started off by releasing a song with Lauren Sanderson called over again. So how did that collaboration even happen or come to be?

Cole : I met Lauren a while back, also when I was throwing shows at that place called Winston House. She did a showcase there and that was kind of the initial step of us meeting. There was another showcase like two or three days later that we went to and she was performing, also hanging out with one of our friends at the time. So like, when quarantine started we kinda hit the ground running and sent our producer pack out to a bunch of artists that we admire, wanted to work with, whatever, just to see who would come back. And she was one of the first people and we’ve kind of ended up getting our hands on just about all of her songs since. But that being said, because we were producing a lot of her music, we got a feature on her re-release, which was pretty special to be able to share with her. 

That is such a great song, and I love Lauren Sanderson. So I found out about you all, and then that song was released, so my mind was just not being able to comprehend.

Brent : That’s sweet!

Cole : That’s amazing. Yeah, she’s fantastic. In fact, she just underwent surgery on her vocal chords. I tracked her vocals on Sunday, the day before. It was like the last thing she could do before, she did a one take and then left and was like peace and I was like OK.

That works! See the transformation after surgery. 

Bardo : Yeah, we gotta wait a couple weeks and then we’ll get her voice back. But, it’s gonna be kind of gnarly. Like, the transition back into singing after intensive surgery. 

Cole : Yeah for real, it’s gonna be weird, but she’ll be fine!

Yeah! 

Bardo : It’s a character builder.

The live music video for this song is probably my most watched video on YouTube yet, which is really bad. I think the day it came out, I was replaying it and my roommates were probably very annoyed. But, was that video a collaboration between you all and Lauren or how did you come up with that idea?

Bardo : She came to us with it actually. She was like, “I wanna do a live video.” Basically, she wanted to do a live music video for it but her whole style and aestchis is like retro, mtv, kind of vibes. 

Cole : Camcorder, VHS vibes.

Bardo : It was cool because we actually shot that all on VHS. Her guy does all her stuff 88 mm, or is it 8 mm? 

Cole : 8 mm. Clint. His name is Clint.

88 would be very interesting, but 8 yeah. 

Bardo : I don’t know anything about the mm.

Cole : Super medium format.

Bardo : But 8 mm. Clint is fucking rad. Point is, his name is Clint. He’s dope. He shot it all on VHS. It was sick, because we had a camera behind the drum set and like all these other like old skate video cams around everywhere. And then I was laughing when we got the video back because I thought they just put filters on, like to make it look all VHS. Turns out, he actually like went and bought a bunch of used TVs and just filmed the TVs. Like played it through the VHS, then filmed the VHS TV. That’s how they actually did it and I’m like oh that’s really cool. So he’s like all about it. He’s like really really cool.

That’s insane. I thought it was just a bunch of filters too till now. 

Bardo : That’s legit. 

Brent : Like rock vibes. 

Bardo : So that was actually recorded live too. 

That’s the version I played on my radio show because that’s the version for me. 

Cole : Oh sick! That was kinda I guess where it became collaborative because we brought all our gear, band had to set up and do the whole mix on it. And we sent that back, and they did the video and kinda spliced that together. 

I don’t know how she danced around in those shoes. I wear platforms all the time but those were like higher than I’ve ever worn. 

Cole : My ankles would have been snapped. 

Me too, I’m very accident prone. I fall walking with nothing around me, so that would have been a disaster. 

Photo Credit: Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich | @natribaus

What is your songwriting process or creative process normally like and has that changed during covid? 

Cole : To be honest, it didn’t change all too much. My background is songwriting for other artists, as is his, as he is too but more on the production side as well. So when we met, we kinda just had this synergy creatively where we were like, “OK, we can apply this to people outside of just our project.” So, when covid hit, we were probably 6 to 8 months into already being in the studio, like day and night, just writing through and through. I guess nothing really changed, if anything it was kind of a silver lining for us because then our friends stopped hitting us up, so we were actually allowed to just work and not have to be putting people off. Yeah, we just kept our heads down and hit the ground running and we ended up working with Lauren and a few other great artists that I don’t even think we can necessarily talk about yet, but there’s some really cool ones on the backburner right now. 

Well I’m excited for those!

Cole : Yeah, top secret!

Top secret! Guess I can’t find out yet, it’s fine. 

Obviously you’re a newer band having only started really in 2020 and you have only a handful of singles out. Personally, my favorite is Make It Through the Night with Die For You in a very very close second. But, what is your favorite song that you have all made together and why?

Cole : Your face right now. Nothing that is out unfortunately. I think we were still very very much still discovering ourselves throughout that whole process. I think in that, we were kinda just like, “oh, let’s put stuff out!” Which we did, and it did a lot of great things for us, it was definitely perfect for what we were trying to achieve at the time.

Brent : We were in the womb, we’re ready to give birth now.

Cole : Yeah, the trial phase. But now, the new music that we are waiting on, or I mean finishing, about to put out hopefully later this year, depending on what kind of happens between now and the next couple months, is far FAR more better than anything we’ve put out.

Bardo : Far more better.

Cole : Far much. Very excellent. Super great.
Brent and Cole : As far manys.

Cole : Much better.

Just another thing I have to wait for!

Bardo : But, it’s more in line with what we wanna actually be making. Not like the songs we have out aren’t us, because they are us. That was just us in that moment. Like Last Time Was the third song we ever made and we just like put it out. So we had to go write a hundred songs to figure out 5 songs that really define us. And we also write so much for other people that it’s this thing like you kinda pick up along the way like, “Oh, wait we did that thing in their song, we should do that for ours.” We kinda steal things, but we’re stealing from yourself, you know. It’s cool to like go through the process and we have to learn, and we’re always going to evolve. The EP we’re finishing right now is probably going to be different from the second EP we put out, but it’s all going to be us. We’re doing it, so. 

I like that description of it. That’s just like you in that time, that was your sound in that time. I really like that. 

Cole : If I had to choose one, I’d probably say Last Time or Die For You.

Brent : I would say the same. 

Bardo : Probably Last Time.

Make It Through the Night isn’t a popular one over here I guess.

Bardo : I think there’s just a lot of…I don’t know. 

All your faces tell me everything I need to know.

Bardo : You should hear the original version of that song.

I would love to! We could make it a KCR exclusive, play that on air.

Cole : It was Make It Through the Summer originally. Yep. Trust. That was just a crazy evolution.

Brent : There’s some residual trauma from that. 

I can see it in your eyes even through the screen. 

Cole : Only because again, at that time we were still so young, and what we were doing and there’s this thing that a lot of artists face of the emotional attachment to a song, like a sentiment. That specific song saw so many different changes and evolutions and it was kind of jarring for us to try and accept those changes. But at the end of the day, we’re always trying to achieve the best song possible. I think it was kind of this weird, frustration of going back and forth between, like, Ah is this really better? Or is this just a change? Like what and if  it is better or like I like this old thing because of what intention was there. 

Bardo : We’ve always heard this song so many times, it’s like hard for us to have a clean opinion on it. 

Brent : There’s also 30 versions of it.

Bardo : There’s 30 versions of this song. And also, it’s really tricky because when you listen to all the new things you’re doing, you get so attached to those. All this new stuff that we’re working on right now is just like, in my opinion, so much more mature and advanced.

Brent : It’s elevated.

Bardo :  Yeah, it’s elevated. So much cooler, in my opinion. Something like that, it’s like almost hard to listen to the old stuff, because you’re like, “dang, I wish we had done this differently.” But you can’t beat yourself up about it. You had to get there. 

Brent : We’re older and wiser now. 

Bardo : Yeah, 6 months older. 

Yeah, that’s how I feel. I’m turning 22 this year, I’m young.

Cole : I just turned 23 and I feel young. 

I feel so old already, so.

Brent : I turn 25, and so does he. 

I don’t even want to think about that, that’s scary, I’ll have a breakdown. 

Cole : We’ll *buzzer noise* skip that subject.

No, cut off. 

I think that even though you only have a few singles out, you have a very distinct and unique sound. How would you describe your sound to someone who’s never listened to your music before?

Cole : That sound or the new sound?

New sound, you can do new sound. 

Cole : Diesel. It’s just diesel. 

Brent : I forgot who said it, but I really like it. It’s like the Neighbourhood produced by Skrillex, with hip hop influences.

Bardo : Blackbear, the Neighbourhood, Skrillex collab. 

I like that!

Brent : But like definitely not just like dead-on, but it’s a cool starting point!

Once again, excited! 

Brent : More rock, more rock. 

Bardo : Definitely have a lot of rock. 

Cole : The new stuff is hard as fuck honestly. 

That’s what I’m needing. I’m having a very hard time finding new music that I actually want to listen to. I’m like thinking of a very specific sound, because I’m not really a person who likes pop music, my radio show is called Everything But Country. So no country. 

Brent : I love it. 

So, no country for me. I’m like all rock, that’s how I’ve always been, so trying to find new music right now is hard. 

Cole : We’ll have to after this send you some of the unreleased demos so you can vouch.

Please! I could write about it a little bit and be like, “I can’t tell you much, but this is good!” 

Cole : Yeah, we love that! 

So I saw on your Instagram that y’all are making clothes, a brand called Dropout. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Cole : Yeah, we would love to! It’s kinda the extension of us. We treat it more as a clothing brand than it is merch. I don’t even think we’re really thinking of it as our touring merch, it’s more just this other entity that we’re running. We just did the official launch of the hoodies! We had the hats out for a little bit, but I think that was kind of just to test the waters , see what people were really interested in. Also for us to be able to see how many people are actually going to actively buy and support this small business of ours that’s starting. Yeah, the hoodies just dropped, we’re about to start doing vintage tees. We got a plug on a vintage wholesaler, so we’re trying to keep it as sustainable as possible because that’s a huge thing for us as well. Gonna start dropping more clothes pretty actively here in the summer, so keep an eye out! Go buy a hoodie now!

I’m excited. I just keep saying that, “I’m excited, I’m ready!” 

Brent : It’ll be like a wave and will just hit.

I know! That’s seriously what it’s going to be. One day, everyone’s gonna know your name because you drop it all at once. 

Cole : Yeah, that’s what we’re going for!

So out of all of the releases from 2020, besides your own songs because obviously already described how much you love those, but what was your favorite release from 2020?

Bardo : We only listen to our music, that’s why we hate it so much.  

Brent : Probably the Nothing But Thieves album. That slaps!

Cole : That was really good! Oh! Amo by Bring Me the Horizon. Or was that before? It was, god we’ve been in such a black hole. I don’t even remember. 

That was a great album. I was listening to it in my car one day, I heard Evanescence singing, and I was like, “this kind of sounds like Evanescence here!” And I’m driving, so I wasn’t looking at my phone. I was being a good driver that day. So then I like got home and looked at it and I was like, “wow okay this is sick!” The whole reason she’s on the song is because she actually sued Bring Me The Horizon for a song on their last album because it sounded similar to an Evanescence song. So that’s how they got her.

Cole : So they got her to feature? That’s awesome. Oh god, now I’m gonna hit my Spotify real quick, I playlist all day, so I know that I’ll have something.

Brent : Yeah, I’ve been super about this artist glaive. He released a lot of cool stuff last year, this year too. 

I think one of my favorite releases last year was Glue by Boston Manor. That was one of the best ones, I love that album. There’s this artist that I actually found on TikTok called Brakence.

Brent : Oh! I was just about to bring it up!

Cole : Brakence is great!

Punk2 is so good!
Cole : Yeah, Brakence is fire! Yeah he was definitely one of my favorite artists that I found from last year. Also, Brent Faiyaz. He is one of my favorites, hands down. 

Brent : We just all bring out our Spotify’s. 

I know. Everyone’s sitting there scrolling. 

Cole : And I’m a basic bitch, but Drake. I love Drake. We love Drake. If you couldn’t tell by all the Drake. That was like a big troll at first, then we were just like, “No, let’s actually do it!”

That’s OK, I’m a One Direction fan. I know I like look more emo and everything, but I was a Belieber and a Directioner back in the day, so that shaped me into who I am. I’m like One Direction always. 

Cole : My boyfriend used to be in that band. 

Yeah, haha, I already know about that. I have the Watermelon Sugar vinyl and [a mutual friend] grabbed it and was like, “wait, is Cole on the back of this?” And you’re literally on the back of my vinyl.

Cole : I’m immortilized in that fucking speedo. 

Bardo : You’re really immortalized. 

Brent : You’re gonna go down in history as the dude in BSD and the one on Harry Styles’ Watermelon Sugar Vinyl. 

We actually should talk about that. I don’t know why I haven’t brought that up. How did you even get into [the Watermelon Sugar] video?

Bardo : I’m surprised no one’s made more of a bigger deal about it, like on TikTok. 

I don’t think anyone’s made the connection! 

Bardo : We’ve had some people comment like, “that looks like the guy who’s in the Watermelon Sugar video.

You could go viral on TikTok, just post like a TikTok of you, and just be like, “yeah this is me! I’m actually in a band.” And you’ll blow up!

Cole : I love that! We were thinking of doing a Watermelon Sugar remix in the speedo.

You should do it.

Brent : it’s undeniable.

Exactly, everyone would know it’s you then. 

Cole : But that was a fun time. 

That’s insane to me, I can’t believe that. It completely left my mind, I forgot that you were in that for a second.

Cole : Yeah it was super random. I have a casting agent friend who hit me up the night before. He was like, “Hey, need a male for a Harry Styles shoot. They already said they want you.” Or whatever. I was like, “Oh, sure!” Then it turned into a whole ass thing that I was just so not ready for. 

I can’t imagine getting an email that says, “Yeah so Harry Styles says that they want you in the video!”

Cole : I don’t know if it was Harry or his team.

It’s Harry. Just pretend. 

Cole : It was Harry. Harry actually called me up the night before and was like…

There, I’ll edit that whole part out [his team], don’t you worry!

Bardo : I think Harry had a crush on Cole.

Brent : Yeah, yeah. Like I thought you guys were dating. 

Photo Credit: Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich | @natribaus

Besides music, and now your clothing brand, what else are you all passionate about? *silence* I’m sorry to ask that in the middle of a pandemic.

Bardo : We like crypto-currency! We’re like really into investing and stuff. 

Brent : We do!

Cole : We’re like actual finance nerds. It’s pretty funny. Music and finance. 

Look at the new Stock Market here.

Cole : We gotta invest in ourselves. 

Brent : Gotta get those gains!

Cole : I don’t know, I think we’re passionate about a lot. I love to skate and make art. I’ve picked up tattooing over the last year, which has been fun and kind of brought me into a bunch of cool situations. I know you guys got some crazy ass talents too, so don’t hold back. 

Brent : I just like anything that’s fun. Besides music, I like tattoos too. I’m a nerd, I like video games.

Cole : I feel like anything creative, we’re all pretty down to take on. 

Bardo : Mountain biking. 

Cole : God, fuck that. 

Brent : NO! Not mountain biking.

Cole : This man took me mountain biking. I hadn’t ridden a bike in maybe a year, let alone ever a mountain bike. His dad and him took me electric mountain biking through the outs of slough and I almost died four times. We made it up the hill, which was fine, like, “Oh sick! You made it! Cool!” No one told me how to go down the hill on the bike, so of course we start sending it and I got thrown off the bike into the bushes, over the handlebars at least three different times. 

Bardo : We were at the bottom of the hill and we’re all there and I’m like, “Where’s Cole?” And this dude comes ripping down the mountain, and he’s like, “Oh, your buddy’s back there, he’s in the bushes.” He’s like, “He’s fine! He’s just in the bushes.” 

Cole : Have you ever seen those bad motorcycle crashes where people like fly over the handlebars and like ragdoll? That was me. 

Bardo : I don’t know, we love hiking and nature and shit. We don’t have a lot of time right now. 

Brent : Ping pong! We love ping pong. 

I am so good at ping pong and I have the worst hand-eye coordination possible, but somehow ping pong and pickleball are where I thrive. 

Bardo : Pickleball is super super fun.

I think at Big 5 they have a pickleball set that you can buy for like $20, I have been thinking about it. 

Bardo : It’s like a smaller tennis ball right?

It’s like a plastic ball with the holes in it, wiffle ball maybe. Then it’s a really short net, but with similar rules to tennis with a smaller court. I played it in middle school, that’s all I know. 

Cole : That or tether ball. 

Brent : Or that thing that’s like the trampoline in the middle.

Spikeball! 

Brent : Yeah, I wanna try that. 

Do you know what Kan Jam is? It’s a northeast thing. It’s a frisbee game but you have two literal cylinder cans, and there’s a little slot. You have to throw the frisbee and you can either hit it, the other person hits it into the cylinder. Or, if you get it in the slot, it’s an automatic win. That’s our spikeball in the northeast.  

Bardo : Yeah! I’ve played Kan Jam!

Cole : Have you ever been larping? 

No, I have not!
Brent : You should larp. I love larping!

I would do the makeup for it, I could do that.

Bardo : I used to work at Red Bull when I lived in Nashville and we’d go deliver Red Bull to people at events and things. We pull up to this park one time, at a Larp Festival. Literally for the entire day that we were supposed to be working, we parked the car and just larped. 

Cole : That’s so fire. 

Bardo : We still just gave them Red Bull and they gave us like swords and stuff. Larping is pretty cool. They’re really into it. I really respect it. 

Brent : I respect it too. It’s hard to do. 

Bardo : I was into airsoft when I was a kid, that’s kinda like larping.

Brent : Me too!

Cole : I wanna play airsoft.

Brent : I want to go paintballing.

Bardo : I’ve never been paintballing. 

I’ve never been paintballing. I’ve shot a gun once in my life, a pink pistol when I was 12, in the woods. That’s it. It was with an adult, don’t worry. 

What are your plans for the rest of 2021? New songs? I know you mentioned possibly an EP.

Cole : A lot. We got a lot. Plotting right now. First and foremost, shows. We’re about to start playing shows again. Well, we have a show that we are about to plan for like a month from now. After that, probably preparing to launch. Put out some music and visuals, hopefully by the end of the year. Again, that kind of depends, we’re in the middle of a few different opportunities that are on the table right now, so I guess it’s kinda just like navigating which one is the most appropriate for us, what allows us the most creative integrity because we do literally everything from designing, to the music, to the creative, to like even packing the orders. Literally everything, we do it. For now, we’re gonna kinda continue building from the ground up and probably in the next 6 months start really thinking about what songs we want to come out with first. 

I’m excited again! I hate that I keep saying it, but I’m excited. 

Cole : Yeah, we are too. It’s gonna come faster than we think. We’re just really scratching the surface now, waiting for what we’ve been trajecting for. Keep your eyes and your ears open because it will be happening sooner than later. 

Anything else you want to add? Where can people find your music?

Cole : Do you know Josh Gunther? 

Why does the name sound familiar? 

Cole : I don’t know. We had this whole thing, joke, but like there’s this movement now, “Joshua Didn’t Pay.” Just in case you didn’t know, I figured you should. 

Brent : #JoshDidn’tPay

Cole : #JoshDidn’tPay, brother diesel. We were robbed. 

Bardo : That’s a whole other story. 

Brent : But on another note, we’re on all streaming platforms.

Cole : Yeah, we’re on all streaming platforms. So if you want to reach out and talk about life or anything, we’re here. We love other people, so.

Bardo : And watch our TikTok videos. 

Brent : We remix songs. 

Thank you all so much for sitting down and talking to me! 

All : Thanks so much for having us!

Cover Photo: Natasha Ribeiro-Austrich | @natribaus

Written By: McCaeley O’Rourke

Interview with Chris Bailoni of Grapetooth

Grapetooth

Chris Bailoni, one-half of Chicago synth-pop/new wave duo Grapetooth, discusses his musical beginnings, modern new wave, and what’s next for the band.

What do you think of when you think of Chicago? The windy city is known for its deep dish pizza, its two Major League Baseball teams, and its Prohibition-Era history of organized crime. Music wise, Chicago has produced countless notable musicians that span many genres: Muddy Waters, Kanye West, and the Smashing Pumpkins all hail from Chi-Town.

But despite acting as a musical melting pot, a genre that Chicago isn’t particularly known for is synth heavy, ‘80s new wave dance music. The modern resurgence of this kind of music, inspired by bands like New Order and Tears for Fears, is even less associated with the area. However, the wine-fueled partnership of two Chicago-based musicians is changing that.

grapetooth (n.) one who consumes copious amounts of red wine, to the point that their teeth are frequently stained crimson.

Grapetooth is also the name ascribed to the musical collaboration of producer Chris Bailoni, also known as Home-Sick, and Clay Frankel, vocalist and guitarist for garage rock band Twin Peaks. After bonding over a mutual love of wine and Japanese new wave, Bailoni and Frankel began experimenting with making music together in December of 2015. “There was some night when we were out and Clay was talking about wanting to make some music that’s not rock music, like Twin Peaks. We were drunk at this bar, just chatting about it,” Bailoni, now 26 and gearing up for Grapetooth’s headlining tour this June, recounts. “So he came over the next day and we just started making music. That’s kind of how all that started.”

Grapetooth played their first show in 2016 before they had even released a full-length record. They’ve been selling out venues ever since, gaining a reputation for their rambunctious live shows, which are half frenetic mosh pit, half wild dance party. Bailoni admits he wasn’t initially comfortable with performing on stage, and he credits their song “Violent” with helping him get over any stage fright he felt. “That was the first time I felt like we both broke through the nerves and got more comfortable with how the shows would go live, just because it was so fun to yell [“are you violent?”] so loud,” Bailoni recounts, when describing their first time playing the song at a show in Chicago.

Grapetooth’s bright, high tempo sound wasn’t necessarily intentional and it took some time to find. Bailoni described their first attempts at recording as “pretty strange”: “I guess the drums were dance-y and new-wave-y, but we pitched down the vocals and made them sound like horror movie soundtrack songs, really scary. Weird stuff, dissonant sounding.” It wasn’t until the spring of 2016, when the two wrote Grapetooth’s first single “Trouble”, that Bailoni thinks they really hit on something special. “That was probably the first song we made that we were both like, ‘oh wow, we’ve got a sound here and now we know what we’re doing’”.

Despite finding what Bailoni described as the perfect mesh of his production style and Frankel’s, the two didn’t always have serious aspirations for what they’d created.

“We still hadn’t really planned on releasing it or doing anything real or ever playing a show with it,” Bailoni continues, when asked about their initial plans for Grapetooth. “We were like, let’s maybe make a small EP and put it on Bandcamp for free or something like that.” Despite their modest intentions in their early days, Grapetooth released their first self-titled record in November of 2018. The majority of the ten-song tracklist is in line with their influences, which include synth-punk duo Suicide and Yukihiro Takahashi of Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra. However, the curiously country-sounding closing track, “Together”, sounds a lot more like Frankel’s Twin Peaks work than a New Order song. Including that on the tracklist was no mistake. “I think we just wanted the record to be eclectic of genre and style, but still somehow fit together,” Bailoni explains, when asked about the disparate song’s inclusion. “It just sounds like two friends making music together in their bedroom, which is what the whole thing is.”

When asked about how Grapetooth fits into the Chicago music scene, Bailoni agrees that his city isn’t synonymous with the style of music he and Frankel are creating. “It’s definitely more rock based. Rock, and then obviously rap and hip hop. But all those worlds are so tightly connected – everyone in Chicago knows each other because it’s such a small community, like any community in a city of arts,” he says. “But yeah, I suppose there’s not too much synth/dance stuff coming out of Chicago.”

Maybe being a bit of an outlier in the music scene is one of the reasons why Grapetooth enjoyed such success before even putting out their first record. Personally, Bailoni thinks the combination of his and Frankel’s individual styles is what sets them apart from other bands that have a similar sound. “I do feel like there’s not too much stuff coming out that sounds like us,” he says. “But I feel like Clay’s vocal style kind of separates [us] from the pack and gives it more of a grunge punk sound. Because if you take away all the vocals, we just sound like we’re copying any New Order song or any new wave Japanese music.”

While a lot of musicians were seemingly born with guitar picks or drumsticks in their hands, Bailoni didn’t start dabbling into music until his second year of college. He credits his friend Kevin Rhomberg, known to many as producer and musician Knox Fortune, as his inspiration for getting into music production. “I remember him showing me all the music he was making on his laptop in his bedroom, just with shitty speakers,” Bailoni explains. “His ability to make songs that sounded like they were produced by a full band on his laptop kind of inspired me that you didn’t really have to have a lot of equipment or anything expensive, or any real [technical] musical knowledge, to be able to make songs.”

While a lack of musical knowledge might hinder some facets of the songwriting process, Bailoni thinks there’s a benefit to being less experienced with the technical aspects of music. “I think there’s definitely a positive aspect of not being too musical if you’re a producer, because you tend to lean more towards what sounds good emotion-wise versus what would make sense musically,” he says, when discussing his process for creating music.

“The lack of knowledge tends to force more outlandish, creative ideas, I suppose.”

Bailoni may not have started making music seriously until he was nineteen, but he had a different artistic outlet before that: filming and editing skateboarding videos. This skill would later benefit the band when it came time to make music videos, particularly the video for “Trouble”. “We just kind of grabbed a camera and then went out with a couple of weird outfits with our friend Jackson, who filmed it,” says Bailoni. “It ended up being kind of fun, just the mentality of how you film a skateboard edit: go out with your friends, edit it afterwards, and see what comes out of it.” Keeping with the band’s spirit of experimenting and seeing what happens, Bailoni explains that neither he nor Frankel aim for any kind of narrative in their videos, opting instead for videos that resemble “visual collages”.

What’s next for Grapetooth? For now, they’re proceeding in the same fashion as they always have: taking things as they come and having fun with it. “As far as what’s gonna happen in the future, we don’t really know. […] I guess we’re just gonna keep making music whenever we do, as we always have, and then actually put out a second record.” In the meantime, Bailoni thinks Grapetooth may put out a few singles or an EP this year. But rather than working with any big-name producers, he and Frankel will continue to employ the do-it-yourself method to create, as he puts it, the feeling of two friends making music together in their bedroom. “Just keeping it fun and simple,” Bailoni reiterates. “Us and friends.”

Grapetooth is currently on a headlining tour with support from Ian Sweet and James Swanberg. Catch them in Los Angeles on June 21st at the Echoplex, in Vancouver on June 25th at the Fox Cabaret, or anywhere else that fine concerts are sold. Tour dates can be found here.

Written by: Andrea Renney

An Interview with Andrew Ross McMahon from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

Andrew McMahon

KCR’s Jacob Stephens had the opportunity to talk with Andrew Ross McMahon from Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.

Read on to see what Andrew McMahon said, especially regarding some of his biggest influences, favorite moments touring, and to gain further insight into one of his songs!

Jacob Stephens: How did you get into music and singing?

Andrew McMahon: I was 9 years old when I started playing piano, and singing, and writing music. I was making songs and finding ways to record them. Eventually, in high school, I started my first couple of bands and started to play shows around the town that I grew up in. And yeah, I was really fortunate. Within a year after graduating high school, I had built up a really good following with my first band, and then we got signed and the rest is history from there. Honestly, I never really looked back and just kept making music.

JS: So you’ve always loved music then?

AM: Yeah. Truthfully, it’s the only thing in my life which has consistently motivated and inspired me. And from a spiritual standpoint, it drives me.

JS: You recorded one of my favorite songs “High Dive” so I’m just wondering, what went into that song? Was it a flashback into your childhood or was it something entirely different?

AM: It’s funny, I wrote that song with a good friend of mine that co-produced the first wilderness record, Mike Viola. Mike is a beautiful singer/songwriter in his own right, and we had written a handful of tunes together at that point. I remember what motivated the writing was when I was on the way to the studio; I had heard “The Boys of Summer” by Don Henley. In my opinion, it’s one of the most well written, well recorded songs of all time, and I remember going to the studio and just thinking “We really need to dissect “The Boys of Summer!” I want to understand the anatomy of that song and really understand why it’s so great and what makes it so special.”

There was a mandate when I sat down during that session to try and figure out what the DNA of a good track had, which is something I don’t usually do, but I just felt inspired to do that time – almost as though it were a little writing assignment. After we listened to “Boys of Summer” a bunch, the thing that struck me about that song was how vivid the imagery is and how personal it seems, but somehow that specificity still drives it to feel nostalgic. For me, I approached the lyrics as a kind of sliding door situation. I looked at a handful of scenarios and choices in my life that lead me to my wife, the enduring love of my life. I looked at a couple of those moments and thought “What if instead of going right in this moment in life, I went left? What if my wife and I didn’t get back together after that time we were broken up?” That’s what drove the inspiration of this song. This concept of what could have been, or maybe even should have been. A moment in life you “missed the boat on,” and how that would feel and what that would look like. For me, it was this guy just passing the house of his old girlfriend and catching a glimpse of her in the window, listening to the music of some other person that no longer was me. That was the head space I put myself in for that song.

JS: That’s very insightful! So what has been your craziest moment on tour so far?

AM: Oh my gosh. I had one show in the Something Corporate days that the police tried to shut dow. We refused to leave the stage and almost got arrested but we have had a couple of those moments. Also, in the last several years I’ve enjoyed crowd surfing through the audience on various different inflatable pool toys and things like that. There have been a couple of fun rides that have taken me farther into the crowd than I anticipated. But I think some of those early shows when we were playing with a lot of punk bands and the antics that go along with that were always pretty interesting. Like jumping off of ten-foot-high speaker stacks, and things like that.

JS: Do you look up to someone? Or is there someone you aspire to be?

AM: Ummm… I mean look if there is an artist whose career I have admired in a profound way, it would be Tom Petty. He always managed to write great music no matter what era or genre was popular or trending at the time. And he seemed to approach it with an ethic and appreciation and respect for his fans. I think that is something I have always been really moved by. But on the other side of that coin people like Trent Reznor and Randy Newman have managed to not just have their artist careers and records and what they do on stage, but also gone on to compose and write for other projects. I find myself looking towards them as these artists that have diversified their careers, and create not just for themselves, but for other artists’ projects as well.

JS: Do you feel like you’re a role model now that you have made a name for yourself in the music world?

AM: I don’t know if I feel like I’m a role model. I think that in my career, there’s a lot of things I am proud of. I’ve been able to launch a lot of other projects and start a foundation and charity that does legitimately very good work for a lot of people who need it. I’m proud of these things and I hope that if someone is going to model their life or career after the things that I have done, then I would point to those as being the things I’m the most proud of. But, I would not say I go out of my way or try and put a tremendous effort into trying to portray myself as a role model. I’m certainly as flawed – if not more flawed than most human beings. I think there is a danger to putting anyone on a pedestal because then you’re bound to be disappointed.

JS: Speaking of your foundation, you founded the Dear Jack Foundation, which is a cancer foundation. How can people get more involved and help with that? 

AM: There are a lot of ways. If you got to DearJackFoundation.org, you can learn about the mission, which is to try and support survivors and patients who are diagnosed with cancer from ages 15-39. This is a very under researched, and underfunded demographic of cancer patients that I’d say more so than any other demographic is in serious need of attention and help. The best way to get involved is to send a donation or to sign up for the bone marrow registry. I’m alive because my sister was a match for my bone marrow. A lot of people do not have those matches and I’m trying very hard to make sure people are aware of what the bone marrow registry is and to get people on the list. Also, if you look online there is a program called the Life List which is a program where cancer patients make a list of things they want to accomplish or obtain during their cancer treatment, and you can see the list of the patients and help fulfill the wishes of the “Life List Warriors” as we call them.

JS: Awesome, I’ll have to do that! How does it feel being able to perform and write your own songs?

AM: Because songwriting has been such a fundamental part of my existence, and since I get to answer questions for myself while communicating to people – and the fact that I get to do that professionally is pretty remarkable and I’m very grateful for it. I think though, and this applies to anything that is a job, to some extent that some days I feel like “man I don’t want to write today” for whatever reason, but the overarching feeling attached to the fact that I’m able to write and perform music for a living is one of deep gratitude. However, getting to play concerts for the last 18 or 19 years is the best part, because truthfully, as much as I love writing music, I love to perform. I love being in front of a crowd and I love the energy that you get to be a part of when you can put on a show. It’s a real gift to get to do what I love.

JS: What part of your life has inspired you most within your music career?

AM: For me, the greatest inspirations tend to be my personal relationships. My interactions with the people that are close to me and the world as a whole are what drives a lot of my song writing. My songs are very story based, and to be able to tell a good story you have to live a good story. I try to stay inspired by keeping myself spiritually fed by being around people I care about, and traveling to places that excite me and keep me from stagnating and doing the same thing over and over again. Listening to great music and reading great books and consuming art and culture is another way for me to stay inspired.

JS: How did you end up meeting the openers for your tour [Grizfolk & Flor]?

AM: The Grizfolk guys have done shows with me in the past and I have always been friendly with them and I love their tunes. As for the Flor guys: we did a thing when we were looking for openers where you reach out to other agents and they forward you music from clients that are interested in the gig. With Flor, truthfully, I just fell in love with an EP they put out that they sent in as part of a submission list for our tour and I was like “Tell me about these guys!” When I have the ability to pick up opening acts, you want to bring people that move you and are excited about their music. Oftentimes, I just need to look at the fanbase I have built that has been so passionate and supportive of me that I take it really seriously to try and provide them with a new artist who they can be as excited about as they were when they started listening to my music. So, such was the case with Grizfolk and Flor, that they were interested in the tour and I loved both their bands and their music. They have really proven to be amazing support acts and super talented.

Written by: Jacob Stephens