Interview: The Driver Era - striving for honesty.
The Driver Era - comprised of brothers Ross and Rocky Lynch - are each taking on a very important task during our video call interview. Ross is in the middle of telling me about their united goal to create a feeling of honesty in their music, meanwhile Rocky is running around in the background of the video call, trying to find their adorable french bulldog Vader. Vader soon settles down on Rocky’s lap for the duration of the interview, which sees us discuss the duo’s upcoming tour, new music, and more.
The brothers are no stranger to working with one another on a musical level - they grew up (alongside siblings Riker, Rydel, and Ryland) in Colorado, performing talent shows in their family basement. After relocating to Los Angeles, the musical group R5 began (with the addition of family friend Ellington Ratliff) and was swiftly signed to Hollywood Records through which they released two albums, ‘Louder’ and ‘Sometime Last Night’. In early 2018, the group re-emerged with just Ross and Rocky as members of a brand new project, The Driver Era - which they announced by sending longtime R5 fans a handwritten note and T-shirt.
Click here to order a CDM x The Driver Era zine (i.e. a mini-magazine featuring photos + quotes from this feature).
After releasing their debut single ‘Preacher Man’ last March, it was immediately clear that The Driver Era were not going to be R5 2.0, but rather an exploration of new ideas both lyrically and musically - with Ross contemplating the darker sides to himself, and Rocky’s self-taught production on the song showcasing a new side to the duo. In a statement about the new project, Rocky explained, “We are, of course, evolving and it’s natural to move forward with a new sound and outlook,” and this new outlook has been more than evident in follow-up releases, ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Low’.
It's the latest single ‘Low’ which sees Rocky take lead vocal duties for the first time in the group, in a song that openly discusses a relatable feeling of feeling ‘low’ - something which he strives to represent more in music, first telling us back in December that he’s “dealing more with how to put my current feelings and understanding of life into the music,” acknowledging that the honest representation of mental health being so crucial is something he didn’t realise until this year.
2018 also saw The Driver Era debut a brand new live show with a number of festival performances which saw them preview even more newly written material (songs like ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘San Francisco’ and ‘Natural’) - which the Lynch brothers tell me might not ever see a proper release, but rather, will exist on the internet through the various live recordings of the songs that exist. Those performances gave the duo the chance to get a taste for live performances again as this new group, and were worked around Ross’ busy filming schedule which saw him spend most of 2018 filming for Netflix’s ‘The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’ in Vancouver - but with another month before he heads off to film again this year, the pair are making the most of their time together, currently performing on a twenty-two date North American tour.
Ahead of heading out on that tour, Ross and Rocky have had a hectic past few months working on new material that their fans are eagerly anticipating, which they think has helped to drive honest expression even more - where relying on your instincts helps to create an end result which is even more honest in feeling. This honesty will be heard in their upcoming new single ‘Feel You Now’ at the end of the month - further proving that when Ross told me, “We want to release as much music as possible,” he meant it.
We caught up with The Driver Era via video call a few weeks prior to them departing on tour, following our Los Angeles photoshoot with them, to discuss the upcoming shows, their songwriting process, and their work together as brothers…
COUP DE MAIN: Do you think that there are certain emotions that are the easiest and hardest to write songs about?
THE DRIVER ERA - ROSS LYNCH: Yeah, I was talking about this with one of my friends the other day, because he always writes his songs from a melancholy place, whenever he’s sad or pissed off about something. But almost all the time I’m writing, it’s in the most joyous state I could be in. I think that’s partly because I love music so much and we love the process of playing - we just love it so much, it’s hard not to be really happy. But I have wanted to dabble a little bit more, when I am in a confusing situation, to try and express myself too, I want to try that more.
CDM: One of my favourite things about music is how a song can change your mood, how it can make you feel a certain emotion. Do you think amplifying emotions and feelings is an important element of songwriting?
ROSS: For sure. That’s why we all listen to it, for that same reason, is just to get either a more intense feeling, or to feel a different way, because you don’t like the way you’re feeling currently. I read a book recently that said music is the language of the soul, and I really like that. I think that’s really accurate.
THE DRIVER ERA - ROCKY LYNCH: I think the best songs are able to transfer the feeling that you felt while making it, or whatever it’s about, to the listener. If the listener can feel that, what you kind of felt in that moment, then you did your job right. That’s how I feel about it.
CDM: In an interview last year you said that your real main goal with The Driver Era is “to just be completely honest and expressive with our music.” Do you think that honesty is one of the most important things about music, and connecting with others?
ROSS: Definitely, and I think a lot of the time it’s overlooked. Part of the reason we said that is because that’s really what we’re interested in as artists, is to present ourselves genuinely. Whereas sometimes in music there’s characters that are placed around in the music industry, which is awesome for them, but our goal for The Driver Era - nothing against that, I love all that stuff, I’m a fan of the character in music actually - with this project, our initiative was to just be as genuinely honest as possible. So that’s definitely still our goal, and probably always will be.
CDM: Have you started rehearsals for tour yet?
ROCKY: Nope. <laughs> We actually just got off a call with the bass player in the band, and he was like, ‘Yo, what songs are we playing live?’, and we gotta finish them first. That’s literally where we’re at, which I kind of like.
ROSS: It’s all spur of the moment.
ROCKY: It’s kind of nice. I don’t have a problem with it. We start rehearsals on Sunday. We’ll do a couple days of getting the songs right. We just have to finish one or two more songs, which I bet we will, like the night before the first show.
ROSS: We’ve always been pretty good about flying by the seat of our pants.
ROCKY: Also, that it kinda limits - what happens a lot of the time when you have time, you just overthink things, you procrastinate. For us, if we don’t have time, every decision is just immediate. 'Alright, we got two hours left to finish this song.' Everything is just so much more certain. You’re not going to probably question A or B as often, because there’s so much more, ‘Hey, we need a decision right now,’ so shit will happen faster.
ROSS: Which also makes you trust your instincts more, and goes back to the honest expression. Where it’s just like if you’re not second guessing your intuition, then you’re being honest.
CDM: Also I feel like with a live show, I’ve seen shows which seem too over-rehearsed, and it doesn’t feel as genuine.
ROSS: That’s actually what I’ve realised recently, is the same thing. If I have a song to rehearse or it’s too down, it loses a special essence - it’s like, you have to find a special pocket every time you play a song, and then it can resonate. I agree with you, if it’s too rehearsed, it’s not special.
ROCKY: If it’s too rehearsed and too thought out, then I think the people on stage get bored, and then the audience gets bored. So the more spur of the moment, and the more you can immerse yourself in that specific song, in that specific city, then it’s like, that’s when at the end of the show, we’ll get off stage and be like, ‘Yo, that was a good show.’
CDM: In the live shows you did last year you played a couple of unreleased songs - ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘San Francisco’ and ‘Natural’. What was it like playing songs which haven’t been released yet? Do you like being able to gauge the reaction to new material from the live show?
ROCKY: We’re about to do that again on this tour. <laughs> We’re playing those songs and they’re not going to be out. <laughs>
ROSS: Honestly, with those songs, at that time I was like, ‘This probably won’t come out.’ So I was like, ‘We just got to play some songs so let’s play these.’ It was less about, ‘Let’s see how people react,’ and more about, ‘Let’s play these songs and have some fun’ - which is kind of a good mindset to be in, because my expectations were blown out of proportion because everyone liked them.
ROCKY: Also, fans of ours are so hardcore that even on the unreleased songs, they’re going to pull up to the shows and know all the words. So even though we didn’t actually release them, we kind of did release them because they exist in some form on the internet - so they kind of are released, just obviously not the studio versions. The reason why that is, is because Ross was filming [Netflix's 'The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina'] for that whole year--
ROSS: Nine or ten months.
ROCKY: We had these festivals booked and we were like, ‘What are we going to play?’ Those were just the most finished and closest songs we had, so that’s kind of how it came about.
ROSS: There’s so many songs--
ROCKY: We have a list of like thirty songs right now. The list is nice, and honestly every song on there is deserving of some sort of attention - it deserves someone to listen to them.
CDM: I really love the lyrics in ‘Nobody Knows’. You sing, “Dress like your friends 'cause you're told to fit in.” Why do you think that as humans, we’re conditioned to want to fit in and not stand out?
ROSS: It’s totally the tribe mentality. I’m a pretty big believer in that. I read ‘Sapiens’ [by Yuval Noah Harari], so I’m pretty into the whole idea of a lot of the social situations we find ourselves in are because of biology, and because of evolution. So I think one of the main reasons for that is because of the tribe mentality - where if you fit in, you have a better chance of surviving. But in any case, I think it’s cool to bring awareness to those things and to encourage people to step out further, and be more themselves, and to make courageous decisions in fashion - or however you want to express yourself - because I think that’s important.
CDM: Was ‘San Francisco’ written about a specific experience in that city?
ROSS: It was. I was dating this girl and she got invited to a Dolce & Gabbana event in San Francisco. So we ended up having this really fun four-day span in San Francisco which was really cool - one day we were in a random hotel, riding bikes around, being just kids in the city, and then the next day we were all dolled up in tuxes and a dress going to this fancy party in this crazy mansion. It was one of the better times in our relationship, and then as that relationship started to fade, that was the song that I wrote. The lyrics are, “We overplayed our song,” and we did, it’s just what happened. But it was a good time, we had good memories.
CDM: Ross, you were declared 'White Boy Of The Month' on Twitter for your cover of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’. How do you guys go about choosing what songs you want to cover in your set?
ROSS: Yeah, that song I wanted to play because as Rocky mentioned, I was spending most of the year up in Vancouver filming this show called ‘The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina’, and at the time I had made a playlist on Spotify to listen to on my way to work - just songs that I think my character would listen to. One of them was ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, and I just thought it would be really fun to play live, so we started playing it live and people loved it.
CDM: Rocky, what was it like performing ‘Low’ for the first time live last year?
ROCKY: Yo, that was actually super fun! Was it in Florida?
ROSS: Yeah. Or was it Made In America?
ROCKY: No, it was Florida. That song was really fun, it’s as simple as that. Live, that song is a little chiller - when you’re clicking play on the actual song, live we just kind of barely turned it up a little. You feel that live, and it was sick seeing some fans pull up and singing the lyrics. The second time we played it was by the ocean, it was awesome.
CDM: Rocky, in the making-of ‘Low’ video you mentioned that the song took about six months in total. Do songs normally take that long for you guys?
ROCKY: Every song is different, but with ‘Low’ for instance it was just - I had a little part, then I was working on another song, and then came back to it. Songs just kind of do that. There’s a song that we just finished, we worked on for about a month - we started other songs and came back to it.
ROSS: It can range. ‘Uptown Funk’, I remember reading something about it taking years to make. Sometimes it can take ages to make, and sometimes you can write a song in twenty minutes.
CDM: Do you work entirely from the studio you built?
CDM: When did you build it?
ROSS: We’ve actually been working from home for about five years.
ROCKY: We’ve been slowly getting better at producing, engineering, mixing ourselves. We started doing that in one house, and then we moved and kept progressing into another house. In this house now, we turned the lodge into the studio, but it actually has been flooding recently.
ROSS: It’s the worst! Especially when you’ve got deadlines, it’s been really tough.
CDM: What are you working towards musically at the moment?
ROCKY: It’s hard to say. If I had to make a prediction by what’s happening in the next few months, I would say there’s a chance that we’ll put a song out. [The band have since announced new single 'Feel You Now' will be out on March 29th]
ROSS: We want to release as much music as possible.
ROCKY: Ross goes back to film in April--
ROSS: Right after the tour I go back to Canada for ten months.
ROCKY: So we leave for tour in two weeks, then we’re on tour, and he leaves right after tour, so it kinda seems like we’re in a situation where we’ll be like, ‘What’s the next song you want to put out?’, in between all these other things that are happening.
ROSS: We’re definitely going to keep releasing music. Whether it’s an album, or it’s singles, we’re going to keep going.
CDM: Albums also aren’t considered as important by a lot of music consumers now - with the rise of streaming sites, I feel like as long as there’s new music, fans can be happy.
ROCKY: Our Spotify or Apple Music page is essentially just like a large album. So if we put out a song every month, and someone goes on our Spotify, it’s like, ‘Here are six songs in the last months.’
ROSS: People like the ‘Top Songs’ anyway. They just listen to those.
CDM: Do you test out new music on your dog Vader?
ROSS: I’ve thought about that - one time I was like, ‘Maybe Vader will react to songs that are really good.’ But he’s kinda stubborn as it is, he doesn’t react to much.
ROCKY: We’ll be like bumping songs sometimes and he’ll come sit next to the subwoofer and just stare at it. <laughs>
ROSS: More than anything, Vader loves when we come home at like 2am, and we have friends with us, and we’ll go into our studio and turn it on really loud - he’ll love it. He’ll go around sniffing people and rocking around, he loves it.
CDM: You’ve worked as siblings together in music for such a long time now - is it a working relationship that you’ve grown accustomed to? I feel like in the entertainment industry, working as siblings/family is totally normal, but people outside of that industry can sometimes think it’s strange.
ROCKY: It’s really comfortable. It’s seamless, we kind of know after growing up together, and working for so long with each other, you kind of know what you’re going to get - it’s very open. If there’s a part of a song we’re not liking, we’re not going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s good,’ when it sucks. It’s very honest, it’s a healthy creative environment. If you’re thinking about, ‘Oh, does this person like this?’, you’re not actually in the best creative process for making a song.
ROSS: It’s definitely a lot easier to be brave in the initial creation of a song when it’s just your brother - because like Rocky was saying, the initial song that comes out is the most important moment. You have to try and capture as much of it as you can, but if you’re thinking about it, it just won’t turn out well. You have to completely surrender to that moment and just let it flow, and if your brain is in doubtful thought then you won’t create anything. So that’s really what it is. But also I think Rocky is amazing - I think we’re both really, really good - so it’s almost like I don’t want to work with anybody else.
CDM: Ross, you talked about reading ‘Think and Grow Rich’ by Napoleon Hill which talks about two people forming a third consciousness - which is such a cool thing to imagine, especially when working on music together! Is that how you’d describe your connection to each other when collaborating musically?
ROSS: Mmmhmm, I think so, because when I first got home, we didn’t have it yet. It took us a minute to establish that third consciousness, if you will. But once we did, then the music started coming alive and we started making things more consistently, things were just better. It took a second to re-establish that after I came home though, so I do think that’s a thing. We spend every day together in this house--
CDM: So you have to be on the same page, musically.
ROCKY: <laughs> Exactly!
CDM: You've been officially releasing music for nearly a decade now, and creating music for even longer than that--
ROCKY: We’re veterans. <laughs> We’ve been around since Usher. <laughs> T-Pain was at the top of the charts!
ROSS: LMFAO was also still on the top of the charts.
CDM: As the veterans that you are, what keeps you wanting to write songs?
ROSS: Another book that Rocky turned me onto recently was ‘The War Of Art’ [by Steven Pressfield], and in ‘The War Of Art’ he basically says you can’t feel satisfied at the end of the day unless you do what your soul craves. He did an analogy of a hunter going and getting food, and bringing it home to feed his family - if you don’t make the kill, then you can’t feed your family. Essentially what I’m trying to say is, at the end of the day, it’s kind of our life’s work. I don’t think I’ll ever not make music. It’s like Prince - he had massive success, towards the end of his life not so much, but he still released a new album every six months, because he just had to.
CDM: Are there other creative outlets you would like to explore beyond music?
ROSS: For sure. I’m already doing a lot of acting, Rocky is doing a lot of producing and stuff like that right now. But we’re very involved in the visuals that happen to our music and stuff, and I would like to dive deeper into that too. Any creative endeavour, sign me up, I’m ready. That photoshoot we did actually, that was very creative and collaborative - we were running around and creating whatever we could. I think it turned out great, it was really cool.
CDM: You mentioned a couple of books throughout this interview. Have you been reading any other good books recently?
ROSS: We both read this book ‘The Magic Strings Of Frankie Presto’ [by Mitch Albom] which is a good music book - that was great.
ROCKY: The most recent book I’ve read was ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [by Ray Bradbury], which they did an HBO special of, so I thought I’d read it first. I always wanted to read it, but then I wanted to read it before the special.
CDM: Ross, your publicist told us that you keep a journal for doodling in - is it also where you write what become lyrics of The Driver Era songs?
ROSS: Yeah! I’ve got a few books. There’s ‘the’ book which has been around for a second, which looks like it’s out of ‘Harry Potter’. It’s big.
ROCKY: Vader chewed a little bit of the corner off of it. Our most standard songwriting process is he’s probably writing something in there that’s got all-- Everything’s analogue, and I’ll be on the computer to figure out what it sounds like with the technical side of things. That’s our most recent standard writing process.
ROSS: I was scrolling through this the other day [‘the book’] just looking at it, and there’s so many crazy songs in here! Some of which I don’t even know where they are, like they could be in a session somewhere. I’ve had this book since--
ROCKY: It’s probably about five years?
ROSS: This says 2016.
ROSS: I think I’ve had it since 2015, maybe.
CDM: It’s cool to have that and see a journey from 2015 all the way to now.
ROSS: Yeah, I like it a lot. I have other books too, I just like having books around to get my thoughts out and to draw in.
CDM: You came to New Zealand back in the day as R5, but we hope you can come here for a Driver Era show one day!
ROCKY: That’d be sick.
ROSS: Dude, it was so crazy at that show, I was so sick.
ROCKY: I got a tattoo in New Zealand! And I also jumped off the bridge.
ROSS: I was going to do it, but I was sick.
ROCKY: Riker [Lynch] got food poisoning there too.
ROSS: I really like New Zealand though.
The Driver Era’s single ‘Low’ is out now, and they are currently touring across America (click here for tour info).
Listen to ‘Low’ below…