Eastdown Warehouse, 850 McKee Street
In the dimly lit ex furniture delivery space which is laid out on a bleak inner city strip, tons of kids and young adults in tank tops, sleeve tattoos and beards, teem around the main floor and outdoor patio as the venue opens up for a night full of music. Eastdown Warehouse is one of the few places in Houston that still caters to small bands as well as up and coming acts from all over the state. I waited through a few death metal shows to interview the guys from Austin based band, Driver friendly, and finally, sporting an array of casual summer looks; I spotted a few members of the band parking their van. Jeremi Mattern was the first familiar face I recognized. Clad in a striped tee, and towering above most around him, I approached the drummer and after being introduced to the band members, so began the interview.
Originally from Houston, Driver Friendly formed in 2002 while the boys were still attending High School in the North Houston suburb called the Woodlands. Influenced by bands like Third Eye Blind, Taking Back Sunday, RX Bandits and Less Than Jake, the band took their affinity for music and relocated to Austin where the music scene gave the band a much needed reality check into the world of music producing and performing. After many Monday night concerts, playing small bars, selling tickets in advance and facing the responsibility that came along with living alone for the first time (as many of the band members attended college,) the boys slowly but surely began to learn the hardships of time management and most importantly, carrying on a band. The young group made a lot of time to practice at a space called Music Lab, where they would pay a monthly fee to have unlimited access for rehearsals.
They would soon see that their hard work would pay off.
During the interview, the affable quintet made quite the impression. All extremely charming, witty and good humored, they admitted to loving pop music. “We all love pop music, we love Rihanna, Katy Perry, Arianna Grande, Beyoncé…” Then went on laughingly, to tell an anecdote about a road trip debate regarding pop singer supremacy. Their laughing is indeed contagious and their jesting banter never seems to stop. The band, however, hasn’t always been this smiley. In 2008 within a few years of forming, Driver Friendly went on to a kind of hiatus due to a variety of issues, amongst them, failing to materialize a label deal as well as branching out in separate directions as preoccupations like jobs and school and began to take over band time.
“It all started at a SXSW party, a friend of ours asked us why we weren’t playing anymore and I said ‘well we’re all doing different things’ and she was like ‘why? You guys still have so much more that you can do as musicians, and writing’ and so we were all like ‘yea, I guess we do, we were just kind of doing our own thing now’ but still we said ‘why don’t we just give it a shot”? Trumpeter, Juan Lopez explained. “And honestly, it wasn’t like an instant of like “ok we’re going full time with the band’, we just kept setting little goals like ‘let’s see if we can write one song’, and then we wrote one song, and then it was like ‘okay let’s see if we can write an album’ and then it was like ‘okay let’s see if we can raise enough money on Kickstarter to fund the album, ok now, can we actually record, ok now we actually recorded it, and then it kind of snowballed and then next thing you know we were able to get a record label and a booking agent and you know it’s really expanded over the last two years” Mattern added. And expand they did, after only a few years and a cabin retreat later they came up with 2012’s Bury a Dream, a crowd funded work of art that yielded major results for the band. By the end of that year, the band singed with major independent label, Hopeless Records and in 2013, produced their first release in the studio on their EP, Peaks + Valleys. “I read the email first and-“ Tyler began. “I think it was like Ahhhhh” vocalist and guitarist, Andy Lane adds.
“Initial it was like, we’ve gotten emails, no big deal, but when he asked for a phone call it was like a very excited nervousness because you want it to happen so badly but you don’t want to believe in it, until it actually happens” Matterns tells. The transition to Hopeless Records was not only a major move for the band, but also a foot in the door of endless possibilities.
Suddenly the band that everyone was asking for came back better than ever. Full of infectious energy, electrified harmonies and prominent percussions, Driver Friendly began touring the US and pretty soon began appearing in widely recognized arenas like FPSF and Warped Tour. In response to describing festival shows the answers from the band members, varied from “fun, “hot”, “hell” and “efficient”. Festivals, however seem to be something that the band, nonetheless loves and holds dearly to heart. “Free Press was probably one of our best shows of all time” Matterns discloses. “Over the twelve yeas of being a band, it was so neat coming home to Houston and seeing faces that we’ve seen coming to our shows for like years and years and these relationships we’ve built with our fans, and having this huge audience and seeing all sorts of new eyes out there too-
“one of the biggest crowds, we’ve ever played too” Welsh inputs.
“Warped tour is awesome because it’s like ultra summer camp because it’s like 60-70 bands every day and you’re just meeting all these bands and shaking their hands and-“
“really good food” Lane adds. They all nod in accordance.
Touring, although exhausting to many bands seems like it reinvigorates the members of Driver Friendly who very much admire and appreciate their fans. Very humble and down to earth, the members never fail to mention their dedication and devotion to the people that support them the most. When asked about the conditions and descriptions of touring, once again I received a plethora of answers ranging from, “sweaty”, “charge your phone” and “trying to take a shower everyday.” And from just taking a look at their white van, along with the other identical ones parked on the Warehouse lot, their answers make perfect sense. “Its like summer camp basically” Welsh finalizes, “you’re just out with all your friends, going to places you’ve never been and exploring stuff”. “Texas has been fun, LA, Salt Lake City, Chicago,” they continue, listing out their favorite places to play. “Roswell, New Mexico was the worst” Welsh and the band agree, “and you can print that” Matterns jokes. Then they go off on a tangent, explaining why Roswell is one of the saddest cities in America. Once again, they don’t fail at putting a smile on my face and bringing to my attention their wit, humor and good-natured personalities.
The Art Behind it: Songwriting and Producing
“It’s half and half, the lyrics are written and then the lyrics are brought to the table where everyone is writing music together, it’s an organic process” vocalist Tyler Welsh described after being interrupted by an obnoxious motorbike driver. “They’ve always got to go like ‘vroom’, always” he sighs. After a while, I begin to ask the band questions about music producing and the importance they place on the lyrical and musical part of composing a song. “Yea sometimes we’ll have a melody” Juan begins after the bike zooms off, “and then we’ll put lyrics to a melody, so it’s really what’s working best at that moment, there’s no formula per say”. This is clear in many of their songs, which simply seem to flow in a very pleasant and catchy manner.
Driver Friendly, however, isn’t the kind of band that forsakes the visual details to focus on sounds. The group admits to contributing a lot of effort to producing quality music videos for their audiences. “These days, kids discover music on YouTube more than anything. That’s how we get discovered more than anything (besides playing shows) so it’s just become very important” Mattern explains. Jeremi is the one attributed to making the majority of the band’s music videos. “Some of them are just kind of a fun, artistic, telling a story-trying to entertain people that are listening to a song (in reference to Stand So Tall) but then we take a song from like our Ghost music video and that kind of is like an extension of our live show and trying to really show what the band is like in a life scenario” he elucidates.
“Kids ask us all the time, ‘what should I do I’m a new band’ and we’re always saying ‘buy a go pro, whatever you can’, and seriously come up with the most creative idea you can to put a visual to your music. Because you may have a great song but once you see someone do something with their song it kind of clicks”, Welsh advises. “We were signed and found through YouTube, so us and the Beibs…” Mattern begins; “we’re the same kind of person,” Welsh concludes smilingly. Selena Gomez, Orlando Bloom’s almost-punch, amongst other jokes break out for a few moments as the group showcases more of their likeable, laid back characters that never seem to take a break from having a good time.
Unimagined Bridges: The New Album With New Beginnings
Driver Friendly’s new album Unimagined Bridges is their first fully composed album on Hopeless and with just one listen, the quality, the hard work and the maturity of the ever evolving band all seem to resonate within the eleven tracks that constitute this project.
“It comes from a poem by Rainer Maria Wilke, he was a German poet in the early 1900’s” Welsh explains “And he has a poem that talks about the unimagined bridge and what that is and what it should be for people and it’s kind of inspired me to take direction with the lyrics from the EP before it and continue that through this record”. Bridges, the final track on the album is one of the band’s favorites. The thoughtful, carefully composed song is only one of the eleven that exhibits the band’s precision and diligence in producing this album. “It was one of those songs that we had half written for like a year” Matterns tells, “all of us loved it, then we finally finished it right before going to studio then we finished it again and it’s kind of just a great song”.
The commitment to produce a quality album is evident in just about every song and when discussing the recording and writing process, it is only solidified that the band put in blood and sweat into making it the best it could possibly be. When asked between the main differences in Unimagined Bridges, in comparison to their older material the response made perfect sense “The production on it is better than it’s ever been before” Welsh answers “We were working with a producer that had a different vision than what we were bringing to the table so it was cool to collaborate. We spent more time writing the songs then ever before” he describes. “Everything was just really well thought out, everything serves a purpose to every little note, rhythm, we really tried to make sure that it was the best it could possibly be” Juan chimes in. And it made sense, the band members went on to explaining how writing music became their full time job which consisted of writing three hours a day, having lunch, and then going back to writing for three or four more hours, for about four to five days a week.
And although the band considers the song writing process a team effort, Tyler Welsh is attributed to writing all the lyrics. The “democratic band”, as they called themselves, doesn’t particularly restrict each other and they oftentimes “bicker” (not fight) over what goes where, and what stays out. but the group nonetheless works well together and has learnt to call their disagreements, “constant creative criticism”.
The Music, The Message and The Powerful Band
There is no doubt that the future is bright for Driver Friendly, both as people and as musicians they shine brighter than a lot of other bands who lack their vivacity and dedication to produce quality music as well as visuals to accompany their works of art. Their legacy, even in just simply the local Texan music scene is one to remember, and their presence as a fully equipped band is just as strong and powerful as their music. “I think our biggest thing is for people to just listen to our music and make it mean whatever they need it to mean for them,” Welsh concludes, then the band goes on to explain situations in which fans have reached out to them and thanked them for the times their music has accompanied special moments in their lives and it truly is touching to hear some of the special kind of respect their fans have for the band. If anything, it’s a wonderful trait the band seems to have, regardless of what city they may come from, or how much more popular they seem to get, Driver Friendly has a very intimate appeal and continues to share a closely programmed relationship with supporters.
“We love Houston, its our home, we love playing here, and it’s our home stage no matter what” Lane finalizes, as the interview comes to a close. We then begin to look for a place to take pictures and as I’m strutting up the cracked cement stairs on a little platform against a run down house I can’t help but think and be appreciative of bands like Driver Friendly whose passions for music go beyond record deals and publicity and extend as far as to humble these musicians to simply be lovers and creators of music.
I guess I was thinking so much that I forgot to say goodbye. I go back and shake their hands and as I return to the angry guitars inside the warehouse I simply think that if the city of Houston could talk it would say, well, Driver Friendly, Houston loves you too.