Interview with Robyn August of Rival Tides

Just because Rival Tides came together in late 2012 doesn’t mean these guys are amateurs when it comes to creating energetic and meaningful rock music. Before they were known as Rival Tides, they went by the name of Harris Grade. The band’s original three members — Robyn, Caleb, and Alex — had been making a name for themselves in their local town of Los Angeles, CA. Wanting to further their band and sound, they joined forces with drummer Greg Fulleman and bassist Jason Friday. The guys recently worked with producer Erik Ron (Panic! at the Disco, I the Mighty, Hands Like Houses) who helped guide the group’s self-titled EP to a state of high-energy, rock goodness.

Keep reading below for our chat with vocalist Robyn August. He gives us a deeper look into the meaning behind Rival Tides’ songs and how they came up with them.

I have to ask the clich√© question since you guys are pretty new: how’d you all meet?

There’s actually only three of the original members from the band we were in before. That’s kind of why we transitioned into the new name, because once we had our new members, that was when we kind of came into our real sound. We already had a name for ourselves so we weren’t really sure how people would feel if we changed it, but then once we got our new producer he basically said that we should just do it because we’re like a new band now. Me and Caleb actually tried to start a band with a few other friends and that didn’t work out and Alex used to be in a band with Caleb before that. They started to get back together and they asked me to audition and join the band. It was basically us three who were the first core members. Jason, our bassist, was in another band that broke up and we asked him — he was actually a guitar player before — to come play bass for us. At first he was kind of into something else, so it took a while to get him to become a member of our band. Then our drummer left and then we met Greg on a MySpace ad — of all things to believe. MySpace shut down a month or two later. It was on like a MySpace coffee house. [laughs]

Wow.

Yeah. We already came into it wanting to do a record — and this is our old band. We went to a producer and we kind of let a lot of things happen that we wouldn’t today. There are certain things that we believe in and we kind of just let it go because we thought the producer was right. After that album — which didn’t turn out bad, we had a song play on K-Rock, so it’s not like it was a failure — we just didn’t feel like we were where we wanted to be. We just started rethinking things and got our new producer, Erik Ron, who is awesome. We started to rethink all of our ideas of what we wanted to say and the vibe that we wanted to express. That’s when we finally built it and that’s when we decided to change to our new name, Rival Tides. Sorry that was so long and complicated, but we were a band before so it’s kind of a huge story.

It’s totally fine. I was actually going to ask what caused the name change from Harris Grade to Rival Tides, so we got it all! [laughs]

There you go! We got two answers in one!

I was looking through your songs and in your closing track to “Oceans” there’s a line that says “there’s a sea in you.” It stood out on your Facebook page as well, so what exactly did you mean by that line?

I’m using sea as a metaphor for the vastness that you have inside of you. It could be your soul. It’s a metaphor for what everyone is capable of. Some people only see a small portion of it and don’t really realize how far and deep it goes. It’s kind of this idea that you are capable of a lot more than you think.

That’s cool. Tell us a little about how you crossed paths with your current producer, Erik Ron.

He actually hit us up on Facebook and he worked with this band called Culprit. I don’t know if he was just going through their friend list or what. It’s funny, we’re friends now and I don’t even think he remembers. I’m assuming, because he was working with Culprit, that he just looked through their friends. He decided to take on producing full-time, so he bought his own equipment and got his own place and started following a couple bands that he liked. Then I think he started reaching out to different bands because he wanted it to work, so I think he found us through Culprit and he liked what he heard and wanted to help. The funny thing is that we had a couple producers calling us at least once a month wanting to work with us. So at first I didn’t buy it thinking he was just some dude, and then I went to his page and saw that he’s friends with Culprit. I heard one of Culprit’s songs before and I thought, “Wow, that sounded really fucking good.” I was wondering who did this and then I realized it was him so I was like, “Okay, this guy is legit.” I checked out some of his other stuff and really liked it so I brought it to the band. They were pretty skeptical at first, but I was like, “If this is really him and this is his stuff, he’s pretty good.” He hit me up and asked to go to one of our shows. I think he wanted to see us live before he would decide to work with us. He went to a show we did and hit us up the next day. He really liked us, especially our live show. He liked our energy and everything. He wanted to work with us, so we sat around and talked about it and went with him. We all think it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made because he’s awesome.

How is it working with him?

It’s great, man. Like I said, he’s like a friend too. He’s such a chill guy to work with and he’s very creative and open to ideas. He works with you, but also guides you as well, which is very hard to find. You don’t know how many producers have the “it’s my way or the highway” mentality or they don’t help that much. Like we had a certain friend of ours who was our producer who was super good, but he wasn’t very guiding. Things may have changed; we haven’t worked with him in a while. Don’t get me wrong, the end product would turn out really good, but he didn’t really guide us and that’s what we needed at the time. We didn’t want someone who was just “it’s my way or the highway.” It was more of a very organic experience and it was very comfortable and fun and creative.

Nice!

Which is why I think he’s so successful right now because I think a lot of bands that have worked with him feel that same way. You know what I mean?

Yeah, totally. He helps you grow.

Yeah.

So I listened to and watched the video for “My Insomnia,” and I have to say, it’s pretty deep. What inspired you to write that song?

The song is kind of a metaphor for what I was feeling at the time and I turned the video into more of a story. At the time, when I was writing it, it was very hard for me to sleep. I had insomnia problems and wouldn’t go to bed until seven or eight in the morning. The reason I couldn’t sleep was because I kept thinking about things in the past and what I’m going to do in the future. I was just laying there letting it consume my brain, which is the worst thing you can do. The idea was since I’m older now, I was looking back at when I was kid and then a teenager and then who I am now, so it felt like three completely different lives. I don’t even know who those people were anymore and that’s kind of creepy and scary to me. [laughs] It’s kind of an idea of that and letting certain things that haunt you go. Some of the lines in the song are literally about me. The line about the funeral house and “walking the streets slow” had to do with my good friend, Nate, who died right out of high school. I had to come back and see all of my friends again, basically the last time, at his funeral. That idea is kind of my teenage years. The second verse is more about my kid years. I used to run around with my best friends as a little kid and try to catch ghosts and things like that. So that had a little more sense for me, personally. Then the bridge when I was talking about Charlie: “Charlie is building a time bomb. Get out of here, you’re going to be a star.” That’s more about some of the people from my high school. There were some core friends who really believed in me. So I put my friend Charlie — who right now has been battling cancer — into the song and hit him up the next day and was like, “Dude! I put your name in the song!” He’s been a fan of ours so it was a little thing for him. All of my songs I try to keep honest and the way I’m feeling, but I don’t want I don’t want to make it too literal because I still want other people to be relate to it and have a different interpretation of it. So I don’t try to make songs too literal. I wrote a song about my mom because she had breast cancer at the time and I felt that I needed to. I could’ve been completely literal with that song and say her name and stuff, but I didn’t want to do that. It’s such a bigger thing than me and so many people have had to deal with cancer or family members with it, so I wanted to make a song more about that feeling that you get when that happens, but still make it broad enough for anyone to understand. You know?

Yeah, definitely. So now that your EP is finished up and recorded, how has that experience affected you guys as a band?

Well, funny enough, we actually had it finished for a while. [laughs] We’ve been trying to get it released for some time, but there have been a couple of things that have had it pushed back — some of them having to do with labels. We’ve had a couple of labels saying they want to release it and then last minute they pass. We’re just like, “Okay, thanks. We wanted to release it like a month ago.” Also, we wanted to market it right. We didn’t want to just release it and not have covers on it. Honestly, the feelings are we’re happy that it’s coming out. We just want people to hear it. We want to let it have its time, but in the meantime we’re already writing. Basically, we’re hoping that once it’s out, if somebody is interested they’ll help us out. But either way, we’re going back to the studio to record an EP or album. We’re not really sure yet, but we would like to do a full-length.

Speaking of, does everyone write the lyrics or is it one person in particular?

I write all of the lyrics, but I’ve never felt like I had to. I’ve always encouraged if anyone had a song or something they really want to talk about, but no one really ever does. They just leave it up to me. There have been times where I will write something completely myself and I bring it to the band. I’m not really a guitar player, but sometimes I’ll show up playing three cords and a simple melody and they’ll say, “Oh, cool,” and take it and make it into Beethoven. [laughs] Usually someone will come up with the riff, like Caleb, and then they kind of just jam it out and then I kind of just sit there and help them change little things here and there. Even though I can’t really play guitar or drums, I have a pretty good ear. We all kind of collaborate in making the song structure-wise and then once it’s done I get it on a recording and I start making melodies. To tell you the truth I kind of go off of the vibe of the song to figure out what it is I’m writing about. Sometimes I’ll get the vibe and I’ll make the song be about what I’m feeling or I’ll just hum a melody and something will just come out — like a word. Then I’ll think about why that word came out and what that means and I’ll connect it to what the song will be about. It’s really weird; it just kind of happens. [laughs]

Nah, it’s not weird. You do your thing, man.

Yeah.

Are you planning on recording with Erik Ron again?

We want to! It’s not something that’s set in stone. It’s not like everything we do has to be with him — we’re definitely open to working with other producers in the future — but as far as right now, we work great with him. It’d be stupid to go with anyone else right now, unless we were on a label and somebody said, “Oh, here’s the greatest producer right now!” I think even Erik would call us idiots if we didn’t go with that. [laughs] Right now — as far as us being unsigned and not having the connections or money to pay for some other guy — he’s the best guy for his rate. For his friends, he’s very reasonable, especially for how talented he is. There’s no reason for us not to go with him again, especially since we have such a mesh. One thing I know we want to do is not to sound like our last album. We have ideas of putting more electronic stuff in there and some songs to be more aggressive. We have ideas of pumping up the notch and making it even better. That way people don’t just go, “Oh, that sounds just like their last album.” We always want to be expanding and growing.

So that last question I have is: what’s one place you’d love to play on tour one day?

The White House!

[laughs] Really?

No. I hate politics. I don’t want to say some venue that everyone else says. I want some place that no band has ever done before. I want to play on top of the Empire State Building.

That’d be sick. I’m actually in New York City right now.

Oh, really? [laughs] When somebody asks me those questions it’d be so easy to say, “Oh, I want to play at the House of Blues in whatever city.” I want to play at some place different. I want to play on the goddamn moon! Somewhere that no one has ever done before.

I was actually expecting the House of Blues. It’s a pretty common answer.

We’re playing there on the 20th. The one in LA, at least. I would love to play in New Orleans! I’m going on a trip to New Orleans with some friends and my girlfriend in a couple of months. I’ve never been. I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve always wanted to play in New Orleans.

It’s a pretty cool place. I’ve been a couple of times. I don’t want to start ranting about other stuff, but you gotta branch out and try the food, man.

Oh everybody told me that! That’s the biggest thing. It’s the best run for your money on vacation because it’s not that expensive, but the food is amazing.

Pick up Rival Tides’ new EP, Rival Tides.

For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.