Caleb Crosby of Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown Talks Leading Rock’s Next Big Invasion & Opening For Guns N’ Roses (INTERVIEW)

“It’s a little dreary today but the temperature is nice and I’m actually outside in my backyard right now. I don’t mind it,” said Caleb Crosby with a laugh. Crosby, drummer for Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, doesn’t have as many backyard-with-his-feet-up kind of days like he used to; not with the band burning a hole on the touring road for the last several years; not since Bryant relocated to Nashville from Texas where he earned his reputation as a blues boy while still in his early teens; not since he put together the Shakedown with Crosby; not since the biggest rock bands on the planet have had  Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown open shows for them – like Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Tom Petty & Zakk Wylde. It’s like as soon as that match struck in Tennessee, it’s been a tornado of music-music-music for these young men (also in the band are Graham Whitford on guitar and Noah Denney on bass).

Bryant stepped slightly ajar from his blues roots to include more youthful rock & roll sonics to his sound when he moved and once he found these guys, it was on. Their first release was 2013’s Wild Child, followed by the six song EP The Wayside in 2016. Last winter, they released a self-titled album that saw them take a hydra’s approach by whipping up a wide variety of tunes that touched on different genres that they put the Shakedown spin on. That they produced it themselves, made it even better.

Just off their first run this year opening for Blackberry Smoke, which they will pick up again in a few weeks, with more GNR dates in July in Europe, Crosby sat back and gave us a little insight into the Shakedown’s music.

You have a little break right now. Will you be going back out on the road with Blackberry Smoke?

Oh yeah, yeah, we’ve got two weeks off and then, let’s see, we head out, I think, April 19th. I think that’s the first show back. So we’ve got some time in town and basically we’re writing for the new record and trying to kind of put some final touches on some songs we’ve been throwing around for a while. Our time off means that we do other things and write and this, that and the other, but really, time off just means that we’re home (laughs).

You mentioned a new record. When can we expect it?

I can’t give you a date because, honestly, I don’t even know (laughs). But I think right now, all we’re doing is just trying to compile a big group of songs that we love and that we’re excited about. And that process takes a while because what happens is, a lot of times you’re really excited about the songs you’re writing regardless if they’re good, to be honest. So we do all these songs and we’re excited about them, and really the test for us is if that song can kind of stick around for a while. If you’re still thinking about it a month later, it’s like, okay, there’s something there.

Every January or so we go in the studio and we take like a full week with our friend Roger Nichols – he’s an engineer here in town and he’s kind of our unofficial band member – so we always camp out at his studio and just set our gear up and we go in every day at like 10:00 and we write. We do that pretty much Monday through Saturday. Actually, we just finished lyrics on one of those songs from January. Like I said, sometimes you don’t necessarily finish it and you’re like, we’ll just kick it around for a while and we’ll finish it when we can. And that ended up happening about two weeks ago. And the song is really cool and we actually ended up writing another one with him. Like I said, the process never stops. There’s not a rhyme or reason for how it happens. Graham will come over and say, “Hey, I’ve got this riff” or “I’ve got this title.” I just drove over to Tyler’s the other day to grab something and he was there working on an idea so I sat down and we kind of started messing with it. It just kind of happens.

But as far as when the record is going to happen, I know I can tell you this: The Wayside EP was actually intended to be a full-length record and for a lot of reasons – we were with a major label at the time and they only wanted to release half of it – we only put out six of the thirteen recorded songs that we put down. Since then we’ve been sitting on these other seven songs, a lot of which we actually have played live and some of our fans know and stuff. So that group of songs is for sure going to come out this year, probably sometime in the fall. So basically that’s our fell by the wayside EP (laughs). We’re excited about that. It’s not necessarily new but it’s new songs that people don’t have access to. And I’d say a new record, if I was to guess, would probably be very early next year.

You said you’ve played some of the songs live already. Since they are already recorded, have you tweaked them any since then?

We’ve thought about it but when you take a step away from a recording like that and then you come back to them with fresh ears, you go, “Wow, there is actually something cool here.” I wouldn’t have played it that way otherwise and there is something kind of magical about that. So we are just leaving them. But we still have a little bit of time and I don’t know if we’ll go in and tweak some of the mixes. I think if anything happens tweak-wise it may be mixes, like go in and be like, “Hey, this needs to be turned down, blah-blah-blah,” that kind of thing. But then again I think if we go in and mess with it it’s going to kind of lose the raw, organic energy that it had. Now I say that but we may very well go in and tweak. I’m not sure but I listened to it recently and it’s really cool.

Do you like being in a studio or do you prefer to do your part and get out?

I love being in the studio. I think we all work really well. Obviously, we have our instrument that we play and the parts that we play, but we’re all very involved and this last record we produced ourselves so we were all very involved in the parts that other people play or if Tyler is laying down a solo, we can kind of help him and tell him what we like, like, “Hey, I love the second part that you did, the phrasing of it and da da da.” Now, we’re also good about not overstepping and not hovering and going like, “Hey, do it this way.” But it is kind of nice to have the perspective of someone else and someone that you trust artistically and creatively and we do kind of bring that to each other. “Hey Noah, what are you doing there in the second verse? I want to catch that with you.” That kind of thing, you know. So yeah, we are pretty much around for everything, even if we’re not singing or playing. But sometimes it’s better to just let Tyler do his thing and we’ll leave. So it just kind of depends on the situation.

Taking full control of the records and the recording process like you did, was that more a have to or a want to?

I think it was a want to. I think we ran into too many situations where we were handing things off that we later on realized we shouldn’t be handing off. So we were like, we want to control and we want the say so to go like, “We want this and this and this and this.” When we were with the label before, they were very adamant about what songs they wanted us to record and we didn’t love the idea of a lot of the songs we ended up recording. It ended up working out because we found ways to make the songs work but in the end it was like, I think if we would have had more control as far as what songs were being picked, I think this would have been a better record. I’m just talking about in the past.

So with this one we were like, and I’ll never forget, we sat down, the four of us, and we love the show Sons Of Anarchy, and we actually had a song on it a couple of years ago, so we have like table meetings like the show does, right. So we sat down at Tyler’s table in his kitchen and started writing the songs down that we loved; songs that were definite, songs that were maybes and songs that were definitely a no we’d put it over here. We were just compiling songs. Then we got a call from our management like literally ten minutes into the meeting: “Hey guys, you’ve got the Guns N Roses tour in Europe.” It was literally then that we found out that we were doing that tour and it was pretty crazy but cool because we were all together and then that tour ended up turning out to be a big tour for us and we did a lot of big shows and all that. We did Guns and Aerosmith and Tom Petty.

So we got the call to do the Europe tour and it did kind of breathe new life into us as far as making the record. We were excited about going out and playing some of these shows and the AC/DC tour and all that really did change the way that we wrote songs, you know. Songs like “Backfire” and “Heartland;” like big straight-ahead, in-your-face kind of songs came post all these big stadium and arena shows that we were playing.

But yeah, we recorded basically with no budget essentially. We paid some friends to come in and help us and set some mics up. We recorded drums elsewhere and that’s the only thing we didn’t do at our home studio. Then we went to Europe and we had like rough mixes. I remember we were in Israel, in Tel Aviv, I was in my hotel room and this was the last show of the tour. We were flying home the next day and I woke up on the morning before we left and Graham had texted me and was like, “Hey, I’m in touch with this guy, John Fields,” and he mixed the record and he lives up in Minneapolis, “and he’d love to try and mix a tune.” I ended up sending him the files cause I had the record on my hard drive that I was carrying around, which was smart maybe but maybe not (laughs). But we had a backup of it at home, you know. Anyways, really I had it for this reason so I ended up shooting him the files of “Backfire” and we heard the first mix and we all went, “Oh man, this is it!”

By then, we had just signed the record deal about two weeks before in London so we had a little bit of a budget to get this mixed properly and we did. So it was great and it all worked out well and we were really excited about the songs and we were excited about what was ahead for us.

Which song on that record would you say really, to you, represents the growth of all of you guys as musicians?

I could say probably a couple of different ones for different reasons. For instance, I think we always wanted to write a song like “Backfire,” that was kind of just a simple riff, not overthought, that’s just kind of in-your-face. That’s one of my favorites, I love that song, but then there’s a song like “Manipulate Me.” Three years ago we would have never recorded a song like “Manipulate Me.” Never. We wrote that song with our friend Roger and it has more of a modern kind of flair to it and normally we shy away from things like that. So with this album, we were going to try different things. So I would say that would be a big one for me.

Then live, we’re all singing harmony parts, which is again pushing us. We’re singing a lot more live. I mean, Noah always does BGVs but Graham is singing more, I’m singing more, so that has kind of pushed us in another direction. I love “Into The Black” too and that’s actually the demo. We loved the demo so much that we didn’t re-record it. And again, that is another one of those that came from that week with our friend Roger.

What about “Aftershock”

We have recorded that one a few times and it’s always kind of tricky recording songs multiple times because what ends up happening is people are , “Oh I like the first version,” or “I like the second version,” or “It doesn’t quite do what it did in the first one that you guys recorded.” So it gets tricky because the people in your team get attached and they get married to certain versions. But our label team in the UK love that song as well. We actually did a thing with Vance Powell back in 2016, I think, and we went in and did like a pure mix – a pure mix is an online thing for audio engineers, it’s subscription-based thing – so we did this whole day in the studio recording that song and it was documented, lots of interviews and we talked about mics on the drums and why I chose these drums and chose these cymbals. It was kind of like nerdy (laughs) but a lot of people love it, you know. But the version that came from Vance is very different from the album version but it’s still really cool, it’s got like a different thing. That’s not released anywhere but you can see it on that pure mix thing. When we went to record the record we were just going to use that recording but we couldn’t because we were still technically with Republic so we ended up just re-recording it ourselves.

So working with Vance was a good thing

Oh he’s a great dude. I actually just saw him recently. I have a ton of respect for him and he just won two Grammys at the last Grammys so that’s not too shabby (laughs). He’s a great engineer and we love working with him. I’m actually going to be near his studio today and I planned on popping in. He’s such a talented guy.

You guys just had some great news about a missing guitar. What’s the story about that?

Yeah, it was stolen in 2013. Tyler had two guitars stolen, Graham had two guitars stolen plus like an amp head, Noah had a bass guitar stolen, I had a snare. We probably had about thirty grand worth of gear stolen and our tour manager had a printer and nice sunglasses, stuff you can replace but it sucks, you know. Anyways, fast-forward to a little over a week ago and I get an email from this lady who had seen the original story that came out and had a lot of friends kind of in that industry and the pawn shop industry and stuff like that, and was like, “I want to help you guys find this.”

We had kept in touch sort of through our management, which is different now, but I haven’t talked to her in years. But I get this email that says, “Hey, I’m about 99% sure that my friend that works at this pawn shop has found Tyler’s guitar and can you send me the serial and we’ll double check.” So we’re on the road, and this was actually the run when we saw you, the Brandon, Mississippi/Athens, Georgia run weekend. We’re all together there in the van and I told Tyler, “Hey, I don’t know how legit this is but maybe there is something here, I don’t know.” We follow through with it and Tyler calls and nothing. Fast-forward a week, and I really don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but she was like, “They’ve definitely got it.”

So I called Tyler and said, “Here’s the number, call and see if it is.” Five minutes later he calls me back. “Dude, they have the guitar.” Tyler had a lot of things with that guitar that made it very unique and clearly the person who stole it went and sanded all that stuff off. Steven Tyler had written on the back, “Pink is like red but not quite.” He had like some song lyrics from one of the songs we had written. Alan Haynes had signed the headstock. Just certain things like that and the person had sanded off. You could tell that it had been altered but the serial matched and everything. So yeah, I think they are shipping it to him today.

A happy ending

Yeah, cause that rocked our world at that time, you know what I mean. We are still like working really hard at this but back then it was like we hadn’t done the things that we’ve done in the last two years and things are a lot different, so having all that gear stolen was hard. And of course I got out kind of lucky in that situation. I mean, a snare drum is one thing but a guitar, you can’t replace a guitar, sentimental reasons and other reasons. We always knew they would turn up and I think the rest of them are going to turn up as well. I think we’ll find them. But it was pretty cool cause Tyler’s signature thing is the pink Strat so it’s definitely pretty awesome.

[Nic-named Pinky, this was Bryant’s main Fender Strat; also stolen was his 1965 Gibson SG Junior; Whitford’s VOS 57 Gibson Goldtop Les Paul & 1958 sunburst Les Paul; Denney’s black Gretsch Bass; & Crosby’s Black Beauty snare drum]

You were the first one in the band to meet Tyler, is that right?

Yeah, we met in Nashville through a mutual friend. He had come to Nashville to showcase for a booking agency here in Nashville and basically got signed on and they were looking to put together a young band for him. He was sixteen, I think, when we met; seventeen, maybe. This would have been like January of 2009. I’m two years older so I was eighteen/nineteen and we hit it off. We had like coffee and he was like, “I’m wanting to put together a band.” It took us a little while to finally get together just to play and throw around some ideas but I’ll never forget when we did for the first time and I was blown away, cause Tyler was such a character, he’s a character now, but he was a character back then (laughs) and I was blown away by just how fast we just fell into place. I always knew what he was going to do and vice versa and it was cool. There was definitely like a magic there that I think only comes like never.

Anyways, we had a different bass player at the time who I had class with. I had a Music Theory class with him and that day that Tyler wanted me to play with him I was like, “Hey, what do you have going on?” And he was like, “Nothing.” And I was like, “Well, do you want to go jam with this seventeen year old guitar player?” And he was like, “No, not really.” But I talked him into it and I picked him up from his dorm room and we drove over to this rehearsal space here in Nashville and the rest is history. Within a month, we were out with REO Speedwagon and Styx and opening shows. We literally had half an hour worth of material and we were terrible (laughs).

But Tyler had been doing that and had a reputation going on

Yeah he did but this kind of thing was a bit different, the rock thing. He had been doing the blues thing but this was different. We weren’t terrible but we were still figuring it out, getting better at songs and writing songs and shaping a set and this, that and the other. It was all a process. That’s how we kind of cut our teeth, by doing those tours with all those rock bands we grew up listening to: REO Speedwagon, Styx, we did a bunch of shows with Heart.

And you opened for Aerosmith at that time

Yeah, I think it was 2010, right after Graham had joined the band, we did a show with Aerosmith at the New York State Fair. I’ll never forget that. That was the biggest show we had played to date at that time and it was crazy. We were having all these insane opportunities and we went from there. But we met Steven, which was supercool, and he was just a character, as he always is. We’ve had lots of encounters with him but that was the first one and he was super gracious to have us on. I’ll tell you what I remember though, is we played twenty minutes, which is like four songs cause at that time we were doing a lot of jamming and high energy soloing. Steven has his catwalk and someone said to Tyler, “Don’t use that catwalk.” And sure enough, Tyler took off running on that first guitar solo, on that catwalk (laughs). And someone said to him after the gig, “Steven is going to be pissed.” But Steven thought it was awesome, he thought it was cool, he thought it was like ballsy. I think we were just wide-eyed that we got to play a venue like that, about 16,000/17,000/18,000 maybe and we just couldn’t believe it.

How did you get started on the drums? You were living in a small town in Kentucky, right?

Yeah, I was and my family is still there, in Winchester, which is right outside Lexington. I was ten years old. Before that I had started kind of showing interest towards the drums and my family picked up on it and they surprised me one Christmas with a drum kit. I was like taken aback cause I wasn’t expecting it. I mean, I was also really into sports. I played baseball and basketball and the whole deal. But I got that drum kit when I was ten and I ended up joining a band the next year and we made a record. I think I had been playing for six to eight months maybe. I knew like four beats pretty much and there were four songs on the record and those are my four beats that I played (laughs).

But I knew that I had kind of a natural thing for the drums and when I was thirteen, I basically had to make a decision: do I want to keep doing the sports thing or do I just want to full-on go for the music thing. So I decided to go for the music thing so I quit sports altogether and in high school started focusing on the drums. And I did everything. I did marching band, I did jazz band, I played in the pep band that would travel with the teams, I did like Central Kentucky audition jazz bands, I was in other bands. I was pretty much playing every day. I was also teaching at the time too. I was taking lessons and I was giving lessons. I was pretty much just trying to immerse myself in all that was music and drums. I was doing it all. I did the symphonic band thing. When I was in high school I played a couple times at Carnegie Hall in an audition symphonic band orchestra thing, which is supercool. It’s like one of the most amazing things in the world and clearly way different than the rock thing I’m doing now; but still in that umbrella of creativity and that stuff and artistic. Anyways, that’s kind of how it happened.

When you were listening to music that young, did you hone in on the drums in the songs?

I did. I love the rhythm aspect of it. I love the kind of intricacies of hearing what the drummer was doing. Even before I started playing, that’s how my parents kind of picked up on the fact that I was really into that. I had a cousin that also played drums and I was just fascinated by it. I was fascinated about listening to songs on the radio and trying to learn from banging on the dashboard or whatever, just trying to figure out what they were doing. So yeah, definitely that’s where my attention was, was on the rhythm, what was happening, what was he playing. I was into all that.

The drum kit that they got you, was it an el cheapo?

Oh yeah, just to kind of test the waters. They didn’t want to get anything crazy. It was like a TKO percussion and probably like $300, a five piece kit, one cymbal. I’ll never forget, I was ten when I got it and about two months in I broke the bass drumhead and at this time I had no idea that you could replace the heads. I didn’t realize that. So I ran to my dad and I started crying, “My drum set broke! My bass drum is not working. I don’t know what happened!” And he kind of looked at me like, hey, it’s fine, we’ll get you a new head. And I was like, “You can do that?” I had no idea (laughs). I think it was the next year that they realized I was really into it and I got a nicer one. Then about two years after that I got an even nicer one. So it kind of kept going. But I would teach lessons and save my money and I would buy add-ons for it. I’d buy new cymbals or an extra tom or if I wanted an extra snare. And I just built this up. I had a big room downstairs in our house and I’d set up both the drum kits and I would have people come over and I would teach them in my room. I made business cards, the whole deal (laughs).

When did you start bringing your drum to the lip of the stage like you do now?

Honestly, that drum is from my high school marching band. They were throwing it away and I was like, I want to take that home. So I took it home and we played Lexington, and this is 2011 probably or 2012, and Tyler was like, “Dude, you should use that;” cause we were staying at my parents’ house and it was just sitting in the corner of the room cause I didn’t have enough room down in Nashville for all my drums so a lot of them stayed at home in Kentucky. And I remember that show, I didn’t use it like that but I think we had our tour manager at the time come up and play it at the front of the stage as a kind of joke. Then it was that run where I think we were in Michigan and I had it set up as part of my kit and then out of nowhere it was like something came over me and I just picked up the drum and I walked to the front of the stage and I just did it (laughs). Then literally since then it’s just been a thing. We do it in the stadiums and we do it in the arenas, we do it everywhere. It’s cool.

And this summer you’re going back out with Guns?

Yeah, we’re doing like four shows with Guns in July, we’ve got the Blackberry tour still going on and that goes through May, we’re doing a lot of rock festivals here in the States; within all that we’re doing headlining shows. We’re doing New York City by ourselves, we’re doing like a Connecticut show, just different spots that we’re playing on our own as well as the festivals. Right now we’re still kind of finalizing our European tour, our UK tour, that kind of thing.

Baseball season has just started. Do you still follow it?

Oh yeah, I’m a Cincinnati Reds fan, just because I grew up going to games. My favorite player growing up was Barry Larkin. The Reds haven’t had the best run at it the last couple of years but I pretty much every year try and go to a Reds game. I got some friends at home that go with me and it’s always pretty fun. I love sports so I literally follow everything, regardless if I have a team.

What position did you used to play?

I played shortstop and when I was in little league I pitched a little bit but I didn’t like that as much. I played shortstop, second base and then I played a little bit of left field too. I had a pretty good arm so I could throw.

I bet you have a stronger arm now

I do! (laughs) I definitely have a better arm now than I did when I was thirteen for sure.

 

Live photos & group photo by Leslie Michele Derrough

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