Rose Hill Drive: Power Ride

The members of Rose Hill Drive are young, but don’t let their age fool you.  This power trio of throwback rock and roll has enough rock star experience to fill four trips to Europe, while opening for  Van Halen, the Black Crowes, and Queens of the Stone Age.  The trio will embark soon on their sophomore stint of opening for legendary rockers The Who, traipsing from the west coast to the East, after headlining their own tour in the UK and Amsterdam. 

Brothers Jacob (vocals, bass) and Daniel Sproul (guitar) combine with high-school friend Nate Barnes (drums) to create their retro sound.  With their authenticity as rock stars, also comes wisdom beyond their years. And while their sound draws many band comparisons, just don’t call them Hanson or a jamband, as Jake Sproul recently had the chance to tell Glide.

What did you listen to growing up?

My dad had a record player and I listened to a bunch of records that he had that we could play on vinyl.  I listened to The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer.  It was that double record [with] the drawing of the Beach Boys and the waves    And I listened to the Beatles’ Abbey Road, which is still my favorite record of all time.  Nothing beats it for me.  What else?  Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Slide.

Your brother’s guitar style is often compared to his.

Yeah, Daniel plays a lot like him.  They have similar rolling phrases, even though Daniel’s got a less traditional blues style.  He definitely plays the blues, but it’s not as traditional blues as SRV (even though SRV wasn’t completely traditional [himself]). 

 Did you have any formal musical training?

I was in choir growing up.  I was fortunate enough to have our school system in support of the arts.  And so we had a choir program and I grew up through all of school – elementary, middle and high – doing choir.  That’s where I learned basic music theory.  I can’t read music per se.  I can read it if I really break it down, but it’s really hard.  It’s like translating some language I don’t know.   I think it’s kind of like going to a country and learning a language.  You kind of have to be doing it all the time.  I didn’t take bass lessons, and I learned about the voice through choir.  I was a low tenor.

Did you and your brother play music together growing up?

Yeah I played piano, and Daniel played guitar.  When we were younger we’d make up songs together on the piano and guitar.  Through time it evolved to my going through guitar and then bass, with Daniel always on guitar.  But [we were] always playing together.  It was after high school that I started playing bass and we turned into a three person band.  We definitely have a deep understanding of each other emotionally and mentally.  When we play music together, there’s a lot of information, a lot of feed, that I receive from him and he receives from me that can’t really be stopped.  Not that you want to stop it, but it’s a lot easier to deal with sometimes than other times.  It’s just a heavy experience all the time.

So did you meet Nate in high school?

Yeah, we met in sophomore year in high school through mutual friends.  He was the friend of this drummer we were playing with, and he also played the drums.  We heard Nate play one day and we liked his style of playing better than his friend’s.  So we kicked him [the friend] out of the group [and it was] this really ugly scene.  All three of us still feel really bad about it. 

Ouch, that’s harsh.  I take it you aren’t ones for much drama in your lives?

Drama is definitely nice to avoid, but it exists all the time.  We don’t drink on the road anymore, so we don’t have any of those hungover crying fits or whatever. 

Do you find being sober on the road affects your music in a positive way?

I wouldn’t necessarily call it sober; we don’t practice the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program, but we don’t drink.  And I think eliminating alcohol from our lives has really helped our stamina on the road and our relationships together and understanding of each other.  It’s definitely helped our mental clarity.  If you look at the science behind what alcohol does to your brain, and you are doing it every night to your brain, you’ll find that you’re just destroying your thought processes at a rapid rate.  More so than a lot of things that we’ve been made to believe are bad for our brains but aren’t necessarily that bad. It’s just that alcohol has become a culturally accepted way of checking out and turning into an outgoing dancing, funny person, this common thing that a people want to see when they’re letting loose and having fun.  But it’s not really that way.  You feel that way when you’re drunk but you’re not really that way.

It gives a false bravado, and it sure doesn’t help with the violence.

The violence can come faster and more frequently.

Which is backwards for our society to be embracing that.  Even though they don’t embrace it directly they embrace it indirectly. 

Yeah, and because people want to be funny and accepted.  It’s been shown through media and advertising that you are accepted when you drink and you become this loud funny person.  Everybody must be a loud funny person because the TV reality shows say that loud funny people are the real and exciting people.  The people that people want to know.  But that’s not true.  It’s all just a fake thing that gets put over people’s eyes. And so realizing that in our group and that we don’t have to be these 70s rock stars…this ridiculous character to try to become that doesn’t exist in the first place.  Staying away from that macho vibe and opening ourselves to the music and the real reasons we’re on the road has really helped our goals and our growth as people.

You’ve set up fewer barriers between you and the music.

Yeah, it breaks those down so we can focus on music, which is why we’re out playing.  We play a lot of shows.  Sometimes it takes a lot of strength to get up and play, especially if there’s no one in the room, for instance, which has happened before.  Or if people aren’t feeling it some night and are in the bar for drinking and not music, you have to do it for yourself.  You’ve got to dive into the music and find the right ways to feel good about it.  We used to drink beers to loosen up but it just turns into more and more beer until you can’t really play unless you have a lot of beer.  It’s easier this way.

This seems like a mature outlook for your age (23).  But you’ve been on the road for a long time, so it’s probably been a sort of trial and error.

Yeah, that’s the thing.  It’s the way with modern bands; modern bands make their money on the road, unless you’ve got this giant single.  You can make a bunch of money from one song that everyone wants to hear, which is not what we want to do.  We want to play our full set and have people enjoy all of the music.  As a modern band, that’s where it’s at.  You’ve got to be on the road.  Find a way to sustain yourself and not burn out.

How do you make sure not to get in any ruts?

We change it up.  I’m constantly changing little equipment things.  We’re all really into gear; we are gearheads.  We love changing equipment up and tweaking little things and installing or rewiring little things.  Also with the music, we don’t improvise like a jazz group or a hippie jam group.  Our shows aren’t necessarily built on jam but we do like to improvise in our songs.  You leave it open for new stuff.  And if there’s a mistake that somebody makes, sometimes that will turn into something completely new.  If we’re all listening to each other we can go off on that.  It doesn’t have to be like “oh you messed up!  Now we continue with our song the way we’ve played it a million times.” 

So what’s your reaction to music critics referring to as a jamband?

They just don’t know what they’re talking about.  There’s lots of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. 

What’s your songwriting process like?  Does everyone contribute?

At a certain point.  The lyrics and melody and the idea of a song comes from one place, one person.  In a very rare situation it’s two people writing together, feeling strong about a certain thing. That’s happened with Daniel and me before.   A song to me more and more is becoming a statement about a certain situation.  It’s an expression about something.  It’s not just some music that we have to put words to, which is the way I used to think about it.  It’s starting to become an expression and more so an outlet.  When that idea happens, we bring it to the group.  And if it works with the group, then everybody adds their little thing.  The more I listen to music and the more I experiment with words, the more I started to appreciate what can be said in a short statement.  Less is more with lyrics.  I enjoy that, because it’s this whole challenge of being super concise with an idea. 

It seems like you’re that way with the music, too.  You’re not just putting fluff out there to fill in holes in improvising. 

Yeah, we like to fool around and have fun but our songs are about stuff that’s relevant to today.  We’re not just trying to write love songs that are heartbreak songs.  Everybody feels heartbreak and it’s nice to relate to heartbreak, but there’s so many of those songs.  So we just try to put the relevant emotions out.

What comparisons to other bands or singers are you sick of?

I’m not really sick of it, because I take it as a compliment.  Okay, there is one group.  When we walk on stage and nobody’s heard of us before and they see our long hair, and especially my straight hair, they call us Hanson.   We’ve almost gotten in a few fights about that.  Our manager actually pulled his pants down and spread his cheeks to this one dude who called us Hanson. 

So how did you get hooked up with The Who?

Through a festival in London, we met The Who Crew and Pete Townshend.  And by fortune we got to meet him and go on his independent TV show that he puts on the internet called “In the Attic.”  Then through talking to him and becoming friends he invited us to play with him in Chicago and then come on tour with them.  So, fortunate circumstances led us to get connected with that whole group of people. 

Do you notice a difference between your own audiences and the audiences coming out to see the Who?

We have a lot of middle aged fans, because we play rock and roll.  That was birthed when those people were young people, and in that sense what I see in those people is what I see in the people who come to our shows already.  And the young people who are there, and there’s obviously a lot of young people who love the Who, if they have any common sense.  Those kids are at the show.  And they’re turned on because they see young guys doing the same thing. 

As far as your recording process, can you tell me why you decided to go straight to tape and not use Pro Tools?

We like the sound of tape and it’s a fun thing to experiment with.  Especially since Pro Tools has become the new craze, to do something different, to go the analog way.  A real test of a band is when they can record on tape and make it sound good.  Pro Tools has so many options to fix your vocals.  Some of these bands now are actually auto-tuning their vocals.  I would say the majority of groups you hear have tuned their vocals via Pro Tools, so the nice, clear pop vocal you hear is completely fake.  So it’s really cool when a band can go in and nail it on tape.  There’s no crutch.  We wanted to prove ourselves with tape.  And not only that, it has a warmer sound. It’s comparable to CDs versus vinyl. 

And that sort of pure sound is how you were raised.

Yeah, you’re right.  I’m not against Pro Tools, but it was fun for that record. 

One last unrelated question, do you have a favorite food?

Bacon.  If you could wake me up in the middle of the night, it would be with bacon. 

Photos by Lisa Siciliano

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