By Johnny Griffith
There’s a new Robin Hood movie which recently hit theaters and, yet again, tells the story of the famous thief of Sherwood Forest, and his band of merry men who stole from the corrupt and gave to the needy in order that he might bring them a bit of happiness and relief from weight of their daily lives. In East Texas, we’ve got our band of musical rebels who are working to bring listeners their own brand of musical happiness and relief. Thieves Of Sunrise has been consistently raiding stages and venues around the region for about seven years now, fighting against cookie-cutter music, traditional expectations, and launching love arrows at their audience with their brand of rock and roll.
The brainchild of Matthew Marcus McDaniel, who we featured last month as a solo artist, the Thieves have previously released 2 full-length albums and a 45 with two singles. Recently they released their 3rd studio album amidst a year full of changes and new plans for the future. I sat back down with Matthew to get more insight into the Thieves Of Sunrise, who they are, their musical philosophy, and what they’ve got working for next year:
Johnny: Where is everyone from and how did you all end up in Thieves?
M³: Right now everyone is from the Northeast TX and greater East Dallas area (Garland, Richardson). I started the band in the Winter of 2010, or at least I had the idea. It took me a few months to find the right guys. James Roy, our drummer, came to us two years ago through our former keyboard player Jake Stewart. He played with us part-time for a while before joining full time this year. Our new guitarist, Paul Thomas, came to us via James. In all honesty, this will be our first official statement that we have to rebuild. After touring heavily for five years, we had a couple of guys who decided to retire from touring and another that moved across the country to be closer to family. Having James come on board full time and having Paul join on has been wonderful, and we do have more than a few promising prospects at the other three positions. Yes, that is right, we will be moving forward as a six-piece band. And for any of our fans who might be worried about what Thieves of Sunrise is going to bring to the table in the future, if you haven’t seen any of our most recent trio shows, well, I invite you to hold on tight because it is only beginning to get good. We are currently rehearsing new members and writing new tunes. As soon as we are comfortable with the new members and where they are with the music, we will make announcements on our website and social media.
Johnny: Where did the name Thieves Of Sunrise originate?
M³: From a young age I have had an obsession with the honorable or noble thief motif, i.e., Robin Hood. I have also been quite taken with the sunrise, to me, there is something magical about those special moments where the dark meets the light, and you get to watch the Earth wake up. It is a chance to begin a new and make of your life what you will. I like to call it an original metaphor on “seizing the day,” with a twist. We are the not-so-silent protagonists, “Thieves,” that are here to help you with that. Our goal is to make your life better, help you approach every new day with love and the realization of the endless possibilities you have.
Johnny: How did everyone get started in music?
M³: I was dancing on the family stereo in diapers, James was playing in bands from the time he was in high school until the present, and Paul came from a family of musicians and went to school for music.
Johnny: Listening to your music, one can easily pick up Zeppelin, Black Crowes, maybe some Hendrix, Joplin, and CCR in there as well. How would you describe your music?
M³: First and foremost we are a Rock & Roll band. We have at times classified ourselves as a Psychedelic Rock & Soul band. Beyond that, there are no rules or format. We do what feels right in the moment. That is the beautiful thing about Rock & Roll music, it encompasses so many other genres and can be whatever you want it to be. Rock music is truth, it is in all other music forms, and all other music is in it. Let us be cliche for a moment, Rock & Roll is not merely a musical genre; it is a lifestyle with attitude. Listen to our records, no one song sounds the same; no one record sounds like the last. We have not hit all of the styles yet, but we are working on it. Rock & Roll is as much a part of American culture as baseball and apple pie, so we begin and end there, our journey will give you the sauce.
Johnny: What would you say the most significant influence is, as a band, you’ve had so far?
M³: I feel like anyone who has seen us and anyone who knows me well at all in the past 10 years knows that the Black Crowes were instrumental to our early sound, but we are not now, nor were we ever trying to be the Black Crowes, nor would I want to limit what we do down to one influence, I think an entirely honest answer would be the love of and the pursuance of making beautiful music that reaches people on a higher level, a spiritual level if I might say so. The initial steps to taking on any art form, especially if you want to do it for a living, is because you love it. Make sure you are having a good time first if you don’t your craft will suffer.
Johnny: You have a sound that’s not typical of this area compared to what you can usually hear on Friday or Saturday nights. How did that style evolve and was it a conscious choice to cultivate that sound?
M³: Starting early I had no direction, I was writing and doing my very best to make songs out of it. What became clear to me very quickly was that I was not like my peers, not lyrically, nor in style or composition, and when I tried to go that route it did not ring true, and it did not feel right. That is where I decided I did not necessarily come from this background and maybe I should let my writing and sound speak for itself. I don’t believe it is a conscious choice, I write songs and come in with ideas, if the ideas don’t work we move on. Sometimes things that don’t feel right at the time can come back around, but you never know. One thing we don’t do is write music with an agenda. Music for us is an art form. We write and make the art from our heart and soul about how we feel. Then, it is yours. It becomes your responsibility to interpret as you will. Our style evolves through songwriting and stage performance. Having no intention or aim with a song message and not wanting our songs ever to sound the same as any others can keep you fresh and having a free-form style on stage helps us to develop songs. We like to play our tunes as much as possible before we record them, even then they can evolve later and never sound the same again. We have an extreme improvisational style, and new songs have been born from our onstage live jams.
Johnny: How has this year been for the band so far?
M³: This year has been a wild ride, for sure, with a new record and management. There were some low points this year as well. A lot can change in a year, and we have lost some wonderful longtime members while gaining some new ones. I am most proud of our new record “Let the Truth Speak.” While it is our shortest record to date, it may be our best: no riff-raff, only the good stuff. We played fewer shows than we possibly might ever have but lots of them were bigger shows than we have ever played. Right now, while rebuilding, we are very excited to be working with some new musicians, writing new music, telling you all our new record which is already out across all mediums and preparing to fill the 2019 calendar.
Johnny: So about that album you TOS released this year…how was that process for the band and any takeaways from this project that were different from previous efforts?
M³: We worked with Michael Lattanzi in Nashville at Lattitude Studio South. His studio is absolutely phenomenal and one of our favorites we have had the honor to work with yet. We recorded it at the beginning of the year, so we had all of the original band members from the past five years sign on to do the record (Curtis Crofford, Shaun Crawford, Jake Stewart, Miles Mathewson). As a band we prefer to go as old school as possible and record analog to tape, it’s a part of our vibe. Unfortunately, the tape machine broke down, as vintage gear sometimes does, when we got there, so we shifted to pro tools while still recording through analog mixers and outboard gear. From time to time you have to deal with changes quickly and find a good attitude about if expectations change. We record our records as live as possible, not one instrument at a time. We feel that it gives our songs a bit more life. Working with someone the caliber of Michael and in a studio that has few equals brought out a few things we did not know we had and allowed some of our newer, less developed tunes to shine through. All of our recording experiences have been different from the last, and this particular experience was more about where we were not only in the studio but in our lives and with the music.
Johnny: What is the next primary goal for Thieves?
M³: Plain and simple; continue to let the world know all about our newest album” Let the Truth Speak,” continue writing new material, fill the calendar, and ultimately to get back on the road touring and playing festivals. Last but not least we will be pursuing an opening position for a major international touring band.
Johnny: What has been your best memory so far as TOS? What has been your biggest challenge?
M³: There are too many memories, it’s hard to say that I would not trade any of them, but it’s harder to pick one favorite. I will be cliche once more and say that anytime a fan comes up to me and tells me they will remember the night the rest of their lives, that is a fantastic night. The biggest challenge is keeping a grassroots, independent band together and touring and making records amidst a world of pop culture, people who want to take advantage or use you and the ever-mounting cost of keeping the show going.
Johnny: What experience are you hoping the first time listener takes away from a TOS show?
M³: That our message of peace, love, and living the most rewarding life possible reaches you. We want you to have a memorable time, at the least. If you feel lifted, have a spiritual or life-altering experience then we have done what we were put here for.
You can catch up with the latest from TOS on the world wide web:
- Spotify: spotify:artist:3N1E5mOejPLalmUAc75nou
Music With A Purpose: Hotel Drifters
By Johnny Griffith
There is a fairly established stereotype of what a drifter is. Webster’s defines it as “one that travels or moves about aimlessly.” We’ve all seen a movie based on someone who drifts from town to town, with no purpose in most cases, just sort of trying to find their way in life. Well, you can take that image of a drifter and toss it out the window when it comes to the Hotel Drifters. They definitely have a purpose, and that’s to try to leave every audience with a bit of themselves and in a better place than when they walked in.
The brainchild of Jessica and Shane Smith, Hotel Drifters falls into the Americana category and has a solid foundation in a lot of classics, with a strong helping of country and roots music thrown in the mix. You’ll find a blend of influences in their originals, with a solid leaning towards country; and the covers run the gamut with everything from classic Rod Stewart, Waylon Jennings, and Stevie Nicks to Dwight Yoakam, Chris Stapleton, and even some Lady Gaga in the mix.
Their excitement for the music is evident from the first note and their presence on stage is engaging, with powerful vocals, raw and bluesy guitar licks, and a rock solid rhythm section. As an added bonus, they are one of the few bands to actually have a steel guitar on stage, which adds an extra dimension to a lot of classic songs, not to mention the cool factor it brings.
I was able to catch up with Jessica Smith this month and had the chance to ask a few questions so we could get to know the band better:
Johnny: What is the current lineup of the Hotel Drifters?
Jessica: The Hotel Drifters are currently Shane & Jessica Smith lead vocals and guitar, Charles Pierce on bass guitar, Clark Stone is our drummer, and Scott Akers is on electric and steel guitar.
Johnny: How did the band meet?
Jessica: Shane & I met in high school when we were both 15 and then we married in 2008. In 2010 we decided to start a band. We took a break during the birth of our first son and then formed a new band after that with most of the current members.
Johnny: Are you all local or are there some transplants to the area?
Jessica: Yes, the entire band is local to the East Texas area. Shane and I are from Chandler, a little town just outside of Tyler.
Johnny: Have there been any unexpected challenges that come from being in a band with your spouse?
Jessica: There hasn’t really been anything too challenging because we’ve been married almost 12 years now, so we’ve already fought about everything there is to fight about, which is rare, but I think the most challenging part since we’ve become parents has to be leaving our son to play a show.
Johnny: What do you feel some of the strengths of the band are?
Jessica: The energy! Music moves us, so when we really get into the groove it draws the crowd in and they get into it as well!
Johnny: What about the name? Where did Hotel Drifters come from?
Jessica: Well it’s kind of a long story but most working bands will drift from one hotel to the next. In some cases you want to pocket the most money you can so they can be gross, cheap motels, so when people ask us this question we just simply say “we like the doors on the inside not the outside.”
Johnny: What first got you into music individually?
Jessica: For me I’ve always known singing was something I wanted to do for as far back as I can remember, and I started singing in church as a kid. Shane had the music bug from the day he was born. His dad had a band and he was always around music. Eventually, at the age of 13, he bought his first electric guitar and the rest is history.
Johnny: When did you the idea of forming the Hotel Drifters first start to evolve?
Jessica: Sometime around 2011 we decided to start doing some acoustic shows. From there it sort of snowballed, and then in 2012 we started our full band.
Johnny: What was the first show as a band?
Jessica: Our first show was at KE Cellars in Tyler. They were the first place to give us a chance, so we were real sad to see that place go.
Johnny: How would you describe your musical style? Has it evolved since the band formed?
Jessica: We like to say we are country singers with a rock and roll band, but our style is always evolving. We have very strong country roots and we grew up with Willie Nelson and George Jones in our souls, but we love all kinds of music, from Tom Petty to Lady Gaga and a lot of stuff in between.
Johnny: What are some of the more popular covers you do as a band?
Jessica: That’s a hard one to narrow down since we do so many covers. We have a lot of fan favorites, but “Stay With Me” by Faces and “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty are probably two of the more popular cover songs we do during any given show.
Johnny: What about originals? Are you and the band writing any original material at this point and mixing them into your shows?
Jessica: Yes! We do have some originals in our catalog that we’ve recently started adding to our shows when the situation is right.
Johnny: About how many shows a month are you currently performing?
Jessica: We like to keep it to about 1 full band show a month and a couple acoustic shows in between. Obviously that can vary up or down, but that’s where we like to keep it at this point.
Johnny: What does the Hotel Drifters have on the radar for this year we should be aware of?
Jessica: This year we would love to be able to record our originals!
Johnny: How would you describe your show to a first timer?
Jessica: A good time! Wherever we play we just want to make sure whoever is listening is having a good time, because you never know what kind of day that person had and that one song may turn their day completely around!
Johnny: Thanks for sitting down and taking the time with us.
Jessica: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share our band with y’all, you can find a list of our current shows and everything else on our Facebook page Hotel Drifters and Instagram @hoteldrifters.
A Blue State Of Mind: The Bluez Boyz
By Johnny Griffith
Ask any blues player worth their salt, and they’ll tell you it’s not just a genre, it’s a state of mind that gets in your blood and won’t let go. It has to be in order to translate from the mind to the hands to the instruments or through the vocal cords. A true blues musician can reach down in their soul and pull from that emotion, leaving it all out on stage and you BELIEVE the music is authentic. Luckily, we’ve got a group of musicians here in East Texas that have come together to form one of the best blues bands in the area. Bluez Boyz is the brainchild of Bobby Edwards and has been painting the town blue for about 3 years now. I recently sat down with them to get to know the band a little better.
Johnny: What’s the current lineup for the band and a bit of musical background on everyone?
Bluez Boyz: Bobby Edwards started the band about 3 years ago with his son Ronnie on bass and Landon Green on drums. About two years into it we decided to add Chris Wallace to the band. We had seen Chris perform and became really good friends with him and thought he was the perfect fit for the band. All four guys in this band have been in music most all of their lives from early ages. Bobby has been pure blues all of his life and you can tell by listening to him, he didn’t get the nickname “Blue Eyed Soul Man” for nothing. Ronnie Edwards, the son of Bobby, well he was raised by Bobby so of course he is really a huge fan of blues as well. Chris Wallace is also a big blues fan and you can tell it when he sings as well, and he is also known to put some southern rock and a little country twist to things from time to time. Landon Green is the rocker in the group, although he will be the one singing the ZZ Top and Queen songs, he admits that he doesn’t care what genre they play because it just feels right: it’s like jamming with family with these guys; and him and Bobby have played together on and off for almost 15 years and just have that bond on stage that’s even rubbed off on Chris and Ronnie, and everything falls into place.
Johnny: How did the band meet?
Bluez Boyz: Bobby and Landon met around 15 years ago through Bobby’s brother Frank who was playing bass at the time. Landon was asked to join their band “Bobby Edwards Blues Band” and they played for several years all around East Texas. The guys took a small break to do other side projects and later came back together; however by this time Ronnie Edwards had turned into a beast on the bass and was ready to become his dad’s bass player. After a couple of years of playing, and as the shows had continued to grow to a very steady schedule, we felt like it was time to add to the band, so of course we felt like the best fit for us was our good friend Chris Wallace.
Johnny: Why that style of music? It’s certainly not a style that gets the most real estate on stages around the area. What led you to your sound?
Bluez Boyz: Blues is definitely our genre of choice because Bobby started the band and if you have ever heard him sing the blues then you know why we call ourselves a Blues Band. However, just as you mentioned, it certainly may not bring the most real estate around this area and that is why we add other genres to our shows as well, so that when you come and hear us you will get a wider variety such as rock, funk, oldies, and country. If we play a festival, or a blues based show, then we can promise you that you will hear some of the best live blues that you have ever heard when the “Blue Eyed Soul Man” Bobby Edwards, along with his sidekick Chris Wallace, start throwing down them REAL blues!
Johnny: Who are some of the significant influences musically for the band?
Bluez Boyz: Stevie Ray Vaughan, BB King, Buddy Guy, Wes Jeans, ZZ Top and many more.
Johnny: What was your first gig as the Bluez Boyz?
Bluez Boyz: We three pieced at first with just Bobby, Ronnie, and Landon and our first show may have been FRESH by Brookshires. Then our first show after adding Chris might have been Republic Icehouse. It’s been a while and we have played tons of shows in 2019.
Johnny: In an area that is traditionally dominated musically by country and rock acts, have there been any challenges getting gigs and building a base for a blues band?
Bluez Boyz: Like we mentioned earlier we have added a lot more genres to our show. When you come to one of our shows now you may hear some ZZ Top, Hank Williams Jr., heck even some old school rap etc. We understand that these crowds want to hear a variety so we do our best to give them that nowadays; however we will always classify ourselves as a blues band and will push for success in the blues genre any chance we get. As far as coming to our shows, let’s say a local restaurant or club, then you’ll get an awesome mix of amazing music along with a great show playing your favorite mixes of all genres. So yes, we have met that challenge and know the struggle oh so well.
Johnny: Are you guys typically local to the East Texas area or do you venture out into other markets at this point?
Bluez Boyz: We do stay pretty busy locally around some great East Texas venues and restaurants etc.. However, we did branch out in 2019 and did several Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Dallas/ Ft. Worth Shows, and we plan to get out even more if possible in 2020, so get ready Bluez Boyz fans!
Johnny: About how many shows are you playing a month currently?
Bluez Boyz: About 8-10 , Usually every weekend and possibly a few during the week at times.
Johnny: What has been the most memorable gig for the band to this point?
Bluez Boyz: Probably opening up for, and getting to hang out with, Billy Bob Thornton and the Boxmasters at TXM Music City in Lindale Texas; also we do have to say that being up on the Gas Monkey Stage in Dallas was pretty dang cool as well.
Johnny: What does 2020 have in store for the band? Any projects or tour plans?
Bluez Boyz: We are non stop booking as we speak and hope to fill 2020 up as soon as we can. We have some recording planned, and Christine Edwards (Bobby’s wife, band manager) is currently talking with a few venues in a totally different state than what we mentioned earlier, and let’s just say if that goes through for us in 2020 it could be the start of something big.
Johnny: For new fans, what can they expect at a show with The Bluez Boyz?
Bluez Boyz: We love having other musicians come up and sit in with us and we have been told numerous times by other musicians how they love the fact that we don’t plan out anything, and don’t even use a set list. We just act on what everyone is feeling and go with it and have a blast doing it on stage. You may get comedy, you may get bloopers, you may get an open mic night, but we can promise that when you leave you’ll be saying “dang, that was an awesome night!”
Guitar For Hire: Mayson Garner
By Johnny Griffith
The term ‘mercenary’ has pretty much always had somewhat of a negative connotation with it throughout its history. It’s typically portrayed in literature and film as someone whose loyalty extends as far as the next highest bidder and in whom trust can’t be entirely placed. In the music world, however, being a “gun for hire” isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact, some of the most talented musicians you’ve never heard called by name, you’ve actually heard on some of the most famous albums of all time as studio musicians or on stage as touring musicians. One of East Texas’ most talented musical mercenaries is Mayson Garner. With eclectic musical tastes, killer guitar chops, and the vocal range to cover a broad spectrum of styles, Mayson can be found on stage in the area several nights a week and has worked with several projects in the area as well.
We caught him at a Thursday Open Mic night at Alibi Barcadia over in Longview this month to get a little better idea of the man behind the guitar:
Johnny: What was one of your earliest musical memories growing up?
Mayson: I remember my mom having this classical acoustic guitar lying around the house. It had only three strings and I would play it anytime I got the chance. That little guitar sparked this intense love that I now have for music, and guitars in general. I ended up playing it until all three strings came off, but I couldn’t forget the feeling it brought me when I played it. That’s why I am the way I am till this day.
Johnny: When did you first pick up an instrument, and was it a guitar or did you start somewhere else and gravitate to the guitar later?
Mayson: I was 4 when I discovered my mom’s acoustic, and from then until I was 15 or 16 it was only the guitar that I was interested in. Then it was drums, piano, bass, and other various instruments.
Johnny: What were some of your early musical influences when you were learning your instrument?
Mayson: My real musical influences started to appear when I was an early teen; that’s about as early as I can remember having major influences on the guitar. Adam Jones from the band Tool, as well as Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, were major impacts on my playing, and still are in a few ways with Jerry Cantrell being the one I hear most in my playing these days. Guys like David Gilmour, Jeff Loomis, Michael and Christopher Amott, and Mikael Åkerfeldt played a part as well in shaping my earlier years of guitar playing.
Johnny: Did you pick any of your musical abilities up from your parents?
Mayson: No not at all, neither of them could play instruments. I mean my mom could sing, but that was heard on the rarest of occasions. It’s still a mystery to me how I fell in with music. This might sound a bit quirky, but I like to think maybe whatever or whoever is looking out for me was like “here you go I want you to have this.”
Johnny: When did you perform your first public gig and do you remember the first gig you ever got paid for?
Mayson: The first time I played for an audience was a talent show at my school. I loved being up on stage showing people what I could do. From then on I was hooked on playing for the masses, but it would be years before I would ever play my first paying gig, which was for the acoustic nights held on the patio of an On The Border here in Longview about 4 years ago. The first night I ever met Neal McCoy too – it was weird sitting there trying not to suck as this country star was sitting across from me.
Johnny: When did you get the idea that you might want to be a bit more serious with music and take it just beyond the hobby stage?
Mayson: I think I’ve always been serious about music, and wanted to take it past my bedroom, so I started playing different churches and youth groups. But I wanted to keep pushing it further, so I went to a jam and knew at that point I had to be in an actual band. And before I knew it, I found myself in a few different bands basically marketing myself as a hired gun, and have been doing so since that jam, and I gotta say I’m very glad I labeled myself as a hired gun because I have met some really talented and genuinely awesome people along the way.
Johnny: You’ve got a pretty extensive catalog of songs you call on when doing open mic and solo events. What would you say some of your favorites currently are?
Mayson: I would have to say right now my favorites are “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “I Am The Highway” by Audioslave, “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys, and “Keep on Swinging” by Rival Sons.
Johnny: How many originals do you have and how often do you get to work them into sets?
Mayson: I actually have a few notebooks of originals, but I have yet to work them into any of my sets because after I write them I either forget about them or never think they are quite right so I never play them. I tend to overthink my music thus keeping me from sharing it – a bad habit I’ve got to break – but that doesn’t stop me from writing. I will have some new originals waiting to be played in the near future.
Johnny: Some of your work I enjoy the most is when you’re doing some of your bluesier covers. What direction do your originals tend to take stylistically?
Mayson: Thank you. I’m very much an eclectic musician, so I tend to write various styles of music, but if I had to pin down a specific genre I feel is the most me, I would have to say rock ‘n roll. Rock music inspired by the styles of the ‘70s and ‘90s is more what I dig than anything else.
Johnny: You do a lot of collaborative work with other local musicians as well as your own solo nights at several venues around East Texas. Who are some of your regular partners you take the stage with?
Mayson: My good friends Jerry Johnson, who is a killer bassist; and Ladarius Daniels, who we all know for being the main man when it comes to playing a mean saxophone. But recently I’ve made a new friend named Kasey Moore who is a cool dude, and a good player.
Johnny: About how many times a month are you on stage somewhere around the region?
Mayson: Anywhere between 5 and 6 times a month on average. I do some solo shows and some open jams, but with this coming year chances are my band and I will be everywhere else besides our home town.
Johnny: What have you been the proudest of, so far, in your musical journey?
Mayson: Probably how far I have come with who I am as a person and how I am as a musician. Both of which are things I am constantly working on.
Johnny: What are you excited about, musically, as we begin the new year?
Mayson: The new shows my band and I have lined out for 2020, and really just the excitement of where me and my music are going. There’s a sense of excitement for me in what the future may hold as I keep my head down and keep working toward the ultimate goal.
Follow Mayson Garner at facebook.com/mayson.garner.
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