Entering the Resch Center parking lot on March 6, 2013, there were tour buses, people prepping for the concert and Gabe Aranda with my working pass. Gabe along with his brother Dameon as well as band mates B. Webb and Mike Walker, were gearing up for the last leg of their tour with Daughtry and 3 Door Down.
Aranda, hailing from Oklahoma City, is a rock band with roots in a variety of genres. Started in 2001 with their first CD released in 2008, the band has enjoyed the stage with many artists. Their first single "Still in the Dark" climbed into the Top 30 Rock Charts in 2009. Follow that CD up with more success when American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson covered two of their songs on her album "All I Ever Wanted" and Aranda was moving along at a good speed.
Aranda's story could follow the typical plan of a rock band, but their story took an interesting turn in 2012. The University of Oklahoma's Academy of Contemporary Music teamed up with Aranda for a semester-long marketing project in the course "Music Marketing and Retail 2". The students listened to the band's music, studied various markets where the band had success and presented different marketing options. Aranda's latest CD, "Stop the World", had been released six months prior, but it was proposed that a re-release was a good option.
Through digital marketing and social media, the students were able to give Aranda a solid presence online and secure future success with their music. One song in particular from the "Stop the World" CD titled "Satisfied" began selling over 1,000 downloads per week in the spring of 2012 and it peaked at number 14 on the Active Rock chart.
The legwork Aranda did prior to the university's course combined with the buzz created by the project led Aranda to be signed by Wind-Up Records. "Stop the World" was successfully re-released in October 2012.
Flash forward to March 2013 and the band has traveled around the U.S. since last summer. I had the chance to sit down with Gabe and Dameon to discuss early influences, songwriting and SXSW.
J: There are certain influences I can hear in your music, what musicians have resonated with you over the years?
D: Well, first and foremost, our mom and dad introduced us to classic rock. I think that's where our roots actually began. As we got older, we both liked a lot of the same things, but we also liked different things. For myself, since I play guitar, a lot of the guitarists influenced my style. We can start with the classics like Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Page and then Stevie Ray Vaughn. Moving on it was Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Eddie Van Halen. Those are probably the six most influencial guitarists for me and then add a sprinkle of Eric Johnson in there.
G: Early on, my mom was a big Elvis and Beatles listener. My dad was more into Led Zepplin, Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
D: A lot of folk thrown in there, too, like Jim Croce, Cat Stevens...
G: Dan Fogelberg. Some crazy stuff <chuckles>.We talk now about it and we're lucky to have parents who introduced us to some of the best music that was going on.
D: We ended up listening to more Jim Croce as we got older.
G: The first talent show we ever did in school was a Croce song.
D: "Roller Derby Queen". I had been playing guitar maybe five or six months and Gabe found himself singing.
J: Anyone you are currently following?
D: In our genre, rock-wise, we can both say unanimously, that we're Foo Fighter's fans.
G: Stylistically, we go all over. We listen to all kinds of music...Stevie Wonder; a lot of R & B. I just downloaded a couple of CDs yesterday like Music Soulchild and Usher's second album.
D: We listened to Robin Thicke on his first record where he was doing a lot of rock on top of the soul.
G: We get into anybody that experiments with genres and mixing. The Beatles did that and I think anyone that will go out on the edge or isn't afraid to go outside of what people consider commercial is great. With Thicke's first album, both of us were thinking the things he was doing were crazy. From an artistic standpoint it was beautiful, but from a business standpoint it probably wasn't the greatest.
D: I think one of the bands that had a big influence on us and you can hear it in "Stop the World" was Living Color. They had a lot of riffs, but their singing slants on the soul side. That's something we both love.
G: If you could take labels off music and put us in there, we would go from gospel to rock and a lot of places in between. Put us in a blues song...that's where home is for us. We just gravitated towards it.
J: In 2012, a University of Oklahoma music marketing class worked with you for a semester. What did you learn as a band from that experience that you didn't know before?
G: I think I learned that people want to help you. It's getting over the feeling that you don't want to burden people and do things yourself. There are people who want to help you, especially those who believe in you.
D: I think from the standpoint for our band, when we got help from the class, we needed a shot in the arm. We had run out of money. We would have been funding the band. We put out "Stop the World" independently and it was doing good. We had a great radio campaign going for "Undone" and our next single "Satisfied" was just coming out. We really believe that because of what they did, we were able to get into the Top 15 nationally for the first time. We say that they did the big push for us and our manager, too, who is also in radio.
J: Did you learn anything from the marketing end of it?
G: We learned that, that isn't our forte. And, smart people let people who are good at what they do, do their thing. We have a tendency to try and control everything that happens, but as our careers have started to do some positive things we realize we need to put people that are good at what they do in the right positions.
J: "Stop the World" was released in October 2012 and is your second studio album, what can you tell us about the songwriting process for you?
G: I don't think there is rhyme or reason to it. I think we approach it in different ways. My creative mind I have to turn on sometimes. I have to say, 'I wanna write something."
I think Dameon is more of the type of person where his creative mind is always turning. So, the trick for him is to catch those ideas and write them down. He'll sing ideas that are awesome and then forget about them. I'll say to him, "What was that one thing you were doing the other day?"...he'll say, "I don't know."
Whereas for me, if I come up with a good idea, I'm writing it down, because I don't know when the next one is going to come. It's starts with ideas and we come to the table with them. He'll finish something I've started or I'll finish something he has started. Or, we come to the table with complete songs musically and someone will write the lyrics. When we're doing it together, you just never know how it's going to come together.
D: Especially with this record. We worked together quite a bit; probably more than we ever have. On our last album, we did a couple together and since it was our first, we had ten or fifteen years to pull from. So, it ended up being a good thing for us on this record to be able to get to know each other more. We learned how each other ticks. I know when to let him be and he's the same with me. I'll let him fiddle with something for a little while. He writes a lot from keyboard and vocal, while I'm a guitar player and think, "This chord would be cool with this."
G: He's thinking chords and putting melody to his chords whereas I'm not as prolific of a musician as he is. I'm thinking in my head melodically and then I have to talk to him to get the chords.
D: But, it works out. If you have something good, it doesn't take too much to go and figure out the chords.
G: I think that's what makes our band a little more unique than other bands. We have a couple different perspectives songwriting-wise. Which, that used to be common where everyone would contribute to the songwriting. We go back again to the Beatles and the Eagles. When you listen to those songs, they were tailor-made to those individuals. For us, we're giving the audience two bands in a sense. Some people connect to the things I write more and then you get other people who gravitate towards the songs Dameon's had more input on.
J: In talking about that, you mention the Eagles and you mention the Beatles, I think in commercial music nowadays we're missing that collaborative effort.
G: The cool thing is the Beatles had multiple singers, the Eagles had multiple singers and the Doobie Brothers had multiple singers. When we first started looking at labels and even when we weren't, people didn't understand the two singer thing.
D: They wanted to be able to say, 'This is the lead singer."
G: They would think, "This guy is in the middle of the stage, so, he must sing everything. This other guy only needs to play solos and sing harmony." We switch off so much.
D: We have even fought that with management, but we believe in what we're doing and we're sticking to it. We're finally seeing that some people are starting to understand that there can be two lead singers in a band.
J: What I just thought of was the band Genesis. Here's Phil Collins on drums singing and even in the Eagles, the drummer...
G: Don Henley was amazing.
D: The bass player for the Eagles, Timothy B. Schmit, wrote one of the best songs the Eagles had ever done with "I Can't Tell You Why". You never can tell what's going to happen. Even within our band, we're marketed as both of us, but we fully expect on our next record that maybe our bassist, who is a songwriter and does a lot of independent music will contribute. Then we have a keyboard player who goes out with us quite a bit who is a great musician and we bounce ideas off him. Our drummer knows how to play piano, he's professionally trained and has a music degree. You just never know what's going to happen.
J: And, with all of those creative interests you're able to not only bounce ideas off each other, but get creative inspirations from each other.
G: Everybody's perspective is different.
D: It's so cool when you hear something. I think both of us agree when we hear a cool melody we think, "Oh my gosh, I would have never thought of that. But, now we can definitely hear it finished, so let's finish it."
J: When I listened to your latest CD, what I heard was not only great guitar riffs, but also great storytelling within the lyrics. How would you categorize your songwriting?
D: You really have to go back to the beginning of the record. We're in a different place now. We started that record in the summer of 2010.
G: We had a very specific goal and what we wanted the record to sound like. We made a conscious effort that we were going to hone in on the rock thing. We had done a lot of heavier stuff on our first album and we also jumped to gospel. We leaned a lot more in those other directions. It was quite a challenge for us, because we do like to jump around so much.
D: On our first album, we wrote songs and they weren't as personal.
G: They were all written with a lot of time in between them at different periods. Where these songs <on Stop the World> were all written close together.
D: You could feel the tension in the songs and the pain in the lyrics. That was from what was happening. It was a bad time for our band. It was a time when we were thinking of breaking up and about a month into the project we took a hiatus for a while. We almost called it right there, so, that album almost never was.We were really excited that we were able to get back together later that year and finish it.
J: Currently you're touring with Daughtry and 3 Doors Down, but you have a gig at SXSW this year. Have you been there before?
G: We have. I've had good experiences and bad experiences there. I think it will be a good experience, because it's a showcase for Wind-Up, the label that we signed to. It's a showcase of their up and coming bands.
D: We know some of the people at the label haven't seen us play live and it's a chance to show them what they have invested in.
J: What's something about you that fans don't know about you? The reason I ask this question when I interview is to bring a human level back into the mix.
G: I think you hit it on the head; we are just regular people. We've got bills and mortgages to pay like everyone else. The only difference is we've chosen to take a chance on something that isn't a sure thing. We have struggles just like everyone in trying to make ends meet while still trying to chase the dream.
D: We have kids and this is high risk. You put your family through a lot when you're out doing this and thank god they're supportive. We're thankful every day that we have somebody to go home to. Our kids and our families are everything to us.
G: We're family guys.
D: We are family guys. We love our fans to pieces. We'll stay out there for two or three hours after every show to meet everyone we can, because we believe that's what makes our band. Otherwise we'd be sitting home writing songs for ourselves.
G: Not to say we don't want to make a living doing this, but it's not about the money. If it was, we wouldn't be doing it anymore. If it wasn't about the love of the music and the appreciative support of the fans...sometimes...that's all that keeps us moving forward: people's positive love. When somebody tells you that a song you wrote touched them or helped them through bad times, that's a powerful thing. It's the stuff we live to hear. It's more of a blessing for you, as a musician, just to hear the song helped them.
As our interview closed, sound checks could be heard through the backstage area and into the dressing room. The humble and down-to-earth rockers needed to attend another acoustic gig before the concert that night, but what resounded the most in our time together was their desire to write authentic music that fans could connect with while staying true to themselves.
For more information on Aranda, visit their website at www.arandamusic.com. Aranda's latest CD, "Stop the World", is available on iTunes and Amazon.
© 2013 Jenna Cornell, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author or Clarity Digital Group LLC d/b/a Examiner.com. Virtual Music Cafe, Heroes in Music, Coffeehouse Confessions and Stepping into the Twilight Zone are property of Jenna Cornell.