These guys from Echo Park jumped out and grabbed me. Ok, not literally, but for a girl who grew up with hair bands and arena rock, and loves pop music, I was blown away. Amps & Anthems was released earlier this year as the sophomore EP from LA’s own Romance and Rebellion and this time they’ve turned their pop music on its edge, polished their brand and they’re ready for the big time.
Lead singer David LaViola pulled the band together in 2015 and we talked about where they came from and what is next for the twenty-something soon-to-be heartthrobs. David has drive and a passion for his music that is both refreshing and inspiring. Read on and then JOIN THE REBELLION!
Tell me a little bit about how Romance and Rebellion came to be?
The band came together at the end of 2015. I came to Los Angeles, because I had broken up with my girlfriend back in New York. I just decided I needed to change who I was. I was living out of a storage unit and I knew that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to reground myself and get new opportunities. I did the singer songwriter bit for maybe like nine months. First of all, it was just a challenge to get back in the ways of like self propulsion with music, because after you have something like a band you have to get back in the mindset of, Okay, I’m going to be in a band again or I’m going to do music again.
I had to kind of convince myself like, yo David, this is what you’re really meant to do. Like don’t turn your back on that. I got sober. I’ve actually been sober for three years. That was a big, huge proponent, a big, huge part of it. The first thing I did was I wrote a bunch of songs.
Anyway, to make a long story short. I started as a singer songwriter. I recorded a bunch of songs here in LA ,then I was like, I really hate being a singer/songwriter. Like that’s not my bag. It’s a really lonely thing to do. It’s like the Beatles said once about Elvis. They were like, they didn’t envy Elvis because he was the only dude, you know. When shit went wrong, he was alone in a room with like a fucking peanut butter and banana sandwich, just stuffing his face by himself. When he got something, it was him, he was just always alone. For me, I was missing the band dynamic.
Where did all these other guys come from?
Aaron (Medina) was the first guy that I started really working with. Aaron is a great guitar player. He’s originally from Denver, Colorado. He’s got a Masters in Classical Music, he’s 28 years old and he’s really hungry for it. I started working with Aaron, then at about same time, like pretty much exactly at that same time, I found Kyle.
Kyle (Jordan Mueller), is originally from St Louis, Missouri and he had moved out here to do session work. We all kind of moved out here around the same time. Kyle also has a degree in Music Performance and Graphic Design. I met with him for coffee, then I think I showed him a rough demo with “I Don’t Believe in Love,” that song that we just recorded for this EP. We connected just over the fact that it sounded like this Katy Perry song “Lost.” We kind of knew it was a little bit meant to be. Both of those guys are super professional.
The next step was definitely okay, cool, well we need a bass player. We had a couple of auditions and nobody was panning out. I had a buddy in my old band, Brandon (Davis), who was super dependable but he was in New York. I called him up and I said, “Brandon, what are you doing with your life?” He came out here and in the first five days that he was here we did two photo shoots, we did a show and we did a rehearsal. Like, he was in the band before he even set foot in the band.
Then lastly was Aleks (Landsberger). He was playing in a band with Aaron, who was the bass player, and he was the singer and guitar player in a hard rock band. Aleks came to almost every show and I knew that he could fit in, like perfectly cover up all the seams and be just be like the icing on the cake.
We all came to Los Angeles to do music and it just so happened that all of us found each other. That’s how it worked.
You’ve got a lot of big names working on this EP Amps & Anthems. How did this production team come together?
For the most part, in these circles, and this is like a huge myth busting thing, nobody is an untouchable. As long as you get to them, as long as you open up the dialogue, these people that are nominated for Grammys, they’re not so big that they won’t work with somebody who is an unsigned act or has a smaller budget as long as the content is great.
In wanting to go a little bolder and a little brighter with the whole thing, we decided to go with a different producer so Lennon Leppert came first. He came out, saw us at the Whisky a Go Go and he really liked the sound. He was like, “I listened to the last record and the last record is not doing you guys justice for your live show. What I’d love to do is I’d love to record for you guys.” Aleks and I sat down with him and said, “Okay, cool, let’s do one song just to get our feet wet a little bit. Let’s do one song and let me write the song specifically for you as being like a blend of pop and rock,” which is what we do. “Let me write that song and you produce it however it is that you want to produce it, if we like it, if we feel like it works, like we’ll figure out the rest of the budget for the EP.”
I had a little bit of “Boys Don’t Cry,” done and I knew that was the song that I wanted to give him, but I had maybe a weekend to finish it. Lennon had a guy mix it, that was one of John Feldmann’s cats. John Feldmann did everybody from 5 Seconds of Summer, Blink 182, he is the lead singer of Goldfinger, he’s huge in that scene. Basically we went into the first tune, had this guy Alan Weitzman mix it, and we loved it.
The sound on Amps & Anthems is definitely bolder and bigger. Is that a result of who you were working with?
I wanted to go with [a] less conservative sound. I’ve always been a little trepidatious to be a little louder, a little more aggressive with some of the music and it’s tough to walk that line between being pop and being loud and aggressive and rock. Ideally we as a band would be on that same playing field as all those pop people, just doing it more-so with live instrumentation as opposed to just the whole synthesized uber back. But yeah, the record is fantastic.
The approach was different for this EP. With the Romance and Rebellion EP we were going for a very high gloss, pop-produced kind of thing, because I wanted to be competitive in that realm. With this record, the people that you work with are so indicative of what the product that you come out with feels like. Warren Huart produced “For a Moment,” he did The Fray and he did Aerosmith, he’s got some really good credentials. Then to have the thing mixed by Zakk Cervini who he got nominated for a grammy last year for his work with the Blink record. And then to have it mastered with Tom Weir, it was a lot of great hands touching the project. It just reminds you that now you’ve jumped up into a different bracket in a different circle than you were before. But it was, it was a less conservative approach.
You’re really blending sounds here. I get a lot of Panic at the Disco but also some arena rock vibes with these songs. This seems like a departure from your first EP.
I know with the first record I was really trying to do justice to my British invasion roots. I mean, I’m a big British invasion guy, so I think I was like, well, the Beatles would do something like this, and I love that music. But, it’s a little different modern day versus then. On this EP we tried to go a little bit more modern and be competitive with the 5SOS and Hey Violet. The thing is I wanted to go for those arena rock songs. They wanted to go for the sensation, the feeling that you get when you were seeing something that was bigger, not just like a, you know, a rock band.
The world of popular music is pretty divided in how it perceives rock music. A lot of people think that it’s kinda like on its way out or dead. I would like to think that, like anything else, it just changes. It changes into something that it wasn’t before. I grew up with the whole notion of different races and cultures blending together to become a different culture. The same as with anything else, you take one thing and then over time you mix it with other things. You wind up with a third thing. Then that thing gets branded and then everyone suddenly knows that thing. Rock didn’t start out as rock and roll. It started as rhythm and blues and country music is not what it used to be, it’s like country pop now. I mean, there’s always going to be people that are like, oh, I want to bring the rock side of things back. I think less and less that’s really what I want to do. With the song writing and with the direction of the band, it’s more about continuing to put forth a catalog of pop music that is alive that’s not super static or so produced that it has no soul.
I read in one of your other interviews that this EP is a defiant response to heartbreak, and the soundtrack equivalent to saying “Go fuck yourself” to whomever broke it. Whose heartbreak are we drawing from here?
I think that as a song writer, it’s not always you that you’re writing about and songs don’t always come out in the order that they go into your heart, you know what I mean?
The end of last year was difficult for me because my [still] girlfriend and I were going through a breakup, then we got back together, then we broke up again, then we got back together. It’s one of those things where it definitely helped the record to feel more authentic in that respect. But, you know, “Boys Don’t Cry” is actually not about heartbreak, but it just happened to be the conduit for it. “Boys Don’t Cry” is actually more about gender stereotypes and being accused of being too sensitive as a guy or being too masculine as a girl. There’s all these things that we kind of impart on people when really we shouldn’t have preconceived notions and things.
All these songs are written months and months before the record actually got recorded, but, you know, some of them are about heartbreak and you’ll write them when you’re perfectly content in a relationship and then your girlfriend looks at you and says, “You know, like, is that really how you feel?” And you’re like, “No, but like just leave me alone. I’m trying to work.”
What is one of your favorite lyrics that you’ve ever written?
Yeah, there’s a few there. One of them being, “I’d rather live alone than die in the friend zone.” That’s a funny one that I really like. A lot of the kids latch onto that one. Another favorite that I think I’ve ever written was for the song “Empty Space” and it’s “don’t call me up in a couple of years and want to make amends. Just because you’re fucking someone else doesn’t mean that I’m your new best friend.” Yeah, that’s, that’s probably, I mean, you know, I have favorites all over the place, but definitely that’s one that resonates, that was a good moment for me as a writer.
Right now, what does success look like to you and to the band?
Long-Term stuff is always like a hail Mary. You want to be able to make a living off of doing what you’re doing, you want to be able to successfully monetize and tour 300 out of 365 days a year. You want to be able to make records. You want to do this, you want to do that and this big picture stuff and you’ll get to that. But if you start with the big picture stuff, you wind up getting super frustrated because you’re just constantly thinking, “Oh, I’m not on tour” or “Oh, I don’t have a record label” or “Oh this” or “Oh that.” Really if you keep your goals realistic and you do it on a much more realistic scale, you find that you are continuing to be motivated by the victories that you’re getting.
We played the Troubador, that was cool, and we released this amazing record with all these amazing people on it. It was like all these amazing things that we had done, they weren’t going on tour yet, we haven’t gone and gotten a record deal yet, but we’re well on our way to getting those things.
Success right now at the three to six month mark looks like touring, looks like a booking agent. At the 12 month mark a record label. I think when I was younger it always became this thing where I was like, “Oh, we need a record deal,” because once you get a record deal that comes with the tour support, it comes with this big gigantic loan. Then you don’t have to struggle as hard. Struggle is always there. The sooner you get that mentality out of your head, that there’s gonna be some point where you’re able to really stop working and then just focus on music, that’s not it anymore. That doesn’t really happen. What really happens is the bands that make it, and have a career in doing this, are the bands that, like, every step of the way they’re grinding, every step of the way they’re fighting for what they get. It’s hard work and it doesn’t stop being hard work.
You seem like a pretty busy guy, but do you ever get to just chill and watch TV?
There’s two things if I watch tv. I’m like a huge foodie, so I watched a lot of Chopped or Kitchen Nightmares or Top Chef. I mean I’ve always worked in restaurants too, so it’s like one of those things where it works both ways. It’s been a part of my life, for the longest time.
And, because we are called Talk Nerdy with Us, fans want to know what you nerd out about?
I’m a huge fucking Star Wars fan. I am a huge, huge, like I know things about Star Wars that no human being that has a girlfriend should ever know. It’s my super guilty pleasure and I’m not ashamed to say it. Like I love Star Wars. I have since I was a kid. My mom worked for 20th Century Fox while they were making the first few Star Wars movies, so she brought home a lot of memorabilia when I was a kid. I’ve always been a fan!