UTG INTERVIEW: Driver Friendly’s Tyler Welsh Talks ‘Unimagined Bridges’

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“All I ever wanted was to be part of the conversation…”

Unimagined Bridges, the new full-length record from Driver Friendly is utterly breathtaking. The band have created a mixture of songs both forthright and honest, while maintaining a sense of beauty and captivation throughout each track. There are songs with grit and songs with flash — all of which resonate powerfully and reel you in for listen after listen. There’s a lyrical ebb and flow to each number, and while musically the band keeps you on your toes, there’s a perfect balance as not one element of the overall sound outshines another. Unimagined Bridges sounds like the result of positive energy; it just glows.

Under The Gun Review had a chance to chat with singer Tyler Welsh before Unimagined Bridges hit stores and we talked about the band’s prolific and career-defining new record, as well as a few other things. Click the “Read More” button to check out the full interview and be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Under The Gun Review: Hi, Tyler. Thanks for the time today. The record is out next week. How’s it feel?

Tyler Welsh: It’s good, man. It’s tough sitting on something that you’ve been working on for so long. It’s kinda like waiting for Christmas because you want it to get here and you want it to be done with because you’re excited for everyone to share it, ya know?

It’s a brilliant record, man. You’ve said you’ve been working on it for a “long time.” How long was the process for this release?

We started writing shortly after we had gotten signed by Hopeless, so that was like late 2012. Like, basically all of 2013 was spent writing and half of 2012 was spent writing. We hit the studio in December 2013. It’s been about a year and a half process.

The record has a bit of everything on it. How did you come to having such a diverse sound traversing the whole of Unimagined Bridges?

Yeah! Having a year and half to write a record allowed us to write all types of songs. We were able to experiment with all different sounds and structure and chords and ideas that we maybe we’re afraid to do in the past. Our idea with this record was to write as many good songs as possible and when we enter the studio the great ones will surface to the top and we’ll trust our instinct to know at that time which ones are the best. So when we went into the studio we had all these different songs and we asked, “well what are the best ones? What are the best ones that also fit together in kind of weird different ways?” We wanted a record that had a little bit of everything. We didn’t want a ‘one note’ kind of a record, which is okay! Those records are bad-ass sometimes. But we wanted to show how diverse of songwriters we have grown up to become.

I can totally hear growth from the last releases. Could you all feel that growth as well?

Totally. It was cool because for the first time we dropped everything for the band during this time. We all quit our jobs, we all quit school, we quit whatever we were doing and we just wrote — for 8 hours a day, every day. I remember one day talking to our bassist, Chris Walker, and we had just written another a song — and at that point we had written like 15 songs, which is the most we’ve ever written for a record. Typically we wrote like 10 songs and those were the 10 songs for the record. And I looked at him and I was like, “Dude, I think we’re like actually songwriters now. We can write songs.” I’m not saying we were writing great songs but we could write songs. Multiple songs. And that was a big deal for us. That was a big shift for us.

Where did you go for the record?

Since we were at home, there’s only one place to really do it here in Austin, Texas, and that’s this horrible place — it’s a rehearsal space that’s like 100 8×10 rooms semi-soundproof with no windows and black walls and really good lighting. That was our office. We had to clock in and clock out every day. It wasn’t as magical as our previous album where we got to go to the cabin in the mountains, but you know, we just stretched along and put our minds to it. The environment wasn’t as much of a shaping factor in this record but it still came out the way we wanted it to sound.

And to track the record?

To track the record we went to Atlanta to our producer Matt Malpass’ studio. It’s called Marigolds + Monsters. We were there for pretty much all of December 2013. We had just gotten off tour with Relient K and Motion City Soundtrack. We had a week off for Thanksgiving and went straight into the studio. That was a pretty crazy little two-month adventure right there.

How did the collaboration with Dan “Soupy” Campbell come about on the track “Stand So Tall?”

So we were on Warped Tour a year ago for about a month and because of being labelmates we hooked up with The Wonder Years and became really good friends with them. Mainly because they were super cool dudes and also they are close to our age so we get along with them really well. Once we left and were saying goodbyes Soupy said to me, “If you ever need anything, man–and I mean anything–just let me know. I’m here to help.” It was awesome. So we got to the studio and we had the part that was way too high for me to sing and pretty much way too high for anyone in the band to sing well and we we’re just like, “What if we asked Soupy to do it?” And we sent him a text and he was like, “totally down. Send it to me whenever you got it.”

A very cool collaboration.

Cameos can sometimes be lame because you can be like, “Oh, let’s get this person because they’re cool and famous right now,” but it was cool because it was actually our friend and he actually makes the song, I feel. That bridge is my favorite part of that song.

So tell me more about the idea of Unimagined Bridges. It’s a cool concept. I feel there is a little bit of that in every song. Was there an over-arching [no pun intended] theme when writing?

The way I write the lyrics is I try to start off before we begin the writing process with that theme in mind and sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t [laughs]. Fortunately for this one I think we just kept writing and writing and writing until it did work. I definitely went in with this idea of the ‘Unimagined Bridge,’ which is inspired by a poet named Rainer Maria Rilke who was a German romantic poet who wrote about this idea of an unimagined bridge and this idea stood to me. I was like, “What does that mean to me? If I try to imagine that, what does it look like?” So I guess the theme just grew out of the ideas based off that little poem.

Out of all the tracks on this record, is there one you’re most particularly excited to play live?

Ohhhhh. I don’t know when the time will come, but I’m really excited to play the last track of the album, which is called “Bridges.” I think last tracks are so important on records to begin with and I always have a lot of anxiety when we approach that stage of the writing process. Like, “How are we going to put the punctuation mark on this record?” And I think with that song — we had worked really hard on it — but we had gone into the studio with no chorus. We were like, “This song is so good but we need a chorus that actually does it justice.” And there was this night where we just stayed up until 3 a.m. and we were just all singing different ideas. One after the next. By the end of the night we recorded whatever scratch idea we had and the producer came in the next day and was like, “That’s it. You have the last track of this album.” Having worked so hard on making it where it got to be, I’m so excited to play that one live.

Do you think the importance of having that strong last song, or really creating a strong record front-to-back has become a lost art form as the business has started to regressed into being single-driven?

I think when we get into discussions about “lost art form” or “this doesn’t happen anymore,” I think we romanticize. We think about like, “Oh, The Who, The Beatles. Those are real records.” Mind you, at the same time, disco was going on. Like horrible other bands were making music at that time, too. I’m weary to say, “Now we don’t have what we used to have.” I think there’s always been great music it’s just sometimes harder to find. I think sometimes it’s harder to make an album. I’ll say that. I don’t like comparing generations of music, considering I wasn’t there [laughs].

Very cool way to look at it. So, tour starts next week.

Yeah, yeah it does [laughs].

Sounds like there are some feelings going on there about tour.

I’m feeling very excited. I think we’re also a little apprehensive because this is the longest run on a tour we’ve ever done. As we get older — and not to say that we’re old — it starts to take its tolls on you. Everyone thinks tour is a non-stop party and you show up in a town and everyone loves you and you get wasted every night. But it’s really a grind, man. It’s really hard work. On the other side, we’re really excited because we really get to promote this record that we’ve been so excited for people to hear. It’s going to be awesome.

So how does it work, having seven dudes in a band…in a van?

Yeah — so a couple of our members who wrote and record on the album decided that they couldn’t tour full time. So we’re down to five official members. We have a 15-passenger so if you’re not driving or riding co-pilot you at least have your own bench now, which is awesome. You get to lay down, hopefully take a nap. What people don’t realize is we have to drive through the night to get to the venues so we can soundcheck at 2 p.m.or 3 p.m. Van life is a little less glamorous than people might think [laughs].

So you guys were an independent band for a long time before you got picked up by Hopeless. What has the biggest difference been between being independent and having the label backing you?

We think about this a lot and we talk about this a lot. What it is is it gives you so much more exposure. The branding that is associated with whatever label you’re on, it’s like a step ahead of the competition automatically. If you’re just a band releasing your record and it’s awesome and you’re not on a label — it’s that much harder for people to listen to it already. People like categories, people like boxes. If they know they like All Time Low and that’s a band on Hopeless, they’ll automatically pay attention to other bands on Hopeless. Or even like a band on Run For Cover Records, for example. The hardest thing is just getting your name out and getting people to pay attention. And that’s not to say because you’re on a label you get the attention like exponentially greater. It’s just one step ahead of the competition. It sucks that it’s still that way, but that’s the sad reality.

So what do you guys have planned for the rest of the year?

I can’t give specifics other than there will be more tours coming up — some pretty cool tours. We have a lot of cool music video ideas that are coming out. We like to do music videos, it’s something we do ourselves. We come up with concepts and film and edit all of it. We’ll be doing a lot of stuff like that.

Very cool. Anything else you want to add?

I just want to say…shout out to Tupac for doing what he did. He was a true saint.

Yeah, he was the man [laughs].

[laughs] You know, I don’t remember him much but I can romanticize the notion…

Written and conducted by Matthew Leimkuehler (@callinghomematt)
Catch Driver Friendly on tour today and purchase Unimagined Bridges here.

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