There aren't a lot of mainstream rock bands anymore, but Nashville's SafetySuit are one of the few to carry the torch. Their 2008 debut was a moderate success but things really took off for the band with the release of January's These Times, which landed in the Billboard top 10 and at number 1 on iTunes. And the band has been on the road ever since, just like they always have, building a fanbase the old fashioned way. We caught up with singer-guitarist Doug Brown to talk about the breakthrough of These Times, about the scrapped record that preceded it and about being role models. SafetySuit play Studio Seven in Seattle on Sept. 27th.
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Before These Times was released you recorded another record that you ended up scrapping? What happened -- and what are the differences between the two records? There are a lot of differences. The biggest difference is that we didn't have very good songs at the time. We had been touring on Life Left to Go for about three years, and we rushed right back into the studio to try and pop out a record as quick as we could in order to keep everything moving. And it wasn't as good as it could be. We didn't want people to wait as long as they had and not like it because that would put ourselves in jeopardy.
How come you didn't realize you weren't happy with the record until it was done? When you're in it you're just charging full steam ahead like a bull. When you finally stop making it is when you first hear it in context. You convince yourself that the songs are good and that the production is what you wanted it to be, but it's not until you're sitting in a room and not holding any instruments when you realize, "This isn't as exciting as I thought it would be."
Did any of the songs that you recorded for the first version also end up on this version? Nope.
The good news is that all the work eventually paid off. Your debut reached number 173 but These Days hit the top 10. That was a nice surprise. It didn't surprise me that it charted high but it did that it was number 7 and that it got to number 1 on iTunes. It'd been three and half years since we'd released a record and you just don't know who's going to come back. You always hope that everyone has been anxiously awaiting your return but you're not sure. It spoke to the power of touring.
Right, from barely charting to a top 10 record, that's huge. I think the most we'd ever sold in one week was like 8,000 copies and we did 30,000 the first week of These Times. It still all revolves around radio. Radio determines how much play you're going to get beyond the initial stuff. We're still putting our nose to the grindstone and still working hard and challenging ourselves and we're pretty close to being done with all the pre-production on the third record.
You guys walk the line between being a rock band and a pop act. How do you see yourselves? These days being a pop act seems to be defined as R&B and urban and based on top 40 radio. I think it's more about how you associate those words. If you're the kind of person that thinks rock is growly and angst-driven music, then we're not a rock act. I consider us a pop/rock band, not a rock/pop band.
Can you tell me about the cover art for These Days and the concept behind it? It looks kind of like a movie poster. With the first record we wanted to do something with water, but when we finished it, we had all these photos that we'd spent so much money on, but you couldn't really see what was going on and you couldn't see our faces. We couldn't really introduce the band to the world. We probably did it backwards but on the second record we wanted something that wasn't ultra-flashy. We wanted to have the band on the cover so we could just sort of say hello to everybody for the first time.
Where did the idea for the song "These Times" come from and why did you decide to name the album after it? We wrote that song towards the end of the process. We didn't feel right about having a record come out, with all the crap that had gone on the last few years, and not really speak to it at all. We wanted to have a song that said, "Yeah, things have been bad but it'll get better." There are songs that come out that talk about how great everything is - and those might do a little better at pop radio - but I don't think it would ring true to the listener. The line is, "These times are hard but they will pass." We always want to take the opportunity to say something that has a little bit of meaning to it. We think there's a responsibility to being an artist since people take what we say to heart.