If you’re looking for an argument for why music programs in elementary schools shouldn’t be cut, Tyler Bryant would make a great case study.
Growing up in Honey Grove, Texas, Bryant’s first-grade music teacher played a video of an Elvis Presley performance for the class. “That was it for me,” says Bryant. “My mom dyed my hair black and I got a leather jacket, and she made me a gold lamé jacket, and I started writing ‘Elvis’ on all my papers because I believed in first grade that I was Elvis.”
Several years later, a chance encounter in a Paris, Texas, music store with blues guitarist Roosevelt Twitty led the-then-11-year-old to begin taking lessons and eventually touring with him. “He was playing Lightnin’ Hopkins-style blues, and I’d never heard anything like that before,” remembers Tyler. “I was immediately obsessed. I had a couple of run-ins with him, and he offered to teach me guitar, and I put my dirt bike up for sale and bought an electric guitar on layaway.”
Now 26, Bryant’s early musical education has paid off in spades. He moved to Nashville when he turned 17, and within six months, he had assembled The Shakedown. Drummer Caleb Crosby joined first, and Bryant spent the majority of his senior year on tour with REO Speedwagon and Heart. The Shakedown has now toured the world, sharing the stage with bands including ZZ Top, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. Sophomore album Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown will be released Nov. 3, the first on Spinefarm Records’ new imprint, Snakefarm Records.
Formed by Spinefarm’s U.K. head of A&R Dante Bonutto, Snakefarm will focus on rootsy guitar-based rock music. Bonutto met Bryant when The Shakedown was signed to Republic Records’ John Varvatos label, which he handled in the United Kingdom. “We were on the same page, and he and I stayed in touch and were sharing music,” remembers Bryant. “If you’re going to work with someone, I think it’s important they know you as an artist and are into the same ideas and the music you’re into.” When Bryant got out of his deal with Republic, the band started making the album by itself and was offered a deal with the new label based off the music Bonutto had heard.
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown is coming out at the right time, too. With albums by Foo Fighters, Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon debuting high on the charts in 2017, Bryant feels like rock ‘n’ roll is due to make a big comeback, and he hopes his band can carry the flag. “It’s an interesting time where EDM music is making a lot of waves, the kind that rock bands used to make,” he says. “We’ve been out touring with Guns and AC/DC, and it’s hard to think of any rock bands that are doing shows that big that are current bands. Who of our generation are playing shows that big? But then you’ve got bands like Royal Blood or Queens of the Stone Age that are still making current rock ’n’ roll.” Bryant also cites Greta Van Fleet, whose members aren’t old enough to drink yet, for having a No. 1 Mainstream Rock Songs hit with “Highway Song” as an example that there’s a thirst for new rock.
Album track “Backfire,” which Billboard is premiering today, took about 20 minutes to write, remembers Bryant. Both he and his guitarist, Graham Whitford, have their own home studios, and Bryant was summoned to Whitford’s house. “I stopped by, and he’d come up with the riff to ‘Backfire,’ and sure enough, Caleb walked in 10 minutes later,” he says. “I was singing over this riff Graham came up with, and Caleb liked it, so then we raced to my house and started recording it. In fact, the original guitar solo from the demo is on the song. This is a band that you can get two or three of us on something, but when it’s all four of us, that’s when it really starts to make sense. It really came to life. It came together incredibly quickly.”
Listen to “Backfire” below:
The Shakedown — which also features bassist Noah Denney — has been playing hard to earn respect. While Whitford’s father, Brad, is rhythm guitarist in Aerosmith, Bryant says that nepotism doesn’t play any part in the band’s relatively fast track from Nashville bars to arenas. “He would be the last person to ask his dad for a favor,” says Bryant of his guitarist. “There are times where we’ve gotten booked with Aerosmith and he’s called his dad and told him.”
What sparked The Shakedown playing with rock’s elite was a showcase in front of Jimmy Page. That led to a gig backing late Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell in early 2016 at the premiere of the film 13 Hours. A tour with ZZ Top followed until the band was given a three-date trial opening for AC/DC, forcing it to leave the ZZ Top tour midway through. While Bryant admits it was a gamble, AC/DC lead guitarist Angus Young approved, and the band remained on the tour. After Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose filled in for AC/DC vocalist Brian Johnson due to Johnson experiencing hearing problems, he wound up asking The Shakedown to play some shows with his band as well. “So we wound up doing two dates at London Stadium with AC/DC and two dates at London Stadium with Guns N’ Roses,” says Bryant, still sounding awestruck.