An Interview with Tyler Bryant of Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown

All images courtesy of Freeman Promotions/Feature image credit: Kevin Nixon


By Andrew DiCecco
adicecco@vinylwriter.com

A signature pink Stratocaster, charismatic allure and uncompromising vision distinguish Tyler Bryant from his peers, but his legacy may well be defined as a torchbearer for rock ‘n’ roll’s next generation.

Touted as a guitar prodigy, Bryant diligently honed his craft under the tutelage of blues musician and mentor Roosevelt Twitty as an adolescent. By the time he was 18, the Honey Grove, Texas native founded his blues-based band, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown, with drummer Caleb Crosby and bassist Calvin Webster.

Drawing primarily from his discernable blues and southern rock influences, Bryant’s sonic leanings can be traced back to seminal acts such as The Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The visionary wunderkind ultimately fused a variety of elements into a multidimensional blueprint, effectively positioning his band to take the rock world by storm.

In support of some of rock ‘n’ roll’s most instrumental acts, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown have shared the world’s grandest stages with the likes of Aerosmith, ACϟDC, ZZ Top, and Guns N’ Roses.

With Bryant’s unwavering leadership and inherent poise, the Shakedown has been able to successfully navigate through five studio albums, the most recent being Shake the Roots (2022), which was released via Rattle Shake Records on Sept. 9.

I recently sat down with Bryant, the Shakedown’s singer, guitarist, and primary songwriter, to discuss the origins of Shake the Roots and the band’s collaborative process, the inspiration behind releasing the album independently, his approach to soloing, and more.

Andrew:
Tyler, how did the concept of Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown’s latest studio album, Shake the Roots, come about?

Tyler:
Well, you know, I feel like this record’s been a lot of things leading to this point. Where do we even begin? It started with the band and I talking about wanting to make a record that was getting back to our roots. It’s no secret that I’m a total blues junkie; I love anything organic. We wanted to kind of tip our hat to this music that we love but do it in a Shakedown fashion. And so, we actually set out to make an acoustic record; we were gonna make a record called Bare Bones. We were gonna make an acoustic record called Bare Bones, which we did, but the more and more time we spent on this acoustic record, the less and less acoustic it started sounding. We finished it, and we used all acoustic instruments – and I’m sure some of those songs will get released at some point – but, like, “Bare Bones” and “Tennessee” from Shake the Roots were from this idea that we had. And as we always do when we finish a project, we always start writing more songs because there’s something about finishing a project and getting it mixed and mastered; you’re putting it to bed, so it opens you up to be creative in new ways.

So, when we finished doing all these acoustic songs, we just kept writing and recording, and we ended up with these songs that were really exciting to us, like “Ghostrider,” “Off the Rails,” and “Roots.” Some of this stuff certainly wasn’t acoustic, but it did feel very authentic to the Shakedown. We robbed a few of our favorite songs from the other project and just kept recording them in a similar way because I never tore my studio down; it was all kind of still set up. We joke about this record; it’s like the record that we finished that we never officially started. It wasn’t like, “Okay, cool. We got from here to here to make a record.” Most of these recordings are just us hanging out and turning the mics on, and that’s how the record was made. I think you can hear it because it sounds like fun. It sounds like just a couple of dudes hanging out and having a good time. There were late nights; there were laughs, and there was certainly an argument here and there about what’s the best approach. I’m proud of what it turned out to be.

Andrew:
As you mentioned, there are sometimes disagreements about how to best approach the music. How does the collaborative process typically work for Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown?

Tyler:
Well, we’ve been a band together for a little bit of time now, so there’s a lot of respect there. We’re all working towards the same thing. So, even if there’s a minor disagreement on something, it’s never really a big deal. We’ve always approached recording and writing where it’s like, “Cool, you have an idea? I don’t know if that’s gonna work. Let’s try it.” And so, nothing gets shot down until it shoots itself down; we kind of open up the floor to be creative because a lot of times, the ideas that you think won’t work at all are the best ideas.

There’s this producer named Roger Alan Nichols that we’ve worked with, and I’ve co-written a ton of Shakedown songs in the past with Roger – we always kind of joked that he’s like a fifth band member to us – and he always had this sort of approach called “throwing paint.” We’re throwing paint, and we hope something’s pretty. You go into the studio with that idea that “I’m just gonna fling a bunch of paint at the wall and then try and decipher what it means.” It’s pretty cool; some days, you get something that’s like, “Oh my God, look, it’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa!” Then some days, you’re like, “Jesus, this is a New York puddle!” You never know what you’re gonna get.

Andrew:
Shake the Roots is unique in the sense that it’s an independent release. What prompted you to go in this direction?

Tyler:
Well, it’s something we’ve been talking about doing for a really long time. I feel like we’ve been moving in this direction for quite some time. We’ve been very fortunate to have – I wanna say we’ve had three or four really great record deals – and met a lot of really great, talented, passionate people and have constantly been keeping notes on what works for us and what doesn’t work for us. I mean, for me personally, I’ve watched my wife – my wife is in a band called Larkin Poe – and they’ve had their own record label for quite a while now. The sense of ownership that she has over her own art, I’ve always kind of wanted that for myself, and I think we’re at a point in our lives where we owe it to ourselves to try. And I think we’ve built up enough of a passionate fanbase. Just on the first two songs that we’ve released, we haven’t felt a dip or anything; it’s been a really strong reaction.

I think for us, it’s just trying to empower ourselves with our own art by taking ownership of it and trying to empower our fans to go, “When we support this band, we’re actually supporting this band.” You know, knowing that their support is what’s fueling another record; it’s what’s fueling the touring. So, we just decided rather than taking money from a record label to get everything done; we were gonna front it ourselves and just kind of bet on ourselves. And a lot of the people that we’ve hired to work for Rattle Shake Records, we’ve actually worked with at record labels in the past.

So, it’s cool; we’ve actually been able to cherry-pick the people that we feel like are going to really be passionate about taking our music out there and spreading the word. I feel really positive about it. It’s been inspiring to see how the fans have reacted, too. Everyone is going, “Do it! We believe in you! We’re gonna support it!” And buying Rattle Shake Records t-shirts and stuff. It’s going better than I could have hoped because there’s certainly been a little bit of doubt, as there is any time you have to take a gamble. You go, “Okay, I hope I was supposed to put it on red because I almost put it on black.

All images courtesy of Freeman Promotions

Andrew:
But it’s exciting at the same, right? In many cases, adrenaline can fuel you to reach new heights.

Tyler:
Totally. Totally. And for us, we’ve never been satisfied with the speed at which our music has been able to be put out. Like, there’s always been this huge amount of musical waste. I talked about the record that we made before this record – the acoustic record that kind of led to Shake the Roots – just because that’s not released doesn’t mean that it doesn’t it exist, and there isn’t a place for it at some point. I think, for us, we kind of wanted to have the opportunity to do more creative releases. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve wanted to do something for Record Store Day. The speed at which things happen in this industry sometimes is really disheartening to an artist. Why wait? … “Okay, cool; we wanna do something for Record Store Day. We have to think about it now.

I think a lot of times if you’re on a label and they have a million different acts, they would be foolish not to put all of their resources towards whatever is bringing in the most dollars for them. I mean, that was our story when we were signed to Republic Records; here’s this little ‘ol rock band from Nashville doing their thing, and then here’s Ariana Grande. Like, how are we going to get the attention from the label?! [Laughs]. She’s bringing in so much money! Go there; we get it. But the goal with this is just trying to give ourselves the opportunities that we always wanted to have.

Andrew:
Now, presumably, you recorded Shake the Roots at Bombay Palace, your home studio. How did the studio get its start?

Tyler:
So, that’s my old studio; this one’s the Lily Pad. My wife and I bought a house a few years ago, and she’s been super supportive, man – I have a very patient wife – because I am a noisy person to live with. But she is, too, so it kind of works out. During the pandemic, we made a record called Pressure, which you’re aware of, and we made that record here at the home studio. Afterward, I felt really empowered, and I started buying all the gear that I ever wanted to have. It’s kind of the same thing as what we talked about the labels and being independent – every time I need to make a record, or my wife needs to make a record, we’re constantly giving our money to people who can help us make that record. Which is cool because we’ve met a lot of really inspiring people and got to learn a lot, but I liked the idea of having all the tools at my disposal, and I’ve always wanted to have that. She actually encouraged me to take the leap and start getting the stuff that I felt like I needed.

Then it kind of snowballed, and I started recording a bunch of other artists and learning and learning and hoovering up every bit of information that I could find; reading books from engineers that I really respected; watching videos of people; calling up engineers that I’ve personally worked with. And I’ve been keeping notes throughout the Shakedown’s career because we’ve worked with Vance Powell, Roger Alan Nichols; we’ve worked with Andy Johns, who did [Led] Zeppelin. So, we’ve gotten to watch all these people work, and it hasn’t been lost on me how cool that is. So, going back through video footage going, “Ah, that’s what that was. We had a 421 on the amp as well,” and just kind of going down this nerdy rabbit hole every day; lying in bed, reading, listening, and comparing the way different microphones sound.

The other thing is, in almost every studio we’ve ever worked in, there’s like a certain amount of time that it takes to get set up. So, I wanted to get a spot where everything that I needed was constantly set up – or at least very close. So, in my studio, I’ve got the drums that are always mic’d and ready to go – you might have to fine-tune ’em a little bit – but they’re ready, to where if you sat down, the levels are good. There are multiple vocal mics ready to go, multiple guitar amps ready to go, to where if my bandmates come over, we can be hanging out, and the hang turns into “You’re making a record very fast.”

One thing with the Shakedown is that we have these fleeting moments of inspiration that have been kind of hard to catch at times. So, I’ve been trying to set myself up to catch them. And there are certain songs on this record where we’ve played them one or two times, and the idea sometimes is, “Just get the idea down and then we’ll check it out and see if it’s any good.” But a lot of times, that idea that you’re putting down, that’s the magic. So, trying to make sure that it’s captured correctly and, in a way, that’s gonna be impactful. It’s really exciting to me; it’s like trying to bottle lightning. I’m thrilled by it.

Andrew:
That’s interesting. Can you give me a rundown of the gear you used to record Shake the Roots?

Tyler:
Oh my God, dude. So much. Guitar-wise, my pink Stratocaster is, of course, on so much. On the resonator side, there are obviously a lot of acoustic resonators on the record. There’s this company called Mule out of Saginaw, Michigan. And I got a shell pink Tricone Resonator from them that sings so beautifully. Then, another one called the Mavis from them; it’s like a thinner body resonator. I got a 1934 National Duolian from Matt’s Guitar Shop in Paris, France. So many electric guitars. Graham [Whitford] played my Gibson ES335 on a few things. I’ve got a Custom Shop Telecaster that my wife gave me that I used a lot. Used my original 1960 Strat on a few things. My place is littered with guitars, and they all get used. So, it would probably be hard for me to pinpoint exactly what it was, but for the most part, it’s probably my pink Strat.

Andrew:
Your go-to guitar has always been a Stratocaster, while Graham [Whitford] has become renowned for his affinity for Les Paul’s. Is there a particular reason behind your preference for Strats?

Tyler:
It’s funny because the first time I played a Strat, I thought it was the worst design ’cause every time I would downstroke, I would hit the pickups and change the sound of the guitar. And once I realized that that could be used kinda as a weapon, it became my favorite instrument. I love the way they feel; I love how it fits against my body. At this point, it just feels like second nature to be holding a Strat. Graham, when I met him, he was playing a Strat, and then he got a Les Paul. Dude, it’s so funny; I was cleaning out my studio the other day, and I found a gold top Les Paul, and I was like, “This isn’t mine. Why is this here?” And I don’t even know if Graham knows that it’s here, so I keep thinking what I’m gonna do is list it on Craigslist for, like, two hundred bucks or something, and then just be like, “Dude, this is a great deal on this Les Paul!” And then he’ll see that it’s in my studio and it’s his guitar! [Laughs].

Andrew:
I find “Ghostrider” to be among the strongest tracks on Shake the Roots. What was the inspiration behind the lyrics?

Tyler:
Well, Graham and I wrote that one together. That was one night where he and I were hangin’ out. I think Graham and I are both kind of frustrated drummers. Caleb [Crosby], the drummer in the Shakedown, he had a child a year ago, so he was busy on this particular evening. So, Graham was playing the drums a little bit, and I’m playin’ guitar; we were taking turns playing guitar and playing drums. So, we kind of mapped out what we wanted the riffs to be, and we put the riffs down, and the phrase “Ghostrider” just kept being what was in my head.

I think, for Graham, his brother was in a really awful motorcycle accident, but he was miraculously okay – like, probably flew 300 yards and was okay – and Graham was like, “Yeah, I think about that. There was someone protecting him.” Almost like a guardian angel approach. And I was thinking about it like my own drive and ambition; like that voice that keeps you moving forward when you feel like there are obstacles in your way; when you feel like there is something that’s trying to prevent you from reaching a goal or preventing you from going where you want to be. That voice that keeps telling you to keep going. That’s the way that I thought about it, but he was thinking about it in a completely different way. That’s what’s cool about songs; what can mean one thing to somebody can mean something totally different to someone else.

Andrew:
The opening riff reels you right in. What went into crafting that one?

Tyler:
Oh, man, thanks! So, I got this pedal from a company called Beetronics; they sent me this pedal called The Swarm. The first, like handful of times I played with the pedal, I knew I wanted to write a song with it, but every time I kept jamming, I was like, “That’s not the song. That’s not the one,” ’cause it’s a really intense flavor, you know what I mean? So, whenever Graham and I started jamming, the riffs happened really naturally. And all the riffs and the music were pretty much written before the vocals and the melody. There’s a sound right before the last chorus that sounds like a synth drop or something, and that’s just my guitar. The amp sounds like it’s exploding, and I love that. But yeah, those riffs were just Whitty and I jamming, coming up with some stuff that made us wanna bob our heads, you know?

All images courtesy of Freeman Promotions

Andrew:
Is there a typical approach or philosophy you follow when soloing?

Tyler:
I don’t write anything out; I kind of take a breath and just go. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to do more the longer I’ve been recording is trying to take a second to listen to what I’ve done because there have been so many times in the past where I just do something and then immediately go, “It’s garbage. Let me do it again. Let me do it again.” With this record, the “Ghostrider” solo was a first-take solo. That was the first, “This is what I’m doing.” For the video we just shot, I had a really hard time learning that solo ’cause that was just a moment that happened. Then it was like, “Well, how do I recreate that?” And I’ll probably never play the solo like that again, but I’ll be close and with the same kind of intention. It just depends on the song; sometimes, I’ll listen to the section that needs a solo, and I’ll hum, and I’ll try to sing to myself what I would want to do, and it sounds ridiculous. And you’re trying to figure out how to make your guitar make all these stupid sounds. It’s a fun challenge. But a lot of times, especially with this record, it’s having Caleb and Graham sitting behind me going, “Come on,” and egging me on. It pushes you to go a little bit further than you might if you were just sittin’ by yourself.

Andrew :

You mentioned earlier that you perceived the “Ghostrider” lyrics to be about overcoming challenges. Considering that Pressure (2020) was recorded at the height of the pandemic, when the world was in a frenzy, how stark was the contrast between that and Shake the Roots?

Tyler:
Well, I think the main difference from recording Pressure to Shake the Roots was an overwhelming feeling of dread in the world when we recorded Pressure. While there’s still a lot of that in the world, we weren’t reminded of it every day during this process. I think after the Pressure record, there was a certain feeling of we were kind of hodge-podging it together, which I found incredibly inspiring because Roger Alan Nichols – who produced that record with us – he kind of helped keep the train on the tracks. Then when the record was done, I was going, “This doesn’t sound like any corners were cut to me.” It just sounds like a bunch of people hanging out and making music, and I love that. So, the Pressure record was one of the reasons I decided to start investing in all of the gear and stuff. [Shake the Roots] was cut completely analog when the Pressure album was not. So, having some stuff that’s inspiring sonically – and having the kinks worked out in my space – the Pressure record was really like a test, and we passed it. Then it was like, “Okay, cool. Well, where do we go from here?” And this record was the continuation of the experiment.

Andrew:
What will the touring cycle look like for Shake the Roots?

Tyler:
Well, we’re trying to strategically start doing more headline dates in America – we’re gonna go back to Europe early next year – but we’ve got a whole string of dates that we’re gonna be announcing really soon. So, yeah, we’re just really making a point to start trying to do our own shows. We’ve been really fortunate over the past handful of years to do a lot of great support act slots, and we’ve gotten to tour with a lot of our heroes; the only thing is, you only get to play 30 or 45 minutes. We really struggle with a 30-minute set these days.

Andrew:
That’s a good problem to have, Tyler. While those highly coveted support slots served as a vital crash course, Tyler Bryant & the Shakedown irrefutably deserve headline opportunities.

Tyler:
Hey, that means a lot, man. I mean, obviously, if it’s the right opportunity – you don’t say no if ACϟDC or Guns N’ Roses calls you – and we’ve been so fortunate to get a few of those calls, and that’s another learning experience. But I think that you can easily box yourself into just being a support act. I think for us, we’re like, “Well, let’s go back and play some clubs. Let’s try to pack some people in some clubs and plays the songs they wanna hear and play the songs we wanna play. And start building it as a headlining act.” We spent so many years doing all the great support slots because we would have been foolish not to, but our focus now is doing our own shows.

Andrew:
As a supporting act, you’ve shared stages with ACϟDC, Guns N’ Roses, and ZZ Top. What perspective have you gained from those experiences?

Tyler:
Oh, man. Well, it’s different with every band we’ve toured with. With Jeff Beck, watching him lead that band that he had out with him, he commanded the attention of everyone on stage and everyone in the audience. He constantly was playing and constantly fine-tuning.

With ACϟDC, they stressed the importance of simplicity; how the space can actually say more than all the notes in the world. I loved getting to witness that, and then you realize, especially in a stadium, how much that speaks louder than trying to fit everything in.

With GN’R, Axl is just such a brilliant frontman; Slash, there’s a reason he’s an icon; it’s how he carries himself, how he plays, and he crafts his solos. I constantly feel like a student no matter who I’m watching, and that’s one thing that Steve Lukather told me. He said, “Any guitar player that you hear – even if you think they’re the worst guitar player in the world – they have something they could teach you.” So, it’s just watching everybody and going, “What can I take from this? What can I learn from this, and how can I apply it?”

I think our band has gotten better because of that. You can rehearse all you want, but once you walk out in front of 60,000 people and you hit something you thought was gonna work, and it doesn’t work the way you thought it would, you gotta get back to the drawing board, and you gotta get there quick. That’s the way you learn.

All images courtesy of Freeman Promotions

Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is the Senior Editor for vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at adicecco@vinylwriter.com

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