Interview with The Outside Voices
The Outside Voices, from Kent, are a rock and roll band on the rise. The recent release of "The Big, Big EP" is further proof that music in Ohio is anything but dead. A fresh mix of disparate influences, one can hear traces of disco, glam, and country, just to mention a few. Despite many outside influences, the Outside Voices are firmly planted inside rock and roll. Hold The Note was fortunate to get a chance to sit down with the band before a recent show to talk about music, writing, The Cleveland Browns, and the difference between being a writer and an arranger.
The Outside Voices:
John Patrick Halling (guitar, lead vocals)
Jimmy Dykes (guitar, vocals)
Johnny Miller (lead guitar)
Kevin McManus (bass, vocals)
Sam Langstaff (drums)
Hold The Note: So, your new record, The Big, Big EP, has been out a little over a month. From the last record to this record, obviously the name (formerly John Patrick & The Outside Voices) has changed. What spurred that change?
John Patrick Halling: I don't know, it was something I think all of us were secretly thinking about. The project came together around my solo stuff, and all the songs from the first record were already written and almost ready to go. Everyone helped write parts to complete those songs, but as we kept playing that year and the year after on that record we started writing and it just became more of a "band" feeling than it was a singer-songwriter kinda thing. I don't if anyone else wants to chime in...
Jimmy Dykes: Along the lines of it becoming more of a cohesive, band writing experience - We always were writing even during the first record, "Hound Dogs", so we had so many songs already and were in the process of writing. We knew we were on track for another album quickly, but since we were finding each other as a band we were writing, I don't wanna say all over the place, but we were writing differently than before. But we had these four songs, that were finished faster than the other ones and they were a little bit of an outlier. Not because they don't fit in our sound, because we put it out so now it is our sound.
Sam Langstaff: Well, the nice thing about an EP is that, this one's only four songs, it's kinda liberating for the fact that you don't have to stick to an aesthetic or something like that, like you would with a full length album. You can any which four ways you want with those four songs.
JPH: That, and the old name (John Patrick & The Outside Voices) was just a pain in the ass to tell people. (Laughter from all)
Johnny Miller: Yeah, when we played that Rockwood place it just said "John Patrick & The Out".
HTN: So, how long have you guys known each other individually?
JPH: Jim and Sam grew up together, and went to school together. I've known Johnny for almost 10 years now, and we've all been in the local Akron music scene separately in other projects, so we all kind of knew of each other. So as certain projects were falling apart, and I was starting to come up as a solo artist, we all just kinda like gravitated toward each other.
SL: It's like how any band that is part of a music scene, all the members are part of that music scene.
Kevin McManus: Jimmy and I met on a playground, we were five years old. And I've known Johnny for about 10 years.
JD: We went to college together. And none of us really liked John (Patrick Halling) that much, he just kind of fell in our laps.
JPH: I don't even like myself, so it's fine.
KM: The way I understand it, he had kinda scouted them and then I just forced my way in.
JPH: That story is really hilarious. Kevin had offered his services to me before. I tossed around the idea, and it hadn't worked out. We ended up at a Browns game, the same Browns game, separately. I saw him post something on Instagram. I hit him up like, "Let's grab a drink at some point", and then we ended up going to this bar called The Naughty Mermaid in downtown Cleveland. Got super wasted until Kevin yelled at me enough that I let him in the band.
KM: He kept talking about "Yeah, I'm doing a record." I did not have a band at the time, the band I was in previously had concluded. I had bugged him about (the record) because I wanted to play on it.
JPH: And we haven't been able to get rid of him since.
HTN: From the standpoint of the band you are now, what is your writing process like? How do you typically go about assembling a song?
SL: John does about 80-90% of it.
JPH: I wouldn't even throw those numbers on it. In the beginning, I wouldn't come to anybody unless the song was completely done. Now, I'll have like partial songs. I'll just have a hook or I'll just have the chord structure and a melody.
JD: We'll get, like, a vibe going.
JPH: We'll jam on that for five or ten minutes and start to feel where that song is going, and that helps me to dictate lyrically and emotionally where that song should go from there.
HTN: So you're a "music first" guy?
JPH: Words come with the music. Or sometimes you'll just get a phrase in your head, or a melody line or something. Then you sometimes chop up old, half finished songs that never turned into anything and put them to a new chord progression or cadence and just see what happens. But with the new band focused feel I like getting direction from them. The songs may have a structure, and what it's about, but different phrasings and things can alter based on how the song feels.
JD: I feel like it's helped us more musically, too. I like both ways of writing equally, but I think for us if you're gonna keep yourself interested, him coming to us with a verse or chorus or a hook helps us to explore ourselves musically. I think that is why we have changed, and grown our sound, because we have more time to focus with not much else going on outside.
JM: We can build the song up more. If it's not already all the way done, you can just build it.
HTN: With regards to songwriting and performance, what are the influences that each of you think most inform your approach or sound?
JPH: For me, and I wanna clarify, is this influences more on writing or playing?
HTN: Either one, anything that influences you in a way you think affects what you are doing personally in the band.
JPH: I think, with our sound, it's interesting because we all have that 60s, 70s kind of "listened to our parents' music" kinda background. A lot of guitars. But then we also grew up in the 90's and early 2000's, so there's different Alternative elements that mix in. I'm a huge Ryan Adams fan, Butch Walker, Tom Petty, guys like those. But I also listen to a lot of Indie and Garage, kinda like more Psychedelic influences. That really shows itself on this EP, there's definitely a little more fuzz and grit to some of these songs.
SL: When it comes to drums, my influences are Phil Seamen, Charlie Watts, Steve Jordan, those kinda guys. Just kinda laid back.
HTN: Pocket guys?
SL: Yeah, pocket guys. That can add to a song without looking like an asshole.
JM: Well, for guitar, James Burton. Angus Young, on the other end of the whole spectrum. Stylistically, it's The New York Dolls. Not in musical style, but clothing-wise, New York Dolls.
JPH: Johnny definitely helps bring the twang.
JM: I grew up with old country & bluegrass, so there's always a little bit of that. Hank Williams, Buck Owens.
HTN: That informs a lot of melodies, that old Bakersfield thing.
JM: Yeah, that guitar playing is so clean. And then of course also Keith Richards.
JD: I think me and Johnny talk about it, without shame, we're trying to consciously have a kinda Ron Wood, Keith Richards weave going. I think rather recently we've hit more of a stride with it because we come from similar backgrounds but also very different. He's always been more of a guitarist, I've been more into songwriting. This is the first time I've been primarily just a guitarist. So I've always been really Melody driven by people like Tom Petty who can carry a super simple repetitive riff. I let Johnny take care of the technical stuff because I physically can't do it.
JM: I can barely do it myself!
JD: We're also not hogging anything. We were saying in the van earlier, on the way down here, whoever thinks of the cooler riff first, let's work off that riff or whatever. I've always been very melody and hook driven. Stuff like Josh Homme, Queens of the Stone Age stuff, but less heavy. I guess is what I am looking for.
KM: Kinda, in a roundabout way, piggybacking off what Jimmy said, for me personally I came from a kind of Pop Punk kinda background. I think the first half of me playing this instrument was spent really influenced by bassists like Krist Novoselic from Nirvana, Kim Deal from The Pixies, Mike Dirnt from Green Day. Kind of more of just, the bass is the bass, you kinda play with the same dynamic. It took me til later in life, kinda getting into more of the blues and soul and stuff. Some Motown, and then Phil Spector Wall of Sound stuff. Nowadays it's more of like Carol Kaye, or Donald "Duck" Dunn. I learned recently that sometimes, the less you play and the more you serve the song and play in the pocket as a bass player, the more meaningful the parts are. So I think it's really more so about serving the song. Playing in the pocket and making your parts stand out because you're not just trying to shit all over the song.
HTN: On the EP, there are a lot of places where I can definitely hear Carol Kaye coming through.
KM: That is a massive compliment, thank you. That's my piece on influences.
HTN: So The Big, Big EP is out, you're touring to support it. What's next?
JPH: After this tour, we're gonna continue to get out on the road as much as possible, a lot of weekend warrior stuff coming up. We're gonna do another small run in the fall. After that, we're working on a new full length album, which we hope to record this summer for release sometime in early 2019. We're on a pretty consistent pace right now with putting out music. We're trying to keep up on that.
JD: And even coming at that record, from not a different angle from what we've done but an evolved angle I guess, this EP was more of a band-driven thing from how we've been writing. We've watched way too many music documentaries about our heroes, so we're just doing what they tell us to do. Like, "Oh, you came into the studio with 30 songs? How the hell did you do that?" So this time, we're trying to just write way too much.
KM: We're trying to keep a good balance of "Let's be tight for our set tomorrow night" and "Let's keep writing for the next record". It's a good thing because, like we talked about earlier, there are four songwriters in this band.
SL: And an arranger!
HTN: That leads right to the next question. What is the difference, individually, between your past songwriting experiences and the way the process works in the Outside Voices?
JM: Oh, I love it. I love doing this more. I would get writer's block like no other, and beat myself up all the time. This time I just get to show up and play guitar. It's refreshing and I've gotten back into writing again because I don't feel the need to. I don't feel like "If I don't write 20 songs in the next couple years, I'm not gonna have a couple records".
HTN: Without that pressure, you can just let it come out the way it wants to.
JM: Yeah, it's really relieving.
JD: I'm still in the "block" phase of my writing ever since mine and Sam's last band disbanded, but it's opened my mind and my style. It's more fun to come from the outside of songs. I wasn't the primary writer in my old band, I was more the George Harrison of it. One in every three songs, but we still wrote together so this is a cool way to think about songs differently. If I hear a song I will think of something completely different than if I was the only one working on it.
KM: I'm in a similar situation as Johnny, because I came from a background where in all the music, I wrote all the lyrics. After I stopped doing that there was a period of time where I just tried to play with everybody I could. Tried to sit in with anyone I could, and realized "Wow, I'm not a fully formed bass player by any means." I'm still not, but I realized I'd taken the bass for granted for so long, so coming here I have one job to do essentially. My main job is to play the bass, and that motivated me to be a better player, and I absolutely love it. I've brought song ideas to JP and it's fun because I don't feel obligated to do that. It's nice because I didn't enjoy writing that much, because I'm not that strong as a lyricist, but he is. So I just get to focus on playing bass and honestly I never thought it would be as much of a joy as it is. It's fuckin' great.
JPH: Coming from the other perspective, having three other people who are experienced songwriters, when I'm coming to them with songs, it's really good because they know how to fit around the vocals. They're not interrupting the melody or - I remember there were parts of the first record, we were working on this song, and Kevin was like "No, don't do that, it interrupts this part of the song, the message of that lyric," and that really stuck out to me. Different things like phrasings. I can ask "Should I phrase it this way or this way?" and these other opinions on it makes it a little easier. And Sam's the arranger. There was a lyrical change on a song that was 100% Sam.
HTN: So Sam, since all these other guys are songwriters, does that make you the lone arranger?
*Laughter for the bad dad joke*
JD: I've been playing with Sam for seven years now, and even with our old band, he always brought a ton of good ideas.
HTN: One more serious question, and then we'll move on to one fun one. As a band, ideally, what do you hope that a listener takes from what you are doing?
KM: That repeat customer! If you wanna hang out and party with us, that's ok. If not, we're still gonna do it.
JPH: I just hope that they have a good time. We're just doing what we love, and hanging out and having a couple brews with some friends and like - Party on, man. And if your song can help get someone through some emotional things, then that is great. That's why we all love music.
JD: If you turn on our music and it makes you start tapping your foot and you don't change the channel, that is the goal.
KM: The goal with all of this is really kinda self-centered, because all we wanna do is play all the time.
HTN: So this is basically my James Lipton "What is your favorite swear word?" question. I don't care to use the term guilty pleasures, because it's BS, I'm never guilty about things I enjoy. But, as a human being, right now, what is the thing on your playlist that nobody would expect?
JM: My Chemical Romance, fuckin' love it.
HTN: Any record in particular?
JM: I like the last one they did, the Killjoys one, but Black Parade and back I really like. Mainly Black Parade, though.
SL: I love Matchbox 20, Love it.
HTN: What's your favorite Matchbox 20 song?
SL: I like the hits, so...
HTN: They're a hits band!
JD: Sam used to say, if those guys in Matchbox 20 had been a decade or two earlier, it wouldn't be funny, they'd have been huge.
SL: I like "Push" a lot. Also, what's the one? Dammit. Eh, that's it I guess.
JPH: I really love some pop music. When Echosmith came out with "Cool Kids", that was my jam. I still rock "1989" by Taylor Swift regularly. "Bangers" by Miley. I'm not too turned on to the new T. Swift or this "I'm a good girl" Miley, but Bangers was great.
JD: I can't stop listening to St. Vincent. That's not that weird, but for what we play maybe it is. I do love the Pet Shop Boys
HTN: THAT'S THE ANSWER I WANTED!!! So, that just leaves Kevin
KM: So, lately I've been really into Chicago. But not the rockin' 70's Chicago. More the Peter Cetera, ballad Chicago. And even the Peter Cetera solo stuff, he was a bass player! I don't know why, but for some reason I am a sucker for 1980's Music, Television, Movies.
JD: that Kevin's workout music, for when he's ashing cigarettes.
KM: And a lot of Don Henley's solo stuff, I love Don Henley.
HTN: Well, thanks again for taking the time to chat, we'll see you soon.