You may know them individually or as a group, but you most likely know them. Brothers Rocky and Ross Lynch have been on the spotlight for well over a decade now. What started off as a juvenile, family venture under the R5 moniker has now shifted and morphed into a two-man act: The Driver Era. If you were an R5 stan, don’t fret though: Rydel still plays keys.
Everything else, however, it’s pretty much different. But after departing from Hollywood Records and with only five tracks under their belt, The Driver Era’s future looks brighter than ever — even if, at least lyrically, their music is more sombre. With the perfect dose of rockstar, devil-may-care attitude, the brother duo disregards genre notions to create the music they’ve always envisioned: unfiltered and unadulterated.
Fully independent and with Ross’ manic filming schedules on Netflix’s hit series the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina against them, the duo has still managed a quick, meteoric rise — which includes a debut sold-out tour across the U.S.
With the first leg of the tour just wrapped up and their brand new single “Welcome to the End of Your Life” releasing today, Schön! caught up with TDE to talk about their potential rendition of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road”, epic studio sessions, future collabs and the inspiration (or lack thereof) behind the new track.
You’re just fresh off your sold-out tour — the first without a label entourage — until June. How’s it been?
Ross: It’s been wonderful. We’ve really been enjoying being independent because there’s a lot of creative freedom that we now have and everything’s in-house. We’re doing a music video right now, we’re in the process of putting it all together and it’s just us. We’re getting everything put together on our own. It’s really liberating. Anything to say, Rocky?
Rocky: Oh, I think the main thing when you don’t have a label is [that] it is easy to get lazy — which hasn’t happened to us yet because we’ve just been really busy. But, honestly, that’s probably the best part about having somebody that’s like “yo, here’s your deadlines” — which we do have a couple of people calling us about that, but that’s probably the main pro of a label.
Ross: I feel like we’re really good about keeping busy though…
Ross: That’s why we can be unsigned is because we have a good work ethic.
Have you been writing any songs on the road?
Ross: No, not really.
Rocky: I’ve been producing… Like while we’re on the road, I’d have my laptop out on the bus and in different hotel rooms, on off days, trying to finish up a couple of other tracks for just random people. But other than that, we haven’t done many Driver Era tunes on the road.
Ross: It’s hard because you want to participate in the moment. Because you’re going to a new city every day, there’s a lot of people to meet. You want to put on a good show. It’s just a lot going on.
Rocky: Yeah. Honestly, it’s the scheduling because the most productive studio slash writing time is in the morning. And on tour, you’re waking up later, like around noon, and about that time it’s “alright, let’s set up real quick” — like laptops [and] studio things. Or someone’s like “let’s go grab dinner” [laughs]
Ross: Right, or we got to go to this radio station!
After your last show in June, are you planning on hitting the road again, maybe internationally?
Ross: I gotta go to Vancouver and do parts three and four of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which will take me about nine months and then after those nine months, we will most likely tour again — hopefully internationally. We have a lot of markets to hit. We definitely want to go to South America, Europe and Japan — which are some of our key markets back in the day. We’re definitely trying to get back to those. But there are some conflicts that we gotta workaround at the moment…
So this single “Welcome to the End of Your Life,” what’s the inspiration behind it? Did you guys write it together?
Rocky: Yes, we wrote that together.
Ross: We did.
Ross: The inspiration comes to us as we are writing. It was just kind of a spur of the moment thing.
Rocky: Yeah, it’s not like we sit down and we’re like “let’s write a song that has like a message about like, you know, missing the great parts of life” and like “here’s the end.” It just kind of like flows.
Ross: Also the mood or whatever mindset we were in might have informed what we created because that’s usually how it works. But, yeah, it was spontaneous creation, baby!
The 8-bit cover/visuals for this are sick. Do you have a video planned for it? You teased it with a little animation…
Ross: Yes, we have a super awesome video that’s stop motion animation. It will come out shortly after the song and that we’re really, really excited about. But, yeah, the cover and the 8-bit animation is as another side of the song as well.
Rocky: Yeah, there were talks of maybe turning the 8-bit animation into a lyric video or something. But as of now, it’s just the cover art, basically.
Ross: The video is amazing, though. I think everyone is going to love it.
You touched upon this already but now that you’ve been independent for a little while, what would you say are the main advantages and disadvantages?
Ross: We can touch on a little bit more. I think the biggest advantage is not having too many cooks in the kitchen and being able to do what you want as an artist and not having to please anybody is really nice. The biggest disadvantage is money and international poll.
Rocky: [But] even then, you know, with international labels: you may be signed to a label and then the international part of that label doesn’t really give a fuck. So they’re not going to do anything.
Ross: [laugsh] Pretty much.
Rocky: So that could also be a con to not being independent.
Ross: For sure, for sure…
All the songs you’ve put out as The Driver Era are drastically different yet they all kind of flow together. What do you feel it’s the element that ties them all?
Ross: I think the element that ties them all together is the fact that Rocky and I are make all of them. You know, we’re not working with a bunch of different people. It’s just us. I think that’s what makes them all cohesive. We like making different styles of music. You know, once one song is written, why would you write it again? We like to change it up. We got some rap songs, some dance songs, some alternative rock songs… We like it all.
When describing your music, people still tend to slap the pop tag somewhere — even if it’s not the main sound. Do you like or dislike the fact that people still try to box something a bit more multi-genre into traditional genres?
Rocky: I mean, there’s the saying of “pop” is just popular but there’s also a sound that sounds pop-ish as well. So, it kind of depends on which form you’re using the word. You know what I’m saying?
Ross: I’m just kind of a fan of good or bad. A lot of musicians have said this too because that’s all it comes down to: is it good or is it bad?
Rocky: Yeah, are you making good music?
Ross: Because I love pop. Good, good pop, bro? I love pop. Good, good hip hop? Love good hip hop, you know… Country? Same!
100%. I know you only have five songs out at the moment, but is there one you’re most proud of, to date? Or maybe one that’s coming out later?
Rocky: There’s another track that we played on tour that seems to be kind of like a fan favourite called “Scared of Heights” that will probably come out soon-ish [and] that we’re pretty stoked on. I think it’s a dope track. I think “Welcome to the End of Your Life” is one of the craziest songs that’s been put out in 2019.
Ross: I haven’t heard a song like it.
Rocky: “Feel You Now” is kind of sick because, back to that pop question, you are in this electronic pop vibe for the majority of the song, which is dope. And then “Low,” for me specifically, obviously, I can feel pretty proud about because it’s the first track that I just kind of did solo, by myself.
Ross: He wrote, produced it, and sang on it. And it was kind of our biggest hit. It’s our biggest radio success to date, which is exciting.
Rocky: We’re gonna make a music video for it now and that’s kind of where Ross slides in heavily on the input and creativity of the other side of “Low,” which is the visuals. It’s kind of sick. So we got a little collaborative process there.
Ross: It’s a very collaborative team we got going on. For sure.
Rocky: And I love “Preacher Man.”
Do you plan on releasing a full album or are singles the way to go for now?
Ross: We’re thinking about doing a little body of work before I go up to Vancouver for CAOS, which will consist of mostly songs that we were playing on tour that are unreleased.
Rocky: Maybe a couple of new ones…
Ross: But no promises!
Rocky: That’d come down to scheduling. Basically, the deadline for that is in the near future, like pretty soon, and there’s a lot going down [right now], so it’s [all down to] how much can we actually get done. It’d be sick to honestly put an album out, and be like”here’s a frickin album.”
Ross: For sure, and then get on to the next body of work.
Rocky: Yeah, and then start working on other things. That might be a little farfetched. It’s doable. It’s more probable that there’s like an EP or some sort of that thing.
Along those lines, nowadays immediacy is required both in TV and music. Do you feel that’s a good or a bad thing? On one hand, you can put out music however and whenever you like but does it take a toll?
Ross: Well, I mean on the TV world, that’s why I have to spend nine months in Vancouver. It’s because they’re trying to put season out after season out really quickly.
Rocky: Yeah, they’re trying to poop it out quick.
Ross: Which you know makes the music a little harder to manage because CAOS is taking so much of my time. Not in a bad way. It’s a great gig and I love being there. But there are certain sacrifices. Personally, I think the immediacy of music actually favours Rocky and I’s style of creation. Because we kind of do like to perfect one song at a time and release that one song and then get onto the next song. But, you know, it is what it is. I think it just changes your gameplan. You just gotta roll with it.
You guys did a collab with New Beat Fund on “Cool Girl,” which really shows your hip hop influence. Are you planning any more?
Ross: I’m sure we’ll have a session with New Beat Fundin the future…
Rocky: Yeah, actually while Ross has been in Vancouver, from time to time, the homies would hit me up like “yo, let’s just vibe in the studio for a second.” So I’ve actually messed with a couple of tracks with them, just kind of kicking it —we’ll have some beers and just throw down a vibe and see where it goes — and a couple of them are kind of cool. The most recent time, Ross actually was like throwing out some nasty bass lines on there.
Ross: Hell, yeah!
Rocky: Sick bass lines.
Ross: Oh, that was a sick bass line! I literally walked in the studio, dropped in the bass line and left.
Rocky: Yeah, he gipsy faded. Halfway through we were like “where’s Ross?”
Ross: But I put in a dope bass line.
Rocky: Where you playing X-Box?
Ross: I can’t even remember. You know what it was? I was really tired. I can’t remember what we were doing but I was tired. I had been going all day or something. But, hey man, that bass line is dope so…
Rocky: Yeah, and that other track was pretty hip-hop-like too, actually. Super like freaking hydraulic. Like, pretend you’re in a car with hydraulics. That’s what it sounds like.
Ross: Yeah. I definitely think we’re gonna make more hip hop. More than people expect because we actually grew up like listening to hip hop and I think like once those gates are open, it’s gonna be fun. Honestly, I think we’ve got a lot of hip hop in us.
If you were given the chance, who would you most like to work with?
Rocky: I like Kendrick. I’m good with that. Dr. Dre would be fun.
Ross: Calvin Harris too.
Rocky: Yeah, I think a little Calvin collab is in The Driver Era’s future for sure.
So from what I understand you released “Preacher Man” while still signed. When did you make the decision to actually leave Hollywood Records? Was there something in particular that spurred it?
Rocky: It was our guarantee for our next album [laughs].
Ross: Yeah, they were going to have to pay us a lot of money. And we honestly had good relationships at Hollywood Records and we basically both came to the conclusion that we were gonna be better off independent and they didn’t want to give us that big chunk of cash, so…
Rocky: It just kind of made sense for both parties in the long run. Towards the end of our R5 days, we were always trying to figure out the best way to move forward as musicians and, you know, figure out how to keep making music and it just honestly wasn’t the perfect match bottom line.
Your songs since leaving R5 have been much more personal and “mature”, “Low” perhaps being the best example. Are there any particular themes you’d like to explore int he future?
Ross: Oh, for sure. I mean, one thing about being a young artist that I’ve been paying attention to recently is how it actually shapes my perspective on life. I think my lifestyle, our lifestyle, as young musicians, really has a lot to offer us and it teaches us a lot. So I’m really excited to see. I mean, I don’t really know what those themes will be because you can be inspired in the spur of the moment by anything but I’m really curious to see what comes out.
Rocky: I just found out that Nicolas Cage got married and divorced four days later…
Ross: That guy’s crazy, dude.
Rocky: Yeah, that alone. I was laughing about that because it’s like how inconsistent can you be? How would you already not know? How would you not see a red flag? Anyway, with themes of writing and whatnot, you never really know where it’s gonna go or what is going to inspire a song because that alone I was like “damn, someone must write a song about that.” [laughs] So…
Ross: And then there are songs like “ohhh, I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road…”
Rocky: Yeah, let’s cover that…
Ross: Let’s do it.
I know since Ross headed up to Vancouver, your creative and production process shifted a bit. How is it different now that he’s about to leave again? Do you feel like you’ve cracked the code now?
Ross: Oh, we’ll see. I think it’s a different situation because the first time I went up, I had a lot of new relationships to spend time with and a brand new show, a new character, a new country. You know, I was living in Canada so I think this time I’ll be a little more familiar with my environment, which will help me be maybe a little bit more focused on music and then hopefully we get another “Low” out of this [laughs].
Rocky: Or a hundred of them.
Ross: But we’ll see, we’ll see. It’s hard to tell that now but we plan on continuing our process and work because people seem to be digging it.