In the music industry, success rarely happens overnight. Even when artists appear to break out quickly and “make it big” overnight, there’s usually years of writing, rehearsing, and behind-the-scenes negotiations and business decisions before they meet the public eye. No one knows this as well as Nashville pop band LOYALS, whose members have been playing together for close to a decade and just released their debut full-length record LOYALS via Tooth & Nail Records in February.
Calling from outside a local Nashville sandwich shop, LOYALS guitarist Andrew Gomez and vocalist / guitarist Dane Allen (as well as bassist Evan Thon, who wasn’t present for the interview) are longtime friends. Over the course of the interview, Gomez (whose bandmates refer to by his last name) and Allen finish each other’s sentences, talking over each other and laughing as they revel in shared memories. LOYALS, then, is a fitting name, as they’ve stuck by each others’ side through the ups and downs of playing music.
Though their earlier projects featured more of a rock sound, in 2014 they found themselves wanting a fresh start, and began writing songs with a more pop sound; LOYALS was officially unveiled the following year. They haven’t abandoned their roots entirely (album highlights “Bail Out,” “To The Top,” and “Never Too Far Gone” exhibit strong rock influence), but over the years as they’ve grown up (Gomez, Allen, and Thon are all married), their tastes in music have changed along the way. Gomez explains, “We wanted to try something new and start fresh and incorporate influences that we were in to at the time – it was just one of those things where you grow up and change a little bit, just like everyone does, and that’s just kinda what we did musically.”
As of the interview, LOYALS is a month old, but the band’s relationship with Tooth & Nail dates back several years: the label had its eyes on one of their old bands, but things never moved forward. A phone call from former Tooth & Nail A&R rep Conor Farley came at a crucial time: LOYALS’ drummer – an original founding member, dating back to 2009 – had stepped down from the band, and while it was time to move on, Gomez says they were left feeling “like a crutch of your band is gone,” leaving them questioning where to go from there.
“I think if we’re being honest with ourselves, we were thinking about calling it quits after seven years of being in bands together,” Allen admits. “There wasn’t a lot to look forward to, now that our drummer had left, and then A&R from Tooth & Nail called like, the next week. It was this divine, godsend thing, where it breathed new life into what we were doing,” he remembers, his voice as full of excitement in recounting the story as it likely was in the moment.
Timing was right for the band, who were at a turning point, and the label, who were able to hop in on the ground floor with a promising new band with a new image and a new name. Farley’s call led to talks of signing to the label within a few months, though contracts still had to be negotiated and plans for the studio had to be made. Allen stresses that the label’s early support was vital to the group’s future: “We needed it, man – it was so necessary for us to keep going. And maybe that sounds bad – but we were at the end of our rope, honestly.” After independently announcing the band and playing some shows, they officially signed with Tooth & Nail and hit the studio.
With a list of influences ranging from long-time favorites The 1975 and Paper Routes, to Lydia (Run Wild, a suggestion from their producer, became an in-studio favorite) and Cartel (on “Bail Out” and “Gone,” Allen’s vocals are highly reminiscent of Will Pugh’s on Cycles), LOYALS is a record that’s fit for all seasons: it would play just as well in winter, holing up on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate, as it would in summer, outside at a festival with the sun shining and the wind in your hair. Making a “year-round” record wasn’t intentional, but rather developed due to how long the songwriting process lasted: rather than sitting down to write for a short, dedicated period of time, they were “just always writing” for three years. “I think that’s what you’re hearing; it’s not locked into any kind of certain season or time of the year, it’s three years packed into a little disc. I think you’re exactly right – because I link certain songs on our record with certain times. ‘IDC’ is a very winter song.” In contrast, Gomez ponders that “Hold On” is a fall song, while “Bail Out,” “Mind Up,” and “To The Top” are summer songs.
Of “probably around a hundred songs” that were written, most of what made the record came in the last year before LOYALS hit the studio, as the band worked to nail down a specific, focused sound and writing style. While Allen feels he’s improved overall as a writer, the good songs tend to stick out from the beginning. “Even amongst all the bullshit songs I wrote in 2014, there was something about ‘Gone’ that all of us liked and were like, ‘That should go on the record.’ I just think in whatever season you are as a writer, you just gotta believe in what you’re doing. And then when you look back on it and think, ‘Well that sucks,’ well just take that and learn from it- like ‘Why does this song suck? Why is ‘Gone’ good and this other song sucks- why is ‘IDC’ good, why did it make it three years afterwards and everything else I wrote in that year is terrible?’ And you learn from that and keep going.”
LOYALS initially planned to record eleven songs, but two were knocked out mid-recording because Allen wrote “Alright” while they were in the studio. Gomez is confident in explaining their choice to remove songs from the record, saying “Alright” was so good they had to knock something else out to put it on there. “I think some people get a little too attached to their songs. I think sometimes people think that you write a song, and that’s the song and that will forever be the song and you kinda have to be okay with thinking about – ‘Wait, why don’t I make the next song I write the best song?’ or ‘What if the next song’s the best song?'” But in some cases, they had to write the bad songs to get to the good ones: “there’s some songs that are stepping stone songs that you had to write to get to the next one because the next one was way better.”
When Allen was first shooting out original ideas for new songs in early 2014, there was some tension among the band members when it came to writing because “none of us knew what the LOYALS sound was,” Gomez admits. Now, they’re on the same page “probably 90% of the time” when it comes to what’s best for the song. “We don’t have that ego to satisfy,” Allen adds. “It’s just whatever makes the song sound better, we’re gonna go with that, and everybody’s gonna like it, it’s fine, there’s no arguing outside of that.”
Gomez continues, “But practice makes perfect, so the more we kept writing and playing and producing, demoing out more songs- by the time we got to the actual record, pretty much any new song that came in front of us – I think we were comfortable enough with each other to say, ‘I like that, I don’t like that’ and then we understood why each other does or does not like something. It’s gotten really, really, really easy- I’ll just put it that way,” he says with a laugh. “And when it’s not easy, it’s Gomez’s fault!” Allen jokes.
When the record was due to come out in early February, LOYALS were in Miami on tour with Emery and As Cities Burn – two bands they’d grown up listening to. Gomez looks back on that night fondly; it’s been long enough that the positivity of the night has sunk in, but it’s recent enough that the details are still vivid. “I remember just being in the venue playing – just like, sweating like crazy because for some reason that venue was just very loud, very hot-” and Allen interjects, “And also, Miami.”
“And it’s also Miami,” Gomez continues, as if with a nod. “And I realized when we were on stage, our album’s gonna be starting to roll out [depending on] what region you live in, within thirty minutes to an hour – I’m just sitting there thinking like – ‘I just hope I can survive this set’ – cuz it was just so hot – but for me, personally, it was really exciting. I remember sitting back at the merch table while Emery was playing and watching the album go live and having this really weird moment thinking, ‘Man if I would’ve told Andrew back in 2009 when he just started getting together with his best friends to make music for the first time that I’d be out of town on tour with Emery and As Cities Burn, watching them play and playing these pretty much sold-out shows and our album is dropping and people are actually excited about it on Tooth & Nail Records, which is a record label I grew up adoring and bought everything from’- I just couldn’t believe it, you know. It’s a huge dream come true.”
Release day was “a long night of reading a lot of Tweets and social media” from fans excited to hear the record, but Gomez is sure to mention the personal emotional weight of the release. “A lot happened between us as people. I know me personally… I went through some of the biggest emotional ups and downs of my life in the last two years while this record was in development, but this record was something that was being worked on in those years and it was something that I could go back to and work on and put all of my time and energy in to.” Allen agrees that the record was a constant through difficult times, giving them something to believe in and hold on to. “Gomez took us all to the bar in a part of the club we were playing and bought me and Evan a shot and said, ‘We did it.’ We had this moment of celebration but also like – man, it was a lot to celebrate, there was a lot to really reflect upon. And – yeah, it was for sure something to celebrate but also find some closure on, I think.”
But while it was a moment of celebration – of putting bad things in the past and heading off to a brighter 2018 – this was no time for rest. It’s been a while since they finished writing and recording the self-titled album – “Our record has been done twice at this point – so our record was done once in 2016, and then it was done again in 2017 because we added a song and did some changes,” Gomez revealed, further disclosing that once the record was finished, “then there’s this process of – ‘well, you’re a new band; maybe we shouldn’t put out the record immediately, we should put out a single first, do a tour, do some more marketing, add another single’ – like, build it up so there’s actually some kind of story or some kind of something happening before the record comes out.” While many bands would choose to focus only on promoting the recent release, LOYALS’ “always-writing” mindset hasn’t taken a moment off; they’ve already begun writing songs for what’s next.
Now that the record is out, LOYALS are eager to hit the road. No touring plans are set in stone just yet, but they do anticipate hitting the road this year. Allen says it’s “driving me crazy” that they’ve yet to do any extended tours as LOYALS (so far, they haven’t been out for more than two weeks at a time), but don’t expect the band to tour non-stop. Gomez concedes that spending time at home in Nashville allows them to maintain a sense of normalcy. “I just like how we’ve been able to still kinda be around – we’re here in Nashville living our own lives, I produce music for a living for other bands and other stuff like that. We’re all kinda doing our own things, so we’re still living our life and when Dane goes down to write, he’s not forced in to, ‘Well, I’ve only done this one lifestyle of being in a band with a bunch of dudes for six months.'”
“There’s definitely a balance,” he continues. “You don’t want to kill yourself being on the road, but you also don’t want to be at home missing out on opportunities. So there’s definitely a balance but I think between the three of us we’re all best friends and very comfortable where we’re at – we will tour, but I don’t think we’ll overkill it if that makes sense. I think we know where our boundaries will be.”
A pop band on a label historically known for its punk and hardcore releases, the future is wide open for LOYALS. Some new listeners are confused upon hearing their music, as it doesn’t fit what they’d expect from the label, “but that’s more ignorance, in my opinion, than anything.” Gomez reflects. All that being considered, the overall feedback has been positive, something the group doesn’t take for granted, given all it took to get there. “There’s a lot of baggage with us that comes with this record finally releasing, and that has definitely been the best part about it – seeing all the nice things people have to say about it.”