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Small Town Titans Interview

Small Town Titans

Interview by Nina McCarthy, Sr. Music Journalist

Boston Rock Radio



I love it hard and dirty!  It’s no secret that I have a fondness for hard rock and these guys gave me just what I love...hard, dirty rock n’ roll. I had a great chat with Jonny Ross, drummer and backing vocals of York, PA power trio, Small Town Titans.  They will be in my area with Adelitas Way and Dead Girls Academy at Fete in Providence, RI on July 20th. I can’t wait to rock out with them live!



BRR:  Can you start off by introducing the band members?


JR:  I’m Johnny Ross, I’m the drummer.  Our bass player/lead vocals is Phil Freeman, and our guitarist is Ben Guiles.


BRR:  I see one of my favorite bands, Highly Suspect, is one of your influences and I definitely hear that in your music. Who else are you influenced by?


JR:  Highly Suspect are different, but as far as rock goes they are a breath of fresh air and they’ve had some success for sure, but our influences run the gamut.  We definitely have a love for grunge.  Our singer loves Soundgarden.  I love the attitude and spirit of Nirvana.  I’m a big Dave Grohl guy myself.  It’s not even so much the bands from that era, but it’s just the way the music was.  It was real, it didn’t need to be dressed up.  They didn’t have to hide behind any smoking mirrors, they were like, “We are just going to give it to you, man!”  So, just the whole idea of grunge for sure.  Also, classic rock.  One of Ben’s favorite bands is Deep Purple.  There are also some mainstream bands such as Shinedown and Foo Fighters that we really like too.  Our influences are all over the place.  Don’t forget about Pop.  Ben loves his Pop music as well.  He has no problem jamming to Taylor Swift, although I don’t think he likes the last record.


BRR:  I was really agreeing with you until you mentioned her.  She bought a house in my town and is trying to take over the right away to the beach.  But as far as all of the other influences you mentioned, I am also a huge fan of them, except maybe Deep Purple.


JR:  She came from our area, sort of, Reading, PA is where she was raised, unless I read some wrong Wikipedia facts.


BRR:  What made you decide to cover Soundgarden’s “Spoonman?”  You did a great job, by the way.


JR:  Thank you very much.  We’ve been covering that for years.  In May we have been a band for 7 years so we’ve done a lot of 3 sets for 45 minutes each for clubs and mixed it up with originals and covers.  We don’t have a problem doing covers.  Some bands don’t like doing that, but to each his own.  We started with Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for a reason; everybody knew it, and they’d probably, hopefully stay up towards the stage for the rest of the set.  “Spoonman” just became one of those covers.  Our singer, first of all was influenced by them but he also has an incredible range.  We’re talking 5 years ago, so I’m not sure whose idea it originally was, but we just started playing it and it was always one of the staples of the set.  Than of course, when Chris (Cornell) passed away tragically, it took on even more meaning.  We were in the studio getting ready to record our next batch of songs, we decided to cover that one because it was good to talk about with mental health, especially in music and rock n’ roll more specifically with what happened with Chester (Bennington).  We’ve played “Spoonman for so many years that we didn’t even have to think about it.  It was business as usual, so we just cut the track because it’s been in the wheelhouse a long time.


BRR:  By then you were pros at playing it!  Can you give me some insight into the song “Me, Myself, and Monster?”  I love that song and again, that’s where I hear the Highly Suspect influence.


JR:  That song is actually interesting because it was going to be on our last full length, Reflection and it ended up on the cutting room floor.  It was actually a goal of the band.  We pushed ourselves like never before on that last record and that trend continues and that’s a great thing in my opinion.  We just keep pushing ourselves to write better songs. We are our own worst critics.  That song ended up not getting on the last record.  We pushed hard enough where we ended up having to say goodbye to one or two with a tear in our eye.  In hindsight, I think it ended up being great because once we came out of that cycle, we had a new plan. Now it’s 2018 and people are consuming music differently, streaming is king.  Now you have the Alexas and Google Homes that’s driving how people are consuming music and there was just not time to make another full record.  We want to do a batch of songs and release them every few months, and we ended up doing six, so the band always had some buzz, and hire PR for each release.  We also film everything too so we have YouTube content.  You need to have high quality videos, good photos,  CONTENT.  That was the strategy we put together and “Me, Myself, and Monster” kept falling in with that exposure instead of just being another song on the record, it would have been just Track 11.


BRR:  Exactly, so now it got its own attention.  I also enjoyed watching the YouTube videos because it gave me a sense of seeing you guys live.


JR:  Thank you.  We made them as close to the live thing as possible, so what you are seeing there on the video is pretty much what we do.  That’s what we sound like live and it was fun!


BRR:  Do you have any tour plans coming up?


JR:  You know how that goes.  But, we do have a really great agency now with TKO.  Good things are in the works.  We are in that transitional phase where they are going to say, “You are going here…” and we are going to say “Yay!” and maybe have a beer.  We toured a little bit a few years but we didn’t do it right.  We just went out there in a really crappy vehicle, I’m talking from 1995, and just kind of played what we could get and with whoever we could.  I’ll leave it at that.  So, we have some work to do.


BRR:  After touring early on, you guys learned a valuable lesson of treating the band as a business.  Tell me about that experience.


JR:  I’ve always wanted to treat the band like a business from day one but I’m not going to know how to automatically do that, but I am going to strive to do that and get better at it every day.  That’s what we are doing now as a band.  When we went on the road as a band a few years ago, we kept track of everything, and I mean everything.  It was just work ethic.  All you needed was a Google spreadsheet.  What venue are we at today, contact info, how many people came, how many emails we got on our email list, how much did we make on merchandise, did we profit today.  You get in the habit of doing that and it’s not bad; it’s just part of your day.  We weren’t doing that to impress anybody.  We were doing that for ourselves.  I can’t imagine being a band going on the road for the first time and not keeping track of everything so you know what to do next time.  Like, you can’t go there next time because the owner was drunk and there was nobody there or it was wing night so we have to make sure we come here on a Thursday and just little stuff like that.  It’s just really valuable information for us.  Then when we got off the road and had some interest from partners, we had some valuable information.  When we were able to present all that, they were blown away.  That showed work ethic and impressed them and started to form the relationship that we have today.


BRR:  Like you said, it’s definitely about the team behind you.  I know a lot of bands that were once on big labels and have gone to DIY with small teams and they said it was so much better because they had full control of decision making.  


JR:  I’m a believer in striking a balance.  You certainly want as much help as you can get, but you want to find a person that is really good at one certain job and that’s your booking guy, or your publicist and just build that small team because the more people that get involved the more communication breakdown is likely.  At the same time, you do want to grow so you just need to find that fine line.  We have a weekly conference call with the team so that everyone is on the same page and there are no nasty surprises.  Communication is so important.


BRR:  Tell me about Patreon and how fans can be of support through that site?


JR:  We love Patreon.  When we first came off the road, we decided to cut costs and really look at our business model.  We kind of turned it around quite a bit.  One thing we could obviously do was try to find out how to make money without touring, and that led us to Patreon.  If you haven’t checked out Patreon, you can create anything, if you’re a podcaster, artist, painter, and there’s even guys that draw comic books on there.  All that place is is a place to get paid for your art by your biggest fans.  If you’re familiar with Kickstarter or Crowdfunding it’s that kind of idea where you use it for one big record or a brand new tour but Patreon is ongoing.  You put the content that you are creating everywhere, but you can get creative with what you want to do with your Patreon fans.  We like to give them stuff early, whether it’s a week or two or a months sometimes, and release to the public later.  If you pledged more per project or song or video, we give you more stuff.  People that were pledging $5 per song, when we did a cover of the Grinch last Christmas, we sent them a Christmas card and signed it.  If they pledged $10 (and that’s a Netflix subscription), we sent them a hand drawn canvas print with the lyrics to “Me, Myself, and Monster.”  You can get really creative and change at any time what you want to do for the fans that are pledging.  We start at $1 and that gets you everything early and that gets you in the credits of the next music video, the next project to thank you.  We are at 75 people, which is cool, and we are making about $315 a video and it’s something and it keeps growing.  There are no signs of it slowing down, for our band and Patreon itself.  It’s really cool because it cuts the bullshit out.  There’s no middle man.  You just need your creative ability and Patreon.  It’s really cool because we have creative control over all of it.  We love surprising our Patreon fans too.  We love to not tell them what they’re getting and they come home after a shitty day at work to a package from Small Town Titans.


BRR:  I had never heard of it but I checked it out after reading about it in your press release and it’s great.  Fans love to get anything from bands, especially something personal.  One question I always like to ask is if you have any advice for young aspiring musicians that are trying to get somewhere in this crazy business?


JR:  Number 1, it’s easy to get caught up in the business, how it’s changing and Spotify and everything, but don’t forget about your songs.  Make sure they’re good.  It kind of sounds a little ridiculous or self explanatory, but in my opinion, some people get a little too caught up in getting discovered, but you have to make sure your songs kick ass first.  Number 2, learn as much as you can about the business, and I don’t just mean accounting.  There are Facebook groups you can join.  I want to plug an email newsletter right now called HypeBot, that is sort of like a music business daily digest and it just keeps you in the know about everything. It has tips for DIY musicians, it lets you know if someone is going to purchases Spotify, and there was an article in advance that iTunes was shutting down.  They are getting rid of the ability for people to purchase a song digitally for $1. So, it’s streaming and vinyl.  And number 3, is don’t be an asshole.  I know that’s another easy one, but cooler heads always prevail.  If the talent buyer has you go on earlier when you get to the venue, make a mental note, but it doesn’t do any good to get mad at them or to cause a scene. It doesn’t do any good for you in the end.  It’s a really small business.  You will hear that all the time and it really is true.  It’s just a matter of moving more inward with the circles because they get tighter and tighter.  If you’re going to be that band that is going to be a dick, you could be done.


BRR:  That is great advice!  I tell people that all the time.  I know people in the business from little RI to L.A. and everybody knows everybody!  Do you have any parting words, Jonny?


JR:  Stay tuned.  We have a lot of stuff in the works.  We are getting ready to tour in the Summer and Fall and get the ball rolling and get back out there on a national level for sure.


BRR:  Great!  I work with the TAG team a lot, probably the publicists I deal with the most, so I will be watching and following you guys and look forward to seeing you when you get up my way.






Small Town Titans "Me, Myself, and Monster" (Official Music Video):



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