The Driver Era
Alt-pop band The Driver Era’s sophomore album Girlfriend is the funky feel-good release of the Fall.
Not many bands in the alt-pop sphere can claim to have such a distinct, prolific career before the members even hit 30, but The Driver Era isn’t your typical alt-pop band. Formed by brothers (and feverish music lovers) Ross and Rocky Lynch, two multi-talented singers, songwriters, and producers, carry a wealth of knowledge of the industry growing up completely immersed in music. No strangers to the spotlight, their 2018 debut received a warm welcome from past project fans and new listeners alike, accumulating over 170M streams, garnering over 25M social followers, and playing sold-out shows all over the world.
The band’s sophomore record Girlfriend is the perfect continuation of what has come before, yet it proves The Driver Era has indeed grown in the years since their debut X. While there is a distinct sound and style to the album that longtime fans will recognize, what stands out most is the diversity woven throughout each of the tracks. Completely self-written and self-produced by the brothers, Girlfriend offers upbeat, rhythm-driven tracks, such as Heart of Mine, sultry anthems like Heaven Angel, and vibe-heavy ballads like OMG Plz Don’t Come Around. The record truly has something for everyone.
1883’s Sydney Bolen spoke with Ross & Rocky about their new album, their creative process, and what is next for The Driver Era.
Congratulations on Girlfriend! As I understand it, the time you spent creating this album was actually meant to be a period of time where you would have been a world tour due to the pandemic. Did you find it hard to switch from a touring mindset to a creative mindset?
Rocky: Normally, if we’re not on tour, the songwriting and the studio sessions happen all of the time. We’re naturally drawn to it because it’s fun for us. When we are on tour it’s a little harder to shift into a creative mode because there is so much that has to be done each day and we want to use the time that we do have off to eat and rest.
Ross: Did we even do tour rehearsals before our tour got cancelled?
Rocky: Yeah, because we played that one college show.
Ross: Oh, that’s right! It was weird too because once the pandemic hit we went through a dry spell for a minute where we didn’t really work at all. We’ve been working pretty steadily since we were 15 and 16, so to have an excuse to pause and take a real break was nice. For awhile, we just read books and hung out. It was only towards the end of the biggest part of it that we got kicking again. That’s what most of these songs were finished.
I feel like that’s what the pandemic was like for a lot of people at the beginning, especially those in the entertainment industry. It was an excuse to take a real break.
Ross: And it was so nice. I think we all needed it.
I agree. Maybe not at this scale, but I found a lot of pros to quarantine in the beginning. What about Girlfriend do you think will surprise current fans the most?
Rocky: If you’re a fan and you’ve been listening to us for a while, I think the most surprising thing is probably a track called ‘Cray z Babe e’ that we split leads on.
That’s my favourite one.
Ross: Oh, really?!
Rocky: [chuckles] As I said, if you’ve been listening to our music for a while, I feel like that will catch your ear.
What do you hope will draw in new fans?
Ross: If you don’t know much about the band and you just come across Girlfriend. I think the diversity on the record will be nice. When new listeners go through the tracklisting and they get Heart Of Mine, and then a song like Leave Me Feeling Confident, and then Beautiful girl which is Rocky singing all of a sudden, they’ll be intrigued. The record stays fresh throughout. If you’re not like a fan of us already, then you might be like “wow! This is all the same band.”
I think there’s a lot of longevity to be found with bands that don’t stay in one box. Experimenting with different sounds gives you room to grow without people being like, “oh I liked them better the way they sounded before.
Ross: It’s more fun for us because we love to experiment and we only want to grow, too.
Why did you decide to call the album Girlfriend?
Ross: When that title came to us, we knew it was the one. We had a brainstorming session to figure out what we should call the album and we threw around a few things and then came across Girlfriend. Once we had said that, we knew it couldn’t be anything else. It was mostly for aesthetic reasons; it connects every song on the album.
Rocky: To us, this album is speaking to all beautiful women. Honestly, the title still relates to men, because it’s just about your other half. The status of ‘girlfriend’ is post-beginning of the relationship and pre-engagement and marriage. Your girlfriend knows a little more about you. There’s a lot more that you’ve experienced together. That wasn’t an original reason why w named the record the way we did, but it has grown into that.
I like to think when you find a title and you just know it can’t be anything else because the art grows into the title. To me, the album as a whole has a very unique production. One of the songs I noticed it most on is Heart of Mine, which as the opening track, sets the tone for the album. What, if anything, inspired the sound?
Ross: To be honest, it’s all just based on preference and luck. Rocky & I have different styles when it comes to production. Production-wise, Heart of Mine was mostly Rocky, as is a lot of our music. Only because while I’m singing in the corner, he’s at the computer doctoring it up and EQing everything. He’s more the engineer. My style is very much throw and go. I’m just like, “oh, that sounds nice. Let’s go.” Rocky’s is a little more specific.
Rocky: Yeah. With something like production, it’s hard to tell what the inspirations are because it depends on the next song that’s made.
Ross: It’s whatever gets you rockin’ in your chair. If you pull up a drum sample or something and all of a sudden you can’t help but move to it, then you know it’s right.
Ross: When you’re in the moment, you know when it’s right. You just know what it’s right. I don’t know how else to say it.
It makes sense that you guys have different styles because I think that’s what makes the production stand out. It was an interesting listening experience in that regard.
Rocky: Dope. That’s dope to hear.
Rocky — I read that you like making “whatever sounds good at that moment” and that you want to allow the music to unfold as it happens and not put too many preconceived notions on it. With that in mind, I found it interesting that the album is so coherent. Was your creative process really that unlimited or did you at least have some general guiding principles for what you were making?
Rocky: I think the only reason why the songs go together production-wise is that we made all of the songs. There isn’t much that was preconceived about what we wanted the songs to sound like.
Ross: It also depends on when the song is finished. Our preferences tend to be the same for a specific batch of songs. We were finishing the songs on this record relatively close together, so we made similar choices on mixing and mastering. Whereas, the songs on the next record will be grouped in the same way.
As I said earlier, I loved Cray z Babe e. It’s so funky and fun. It gives off ‘Bennie and the Jets’ vibes.
Ross: Oh, sick!
Can you tell me more about that song?
Ross: There’s a lot of different ways our songs come about. This was one of those songs where Rocky had come home to me singing the Cray z Babe e bit, I basically had some drums going and I had the piano bit. He heard what I was playing and was like, “Yo, this shit’s tight.” Pretty soon after that, he’d figured out what is now his part. He wrote it and I was like, “bro, I don’t want to sing your part. Sing your damn part.” In the past, he’ll sing something and we’ll write it up and I’ll end up singing it. But we’re pretty much purists when it comes to the inception of a song. How it comes out naturally is the way we want it to be. I think we’ll be singing on tracks together much more in the future. With Cray z Babe e, it just kind of hit. We worked on it for a day or two and then it was just done. It was one of those songs that sort of happens to you.
Ross — you’ve said that The Driver Era write the songs hoping fans can relate to them. Which songs on the album are you most excited for people to hear?
Ross: Every day this answer could change, but right now I think it’s Heart of Mine. We decided that’s going to be our focus track for the record. So, that’s one of the reasons why, but also I think that song itself is pretty cool. It’s relatable and focuses on the precious nature of life. It urges people to live in the moment and to make the most of their lives. It’s got a good message.
I think that’s a good one too. Let’s talk music videos for just a second. I’ve been told that you prefer to work with close friends and family than hire outside parties. What about this do you like better? Is it for comfort level or creative control?
Ross: It’s a lot of things. That’s not to say that we don’t necessarily prefer one or the other. We definitely would love to do some high-quality, big production music videos in the near future. We’re just not at that stage with The Driver Era right now. We find it much more effective to get a small budget and a small really effective creative team together, which we know is us and our little brother, Ryland, and our cousin, Gordy. We just go and get it done.
Sometimes when you get a third party to come in and work, they don’t have the same passion for the project or they don’t have the same understanding of music or the vision. Whereas Ryland lives with us; he’s around the music all the time and is basically the third member of The Driver Era. He’s largely influential on the band and understands what we’re going for. We can get a lot done really quickly, and with not a lot of money. It works for the stage that we’re at right now.
I think when you work with people who get the music you end up with videos that you’re proud of.
Ross: Yeah, totally.
You have a new world kicking off in November. What are you most looking forward to about getting back on the road?
Ross: It feels crazy. It’s happening so fast.
Rocky: I’m excited to be in a new city every night. I’m looking forward to travelling again. It sounds so nice. It’s also always nice to play a show and to see familiar faces. Usually, we see tons of people that have been to 50+ shows.
Wow! That’s cool.
Ross: Yeah, touring is a whole freakin’ lifestyle. It’s something else. It’s going to be nice to travel and to see old friends and our fans. As Rocky said, we have this group of girls on the East Coast that have got to have been to more than 100 shows, no doubt. There’s a bunch of them.
I’m blown away by that. That’s awesome.
Ross: Yeah! They’re really cool and really sweet. I’m excited to go to South America for the first time as The Driver Era. It looks like we’re going to get to go back to Tokyo. Japan is probably the most dramatic culture shift that we get to tour, so that’s fun. Everyone there is so sweet.
That sounds really fun. I’m jealous. To close, I know that you wrote and produced Girlfriend entirely on your own. Now that that’s under your belt, what is next for The Driver Era?
Ross: Well, we’ve been working on these dance tracks that we’re excited about. They’re like straight up like house beats.
Ross: So that might be next. We’re going to try and get another record out as soon as we can. Honestly, now that we have done a whole record produced and written by only us, we are looking forward to some collaborations.
Rocky: I was going to say we should do the opposite approach next where we don’t do a thing. We can get a bunch of Swedish producers and writers to write us a full album.
Ross: I honestly would love to do that to see the difference. It would be hilarious because I bet our fans wouldn’t like it, but people who aren’t our fans would like it.
Rocky: Actually, that’s a mindfuck. That’s crazy. It would be obvious if we decided to not write a single song on this album, but we’ve made the album as The Driver Era.
Ross: What’s funny is it usually happens the other way around. An artist will get super big and then they’ll be like, “fuck this shit. I’m an artist. I’m going to write all my songs.”
Rocky: That’s what we did! [both laugh] In the R5 days, we were young when we did that first album.
Ross: Well, we had an R5 album before Hollywood [Records] threw it away.
Rocky: That’s true.
[Laughs] That’s interesting. I’m looking forward to seeing what you end up doing now. I feel like I just witnessed something.
Rocky: We just opened up like twelve doors there. Literally.
Ross: Yeah. You know, we might do all of them.
GIRLFRIEND, the sophomore album by The Driver Era, is out 10/15.
Interview by Sydney Bolen
Photography by Samuel Fisher
Styling by Laura Duncan