There’s something Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown learned from the huge shows they’ve played supporting the likes of AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses over the past few years. It’s what guitar prodigy Bryant calls “the cannonball approach”…
“I’m gonna run out like a bullet from a gun and let everyone know I’m here to give ’em all I’ve got,” he says.
And that’s precisely what The Shakedown do on their incendiary third album. ‘Truth and Lies’ is a taut and thrilling record, exploring Bryant’s blues heritage (‘Ride’), blistering heavy rock (‘Shock and Awe’), heartfelt balladry (‘Out There’), southern roots (‘Trouble’), love of the 90’s rock and roll movement (‘Eye to Eye’) and more…
“For me, there are a few different elements of The Shakedown,” Bryant says. “There's the energetic, raw, jump-out-of-your-skin live version of us. Every night when we run on stage I get such an adrenaline rush that I feel like my heart and soul are going to come busting out of my skin. That version appears in rock songs, like ‘Drive Me Mad’, from the new album.
“And then there's this other side, which is a little more sensitive, a little more insecure and hopeful, and you see that in songs like ‘Shape I'm In’, another new one.”
The urgency of ‘Truth and Lies’ comes partly from the speed of its recording… After demoing 55 songs in Bryant’s home studio in Nashville, The Shakedown decamped to Studio G in Williamsburg, NY, earlier this year, where they laid down the 13 numbers that make up the record – mostly live, with a few overdubs – in just over two weeks. They worked quickly, with six time Grammy nominated producer Joel Hamilton (The Black Keys, Highly Suspect, Tom Waits), because they wanted the album to sound raw and visceral, not careful and labored.
They’ve done that, but without sacrificing skill and nuance: it’s a brilliant rock ‘n’ roll record that allows the ghosts of the past into the grooves whilst living firmly in the present.
There’s also a new level of depth to Bryant’s writing, inspired by his realization that, while there’s no shortage of quality singers and guitarists in the world, skill means nothing without great songs. So rather than being content with instrumental pyrotechnics, he set about writing compositions that had meaning to him – and that the kids in the audience would be able to relate to.
“I’ve never really spoken about this, but I deal with extreme anxiety and panic attacks,” he says. “It's a vicious cycle that I think a lot of people find themselves in. Music's always been my outlet to seek out healing and find the confidence and the power within myself. So (new album track) ‘Panic Button’ is me fighting against that cycle that I refuse to let control me. Or ‘Shape I'm In’ – ‘Don't judge me by the shape I'm in / I'll find a way to shine again’.
“There's a hopeful undertone to a lot of the lyrics on this record. There’s new-found confidence that can be heard in songs like “On To The Next.” That song exists purely to make whoever is listening feel like a badass.
All of those shows – in intimate clubs as well as giant stadiums – reinforced the ties between the four musicians, giving them the extra confidence to produce something special when they went into the studio…
“We've played so many shows together that we can look at each other without saying anything and know what the next guy is going to do,” Bryant says. “It's like when you see family members finishing each other's sentences. We do that with music. We had so many years where we were beating our heads against a wall trying to make a living doing this, so getting the tour with AC/DC felt like the underdogs got a break. And that fueled us for a long time.
When we played with Chris Cornell, toured with Guns N' Roses, and did our own headlining tour across Europe and the UK, that fueled us too.
All of these things have added fuel to our fire, and the fire is growing! I don't think there is anything or anyone that can put it out – that comes across in the playing on the new album.”
The Shakedown want to spread that fire, now. Bryant dismisses those who think rock ‘n’ roll is a declining force… “It’s about what it's always been about: Resilience and rebellion. It's about flying your flag regardless of what everyone else is doing – and regardless of what everyone else thinks you should be doing. We could have listened to all those people who said, ‘Where do you fit in?’ and tried to put us in a box. Yeah, but we don't fit in your silly little box! It's about blowing up those boxes.
“You know, I think it's a good time for a movement to happen, and we've been patiently waiting for these doors to get kicked open so we can cannonball through with our version of what the rock ‘n' roll flag should be.”
Although it’s Bryant’s name on the marquee, The Shakedown is very much a band. Drummer Caleb Crosby has been with Bryant since the latter moved from Texas to Nashville to start a group when he was 17. Bassist Noah Denney and guitarist Graham Whitford make up the quartet, bringing fire and skill to the music. You can hear their fine-tuned understanding in the way ‘Truth and Lies’ grooves and rolls.
“I hope this doesn’t sound egotistical,” says Bryant, “but when you press play on the record and ‘Shock & Awe’ starts, I think: ‘That's the Shakedown!’ It could be no one else making that noise.”
Maybe the clearest testimony to the power of Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown comes in the form of a tweet Bryant saw earlier this year. A fan had tagged the band on a message noting their many fans amongst the most illustrious names in rock ‘n’ roll.
“He said: ‘If Jeff Beck and AC/DC and Guns N' Roses and ZZ Top and Chris Cornell like Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown, so should you’.” Bryant pauses. “And I thought: ‘You make a damn good case, kid’.”
Stop reading now, just listen. Because Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown make a damn good case for themselves all on their own.