Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown
Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown
Singer/guitarist Tyler Bryant wrote “Crazy Days” to help him deal with the insanity that is 2020. There were zero plans to have it be the lead-off single for a fourth album, Pressure, whose 13 blues-infused, timeless rock songs create a full-circle journey that both embraces and distracts from a world seemingly gone mad. But that’s exactly what happened. “Crazy Days,” an infectious, mid-tempo rocker, kick-started Pressure’s creative process, resulting in an album that kicks off with the speedy intensity of “Pressure” and ends with the mellow, low-fi blues shuffle of “Coastin’.” In between reside all manner of classic cuts, including the dark but hopeful “Holdin’ My Breath,” featuring guest vocals from Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. Bryant’s wife, Rebecca Lovell of the duo Larkin Poe, adds her vocals to “Crazy Days.” The fully-realized concept continues with Pressure’s album art, a VU meter, pegged in the red. “This album is our way of trying to embrace the pressure and make something beautiful out of it,” Bryant explains.
Bryant, drummer Caleb Crosby, guitarist Graham Whitford and co-producer/engineer Roger Alan Nichols hunkered down in the front man’s Nashville home studio. Turns out that doing a follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2019 Truth & Lies album during a world-wide pandemic was anything but crazy. “We said, ‘let's embrace the limitations of not having a fancy studio or big budget and figure out how to do this,’” says Bryant. Prolific writers, Bryant and the Shakedown boys had written many songs after finishing Truth & Lies. Working with existing material and writing new tunes in the studio made for a strong forward musical motion.
“Honestly, if anything, the lockdown and crisis motivated us,” says Crosby. “I think it made us realize, ‘you know what, we can't sit around and wait for things to come back to normal.’ Everyone's having to survive and adapt, and I think it was important for us to say, ‘We're just gonna go for it.’”
Going for it resulted in “Holdin’ My Breath,” the second single. “That started at my home studio, with me wanting to create a really cool groove, and I came up with the main riff,” says Whitford. “I sent it to Tyler, and he came up with the chorus. It was really collaborative. I felt ready for us to make another record.” The lyrics to “Holdin’ My Breath” offer a hopeful message. “I’m counting on better days. I'm counting on things to change,” says Bryant. “As our current situation started to unfold, lyrics started changing meanings for me. I’m really, really proud of how that song turned out.” While some tunes are instantaneous, ‘Holdin’ My Breath” took “arm wrestling to make it feel right, and get the right emotion,” Bryant recalls. “I played the solo on it so many times, just trying to get the right intention and feeling to come through.” Since moving to Nashville from his home in Honey Grove, Texas at the age of 17, Bryant has been revered as virtuoso, but it’s clear that constant playing and touring have upped his impressive innate talent. On “Holdin’ My Breath” Bryant was energized by the numerous takes. “I love the challenge of trying to pull something better out. I did the solo a bunch of times, then I would just walk away. I’d come back the next day, and suddenly my thought process would be totally different! As a guitarist, it's easy to get stuck playing the same thing over and over and I wanted to try to avoid that.”
“Pressure” was actually written before COVID-19… or the tornado that tore through Nashville, or the rallies for racial justice. “Anyone who's chasing down any sort of passion is gonna end up hitting their head against the wall too many times to count, so ‘Pressure’ was originally inspired by that idea.” But Bryant and the Shakedown reveled in finding ways to turn the songwriting and recording process on its head. Co-producer/engineer Nichols, who they call “basically like a band member,” was the sounding board unafraid to voice his opinion. “He’s one of the few people we trust musically and artistically. He shoots us straight,” Bryant says.
For Pressure the band was determined to work within the limitations of making a record in quarantine to make themselves work harder and smarter. “It would be too easy for us to just record a lame drum sound and add amazing samples on top, but we refused to go down that road. We don’t want to sound like every other record you hear on the radio,” they explain. “We spent days getting the drum sound. We consciously backed ourselves into a corner trying to make something that sounded unique.”
Bryant’s Mule resonator guitar and soulful voice are the focuses of the stripped-down “Misery,” the beautiful and complex guitar sound also insinuating itself into “Hitchhiker.” “When we plugged that guitar into an amp, it sounded like you were taking shots of bacon grease or something,” Bryant laughs. “It sounded filthy and raw, and we were sweaty in the basement, rocking out with no rules. So we just chased that vibe.”
That work ethic and commitment to a unique signature sound has earned Bryant and the Shakedown many fans among their peers. The lineup has toured and/or played with Chris Cornell, AC/DC, Aerosmith, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, ZZ Top and Guns N' Roses, and done multiple headlining tours across Europe and the UK. Press outlets raved about the band, Guitar World praising their “roots-infused melodies and riffs, tightly woven with an alternative, psychedelic mystique.”
That unique mystique infuses Pressure, but the album has yet another distinction: it doesn’t feature bassist Noah Denney. “Noah picked up a bass a couple of weeks before auditioning for us, then eight years later was still with us!” recalls Bryant. “But playing the drums is his passion, and in March he came to us and said ‘you know I’m a drummer; it’s time for me to go. I gotta do this.’” They all remain best of friends, all embracing the change.
Within the inevitable but extreme change, Bryant and the Shakedown hope listeners can “escape the madness and just enjoy our album,” says Crosby. “We hope you come out on the other side of Pressure maybe inspired, or simply just saying, we're going to be okay.’