Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, alternative rock band The Unlikely Candidates named themselves after the likelihood of their high school band “making it.” Against their early humor and doubt, the five-piece group continued writing songs and performing shows and in 2020 reached #1 on the Alternative radio chart with their song “Novocaine.” The Orchard spoke to The Unlikely Candidates about the group’s early days and what’s to come for TUC.
The Orchard: “Novacaine” has been hitting the ground running since its release. What are your favorite lyrics from the song and why?
The Unlikely Candidates: I always thought that the lyric, “I am what I am, know what I know” was a cool mantra for the song. It could definitely be seen as fatalistic, but I kind of looked at it as about self acceptance. I’m okay with the things I know and who they have made me. For better or worse, I know who I am. That is kind of the core for the song, so it’s nice to have that line to sum it up.
You guys initially formed in high school. How has your sound changed since then? How has the band as a whole changed since those early years?
We couldn’t find anyone else in our town who really played music, so it was just me [Kyle] and Cole playing acoustic for almost four years. Neither of us had ever written a song when we started either. The sound pretty much had to evolve from the ground up. We went from an acoustic two-piece duo to a five-piece rock band. I think as we added members to the band and everyone started lending their musical perspectives, things changed a lot. We went from writing folky, bluesy, and super lyrical songs to more spacey brooding modern stuff. We added bits of 90’s hip-hop, psychedelic sounding beats, soul, stadium alt rock, and really just whatever flavor we were listening to that month. We have just become increasingly dynamic in that sense.
Since it’s five of you, how do you write songs together?
We do it a lot of different ways, but one of the main ways is that Brent will start a production. I will come in and freestyle over what he produced until I get a hook, melody, or lyric that sticks. Then the rest of the guys will add ideas they have for their instruments. Once we have a good base I fill out the rest of the song, mainly spending the bulk of the time trying to think of lyrics.
In an interview, it said that the band writes story driven or thematically based songs, while also being personal. What songs would you consider more story driven and which songs more personal?
‘Novocaine’ was definitely more personal — it was about feeling stuck in the service industry bar scene life when we were off the road from touring. It’s about living paycheck to paycheck, and drinking whatever was left of that paycheck with my friends. That happy stagnation that had its own slow rolling consequences. A story song would be like ‘Bells’ which I wrote about an outlaw who is walking to the noose to be executed for his crimes. The sequence of events that lead to his downfall are all running through his mind as the narration of the song.
Where did the name The Unlikely Candidates come from?
Honestly, I came up with a list of 200 names and it was the only one that was not terrible. It really did suit us though. We started the band our senior year of high school while everyone else was making plans for their future and college. We had never written a song, been in a band, or played a show. Our families were concerned and our friends were bemused by the whole thing. So I feel the name fit pretty well.
The band has been participating in a lot of live streams due to social distancing. What have you learned from this experience? How will you apply some of these learnings when things, hopefully soon, go back to the way things were?
There is an openness to the live streams that I was a little wary of at first because it’s a whole different vibe. It almost feels a bit like a podcast as much as a performance. When I’m on stage, I’m very much putting on a performance. It’s art. So it’s been interesting developing this whole other skill of talking to a camera with the band and trying to have a one-sided conversation that feels entertaining and inclusive. It’s still a performance of sorts, but it’s much more us just being us. We talk to the fans and hang out for an hour. There is a sense of closeness and community in those sessions that I would not have gotten to have if we had not done these sessions. Now that we have this connection with everyone and we understand the platform, I think it’d be cool to do live sessions every now and then in the future.
What or who is your sound most influenced by?
We have music A.D.D pretty bad, so really it’s whatever we find interesting at the moment. It tends to be a lot of new stuff, because that’s what perks our ears. We internalize what we like about it and then we can express ourselves using that new sonic language. I’d say we’re mostly influenced by new music that either feels very honest or creative lyrically, and songs that are very sonically fresh. We do love bright sounding melancholy stuff though.
Tell us about your debut album and give us a track by track breakdown of some of your favorite songs. What are you most excited for fans to learn about?
It’s going to be a mix of old and new. I can’t really say what the track list will be yet either, as it’s being finalized in the coming months. I’m excited for people to hear a collection of where we have been and where we are going. Instead of sounding like something cohesively new, it will more than likely be a flipbook of our arc as a band over the last 5 years.
What’s a new skill or talent you’ve discovered as we’ve all had to stay indoors?
I’ve learned how to reheat soggy French fries to their almost former golden brown glory. You put your oven on broil. Spread them out evenly in a non stick pan or baking sheet. Set that on the rack closest to the top of the oven. Then leave them in there for 4 or 5 min or until they look crisp and browning.
Can you tell us any funny high school band practice stories?
There was this sketchy rehearsal space in Dallas that we would rent an hourly room at every week. We realized the rehearsal space never hit us up about money and never changed the code on the door. There was never anyone there running it and we all sort of assumed it was a drug front or something. We were really broke so decided to try our luck and we used it without paying 8 or 9 times in a row. During a session we all went to get food and when we came back it was locked with all our gear in there. There was a vent above the door so we unscrewed the vent grate and had the smallest among us army crawl through the vent and out the other side into the room. It was like a 10 foot drop, but they managed to “mission impossible” in. We grabbed all of our stuff and never went back.
Can you tell us what high school superlatives you would give each other? (Class Clown, Biggest Flirt, etc)
Cole: Most likely to accidentally start a bar fight.
Jared: Most likely to create a new type of cuisine.
Brent: Most likely to hold a conversation and win a semi professional video game match simultaneously.
Kevin: Most likely to know the lyrics to any song that you were even thinking of humming.
Kyle: Most likely to stay up till the early hours of the morning putting half senseless sentences together for an interview.