Matt Hires, Parachute, Andrew RippPop/Rock
Tampa FL | Singer-Songwriter
On his debut album, Matt Hires emerged as a golden-voiced troubadour with a penchant for setting heart-on-sleeve lyrics to sweetly infectious melody. Now, on his sophomore release entitled This World Won't Last Forever, But Tonight We Can Pretend, Hires weaves in grander arrangements, brighter hooks, and a more richly textured sound to assert himself as a formidable new force in the singer-songwriter realm.
“My favorite artists are the ones who keep making records that give you something different from what came before, but still hold onto their own unique sound overall,” says the 27-year-old Tampa-based singer/guitarist. “With this album, I pushed into the direction of making music that’s more fun and pop-oriented but also retains that sense of honesty that I’ve always valued as a songwriter.”
Indeed, the album offers up more than its share of sing-along-worthy melodies and sunny harmonies, all while elegantly showcasing Hires’s warm yet masterful vocal work. At the same time, the album bears a bigger, more bombastic energy that reveals the deep-seated influence of rock-and-roll heroes like The Band and Bruce Springsteen. And all throughout the album (the follow-up to 2008’s Take Us To The Start), Hires delivers delicately rendered lyrics that shift between sharp-eyed social commentary and strikingly intimate storytelling. “Even though I broke out of the traditional singer-songwriter mold, there are still some songs that are very confessional,” Hires notes. “At heart, I’m still that guy strumming an acoustic guitar in his bedroom.”
For help in reshaping and expanding his sound, Hires reunited with Eric Rosse (producer on Take Us To The Start, as well as Tori Amos’s Little Earthquakes and Grammy-nominated Under the Pink). To shake up his song-crafting approach, he also teamed up with songwriters like Alex Dezen (singer/guitarist for The Damnwells) and Busbee (who’s previously worked with artists ranging from Kid Cudi and Katy Perry to Liz Phair and Lady Antebellum). “When you get into a groove with another songwriter, it’s the most fun thing in the world,” says Hires. “With every co-write I’ve done, I’ve taken away something from my collaborators and used that to develop my own writing.”
Right from the opening track, the album radiates with a shimmering intensity that reflects both sophistication in songwriting and purity of spirit. Pairing tender harmonies with tense, urgent strings, “Forever” captures the bittersweet longing to freeze time and preserve a perfect moment with the one you love (“I wish that we could lay right here and never think about our fears forever,” sings Hires). On the flipside of that starry-eyed love song is “Restless Heart,” a bright and bouncy folk-pop pastiche fueled by chiming guitars and a barrage of kiss-off lyrics (“Pretty girls come from the ugliest places/You come from the worst of them all/Heartbreakers like you are hard to erase/You lift me up just so I’ll fall”). “It’s about a girl most of us have met, the heartbreaker who wants to get you to fall for her and then just move on to the next guy,” explains Hires of “Restless Heart, an ultimately triumphant track featuring “I won’t let you break my heart” as its coda. “It’s sort of an anti-love-song, telling that girl ’You’re not gonna get it from me,’” he adds.
Elsewhere on the album, Hires takes on weightier material while maintaining a defiantly hopeful mood. On the slow-building, piano-laced epic “I Am Not Here,” for instance, he sorrowfully serenades “ex-girlfriends and kids with guns” before acknowledging that “Things are getting better/Better late than never.” (“That’s a searching sort of song,” says Hires. “It’s for anyone trying to figure out where they fit into the world.”) And on “When I Was Young” (“the best song I’ve ever written,” according to Hires), he turns a melancholy, midtempo melody into a soaring tribute to reclaiming youthful optimism and “living this life like I’m never gonna die.”
For Hires, striking the balance between heady emotionalism and killer hooks stemmed in part from years of studying a diversity of songwriting styles. “When I was 16 and first started writing songs, I was mostly into bands like Dashboard Confessional and all their angsty songs about falling in love and getting your heart broken,” says Hires, who learned to play music on a handmade guitar given to him by his father. “From there I moved on to the musicians who influenced the artists I loved, which is how I discovered Bob Dylan, especially his early acoustic solo work.”
An ardent fan of legendary songsmiths like The Beatles, The Byrds, and Tom Petty, Hires also found inspiration in the earnest, earthy alt-rock of contemporary artists like Wilco and Coldplay. He channeled that inspiration into his first band, Brer, then struck out on his own as a solo artist—and, at age 23, released his first album for F-Stop/Atlantic Records. Shooting to the top 10 on iTunes’ overall “Top Singer/Songwriters Albums” chart, Take Us To The Start instantly announced Hires as an uncommonly authentic pop-rock phenom.
It wasn’t until recently that a happy accident led Hires to explore his poppier side. “About a year ago, the CD player in my car broke, so I started listening to a lot of pop radio,” says Hires, who identifies himself as a newfound fan of Bruno Mars. “From there I began to incorporate some of those pop elements into my own songs, like those simple and catchy melodies.”
But no matter how melodic and tuneful the tracks on the new album, Hires remains first and foremost devoted to infusing his songs with an unwavering honesty. “I always go into it thinking that I just want to write the best song that I can,” he says. “I just do my best to let a song be what it wants to be, rather than try to force it into something that isn’t genuine.” And as he continues to hone his songwriting chops, Hires adds, upholding that genuineness becomes more and more empowering. “It’s scary to tell the truth in your lyrics, to get up and sing about things that you’re afraid to talk about in the day to day,” he says. “But the more songs I write, the more honest I’m able to be. And as long as I do this on my own terms, I know I’ll be able to keep on telling stories and making something meaningful with my music.”
Charlottesville VA | Rock
For the members of Mercury Records group Parachute, the name of their third album, Overnight, could well be a sly commentary on the hard work and commitment it’s taken for them to experience the success that’s been building over the last four years and first two albums. Their 2009 debut Losing Sleep featured the Top 15 single, “She is Love” (boasting more than 6.5 million views), while 2011’s The Way It Was included the #1 iTunes Rock Song “Kiss Me Slowly” (co-written with Lady Antebellum) and the Top 15 hit “Something to Believe In.”
Or it could refer to the late evenings put in by chief songwriter Will Anderson, burning the midnight oil, writing in his new Nashville base, after moving from the band’s hometown of Charlottesville, VA (where they were discovered and signed to Dave Matthews Band’s Red Light Management out of college). Anderson composed more than 50 songs for the album with a variety of collaborators, including Ryan Tedder (the first single, “Can’t Help”), as well as Grammy winner Chris DeStefano [Kelly Clarkson] and Ashley Gorley [Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban] on the title track.
“Even though there’s plenty of pressure to break through on your third album, the actual recording process was much less stressful,” says Will about the band’s sessions at Ocean Way in Nashville with producer Oren Yoel, a young contemporary who has worked with hip-hop phenom Asher Roth as well as Miley Cyrus, among others. “All of us were on the same wavelength. We all kind of knew exactly what we wanted without having to say it out loud. There was a weird sense of peace that we knew where we were going and where we needed to be.”
From the pop fervor of “Can’t Help” and the powerful simplicity of “Hurricane,” composed on acoustic guitar by Will after a long frustrating day, to the ’80s Phil Collins-meets-U2 flair of “Waiting for that Call” and the slow Peter Gabriel/John Mayer jam of “The Other Side,” Parachute prove adept at combining guitarist Nate McFarland’s Edge-influenced arena-rock guitar licks with Will’s melodic sense of what will resonate with their passionate fan base.
It’s no surprise for anyone who has followed the band’s history. Will has been playing with drummer Johnny Stubblefield, bassist Alex Hargrave and saxophone/keyboardist Kit French since they were high school classmates in Charlottesville almost 10 years ago. Anderson met Nate while attending University of Virginia together, and the guitarist joined the band six years ago.
“We’re just now getting to know one another as musicians as well as we know each other as people,” says Will. “We wanted to capture a sound in the studio that reflected us as a band. And we all know which parts each of us had to play to get that sound.”
The band’s stylistic palette can run the range from old-school legends like Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen to newer acts like U2, Coldplay, Weezer, Ben Folds, Maroon 5 and John Mayer.
With producer Yoel, the band has even begun to stretch the boundaries, with Will’s spoken word vocals adding almost a hip-hop flavor to a new song called “Didn’t See It Coming,” about an actress friend of theirs in Hollywood excited to land a gig, only to discover it was an X-rated feature.
“That’s probably the catchiest song I’ve ever written,” he says. “I just laid down this spoken-word track, thinking we’d replace it later, but everyone loved it so much, we kept it on.”
Anderson is most proud of “Hurricane,” a song he wrote before going to sleep by strumming an acoustic guitar.
“It’s like the feeling you get when you think you’re never going to be able to write another song,” explains Will. “Once I started, it all came spilling out.”
Anderson credits guitarist Nate with creating parts that were “just perfect” for each song. “He really nailed it, with a unique spin to every song that made them epic, but at the same time, within a pop framework. That’s something we’ve always tried to do, melding his rock guitar to my sensibilities, making it work both for the arena and within the melodic sense of strong hooks. I think we really nailed it this time.”
Having played more than 400 shows over the last few years, touring around the country with everyone from NeedtoBreathe to Andy Grammer, Parachute’s live show continues to grow and impress. They’ve also played before several million at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, as well as appearing on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, ABC’s Good Morning America and Jimmy Kimmel Live and CBS’ The Early Show. The band’s songs have been featured on MTV’s The City along with CW’s One Tree Hill, Vampire Diaries and 90210.
“It’s so nice to have three albums’ worth of material to choose from in concert,” says Will, while the band has always played an eclectic variety of covers, from Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Loving” to vintage tracks from Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, the Commodores and Motown. “We’re just now hitting our stride as a live band. We’re better musicians who have come to trust one another. We all have our pocket and fill it. But we still have a long way to go.”
Overnight has a little something for everyone. Longtime fans will recognize their favorite band, with a fresh sound bound to intrigue newcomers.
“The last album was like taking a brand-new car straight off the lot,” says Will. “This album is just as fun to drive, but it’s like a vintage Mustang, a little more muscle and grittier, built to last.”
On their third Mercury Records album, Parachute is firmly in the driver’s seat.
Nashville TN | Rock
Andrew Ripp creates music that pushes the boundaries of genre stereotypes, blending the energetic beats of pop music into a soul culture and adding the depth and groove of soul music into a pop culture. Since beginning his career in 2005, Ripp's songs and records have successfully impacted a diverse and growing audience including true music lovers: fans that appreciate the nuances of a well crafted album, and easy listeners: fans who simply want to hear a catchy tune.
Having an awe-inspiring voice is one thing, but knowing how to use that voice to share lyrics and emotion in a way that moves those who hear the songs is quite another. Ripp has grown in this over the years as a respected songwriter with the voice of an artist. Won't Let Go comes on the heels of Andrew Ripp celebrating a #1 album on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart in 2010 with his album She Remains The Same, which was the follow-up to his debut album in 2008 Fifty Miles to Chicago. Ripp, who is originally from Palatine, IL and now resides in Nashville, TN, is no stranger to the national music scene beginning his career as a songwriter and co-writing half of Ryan Cabrera's 2005 album You Stand Watching, including "You Shine On," which landed on Billboard's Hot 100. Ripp has had a hand in writing songs that have been featured on American Idol, One Tree Hill, and Live To Dance.
Since his last release, Andrew spent time writing and writing, not just creating a few songs and depending on his voice to carry the album. "The good ones," Andrew says, speaking of excellent artists, "they leave space in the songs." And over the last two years, Andrew has learned that skill. Having moved to Nashville with his wife at the encouragement of fellow musician and mentor, GRAMMY nominated artist Dave Barnes, Andrew settled into the songwriting town and began to hone his talents and grow as an artist, musician, and songwriter.
His new album, Won't Let Go, is full of the picks of the songwriting litter, with songs that resonate with the hearer as well as the creator. Working with award-winning producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars, Amy Grant, Holly Williams, Switchfoot) Andrew handed full control to him, allowing the songs to drive the recording process, not trying to turn the songs into something they weren't. You can hear that too- the wrestling, the release, the emotion, the growth of the songs to a new sound that somehow feels familiar.
The album blends the work of Andrew himself with many other award-winning musicians, songwriters, as well as Peacock and engineer/mixer Richie Biggs, having had a hand in co-writing all 11 tracks. Ripp is deeply proud of what was created, though the price of hard work didn't come without its own challenges and trials. Won't Let Go will be the album that reminds us we don't have to figure it all out, just show up. "I did the work," Andrew says, "I gave it everything I have. As I wrote this record, I was writing these songs for me as a way to help me process what I was going through but as the songs came to life, I realized that these stories were for everyone because we all go through hard times and sometimes just knowing you're not the only one can offer a moment of hope."
Won't Let Go documents some of the hardest times in Andrew Ripp's personal and professional life but through hardships come hope and love and no one captures those emotions better than he does on this album. Stand out tracks include the single, "Cool Ya (Nobody Loves You Like I Do)," a catchy tune on the idea that no matter where you are, you are loved; the moving ballad "Just Enough" about how we are all given just enough hope along the way to make it through struggles in life; The up-tempo "When You Fall In Love" that depicts the security of a love that feels just right; the title track "Won't Let Go," that has become an anthem of sorts on the road for Ripp about staying strong through all of life's challenges; and the albums close, the poignant "Rescue Me," which features GRAMMY Award winner Vince Gill, and perfectly caps off Ripp's journey of hitting rock bottom but ultimately discovering the inner strength he needed.
"A good analogy I was given is: Our lives are like waves, they are always moving. No matter how good or bad things are, you can guarantee it won't be like that forever," said Andrew. "We embrace the beauty of the sunshine because there was rain. We feel joy because we had pain. I've decided to learn to love the difficult times because there's no escaping them, and that's when we grow." This is a theme that plays throughout Won't Let Go and one that many listeners will relate to.
A touring artist as well, Andrew's live performances continue to move the audience in just the right ways. Crowds don't want him to leave the stage when the show is over, and he's not sure he's ready to leave either. He has opened for and toured the country with artists including Jon Foreman, needtobreathe, Will Hoge Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. Ripp continues to tour around the country in support of his forthcoming release Won't Let Go, for the audiences that have supported him throughout the years as well as the new ones he continues to steadily make along the way.
"This album is rooted in the idea of hope and love," Andrew says, "and it is meant to speak life." Audiences can hear the depth of those messages in every lyric; in every note. Great songs deserve a great record and what has been created with Won't Let Go is just that- the record that other musicians will respect, fans have waited for, and newcomers will fall in love with.