Back in 2008, Cole Schwartz was doing what many music-obsessed teens his age were doing: starting a rock band. Drayter was formed in Dallas, TX, and in its 8-year existence developed a sound that draws equally from heavy metal and hard rock as it does pop and emo – a combination that the band has found appeals to a very wide audience of music fans.
It doesn’t hurt that Drayter brings a high-level of energy to their performances, sharing large venue and festival stages with the likes of Stone Sour, Chevelle, Flyleaf and Three Days Grace.
Earlier last year, Liv Miner joined Schwartz and the band as a guitarist/vocalist, and they just released their first full length, Nine, in December (distributed via TuneCore). Liv and Cole weighed in on their experiences together so far, what kind of roles brands can play for independent artists, and what is was like to work with a couple of major producers on their latest album:
You both come from musically inclined families. How old were you each when you began playing and writing music?
LIV: My Mom and Dad have been professional musicians for longer than I’ve been alive, and consequently all of my siblings and I are very musically inclined. I started banging around on the piano as soon as I could reach it, I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, and I picked up the guitar and started writing songs at age 9.
COLE: My grandpa played music consistently all the way into his late 80’s, and my uncle is a working musician that plays guitar and sings. I started playing guitar when I was six, and recorded my first studio EP at 13 (and it was distributed on TuneCore).
Who were some of your earliest influences when it comes to making music, and what are you digging more recently?
LIV: Instrumentally I turned to Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and ZZ Top as virtual mentors that helped shape my ability to create a full sound without a lot of extra musicians. Lately I am really into Adam Jones. Tool is one of my all-time favorite bands because each member is so gifted and the music they create leaves me feeling very emotional.
As a lyricist, Maynard is certainly someone special. I’m also really digging down-tempo music right now because the ambient and spacey grooves put me in such a mellow and relaxed place.
COLE: My first concert was Green Day, and that experience was indelible. The fast licks, the bright lights, and all the fun they were having on stage made me want to be a performing musician. As I got a little older I really gravitated towards Randy Rhoads, Jim Root, and Dimebag Darrell as the influences. All of them helped shape my style.
Currently I am into Deafheaven and Power Trip primarily because of their super washy guitar riffs intertwined with extremely precise blast beats. Lyrically I have always been a fan of Corey Taylor (both Slipknot and Stone Sour) because you can feel what he is feeling in every word he sings or speaks. Sharing a stage with him in 2014, I got to see it up close and it was very powerful to me.
You started Drayter awhile back. How has the band’s sound evolved over the years?
Cole: We were only 13 and we were very much into bands like Metallica, Marilyn Manson, and Van Halen. When we wrote our first songs they were simple and straight to the point hard rock with minimal studio refinement. Over the past five years we have matured as musicians, as human beings with life experiences, and have been afforded the opportunity to work with some Grammy-winning producers. So obviously our sound has evolved as well to a more refined and modern pop-rock vibe.
How did you and Cole link up? What was it about Drayter that appealed to you?
LIV: I met Cole a handful of times because Drayter opened for my last band on occasion. People always joked that we should get together and merge the bands. We were always friendly, but never really talked about working on a project together. In early 2015 I found out that Drayter was looking for a new lead singer and I reached out to Cole for an audition.
He was all for it, so I auditioned and here I am. As far as what appealed to me, I think it was several things. First and foremost, they were serious. They were very professional about everything, put on an awesome live show (seemed well rehearsed), had management, and their songs were really good. The music business is hard and you need to be 100% committed to have a chance. I liked my chances better with Drayter, and everything is going great.
How would each of you, in 5 words or less, describe your collaboration process?
LIV: Lyrically, emotionally, and instrumentally connected.
COLE: A comfortable but organized and systematic process.
With your latest release, Nine, what can fans (new and old) expect in terms of songwriting and genre intersection?
To help intersect two very different genres (pop and rock) for this album, we worked with two very different producers — Matt Squire, who has produced pop stars like Ariana Grande, Ke$ha and One Direction, and on the rock side we worked with Dave Fortman, who has won Grammy Awards producing hard rock bands like Godsmack, Evanescence, Slipknot.
It was a great process and we feel combining two different producers, two different genres and two different emotional melodies we achieved a sound that is pretty modern and will appeal to a broad audience of people that enjoy both pop and rock bands. As far as songwriting, the themes are about life; what we’ve experienced and how we see the world.
We feel that the good and bad experiences are universal for everyone, and we hope that others connect and take away something from our music.
The production of Nine is pretty on-point! What was it like to work with Matt Squire and Dave Fortman?
Working with these two producers has been one of the high points for Drayter. For an independent band to be able to work with work with Grammy winning and nominated producers is a dream come true.
Dave Fortman has been one of our idols. He is the producer who helped shape and push one of the most successful female fronted bands, Evanescence. He also produced Slipknot’s most successful album, All Hope Is Gone, among other projects with bands like Godsmack. We were nervous before we met and began working, but he was the most down to earth, laid back Louisiana guy you’ll ever meet. Working with Dave was just a good time.
We primarily recorded at a small studio down in southern Louisiana, and only went to a bigger studio to track drums. The atmosphere with Dave is totally chill and all about music without time constraints. It truly feels like we are all just hanging out as friends, doing what we love. There are lots of laughs and no stress. That’s what makes the musical process with him so good that we can’t wait to work with him again.
But don’t let the relaxed vibe fool you. Dave is a perfectionist and will spend hours working with you to get exactly what the song needs. Also, he is a master mixer, which also helps the project stay well rounded.
Working with Matt Squire was a huge step for us. He is known for helping artists/bands find that special sound which is what we were wanting since merging with pop. Matt is on fire in the studio. He is open to every idea. In fact, I don’t think he turned down a single one. He seemed to see it all as part of the process and understood our need to draw in all the different elements. There was always a “happy” atmosphere while we were working with him. The entire experience was like something out of a Hollywood movie. It’s basically how you would picture the recording process to be for a multi-platinum selling artist/band. Obviously we are not that, so working with him was such an amazing and unforgettable experience.
We flew into L.A. and tracked drums at NRG Recording Studios in North Hollywood. Some of the greatest albums have been recorded there so we were honored to be able to walk down the halls and see all the plaques, not to mention the insane mountain of vintage gear lying around. The rest of the time we worked at Matt’s home studio in Calabasas. The musical process was exactly what we needed. Sometimes it was serious and other times it was a riot. We laughed our asses off! It was roller coaster ride from start to finish and we are ready to go again.
What advice do you have for duos when it comes to reaching out to additional musicians to record and tour?
Make sure that you work with people that are professional in every since of the word. They should have the following attributes – music ability, a great attitude, and accessibility where and when you need them. If you waiver on any of these qualities, you might set yourself up for problems.
How does it feel to remain an indie group that is capable of acquiring brand sponsors and endorsements? What kind of role do you feel brands play in indie music in 2015?
Since the music business has changed so much, successful bands are not really independent anymore per se, they are entrepreneurial. Everything they do – from sound to image, branding to networking – has to be done like a start-up business. We felt that we could make high quality music, grow a fan base, and make an income if we had backing from sponsors.
We knew from our Facebook, Reverbnation, and website statistics that our fans were 14-24, and figured that advertisers/sponsors might want to have access to this age group. We made a grid of what companies might want to market to these groups and picked up the phone and started making calls. We got a lot of no’s, but we did get several yesses. For a small fee an advertiser can market to our fans (through us). It feels good having financial resources to do some things, but there’s always the hard work of convincing big companies (music and non-music related) that our band is worth their support. Yet we are passionate and authentic about what we deliver, so we stand by our brand.
The role brands play with indie groups is still developing. Many brands don’t know how to attach a value to a band, especially if it’s an up-and-coming band. Plus, bands aren’t really a safe investment because of the typical ‘creative personalities’ that are involved. But if the brand is willing to take a risk and do their homework on the band, they can significantly benefit from loyal consumers (fans) that have an affinity for that band. It can be an easy win/win.
The band wins because they generate income; the brand wins because they reach targeted consumers at a low price.
Similarly, how important is remaining independent to you? How has TuneCore played a role in that?
We want our music to reach as many people as possible and have a positive impact that resonates for a long time. Obviously having the support, distribution, resources of a major label would expedite that, but that’s not our reality right now. In the meantime we will continue to try to gain sponsors and grow our reach with what we can afford.
TuneCore has helped this process of being independent and entrepreneurial by giving us a platform to distribute our music, to report on sales and other metrics, and to collect royalties. Also, TuneCore has assisted with making connections to other industry resources they offer like website development, mastering, and publishing administration.
With over 30K followers on social media, how do you use different channels to engage and communicate with your fans in creative ways?
That really depends on what information we are putting out there. Some of our channels like Instagram respond better to short videos, while others like Facebook and Twitter respond better to pictures and random musings. We reach out to fans via social media whenever we have a show in their area and try to support other artists and venues through social channels.
Since we started so young, we came of age with social media and understand the power of it. We realized that a band can market to thousands if not millions of potential fans virtually for free through social media. If you use different channels, and post regularly, you can really develop a super engaged fan base.