If you haven’t heard of Guards by now, it won’t be long before they become a household name. Led by Richie Follin (brother of Madeline of Cults), the band creates a signature blend of expansive, unbelievably catchy rock mixed with 60′s jangle pop. Their debut album, In Guards We Trust, is full of summer jams, singalong choruses, and fuzzed-out guitar riffs.
We got the chance to ask Richie a few questions, and gain a little insight into the life of a band headed straight for the top.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard Guards before?
We are at the core a rock group. We are influenced by power pop, new wave, grunge, psych, and soul music among other things… We are guitar heavy, have melodic songs…
What’s your musical background, and how did Guards come about?
I started singing in catholic school when I was about 7 years old and continued until I was about 12. It was a mandatory class at school. We did mainly religious songs, but would also do Beatles songs sometimes. My step dad gave me a guitar when I was 13 and I slowly learned how to play songs on it. The first songs I remember learning were a couple Sex Pistols songs, Nirvana, Deep Purple, Green Day, Black Sabbath… That kind of stuff. The first records I bought were Metallica‘s …And Justice for All, Nirvana’s Nevermind, and Dr.Dre‘s The Chronic.
Guards came about from a desire to have the 7 songs I wrote be a new project; the live band came together when we were getting offered a bunch of shows from people hearing the songs on the Internet.
What’s the story behind the name Guards?
We were looking through books trying to come up with names and we came upon the word “guards” in a Rimbaud book. I liked the implications of guarding over something, being protectors. Having your guard up – it sounded kind of tough as well.
It’s difficult to mention Guards without mentioning Cults as well, since Madeline is your sister and you even used to be in Cults. How has that relationship affected Guards?
I suppose in the way that any bands from the same scene would be affected. We tour together and sometimes play on each other’s records. You find good people to work with and find out who to stay away from. You bounce musical ideas off each other and show each other new gear. The other major affect is that everyone wants to compare us to each other, which is a waste. We just had an album review on a prominent blog that literally only consisted of them comparing us to Cults - that was the entire review. The reviewer was actually speculating on how Madeline and my upbringing came to shape the Guards record. To which, Cults and myself could do nothing but laugh at how ridiculous the blog actually is.
Are we going to see any more epic collaborations with Cults in the future?
Most definitely! I just don’t know how, when, or where…
What was different about the recording process between the Guards EP and your debut album In Guards We Trust? You can certainly tell that it’s more polished and hi-fi, but what did you do differently?
The main difference is that we hired a mixer named Shane Stoneback for the album. Everything that was released before was done all on our own. For the album we had more of a sense of direction about what we wanted to do from touring and writing excessively.
You have experience as a recording and touring musician with your time with Willowz and Cults. But, how has Guards grown since that first EP?
We now have a focused vision of what we want to be.
About a year ago, you tweeted that you broke your jaw, and that it was putting a stop on the recording process. How in the world did that happen? And how far did it set you back?
It set us back a couple months but while I was healing, and I happened to be on a lot of pain killers. I wrote a lot of the songs that ended up being on the record.
Is it different releasing your debut album to a considerable audience that is anticipating it instead of releasing it without a dedicated fanbase? Do you feel any pressure from fans or media?
Definitely. Critics always turn on you after that first initial release, haha. As far as pressure, all you can do is please yourself and hope people catch on. I knew when we finished the record that certain blogs weren’t going to be into it, but we consciously made the record we did and put any other notions of anything that got in the way of the songs aside.
Do you read stuff that’s written about you?
Yes, and thankfully for the most part we get great and really insightful stuff written about our music. That includes your blog [Editor's Note: we consider ourselves a site] who were actually the first people to EVER write about Guards! [Editor's Note: We feel special and honored!] So, thank you for that.
I am appreciative when a writer takes the time to really get into the music. However, as the band progresses and continues to release material I know what people write is not to be taken as seriously. So many factors come into what a writer is “writing” about our “music”. Whether the writer was snubbed at a show or a party by someone linked to the band or if our drummer had sex with a prominent blogger’s ex-girlfriend or something as ridiculous as that can affect what they post about the band.
It can also go the other way too, where the writer is writing great things about us simply because they want an exclusive on something from the band to make the site more money. The sad thing is some people actually form their opinions on the band based on these horribly biased “reviews” because they don’t know any better. Even if a writer truly liked the music he may not be able to write that because he is trying to keep his job at his blog which has a certain aesthetic that may not fit with supporting the group.
It is almost comical to read some of these blogs reviews bashing bands and then look at the bands they support where all the bad things they wrote about a band applies way more to a band they wrote the good things about and clearly ignored the obvious.
With us, the painful thing to read in reviews is if the writer is focused in on trying to find comparisons between our band and my sister’s band, which just makes zero sense. It’s hard to really take music criticism seriously because it’s so subjective to that person, and who the hell knows what kind of knowledge, if any, of music they actually have, or if they just got their job because the have a BA in English. Plus, all of my favorite bands, like The Beatles, The Stooges, The Ramones, or [Jimi] Hendrix all got horrible reviews. What does it mean? Nothing, I assume.
Obviously, you guys are OK with releasing some of your music for free, since your first EP was completely free. How do you feel about piracy and bands giving away their music in response? Good thing or bad thing?
For us it was just a great and easy way to get our music heard. As far as music piracy, it’s hard to say what is OK and what isn’t. For instance, I have bought many records in 4 different formats and feel weird having to purchase it for the 5th time simply because the formats keep changing. I don’t really feel bad stealing music when I have bought it so many times before. I do think it’s wrong to steal new records.
If a band wants to give away their record that is fine by me, I can’t say whether it really cheapens it or not. If a fan falls in love from a free download the band put up on the Internet that fan may support the band and buy their records for years down the road. I think this current situation will eventually evolve into something great for both artists and fans.
Do you buy vinyl? If so, is it important to you to have a medium like vinyl that’s tangible and you can hold in your hands, in an age where everything is digital so easy to throw away?
I do buy vinyl. I have a collection of about 3,000 or so records. I do not think it is absolutely necessary for people to have a piece of music to hold to appreciate it, but I do love holding something real. Plus, I get screwed over all the time by digital music that accidentally gets deleted from my hard drive.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the music industry at the moment and, if you were able to, how would you fix it?
People not buying records, and music becoming something so disposable. It’s all about an output of meaningless content. I don’t know how to fix it, but all great empires rebuild themselves. I do know I would personally be willing to pay more than $10 a month for what Spotify provides.
Now for something completely different: If you could create a musical genius Frankenstein, which parts would you pick from who (John Lennon’s voice, Mozart’s fingers, Frank Zappa’s ‘tache, Michael Jackson’s feet, etc…)?
Steve Cropper’s guitar playing, Prince’s swagger, Hendrix’s tonality, McCartney/Lennon songwriting, Iggy’s raw power, Al Jackson’s drum groove, Gershwin’s arranging, Neil Young’s ability to keep on rocking.
Who is your favorite new artist or group?
Do you have any guilty pleasures as far as music is concerned?
Is there one place anywhere in the world that you’d love to play? You know, like Machu Picchu, Mount Everest, Mariana Trench, Idaho… Stuff like that.
I feel like every band wants to go to Japan and we are no different. We all really want to go to South America. I want to play on top of the Matterhorn at Disneyland.
You guys have an extensive tour lined up for the next couple of months. After that, do you guys have any plans?
We are going into the studio to record new songs!
Say this is an Oscar speech; who do you thank for having gotten to where you are?
I would like to thank the Academy.