Uncle Daddy: Tales from a Los Angeles band practice
Collins Reiter sat down with up-and-coming LA band, Uncle Daddy, before a Monday night rehearsal. She describes the experience, after knowing the band for about a year as profoundly “Uncle Daddy.” Piled in the back of a truck bed, multiple cans of Rock Star energy drink and cigarettes later, she finds them six men of both insanity and genius.
TJ Stafford, Noah Needleman, Andrew Jed, Christopher Allis, Robbie Anderson, and Jacob Szekely, that make up the most interesting band to hit the LA scene in ages. The band asked that I quote them collectively, not as individuals, but there were some comments that got lost in translation and downright earned a direct quote. Sorry guys!
GT: First off, the name. How did you come up with Uncle Daddy? (The answer to this question came after some laughter over taking up their time with something so generic…)
UD: It started out as a joke. We were still playing some bastard form of bluegrass and it was Jacob (Cello) who said, “Dude, this some back-country bullshit; we should call ourselves Uncle Daddy and the Cousin-Brothers.” So we started using that name just amongst ourselves, and sadly, it stuck. Trust us, we’ve given it the old college try, to come up with a “serious” band name, but nothing quite stuck like ‘Uncle Daddy’.
GT: I’m assuming having six different people in the band is challenging. How so you guys deal with that, as far as the songwriting process is concerned, and how do you go about your songwriting?
UD: Most everything we write, we write together. The lyrics mainly fall on TJ (Lead Singer) and sometimes Noah (Guitar) or Andrew (Mandolin), but not a song goes by without input from everyone. Every once in a while one of us will bring in a finished song for the band to hash out, like our song ‘Beautiful’, TJ had before the band even started. But the thing about having six guys in the band, after each of them puts their mark on it, it becomes any one of ours. Even though Jacob wrote “Hey You,” it’s fully Uncle Daddy. Same thing with “Beautiful.”
There’s also very little ego in the band. Uncle Daddy is not a corporate rock band, but everybody in it is a profession musician. In essence, we all have other outlets that we’re established and successful in. Uncle Daddy doesn’t have to become the place we all put our junk in. Ultimately, because we can leave egos out, Uncle Daddy then becomes the ego. The band itself is the ego. So everyone comes in with an ear to listen, rather than trying to say, “Hey, this is my idea.” Everyone is listening to everyone else’s idea and it’s really humbling every time. It’s really frustrating every time. But it’s really, really powerful every time.
GT: Tell me about the album you’ve been working on. The sound, from what I’ve heard, is a bit different from what you guys have done in the past. How do you feel the sound on this album has evolved from what you’ve done in the past?
UD: Every band over time tries to figure out more and more who they are. That’s been our process moving forward together, and that’s the thing we’re most proud of in this new record. Not that it’s more aggressive, or edgier, but that it sounds more like “us”. We’ve been trying on different clothes, but we’ve been chasing this sound for a long time. It feels like we’ve finally found our voice.
Also, hooking up with Smidi as a producer, somebody who’s talented and capable enough as a producer to take what we do, which is, it’s weird to say unprecedented, but looking back it’s incredibly hard finding a precedent; to take our acoustic instruments and make it sound like us in the studio. It looks like an acoustic grass band, but we’ve gotten more Led Zeppelin comparisons than Nickel Creek. It’s not something we’ve been able to find yet in a producer.
GT: Why music? Why are you guys here every Monday night?
TJ: That’s a Rabbit Hole, girl.
Christopher (Drums): That’s a lot of gigabytes on this little recorder.
Andrew: Why is that a lot of gigabytes? The only answer is there’s nothing else.
Robbie (Violin): It’s the only thing I know how to do sorta well.
Jacob: I failed math twice.
TJ: Yeah, every answer to that will probably sound trite, but i think everybody here…when you try to find something in your life you feel like you were created for, and I feel like we were meant to play music. And once you find that, it’s impossible to let go. Uncle Daddy is one of the first projects, actually the only project I’ve ever been a part of, where the whole is so much greater than the sum of it’s parts. There’s something magical about laying down ego and personal issues and letting the creative process happen. Seeing something much better than you could have created on your own happen.
Noah: Yeah, what TJ said about Uncle Daddy being greater than the sum of it’s parts, what happens Monday nights is always bigger than any one of us individually. Every one of us, every week, comes away bigger because of it. I feel like for me personally, especially when I feel smaller afterwards; when afterwards I feel less important, it’s because the band feels more important.
Jacob: Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had plenty of shitty rehearsals where things haven’t gone well, or I feel totally frustrated, or we’re collectively frustrated, but I think it’s like a family in that way too; you learn to communicate, learn to talk to each other and to pick yourselves up again.
Andrew: Plus our favorite bar is closed Monday nights.
GT: Creating music now is so different than it was say, back in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. How do you guys feel about the advent of things like iTunes, social media, and modern technology? Have they helped the industry or hurt the industry? It is either/or, or both?
UD: Now that the technology is such that anyone with a computer and a cursory knowledge of a keyboard…there’s a certain democratization that technology brings, but that doesn’t necessarily make the work other people are doing good. It’s definitely a double-edged sword. It means the great bands aren’t always going to be huge. Like there will probably never be another Beatles. Somebody once said when the Beatles released “Sgt. Pepper’s” everything stopped. Music-making the world over stopped for two weeks, while everybody listened to that album. That kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. The world is smaller now, but it’s also bigger. Every person’s car you get into, they have a different band you’ve never heard and they’re telling you you HAVE to hear it. It’s beautiful, but also super daunting for us, especially because as a band in Los Angeles we’re essentially a dime a dozen.
Jacob: I asked my cello teacher about how there are now so many more players in the world, just with the population in the world growing, there’s so many music schools and conservatories…and she said, “There are more players, but there aren’t more Artists.” I think that pretty much sums it up from a business standpoint.
GT: What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened onstage? Was the old lady the funniest thing that’s happened?
Noah: For us, as a band?
Christopher: As a band, yeah…that old woman.
TJ: Which one?
TJ: Oh the old lady vagina.
Christopher: Yeah as a band that definitely takes the cake.
GT: Okay well, someone explain so I can get it on tape.
TJ: It’s all explained in my therapy bill.
Christopher: We had a gig at the Brixton in Hermosa opening for someone and there was an older lady, middle aged…
Andrew: If she was living to 120 she was middle aged.
TJ: She’s beautiful in her own way.
Christopher: As soon as I saw her walking up I just started looking down at the drums, like this is not going to go well. She started dancing and she tried to get up…and she did actually get onstage for a brief moment.
Noah: She tried to give TJ a dollar. Like a stripper dollar, like tucked it in his underwear.
TJ: I thought I deserved more. I was putting on quite a show.
Christopher: All of that is very funny, but then when she pulled up her dress…
Noah: Okay remember, she’s 60. She’s got to be 35-40 pounds overweight. She’s wearing a, like, orange skin tight, must have been jersey dress.
Andrew: Noah remembers the details.
Noah: Oh yeah. It’s burned in my psyche. So after she’s talking to TJ, trying to give him a dollar, she starts dancing for the audience. She would face them, but then she turns around and gives them the full booty shake. She bends at the waist and apparently, I didn’t get to see this, but I heard from numerous sources she was NOT wearing underwear. She showed the full coot to the entire audience. And she was up, that stage is not short. Our feet were shoulder level, so she was on display for all to see. So I’m standing right next to TJ, and he’s handling it like a champion. We keep waiting for security or somebody to take care of it…
Andrew: I’m watching security over on the side and they’re like, “Yeah….what?”
Christopher: They’re like “What, it’s just a regular Saturday night for us.”
TJ: “Yeah, we know Ellie.”
Noah: That was horrific.
Andrew: TJ was a champ. TJ came out on top.
TJ: I wouldn’t say that…
Noah: Some bands would have gotten uppity or allowed it to get awkward, but TJ prevented anybody in the band from feeling awkward. It was one of those things that’s awkward if you make it awkward…or maybe it was just plain awkward.
Andrew: He also saved the audience too. I mean I can’t remember exactly what you were doing, but there was some way you carried yourself that made it so the audience wasn’t like…
Robbie: They could laugh about it.
TJ: I blacked out. I have no idea what happened.
GT: What’s next for Uncle Daddy? Five years from now where do you want to be as a band?
TJ: What does anybody want? You want to make a living at what you create.
Christopher: Just keep on making really valid musical statements that keep the lights on and keep food on the table. Continuing being able to enjoy each other’s company whether it’s on the road or in the studio or whatever it happens to be. There’s something really, really unique about this group and this particular sound and this selection of people.
Noah: I think I’ve alway defined success as having a sphere of influence that’s broader than your sphere of interaction and I would love…I’m just going to say it. I think the stuff we do musically and lyrically is important. I think we say things that people need to say and need to hear and I think we do it in a way that’s freakin’ awesome. I love it. I need to say the shit that we say. I need to hear the shit that’s said from the band musically and lyrically. I think based on those things, I want Uncle Daddy, in five years, to have a global audience. I want Uncle Daddy to be famous.
Jacob: My personal goal is to be banging models on a pile of cash.
Christopher: Ladies and gentlemen, Jacob Szekely.
Jacob: To be eating caviar off the thighs of Swedish virgins on my yacht equipped with a solid gold toilet. I always wanted one of those. Hey, that’s MY goal.
Noah: I want a swimming pool full of Jell-O.
Jacob: Would that go bad though? I mean, how do you maintain something like that?
Andrew: I think time moves really fast and it’s going to take some time for this stuff to take hold on a global scale. This is the record that we intend to do that with. I expect that in five years, we will have all held our Grammy.
Noah: Best New Artists. Best Rock Album. Best-Looking Front Man. Fugliest Rock Band. I want TJ to be in US Weekly. That’s what I want.
TJ: Pumping gas. In the background of a shot of “They’re Just Like Us.” Or who wore it best. Me and Katherine Heigl going head to head.
Jacob: That would be awesome man.
Random facts about Uncle Daddy:
Name any musician living or dead you would kill to jam with:
Christopher: Frank Zappa
Andrew: The Edge
TJ: King David
Noah: Don’t judge me: John Mayer
Jacob: Bill Evans
Venue you most want to play before you die:
Christopher: Royal Albert Hall
Noah: Radio City Music Hall
Robbie: The Mall of America
Andrew: The Superbowl
Jacob: The Concerte Gebouw
Favorite Breakfast food:
TJ: A spoonful of salt and all the shitty bands in LA
Noah: Eggs Benedict or Sunflower Seed Butter
Jacob: A six-pack of Pabst and a bear claw
Christopher: Fresh berries
What’s playing on your iPod right now? Be honest…
Jacob: The Miles Davis Quintet
TJ: Katy Perry
Noah: The Punch Brothers
Robbie: Guns N Roses “Appetite for Destruction”
Christopher: Low and The Life and Times
Craziest thing you’ve ever done:
TJ: Streaking my high school football game
Andrew: Having a baby
Robbie: I’m a risk aversion personality. In 8th grade I played left field in little league, which is the position for the person who can’t do shit. I ran up to catch a fly ball and the ball hit me in the head and I got knocked out cold for two minutes in the middle of the game. Ever since then I’ve never taken another risk in my life.
Christopher: I used to race mountain bikes and I realized hands, feet, and limbs going eight million miles an hour down a fire road…you’re either going a million miles an hour or you’re dead. I’ve gone ass over tea kettle so many times when I was riding, so it just didn’t make any sense after a while. I want to keep my limbs in tact.
Jacob: I was pulled over in Tijuana, driving backwards down a one way street and there may have been hookers and blow in the car.
GT: Are you serious?
Jacob: You’ll never know.
Follow Uncle Daddy on Twitter: @gouncledaddy These guys won’t overload your Twitter feed with nonsense. When they do tweet it’s usually profound or funny.
Like Uncle Daddy on Facebook: www.facebook.com/gouncledaddy
Visit Uncle Daddy’s website, www.GoUncleDaddy.com, sign up for the mailing list and receive a free download of an unreleased song.
What to download on iTunes: “Fade Away”. Look for the release of the new EP “Psalms Before The Storm” in November.