Formed by childhood friends on the verdant and crisp coast of Little Traverse Bay, Michigan Rattlers matured organically from the close harmony and strums of a folk duo into a rock outfit reminiscent of the Wolverine State’s blue-collar sonic pedigree. The Rattler’s debut full-length, Evergreen, featured earthy tunes that explored the stones and forests of the band’s youth while examining the moments that led from the birches of Petoskey, MI to the palms of Los Angeles and back again. On That Kind Of Life, Michigan Rattlers continue to evolve, rounding off rough edges and occupying the space where real life and expectation meet. Just days away from a return to the road on July 15th (the band’s first tour since February of 2020), frontman Graham Young took the time to delve into the Rattlers’ growing sound and future plans.
AI- One of the things that I loved about Evergreen, it had that small town, kinda closin’ in on you, gotta get outta here, alt-country feel to it– my bread and butter, you might say! That Kind Of Life, it still rattles, it’s still a Michigan Rattlers album, but there’s definitely a smoother approach. There’s a new sophistication to what you guys got goin’ on right now.
GY- Yeah, that was definitely a target for us to try to expand musically and lyrically and sonically on the next record. Evergreen was really written with the acoustic guitar and we played ’em for like two years, really just me and Adam and then Christian, but they were pretty raw. And then we went in the studio and busted ’em out! That Kind Of Life was definitely more thought out in terms of instruments. So I think that definitely helped create this more smooth sound like you were sayin’.
Where did y’all make the record?
We started in a studio in Nashville, House of Blues Studios. I think maybe the name changed? But we started there and then we finished it here we did Evergreen at producer Johnny K’s house just outside Chicago.
Overall the team has not changed much. You’ve added some members and some accoutrements, you might say, but overall the team putting together the Michigan Rattler’s sound is remaining consistent.
From Evergreen to That Kind Of Life, yeah, pretty much the only change would be Tony Audia on the drums and he’s full-time with the band. Other than that, it’s a pretty identical team from one album to the other.
You had it ready to go early last year? Things were lookin’ like you were gonna have it out maybe summer 2020. Momentum is a word that has been thrown around a lot when it comes to certain outfits pre-COVID. I’d say that applies to the Michigan Rattlers as well. What was on your mind when the pandemic hit and everything got grounded?
We were feelin’ really good early 2020 that’s for sure! We had just wrapped up an east coast tour that went really well and then we were gettin’ ready to start a Midwest thing. Yeah. We finished the studio portion of the record, I think, in January. We were workin’ on mixing, we had put “Desert Heat” out in February, we had tons of shows and yeah, it did seem like we were lookin’ for a spring, summer release. And then everything happened! It definitely felt like the air went out of the tires a little bit! But you know, I think we were able to take a closer look at That Kind Of Life and really get to make some decisions and refine some stuff that we wouldn’t have been able to refine in terms of mixing and stuff like that. I think we made the most of being at home and not getting to tour with the record.
I wanna dig more into how you are occupying your time in a minute, but I want to start talkin’ about some of the songs on the record. You mentioned “Desert Heat”. You’d been floatin’ that one out there, performing it live. I’d seen, I think a couple of different versions that you had done on the internet. Got a definite Springsteen vibe to it, especially on the record with the saxophone added.
He’s definitely a big influence that’s for sure! That was one that we had the bare bones, but then I felt like we needed something a little bit different that we didn’t really have. Horns was where we went with that and I think it turned out cool! Like you said, you heard a couple of different recordings of that. We put out an acoustic version of that song in video form, but I think if we went into the studio right now and recorded that song again, it probably would sound a little bit different than what’s on the record. That’s kinda how it goes sometimes!
That’s an interesting thing too. You had mentioned that with Evergreen, you’d had those songs worked out before you got to the studio. As a unit, the band that appears on That Kind Of Life, you worked out that incarnation on the road– not so much the music, but the lineup and the band itself. Do you feel that people got a good look at the way you’re ready to get back out and present yourself? Or is this going to be a new introduction for old and new fans alike?
I think it will. I don’t know? It was kind of weird ’cause like I said, we had a really good east coast kinda dipping into the south tour right before COVID that was this lineup. We played a few of the new songs, so I think that tour did give people a good look at who the Rattlers are right now. But I do think these shows this summer and fall are definitely gonna be sort of a re-introduction getting to play this record live for people. Some of the songs on Evergreen have changed! They’ve gotten a little bit bigger playin’ out more a little bit and just makin’ ’em all fit together with where That Kind Of Life has led us. So yeah, I think, all in all, it will be a fun re-introduction of the band.
The title track, that story, the dynamic between the narrator of that song and the person that they’re talking to, is that something that you’ve personally been struggling with? You and maybe other members of the band– the dichotomy of being a touring musician, a touring artist, and also having what most folks would consider a normal life? Because it’s a shift and it’s not for everybody.
Yeah, for sure. That’s definitely a struggle! This last year with the shutdown was kinda the first time in three, four years that we weren’t traveling constantly, and you did get a little taste of what a normal kind of existence is, staying in one spot and having a routine. Which is nice for sure! But there are moments too, where that gets pretty old! You missed the excitement, and it’s mysterious sometimes when you’re goin’ from city to city and you don’t really know exactly what tomorrow is gonna look like. You know you’re playin’ a show, but we don’t always know where we’re going to be layin’ our heads at the end of the night. It’s give and take though with wanting one thing or the other.
Do you have a family?
Yeah, we all do. We’re all pretty close. So that was a good part of this last year. We all got to spend some time with people that we really haven’t gotten to spend tons of time with the last few years.
A lot of people that I’ve spoken to, and I myself, found that to be one of the bigger adjustments of not being able to go anywhere or do anything– the sudden upheaval of everybody’s home life. I spoke to a cat a couple of weeks ago named Boy Golden out of Canada and something that he said really struck me was that “It’s harder to love someone the closer they are to you.” He was relating to being in one spot with somebody and not being able to go anywhere. I think I had it better than most because I have a yard and some people don’t even have that, but it was a challenge at times.
I feel like a lot of our connections with people relied heavily on phone calls and FaceTime, and you’re not really directly in contact with a lot of people all the time. It’s straining on a relationship when you’re far away and it can be straining when you’re next to somebody all the time!
How did you occupy your time during the pandemic? You had an album in the can ready to release as soon as things opened back up. Did you feel creative during that time? What were you discovering or rediscovering during your time off?
Yeah, I did feel pretty creative! We took such a long time from Evergreen to That Kind Of Life— for no reason, in particular, that’s just kinda what happened. That Kind Of Life was done. I was gonna have a year of no touring and I felt like I really needed to make that count creatively in terms of writing songs and working on new material. ‘Cause I find it difficult to really find the time to sit down and work on new material when we’re on the road and playin’ shows. It’s hard to find some personal space and time. So definitely, that was my main focus for most of the last year was working on new material and demos and all that kind of stuff.
I was watching lots of older performances of the group getting ready for this interview. It’s wild to see how things have changed watchin’ the 2-piece to the 3-piece, the Gibson acoustic, and the upright bass to now the full kit ensemble, the Telecaster… What is the next evolutionary step for the Michigan Rattlers? What do you want to see happen next?
At some point, we’ll probably expand the live personnel. I think that’s something that all four of us currently would like to see. We spent so much time just the two of us and we had kinda outgrown that but didn’t have the ability to get any bigger, sonically in terms of live. And when we get into the studio too, there’s a lot of stuff on That Kind Of Life where it’s like in the last few weeks of rehearsing and getting ready to go back on the road, there are parts like, “How do we play these songs and communicate everything that’s on the record with just the four of us?”
That’s been a fun challenge, but also, it gets you thinkin’, “Well, man, if we just had a fifth guy here, how much sweeter that would be!” So growth in that sense, I think is probably comin’ down the line for the Rattlers. We’re sittin’ on new material now for full-length number three. It’s funny how this record just came out, but for us, we recorded and I wrote those songs in 2019. So they feel like we’ve lived with ’em for a while. We haven’t gotten to play ’em, but we’ve lived with them for sure! We’re excited to play ’em, but I think we’re excited to record and again showcase where we’re at. That’s the hard part with recording ’cause you’re always recording where you were six months previous.
And you’re not alone in that! I think that is a large and growing symptom in the aftermath of the– or the enduring– pandemic. So many artists are not quite the same as they were beforehand, certainly, but the times have changed as well. I don’t know if there are literally more bands now than there were 20 years ago, 40 years ago, 60 years ago, but I do know that the options and the ability to present have certainly changed. You’re about to get back out on the road, your first major tour in over a year. I think that falls directly in line to what you were just saying about being removed from the music that you recorded some time ago. What are your concerns about gettin’ back out there and presenting yourself while the rest of the industry is legitimately tryin’ to do the same thing?
Honestly, I don’t know about larger concerns. I feel like everything right now is trying to just stay focused and trying to stay immediate to our current situation. It’s easy to think that we’re about to go out for a month and be on the road and do what we’ve been doing– but that feels a little abstract, you know? So I think in a week when we’ve been living out of our suitcases and the van, it’s gonna be like, “Oh yeah, this is that old familiar feeling,” and we’ll find our routines again.
I think the readjustment period has been on my mind. But other than that, I’m mostly just excited! Bein’ in a touring band, you’re constantly moving, constantly thinking about the next day and the next place to play, but we were all able to have this year to chill and take a look at who we all wanted to be as players and musicians and how we want that all to fit together in this band and where we wanted the band to go and how we want to sound and present ourselves. I think there were moments, frustrating moments, in the last couple of years where mentally, we were in one place, but I think now we’re closer to being able to properly present who we want to be.