Samuel Fisher

“It’s Easy for Us to Vibe” – A Candid Conversation with The Driver Era

Girlfriend, out today, is the second full-length album from The Driver Era. The revered, modern band admits to going into the studio (for this record and just about everything else) without a set plan in mind. There is no carefully curated writing and recording process with Rocky and Ross Lynch. The duo knows that they work best bouncing anything and everything off each other, so what this album (and this interview) showcases to the world is that all a true artist needs is someone they are comfortable with by their side and nothing more in their back pocket than genuine passion and in-the-moment feelings.

When it comes to The Driver Era, there is a very fine line between what is possible and what is impossible. The possibilities are endless, really. If you suggest that Rocky and Ross Lynch include a “ghost track” on one of their releases down the line, they take note of it. (They did this once while still part of R5, which they thought was cool, but not quite a “proper ghost track.”) When there are memorable moments happening on social media, the talented brothers discuss joining the platform, even if it means embracing the occasionally over-the-top jump scares and trendy dances. (TikTok, we’re looking at you.)

There is a very, very short list of things that are considered impossible for the musical duo. Not considering the widespread effects of COVID-19 and the ‘impossible’ restrictions placed on everyone – especially artists with plans to go out on an intercontinental world tour – the only other out-of-the-question undertaking is the double hashtag. (The nonexistant ‘##’ is an idea The Driver Era had that quickly became an inside joke between us and them, as well as a generally impossible social media feat that the band’s lovely, longtime publicist quickly explained isn’t going to happen anytime soon.)

Pandemics and hashtags aside, the California by-way-of Colorado musicians are creative powerhouses who have yet to meet their match in style, finesse, and imagination. (Who thinks up ‘hashtag-hashtag’ anyway?) The Driver Era are wholly in their own boundary-less and genre-less lane. As a result, they have created a 15-track album that not only follows up their dynamic debut, X, but elevates the impressively intricate and groovy stylings fans have come to know and love.

The release of a sophomore album can be nerve-racking after seeing success with a previous release, but there seemed to be not an inkling of worry in either Rocky or Ross when we hopped on Zoom with them. If anything, only joy oozes from their pores even amid the most random of bantering with both AQ and each other.

Natural born stars, the brothers are simply all about expressing themselves through art. If people love it and it puts them on the map (or gets them a “bigger house”), so be it. They’re having fun jumping around their home studio to unreleased tracks and slipping personal sensitivities into lyrics no matter what. Little is questioned with these two, even if they are working on something that sounds like dance pop one day and then sounds a little R&B the next, there is nothing in their way.

Musicians are known for being temperamental, but as the release of Girlfriend shows, The Driver Era are not simply musicians. They are artists, producers, brothers, friendly boy-next-door-types, open-minded creatives, and overtly curious human beings – further proving that there are few boxes you can’t put Rocky and Ross Lynch in… if they event let you.

“Leave Me Feeling Confident” is one of the latest singles you released ahead of Girlfriend and I just love the groove of this modern R&B meets eighties new wave song. I’m wondering how the two of you go about choosing what songs become single releases and/or get the visual treatment of beocming a music video, because it’s always been so spot on with what you drop and how you drop it.

Ross: I think the biggest indicator of a song that should get featured a little bit more is like initial reactions. You’re already telling us that “Leave Me Feeling Confident” was one of your favorites, so that right there is the biggest reason why that song gets featured.

Rocky: On this album specifically, I feel like us two were a little relaxed with what songs were featured and what was a focus track. Honestly, we didn’t put too much into being like, “Hey, these songs are the ones.” It’s was more how the whole team and everyone was like, “Hey, these are the ones that are done at this point. There is a video in the works, let’s pick.” [Laughs] It was causal – we didn’t put too much thought into what the focus tracks were. All of a sudden we were like, “Oh, ok, ‘Leave Me Feeling Confident’ is next? Alright!”

Ross: I think it’s partially because we feel really strongly about all the songs.

Rocky: We do.

Ross: We’re equally invested in all of them, so to us it doesn’t really matter. The only thing that I think is actually kind of funny about this is how literally the only song I didn’t want to go first was “Heaven Angel.”

Rocky: That’s how it works! [Laughs]

Ross: Then that was the one that everybody was saying to go with! I was like, “Well, shit.”

Rocky: Again, that was partly because it was one of like three that was currently done.

Ross: Yeah, and it also had some of the most energy.

Rocky: Like Ross said, I guess if you’re gonna start with the first track for an album – and I know there’s other songs that already out, but that’s kind of the first single to us – it’s nice when it has that vibe that is just like, “Wow, put me on here! Take me on a ride!” That’s sort of what that song does.

It does for sure. You both know I’m a huge fan of the track, even with the whole album here I adore it.

Rocky: Heck yeah!

Clearly your storytelling qualities are mesmerizing, especially within these immersive, production-laden soundscapes – which you two are creating essentially from scratch. As professional and slick these songs are – and this album is – it all comes across very fun and laidback. Are you having as much of a good time making these songs as we are having a good time listening to them?

Ross: Yeah, definitely!

Rocky: We had a lot of fun.

Ross: That’s that’s the only way we can do this pretty much. If there’s not a lot of inspiration from feeling good, then we won’t work.

Rocky: I feel the same. I don’t even have much to say after that, because that’s true [Laughs]. Anytime we’re working on a song and we’re like “Oh, this is super fun,” we’re loving what we’re making.

Ross: The best days are when we have the studio speakers cranked to 10 and we’re jumping and we’re dancing and we’re having our own mini rave in the studio. That’s the best studio day you can ask for.

That’s when you know!

Ross: Yeah! We’ve been making dance music recently. A lot of dance music means there’s been a lot of jumping [Laughs].

That makes so much sense because all of your songs translate really well in a live setting and always get people moving, so if you sense that prior to being on stage? It’s proof that it’s on another level.

Ross: I’m excited for this next batch. Once you release music, you’re always onto the next, so we’re kind of already onto the next… and we’re excited.

Oh, wow. As much as I want to say we’re ready for all that, I don’t know if we are! With Girlfriend still being new, though, you first have to bring those songs to life on stage. When we talked last year, we all sort of agreed that “Scared of Heights” and “Welcome to the End of Your Life” would be the showstoppers. Now we’ve got a whole new set of songs to build a concert with and match the momentum that those tracks have. When tour starts, I’m thinking “#1 Fan” and “When You Need a Man” will be those songs, but that’s just me.

Ross: I think those are good songs.

Rocky: Yeah. I think “#1 Fan,” honestly, in a live setting, with obviously the title of song being what it is and the idea that you’re watching a band you like perform it, that just seems like a recipe for [excitement]. I agree that that seems like it will probably react well night after night. “When You Need a Man,” that seems pretty fancy, pretty funky. [Laughs] Honestly that does seems like it is going to be popping. That’s one of our sister’s favorites.

Ross: I definitely think “Heart of Mine,” too, and “Beautiful Girl,” and “A Kiss.” I think “A Kiss” is going to really get people moving because it just has so much energy.

Rocky: True, “A Kiss” is fast.

It really is fast and just so much fun. That’s why it made for a good TikTok dance trend back in about 2019! Can you believe it’s been that long? On the promotional end of things at the moment, it must feel really fast having everything coming to a crunch at the end – album, tour, everything you’ve been waiting for happening all at once.

Rocky: It’s always that thing where leading up to it and/or working on it, like you were saying, it is a good amount of time – it’s over the span of a couple years. Then right when it’s about to come out, suddenly the vacation’s over and you’re like, “Whoa, where’d all the time go?” [Laughs] We are always onto the next, you know” We’re about to go on tour. It’s kind of crazy, too, because we were gonna go on tour so long ago. It got postponed for a year or a year-and-a-half. I don’t even know however long it’s been.

Ross: Like two years, bro.

Rocky: Exactly. Now we’re back to going on tour again and all this crazy COVID stuff is still here and is something that we’ve already been experiencing for two years. It’s been so long, I don’t even know and I’m just guessing on the date, but that’s insane. That’s crazy!

Ross: This whole thing went by fast, for sure.

It also has to be exciting for you two to be back to doing what you know and love – performing your own lot of songs for people who are on the edge of their seat waiting to hear them.

Ross: Absolutely.

Rocky: What is there like 30 Driver Era tracks now that will be out? Something like that?

Maybe more, especially with remixes and such.

Ross: Yeah, maybe more than we can fit in a whole hour-and-a-half show! Wow.

Rocky: That’s pretty crazy.

Ross: Honestly, there are so many more that we want to get out there for the world to listen to. It’s ridiculous how many songs are just damn near ready to go.

Well isn’t that exciting to hear! The creative momentum doesn’t really stop with The Driver Era – that much is for sure.

Ross: I mean… kind of. In 10 minutes, 15 minutes, you can always start something that will have a great groove, probably have pretty nice and catchy melody, probably have some great low end – that’s not really the hard part, though. The hard part is buckling down, figuring out what the song’s about, and tying up all the loose ends. That’s really where the work comes in, but just starting a track? We could start a track right now… that’d probably be sick. In five minutes, too, just ’cause that’s not the hard part. It’s easy for us to vibe.

You’re doing it immaculately, too. The vibe is what I always write about and talk about when I bring up The Driver Era to people. I’ve also always noted the level of almost intimacy that your music has. It just feels like it’s coming from a real place without any untouchable or glorified elements. Is it ever nervewracking to let your true thoughts and feelings live out in the music in such a raw fashion?

Rocky: It’s kind of like what you’re saying. Especially recently, I don’t think that there’s too much sitting down and being like, “Alright, cool. Let’s come up with a concept. Let’s come up with this song. Let’s write this song.” It’s more of a process of us understanding where we are now and feeling what is happening. That is where there is actual honesty. You can do that. You can also be like, “Let’s sit down and write this song. I really want to put my feelings in here.” We don’t do that, though.

Ross: Yeah, we could be all, “Let’s write about Rome and Juliet!” Actually… I almost did that this morning [Laughs].

Rocky: You can do it! [Laughs] There really isn’t a wrong way to truth, so if that gets you to put down some feelings go for it.

You two have always worked more organically than that. Every time we’ve talked it felt that there was no sort of plot or plan in mind, so I can only imagine how comfortable the two you are when talking and writing and creating in the studio one-on-one.

Ross: Yup, we’re pretty loose about that. If you listen to some of our songs, you might hear some looseness in the pocket and stuff like that. A lot of that is just because of the way it happens upon its inception. Certain parts, whether is be a bass part or like a certain vocal, a lot of the times we like that freshness of in the moment and we just keep it. We don’t go back and try to iron out mistakes and stuff like that. We like a fair bit of mistakes, I think [Laughs].

Rocky: Yeah, we keep it raw. [Singing] I keep it real, I keep it raw!

[Laughs] Your music has always been your story to tell, but you create it so seamless and casually that all of us out here can see ourselves in it, whether it be in just one song or an album as a whole.

Ross: Yes! Thank you.

Rocky: That’s super nice and I agree, because the songs that I tend to like, and I think people tend to like, are the ones when – I know like the most common way of saying it is like “I can see myself in that situation!” or whatever, but when words actually speak to someone? When a single line in a song can kind of change you in the moment and you can learn something or you can feel something? That’s it. You can just be bumping it in your car and have fun, but somehow it does create this movement within you and I think that is the golden key. That’s the key that DJ Khaled always would be talking about [Laughs]. That’s really what it is.

Ross: That’s the purpose of art: to relate and to move people. I’m sure that is it. I’m happy that you feel that way about our music!

Photo by Samuel Fisher

More than you know, I think. Now the title of this album is Girlfriend, which seems fitting given the context of many of the songs, like “Heaven Angel” and “Heart of Mine.” Were any other album titles thrown around or in consideration when putting this record together? Because there is a little bit of a theme that fits this name.

Rocky: There were soft, random ideas, but never actually good ones, just ones thrown around in the moment – more, “Yo, bro! It could be this!” Then we would forget about it. There were subtle ones that had something interesting, sure, but nothing stuck once Girlfriend came about it. In that moment we were like, “Oh, sick! That’s the one, that’s it!” There weren’t any that were thrown around and had that react and that were as serious as Girlfriend. Once it was that, it was that.

Ross: You know, we had a few though. For a second – I think I was joking around and I don’t think this would’ve ended up being it – but I think for a minute I was like, “Yo, Rocky! What if we called it ‘Press Play’?” [Laughs]

Rocky: I remember that!

Ross: I thought that was pretty funny.

Definitely clever!

Ross: Then we had another one, but I forgot what it was. It was like…. You know what, maybe we might use that later, so we’ll save that. [Laughs] I did think ‘Press Play’ was pretty funny.

Rocky: It’s pretty dope… memorable. You would probably get more people to press play on it.

Ross: Yeah, exactly. Maybe in the future?

Rocky: [Laughs] Maybe.

I like that, too, actually. Or you could even have the start of an album, the first song, be titled “Press Play.”

Ross: Hey, that’s nice! Yeah, I like that.

Speaking of memorable songs, “Cray Z Babe E” has the absolutely electric vocal patterns that you two share, trade off, and balance effortlessly. What was it like going into that song specifically as compared to others that we know and love that have more of a singular, solo voice?

Ross: There are a lot of ways that our songs can take a form. I think that’s one of the newest evolutions of The Driver Era, if you will, where we just felt comfortable both singing on it. I think we’re going to do that more often. Whereas in the past, with the one singer thing, oftentimes Rocky would have a melody and he’d be like, “Yo, I think this sounds really good,” and then we’d flesh it out and I’d end up singing it. Just in general, whoever the idea for the part comes from, it is usually better off with them doing it. We’ve worked with all sorts of singers and all sorts of different artists and that’s usually the case. If someone creates something, it’s theirs.

Rocky: Also, I think in the beginning of songwriting, I’ll hand off a melody and Ross will be like, “Alright, let me write some words to this.” You might try and spend time on that. What people don’t realize, and I think we still are kind of realizing this, is that the words are usually at this same time as the melody. The words are usually there somewhat. You can edit or change for as long as you choose, obviously, but a lot of times there’s already something that’s kind of floating in the melody word-wise. With that process that Ross is talking about, I think you’re just a little closer to when that melody happens to then kind of allow the words to happen, as well. Iff that person that is allowing both those things to happen is doing both, they should be vocalist at that point. You’re just a little closer to home when it comes to getting across that thing we call art that moves people. We haven’t done it too much, but there are a couple songs also after “Cray Z Babe E” that we see that happening.

The way you do work together in the moment to find if something works the way it should – individually or together – just expedites the process and also expands the style of what the song will become.

Ross: That’s right. We’ve been enjoying it.

That’s very exciting. I’m stoked to hear then the continuation of that because “Cray Z Babe E” is very much maybe my top five TDE songs.

Rocky: Heck yeah!

If that vibe continues in any way, I can guarantee that you have got one fan here!

Ross: Hell yeah!

Rocky: That’s all we need. You only need one fan technically to do what you want do now. [Laughs] Especially in music, like us, you only need one fan – one “#1 Fan” to keep you doing what you want to do.