Where Are They Now? – Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband
Founded in the mid-90s in Ogden, Utah, Ryan Shupe and The Rubberband hope to be a two-hit radio wonder.
Comprised of Shupe (fiddle, guitar, ukulele, lead vocals), Roger Archibald (guitar, vocals), Ryan Tilby (bass guitar, vocals), Craig Miner (banjo, bouzouki, mandolin, guitar, vocals), and Bart Olson (drums), the band’s music has been described as “a breathtaking blast of manic musical virtuosity.” It certainly is an eclectic mix of several acoustic musical genres, leaning heaviest on country and bluegrass.
When asked about how he describes his music, Shupe gets appropriately analytical: “It probably depends on who I’m talking to. When we look back at when we were answering that question when we were doing our big radio promotion tours, the best answer would have been the funniest answer: ‘We are the biggest country band–no one else sounds like we do so therefore no one in the country is more country.’ But the truth is labels are hard with us. What’s bluegrass? Sure, we have a banjo and a fiddle in our group, but are we bluegrass? No. It’s kind of bluegrassy, but at a bluegrass festival, they’d say, “no way.” We kind of sit somewhere between country, bluegrass, Dave Matthews Band, Barenaked Ladies with some humor mixed in the middle. When I describe my music to someone who has never heard of us, I use names like that because they know what I’m talking about. It’s an acoustic jam rock of bluegrass country.”
After learning to play the fiddle at the tender age of five (in doing so, becoming a fifth generation family player), Shupe started his first band at ten and played in a variety of different bands in his teens and during college. Only one common theme ran throughout each group–they each came to an end when the broke up. From there, the concept of the Rubberband was born. “I decided that I was going to make a band that didn’t break up,” he recalls. The idea would be that the Rubberband would be elastic. That’s the best way to make a band not break-up.”
As Shupe began to shape his musical sound following college, he made friends throughout the community with the best musicians he could find. On gig nights, he brought in the players he needed depending on the venue and the crowd. On some nights, there could be two on stage or as many as five. And then one night, magic happened and the membership became permanent.
“I’m a band guy,” says Shupe. “I’m a big band fan. I like bands. Anyone that plays music knows the difference between a band and a hired gun situation. With a band, you get a cohesiveness that you don’t find any other way. And I’m not saying the other way is bad. I wouldn’t downplay how other artists play music. It’s just different. Anyone who has been in a band knows the moment it becomes a brotherhood. You look at a guy and just know what he’s going to do. There’s that moment when you just gel.”
They were producing a sound that was certainly unique to the band.
“Basically, in a nutshell, it’s acoustic instruments pushed to the limits of what they should be able to do. We do stuff more up-tempo than what people are used to. It is fiddle, guitar, drums, banjo and bass, but it’s got an almost punk beat to it. We love experimenting with different sounds.”
After signing with Capitol Records in 2005, the band released its debut major-label album, Dream Big, which produced a Top 25 hit on the Billboard Hot Country chart with the title track. The song was also picked as the theme song for NBC’s prime-time show “Three Wishes,” hosted by Amy Grant. Dream Big also featured a second release, “Banjo Boy” that failed to chart but did have a music video that was in heavy rotation on CMT.
“I would describe the Dream Big album as good music with a positive theme running through it,” says Shupe. “It’s got something for everyone. I know that’s a generic answer, but in this case, it applies. It’s got love songs, up songs and down songs. It has a theme that’s acoustic based and is music with a positive outlook. We experimented with some rapping-like lyrics on some songs. It has a lot of different elements like that.”
“That was a fun time. We enjoyed the ride–literally. We got to ride around in a big bus. We got to walk the red carpet. It was nice to see that side of things for awhile. We played nearly every festival alongside a lot of great acts and other great musicians. It’s kind of like everything you can imagine. You just show up and they’ve bought you lots of clothes. We got to travel all over the country, flying tons. For a while there, we were doing everything we could imagine.”
Video: Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband – “Dream Big”
Video: Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband – “Banjoy Boy”
Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband did not begin and end with Dream Big. That much is clear.
“For people that only know us through the radio, they may only know us for “Dream Big.” I see that at shows that we regularly perform in, even today. People know “Dream Big.” That song fits in with what we do, being acoustic and positive, but it isn’t exactly what we do. It takes people three or four songs before they get it. We come out on stage jumping around and rocking with a banjo and fiddle and it takes people by surprise. They become fans for life because they get what we’re doing and it’s really unique. If they know us from “Dream Big,” they should check out our videos on YouTube or check out a live show and they’ll see something they’ve never seen before.”
After being dropped by Capital Records in 2006, the Rubberband boys were signed by small label Montage Music Group and put together a new CD, Last Man Standing, that was released in 2008.
“I think the album is more rocking this time around,” explains Shupe. “If you heard the last album, you would notice a progression, but it’s pretty much in line with what our fans have come to love about us. Nobody’s going to hear it and go ‘that doesn’t sound like them’, but it’s a different direction than the last album. You’re going to want to turn it up a little bit more in your car. It’s a musician’s music, but it’s also for people who want a good tune. That’s kind of the beauty of our band, I think. If you’re a musician you like it, because it has complex arrangements and things that are different than what’s out there, because we’re pushing the boundaries a little bit, and doing a rock country hybrid with banjo and fiddle and stuff. But you’re still getting the songs that you’d like to hear played on the radio. I think we are able to be a great band live, yet also have solid songs people can relate to and enjoy. I want us to have songs that are great and mean something to people. We think it is the best sounding album we have to date.”
Unfortunately, Montage Music Group closed along with many other labels during the economic recession, which has brought Shupe and his bandmates back to familiar ground–building fans through live shows.
“We’re seeing an increase in music at the independent level,” says Shupe. “My wife saw an interview the other day where an artist got asked when he got discovered. And the guy answered, “I don’t know if anyone gets discovered in the music industry anymore.” And he’s right. I took that to mean that you don’t get discovered anymore because you can just go out and create your own destiny. Which is why we can keep going and some other bands might falter. We have a live show that’s awesome and we have a fanbase that don’t care if we have a hit on the radio or not. We’ve kind of created something that’s not generic. We’re going to roll through the high points and the low points of creating music. It would be great another hit on the radio. Granted, I think our stuff fits right in there on the radio. I think if radio gave some of our stuff a chance it would be just as successful as anything else. But it’s hard to get all those stars aligned. But we’ll keep going and do what we do and have a good time every time.”
What will the Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband legacy be, according to Shupe?
“I hope that the legacy of the band will be that these guys have created something huge and, along the way, have influenced people’s lives for the better. Musicians and music lovers will have said they created something really unique and timeless in a way. That’s one thing I try to do with our music is not follow time markers. No one will every say, “that was created in the 90’s or 80’s” or anything like that. On top of that, we helped people become better people and lifted them up in hard times. Hopefully, we’re a positive influence on the world around us. As much as is about music, it’s about us as people impacting the world around us.”
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