The members of Banditos were friends in Birmingham long before they ever played music together. They worked at the same music store, or in maintenance jobs at Oak Mountain Amphitheater, or skateboarded together when they were fourteen. A road trip to New Orleans and song lyrics written in a Gideon Bible changed their lives and turned them into a band. They recently moved to Nashville and will soon release their first studio album, The Breeze, that was recorded at Bombshelter studio where the Alabama Shakes recorded Boys & Girls, one of the best albums of 2012.
Banditos recently played at the Hangout Festival, the biggest show of their career and one that could open the door to many more.
How were you selected to play at the Hangout Festival?
Corey: We entered the contest a couple of days before the deadline and MTV liked us and put us in the top 10. We have dedicated fans who were persistent and helped us get here.
Jeff: That festival was a big deal to us, we have never had this kind of exposure before.
Stephen: There is a beach just for the artists at the festival where they hand out towels and Red Bull and great art like a crazy life-size cyborg antelope that was the coolest thing I had seen all day. Most of the time we are lucky to get half off our bar tab for watered down drinks.
All of you are from Birmingham. Did you go to the Alabama beaches for your vacations?
Mary: My family were dedicated beach-goers and I have stayed in half of the condos I haven’t been back here in years, but now there is this great music scene with the Hangout Festival.
What were you day jobs before Banditos became full time?
Jeff: A lot of us were working 40-50 hours a week at jobs and trying to play music. I did guitar tech work and Randy taught drum lessons at the shop I was working at.
Danny: I worked at the music store too, but I am very happy to be outside and playing music.
Corey: Half of the time I was slinging drinks in a bar in Birmingham and the other half I was working maintenance at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham.
Steve: I worked in maintenance and operations at Oak Mountain Amphitheater. It is fun now not to be the guy in the yellow jacket setting up the cones and barricades, instead, they are being moved for me. At the festival I saw some guys that I worked with in the union and they asked me where my gloves are.
Mary: I worked for a while cutting hair in Birmingham. We moved to Nashville four months ago and we have been playing so much that we have been able to afford living there without having to get a steady job yet, but I have $1 in the bank account right now. We are making it on Ramen noodles and tuna, but we got to play at a festival like that and it was all worth it.
How did you find each other?
Randy: We have all known each other for at least ten years. I met Jeff skateboarding when we were fourteen. Some of us played together in other bands.
Mary: Corey and Stephen bussed on the streets of Birmingham for a while. One night they drank a bottle of whiskey and wrote songs and we all joined in.
Stephen: This is band is almost an accident. We had been doing this for fun and then it exploded. But a road trip to New Orleans trip changed everything. We had wanted Mary to sing with us for a long time.
Mary: Stephen, Corey and I took a trip to New Orleans together and it was life-changing for us. I had been in a three-year relationship and I hadn’t played music in three years. They suggested that I sing with them in a show when we got back, so I wrote the lyrics down in a Gideon Bible that I stole from the hotel. I learned the songs on the way back from New Orleans and on stage I held that Bible and sang the lyrics.
Explain the name Banditos.
Corey: This is the family friendly answer, Steve and I had the name before we had the band. We called each other banditos and it was the name of our friendship.
Jeff: As the rest of us joined in, we all became banditos. Now we have our own nicknames and speak in our own language and it is hard to relate to anyone else.
Why did you move to Nashville?
Randy: The signs pointed to Nashville and we knew that to progress and get better we had to jump in to the music industry and dig at it to see what we could come up with. A few months before our lease was up we decided to save up and go for it. We got lucky and found a really cool house in Nashville.
Mary: It was bittersweet leaving Birmingham and moving to Nashville. We knew it was time to go for something bigger and everyone in Birmingham was so supportive. We adore Birmingham and all that we came from and we appreciate our friends there.
How has moving to Nashville already affected your music?
Corey: It is humbling to go to a bar and see five dudes that are better and that can outplay you blindfolded. That makes us better musicians because we have had to step up our game a little bit.
Steve: Nashville was supposed to be hard to break into. We thought we were going to move there and start over again as a new band who no one knew about, but we didn’t have to go through that. Moving to Nashville has been a completely positive experience and everyone has been so supportive. We have no regrets.
Mary: The Alabama Shakes have been very supportive of us and we are humbled to be able to work with artists that we adore. We listened to Sam Doores and Riley Downing and The Tumbleweeds years before we ever met them. Now we are friends and Riley drove us down to the Hangout Festival this weekend. We thrive on being in that creative environment in Nashville and we are influenced by people in all different genres, so this is an exciting time for us.
You all have different musical taste and styles. How have you learned how to write songs together?
Jeff: We don’t stick to one genre. We all listen to old country, folk, blues, and rock and roll. We even listen to jazz and rag time. We pull from a lot of things and of our songs are collaborative with riffs, drumbeats and funky baselines. We could write a song that starts off as country but ends up a psychedelic ragtime tune. It never feels like we are stepping too far out of the box.
Stephen: When we first started writing we realized we have six people playing together and what are we supposed to do with then? We are just now figuring it out.
Corey: We still have no idea what is the right way to sit down and write songs together. It is different every time.
What is the story behind the song “No Good”?
Mary: Jeff came up with the Riff and I liked it, so we started working on it in the flooded, moldy basement of the house we used to live in. I wrote the lyrics while having a couple of beers at The Garage in Birmingham. The mindset of it is us being pegged for being up to no good and trouble makers, which isn’t entirely wrong because we do like to have fun, but don’t —– us for being bad.
I want to make my own decisions about someone and not judge them first. It is also a female empowering song. Being the only female in the band with these dudes, it is hard to hold my own. It was my way of saying that I have chops too.
Being in a band is much more than playing music together. Do you also have to learn how to live and tour together?
Randy: We live together in Nashville, but it is more of a commune than a house. We are still learning how get along, when to stand your ground, and when to fold ’em, but nothing is ever malicious.
Tell about your next album.
Jeff: The first thing we did when we moved to Nashville was make an album. Andrija Tokic was our engineer. He has worked with friends of ours like Hurray for the Riff Raff, Clear Plastic Masks, and the Alabama Shakes. We just got the masters back and it sounds great. We are playing songs from it and are ready for it to be out.
Danny: We named the album The Breeze after our van which we call the Breeze because we do a lot of driving at night and breeze in and out of shows.
Are you releasing The Breeze through a label or by yourselves?
Steve: We are releasing the album ourselves. We are also booking our own shows and trying to do everything ourselves for as long as possible.
Booking your own shows leads to strange venues. Where is one of the strangest you have ever played?
Randy: We booked a venue in New Jersey and we knew it was an old rockabilly club with burlesque dancers, but we thought that sounded like a good place for us.
Jeff: It was my birthday and there was no better way to celebrate than with burlesque dancers at a rockabilly roadhouse in New Jersey. They also called and said there was going to be a model shoot, so my birthday stated sounding better and better.
Randy: We pull in to the parking lot and there is a Medieval LARP (live action role play) with the swords and the shields and there is also a pancake breakfast. The only burlesque dancer there was a woman named China Doll who weighed no less than 350 pounds. We played for only two people the whole time and had to act like everything was normal.
Moldy basement, burlesque honky tonks, or music festival stages, for Banditos, playing music is just about having a good time together and helping everyone else join in.
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