Article written by: Lili-Anh Le Minh.
“It’s been a really really messed up week.” That is how Tonight Tonight starts off, the song that shot Hot Chelle Rae into the spotlight last year. Change ‘week’ to ‘year’ and you basically described 2011 for the band- in a good way of course. From the success of Tonight Tonight to the release of their second album entitled Whatever while the label they were signed to was dissolved, the guys had quite a busy year. To top it all off, they also did over a hundred shows- no big deal. 2012 also had a good start for them. After touring with Taylor Swift in Australia and New Zealand and then doing a few dates in Japan, they did a few headlining North American dates in-between their tour with Demi Lovato. Montreal was one of those dates and it was the band’s first time here.
The band consists of brothers Ryan and Jamie Follesé, Nash Overstreet and Ian Keaggy. Since their formation in 2005, they have gradually built up their fan base and are now a chart-topping band with two full-length albums and countless tours under their belts. Right before their show, I was introduced to Jamie to talk about some of the crazy things that have happened to them these past few years. Before getting into that though, he brought up poutine because seven people had told him to try it out that day.
“Apparently, I need to try poutine. That’s my only goal. That’s what I’ve been told I have to do so after the show tonight, I’m going to go down to the corner spot here.” They played at L’Olympia so “the corner spot” was the Belle Province down the street, though I never found out if he had the time to try it in the end or not.
We then set aside that Montreal culinary experience to talk about the reason he chose this uncertain career path. “My entire family- all of our families are in the music industry. My mom and dad are both songwriters and producers in Nashville. They do more country stuff but they also do pop. My dad is a Beatles freak,” Jamie explained, adding that it was the reason he had a Beatles tattoo himself. “My parents didn’t push us into it but if we wanted to do it, they weren’t going to be those parents who [will be unsupportive] because they have made money and they were successful at it. Once we decided we wanted to do this, they kind of guided us down the right path and helped us out along the way. It’s been a though road but we had a lot of help.”
Jamie also never had any other career path in mind. “I think if you have a plan B, then you’re not going to succeed at what you do. I don’t ever want to have anything to fall back on because I don’t think that I’ll be giving it my all otherwise. I think my dad instilled this in my brother and I. Failure is just not an option. It doesn’t matter how long it takes.”
It took his dad 25 years to have a successful song so the Follesé brothers knew that if you’re passionate about something, you can’t give up; you have to work hard at it and be patient. Lucky for them though, it didn’t take 25 years for them to get some recognition for their hard work, which is why seven years after the band started, here they were, about to play a show in Montreal.
“We’re playing our first show here and I think ticket sales have been pretty good but that doesn’t even matter to me. It’s more important to just play your first show here and have people kind of learn about who you are so that next time we come back, it’ll be a packed house and hopefully we’ll get to play a bigger place.”
When I told him there were already people lining up outside, he thought it was crazy. “I still can’t believe that people would even come see us in a different place,” he said. He remembered playing shows for three to four years where no one knew who they were and they just hoped that people would like them. Now that they actually have real fans, it is still a little surreal to them.
Our talk about shows led to touring and I wondered if it ever took its toll on them, since they are constantly on the road.
“It definitely does. It just depends on the kind of travel you’re doing. We’re on a bus and that’s kind of our version of a normal lifestyle because you can have a normal schedule where you wake up at a certain hour every day and everything is as normal as it can be. But if you’re doing planes all the time and internationally traveling, that’s where it has taken its toll on me. I ended up not being able to go to Japan. I got so sick because we were flying. We flew just trip after trip and I was jetlagged so they had to put me in the hospital because of terrible stomach problems. I think it kind of took its toll on me in that way but I feel much better now and there’s nothing I can’t handle. I’m going to do it again even if I have to go back to the hospital!”
Getting sick may be one of the major downsides of touring, but like everything, there are pros and cons. Becoming friends with your tour mates is definitely one of the bright sides. He told me about the band’s arena tour with Taylor Swift in Australia, which was the most memorable one for him. On top of getting to play big shows halfway around the world with someone who is “so nice and so real”, some of the friends he made became people he regularly hangs out with even now.
He then told me about who he dreamed of going on tour with. “I would love to go on tour with Maroon 5. That would be so cool. I would love that. Just because that was the first thing I was really a fan of. I remember hearing their songs when I was 11 years old or something like that. And they’ve been consistent and not many artists can do that. They just released their new album and I’m obsessed with that so I would love to go on tour with them.” He added that they had gotten to play with them once and that he was freaking out when it happened.
It must be overwhelming sometimes to play shows with such big names in the industry, especially when it’s your idol. He spoke to me about a radio show where they had the top 15 most popular artist play a show and he just casually bumped into Flo Rida in the hallway. “It’s pretty crazy but it’s nice to be able to play shows and be on the peer level with them because we got to go to an award show with them, they’ve seen us there and stuff like that. So you don’t feel like a misfit, which is nice.”
The subject then shifted to their music, namely their first album Lovesick Electric, released in 2009. I asked him how that whole experience was for him, since he was still so young.
“It was awesome. At the time, I wasn’t even 18 yet, I had just turned 17 and we went out to L.A. for a month and recorded. We worked with Eric Valentine and Matt Radesovich out there. We also went back for another week and did 2 songs with a guy named Butch Walker in Malibu.” He remembered thinking it was surreal. “We got to record on the top of this mountain overlooking the beach. It was the coolest experience ever. I would never take it back.”
Two years after their first release, they were back in the studio for Whatever. With all the experience they accumulated between the two albums, I wanted to know if the way they worked had changed. He quoted the popular phrase “you spend your whole life writing your first record”. He then added that it can be a good thing or a bad thing but that for them, it was a good thing because it was a learning experience.
“Lovesick Electric was a lot more rock and we kind of just went back to our roots because when we started as a band, we played very pop music. Then, we kind of got a little rock and for Whatever, we definitely got back to our pop roots and it was a big learning experience for sure.”
Not only did they go back to their pop roots with their second album, but they also gained song writing experience as well as life experience, which lead to a more personal album when comparing to Lovesick Electric.
“I think there are a lot of songs on Lovesick Electric that were just written about kind of nothing because we weren’t doing anything at the time. It’s never your best when you’re just sitting around trying to think of a song rather than letting a song come to you or letting inspiration strike and a song coming from that. Adele is actually a great example; she said she wrote her most recent record about a breakup that she had and people relate to personal things that have happened. I think that’s what most important on a record by far.”
When asked which song described the album as a whole, Jamie said it would have to be I Like It Like That because it is upbeat but has lyrics that catch your attention. He emphasized on the fact that lyrics are what make a song stand out.
“Lyrics can be everything. A beat is very important, being catchy is important but it’s lyrics that draw you in and make you relate to a song. And I think that song is very relatable to a lot of people. When it comes to lyrics, there are no boundaries for what can be an influence. It’s seriously as simple as looking at that chair and you see something about that chair that makes you think something in your mind that sparks inspiration. But you get a lot of good inspiration from being on the road all the time. There’s a song called Keep You With Me and that’s just about being away from home and from the people that we love all the time. And so it draws from things like that but you can really get an inspiration from anywhere.”
One source of inspiration is definitely life experience and in 2011, so much happened for them, they definitely won’t fall short of any. It was truly a crazy year for the band so I asked Jamie which event stood out the most to him.
“I would say selling 2 million singles on one song and then also playing Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. We played the last one ever, which obviously we didn’t know at the time and it really sucks but it’s also really crazy to say that we played the last one that ever was, standing onstage in Times Square with Justin Bieber, Santana and Pit Bull as the ball dropped. It was the most insane moment ever. That was definitely the craziest thing that happened for me.”
As our discussion slowly came to an end, I asked him to draw something that represents himself and got a blank stare mixed with a cringe and a nervous laugh. Sadly enough, I’m used to this reaction because so many musicians seem to think they have no artistic ability when it comes to other branches of art. Once they get started though, they usually end up making the best of it and Jamie was no different. After assuring me that he really did not have any talent, he started drawing while explaining it step by step.
“You’re going to get my best, which is a stick figure. And this one is going to be special. This is going to be me right here. This is going to be so bad. I can’t even do a circle. Look how cool this dude looks. This is me right? I don’t even know how to make legs happen on one of these guys. Now let’s get some drumsticks on this guy! That’s pretty important. These do not look like drumsticks. They look like baby bottles but I’ve accepted that. This is the worst drawing in history actually. And I have 3 legs, in case you’re wondering. There it is! That’s it! I’m going to write the word ‘hockey’. I am a massive hockey fan.”
We got into a little hockey rivalry talk when he said he roots for the Nashville Predators but that he knew I wanted him to say the Montreal Canadiens. That ended peacefully though and when I asked if there was anything else he would like to add, he said: “We love our Canadian fans and we can’t wait to get back to Montreal already.” Hopefully, that will be soon!
To check out some of their music and to stay up to date with them, check these out:
Official Site: http://www.hotchellerae.com