kelly gonsalves puts on a bandana…
The first thing he tells me about is the city: he is astounded by the rush of it, the traffic, the hyperactive buzz of life. Coming from a small town in Mississippi, he never quite gets used to the push and pull of New York City, or any of the many bustling metropolitan centers his band’s recent success has been taking him recently.
Rosco Bandana, a seven-member, co-ed alternative country act and the brainchild of frontman Jason Sanford, hit it big last May when they won signage with Hard Rock Records, a freshly-introduced branch of Hard Rock International (you know, like the restaurants). After defeating over 12,000 other bands in Hard Rock Rising, the company’s battle of the bands competition, Rosco Bandana was chosen to be the label’s first signee, and life has only been going uphill since then.
“Before this, the farthest I’d been out of Mississippi is Florida, Nashville in the north, and maybe California west,” Jason Sanford tells me, taking long pauses in between to recollect his modest travels. Sanford, the band’s lead singer and guitarist, is just as humble as his humble hometown, and he happily makes it known how exciting the change of scenery has been for him. It isn’t long, however, before he turns the conversation from himself to ask me about my hometown: “Where are you from? Do you like the city?” He is the sort of person who invites you to talk freely and openly; his voice itself, soft and riddled with an airy Southern cadence, engenders intimacy.
Perhaps this is where the charm of Rosco Bandana’s music lies: its members’ ability to make you feel like you and the seven of them are cradled around a bonfire singing along to a couple of folksy tunes in the low light. In their debut album, Time To Begin, released earlier this week, the band adds their own homey twist when it comes to mashing an old-fashioned gypsy sound with indie rock. The combination of Sanford’s gentle, inviting voice over Jennifer Flint and Emily Shole’s feminine harmonies creates a part-choir, part-sing-a-long feel to each song. Sanford cites Buddy Holly and Fleetwood Mac as some of their musical influences, while Barry Pribyl, Jr., percussionist and supporting vocalist, tells me his personal inspirations include The Avett Brothers, Bob Dylan, and Wilco.
“We’re touching on a lot of different parts of time throughout the ages, bringing it all together,” Sanford explains.
Sanford and Pribyl, Jr., started the band together roughly two years ago and pretty much hand-picked their members since then.
“Jason is our primary song-writer,” Pribyl, Jr., tells me when asked about the band’s creative process.
“He brings a song to us, and we experiment with it. It’s kind of almost never finished – we steal parts of the writing from songs that we’ve been playing for years.”
In comparison to Sanford, who one can hear smiling through the phone, Pribyl, Jr., speaks in a strong, grounded voice that seems to balance out his partner’s dreamy croon. Even over the phone, the two collaborate with one another before answering each question.
The band’s latest creation, Time To Begin, is about “new beginnings,” Sanford explains. It’s an appropriate theme, and not just because it’s built into the album title. This summer indeed marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in Rosco Bandana’s career with their new record label and their ongoing fall tour across the country. At the same time, however, it’s clear that the corporate nature of their record label has not affected the songs that they sing.
“Really I just write about things that happen to me,” says Sanford. “Lost love, new beginnings, new experiences.”
There seems to be an interesting juxtaposition of reveling in the past against embracing the future; the music embodies the band’s position in a process of transition from one lifestyle to another. Despite a purported focus on the beginning on a new adventure, everything from the individual tracks on the record to the minutia of our telephone conversation seems to come back to their roots. (“Long I pray, long I pray to stay in Mississippi,” Sanford sings in their latest single, “Woe is Me.”)
“The only thing I miss is being on the coast,” he explains, referencing the background of another of their songs, “Black Ol’ Water,” which discusses the charms of their shoreline hometown, Gulfport, Mississippi. While the city is breath-taking, he remarks, “you can’t see the water.”
Furthermore, aside from flawlessly making every lyric sound oddly nostalgic no matter its context, Sanford also has a way of calming the soul with merely with his natural pleasantness of spirit – if you’re having a rough day, his breezy voice, accompanied by his talented bandmates, is sure to sooth your troubled waters. After all, the band says frequently in interviews that they aim to create music that “heals people.” As a group, they aim to put out positive music that both rings true to reality and simultaneously inspires.
“Music can affect your mood and your attitude, and we wanna put out music that has a positive spin and is uplifting,” Pribyl, Jr., says. “It’s not gonna drag you down; it’s gonna lift you up.”
As a final question, I usually like to ask bands what they would do if they could accomplish anything without fail. Commonly musicians tells me that they would like their music to be heard by as many people as possible; they want to change music, or make it big, or make an impact. When the same question is directed at Rosco Bandana, however, the two singers murmur quietly to each other in the background of the call before answering.
“We just want to make people happy,” Pribyl, Jr., says finally. “Music has a lot of influence on a lot of aspects of your life. We want to just be a light to the world – and not darkness.”