Catch up with Los Angeles-based Romance & Rebellion's David LaViola (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Aaron Medina (lead guitar, harmony vocals) and listen to the pop-rockers latest single, "Vanity Fair", off their debut self-titled EP, out now.
What brought you all together?
David: I was living back in New York - I'm originally from New York - and I moved out to Los Angeles and when I got my feet out here I decided to release an EP that I had actually recorded in Brooklyn and, in releasing it, it had gotten some really good attention from investors who had been in the mix for a long time and they wanted to hear more music. So, I popped into the studio and started recording more music while, at the same time, still doing solo singer-songwriter performance stuff, and that was getting real old and real boring; I really wanted to hear some of the arrangements that I was hearing when I was recording these songs, I wanted to hear that live, so I decided to pull together like-minded musicians: people that I thought would be into the music. I wasn't going to pay them, so they really had to believe in what I had going on, in terms of the music.
I started reaching out to people on Craigslist. I found Aaron Medina, who is the first guy that I linked up with, he's just a really technical guy, got a Master's degree in classical performance, and I sent him the tunes and we had gotten together with two acoustic guitars and just did some light harmonies and that really worked so we clicked. Then, shortly thereafter, I had found Kyle on the internet and Kyle had this really professional persona on the internet which is totally not like him in real life [laughs]. I didn't really think Kyle would be interested in playing with the group and so, on a whim, I shot him a cold email and attached a bunch of songs to it - just demos that I was doing - and I guess we have a very similar taste in music because he saw the potential immediately. It took maybe a couple of days for him to respond back, like, 'yeah, I'm interested'. Brandon (bass) is somebody that I've known for five years. We were in a band together back in New York and that band fell apart but we remained friends and, in being friends, he's taken me through some bad points in my life so when I moved out here to Los Angeles we kept in contact and we had tried a couple of bass players and it didn't work, so I was like, I know that this can work if I get Brandon out here. So I called Brandon and was like, 'look, do you have 500 bucks? Can you come and audition for the band?'. He came and he auditioned, it worked, he flew back to New York, got his shit together, and then drove out here from New York. So, that's how those four guys got together.
Then, maybe three months ago, I started having this feeling like, again, it just needed one more thing, just one more thing was missing. There was a guitar player who is a good friend of the band, his name is Alex Landsberger, and I just called his cell one day because I had this wild idea to get another guitar player. When you're in the studio and you're doing it there are so many guitars on track and I really wanted to try something new and interesting where you have three guitars and they're all playing singular notes and those notes move - it gives you this crazy, harmonic freedom where things can move; very classical. I listen to a lot of classical music and it's very antique-y and it moves a lot. By the time the four of us were actually together as a band - before Alex came along - I was already in the studio spending investment money to afford the EP which eventually would become our debut EP and that took 5 months to do. That's how we all got together!
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
David: Growing up, I started listening to The Beatles first - that was a no-brainer. I was a drummer first and so my drum instructor would throw his tastes on my tastes, so I listened to a lot of early 70's prog-rock, like Genesis and some King Crimson, and I guess that had some kind of effect on me. The Beatles first, then prog-rock and then, after all that prog-rock shit, I really wanted to simplify and wasn't finding any joy in listening to prog-rock music or music that was that complicated at all. I really sunk right back into liking The Beatles and started writing music like that, which is why, I think, in a lot of ways, our music has this instilled retro quality to it. So, I started writing Beatles-esque music and then, aside from that, I really like to listen to what they listened to, so I was really into Dion and bands of that time, Little Richard, Ray Charles. I was into Elvis - everyone's a huge fan of Elvis. I love that old school rock and roll and then, after all that, I was in a band in my formidable years and as we started to gravitate and be sculpted towards writing more pop music, it meant that I had to listen to more pop music which meant that I had a deeper appreciation for pop music; so I really started delving into Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars and Katy Perry - those are my first pop loves. Love The Strokes, growing up in New York, that was a big thing.
Today, it's a lot of classical music, to be honest with you, it's a lot of classical music and a variety of different composers. There are so many concertos and things like that that you really would have to sift through to get the solid feel for a composer, so I put on the Pandora Mozart station and then just kind of shuffle around. But that's pretty much what I listen to now. I know that the guys in the group are really about pop rock. I know Aaron listens to a lot of Weezer, he's a big fan of The Blue Album and The Green Album; Kyle loves pop rock so he's really into bands like New Found Glory; I know that we're all pretty interested in this new Panic! At The Disco record - it's super harmonic and really intense. I've also been hearing a lot about this group Marianas Trench, which is really vocal which I feel is somewhere that we live, as well. And then Brandon likes Blink-182 and Alex is a hard rock guy. It's a mixed bag that leans us more into the pop rock direction.
What words would you use to describe your sound?
Aaron: I think catchy is always a good word. Or stylish [laughs].
David: I would like to think that it's got a good amount of songwriting integrity; it's got a lot of attention to detail, definitely catchy, retro inspired. And pop, I think that's always out for debate, whether we fall into a pop rock genre or a rock genre. We constantly have this internal battle between, I want to err more on the pop side and certain components of the band want to err more on the rock side. But pop, pop rock, rock; it's all the same.
Aaron: Yeah, I think pop entails quality songwriting and catchy vocal melodies and I think rock implies a great live show, so I think we're just trying to fuse those together.
Where does your name, Romance & Rebellion, come from?
David: When we had first gotten together and it was Kyle, Aaron, and myself - before we had gotten Brandon - I had roped them in to being a part of the group and there had been no previous discussion about whether or not we were going to be 'David LaViola and something else' or like a completely different name. Once we settled on this notion of being a band that wasn't going to be just a giant ego-massager for me, I guess it fell on my shoulders. Some names were thrown around but, really, I wanted something that sounded like it could be a really super hip clothing brand. I feel like music and fashion have always been on the cusp of popular culture so we consider ourselves to be a very stylish band and I wanted to maintain that in all aspects of the band. So, I was like, okay, what sounds like a really cool clothing line that they'd sell at an H&M or a Hot Topic or Forever 21? And I figured, Romance & Rebellion, that was cool. The 'Romance', to me, just implies this eloquence and fragility and gives me all sorts of cool visuals. The 'Rebellion' aspect, it's really just the more aggressive edge, a lot of the lyrics have a lot to do with love withdrawal and coming out of those situations, or the shittier idiosyncrasies of love; that is apparent in our music and that's the rebellion aspect of it. Just the rawness, so the sweet with the raw.
Aaron: I think the 'Romance' is the pop and the 'Rebellion' is the rock.
David: The dichotomy of the two.
What were your inspirations behind your single, "Vanity Fair"?
David: "Vanity Fair" is one of the first songs that I wrote when I got to Los Angeles, before I even knew any of the guys in the group. I had had these interesting interactions with superficial women - and also men - and just the superficiality of living in Los Angeles - and I'm guilty of it too, I think we all are. I wanted to write a song because I had the chord changes and I had that little harpsichord melody and I thought that was really cool because, like I said, I've always been into classical music, but I thought that was popish - which is actually a word - and so I wanted to use that. I thought, what a cool idea for a song to have this quasi-baroque treatment done to it but make it a pop song about a poster girl, like the perfect girl. I wrote it about a myriad of different beautiful things; James Dean's in there, and billboards, and all that shit. So, there's a lot of superficial imagery but, in writing it, I passed it on to some different people, some women and some men that I knew, and I passed it onto this girl that I was interested in dating and she was like, 'is this really what you think? This is what you think you want in a women? That's fucking shallow you fucking bitch'.
David: And it was funny because I was like, 'holy shit, is this actually what I think and is this actually what I want?' and I started to realize that even though I didn't necessarily want to put these implications in there, I did; we put out this impossible standard that men expect women to live up to so, yeah. The video is actually more about the flipside to that, which is, in trying to achieve this perfect persona, you're losing yourself a little bit in that. That's a little peer into the truth behind "Vanity Fair".
Could you tell us more about your new self-titled EP?
Aaron: I think, for only being 6 songs, it's very eclectic. You have a little bit of everything. I have a lot of people back home and people in different parts of the country who I keep in touch with who bought the EP - and then friends of friends - and we get a lot of, 'this song I just love because it makes me want to dance,' and, 'I love this song because it makes me want to cry,' and, 'I love this song because I can't get it out of my head'. I like the full spectrum and I think it was produced really well, having Stefan Litrownik produce it, from One Direction and, who else did he work with?
David: He's done some work with One Direction, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Andy Grammer.
Aaron: In the recording process, he had really great ideas to help really lubricate the whole process.
David: He's a pop guy, so even if you're on the rock side of the spectrum, you still need to acknowledge that pop music is pretty much the benchmark for recorded music because it's what everyone hears: there isn't a person on the planet right now that hasn't heard some contemporary pop songs like fucking "Call Me Maybe" - which is infectious and disgusting [laughs] - or "Gangnam Style". It's all the same thing, it's all pop music, so you still need to acknowledge that and still try to strive making that an aspect of the music. And, he's in those circles so, to have him on-board, (a) it's like a resume builder and, (b) it's like, holy shit, we're actually working inside these circles with this guy. So, I suppose it's really a benchmark for your career.
Aaron: I think, above all, it's just a big first statement for us. It's really well produced and every band who's starting out and trying to do big things, they might put out an EP just to get their ideas down, but this feels like much more than just demos; this feels like - even though we'd like to do a full-length album in the near future - this is enough of a statement to get some attention from the industry. Production, quality-wise, and songwriting - everything.
How would you sum up this EP in one sentence?
David: I would say we try and give you the perfect blend of great songwriting with bubblegum catchy pop candy: it's as if you had a steak made of candy corn, so you still had all that savory delicious songwriting, but it's just sweet as fuck; just super sweet.
A: I would say, Jimmy Eat World, Weezer, and Katy Perry had the first three-way baby in history [laughs].
Do you have a favorite song from this EP to perform live?
Aaron: It's either gotta be "The James Hotel" - it's a fun one to get people clapping in the crowd and it's the one that people love to dance to - or "Next Best Thing" is just so catchy and has so many different elements throughout the song. So I think it's either "Next Best Thing" or "The James Hotel".
David: Yeah, I've always been a humongous fan of "Empty Space". It's my favorite song that I've ever written, so it's always going to, by default, beat the shit out of all the other songs. But I would say "Empty Space" or I really like "More Than Friends"; it's got this really mod, high school dance vibe which I like a lot, it's really fun.
Aaron: The scary part is, as far as our favorite song to play live, we're so excited to do a full-length album because we have another half a dozen really strong tunes and I would actually probably say a couple of those may be my favorite to play live. This [EP] is a really good statement, but it just shows how deep we go with the quality of songwriting.
David: It's deep, it's so deep.
Aaron: Can you ever really go too deep, is the question?
David: Yeah, you can.
What do you hope your listeners are able to take away from your music?
Aaron: I'm gonna quote, to keep it simple, Max Martin - who's written and co-written everything with Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift, everybody in the last 20 years - I think that Max Martin has said it best, music is supposed to be fun, it's supposed to make you feel good. We just hope people can listen to it and it makes their day better. They can put it on in the car, open the windows, take the top down, drive up to the PCH, and just have a good time.
David: That's nice and that's such a great notion. I think that, for me, if I was a listener - and you never know this about your artists because you're not the artist so you don't really know what their intentions are - for me, this is a longplay. We're not looking to have a couple of hits and then be one of those bands that sinks into obscurity and just rehashes the same shit in their 40s and late 30s. For us, and for me especially, my plan is to continue to constantly challenge the boundaries of where we can go pop-wise and with the songwriting. It's all this longplay investment; in the same way that Radiohead fans, they're Radiohead fans for life. They've liked everything from - obviously not Pablo Honey - but, after that, everyone is like, everything from OK Computer on, Radiohead fans are like, 'God, I love that'. If you keep listening, it's only going to get better. If this is where we're starting, it's only going to get better. Nobody is looking for this to hit and end now.
Is there anything you want to add?
David: I would say that, if you're reading this, I feel like there's about to be some really good things that are happening for us. If you want to be like, 'I knew them when!' or 'I got their EP before they were famous!' I feel like now would be a really good time to do that. I think there are some really, really, really promising things - obviously things that we can't talk about quite yet - that are on the horizon in the very not so distant future.