It has been an incredible three years for Vintage Trouble. The band, which blends the seductive simplicity of 50s and 60s R&B with Ty Taylor’s rich soulful vocals, have been swept across the globe in an incredible short span of time. After securing residencies in their hometown of Los Angeles and in the wake of their debut album, the band’s fortunes were transformed, as they became the go to support band for The Who, Bon Jovi, Brian May and The Rolling Stones.
Nalle Colt is the VT’s lead guitarist. Born in Malmo, Sweden and transplanted to California, he has a fascinating story to tell: as one childhood dream was dashed, a new trajectory in life emerged. In this exclusive interview with Guitar Planet, Nalle talks about the struggles of starting a rhythm and blues band in Los Angeles, why he’s proud to embrace a vintage sound in a modern age, and how his bar room sound became a stadium conquering proposition.
But we start at the beginning by asking the most important question of all:
So when did you first decide to pick up the electric guitar and was it your first musical love?
Oh yeah, it truly was. I think I was about 13 years old. I was a big skateboarder, I was actually competing professionally, and I got this really, really bad injury. I ended up bed ridden for a long time, and I just knew I wanted to play guitar so I decided to trade one of my skateboards for my first electric guitar.
Do you still have it?
No I really wish I did. I think it was a Harmony guitar, I can’t really remember the name of it, but it was totally whacked out - I could never really get it in tune but the action was just insane on it. I got it with a cool little amplifier. I could make a lot of noise, get a lot of feedback, it was really cool.
Ah it’s interesting that you were a skateboarder growing up. So who were the artists who inspired you back then, were you always a blues and soul guy or is this a later in life revelation?
Well, it’s kind of crazy. I grew up with my Dad who’s a big Johnny Cash fan and there was always music on in the house. I did hear The Beatles, but coming from Sweden I didn’t really understand English, but something, just intrigued me about that sound.
Then as a skateboarder I started to get my first real taste of punk music, you know, Black Flag and all that stuff was around. But to be honest the real reason I started to play guitar was “She Loves You” by The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. You must remember when you were a kid and you first hear that sound, and it was almost like a sexual sound, and you just want to do that and hear that again. So it was Jimi’s energy and that feeling combined with hearing “She Loves You”.
So is there an alternate dimension where you could have been in a skater punk band?
That could probably have happened. I got caught up in it at a very young age. I just did it as a freedom thing, but when I became a professional it took me away from the joy of it. Then suddenly I was captured, having to compete everywhere, and I lost the fire for it, but luckily the guitar was there. As soon as I learnt a few chords, I couldn’t stop. I just ended up sitting in my room because I couldn’t stop playing. You know when you can get so wrapped up in something, when you have fire, you just can’t stop. I’d come home everyday and start playing.
How did you get from Malmo to the US? That would be a life changing decision for a lot of people.
I know. The first reason was skateboarding. As a kid I would buy all these skating magazines and there would be pictures of Venice Beach with its palm trees and outside skate parks, and as a kid I would cut out the pictures. I had an early, early dream to get to California and Venice Beach, and I did it!
In Sweden, growing up, there was not much music around, there was very little to do. Then there was this music school in California, I’m sure you’ve heard of it, the Musicians Institute, MI, and of course once I got to Los Angeles I just couldn’t leave.
So was Vintage Trouble your first proper band?
We have all been in multiple bands. California is like a mecca of music, you have so many options – oh my God I had so many bands, you just have an idea and you hope it will fly, but it doesn’t always come together.
That leads to the obvious question, how did you get Vintage Trouble together?
We started about three years ago and it’s great, because I had been playing for a few years with Ty Taylor in a band called Ghost Hounds. It was a really big band (lots of members) and me and Ty had this goal to play live a lot, we just couldn’t make everyone commit to turn up consistently. Still it was our goal to make this our lives and to play live as much as possible. Luckily, we left the band and ran into Richard and Rick and they had the same desire.
Richard has a great rehearsal studio in his house in Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles. Basically we just started playing and it happened so quickly. We had lots of little song ideas that were floating around and once we met up, it was just an easy road to take.
So did you immediately want to record or were you just primarily a live concern?
You know what, it was great with this band. We melted together right away. We had shows after three weeks, we thought it was better to just get out there and play live, and figure things out in front of an audience rather than standing in a studio revamping shit over and over again. There’s something about interacting with a live audience, you seem to write different music. If you work on stuff in a studio you’ll make it very difficult for yourself, and you’ll end up thinking, “oh my God, I can’t play this live”.
So for us our music needed to stand for simplicity, it was almost our motto in the band that we had to be able to do this stuff straight up live. I have a friend, Eric Kretz, who is the drummer for Stone Temple Pilots, and he owned a great recording studio in LA. After we’d been together for 3 months, we thought it would be a good idea to go down and just track a few songs. We had no intention of making an album at all. It was basically go down to the studio, set up our stuff in a circle, do what we do live and see where we’re at. You know, listen to it back, see how we could improve, but we actually ended up tracking and that’s Bombshelter Sessions.
In a way, that studio was a shelter from the world and we just ran in there and did that. We’ve been recording some more material, but we always do it that way now. No click track, we just run in there and do it. Set up and play. Do a few takes and see what flies.
Now Ty Taylor has such a fantastic soul and gospel infused vocal, but to get the most out of his voice you have to play at a more considered pace. What kind of challenge does that present for you as a guitarist because you have quite a lot of space to fill and obviously you don’t want to overshadow your lead vocalist?
Yeah exactly, that was the idea with the band. Once we got everyone together and we had the chance to see what everyone could do, we could play to our strengths. For example Richard, I love his approach to drumming, I have this 680 guitar idea and I’ll throw it to him, and he’ll give me something completely different back, and it opens your mind up and gives you a different way of playing. Rick is an amazing bass player; he almost fills the role of both bass and rhythm guitar.
So for me I like to think of my guitar as a bridge between lead guitar and horn and keyboard parts. I wanna leave as much space as I can, I love that old rhythm and blues music, where you don’t feel pressured to fill up every little bit of room. With Ty’s voice being so big you just don’t need it, you know. The space on our record means you can really see what everyone can do. I love the fact that I can just sit in the mix and just really be in it.
Do you still find room to express yourself as a player though?
Oh, oh yeah! It works both ways, because there is all this space, you can give a lot of variety of feels to the track. Ty will just come in with a melody and I can just structure the chord structure around it, and there’s just so many different places to go with it. We feel very free. We don’t set any limits to what we do. What I listen to every day is really important to me, so I try and feed myself the right kind of music to inspire me.
So does that mean your next album could sound different depending on what you’ve been listening to?
Well we’re still the same band with the same energy, and we’re not adding any members, but we’ve toured the whole world. We played huge stages, every where, and obviously playing with people like The Who, Brian May and The Rolling Stones, you get this different energy and it rubs off on your performance.
I watched The Who play 51 times and seeing Pete Townshend on stage every night does really leave a mark. So I do think there will be some surprises on the new record, because we’ve learnt more and more about how to play with each other as a band. I see new things in my bandmates, Rick and Richard, we have new ideas. For me it’s all about personality, having a distinct personality with my playing, and really expressing myself.
It’s interesting that you brought up The Who, because supporting a band of that stature means playing huge arenas but when I think about Vintage Trouble’s sound, I picture a more intimate, almost smoky setting – if that makes sense. So was it easy playing on those stages, did it suit your sound?
When we got to the UK we played on the Jools Holland Show and we went on a little three-week tour with Brian May – and that was big for us. It was little 2,500 seat venues, but it felt huge. Then we get a call suddenly and Bon Jovi want us to come with them on an entire stadium tour. So we flew up to Edinburgh for our first show and it was incredible.
You’re standing in front of 60,000 people and hitting that big A-chord, ah it’s incredible. I was using these little 15-watt amps, little tweed amps, and I was like “How is this going to work?”
I don’t know. Our set up is very small. We’re like a blues bar band. We had our two tiny amps and a drum set, but it worked out so well, and we’ve been given the opportunity to support these incredible bands: Lenny Kravitz, Brian May, Bon Jovi, The Who, and The Rolling Stones. So we found a way to lock in right away. We stay tight on stage and we set up like we’re in a small blues bar. So everything stays really tight even if you’re on this humungous stage.
We learn quickly. If you are supporting a big act you have 30 minutes to prove yourself and you just have to hit it right away. We’ve been very lucky. We adapted to it really quick. It still feels intimate to us. We’ve found a way to make these big shows our own.
We spoke to Rival Sons last year and they didn’t like the idea that, just because they’re influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin and The Who, they were consistently being labelled “classic rock”.
Now the name Vintage Trouble suggests that you’re more at peace with your connection to music’s past, but how do you feel about being labelled “retro” or “classic” – is that something you embrace and do you think that’s fair?
I totally understand what we are. The name kind of says it itself. I’m proud to say I listen mostly to 50s rhythm and soul music, that’s where we get most of our inspiration. I do listen to new musicians, especially the ones we meet on the road, and I don’t mind it all.
On tour we meet a new generation of kids and a lot of them haven’t heard about Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Ike & Tina Turner, Lightening Hopkins or even Muddy Waters. So it’s cool, we spend a lot of time talking to our fans, the “troublemakers”, on Facebook and Twitter and we love chatting with them about old music. We love introducing our fans to this old music because it’s new to them.
We’re proud of it. There’s a music that disappeared too quickly, especially in the world we’re living in, where everything moves so quickly and everything is digitized, and everything needs to have a beat and a click track. Whereas we love how loose old music was, how jumpy and jiving it was, how rough and easy it was –that live energy.
I don’t consider myself a guitar virtuoso; I’m a straight-ahead player. I have some punk influences, so it can be a little whacky and little out of tune, but that’s okay. It brings me so much joy.
Do I like that we’re being referenced as a “retro band”? Probably not, because it sounds dull for some reason, but we’re definitely not that.
I see, so when you aimed to recreate the 50s soul recording techniques in studio, was it because you wanted to sound authentic or were you trying to avoid an ultra-clean modern production sound?
For me, I’ve been in a lot of recording session and there’s like 16 microphones on the drums and when you listen back to it, it just sounds so flat. I love the 50s recordings where they used one mono mic on the drums and it sounds amazing. We try to keep it simple, because we love that sound, I’ve never enjoyed the ultra-high def sound on music. It’s easier to make the guitar amps breathe and work if you use less, and embrace ambient sound.
We still haven’t found our ideal sound, 100% yet. We’re up for working with great producers and engineers who can master that sound, because it’s difficult to find these days. It’s really hard to find studios who are willing to make these ultra simple recordings. That’s why I love that so many studios are moving and people are making music at home, building their own studios and using their limitations as something positive.
You touched on it earlier, but I was interested to find out how you work as a songwriting unit and if you have a “leader”?
Some of the songs from Bombshelter Sessions were based on us sitting at home with Garage Band and sorting out riffs and a whole load of different ideas. Now we’re playing so much live, sound check time has become songwriting time. That’s when everyone brings out their new ideas. I also bring an acoustic guitar on the tour bus and we have our laptops and iPhones so we can quickly throw it down. Then we bring those ideas to sound check.
Our ideas can come from anywhere. Sometimes we’re doing a sound check and Richard will throw down a beat and I’ll be like “Oh my god, what was that!” and we track it and throw a guitar over it. Sometimes Ty walks into the bus singing a melody and we’ll just record it on iPhone real quick and go from there. We are really good friends and we live with each other on the road, so ideas are always being thrown around.
Actually, I really want to say this to readers and listeners in general: you can have the most simple guitar idea and I know you’ll say: “that’s so simple, I’ll remember that” – and then 10 minutes later you’ve completely forgotten it. It could have been a million dollar riff! Record everything, you might think you’ll remember it, but you often lose that certain feel – that’s why I always walk around with a recording device because you never know when you’re going to forget it.
I can 100% endorse that, whenever I get a writing idea, I immediately jot it down in notes on iPhone – because you lose so many ideas to memory, especially late at night.
Isn’t it true though? These ideas just pass away because you’re so certain you’ll remember them. I end up walking around humming the drum parts hoping I can recreate the mood or state of mind I was in, but it normally doesn’t work. Especially as we’re travelling the world, this has become such a great way to make new music, because we’re breathing in inspiration all the time.
Now there’s one last thing I wanted to discuss and that’s California. In 2013 we tend to think of the state as a hot bed for sunshine indie and So-Cal punk, but what’s it like for a blues and soul band?
That’s an interesting question, because it’s so sad. LA and California were known as the music mecca of the world, but it kind of flattened out. There were so many musicians there, wanting to make great music, but the opportunities had become so slim.
I really, really wanted to play live, but you might only get a gig like once a month. So we started to try and get these residencies in places that might not even have music – like restaurants – hell we actually did play restaurants sometimes. So we’d just set up and play, and it really caught on, because these nights would sell out.
It’s really great because when we come back to LA now we see lots of new bands doing residencies and we’re really happy that we could inspire in this way.
Los Angeles is a really fantastic place. There is so much music there, but everyone just needed to get together and get inspired to create it.
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