CATCH THE WAVE AND TAKE THE RIDE
A CONVERSATION WITH SMALL TOWN TITANS’ PHIL FREEMAN
Having released their sophomore full-length album, The Ride, on November 13, 2020, Small Town Titans have more than proved their worth as perhaps the most exciting and promising up-and-coming band. While best known for their viral cover of “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”, three piece rock outfit from Pennsylvania are redefining what it means to be a power trio in today’s musical climate. Speaking with lead singer and bassist, Phil Freeman, we dig deep into the making of The Ride and what exactly makes Small Town Titans such an exciting band in 2020.
The Ride is a relentless record that truly pumps the modern hard rock genre to life with larger than life riffs, gritty vibes, a relentless and explosive energy, and an innovative level of musicality and songwriting, ultimately making The Ride among the greatest releases this year. Having released the initial single, “The Man” in December, 2019, Freeman describes the long road that led to The Ride, “As far as the album is concerned, it kicked off with a rerecording of a song we had previously released, “Junkie For You (Hey Mama)” in Los Angeles with Howard Benson [Motörhead, Body Count, Halestorm] and team – that included Mike Plotnikoff [Buckcherry, Halestorm, My Chemical Romance] and Ted Jensen [Alice In Chains, Evanescence, Green Day]… That’s where the story started and we released it as a single in summer 2018 – right before Grinch went viral. That was the first single we released with no real intention of releasing an album at the time.” He continues, “As time went on, we ended up working with Grant McFarland and Carson Slovak at Atrium Audio, based out of Think Loud Studios… Their production quality is absolutely fantastic so nine of the ten songs were recorded with them and they’re locally based, which was super convenient, and they’re badass producers. It was quite the journey to record this album piece by piece. This process, with the intention of releasing an album, started in fall 2019 and we were knocking out three to four songs at a time, and then, March hit which delayed things exponentially. There were about five months where we couldn’t get into the studio to record and the studio had to close… When this was all said and done, we had to record the album at four different facilities – leave it to COVID to make things pretty wild and it makes the title worthy; I think the title fits what we had to do to make this record, let alone all we’ve been through as a band.” Despite these changes, the album remains cohesive, as if it was recorded within a short period of time in the same room, Freeman humbly comments, “that’s a huge testament to the team we worked with.”
Consisting of nine originals and a single cover, I was curious as to why the band chose to cover “Sex And Candy”, the 1997 hit from Marcy Playground, Freeman explains, “that one goes out to Alan Stone – we stole it from you bro, sorry! I love his work, I think he’s a badass singer-songwriter and he performed an acoustic version of this cover a few years ago and the emotion and energy he put into it gave us no choice, we had to cover it… We tried it live ourself and our fans loved it. The recording is pretty faithful to how we’ve been performing it live, it was a jam song and very stripped down compared to what we’re doing on the rest of the record.” While he couldn’t choose a favourite song from the ten tracks from The Ride – “that’s like asking a parent to pick a favourite child; even if you have a favourite, you don’t say your favourite” he exclaims with a laugh – we did focus on “The Ride”, the eight-minute epic that closes the record. “I had a very inspirational writing session after seeing the Foo Fighters in 2018 and I wrote at least the chorus after that” Freeman tells me. “Not that it’s my favourite, but I think it is a summary of what everyone has been through this year and it is a summary of what the band has been through for the last decade.” Digging deeper, Freeman adds, “that opening riff is something Ben [Guiles] had written as far back as high school, long before this band and he’s always been playing it.” He further adds, “we decided this was gonna be the long haul, no holds barred, no limitations – the one where we decided not to worry about time limits or anything – it was just a lot of fun to write and record… The lyrics were written long before the pandemic hit, and there was a moment where Jonny’s [Ross] mother had a scare and, thank god, it wasn’t, but I remember Jonny saying those words meant so much more to him having had that scare… Isn’t it interesting that you’ll read a book that doesn’t have an impact on you at the time, but after you observed more and lived more, you’ll go back and it takes on a whole new meaning? It’s like that, it takes a life of its own, it has its own energy and we have a stake in it, but it’s the people’s song now.”
Behind the scenes, Small Town Titans remain among the most hard-working bands you’ll find. From their regular updates via their socials and email list, this is something that has been very apparent to their audience as the band simply refuses to stay still as they look for innovative ways to bring their music to life in engaging ways with Freeman commenting, “there are no days off.” Since signing with AntiFragile Music earlier this year, he continues, “it takes a village, it really does. It’s out team – it’s our manager, it’s our engineers, it’s the studios we record at, it’s the marketing team, it’s the record label, it’s our road manager – we’re immensely lucky to work with such a great team.” As a result, beyond their original music, Small Town Titans have become equally known for their viral covers – from “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” (“the thing that brought us to the dance” as Freeman fondly refers to it), to Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”, and even Temple Of The Dog’s “Hunger Strike” featuring Matt James of Blacktop Mojo (“Matt is my boy!” Freeman exclaims at the sheer mention of this cover). Their videos are recorded and filmed professionally and their live streams are bound to give off the appearance of a top of the line rock show. Their work ethic is both admirable and inspiring as something all musicians should take note from as it certainly noticed by their audience.
Having released a monumental record – an album that, by any standards from the past, should break Small Town Titans into the upper echelons of upcoming hard rock – Freeman is humble and reflective. Grateful for the support he and his band have seen and the overwhelming response to The Ride from their audience, he speaks with a sense of hopefulness for the coming year, stating, “I hope 2021 is the year we can all get together again. I hope we can live up to our promise and celebrate this album on stage with everyone together”. His wish to hit the road is felt across the entire industry right now, but his thoughts are voiced with a greater sense of care for the well being of his band and his team. Having earned the right to play the reckless rockstar of decades past, Freeman laments, “I get to live the rockstar life through getting to create art”. It is his confidence in this and his passion for his craft that shines bright throughout his stunning vocal performance on The Ride. With that, I cannot praise The Ride enough. Small Town Titans have delivered gold on their latest full-length album, and you can join them in celebrating their release with their upcoming live stream release party on December 19.