Philadelphia indie rock/folk The End Of America, which consists of James Downes, Trevor Leonard and and Brendon Thomas, met on the road as solo artists while singing harmonies on each other’s songs. With voices that naturally blended together, the trio decided to form TEOA and have been traveling the country, recording in remote locations and touring together since. They have been on the industry’s radar since their 2010 debut album Steep Bay, which was followed up by 2012’s Shakey and their critically acclaimed self-titled album in 2016. With a band name that was inspired in part by Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’, a book that highlighted traveling the country in search of inspiration, the band has certainly found plenty to be inspired by. Praised for their live performances that highlight their songwriting, harmonies and stage banter, they have performed at a variety of east coast and midwest festivals and have opened for bands such as Brian Fallon, Mandolin Orange, Wild Child, Rocky Votolato and Beck. They recently released their latest single “Break Away”, the first in a series of songs they plan to release this year. Ditching the album format, the band plans to release a new song each month throughout the rest of 2019. The song sees the band headed in a new direction, blending acoustic instrumentation with drum loops and harmonies. “Break Away” is also available as a limited edition 7″ vinyl, featuring their version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” on the B-Side. With new music and tour dates on the horizon, the band is excited to have a new single to promote each month and to hit the road. Staff writer Emily May spoke recently to Downes via email, discussing the new single, their new sonic direction as a band and what’s next for them. You can follow The End Of America and stay up-to-date with all upcoming music, news and tour dates, as well as stream and purchase their music via the following links. Check out their video for “Break Away” below.
You recently released your latest single “Break Away”. What can you tell me about the song? I read that it was written and recorded on the spot during a break from tour. What do you feel led to the song to come together so quickly?
‘Break Away’ was written last year while we were on a break from a south eastern tour. We rented a cabin outside Asheville, NC to do some unwinding and playing. The place was awesome. Immediately, we moved in all our portable recording gear, may or may not have used a micro dose of psychedelic materials, and started recording anything that would make a sound. We made a drum loop of wine glasses, floor stomps, lap rhythms, washing machine bass drums, peepers (those little bugs in the woods), etc. It was magical. The moon was out, we were feeling focused and inspired. The music and lyrics all came together at the same time.
The song signals a departure for the band into a new direction sonically. What inspired this change for you? What are most excited about with regards to a new sound?
The song incorporates a loop based approach to the percussion and some of the melodic elements (like piano leads or banjo). The change came from wanting to expand out of traditional folk formats. We’ve always used our instrumentation a little differently (you will never hear Brendon playing claw hammer banjo), but using some new technology, we were able to add an exciting new energy. We respect the roots/bluegrass thing, but never strived to have that sound. For sure, some of our stuff sounds rootsie, but this transition is exciting to us because it adds some force to it. In the end, we’re punk rock guys who are obsessed with classic rock.
“Break Away” is also the beginning for the band in ditching an album format and releasing a single each month for the remainder of 2019. I’ve heard several other artists say that it is a singles market right now. Do you find that to be true? In the digital age that we currently live in, where the market is constantly flooded with new music, do you feel this approach will help you to keep a more consistent presence with listeners?
Full albums will most likely continue to have a stronger gravity than singles, but singles are the new culture. We’ve heard it said a million times that the landscape is different. People find/listen to music differently. It’s easier to be discovered in this new landscape when your releases are more frequent. You’ll be releasing a more constant stream of content and listeners will be more likely to see it and engage over an extended period, instead of a boost at the release of a full length, then a steep dive after a few weeks.
You have mentioned being inspired as a band by Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’ and have traveled across the US in search of inspiration. How do you feel that your travels have inspired you, both personally and artistically? Is there any particular place to which you’ve traveled that you found especially inspiring?
Traveling is like a drug for this band. We all love to do it and we all handle it well. We’ve been touring in different bands since 2002 and would love to keep doing it for years to come. Traveling gives you a perspective on life that would be impossible to form if you were never to leave your home region. Seeing things done differently opens channels in creativity and compassion. Going to the southern US always feels important. It’s so different down there (from the point of view of a New Englander). Going to the midwest, too. People are different, customs are a little different, but connecting on a personal level with folks who’s lives aren’t the same as yours is very fullfilling.
The three of you met on the road after singing harmonies on each other’s songs while on tour as solo artists. What can you tell me about those early days and deciding to form a band together? Having released your first album in 2010, how have you grown and changed as artists over the years?
We met in 2005 while playing shows with our other bands (Brendon – Foreverinmotion, Trev – Procession Came Opposite, James – Call It Arson). We noticed a common energy between us: we liked to hang, laugh, sing our asses off, party a little, but most of all, get shit done. We decided to book more shows together, then more tours. We gradually started singing gang vocals on each other’s songs. One day our buddy (and my Call It Arson bandmate) Jeff said, “You’d be idiots not to start a band.” So we did. The next day.
The band’s changes have been slow, but they’ve developed over the years, perhaps as a function of getting older. We are more focused these days. Focused on everything: having fun, playing well, making the band a legit touring machine, writing songs, etc. Everything we do now we do it like we mean it.
I read an article on the band that started out with “The End Of America is not some grand political statement…”! Do you ever get mistaken as a political band, based on your band name, especially in these tense political times.
Every show someone mentions that. At first we thought we should change the name. But after a while, we were excited about the opportunity to explain it, to engage folks. We’re grateful that people care enough to ask. It does sound bad ass if you think of it in a political sense, but really, it’s about exploring and pushing boundaries. For the people who get passed that hurdle, they become family. The folks who understand feel a sense of ownership. We’re stoked on that.
What can you tell me about the idea behind and making of your music video for “Break Away”? I really like how there are some clips in the video that look vintage, like scenes from a home movie!
The video itself was an experiment in video improvisation. We knew we needed something that looked great, but we didn’t want to get bogged down by the weight of planning out a narrative video. We wanted it to mirror the magic, spontaneity, and fun of how the song was recorded. The gent we called was Kirby Sybert (also a fantastic musician). Together we decided we’d rent another cabin and play the song and he’d film us. All elements were captured with minimal planning. Kirby is a true talent and we’re lucky to have worked with him.
You have a post on your FB page directed at your fans that says “We wanna encourage you to hit us up, start convos, share cool music and anything you can think of. We’re around”. What has it been like to grown your fan base in such an organic way and share that relationship with them? Why is it important to you to open yourselves up and connect in that way with your fans?
In the last four or five years, we’ve started to grow a really dedicated group of fans outside our immediate friend network. Because they came in slower (but steady) numbers, we were able to get to know all of them personally. From there, it’s branched out and now includes more folks than we can know personally, but a lot of these new folks are directly linked by the original network. That being the case, we’ve enjoyed awesome engagement on a lot of our platforms because people are chatting with their friends but using our pages as the medium. We adore that. And as people, the three of us have always been inclusive guys, the refugee table in the high school cafeteria, so to speak. It makes us happy to know that people can feel heard and respected in the TEOA circles.
You made a favorite songs for winter Spotify playlist. What inspired you to make the playlist? What would you say are some of your favorite songs for summer? Who are you listening to right now?
I love Spotify playlists. They’re the new mixtape. It’s also an interesting way to help people discover your music when you place songs with songs of artists you love. I’ve been cranking a lot of Pinegrove and Frank Ocean recently.
What can you tell me about your monthly video series a few years back called “TEOA Presents: The Decade Sessions” on which you performed different covers. How did the series originate? How did you go about choosing which songs to cover? Do you think you’ll ever resurrect the series?
We started that series in the gap between the recording and the release of our full length album. While we were manufacturing the physical release and getting press lined up, we needed something to keep the gears going. We got the idea to do covers of songs that are ten years old after realizing that one of our favorite songs, “White Daisy Passing” by Rocky Votolato was approaching the ten year mark. We chose the songs based on what we were listening to ten years before and went from there. We’d love to do it again when we have a little extra mental bandwidth.
You’ve done a series of vinyl release shows for “Break Away” this month, with the last one on June 22nd in New Haven, CT. What have some show highlights been so far?
Man, NYC and Philly were amazing. Such great energy. So good to see old friends and new faces. Much love.
How do you all juggle this band with your side projects? What do love about doing this band in addition to your other projects? Do you feel that staying so active musically helps you to stay motivated and creative? Does this band fulfill you in different ways?
The thing about side projects is to know when to put them on hold when the main squeeze needs the attention. The End of America is all our main projects, but being that we live so far from each other and have a diverse range of musical interests, we naturally get involved in a myriad of projects. Trev has Punchline and Valencia, I have Haunted Continents, Brendon has Foreverinmotion. It’s a great way to stay in the creative headspace when your bandmates are hundreds of miles away. It also makes TEOA more enriched. We allow for that space.
With exciting things on the horizon, what’s next for The End Of America? What are you most excited about going forward?
We’re most excited to release new music and to hit the road. Those are the pillars of this band. The idea of having a new single to promote every month is awesome. It creates opportunities for online content and of course, shows. Our calendar is pretty full for the next few months and we’re booking into 2020. Come out and say hey!