An Interview with Night Drive


Night Drive is quite possibly the hottest new band to arise out of Austin in 2013. They’ve already met with success both online and on the touring circuit, and they show no signs of slowing down. Daniel Valle and Carter Delloro, from OVRLD, sat down with Rodney Connell and Brandon Duhon, Night Drive’s two members, for a chat about Night Drive’s brief past and enchanting present. You can see them live on Wednesday, January 15th at the Spiderhouse Ballroom with The Octopus Project and the Black and White Years, as part of the Red Bull Sound Select series. RSVP now for discounted tickets.

OVRLD: What’s the origin story for you guys? I know Rodney had MoTel Aviv before this. Where were you, Brandon?

Brandon Duhon: I was in a band called Glasnost, and we played some shows together [with MoTel Aviv]. I was the singer of my band out of necessity, because we couldn’t find anybody we liked. Then we played a show with them and I was like, “Fuck, that’s the singer I wanted.” I was originally the drummer, and then our bands kind of broke up around the same time, and we decided it was some synchronicity we needed to act on.

O: So the line on your FB page is not real [Rodney and Brandon began writing together after the tragic death of a young woman they both were dating, unknowingly at the same time.]?

Rodney Connell: No, it is true.

BD: Yeah, all of this was happening together.

O: What happened there?

RC: It’s a little sensitive.

BD: Since it involves other people, it’s kind of a weird thing to talk about.

O: We don’t have to get into details, but what’s the public line about it? How much do you feel comfortable sharing?

RC: I feel like Brandon and I were somewhat rivals to a degree…

O: Romantic rivals?

RC: and he and I are now collaborators.

O: So from tragedy rose this really positive entity.

RC: We live in separate cities. I live in Austin, [Brandon] lives in Houston. If he and I didn’t write as quickly and as sharply, it would be a waste of both of our time. The fact that we live in separate cities is already a barricade enough.

BD: You know, “No Plans” was the first track we wrote when we got together in the studio to decide if our collaboration worked. That song was literally the first day we got together and we were like, “Let’s see if this comes together.”

O: How has your writing process developed? Are you sending tracks back and forth?

BD: It’s a multitude of different ways.

RC: That’s kind of the beauty of technology.

O: Is there a difference when you’re writing together in the same physical space?

RC: It’s way better. I only say that because I feel like we have an opportunity to get a lot done.

BD: It’s definitely faster that way.

RC: Brandon sends me music constantly, and I can get inspired by it. I love it. But there’s no doubt that we make the most of our time when we’re in the same room together. That’s exactly what I was talking about…the fact that we live in two separate cities is a real obstacle. I travel to Houston constantly for recording, for rehearsals.

BD: Yeah, the recording studio is in Houston.

O: So it’s more [Rodney] going to Houston than [Brandon] coming to Austin?

RC: Absolutely. Which has been a fun, interesting ride for me. MoTel Aviv practiced in my backyard, so everybody came to my house and I would just walk into my backyard and go to band practice. Now I travel 2.5 hours to go to band practice. On that drive I’m getting in the mindset of going to work on shit. It’s been actually kind of a pleasure in a weird way.

O: Onstage, [Brandon is] controlling the instrumental side of things, and [Rodney is] controlling the lyrics and melody. Does it break out that way in the songwriting process?

BD: It kind of varies. I’d say a lot of the times, maybe I’ll bring the sort of initial thing, but once Rodney brings in the vocals, it can kind of go any direction from there.

O: Have you seen some of the songs change fairly dramatically?

BD: Especially structure-wise. If Rodney has some really solid vocal part, we have to restructure to build around that.

O: When you guys were starting out the group, did you have a sense of how you wanted to sound? You guys arrived with a very distinct sound. Did you talk about that or was that natural?

BD: That’s kind of cool to hear that. That was definitely not shot at, at all. It was a 50/50 meeting of our previous bands.

RC: Even that is kind of an accident. It wasn’t like we were, “Oh, let’s try to meld these two ideas together.” I think just intuitively Brandon and I like a lot of the same stuff and we like a lot of the same aesthetic sounds. It was an easy meeting of the minds.

BD: Yeah, I guess it was more of an intuitive thing. We both like the same amount of pop-ness and the same amount of weirdness and the same ratio of dancey-ness. It kind of worked out.

O: Are there other bands out right now that you feel like have the same taste and vision as you?

BD: I feel like right now there’s a little bit of a division between bands that do pop stuff and bands that do dance stuff for the club. There’s a tempo that’s a club tempo, and then there’s the pop tempo which can be wherever you want, because it’s not meant to be played [at the club]. We’re trying to buck all those conventions and do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

My day job is doing DJ stuff, and when somebody puts out a song and I download it and it’s 130 [beats per minute], then I know it’s meant to be played in the club. They wrote this to be played in a club. A lot of stuff we’ll do is like 150 BPM or 160 BPM; there’s no way you could actually play it in a club, but both of us think a lot of that stuff is super dancey. It’s this arbitrary decision that this is going to be what’s played in a dance club, so we decided that we’re going to mix those ingredients up a bit.

O: So you guys have come a very long way in your digital presence. Very quickly you’ve found success on Facebook and you’ve been on Hype Machine several times…do you feel like you’re starting to see success or do you feel just like a local band playing random shows?

RC: We actually don’t even feel like a local band. We don’t play in Austin or Houston very often.

BD: This month is going to be the most we’ve played in Austin since we started.

RC: We hardly ever play in Austin. We probably play more in Houston.

BD: Because we happen to be in Houston more often.

RC: We’ve made it not about growing locally and trying to play, play, play, play, play. Trying to hit the clubs and build that way. We release stuff and fortunately, it’s taken off more web-wise. So our fan base is all over the place. We’ve actually played a lot on the West Coast, and the East Coast.

O: It sounds like West Coast-friendly music.

BD: It has definitely been West Coast-friendly. I feel like we could both just constantly tour the West Coast.

O: Does that web success translate to shows? Do you feel it at shows?

BD: From our first show on. Our first show was in San Diego. Had that one not gone as well as it did…it was people singing our lyrics. That was a super awesome experience. The whole West Coast experience was great. Just to find out that there’s people actually wanting to hear this sort of particular niche that we’re doing.

RC: The reality is that we’re from here and there’s an odd feeling of like, we haven’t really done many Austin shows. Our town doesn’t quite know who the fuck we are. For past bands, that would have been a really important thing. Not that it’s not still important, but it’s just a different avenue.

O: Have you experienced a response from beyond North America, even?

RC: Almost all the bands we’ve toured with have been from Australia, Russia, from France.

BD: Actually every band we’ve toured with has been from outside the U.S.

RC: The plan for this year is to travel abroad.

O: It seems like the kind of stuff Europeans would love.

BD: That’s definitely on the radar. We would love to travel to Europe, because as far as we can tell from the people we’ve played with, it would definitely appeal to people there.

O: Is that the big goal for this year then? European tour?

BD: One of many.

O: What else can we expect in the next year?

RC: We’re going to release an album. We have some singles coming up really soon. We have a music video that’s coming out from the EP that we put out back in the fall. There’s a single coming out still from that on the first of February.

BD: And we recorded some alternate versions of the EP tracks for a movie that’s coming out really soon.

O: Like a movie movie?

RC: It comes out on the 31st.

O: It seems like you guys are in the electro pop space right now, and with the remix culture of that space, how has it been collaborating and doing remixes?

BD: Us doing remixes for other people has been good. I think it started out because we were working with Vitalic and a lot of the remixes that we did were for people who were on the Vitalic label. That’s always a fun thing because a lot of times it’s people who are in a genre that don’t necessarily match with what we’re doing so we kind of are like, “How can we spin this and make it our thing?” It’s a fun experiement.

RC: You always want to try to put your own touch on it. That’s kind of the main thing with doing a remix.

BD: Like the one I think of is that Steel Phantoms band, because if you hear the original it has no resemblance at all to the remix we did. When we heard it we were like, “Alright, we’ve gotta make this our thing. How do we do that?”

RC: I think remixes are like really fun challenges, really enjoyable.

BD: It’s like a hyena. You’ve gotta scavenge the pieces and reconstruct it in your own way.

O: How do you guys like performing as a two-piece? You’ve been in bigger bands in the past.

BD: It’s been awesome. We initially recruited some other members. Mostly because of Rodney putting his foot down, which I’m in hindsight super thankful for, because it’s been so much better that it’s been a two-piece. It was people who we personally really liked but weren’t quite the right fit. You shouldn’t go forward unless it’s somebody who’s a perfect fit.

RC: This was always Brandon and I’s brain child. When we were writing songs, the initial idea was that we were going to put a band around it. So we kind of went along with the idea that it was time to add a bass player and a drummer or something. And then the reality became that it was actually more people, more problems, more whatever. Quite frankly, this feels right just as it is. Kind of going back to your point. We both came from full bands, and it was kind of refreshing to do something that felt a little bit more like an art project. It felt a little bit more unorthodox.

We’ve both been in plenty of bands, and it was like, “Let’s really just do what we want to do.” You have to weigh the balance of having a live band and not having a live band, and whatever we’re missing from that, let’s figure out how to make that really work.

BD: It doesn’t have to adhere to the way you think something has to be. At first that’s what we thought. “Well, alright, we’ve gotta bring on a drummer and a bassist and that’s just the way it has to be.” But at some point we were like, “Actually, that doesn’t have to be the way it’s gotta be.” And that has kind of worked out better for us. For any other bands, that’s the message to take home. There isn’t any particular way it’s gotta be.

RC: Yeah, you can do it however you want. It’s been somewhat liberating in that way. You have pros and cons to it regardless, but you can build upon those things. It;s just made us, oddly enough, better at what we do because it is just the two of us. We have to figure out how to really make it work.

BD: And I think that’s another way that it sort of helped. It’s good to hear that the EP has this coherent feel to it, which really wasn’t even our aim. When we were getting together and writing stuff, it was kind of a wide spectrum of stuff, and we just sort of picked the ones that appealed to us most. I think that was another reason we were a little hesitant to bring people on board. We really loved what we were doing and we thought, “If we throw another ingredient into the mix, it might not be something we like as much. We’re liking where we are right now, so let’s just stay in this a little bit longer.”