In a music industry that constantly changes, a new band needs to show something spectacular in order to stand out. Betsy has done all this and more. Members of this band include Joe Rattanavong, Spencer Armada, Billiejoe Jones, Zack Field. In an exclusive interview with lead singer and guitar player Joe Rattanavong, I learned about the inspiration behind the music and how this band came together.
Fanboys Anonymous: First off, tell me about the members of your band.
Joe: I guess I'll start with our bass player, Spencer Armada. He's a big nerd with a sweet heart,
a grad student, and killer bass player. He's been with Betsy since the beginning. One of my best friends, Billie Jo Jones, is our guitar player. I like to think of him as a man of steel who plays guitar exceptionally well! No, but things changed a lot once he joined the band. Our sound became much fuller. There was a point when we first started the band where I was trying to do a lot of rhythm and lead stuff on my own. I got the job done, but it was just a much different sound. It was a little too raw for our liking. Zack Field is our drummer. He's been the most recent addition to the band; perhaps the most important. Not just because he's an amazing drummer but because we were stranded without one for a small while. He was a blessing. These guys are all amazing, and I'm super stoked to be playing with them.
FA: Your debut self-titled EP, Betsy, just released this month. What's your favorite song off the album and why?
Joe: I don't really have a favorite. I guess if I had to choose, it would be "Rocky Road," just because it's come such a long way from when I wrote it. Also, I feel like we all contributed something crucial to the song. Everyone wrote great parts. The drum and bass at the beginning really start the groove, and once Billie and I come in, it really comes full circle. There's also a trumpet section that Spencer and I wrote. It really added a lot of color to the song.
FA: What influences your music?
Joe: I guess the obvious answer is other people's music. I try and see a show at least once a month and really hone in the experience. You can always walk away being inspired after a great performance. Also, living in San Francisco has been a huge influence in my writing. Traveling and seeing people is always a great way for me to write music. Even traveling a short distance. I take the train every day and can write for an hour in my notebook just by sitting and thinking.
FA: Do you find that the San Francisco area responds well to indie artists? Are there any local venues or festivals you hope to play in?
Joe: Well, San Francisco is a really accepting town so, yes. However, the music scene here is sort of dragging right now. Bands and musicians are starting to relocate to other parts of the bay or California. Venues are shutting down. A lot of bands are moving to Oakland because it's just cheaper. San Francisco is so expensive, musicians can't afford to live here. I've noticed bigger names are moving to L.A. I don't know. I think most people just want new scenery. Yeah, now that this EP is out, we're going to start playing everywhere in town. We're a fresh band, so we'll have to start from the bottom. We're ready and excited.
FA: Tell me about the recording and mixing process.
Joe: We recorded at Hyde street studios here in San Francisco. It's a legendary studio. A lot of great bands have recorded here—Janis Joplin; Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; Green day recorded Insomniac there! Sun Kill Moon did Benji there! So, we felt really fortunate to be able to work in such a nice studio. We recorded all the tracks in one day with the help of our good friend and engineer Dan Shalev, who also produced and mixed the record at his house. It took us about 2 months, but that's because Dan's work is so tedious. We really took our time on it though, listening to different versions of the song every day until we knew which one was right. He did such a great job on this project. Without him, these songs wouldn't sound as good as they do.
FA: In your opinion, what sets you apart from other artists? What makes your music unique?
Joe: I don't know. I try not to think about that. Once I start thinking about it, I start questioning myself and my music. I've had this problem in the past. so I just do what I do. Luckily, the band is able to come up with good ideas that keep things interesting.
FA: What's your band's story? How did you come together and decide "Hey, let's start a band?"
Joe: It kind of just happened. I lived in a house full of musicians. My old roommate/best friend Nate White, who I played music with in Tennessee, started playing drums a lot, so I would find myself playing guitar with him all the time. Spencer is a close friend of ours, and he would come over and jam. I guess one thing led to another, and we started Betsy. Nate eventually started playing in a band called The Persons but was a big part of Betsy in the beginning.
Joe: Just playing shows and finishing our full length. We'll probably do a small tour soon but mainly just continue to write and play out.
FA: My favorite bands include Lydia and Copeland, which have been around for at least a decade. In ten years, do you hope to be together still or expanding into other projects to keep things fresh?
Joe: Keeping a band together for ten years would be a dream come true. I'll definitely be doing other projects though. Starting new things are always fun.
FA: My favorite song (that I've heard so far) is "Summer's Over," which seems to fit well with the fact that summer is ending. Can you tell me about how that song came about?
Joe: I actually wrote it at the end of last summer just noodling around on guitar in my room. I just had words flowing through my head, but the words are quite literal in reference to what I was doing at the moment, ha, I was just drinking by myself and thinking about everything. We had partied a lot that summer. It was ending. My friends were in the next room being loud and annoying. I don't know. It's a cheesy, simple song that I didn't think we would actually use, but it's a lot of fun.
FA: Lightsaber or a magic wand?
Joe: Ha, light saber. No question.
FA: DC or Marvel?
Joe: DC wins.
FA: Favorite movie?
Joe: I'm a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino. I love all the Kill Bills. I can't wait for the next one.
FA: Favorite TV show?
Joe: I'm watching Alpha House right now with John Goodman. I like a lot of older stuff though. Seinfeld is a go-to classic.
If you are a fan of musicians such as Green Day, 311, or Sublime, check out the songs below and leave a comment and let me know what you think.