Q&A with Cincinnati band “Freak Mythology”

Freak Mythology will be playing a show this Friday, Dec. 1st at Casa Nueva alongside fellow bands “In the Pines” and “Blue Moth”. The show begins at 10 p.m., and there will be a $3 cover at the door.

Cincinnati band Freak Mythology has been experimenting with a fusion of rock, funk, pop, and psychedelic music since they formed in high school 6 years ago. Blending classic rock nostalgia with a youthful, energetic style, Freak Mythology has become a uniquely versatile and fresh band on the local music scene. Though half of the band currently resides here in Athens, and the other half in Cincinnati, they’ve been able to maintain their strength and spirit through college-and now they’re ready to share their music with the world.

Freak Mythology released their debut self-titled album in April, 2017 and found quick and wide-ranging success. After winning a Battle of the Bands competition this summer in Cincinnati, they received a cash prize and free studio time at one of Cincinnati’s top recording studios, Gwynne Sound, where they’ll be working to record their second album.

Comprised of four musicians- Ryan Shephard (guitar, vocals), Brad Wehlitz (guitar, vocals), Caroline Joseph (bass, vocals), and Travis Hanna (percussion), Freak Mythology has been expanding fast and for a reason. Their talent and passion is apparent, and their fluid, exploratory quality of playing has opened up doors to touring, recording, and growing together as a band.

We interviewed Ryan Shephard and Travis Hanna about the band. Here’s what we learned:

Speakeasy: How long have you each been playing music, and how did you get your start as a band?

Ryan: We’ve all been playing most of our lives, but we’ve been a band for around 6 years. High school brought us together, and we’re still together through college.

Travis: Well I got my first drum set Christmas of 2006 and I haven’t been able to put it down. Every day for 11 years I just sit down and play. It wasn’t until 7th grade when I met Brad and Ryan and realized they played guitar and had the same music interests in me, so I obviously wanted to jam with them. Ryan and I also were in the Jazz Bands throughout high school and we were able to work on our improvisational skills and composing skills.

Speakeasy: How have you developed and grown as a band since you formed in 2012?

Ryan: We’ve been through a lot of changes. It started with lineup changes, we’re currently on our 3rd bass player, and she fits in perfectly. I think our sound changed along the way from us learning how each other like to play and doing our best to complement our differences stylistically and make the best sound we could.

Travis: We originally started out as a total jam band and we never really thought much of it. We would get together, start playing something someone just came up with and we would jam to it for like two hours. As we found our niche and sound, we started focusing more on compositions and ideas for songs rather than having a psychedelic free for all. Our first song we ever fully wrote is our last song on the album (Where Does the Time Go). We never had a thing for writing lyrics but we knew it was necessary, so we just started looking at life and try and illustrate our struggles or thoughts in a few lines of verses and choruses.

Speakeasy: You described your music as a “psychedelic and funk pop rock experiment”… Can you elaborate more on that?

Ryan: Early on, we started out completely psychedelic but had aspirations to make things a bit more melodic and upbeat, which we took on from our influences in funk and pop music. At this point, we don’t really like to define ourselves into any specific genre, but broadly speaking, I’d say we’re a rock and roll band that likes to make classic sounding songs with a funky twist. At the same time, we’re completely experimenting. Every bands sound naturally changes over time and I think we’re just kind of seeing where it takes us.

Travis: We have a large variety of music that we listen to. We all have our different bands and tastes that we each uniquely bring to the table but we all have the same vision in mind: back to basics. We love the old Neil Young recordings and Grateful Dead bootlegs but at the same time, we always find ourselves listening to the Talking Heads or the Cure. We try to find ways to combine the sounds in an organic way so it has that new sound but also has a throwback feel to it. We want the younger generations to be able to find it interesting and groovy while the older generations listen to it and hopefully have sense of nostalgia.

Speakeasy: What was the process like in making your first album? What kind of sound were you going for?

Ryan: The songwriting process took around 5 years. We were just never happy with it fully until our sophomore year in college. Some of those songs were written when we were just 16 years old. Once we were ready to record, we decided we wanted to go for a classic vibe. The whole album was recorded via live tracking, and then we overdubbed a few parts in the studio later on. All in all, it took us about 3 months to record and be happy with the record.

Travis: Making the first album was a long but incredibly enjoyable process for us. We started writing a few of them early in high school (House Arrest, Haunting Me, Where Does the Time Go?) and a few of them post-graduation. In high school we talked about releasing the album but we just didn’t have enough songs and we didn’t want to make filler songs that wouldn’t stand out. When we graduated, we had no idea if the band was going to continue. Of course we all wanted to but Brad and Ryan moved to Athens and I was stuck in Cincinnati. After our first year of college, we had a whole lot more inspiration, a lot of new experiences, new outlooks on life, and we were just in a different time in our life. Once they came back from Athens, the first thing we did was play. During that summer we wrote the rest of the songs (Wake Up, Surge, Get Goin’, Headed Out) and recorded them. Generally, the writing was very organic. Once we had an idea rolling it was like we couldn’t stop until it was finished. After we would have the music we would then write the lyrics depending on how the music felt for us. When I think of the sound that we were going for, I was thinking of the everyday average Joe, just like me. I want our music to relate to everyone that listens to it. Not only do I want people to listen to it, but I want people to connect to it on a deeper level. I want people to hear our words and music and directly relate it to their lives. I want people to hear one of our songs and believe that we wrote it for them because it hit so close to home. Those are always the songs that I remember.

Speakeasy: Are you still in the process of recording your second album? If so, when is its projected release? And in your opinion, how does this album compare to the first?

Ryan: We actually are still finishing up the writing process. Brad (lead singer) and I live in Athens while Travis (drummer) and Caroline (Bass player) live in Cincinnati, so it’s been difficult getting everyone together to write and plan out recording time. We won a Battle of the Bands competition in August where we won some free studio time at one of the top studios in Cincinnati (Gwynne Sound), and we plan on starting recording there during Christmas break. We’re going for a different vibe on this album than before. Our first album had a major classic rock/psychedelic sound, but this album we’re touching on some different aspects. A lot of it will be pretty abstract, lots of soundscapes, guitar effects, etc. We think it’ll be a lot more interesting than the first, hopefully being released sometime in the summer of 2018.

Travis: We have not started the recording process quite yet, but we are diving head first into writing the second album. We have a lot of very solid instrumentations and lyrics that I think are worthy enough to follow up our first album. This album is going to be a lot more personal to me because unlike the first album, I’m writing a lot more lyrics and parts. All of the lyrics and music from our first album were written by Ryan and Brad jamming in their basements and dorms. I wrote the music for Get Goin and a part in Headed Out but besides that I was more than happy to help with compositions and drumming. Now I’m coming out of my shell and this album definitely feels more like a group effort. I think this second album will be able to stand on its own next to the first album. When people hear it, they’ll know right away that it is our music, but it’s not a copy and paste from our first album. We are definitely getting more comfortable as writers and I think this album will show that. Again, we are trying to make this album relate to the Average Joe, but we are getting a bit more experimental with ourselves and really exploring what we can bring to the table. Our new secret weapon that we have while writing this album is our bassist, Caroline Joseph. She played on our first album after we initially recorded it. We just had her record the parts in the studio. She never got a chance to have a say in the songs and I am very excited to see what she can bring to the table in the future.

Speakeasy: Have you toured or played outside of Cincinnati often?

Ryan: This will be our farthest show out of Cincinnati to date. After we release the 2nd album we’ll be taking a big step and touring the Midwest, doing shows in Cinci, Pittsburgh, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Nashville, etc. We’re out of our minds excited.

Travis: We mainly stay in Cincinnati, but we are starting to branch out, especially Athens. Hopefully by the summer we’ll be playing in other cities such as Columbus, Dayton, and Lexington but we are trying to establish ourselves in Cincy and Athens particularly.

Speakeasy: What do you hope will happen with “Freak Mythology” in the future?

Ryan: I personally would love to make a living out of it. It’s a tough thing to get into but it’s so rewarding at the same time. We’re going to put this next album out and just hope for the best, but we don’t really have many expectations other than to have fun with it.

Travis: When I think of the future with Freak Mythology I keep it very open. Never once in high school did I think I was going to record an album with these guys and never even thought of the idea for a second album. This has been one hell of a ride and I’m very excited to see where we go. The possibilities are endless. If anything, I want Freak Mythology to be about the music as long as we are playing together.

Speakeasy: Who are each of your favorite musicians/bands? How does the music you love to listen to influence the music you create?

Ryan: As a guitarist I followed the greats from a pretty young age. Jimmy Page, Hendrix, Clapton. A lot of really melodic guitarists that could play anything that was thrown at them. As a band, we all really dig Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, and the Talking Heads. We take away a lot of good stuff from jam bands too, we’re all also pretty into the Grateful Dead. We typically like to take our favorite aspects from every band and mix it into our sound. We get our psychedelic sound from Pink Floyd, our harmonies from Fleetwood Mac, and our funky and jam sound from the Talking Heads and the Dead.

Travis: It doesn’t sound like it, but the biggest influence on my drumming was Nicko McBrain from Iron Maiden. I would sit in my basement for hours playing through their entire catalogue. It really helped my form my techniques, such as my anti-double bass pedal ideology. I also take huge inspirations for John Bonham, Neil Peart, Chad Smith, Bill Ward, Nick Mason, and many other greats. When I write my drum parts I tend to make a fusion of everything. I use the intensity of Nicko and Bonham to create the drive and force, Peart to make everything precise and elegant, and Smith, Ward and Mason to give my sound the swing and create a pocket with Caroline that the rest of the band can fall into.

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