An Interview With Nashville-Based Rock Band Future Thieves
The arty chaos of LouFest, St. Louis’ summer music festival—with 2017’s headlining acts Snoop Dogg, Cage the Elephant and Weezer—creates a special kind of high out of the humid Midwestern air.
In the midst of it, Future Thieves, a four-piece rock band out of Nashville, takes the stage for their LouFest set mid-day on a Sunday. Composed of Elliot Collett (vocals/guitar), Austin McCool (guitar), Nick Goss (bass) and Gianni Gibson (drums), the four friends bring a melodic, accessible kind of rock n’ roll to the ear.
They’ve spent the first half of the year touring all over the world, and their spring/summer schedule reads like a flight attendant’s in peak season. This year their touring schedule has already taken them to the U.K., Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, back to Kentucky, back to North Carolina, back to Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee and now back to Missouri—which is not an exhaustive list.
Their set is beautiful. It’s raw, it’s real and connected: one of those moments where everyone there realizes the experience of the moment is special and together, the antithesis of what lead singer Elliot Collett calls “horseshit going on in the world” between two songs. That for that one hour, all that mattered were the trees of Forest Park, the warm sun, stagehands with microphones and headsets and the music—a medium that adroitly honors and understands the way a human being is wired.
While at LouFest, we sat down for an interview with bassist Nick Goss and drummer Gianni Gibson at The Music Record Shop’s tent, during which we discussed their upcoming album, life as traveling musicians and how they’ve forged a path in this tricky line of work.
You just released a beautiful new song called “Sucker,” which to me feels like an acknowledgement of that difficult feeling we’ve all experienced at some point or another, of dealing with what it’s like to be invisible to the person you want to notice you the most. How does that transform into a song?
Nick: Elliot writes the lyrics, but as for the song itself, he had a chord progression that he wanted to work out. And he wanted a song that had a simple chorus, where his thoughts could just be right out there. He’s a big Ryan Adams fan, and Ryan Adams has so many songs where the chorus is standalone, powerful, can be played on any instrument and still resonate. It doesn’t have to be a full-band thing. So that’s where that one came from. That was a nice, upbeat single to put out.
We’d just started playing live with our producer, who plays keys. We were transitioning into a little more of an electronic sound, instead of just a rock band with guitars, bass and drums. That was the bridge into what we’re doing now: more layers, more electronics and more crazy sounds.
That’s a really refreshing change of pace from the bro country tropes of beer, trucks, girls, etc. that often come out of Nashville.
Gianni: Nashville has such a history of country music, obviously, and you can feel it when you’re there, especially as a musician. Thankfully there has also been a vibrant, hungry rock and alternative scene that’s been going on for a long time. Now, since it’s Music City and it’s gotten so much publicity from the show “Nashville,” and all that, there are other prominent scenes coming to the forefront. It’s not just Luke Bryan anymore. We’ve seen so many friends coming up in the Nashville industry at the same point, whether it’s a country band, what we’re doing, or something else.
Nick: It’s a really thriving scene.
You’ve been touring like crazy. How has that been?
Gianni: [Laughs] The first half of the year was very filled.
Nick: Now we’re doing some one-off shows and some festivals, but we’re going to calm down now and finish our album.
Gianni: That’ll probably take us to the new year.
Nick: The winter will be more of our “desk job” portion of the year, where we’ll get our plan together and get ready to release the new album. We’ll be filming some new things. Basically everything that’s not touring—that’s what we’ll be doing.
What can listeners expect coming up on the next record?
Nick: Almost everything that we played today is new and will be on the record. Then there’s a few songs that we haven’t finished recording yet. It’ll probably be about 10 songs. We recorded it at Sonic Ranch in El Paso, Texas, where Brand New did their new album. It’s a beautiful place.
Gianni: It’s a 2,300-acre ranch and pecan orchard.
N: It’s wild. There’s miles of pecan trees, right on the Mexican border.
What was it like to record there? I imagine it was really inspiring?
Nick: It was. And it was just us.
Gianni: There were days when Elliot was having writer’s block or something while working on lyrics and he’d be like, ‘I’m going to go out on the pecan field.’ So he’d take one of the house bikes and ride it like three miles into the sunset. And we’d be like, ‘Welp. He could have just gone to Mexico, I don’t know.’ [Laughs] I forget which song it was, but it was there amongst the trees that he just finished it out.
Nick: It translates on the record, too. The first record was in our basement. Elliot is also an audio engineer, too, so we had good gear and it sounded great. This time we got to escape, write all these songs and create a theme to the album, so each of the songs relate to each other. There’s much more warmth to our sound. We can’t wait for people to hear it.
Gianni: To tie into that idea of warmth—especially with what’s happening around the world right now—we want to have something positive and fun, so you can be transported somewhere else when listening to it or coming to see one of our shows. We thought a lot about how we wanted to make that happen, with a year of production and getting it done. We wanted something that would make people happy. That you can come in and leave the shit you’ve got going on outside for a bit and have a fun time.
Right. Life can be monotonous at times, but I can’t imagine yours are.
Gianni: Actually, we all drive Lyft.
What? No way.
Nick: It’s true. I mean, we’re not impoverished, but there’s no money in music.
Gianni: Luke, our tour manager, for example, is an amazing chef. So when he’s not doing this, he’s managing a kitchen in Nashville. There’s a lot of different complexities with everybody, and then we come together to make this.
How did you make your way into this as a career?
Nick: Gianni’s been playing music his whole life. Our guitar player, Austin, and I went to college, graduated and then moved to Nashville. Our singer Elliot was in Eastern Kentucky, where it seems like all the hottest artists are coming out of now: Sturgill Simpson, Cage The Elephant, Tyler Childers. And Elliot’s been coming out to Nashville since he was like, 16.
Gianni: His mom was his manager for a while.
Nick: And she is made to be a manager.
Gianni: [Laughs] Mama Collette does not mess around.
Nick: She doesn’t. And it got him a lot of great opportunities. He wrote with so many good songwriters. He’s been doing this a long time. For a little bit while we were in college getting our degrees, Austin and I were thinking, music’s not viable. But after college, we were like, ‘We’ve gotta give it a try.’ So we went down to Nashville, and that’s where we met Gianni and Elliot.
Gianni: I think the best thing that we can have being a band in 2017 and 2018 right now is we’re all able to utilize the experiences that we’ve had and use the information at our fingertips to try and progress a positive message—and hopefully to have a successful career, because we want to be playing music.
Nick: We’re getting to create and tour and play—it’s amazing.
Gianni: We were swimming in the Mediterranean in May, and that was a bucket list thing for everybody. Five years ago, who thought music would take us there?
Nick: Very true.
So, when you’re in the midst of these crazy touring schedules, what’s life like on the road?
Gianni: It’s fantastic.
Nick: It’s really fun. Sometimes you can get down if you don’t get good sleep for a couple of nights, and then your show isn’t the best. Sometimes it sucks.
Is it a challenge that no matter what you have going on in your life, you always have to be “on,” in a sense?
Nick: In the grand scheme of things—as far as being “on” and getting excited to play music—if we can’t do that, then we should go do something else. We’re very fortunate. And sometimes it does get rough. But then you’re driving through Arizona or something to go play, watching the sunset with your best friends—if you get down, it’s probably just because you’re tired.
Gianni: The pros outweigh the cons.
Is it hard to stay in touch with your families?
Gianni: Yeah. I’m from L.A., so I haven’t seen my dad in like, a year. My mom comes to Nashville fairly often for work, but everyone else is kind of regionally close.
Nick: We don’t get to go to L.A. very much. We drive everywhere, so it’s a long way. We put about 115,000 miles on our van in a year and a half.
Gianni: One time we played in Los Angeles … we had to drive there straight from Indianapolis. It’s a 36-hour drive, and we did it in 40 hours. We got to soundcheck late, and everyone was like, “You guys look tired, and you smell.” [Laughs] “Go do something with yourselves and then come back.”
Nick: That’s the price we pay when we go to L.A. Because it’s so far out, it’s hard to get shows out there. The rest of us live by our families. We’re all about three hours away.
Gianni: But everyone’s family is so “family” anyway. Regardless of where we are, they’ll treat us like family. Like when we were in L.A., my family treated them like family.
Nick: And we have friends we see all over when we’re touring. It’s amazing. Every city we go to, we know somebody from somewhere, and they’re willing to put us up and get us a meal.
How have you dealt with the lifestyle stereotypes of touring and being in a band? Have they been true for you?
Nick: I said I was going to be in a band and my mom was like, “You probably shouldn’t do that.” You know, how your parents are like, “There are better things you can do.” And I was like, “Nope, I’m going to be in a band, I’m going to have that lifestyle, I’m going to wear leather pants—all that stuff.”
Gianni: And none of that happened.
Nick: Nope. None of that happened.
Gianni: I will say, when I was growing up in L.A., I played with a rock band one time—and I’d never seen this before, but I saw it once. We were playing this show and the musician singing was the equivalent of a Hispanic James Brown. He had that suave about him, the pompadour. And during the show, the girls in the audience literally ripped his pants off. That’s the only time I’ve seen anything like that happen.
That reminds me—during his LouFest set, Matt Shultz of Cage The Elephant talked about how being “elevated” onstage and revered is a really unnatural thing. What do you think he meant by that?
Nick: There is a certain level of—even today, sitting at the signing table, when people come over for your autograph, it’s so weird to not stand up and shake their hand. We’re all very personable, and we feel connections with people. I don’t like the pretentious nature that can come with being a musician. I’m just as happy that any person is out in the crowd as I am to play music. So for them to come over and ask for an autograph, that’s more of a burden for them than it is to me.
So, for [Shultz] to be elevated on stage, he probably feels like he would rather be eye-to-eye with everyone, because he’s getting as much from the crowd as they’re getting from him. Especially for a big artist like Cage. They’re incredibly famous. But he probably doesn’t feel like that. He probably feels like he’s one of the crowd. But when you’re on a stage, it takes you away from that feeling.
When you’re on stage, do you guys also feel that way?
Gianni: No. Because I think for us, we have all the tools we need to do what we do best. It just might look different than what someone else is doing.
Nick: Our goal is to put out something that hopefully everyone will enjoy. But I don’t like the idea of people feeling like they’re burdening us by wanting to come and talk to us. That’s maybe what he was getting at, too.
Gianni: To be frank, as soon as we get off the stage, I’m going to go take a piss like everybody else.
Nick: I’m texting my mom right after the show. We’re all the same.
Gianni: Right. We’re playing music, but everyone’s doing their own thing.
Nick: Music is just what we do. Luckily, people seem to enjoy it.
You guys are incredibly good. Can’t wait to see what happens in the future.
Gianni and Nick: Thank you, so much.
Cover image shot by Sydney Gawlik. All other images courtesy of Future Thieves.