Four Year Bender’s debut album, “Lucky” garnered critical acclaim as well national airplay, but it was the live shows that made them legends. After an extended hiatus, the original band has recorded a new full-length album entitled “Gettin’ Gone”, featuring their unique brand of country-fried rock ‘n’ roll. We caught up with lead songwriter, Ryan Smith, to talk about their upcoming show and new album.
ER: First: please, once and for all, define “countrified soul” for me.
RS: Oh man, that’s a hard one. Describing your own band is tough! When we first started all those years ago I had written a bunch of traditional country tunes and figured that was the direction we were going to go in. But then I borrowed the rhythm section from the SF soul band “London Street” (RIP) and to my pleasant surprise, they ended up sticking around. If you know Daria Johnson (drums) and Jenn Curiel (bass), you know that it is impossible for them to not lay down a huge groove, so the sound morphed into something different.
I remember fighting it at first trying to get them to be less funky…bad idea. Once I let go and everyone could do their thing, we became a good band.
ER: I knew you guys back in the day, 2004 – you were gigging like crazy and had quite the following! On your website, it says you then took an “extended and drama-filled hiatus.” What can you tell us about that?
RS: Well the “drama” part of our hiatus was all me. I’m sure it’s hard to believe that the singer in a band called “Four Year Bender” might have some alcohol issues but lo and behold…it’s true! You know the drill, at first my life was fun, then fun with problems, and then it was just the problems. It’s not a particularly original story but things got pretty dark there for a while. I kinda cut myself off from the world, and the worst part is that I couldn’t write at all…like…anything. I remember putting all my guitars in cases and putting them away because looking at them was driving me crazy. It was rough.
We never officially went on “hiatus,” I just stopped calling the band for a few years. Lucky for me they all picked up when I finally called again. (Thanks guys!!)
ER: How’d you get back on your feet?
RS: The short answer is that I finally got desperate enough to ask for some help. Let’s just say it became clear this wasn’t working. For some reason, one morning I made a phone call and got myself into treatment. Turns out, every person in my life was relieved (go figure!!) and eager to help. It’s not an exaggeration to say that my family and friends propped me up until I could do it myself.
Eventually I pulled the guitars back out and got back to it. Not gonna lie, it was more than a little terrifying. But like everything else, I leaned on the people around me, and things got easier. Next thing I knew, I had a whole bunch of new songs and a realization that a lot of people had actually missed our band! It’s been quite a ride, Emilie…I’m pretty grateful to be here talking about it.
ER: How are you feeling about your new album, “Gettin’ Gone?” How has the sound changed in accordance with your own personal evolution? And when can we expect the release date?
RS: We are dying for people to hear this record. The truth is, we’ve never done a real “band” record. The first one we did was pieced together in various studios over the course of a couple years. We weren’t really even a band yet. So this time around, we just went into the studio and played live and loose and had a BLAST!!! When you can let Sean Leahy (guitars) and James Riddle (keys) go wild for a few days in a studio, creative and amazing things can happen.
So the overall sound hasn’t changed much, we only know how to write one kind of music, but it’s certainly a fuller sounding, full band recording. But don’t worry, we didn’t get all “new-direction-jazz-odyssey” on anyone here. It’s got some poignant moments, but it’s a lot of fun and we certainly don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think we did a good job of capturing that.
We aren’t releasing the record to the general public until next Spring so we can get our team together and do it correctly. BUT – for those folks that are dying to hear it, we are doing a pre-sale right now through our Kickstarter where you can get it by the end of the year. So you can actually buy this record within the next 30 days but after that, it’s going to be a bit. (HINT HINT: Go to the kickstarter!! Please!!!) We are dying for our folks to hear this thing…
ER: What’s next for you guys?
RS: Well, we have an amazing gig at Slim’s this week on 9/19, as part of their 30th Anniversary celebration, supporting our friends in The Brothers Comatose. We’ve known those guys forever and have never gotten to play with them, so we are pretty excited. We are going to release a single in the next couple weeks to prove that we are still alive! Also, we have a slot at this year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival on Saturday 10/6 which is pretty much the thrill of a lifetime.
After that we are going to hit the road and play anywhere that will have us. Like I said, it’s been a wild ride, but somehow we’ve emerged on the good side. Everyone in the band is happy, healthy and playing their respective asses off. It’s a special thing getting to make music with these guys, and this fact is certainly not lost on me.
So who really knows what the future holds, but I’m feeling pretty good about it.
Four Year Bender is opening for The Brothers Comatose Wednesday, September 19 at Slim’s. Get tickets here.
Emilie Rohrbach has taught music and theater to grades pre-school through 8th in San Francisco and Marin counties for the last 20 years. She has been a freelance writer for Divine Caroline for five years, and her writing has appeared in Narratively, Hippocampus, Common Ground, Travelers’ Tales, and Marin Magazine, among others. She is passionate about Room to Read, Shanti Bhavan, and Destiny Arts and serves on the board of Knighthorse Theatre Company.