Ryan Lindsey tosses aside his tussle of hair and digs into the plate of meat laid before him. "There are times where a really good meal falls into my lap," he says with a slight laugh. "Like this!" As a veteran of the road, the lead singer and principal songwriter behind Oklahoma rock act BRONCHO knows the touring life is often a grinding one. To that end, as he and his bandmates, which include bassist Penny Pitchlynn, drummer Nathan Price, and guitarist Ben King, hunker down for a meal at 90 Miles Cuban Café in Chicago before that evening's gig at Beat Kitchen, Lindsey explains how a touring musician is best served to roll with the punches. "I'm trying to limit what I take seriously," the soft-spoken singer says of his role as a musician, frontman, and overall sensitive human. He pauses as Cuban music filters into the restaurant's intimate, stringed-light-filled patio. "It helps, for sure."
On their recently released third album, Double Vanity, BRONCHO makes a definitive sonic shift. Where 2014's Just Enough Hip To Be A Woman was lively and pepped-up, even bordering on surfy garage rock, their latest LP is introspective, woozy, and at times downright psychedelic. When they entered the studio last September to begin tracking the album, all band members agreed that after nearly five years as a unit they were finally at their most locked-in. "We were probably the tightest we'd been as a band since we started," says Price. "I can hear that." To that end, when we sat down with BRONCHO for dinner, the band was eager to reflect on a blossoming career, where the years on the road have taken them, and how they're coming into their own as band.
Being road warriors, do you find you have time to experience the culinary aspects of most cities you visit on tour?
Ryan Lindsey: Sometimes. I like to be open to whatever will happen. For my personal sanity, so I don't stress, I'm pretty good at eating whatever's in front of me. It's a real survivalist mentality.
Nathan Price: We choose our battles. We tour so much that if we don't get time in a city the next time we're there we'll try to make sure we do.
Penny Pitchlynn: I remember being in L.A. for three nights last year and that was super fun. I stayed with some friends in Echo Park and some of the guys stayed with friends in Silver Lake. It was great.
Penny, being a vegan, is it hard to maintain that lifestyle in a touring band?
PP: It can be. I've been vegan for seven years. When we first started touring it was really difficult. But then you start learning the tricks. A lot of times we'll show up to venues and they'll have veggies and hummus waiting for us. If I didn't get anything good that day, that helps. It's really about knowing the tricks to hold you over. There's a lot of nibbling during the daytime and then you can hopefully get something good at night.
After all these years, is the touring lifestyle and all its occasional headaches still enticing?
NP: I think so. For me it is. It doesn't always get better, but it seems like it does. It's nice when you show up to a venue and it's a buy-out and you can actually afford to go get something nice to eat. Every little carrot dangling in front of your face makes it better. For years we all toured in bands with other projects; some saw us crashing on people's floors. Same with BRONCHO—that's how we started, just hoping someone would offer up their spot, minimal food.
RL: Some of the mystery is gone that was there before I started touring. But I still love it. I still love playing shows.
PP: Now we get to choose whether we end up staying for the night at the house where there's an afterparty. [Laughs]
NP: You fill your time up in whatever way you can. If you're a super-healthy person it's probably going to be a little harder to get all the time you want to do that.
You spend a lot of time together. I imagine you must occasionally get on each other's nerves?
NP: I think we all got along pretty well. Ben, Ryan, and I have been in BRONCHO longer than Penny and that was a dynamic that we definitely had to learn. Ryan moves really slow and so does Ben and that used to drive me crazy; I've had to slow myself down to match them. We got along with Penny really well so we knew it was going to be a good fit, but we've all had to learn. The vegan thing, more for her than for us, was a huge adjustment. But for us to even think about it and for it to be a consideration took some time. I think, no matter what, you have to maneuver. There's times we don't talk to each other all day. It's not rude. Everyone has their bubble and then we'll all be super-social for the rest of the night.
Penny, was it an adjustment coming into a group of three guys?
PP: I didn't really ever think it was that hard. I'm pretty fluid and an adaptable individual. Another band I had toured in was two gals and myself and I was the meditator between the two of them. I feel like I read people pretty well. You learn to read people's cues to see what they need from you.
NP: Her playing in a lady's band and us being dude-rock forever, it's kind of nice having a coed scenario. Things are a little different. In a good way.
You just put out Double Vanity. Does listening to it help you grasp your evolution as a band?
NP: I think it's pretty obvious stuff, at least the gist of it. This new record was really fluid, and I think that has a lot to do with the four of us being really fluid. We'd done a lot of Europe dates, we'd done the U.S. several times, we'd done some opening tours, so by the time we went into the studio we were probably the tightest we'd been as a band since we started.
This album was a definite sonic shift from your previous work.
RL: Even with our second record it was a pretty big shift from what we did on our first record, and when we first started playing that one live it felt really weird. Then out of nowhere this year we were playing the songs and I was seeing how much sense we've made of them live, whereas previously I was like, "I don't know how to move to these songs. I don't know how to sing these songs." Sometimes it takes a while to make sense of them. That gives me hope on the new record. Sometimes things take time.
Speaking of the live show, how does the process work for you guys when thinking about how to play new material on tour? >
RL: It's about making sense of them in the studio, and then the next step is making sense of that live. It's something I forget about until we actually start rehearsing.
NP: If anything, when we're in the studio I think we put up some shields to not worry too much about the live aspect. BRONCHO's shows to me, as a drummer, were about going pretty hard and fast. I think it was in my best interest to not worry too much about that at the time.
Do live shows help you gauge your progress as a band in terms of a growing fanbase?
RL: Definitely. I only see that through shows and crowds. There's definitely been a progression of people coming out to our shows from when we first started. We were playing Salt Lake City where there was like two or three kids and now we just played a show there and there was an actual crowd [laughs]. That was nice. That was a good change. It's really about bridging the gaps between the cities we've had history with.
Do you still feel as if you have to prove yourself as a band?
RL: I like to feel that way but I don't necessarily dwell on proving myself.
NP: Way less than it used to be. I feel like the first record I enjoyed playing shows, but it was like, "What the fuck are we doing?" That was a fun place to be, but now I have less of that. Every tour it's just like, "Let's kick ass!"
But now you're something of an established band, no?
NP: Weirdly I think that's a decision bands have to make. We could have been in this band for so long and not felt like this was legit. We were all in other bands and doing other shit and at one point we just couldn't do it all anymore. We had to focus on this band.
RL: We never really had the conversation, but we all knew. Each time we make a new record it's us doubling down. It's us just getting serious enough to finish something.
NP: I think our second record was probably that point. We got rid of a band member and we all could have just bowed out and let Ryan have a solo career again. That felt like to me the moment where we took ownership over the band.
Ryan, given that you are the principal songwriter and like Nathan says, could have decided to have a solo career. I imagine there's something enticing about being a member of a group as opposed to carrying the sole burden?
RL: That's very true. That's why I liked when we started this band because it was having a crew of people I can just be around. It's one of those things that I didn't overthink. It just made sense. Now it's just four or five years later and I'm still doing it.
Is it wild to think about how far you've come in a relatively short period of time?
NP: Our record came out a week ago, so I feel like right now is hardly the time to step back and say, "Look at what we did!" Probably in a year from now after we've done Europe several times, the US four or five times, and we're exhausted and have a few months off then we'll be like, "Look at what we just did!" These songs are like life forms right now. They're growing.
RL: I think it depends on where my perspective is at. I can either be the type of person to looks at progress and views it negatively and thinks, "I want to take things this other way." Or I can be at my happiest and just let things happen as naturally as possible and not necessarily think about where I'm at. But really, let's be honest: you kind of have to be a little stupid to do what we do.