The album is a perfect blend of country, jazz, and ’90s-inspired rock
By Samantha Bambino
The guys of the Doylestown-based Two Rocks Rye are something of an enigma. On the one hand, they’re meticulously organized, regularly using Excel spreadsheets and task management tools to categorize song ideas. According to lead vocalist Matt Walters, it’s “very corporate.”
But when it comes to the band’s sound, things are a different story. A little bit of country, a touch of jazz, and a lot of ’90s-inspired rock, Two Rocks Rye runs the gamut of genres. And somehow, it works oh so well.
On Oct. 12, Two Rocks Rye unveiled to the digital world its debut album Saving Claire, a nine-track masterpiece that’s chock-full of clever riffs, powerful vocals and relatable lyrics that chronicle everything from love to alcohol addiction.
On the heels of the album’s release, The Times sat down with Walters and guitarist Ben Smith at the quaint Zen Den in Doylestown, where the two shared details on the band’s serendipitous origins, the creative process behind Saving Claire, and the struggle of winning over their toughest critics — their children.
It was early 2015 when the paths of Walters and Smith crossed for the first time at the Pocono Mountains, where they were invited by mutual friends for a musicians’ weekend. One bitter night beside a frozen lake, the two instantly clicked. While Smith hailed from New Zealand and boasted a heavy jazz background, and Walters gravitated toward music with messages of regret and betrayal, both shared an unshakeable love for something else — ’90s rock.
Walters and Smith spent the weekend jamming together, naturally playing covers of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots. A brotherhood had been formed, and they knew they had to keep this partnership going back home.
“It was really nice to play with somebody with a tremendous amount of talent because I think that helps push you a little bit,” Walters said.
The duo named itself Two Rocks Rye after narrowing down an Excel list of more than 100 options. The next two years saw the band booking a slew of cover shows and open mics, in addition to adding Brian Shaw as drummer and Brendan Cassidy as bassist. By September 2017, the four were practicing regularly in new father Smith’s toy-filled basement, where the beginnings of Saving Claire were starting to take shape.
According to Smith, the end result of the album — that unique smorgasboard of genres — wasn’t done intentionally. It just sort of happened during “late night riffs at the kitchen table.”
“Some people said, you’re really left field with the jazz here and you’re over here with the country, then you have these riffs in the middle,” said Walters. “But somehow it all works. It all makes sense.”
Though Two Rocks Rye didn’t have an excess of money to put into the project, it had a lot of time. The entire album was produced by the band in Smith’s basement, with him handling most of the engineering and Shaw designing the artwork.
“It’s a tremendous amount of work. You don’t realize what people go through,” Walters said. “I mean, maybe at a bigger level it’s less because they have more people doing.”
But for the members, it’s a thrill to have a full-length under their belts, something they can point people to at live shows. Of course, each song on Saving Claire holds a special place in their hearts, but there are a few standouts they hope listeners enjoy. Both Walters and Smith named “The Last Cowboy” as a particular favorite.
“It’s got a darker feel to it, and it was actually inspired by a cowboy western video game that I used to play. Well, I still play,” Walters said. “It was a totally different song that I had written. So we do these jam sessions probably once every other month, and it’s always influenced by a bottle of liquor. That’s usually how most of this stuff gets created. In that, we found ‘The Last Cowboy,’ and I was like, oh my God this feels like something. I would say it was the biggest on the album that hit us the hardest.”
Another highlight is the title track “Saving Claire.”
“It’s about alcoholism and watching somebody suffer from that, and how to maybe reach them,” Walters said. “Brian could’ve picked any of nine tracks and drawn an album cover, but that one was the one that he kind of went to.”
As for the song that best encapsulates the sound of Two Rocks Rye, Walters named “Figure It Out” as a good representation.
“It’s got a jazzy feel to it. It’s got a really good riff in it, a really good solo from Ben. Really good harmonies,” he said.
Currently, Two Rocks Rye is in the process of creating physical copies of Saving Claire, booking shows in the area (past dates include Red Stallion in Warminster and Xfinity Live! in Philadelphia), and writing new music with the intention of releasing more singles. Despite everyone working full-time jobs, the band has so far been able to make it work thanks to its resume-worthy organizational skills.
“We have a set practice Tuesday nights at Ben’s house, and then we usually have an agenda. What are we working on? If we have an upcoming gig, what covers do we need to practice?” Walters said.
The biggest perk of the band’s practice space is the on-site critics — Smith’s 6- and 3.5-year-old kids.
“They love whatever daddy does,” he said with a smile.
Walters’ 9-year-old daughter? Not so much.
“She’ll say, seriously dad? I’ve heard you play this like 90 times. Then she leaves the room and I’m like, thanks Em. Thanks for the support,” Walters said.
But little does Em know, her dad and his friends have created something truly one-of-a-kind. And though Saving Claire admittedly has some darker undertones, the future of Two Rocks Rye is looking bright.
“I’d like to stay within the rock genre, but if we happen to drift elsewhere, that’s fine, too,” Walters said. “I like to go over here, over there. Any influence that we can get. If we were to create a classical ballad, I’d be totally OK with that, too. Anything goes.” ••
Keep up with Two Rocks Rye at facebook.com/tworocksrye
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org