When asked to describe how it felt to not play live shows for the bulk of 2020, Two Rocks Rye guitarist Ben Smith’s answer was simple.
But on the other hand, being stuck in quarantine with nowhere to go had a major perk for the Doylestown-based band. Smith, Matt Walters (lead vocals), Brian Shaw (percussion) and Brendan Cassidy (bass) had ample time to not only complete, but perfect, their sophomore album From the Undertow, which was released on Oct. 16.
“A lot of really good additions to certain songs came out because of COVID that might not have otherwise,” Shaw, who designed the album art, told The Times in a recent Zoom interview. “If COVID hadn’t been around, we would’ve been out playing more, and had less time to devote to really honing in on all the details of each song. So, I think the album has benefited from it.”
From the Undertow comes two years after Two Rocks Rye’s debut album Saving Claire, which encompasses sounds of country, jazz and ‘90s-inspired rock. The latest release, on the other hand, is heavier.
“We have a lot more rock-influenced songs. Ben has bigger solos, I tend to scream more,” said Walters.
Another stark contrast between the two creations is that, while Saving Claire was primarily penned by Walters and Smith, From the Undertow is a culmination of all four band members’ styles.
“We all kind of like that alt/rock genre, but within that, we have a lot of musical influences,” said Shaw. “We all had a collaborative effort, and we all drew from our musical influences – alternative rock, jazz, funk. It all came together in this melting pot, and it encompasses what we hope the Two Rocks Rye sound continues to be.”
According to Walters, the premise of the album largely took shape prior to COVID, with most of the 14 tracks chronicling his personal experiences. For example, the acoustic song “Apple” was written as a gift for his father.
“It’s me letting him know that even though I am raising a child with disabilities, and he’s having a tough time accepting that, he raised me really well and so I’m going to do the same for her,” he said.
As for “Everything Else,” anyone who has attempted to work from home this year – and concentrate amidst noisy family members and neighbors – can relate.
“It’s about that writer or creator needing their space and time. That’s the place they want to be, and that’s where they feel at home,” said Walters. “I need to be left alone in solitude, and that’s the best [my work] is gonna get.”
Another personal song is “Comes and Goes,” which highlights the hot and cold nature of individuals.
“Some days we have good days, some days we have bad days. Some days we have patience, other days we have none,” said Walters. “It’s a constant back and forth for some people, specifically me.”
Throughout the final push of completing the album during COVID, each of the guys took turns motivating the others. When one started to lose drive, especially after experiencing a job loss, another would reignite the spark.
“We generally like each other a lot,” Walters said. “That gives us hope that we can continue to do this as long as the foundation is right.”
When the pandemic first hit, the band admitted it was difficult to record from their respective basements … and also stay completely sane.
“I often found myself playing to imaginary friends in my garage,” Walters reflected with a laugh.
“This is news to me,” responded Shaw. “I want to hear more about that!”
Thankfully, life as they knew it is slowly starting to return. The band is slated to perform the night before Thanksgiving at the North Penn VFW (more details will be announced on Facebook), which means it can finally play and promote From the Undertow beyond the digital world.
“Between the election and COVID, I guess our timing wasn’t too great,” said Shaw. “But we were anxious to get it out and we’re all very proud of it.”
As Two Rocks Rye works to spread word about From the Undertow, the guys aren’t wasting any time planning for album No. 3. In July, they enjoyed a weekend-long jam session in Maryland, where the basis for a future project began to take shape.
“Magically, some songs came out of that jam and we’re already looking forward to writing another album,” said Walters. “We’re already getting back into it, which is good.”
From the Undertow is available for streaming on Spotify and other digital platforms, and for physical purchase by messaging the band on social media.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org