Ever wonder what it would sound like if you crossed Mumford & Sons with Whitesnake, then threw some hip-hop lyricism and classic pop into the mix? Of course you haven’t, because what would that even sound like?
It would sound, well, like Rightfield, the fan-addicting, genre-bending band formed by Jack Blocker and Reed Hoelscher four years ago in their freshman dorm at the University of Arkansas. It would sound like music meant to rev up an arena, and to keep everyone happy at a backyard cookout with the folks -- at once, sweeping and intimate, familiar and unique.
“To quote Kanye West, ‘Our genre is good music,’” Reed explains of the band’s hybrid nature, noting that Rightfield definitely “bounced around genres” at its outset. “We were a pop punk band one summer. We were an acoustic rap duo before that. I think that experimentation kind of created us to where we are now, which is where we want to play all the genres and make them Rightfield, in a sense.
“When people hear us, we want them to be like, ‘Oh, that sounds like Rightfield,’ instead of ‘Rightfield sounds like this group or that artist.’”
An audacious goal? Maybe, but when you have nearly a million streams per song on Spotify without any self-promotion outside small venue performances in Fayetteville, we’d say you’re allowed to think your band is onto something. Which is why, 15 years after meeting in kindergarten in Dallas, Jack and Reed are about to put away their Plan Bs (Reed majored in business, Jack in communications) and take their show on the road. Not literally, of course -- not until the pandemic coast is clear. But they are poised to see if two very old friends can make their very new thing into the life they dream of, playing out stadiums with music that makes people want to dance, laugh, cry, and, most of all, sing along like they mean it.
Quadio caught up with the duo by video chat in Arkansas last week, in anticipation of today’s release of their soaring, bittersweet new single “Way Too Long.”
What’s ‘Way Too Long’ about?
Jack: Last year, we wrote, “I Can’t Believe,” which is about getting your heart broken by somebody that you care about. “Way Too Long” is, in a way, the preview of that song. It’s about hoping for someone to come through for you, and trying everything you can to see the best in them, and then coming to that realization that, you know what, there’s not really hope in this for me. Maybe they won’t come through like I thought that they would. So the song kind of builds up to that, and then the end is a turn of hope a little bit, a coming to terms, like, “You know what, we’ll be able to move forward anyway.”
Talk about your writing process for a minute.
Reed: With that song, like with most of our songs, we built the idea for it together, and we got 50% of the way there, again, together, like in my apartment, or on the road, playing progressions, and trying things out. Then, when we have enough, we go apart. Jack works on the lyrics and I work on the instrumentation, then we come back together to make the parts fit, and make it one insane song. With “Way Too Long,” we knew we were making, in a sense, an 80s rock ballad, where it starts out really, really stripped and then gets really, really, really big and chaotic for a minute with soaring electric guitars and pounding drums that you can feel in your chest, and then comes back in again, and gets really, really intimate. So that’s kind of why the song flows the way it does, and maybe why it has that modern anthem feel, because of the dynamics and how it’s not really like most radio pop songs are nowadays.
Your process sounds very efficient. Is that because you’ve known each other for so long?
Reed: Maybe. But we were only together through 8th grade. Then I left to go to another school, and we fell out of touch until freshman year in college.
Why did you change schools?
Reed: For sports, which were a really, really big part of my life. My dad was a professional baseball player, so I had always thought that that was what I wanted to do. But my sophomore year of high school, I got really, really sick. It was an autoimmune type thing that’s still a big part of my life right now. But that period taught me that I wanted to be a musician. My mom’s side of the family is very musical. When we get together, everybody pulls out an instrument. There are no TVs that turn on. We don’t watch sports or anything like that. You just pull out your guitar or your harmonica. Everybody is really big Willie Nelson fans on her side of the family. So it’s very much just sit around and play 12-bar blues.
Even so, it was going to be sports first for me, music second. But when I got sick, I think I learned that music is a better community builder than sports, and I've been chasing music ever since.
And Jack, you stayed at the same school?
Jack: Yeah, I stayed all the way through 12th grade. Unlike Reed, I have to say, my family wasn’t very musical, but one day, I started messing around with a guitar that we had in our house. I had gotten it from my dad for Christmas one year and it never left the case. So I just started playing around with it a little bit. Then, the school I went to was a Christian school, so every Thursday there would be student-led worship. I was just helping someone practice one day when I was a sophomore and they kind of encouraged me to try out for it, I guess. My parents didn’t know that I even played guitar or was interested in singing. When they heard I went out for the worship band, they were like, “What are you doing? You’re going to really embarrass yourself.”
Reed: He’s not telling you he became the go-to-guy for worship his senior year.
Jack: I did. Yeah. It was definitely a growing experience for me to learn how to lead a group like that and try to get us to put something good together every week that flowed well the whole time without any awkward breaks in the set.
Then, after graduation, you both land in Fayetteville and meet up?
Reed: I actually moved to Austin out of high school first. The doctor that was really helping me was there, but also the music scene there is so great. So I packed up my drum set and I moved into a little apartment. I was taking classes nearby, but I thought that I was going to not really pay attention to school and just play on 6th Street all day long. But that didn’t really happen, so I felt myself being pulled to Fayetteville. It was a big, progressive community with a large array of creatives. And when I got there, I pretty much reached out to everyone I knew, and Jack happened to be one of those people. Then we learned that we lived in the same dorm, which made it easy to hang out when we got done with all our classes.
Jack: The way it started, I mean, honestly, it was going into each other’s dorm rooms and seeing each other’s music equipment and being like, “You do this? You do this? Okay cool, let’s…” We didn’t have any other options, in a way. We weren’t well-connected in Arkansas to just play music with other people. So I remember there was at one point in our friendship, in our dorm room, I would just sit down and play the same progression over and over, and sing these hip hop covers over this progression, and Reed would solo over it.
But it’s not like the two of you were into the same kind of music, right?
Reed: In terms of when I pick up a guitar, the first thing I play is all the mid-80s, late-80s hair metal bands like Poison or Whitesnake or Skid Row. Those are my daily listens. I love the entertainment factor of that music. I love putting on a great show and wowing an audience, giving people something to remember. Just sitting at a piano and singing for people definitely has its moments, but when I hear somebody ripping a solo or playing a sick drum fill, I freak out.
Jack: Probably my earliest love was folk music, like The Avett Brothers, and Mumford & Sons. I love listening to 90s rap like Outkast and Madvillain. Even the newer wave of that, which is like Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean, and Tyler the Creator, which are more pop than that 90s groove was.
Somehow your huge differences in musical taste didn’t stop you from collaborating?
Reed: Not at all. I mean, Jack and I have very different social personalities too. I’m just not that social. My default is to seclude and play guitar or work out or meditate. I just love to be alone. So actually, hanging out with Jack and doing music was more of a comforting social release for me more than anything.
Jack: After a while, just for fun, we started doing covers on YouTube, and it was after that, I think, that I showed Reed a song that I had an outline for, “Finally Home,” which is about trying to figure out your identity when you’re someplace new, and you’re kind of trying on different identities for everyone you meet. I was experiencing that a lot freshman year, and I was feeling exhausted and lonely. Anyway, I played it for Reed one day, and he was really encouraging. I think from there, we were like, “Maybe we could write music together.”
That song has nearly a million streams on Spotify now. How did that happen?
Reed: When we first started releasing music, our friends were really, really supportive in helping us get the word out. I think it’s a really big thing, having a community that likes to see us succeed, which is very cool, but also, we would go play these little shows, and we were amazed at how much people liked our sound, just our live sound especially, and wanted to tell their friends.
Jack: Honestly, the grace of God, that’s how I would explain it. There’s just some days where we look at our phones and we’re like, “Oh, it got 20,000 streams yesterday. I don’t know where that came from.” We don't have that many social media followers, so we don’t know where all of these people are coming from or if they’re listening once or they're listening all the time. But I mean, we can see the map of where people listen and the fact that it’s all over the world and in dozens of countries, that's kind of crazy to think about, but it’s really cool.
When did it dawn on you that you could actually make it as a band?
Reed: I would say we probably looked at each other and said that six months ago.
Jack: Yeah, six months ago. It’s not like we were just fooling around before --
Reed: No, it was definitely not just us having fun. But both of us have parental pressures, in terms of this is what measures success, like a lot of kids do. So I mean, we were both working jobs and were doing internships, and things like that.
Jack: I was thinking of maybe a career in music ministry. Right now, I’m making smoothies professionally. We were waiting to see if this could happen.
Reed: I think we’re both very practical people when it comes to financial situations. But then, six months ago, when we started writing the songs for the new album and we started getting to know our producer, Noah Nockels, we just could really see this project could turn into something. We were like, “Oh wow, we could actually support ourselves doing this.” But for sure, the heart was always there.
Check out Rightfield!