Hailing from Venice, California and self-described as “blues indie rock folk dance soul,” Terraplane Sun blends all of that and more into a rootsy rock cocktail that defies any specific era. While their music occasionally evokes stylings of The Black Keys or Phoenix, they’re not married to any trend or scene. It’s what happens when four-fifths of your lineup is born and bred in SoCal, pulling together just the right recipe of shared and disparate influences. Comprised of multi-faceted artists the band is made up of frontman Ben Rothbard, guitarist Johnny Zambetti, bassist Cecil Campanaro, keyboardist Gabe Feenberg and drummer Lyle Riddle. Terraplace Sun’s vision has rounded into shape in a distinctive way. The band’s eclectic musical colorings include harmonica (Rothbard), lap steel, accordion and trombone, (Feenberg) and mandolin (Zambetti). It’s the live show where the well crafted songs and varied musical elements combine with raw energy, musicianship and showmanship… forging a powerful connection to the audience each night.
Perhaps it’s the cinematic quality of their music that has afforded the young Terraplane Sun such swift recognition from the Hollywood creative community. Their distinct sound has found placement in several high profile productions, including big-screen hits like 21 Jump Street, Playing for Keeps, as well as popular TV series like Teen Wolf, Suits, Franklin & Bash, Nurse Jackie, and the theme for A&E’s show Relapse…to name a few. After tucking themselves away last year writing and preproduction, the band went into the studio with producer Dave Trumfio (My Morning Jacket, Wilco) to record their current five song EP entitled, “Ya Never Know.” The first single “Get Me Golden” was written after Rothbard had been involved in discussions about defying the sometimes-disheartening music industry by forging ahead with new energy. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with vocalist Ben Rothbard to discuss his musical roots, the origin of the band, the making of their “Ya Never Know” EP and much more!
I wanted to go back to the beginning and have you tell us a little about your first memories of music and how it came into your life?
Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My Mom always had on Motown or Blues, which essentially became the soundtrack to my childhood. As early as 6 years old, I demanded that she allow me to be in charge of making Motown mix tapes for their New Years dance parties. My obsession for music has only grown since then and continues to grow every day. True love! [laughs]
Who do you cite as your biggest influences — musicians you look to for inspiration or even a mentor of some sort?
I feel like my influences have constantly changed over the years. Certain musicians, artists or bands have had tremendous impact on me at different times in my life, while at the same time most likely2 leaving a permanant mark. If I had to list a few, it would have to be The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Robert Johnson.
What made you pursue music as a career instead of going a different route?
It was never a choice that I made. I first began recording music about 10 years ago and just haven’t looked back. I seriously don’t even know what else I’d do.
What has kept you inspired throughout the years as an artist and fueled your creative fire?
Just an unrelenting love for music. I love discovering new artists who I feel are pushing the boundaries which then makes me want to push myself as well. The fact that we’re constantly growing as a band plays a huge roll in fueling the fire as well. I think we’re all curious and excited to see how far we can take this thing.
For those who may not be familiar with the band. How did Terraplane Sun originally form?
Johnny and I met on a commercial in late 2009 and started jamming shortly there after. I then called Cecil into the mix, who I’d known for sometime and played with in the past. Gabe came heavily recommended through friends shortly after and the initial core was formed. Lyle was the final piece of the TS puzzel, who came recommended by a good friend of ours in a great L.A. band called the Diamond Light. That was in May 2011 and it’s been the 5 of us ever since.
How did the very unique name of the band come about?
The name was pulled from an old Blues song written by Robert Johnson called “Terraplane Blues”. The Hudson Terraplane was an American automobile created in the 1930’s. In the song, he used his Terraplane as a metaphor for his woman at the time. Upon returning to town, he noticed that somebody had been driving his Terraplane. The gears were out of wack, the interior had been ripped apart etc… I just thought it was genius. Other than being a fan of him and the song, I just liked the word. The Sun was tacked as a humbling reminder that we are all equal. If at any point you ever feel too important, remember that we are all at the Sun’s mercy. It encompases all.
For the fans who haven’t had a chance to hear the band, what can they expect from the band sonically?
A deep and heavy bottom end, with sugar on top and a groove to make you move.
You have been working with producer Dave Trumfio on your soon to be released EP “Ya Never Know”. What has that experience been like for you and what does he bring to the table for a project like this?
Dave is a funny dude. He made for a relaxed environment so we could do our thing.
Can you tell us a little about your songwriting process for this record and how you typically bring a song to life?
It usually starts off with and idea, that for one reason or another was able to pierce through the cloud of dozens of other mediocre ideas and inspire us to take it further. Once the skeleton has been formed and we still dig it, it then must through the band in it’s entirety. It is here where the song’s identity comes to life and it becomes Terraplane Sun. If after all these steps, the 5 of us feel that this particular song has that “thing,” then we play it live. If the audience responds to it, then we have a keeper.
You first single and video is “Get Me Golden”. Can you tell us a little about how the song came to life and what it means to you?
I woke up early one morning a couple of years ago with the organ line in my head. I went straight to my little home studio and laid it down around some chords. Johnny came down shortly after and we hashed it into a song and more or less a demo that doesn’t sound much different than the version you hear today. Lyrically, the song is about going after what you want in life, living your dream and making it a reality. Anything is possible, but it’s up to you to make it that way.
As an artist, what was the biggest challenge in putting the EP together?
Mixing and artwork always seem to be the most difficult. Mixing has driven me to the point of hysteria. It’s essentially a never ending process. There is no finish line. At some point, you have to except that the mix is done and that making a tambourine 1/10th of a db louder or softer will have no impact on the overall outcome of the song. Artwork is typically tricky because its hard creating something that all five of us can agree on.
What is the biggest thing you have you learned about yourself along the way?
That I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Nobody will ever be encouraged to pursue a career in rock n’ roll. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. You will be doubted by everyone around you until you’ve made it, which is never supposed to happen anyway. Regardless of where my life or this band goes, I am absolutely in love with what I do and have ZERO regrets.
When might we expect a full-length album?
I’m sincerely hoping that it will be avail for inquiring ears this Fall. I can tell you that the songs have been recorded and will be mixed and mastered shortly, so our job is done. The rest is up to the label. C’mon label! [laughs]
You guys have opened for some terrific bands. What has the experience of opening for some of these awesome acts (i.e. Imagine Dragons) done for the band as a unit?
Those shows have been some of our most rewarding moments thus far and we’ve been fortunate to have had quite a few. Whether opening for Alabama Shakes or most recently Imagine Dragons at a sold out Hollywood Palladium, we love more than anything to rise to the occasion of the evening. There is a certain electricity to those types of events that is like nothing else and something very special for the five of us to share.
What do you hope that people come away with after seeing your live show?
I hope that they come away with a sense of hope!
It seems like almost everybody has one. Have you ever had a “Spinal Tap Moment” on stage where something totally unexpected has happened?
I’m sitting seriously racking my brain and can’t think of anything crazy to tell you. I guess we’ve been pretty fortunate thus far that all of our shows have gone over pretty smoothly. Now we can guarantee that something will happen to us at one of our next shows. Thanks for the curse!
What is the best piece of advice that you can pass along to someone who wants to pursue a career in music?
Wow! There is so much that goes into it. I think people just know if it’s what they’re meant to do. You have to have such an incredible belief in what you are doing and have no Plan B. No exit strategy. Once you start thinking of a way out, it’s over. I think you also have to be a bit crazy to believe that you can accomplish the so called impossible. I’m strictly referring to making music on your own terms. There are plenty of other avenues in the music industry that one can get to just like any other profession.
In your opinion, what does the future hold for Terraplane Sun? Both long term and short?
I’ve always looked at the sky as the limit with this group. I see us playing music together for a long time. As for the short term, I think we are on the verge of breaking through the cloud.
Anything you want to tell your fans or people just discovering the band before I let you go?
We love our fans more than anything!!! They are the fuel to our engine and nothing makes us happier knowing that we’re having a positive effect on their lives!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.