The Small Town Titans are a power trio from York, PA who love to constantly create, as well as play live. Gone is the notion that a rock band should only release 10 songs at a time every 2 years. In a world where music fans crave new content constantly, the Small Town Titans aim to deliver their brand of art all of the time, drawing inspiration from a new wave of rock bands such as Highly Suspect and Royal Blood, and rock legends such as the Foo Fighters, Audioslave, and Deep Purple. Thanks to their efforts at assembling their own studio in a basement, STT can create and release songs, podcasts, live online concerts, and more with no rules. This artistic change in attitude stems from touring for the better part of 2 years, and realizing how difficult it really is.
After coming home from their last 30 day run, the band had made $4,000. After repairing their vehicle, restocking their merchandise and more, the band was left with $1,000. After putting most of that back into the band’s funds as usual, each member took home $150. This startling reality made STT take a step back and evaluate themselves as a band, a brand, and a business. After firing their manager, the boys soldiered on with the help of their team at Round 2 Records. They began to truly treat Small Town Titans as a legitimate small business more than ever before. Unnecessary expenses were cut, and more creative and innovative sources of new revenue were explored, such as utilizing the direct to fan creation platform Patreon, where the band is currently making $200 every time they release a new song on YouTube.
Instead of trying to make a million fans, STT is focusing on the fans they already have. With a love for playing live, a Small Town Titans show has evolved into more than a concert. It’s an event, with a set list that’s decided right before the show, and plenty of stage banter in between songs. The band simply hits the stage to deliver an energy driven show using guitars, drums, and their voices. Nothing more, nothing less. This approach to their live performances has led to them sharing the stage with acts such as Highly Suspect, Papa Roach, Black Stone Cherry, Pop Evil, and more.
By focusing on their engagement with social media and managing themselves, Small Town Titans are growing like never before and having more success as a business and a brand. The band just wrapped up a weekend long recording session at Hybrid Studios with friend Kevin Soffera, drummer for Seether on the 5x platinum selling record Disclaimer II, and who STT also recorded their last album Reflection with. Six brand new songs were recorded live in the studio, as well as professionally filmed by Springwood Productions at the same time. These new songs and videos will be released throughout the rest of 2017 and 2018. Songs range from the hard hitting “Me, Myself, and Monster” and “Wreck” to the ballad “Dragonfly”, an emotional song written in memory of Phil’s mother, who passed away earlier this year due to cancer, performed live with just one voice and an acoustic guitar.
Small Town Titans are actively forming a team of like minded individuals in the new music business who are just as driven and passionate as they are, rather than waiting to be discovered. As the band continues to grow their fan base online this year, they will also hit the road, this time with a smarter game plan, a stronger fan base, and a passionate team behind them.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Small Town Titan’s drummer Jonny Ross to discuss his musical roots, the challenges the band has faced in their 6 1/2 years together, connecting with their passionate fanbase and blazing their own trail in the music industry.
Before we get to everything happening in the world of Small Town Titans, I wanted to focus on you. What can you tell us about your love of music and the role it’s played in your life?
Oh, man. I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember and I really mean that! I was a ham as a little kid, for sure! I always loved to entertain. I’m 20 years old now but when I was very little, MTV still played music, believe it or not! I used to watch music videos all day. I would make my Mom come into the room and sing along with me to the ones I really liked. I distinctly remember loving Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell”. [laughs] I swear to God! It’s a nine-minute song and I would have my Mom come into the room and sing the female part in the song! [laughs] As I got a little older, again I’m showing my age, cassettes were a thing! [laughs] I was allowed to buy one cassette single every Friday. I would go to the mall and I was allowed to get one song every week to add to the cassette collection I would carry around. That was my music! If memory serves me correctly, and I’m proud of this, the first cassette I ever bought was Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which was the single from “Nevermind.” [laughs] I’m proud of that!
What went into finding your creative voice as a young man and lead you to pursuing your passion for music professionally?
I’m the oldest child in my family. I have a younger sister by two years, so I didn’t have the cooler older brother who was anti-establishment letting me know what was badass at the time. I had what I thought sounded good to my ears and I also had the radio. I grew up listening to the radio and I like radio-friendly music for the most part. I do feel, in the past five years or so, it’s gotten a little stagnant to me. A lot of bands don’t seem to be doing anything new. I should say that in the past year or two I feel that’s beginning to change with bands like Highly Suspect, Royal Blood, Greta Van Fleet and stuff like that but, again, I grew up on the radio. I get shit for it all the time and I don’t care — I’m a Nickelback fan. They were dominating the radio when I was in my teens and I bought a couple of their records. “All The Right Reasons” was the massive one with 7 singles. I went and saw them live and they blew me away. The drummer is really good, so that was something I really got into. I had to find things out for myself at that age. I also got really into Motley Crue because I couldn’t believe the spectacle that is Motley Crue. I remember buying one of their live DVDs and my jaw just hit the floor!
I’ve always just had a knack for rhythm. I can’t explain it, but I always have had it. When I was 8 years old in elementary school and having the moment where you are supposed to pick an instrument to try out, I immediately gravitated toward the drums. The music teacher actually pulled my mom aside a couple of weeks later and said, “Your son really has a knack for rhythm. He’s progressing faster than usual.” I was also into music and sports as a kid. I was a pretty active kid and around 13 years old, I started begging my parents for a drum set. My mother said, “Yeah, I think we can do that. We will get a cheap one.” My dad on the other had was like, “Absolutely not. It’s going to make so much ruckus and there have to be rules. It’s just going to collect dust in a corner of the basement.” Needless to say, he was wrong! [laughs] Finally, they said, “Okay, we will get you a kit.” It was a mail order kit, man. I believe Excel Percussion was the name of the brand. It might has well have been First Act, if you will. [laughs] I’ll tell you what, I kinda like that because it was a piece of crap kit but that proved that I really wanted to learn and play. I played the hell out of that crappy kit! When I could, I would upgrade the drum heads and cymbals. Slowly, I turned this really crappy kit into a slightly crappy kit! [laughs] I had a lot of fun learning how to play. I was basically teaching myself. I would come home from school every day, I would just sit behind the drums and that’s when I started to get some confidence. I really felt at home there! Then my mom took me to see Velvet Revolver. That was it! That was the first big concert I saw and I thought, “You can do that for a living? I’m going to try to do that!” [laughs] A lot of kids say that, of course. I didn’t say, “I’m going to throw everything away and go for it.” I didn’t drop out of high school or anything like that but as I was nearing the end of my high school career, I wanted to go to school for music. I ended up going for music recording but I later switched over to music business. That is where the band formed. I just knew that I wanted my real job to be in this business. I guess you can call it luck, but I just found the right guys to form this band. We just hit it off and our singer, Phil Freeman, had been my friend for years before we even jammed. He was really good. Like REALLY GOOD! He was making people stop what they were doing and turn their heads good. I thought, “Man, if I could actually do this for a living, this is the lineup that might make that happen!” We just never quit! We’ve toured a little bit, learned some lessons for sure, and have quit a few stories! Things are really looking up now! We put a plan together for this year and a lot of cool stuff has happened in the last month. I couldn’t be happier!
As you mentioned, you guys have a great chemistry. How did that help chart your course as a band?
The three of us a very different people but no one is an asshole; just to be kind of blunt with it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it when the bass player gets drunk and he is an asshole, an angry drunk. We were a five piece and we moved on to being a three piece. A lot of that had to do with the shenanigans happening off-stage. The three of us were always nice people, I felt. We like different types of music for sure but we always enjoyed what we did together. As things kept moving forward, we’ve been together for 6 1/2 years, our tastes kept evolving together. It’s such a natural thing. My thoughts on what would sound good for a song that we would write today is certainly different than what it would have been 3 or 4 years ago. The same thing goes for all of the other guys. It’s something I think that is born from being together for so long. If we were just getting together now or had only been together as a band for a year, it wouldn’t click the way it does in my opinion.
What can you tell us about the songwriting process for Small Town Titans at this point in time?
I guess it is what you would call old school. It’s in the basement. It’s drums, guitar, bass and vocals. The thing about our band is no matter how much of a song one guy comes up with, it will change and always for the better, in my opinion. It’s just what happens. We aren’t the type of band where the singer comes in and says, “Guys, I wrote this song, let’s learn it.” That’s not us. With Small Town Titans it’s, “I have this idea. Let me play what I have.” Then, the other guys will say, “Oh cool. I like this. I like that.” We just do it together. It might sound a little bit silly at this point in our career because for many people are just starting to hear about us now but to ourselves we are our own worst critics. We will push each other to make the song better until all three of us are smiling from ear to ear! That’s when we know we’ve done a good job and it’s working so far! [laughs]
I’m sure you guys have experienced a lot of up and downs during your 6 1/2 years together. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced along the way?
Hitting the road was the biggest one for sure. Actually, there were two. The first one was hitting the road. As a band, we saved up all the money we had been making as weekend warriors, playing 3 hour shows, playing half cover songs and half originals. We didn’t really pay ourselves during that time and we kept saving up the money. Eventually, it hit a point where we were never going backwards. There was always something cool that was happening, so we kept having the motivation to keep going. Finally, it was like, “Okay, we need to get out on the road. Through hell or high water, we need to get out on the road!” That is quite the task to sit down as a band and say, “We are going to jump to the next step. We’re going to quit our jobs, get a vehicle, etcetera, etcetera.” So, we did that! Let me tell ya, you find out within a week if you are meant to do this thing on the road! As I’m sure you have heard from plenty of guys in interviews with you, it’s not glamorous in any way, shape or form! [laughs] We found that we could do it. We gel really well off-stage as well. For example, we all like to work out, so we all got Planet Fitness memberships. There are locations all over the country with is great. The really nice thing is the shower! [laughs]
Yeah, I’m sure that comes in very handy when you need to blow off some steam and are in desperate need to wash away the grime from the road!
Absolutely! You get me in the gym for an hour and that’s my church! Don’t talk to me, don’t look at me! [laughs] I mean, you’re living in a box with the rest of the band for every other part of the day! There is NO privacy, so boy do you look forward to going to the gym! [laughs] If I get a workout in and get a shower in, I’m coming out a new man! We came home from touring and we didn’t have anybody with us. We didn’t have any roadies, a tour manager or anything like that. We barely had any money, man. We made 4K as a band, which we were told is really good by people who knew what we were doing in the industry at the level we were at. When it was all said and done, we had to restock the merch, fix the bus because the AC was busted and we were going back out in August. After all of that, we were left with $1000. We put most of that money back into the band and paid ourselves $150 bucks. That was for the 30-day run and that is what we had to say for it. We were like, “There has to be a better way to do this!”
Now, here’s the second challenge. So, a week had gone by and our guitar player, Ben Guiles, called us up. He was like, “Guys, I’ve got this job opportunity and I have to take it because if I don’t I could be in debt for 20 years.” No one was mad, it was just really sudden, so it was a bitter pill to swallow for a second. That was the moment where I think we all asked, “Are we done here?” That would have been a shame because we weren’t making any backwards progress and things were still going well. We were making fans, making more money each time, but it was just a really slow process. Right around that time, we managed to get some investors. The timing couldn’t have been shittier to me at first. We had sat in the bus countless times saying, “Man, if we had some investors and had a bank, we could prove what we are doing here is worthwhile and we mean business. If we would get some financial help, we would be golden!” We finally got that opportunity and with the first call, we had to say, “Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. By the way, we can’t tour!” [laughs] They actually surprised us and said, “Don’t worry about it. You guys are in the tri-state area and you can do big weekend things. Let’s focus on your social media numbers.” That was a turning point for us and a real blessing in disguise because we didn’t quit, we just changed the plan! It was now a matter of, “How can we do this without touring?” We kept finding ways to do it! We came up with this plan and said, “Let’s release a new song ever couple of months instead of dropping an EP or an LP. It sucks because as a fan that’s what you want but, if you are a new band or an up-and-coming band, you have all of this momentum leading up to the release and you drop the record but what happens the next day? The answer for a lot of bands is “nothing.” I hate to say it but it’s true — if you don’t have a label and a machine behind you to market your next single or whatever, it’s almost like putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. We came up with the plan of dropping a new song every couple of months so that we always have something to talk about. We said, “Let’s get good PR, so we always have a good, solid press release out and you are seeing our name constantly.” We also decided to film each song as we played them live in the studio, so we have a music video for all six songs. It’s working, man! We are very, very happy and a lot of cool things happened when we dropped, “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Within a week of the release, we really saw it catch fire, which led to us getting calls about all kinds of cool stuff. We have a good booking agency now, a premiere on LoudWire and a spotlight feature with Spotify. It’s been an incredible month for us!
And what a cover it is! “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is a classic but you guys kicked it up a notch. It’s definitely a new Christmas classic on our playlists.
Thanks, man! It’s certainly done more than we thought it would in the amount of time that it’s been out. That’s for sure!
The video aspect for your songs has been great as well. As a fan, it gives you a level of intimacy with the songs and band that you rarely see.
Thanks again. We just always want to have some content out there so when you are mindlessly scrolling through your social media app of choice, when you see our stuff, you are going to stop and take notice. That’s been the goal.
A lot of people might hear the songs, see the video or some photos from you guys but never put much thought into what goes into keeping the band going. What can you tell us about the day to day of keeping the machine running and the connection you have to the fans?
For me, I’m managing us at this point. I’ve taken the past year and managed the band full-time and I couldn’t be happier! I’ve learned a lot. I’ve definitely had to manage tasks and come up with the things that need to be done daily, weekly or monthly. As far as our fans go, they played a huge role when we decided we weren’t going to tour again. It was like, “Okay, let’s say we have 500 true fans who are truly die-hard fans. We’re not going to worry about making a million fans. We are going to take those 500 fans and we’re going to treat them like absolute gold to the point where they are knocking down other people’s doors!” That’s what led us to Patreon, which is one of the coolest things on the planet right now! For anyone who doesn’t know what Patreon is, it was started by a musician… [laughs] Right there is the best part! You know it’s not going to be too bad if a musician started it! Essentially, anything you are releasing as an artist, you release as you normally would but you also put it on Patreon. A lot of people, including us, put it on Patreon first. Patreon rewards people for contributing to helping you raise money to make art. For example, for $1, your name can go on the credits of the music video. For $5, you can get something signed from the band that ties into a theme for the current release and so on. It’s just been really cool! It creates this bond with your closest fans that you can’t get anywhere else. There is a vibe of exclusivity which makes everyone feel so cool! It’s almost like a little fraternity, if you will. It’s very cool.
It’s a great time of year to catch up with you as 2018 has just become and is a blank slate. What do you have in store for us in the months to come?
We’re dropping songs. We have 4 to be released throughout the year. All we know, aside from that, is that we’re going to be given a lot of great opportunities. We just don’t know what they are yet, unfortunately. We’ve got really good booking at this point; it’s one of the best booking agents in the country, so we know we are going to be offered real tours and festival dates. We couldn’t be happier but we just have to wait and see what they give us. Then, everyone quits their jobs again and away we go! [laughs] … And we tour the right way! [laughs]
When it comes to the music you have coming up, are the singles ready to go at this point and are you working on new music? We are you in the process?
It’s a mix. The next single is ready to go. That will be released on January 11th, 2018. It’s a song called “Dragonfly,” which is very different from “The Grinch,” which is going to be very interesting. It’s literally a 180º because it’s an acoustic song and it’s only our singer, Phil. The song has a lot of meaning because it’s about his mother, who unfortunately passed away due to cancer a little bit over a year ago. He wrote the song when he knew she was going. It was one of those unfortunate slow burns where at least you can say you had time to grieve. It’s a very powerful song and I think a lot of people are going to like it. Our Patreon subscribers love it because they’ve gotten it early. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens because it’s not a heavy rock song at all. It’s not “The Grinch.” Then, we have three others to release throughout the year. It’s a mix of some of it being ready and some of it is not. Some of the songs are ready but the videos are not. It’s chaos! [laughs] There is a lot that went into this process and a lot of things that need to be done on the recording side, shooting the visual side, lining up the release dates, and picking the right Fridays to drop the songs, and everything else!
Jumping back the beginning of the bands for a moment…Small Town Titans is one hell of a band name. How did it come about?
The name is just Phil’s. He came up with it in middle school and just kinda put it in his back pocket! He never used it and waited until the right band came along, I guess. What I think is interesting is that no other band that uses the word “Titans”. I just can’t believe it! I can’t believe that in the rock and metal world that there wouldn’t have been some Dio-inspired or Iron Maiden flavored band that found the word Titan! [laughs] If there was, they never made it very far! If you Google it, you don’t find anything. So the name, we have complete ownership of in the sense of everything that we have online is simply “/SmallTownTitans,” from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter and so on.
You and your bandmates are a true inspiration when it comes to putting your heart and soul into something. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey so far?
Right now, I would say it’s important to learn social media as it is to learn your instrument. I know that might take some people aback a little bit but, in my opinion, we’re at a point where no matter how great your song is or how much you spent, if you don’t know how to market it, you might as well not even record it. I mean that, so subscribe to some blogs and listen to some podcasts to learn more about that aspect of it. You have to become a fan of this industry. You have to go beyond just being good at your instrument and writing good songs today, it takes more than that. There’s no doubt about it!
I really want to thank you for your time today, Jonny. I’m really happy to be able to shine a light on the hard work you guys are putting in on all of these fronts. I’m excited to see where these leads you in the months to come! We’ll definitely check back in to hear about the next chapter in the band’s evolution!
Thank you very much, Jason! I appreciate you talking to me! Talk to you soon and take care!