Over the course of his 17 seasons in the major leagues, Bronson Arroyo racked up 148 regular-season victories, earned a World Series ring with the 2004 Boston Red Sox, and secured himself a place in the Cincinnati Hall of Fame. But a baseball wasn’t the only thing Arroyo was gripping during his downtime. Whenever he had a spare moment off the field, you could usually find him playing guitar. For the last two decades, Arroyo has regularly performed around the country, usually playing sets of cover songs to raise funds for philanthropic causes. Now after his retirement from Major League Baseball, Arroyo is sharing his own music with the world for the first time.
Bronson Arroyo and The ’04 are ushering in this exciting new era with the release of an album of original songs, ‘Some Might Say,’ via Nasty Hook Records on February 17, 2023. The ’04 band features A-list musicians, including Jamie Arentzen (who also plays with Miley Cyrus, Butch Walker & American Hi-Fi) bassist Ed Valauskas (Juliana Hatfield, Gravel Pit), guitarist Clint Walsh (Dwarves, The Motels) and drummer Eric Gardner (Gnarls Barkley, Tom Morello). Legendary Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes also makes an appearance on the track, “Side FX.”
The painstakingly crafted record features ten original songs filled with hard-driving guitars, powerful choruses, and vivid, observational lyrics penned and sung by Arroyo, with the same passion and intensity he brought to the field. “The theme throughout the album is my optimism for life,” says Bronson. “I’ve always been about being present and enjoying the moment. The glass is always half full – that’s the thread that ties all the songs together.” Though he doesn’t appear on the album, Arroyo credits his friend, Eddie Vedder with playing an important role in the record’s creation. “I played him the demos, some which were still really raw, and he went through every single song critiquing and adding little notes to my lyric sheets. Afterwards, he was like, ‘Hey man – you got something here!’
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Bronson Arroyo for an in-depth look at his musical roots, his evolution as an artist, and the creative process that brought ‘Some Might Say To Life.’
I wanted to go all the way back to the beginning. What are your first memories of music?
Ya know, early on, I was living in Key West, Florida. My mother grew up there, and my father had come from Cuba when he was a baby, basically. The only thing they really knew was The Keys! It is such an isolated place that it made for an interesting place to grow up. My grandmother, on my mother’s side, was one of the few music teachers on the island, and she taught music there for about seven years. She would go to school to teach, but when she would come home at night, people would come over to the house. They were anywhere from age six to sixty! Sometimes they would take piano, violin, or cello lessons. At other times there would be four or five people rehearsing for little orchestras. So, I was around music a lot. My father played in bands through high school and sang in the car lot. I never saw him perform live like that, but he would always sing in the car when we were on drives. My mother would play piano. Everybody was doing something, but I was the athlete, and I never really took it seriously. It was always just in the background of my life. It took until I was twenty-two, when someone handed me an acoustic guitar, to have a fire lit under me to want to play music myself.
We grew up in the same era, which was a great time for music. Who were some of the artists that moved you?
Growing up with my father, I had this strange childhood where I was lifting weights in the weight room from age six on. There was always a radio in the weight room, so I listened to The Beatles, The Mamas, The Papas, Elton John, and James Taylor. It was a lot of what is considered “the oldies” for our generation! I loved a lot of that music because it was good, solid music, but it didn’t give me goosebumps. It took until I was fifteen or sixteen when I heard Stone Temple Pilots’ “Creep.” Right on the backside, you’re talking about Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten,” ‘Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind,’ Alice In Chains’ and so on. That whole Seattle sound really got me thinking about music differently. It didn’t feel like “feel-good music” to me. It was more like, “I’m trying to tell you something here about something that is going on in my life that has driven me crazy or might be driving you crazy.” Not only was it melodic, but it felt good. For a kid who was purely optimistic and never really had much negativity in his life, I don’t know why I was so drawn to that music. The darker side of the music made it feel more real to me. That’s when it took off for me in the early 90s.
Many people end up with an acoustic guitar, but only some put it to work. So what gave you the big to start exploring your musical side?
So, I was in Double-A with the Pirates. This was 1999 in a little town called Altoona, Pennsylvania. I got the acoustic guitar handed to me, and I had probably sung karaoke a handful of times. I was getting a decent reaction from people. I wasn’t sure that I could sing or anything; I just thought I sounded like I was in key. I got this guitar, and I just wanted to play songs that I wanted to hear. I wanted to play Oasis, Creed, LIVE+, and BUSH. I remember hacking my way through “What’s This Life For” by Creed on the guitar. Suddenly, I had this revelation that I was making the sound. There was no one else around, which was why I had to start singing. At first, you’re so focused on the guitar that you aren’t thinking about anything else. Then I thought, “Well, no one else is going to be around to sing this stuff for me, so I better do it myself!” It just became this journey of going down to the basement and whittling your way through a new song to see if you could challenge yourself and pull it off!
It’s hard to believe that it’s been about 18 years since you released the ‘Covering The Bases’ record. That’s where we discovered you have an incredible rock voice. It’s still a favorite of mine and still makes it into the rotation quite a bit.
What are some of your memories of bringing that album to life? It’s such a great time capsule.
My initial memories of making ‘Covering The Bases’ has to do with the fantastic musicians that were in the studio. I was totally out of my element in a lot of ways. I’d been singing around the campfire for a long time, but I had never played in front of people who were legends in the business. It was Kenny Aronoff on drums, Leland Sklar on bass, and Mike Inez playing bass on three of those songs. Then a guy named Michael Landau. All of these guys are just monsters of rock! I’ll put it this way — It’s Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Hank Aaron playing in your same outfield!
I remember looking at their notes and seeing how professional they were about the way they were going about their business. Then I remember taking that out on the road in New England and starting to play for the first time with an acoustic guitar and my buddy on saxophone. Those were the formidable years of trying to be a performer when I was starting to find my way. I honestly had friends from high school that would come to a show and say, “Hey, man. What are you doing here tonight? Are people actually coming here to listen to you?” They didn’t even know I played music because I picked it up late in life, and I was always on the road in the minor leagues. It was something that was out of the box for me. Those early years with ‘Covering The Bases’ made me feel like I was a guy who was moving in the right direction to write his own music one day.
How do you make the transition into writing your own material?
Songwriting came about three or four years later, even when I was still very, very green at playing the guitar. I still feel like I’m green after 25 years! [laughs] I remember writing some tunes about Key West or kid’s songs. They were very simple GDC songs that you could make a melody over or rap over. Those were the inceptions of writing for me. They were decent songs about my childhood and stuff. I will still sometimes play them now, but there is nothing that I would seriously want to put on a record. It took a long, long time for me to even think that I wanted to challenge myself to write something I would put out to the world.
What went into finding your voice as a songwriter?
Basically, I’ve been working on it since I retired. I was trying to find a formula to write. You can always write very literally, right? You could tell kids stories about eating fruits and vegetables or getting your sleep at night. It’s easy to tell those stories. However, if you listen to “Black” by Pearl Jam, you’re not exactly sure who or what he is talking about. You know it’s probably a relationship but you don’t know why it’s hurting him so badly. It’s more cryptic, and you can take parts of the song and map them onto your own life, but maybe some parts don’t match up perfectly. That’s what I was interested in learning how to do. I was looking for a way to write in a specific style. I wanted to tell a story that maybe, while you weren’t quite sure what it was about, you could pick pieces from it and bring them into your own world. In 2018, when I retired, I said, “Let me see if I can do this!” So, I started working with Elliot Sloan of Blessid Union of Souls and a buddy of mine around Cincinnati named Chris Lambert. I could bring them an idea for a song, whether it might be four chords, a riff, or an idea of what I wanted to write about, and in four hours, I could knock something out. Having another lyricist there to get you through the sticking points was instrumental to the process.
For example, you might have three lines you love, but you can’t find that fourth line. Having that extra person to bounce it off is what got me to finish songs. We’d sing the songs and make really rough demos immediately after writing them. Once I started taking those rough demos home, I really got addicted to stockpiling those. That was the process that led me to make this record. It really made me feel good about what I was saying lyrically. In the past, when I was trying to write about myself personally, it all just seemed very cliche. However, if I wrote about an outside subject, like the Vietnam war, it felt more natural and authentic.
You need to put in a ton of work and your fair share of blood, sweat, and tears to get to the point you have, both in Major League Baseball and in music. So how did that creative drive end up in your DNA?
The discipline really came from those early formative years in the weight room with my father. He never missed a day. There wasn’t a time when he said, “I’m tired today. We’re not going down to the weight room to do this exact workout that we talked about doing. Fielding, hitting, running, pitching, or whatever we were doing that day had been mapped out long ago. Whatever it was, you knew you were going down to do that! My father was on peritoneal dialysis for a couple of years. He was connected to this machine, and he was still out there working out with me! That was built into me as a young kid. By the time I got to the big league level in baseball, I had found that I had, either naturally or by acquiring enough of a skill set, peeled back all of the layers of being a ball player. I felt very comfortable, so I could be out there, be free, and be myself.
Musically, it was different because I didn’t pick it up until a lot later in life. There is more insecurity about singing or playing an instrument when you don’t feel like you’re the most talented guy in the room. So, peeling back those layers was a challenge. There are so many elements at play, from stage performance to how far you are from the microphone to what type of guitar you are playing and how you’re holding that guitar. Is your strap up near your chest, or are you playing it real down low? All those things that come along with being a performer took me a long time to start peeling back, and I’m still learning every day! It’s fun to have a grind and something to dig against.
You’ve got some fantastic talent in the band. Tell us a little bit about the guys in The ’04.
These are guys that I met in ’04, and we’ve all been friends since then. We’ve hung out a lot. We’ve vacationed together, I’ve thrown batting practice to them, we’ve gone to baseball games, they’ve come to see me pitch, and I’ve gone to their shows. We’ve always played the Hot Stove, Cool music shows that Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons put together. First, you have Jamie Arentzen, Miley Cryus’ guitar player. Then there is a buddy of mine named Clint Walsh, who played with Gnarls Barkley and a bunch of different bands. He plays in The Motels now. Eric Gardner is on drums. He also plays with The Motels and is out with Melissa Etheridge about 100 days a year right now. Then on bass is a local legend from Boston named Ed Velazquez. He’s played in a ton of bands and with Juliana Hatfield a lot. He even had his own band called The Gravel Pit for a long time. As I said, these are guys that I met around the Hot Stove, Cool Music thing that Theo Epstein and Peter Gammons used to put together. It was just kind of a vibe in town! New England brought a very different musical vibe than I was used to from growing up in Florida. As a kid, I didn’t know you could go to places down the street and listen to live music. To be hanging around with these guys has been amazing. The music life started rubbing off on me, little by little. We used to always say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that we would write a record together when I retired. It took me to take the bull by the horns, go out there and get some riffs from those guys and bring them back to finish the demos for it to happen. Now, everybody is enjoying their time playing this music and is super proud of the record.
What made now the time to bring your new album, ‘Some Might Say,’ to the masses?
I wrote the songs all through ’18 and half of ’19. By the time we got ready to organize and record in Los Angeles, it was the very end of ’19 and the beginning of ’20. That’s when Covid hit, so we were about 60 to 70% done with the record in the studio but didn’t have any cellos, violins, pianos, or backup harmonies on it. It was just meat and potatoes! It just sat there idle for a bit because California was one of the locked-down states for a very long time. I didn’t make it back out there for almost a year and a half, and, in a lot of ways, I’m glad. With that time off, we were able to let our ears get fresh. We hadn’t heard the music for a long time, so when we went back into the studio to finish the record, everybody was more excited about it than they had been originally. They were also less critical of the lyrics and what I consider to be nuances on record that might sound off to somebody else but, to me, were beautiful imperfections. To finish it up after the pandemic has been good. Now, things are wide open, and people are playing music, so it was a good time to put the record out. With me going into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame this summer and being on the ballot for Cooperstown this past year, it was the right time to put something out.
Did you have a particular vision for this record when you went into the creative process for this album?
No, I didn’t have a huge vision of what it would sound like. It was such a process of trying to learn to write songs that I would be happy with putting on a record that when I would write the demos, I didn’t have any idea of what it would sound like. A lot of the songs were coming out sounding like rock and roll because of my voice and the energy in the songs, but there was no thought that it needed to sound a particular way. I just wanted the songs to go where they were going to go on the demo. Then, I handed it to the guys in the band. I knew they were going to bring them to life. I wanted them to bring their 30 years of being professional musicians to the table. I was eager to hear the sounds that would come from their guitars and their ideas. It was a pure democracy in the studio.
We produced the whole record as a band while being driven in different directions by different guys in the band with whatever they felt was their strong suit. The actual sound came together a little late in the process after we put on all the backup harmonies and some of the riffs that really drive some of these songs in the background. There are little flavors of the 80s in there, along with some flavors of country, and then you might hear a little folk. Then, of course, you get the obvious influences like a little bit of Pearl Jam or some Tom Petty. I didn’t really go into this, hoping it would sound like anything. I wanted to make a good, solid amount of songs I had written from my mind and see where they fell.
You’ve got a ton of great tracks on this record. So which ones came easiest, and which were the hardest to nail down?
Oh, that’s a tough one! They were all a little tough, but then you would find those golden moments. For example, in “Guerrilla Warfare,” I didn’t know what I was going to say after the bass line right before the chorus starts. We got this scream of “Heeeeeyyy!” That laid out the rest of the chorus. Some of those magic moments were like finding a diamond in the rough when writing. I’d say “Nights Alive” probably came together relatively quickly. I wrote most of that one by myself. It was just a song on acoustic guitar that I could handle myself. When it comes to a lot of the really fast, riffy stuff, I couldn’t play and sing a lot of that stuff at the same time. Well, at least I couldn’t back then. I would have to write those in a studio session instead of just with an acoustic guitar, so those took a little bit longer. So, “Nights Alive” was probably the easiest one. The toughest one was Probably “Higher Ground.” It sounds like a simple song, but a lot is going on in it, and the harmonies are very intricate. That took a while to flesh out and get the pattern or format we wanted for the song. It’s a little strange because it’s not purely pop-like verse, verse, verse, chorus. It doesn’t have a bridge so that one probably took the longest.
As you approached the finish line for the album, was it challenging to know when to put a pin it?
In general, I find that people second-guess themselves a lot and have a bit of insecurity. What made me who I was in Major League Baseball for 15 years was the fact that I could go out there and throw a 3-2 curveball and walk a guy in with bases loaded and never second guess myself because I thought it was the best move to make at the time. So, when it came to the music, there were times that I thought things sounded good enough to put on the record without tinkering with it. Then we would tinker with it some more, and I’d be even happier with it, but I’m a guy who can let go pretty easily. I’m not scared to put stuff out into the world that’s a little raw and rough. But, at the end of the day, it is easy to polish something up too much. You hear bands say all the time that they wish they would have made it a little more organic. I heard that so much leading up to this record that I didn’t want it to be unbelievably polished. I wanted it to sound like the band live. I wanted it to sound like my own vocal and not have it so doctored up with autotune that I couldn’t pull it off live. So, for me, it was easier to let go. Now, some of the guys in the band would be less likely to let go as easily, but I convinced them over time that some of this stuff doesn’t matter so much.
Creating this record and bringing it to the masses in this day and age has to be an eye-opening experience. So what are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
Honestly, the last couple of months has been the most challenging part! [laughs] Writing the music seems easy compared to just trying to get the music out there. You’re dealing with the backend of Spotify and Apple Music and aligning all of these things at ASCAP to make sure that all the t’s are crossed, and the i’s are dotted. It’s a world I didn’t understand and still don’t understand fully. Even if you ask musicians that have been around forever, sometimes they can’t even tell you the difference between the publishing and the writing or who gets the royalties and how it gets split. Everybody has their own ideas on how it works. So, trying to sift through that has been a little bit difficult. Also, just trying to get the guys together and think about how you want to play these shows live and if you’re going to have the opportunity to play shows in the future. But, honestly, even if we didn’t get to do that, just playing a few times with the guys and rehearsing in Boston and hearing these backup harmonies live and knowing we could pull it off on a stage with no click track and no machines was really fun!
I know you and the band are playing Inning Festival in Tempe, AZ, and Tampa, FL, in the coming weeks. What does the future look like regarding touring in support of this record?
I am still determining how much time I’m going to have because two of the guys in the band are always playing with some pretty big names on the road. I would definitely love to find a pocket of time to be able to play five or six festivals a year. I’m sure people would be curious, like, “This is a Major League Baseball player. Can he really pull this off? Does it seem authentic?” I would love for people to come to check it out and have the opportunity to see that the music is nothing conjured and nothing other than five guys playing a good rock and roll record from front to back. Hopefully, it sounds good to them. That’s really my goal. I don’t know where it’s all going to land. As I play these songs more and more by myself, practicing them with an acoustic guitar, I get more excited about the stories I am telling. I didn’t really realize that early on. A lot of times, you cringe about writing your own stuff, but now I’ve found the process, now that the songs are finished, to be really beautiful. I’m trying to find a way to play them, even if it’s by myself sitting in a restaurant or a bar for 100 people, just to let people hear these stories.
Are you always writing?
It ebbs and flows a little bit. I wrote 24 songs for this record. We recorded 13 of them in the studio, and then 10 of them made the album. After that process, I needed a little downtime before I could be creative again. So, I haven’t gotten that bug yet. I’m diving hard into learning these songs through and through by myself and seeing how I can perform them by myself. I’m also trying to learn how I can be in this band because this is the first time we’ve really done it. Right now, I’m not writing at all, but you’ve always got 30 ideas sitting around in your iPhone voice notes that you haven’t finished from the past! I’d like to go back at some point in the next 6 months and hammer out one song a week to see what might take shape for the future.
What was the biggest takeaway from your experience of creating this album?
I learned that I could write songs I’m happy with and listen back to. I’m proud of the stories that are in them. I am proud of the riffs and the way the album sounds. I’ve learned that it doesn’t take more than the guys in the band and a good engineer inside a studio to pull this thing off. It’s not an insurmountable task! I’m happy with the way the record sounds. I feel like I’ve been a guy who can say, “Ya know what? You wrote an album, Bronson, but it’s not quite up to snuff, and I don’t want to put it out.” I have a lot of songs that I feel that way about, but with this record, 9 out of 10 songs I would play on the radio anywhere in the world and feel confident about how it sounds. It’s been as enjoyable an experience as I could ever ask!
I know you and Eddie Vedder are friends and that there was a point in the demo stage when you played these songs for him. What was that experience like for you? I imagine that was a nail-biter, no matter how confident you might be.
Yeah, no doubt! My childhood hero was Ozzie Smith from the St Louis Cardinals. If you said to me, even when I was 30 years old, “Hey, let’s go take some ground balls next to Ozzie Smith and show him what your backhand and ability to turn a double play looks like.” You’d feel a little inferior, for sure! I have been on the side of the stage at Pearl Jam shows enough, and I’ve been to enough music shows and observed the musicians. Even guys who are playing at a really high level have more insecurities than I do. Even if they have a skill set that is above and beyond mine, a lot of times, they don’t feel that way. I’ve taken the small number of insecurities I’ve had in my life and realized that everyone else has so many more that I just shut that door.
I wouldn’t have played that stuff for Eddie if I didn’t think enough to put on a record, but I felt confident in those demos, and they were really rough demos. They weren’t polished at all! I’ve known him long enough that I felt like, “Hey, I’m going to present you with something that is going to be of quality at some point, and I’d love your opinion.” If he would have looked at me and said, “Bronson, this stuff is terrible, man. I wouldn’t record this anywhere.” [laughs] Then I would have had to second guess everything about the way I observe the word, ya know? But he didn’t say that. He sat and listened and could understand that there was something here that would be worth recording. The older I have gotten, the more I have come to find that the less I believe there is anything magical about anything that anyone does. It’s about hard work, going to the basement, and working on your craft. If you hear Ed Sheeran when he is 16 and then hear him play now live, it’s a totally different person. It has nothing to do with anything but hard work and dedication. So, I enjoyed putting that in front of Eddie and listening to his opinion.
You mentioned the business side of things. Do you see any parallels between the business of baseball and the music business?
Man, they are exact opposites! [laughs] In baseball, we’ve got a union that dictates all of the rules. Everybody knows where they’re getting their money from, and you know exactly when and how you are getting paid. Everything is buttoned up, and you don’t have to worry about a thing. In music, it honestly feels like the wild wild west! If you ask two different people, “How much does a band make off of one song being streamed on Spotify versus Apple?”” you’ll get two different answers. There are so many different moving parts in the music industry there is no way that you could ever simplify to something that feels as organized as Major League Baseball. So, they are at totally different ends of the spectrum. I wrote about a lot of outside subjects on this album. There is a song about Ted Bundy, the serial killer. There is also a song about the Vietnam War. Another is about me finding out where my family came from in Cuba. I’m writing about a lot of external things.
Still, the one thread that goes through the entire record that really is Bronson Arroyo is “optimism.” It’s about being present tense because we will all die very quickly. “Enjoy the moments now.” You will hear that in “Nights Alive” and on “Higher Ground.” That is who I am as a person. I got to weave that through the entire record, even though I was writing about some outside subjects. For me, that was something that solidified these songs together. It’s something that made me feel like this project kind of fit and why a lot of these songs made the cut in the end because a lot of them had that theme running through them!
That’s awesome! Thanks so much for your time today, Bronson. I can’t wait to see where this next step in your evolution leads.
Thanks, Jason. I appreciate it, bro!
See Bronson Arroyo and the ’04 Live:
Feb 26 Tempe, AZ @ Innings Festival (tickets HERE)
March 19 Tampa, FL @ Innings Festival (tickets HERE)
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.