When we last saw SafetySuit, the Nashville-based band was supporting 2008’s Life Left To Go and hit single “Stay,” which shot to No. 1 on the voter-generated VH1 Top 20 Countdown. Spotlighted by VH1 as a band “You Oughta Know,” the group toured endlessly, playing over 200 shows and selling more than 500,000 singles along the way.
They’re raising the stakes with THESE TIMES (Universal Republic), a scintillating hookfest of arena-ready rock anthems, offering unequivocal proof that the group has the goods to break wide open. Working with producers Howard Benson, Espionage (the New York-based Norwegian team of Espen Lind and Amund Bjørklund) and OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, these four skilled and remarkably self-assured musicians have cooked up a strikingly melodic, sharply drawn, viscerally immediate album filled with songs that stick in the head and heart.
For a young band, SafetySuit—singer/guitarist Doug Brown, drummer Tate Cunningham, bassist Jeremy Henshaw and guitarist Dave Garofolo—has a remarkable sense of songwriter savvy. “I do the writing,” Brown confirms, “but until we get Dave, Jeremy and Tate’s heads around the songs, they’re just songs, they’re not SafetySuit songs. When they get hold of them, they become ours, and that’s what makes us special—the four of us, not just one guy.”
After cutting a half an album’s worth of material in Nashville last spring, the band had a shocking collective realization—neither the song nor the performances, they concluded, met their lofty standards. “We’d been going nonstop for three years, and were burned out,” says Brown. “We just had to get away from it for a little bit, live life and gain some perspective. So we actually threw away the hard drives containing the tracks we’d done and started all over again.”
It didn’t take long for something fresh to manifest itself. Brown headed to New York to toss around ideas with the guys from Espionage, who were riding high after co-writing and producing Train’s massive hit, “Hey Soul Sister.” “They played me a really interesting chord progression,” Doug recalls, “and I started spontaneously singing along with it, [sings] /Take me back to yesterday/I swear it on your life.’
They saw that I was in a zone, and they said, ‘Go into this room and just be by yourself for a while.’ A half hour later, I came out and said, ‘What if we came around at the end and went [sings], ‘We can get around this, get around this’?” They were like, ‘OK, let’s start recording.’ It was really that quick. If you catch an emotional moment in the writing process, one sentence, one word, can fire off an entire song in a matter of minutes. The best songs practically write themselves. It’s all about tapping into a feeling and letting those emotions take over.”
That song, “Get Around This,” set the bar sky-high for Brown and his bandmates, and in the following months they challenged themselves to hit consistently on the rarefied level Brown and Espionage had established. Brown went straight from New York to Bahrain to play some military shows with the band around the Fourth of July holiday last year, During that trip, totally out of his element, he wrote a slew of songs, several of which wound up on the album.
In September, he got together with a talented friend, OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder, in the latter’s Colorado studio, which yielded the album’s lead single, “Let Go.” “I love that song,” says Doug, “because it’s such a departure for us. Ryan is obviously a very pop-minded producer, so I said, ‘Let’s have fun with it; let’s do something that’s not the norm.’ It turned out great, and it kills live. It’s very interactive and people get it right away.”
A second get-together with Espionage resulted in “Things to Say,” while the band self-produced “Staring at It,” a fist-pumper with an incendiary chorus, and “Life in the Pain.” They cut five songs with Benson in L.A. this March: “Never Stop,” “One Time,” “Believe,” “Stranger (Say It)” and the poignant “These Times,” which functions as the album’s thematic centerpiece.
“It was written out of a social need,” Brown says of this powerful, zeitgeist-capturing anthem. “As a band, we were talking a lot about the songs on the record, and obviously, a lot of songs are gonna be about relationships, love and loss; that’s the most common emotion people have. But as we were looking at the track, we felt like something was missing: what the pulse of the nation is right now. When we started thinking and talking about that, ‘These Times’ sprang out of that. The chorus goes, ‘Sitting alone here in my bed/Waiting for an answer I don’t know that I’ll get/I cannot stand to look in the mirror I’m failing.’ You just get tired of being on the short end of the stick; I think a lot of people feel that way. There’s a lot of people out there who would kill to just have a job so they can provide for their families. It’s tough, man—it’s tough for people, and that sucks. But we didn’t want to leave it at that, so we wrote, ‘These times are hard/But they will pass,’ and that’s important to remind people of. We’ve made it out of bad times before, and we’ll make it out again.”
At the other extreme is the intensely personal “Never Stop,” an unguarded expression of romantic devotion. “The best songs ride the line between vulnerability and too much information, where you take it to the maximum amount of vulnerability before you start weirding people out,” Brown asserts, punctuating the statement with a laugh. “I think ‘Never Stop’ does that, and I think any woman who’s with someone they love wants to hear him say, ‘I’m never gonna get used to you.’”
Despite the fact that the band interacted with three producers, each possessing a particular approach, the album comes across as a thoroughly unified piece of work. “What I loved about all of them is that they were all like, ‘Where do you want to take it and how can we help you to get there?’” Brown says of Benson, Espionage and Tedder. “But you’ve gotta go into it knowing where you want it to go in the first place.”
This hard-hitting yet life-embracing album strikingly displays SafetySuit’s singular sound and style as well as the clarity of the band’s vision. That vision was sufficiently present on the first album and the hundreds of performances that followed it to bring them a loyal, enthusiastic fanbase—one that is about to undergo exponential growth. SafetySuit is an extremely confident, distinctly American unit right on the brink of establishing itself as a band that matters.