With their sixth studio album, Wake Up Call, Theory hit the reset button, diving into a new sound, a new approach, even a new location. The more melodic, intimate style that defines the project is a bold move for one of the leading rock bands in the world. Since forming in British Columbia in 2001, Theory of a Deadman featuring Connolly, guitarist Dave Brenner, bassist Dean Back, and drummer Joey Dandeneau, have placed nine songs in the Top 10 on the US rock charts, including the number one hits Bad Girlfriend, Lowlife, So Happy, and Angel.
To celebrate the success of Wake Up Call and the heavy radio play of the lead single Rx (Medicate) The Canadian Rock Powerhouse THEORY are headed to Australia for the very first time and Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles spoke to Tyler Connolly (lead vocals and guitar) about the tour.
It sounds like it’s a really exciting time for the band given how well Wake Up Call has gone?
Yeah, I’d say. Unexpected, to say the least. We made a record that was a lot different than what we’ve done in the past for, I’d say fifteen years and then we put out something that I think deep down scared us a little bit but it’s been received pretty well, so we’re happy.
Was it something that was really hard to literally hit the reset button and go for a new sound on Wake Up Call?
It’s terrifying, you don’t know what you’re so used to when you’re in a label, you have your first record to write whatever you want, right? There’s no pressure. There’s no expectations. You don’t have fans yet. You write what you want and then you make a second record, and the third record, and then all of a sudden, now you’re a band that writes this kind of music, so you have to write that kind of music and you have to try and write hit songs within that small genre that you’ve now created for yourself.
Now we have this idea that our sixth record… and we’re like yeah, let’s be creative again. Let’s go back to when, let’s pretend we weren’t signed. Let’s pretend that we had no fans. Let’s just make the record that we wanted to make and this was the record that we made. It encompasses, I think, a lot more creativity than our past few records, I believe.
I know you were saying that it was terrifying but was it something or a particular moment that influenced the decision to go down this path?
I don’t know if there’s one specific thing. I think, we’ve been watching the rock market change a lot throughout the years, at least in North America and that’s kind of our maturity, our touring is in North America. So, we focused a lot on that and we’ve seen the changes happening. Some changes, I would say, we’re not a fan of. We weren’t too thrilled on how things were going. So we wanted to to make a record that we felt was best suited to explain how we felt and what we believe is good music. If people wanted to come aboard on that, that would be great. If they didn’t, then they didn’t. We wanted to almost, I wouldn’t say pioneer but I guess, sort of, pioneer a new direction and not just make the same old thing over and over again. You know what I mean?
Absolutely! Were you surprised with how well that it’s been received by fans?
Yeah. I think we all are surprised with how it all turned out. I think originally when we released the record, I think a lot of our fans thought that we were going to make another rock record and it was going to be big and heavy, a lot of guitars. Then we released it and it was the opposite. I think everybody was like, “What? What is this?” and a lot of people, I don’t think they even liked it. They’re like, “I don’t like this.”
We allowed them to just sit on it. Sit in their cars, drive to work listening to it in their cars. Going to the gym, having it in their headphones, listening to it at home. I think, people started to really change their minds about it and go, “You know, this – even though it’s different, the songs are good, right? The songs, they have some substance to them. They’re well written songs. The lyrics are strong.” Now we’re starting to see a big following and change here.
Well Medicate I thought was almost the perfect song. You must have been high-fiving each other when that one was finished, because it is an absolutely brilliant song. You must have felt like you won the lottery with that?
Well, you know, to be honest when we recorded it and wrote it there was no intentions that it was going to be a hit song. We had no idea, because there’s not much to it, right? It’s very simple. There’s not a lot of music involved. It’s a very low key groove pattern with acoustic guitar and just some strong vocals. So we just thought, you know, we don’t know what’s going to happen with this song, it’s just another song on the record.
When we put it out on the first single, which everybody was like, “Wow, we’re just going to give it a go. We don’t have anything to compare it to.” It took off! It took off and every day on the road, we all look at each other and smile and go, “Wow,” you know? We really didn’t see this coming.
Has it taken a little while for the old school fans to get on board with the new direction?Yeah, we are seeing some old fans jump on board and then there are some old fans that are kind of like, “Nah, I don’t really know – I’m not quite sure about this yet” but we expected that. That is one thing we did expect to see and it happened because a lot of our old fans are like, “Ah, make another record like the first record.” Well, we can’t though. It’s already been written. It’s been done. We can’t make the same record over and over again because we’re going to lose fans because most of the people that listen to music don’t want to listen to the same thing over again, you get sick of it, right?
So we’re still dealing with some older fans that are not too happy with it but I think that overall, we are seeing a nice jump, a nice positive reaction to the old fans coming aboard and going, “You know what? It’s not what I expected. It’s not necessarily what I would like Theory to sound like, but I can’t deny that the songs are really good. And when you have a good song, you have a good song, and there’s nothing you can do. You just got to sing what it is.”
What was it about Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game that drew the band in to cover that one?
Well, we’ve done cover songs in the past but we’ve never really made them different. We’ve just taken the song we covered and made our own version of it, but we never really changed it for the better. We didn’t really take a song and try to enhance what is there and make it really big and powerful. I think we just kind of karaokied our way through a song, and just made it sound like Theory of a Deadman covering a song. Whereas Wicked Game we were like, we really want to take an old, classic song such as Wicked Game, which is an amazing song but really take it to the next level, right Change it up to the point where it still sounds like the song, but it’s not, it’s Theory of a Deadman changing it and trying to make it better than the original. That was our goal, which was how do we make this song even better than it is, which is hard. That’s really hard to do. I’ve seen bands in the past being able to pull it off and when you do, people are like, “Man, this song–I loved the original, but this is great…”
Did Chris Isaak actually pass on any feedback or give you the thumbs up?
Actually, he did. We got the word from our publisher. He sent it to Chris Isaak, and I Chris replied saying, “It sounds fantastic, and I love what the guys did with it I think they did a great job and kudos to them.” So yeah, we got the thumbs up from Chris Isaac.
Do you feel the pressure now to keep following up with killer single after killer single?
No, we don’t feel pressure at all and the reason for that is because you can’t really, you can’t sit down and just write a hit song. If you write it, you write it and if you don’t, you don’t. You don’t sit down and go, “I’m going to write a hit song today.” It just doesn’t work like that. If it did, my goodness, that would be amazing, but in reality it doesn’t work. So, no pressure, you know? You write what you have, and then when you sit down to do it again, you don’t have that in mind. If you do, I think you fail. Just write and believe in it and people will respond in one way or another. If it’s a hit, hey, you did it again, right? So, yeah, no pressure.
Being your first Australian tour, that must be exciting as well?
Oh my goodness. I actually thought it was never going to happen after all these years but it’s happening and we just hope that it goes well because, if it does, maybe we could come back. We would love to be able to play some of the big festivals over on your side and just be a part of the Australian culture because it’s another market that to us seems so amazing. We are very excited to get over there and see Australia and see something so far away from us.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Theory Of A Deadman on the following dates…