Interview: A Rocket To The Moon’s Nick Santino on Nashville, Taylor Swift and their new album
A Rocket To The Moon recorded their second full-length—which is due sometime this summer—in Nashville with producer Mark Bright, who’s best known for his work with country superstar Carrie Underwood. The pairing was a natural one for the Boston area-band, whose members are avowed country fans. In fact, frontman Nick Santino couldn’t be happier with how the still-untitled album came out. The frontman chatted with AP from his home in Braintree, Massachusetts, right before the band headed to Nashville to put the “final touches” on the record.
Now that the album is finally almost done, what can you say about it?
It just sounds like we are growing up. We haven’t put out a record in about three years—and that’s a really long time, especially when it’s your job to play music. It gets kind of tiring to play the same couple of songs over and over again for three years straight, so putting out this new stuff is going to be awesome.
We toured for three years straight—the way we were all playing together as a band, we went in and recorded like that. The bones of all the songs on the [new] record, we sat in the studio in a big, live tracking room. We were all isolated, and we recorded all together. We would go through 13 songs, and we would do each one like 30 times, just to get a good take. We would take the bones of that [and] a couple weeks later, we’d go back and clean up some of the guitar parts, go back and re-do some of that stuff. Then we’d put all the candy on top, like the vocals and the backup vocals.
For the most part, these songs were just recorded live for the nice full-band sound. We sound like a band on the record. We don’t sound like we were made in a studio; we don’t sound like the songs were just put together in the studio. Genre-wise, we didn’t change too much, but when we recorded On Your Side, we were only listening to certain bands. Over the last few years, we’ve all matured musically. We listen to everything. Before [we were] stubborn, young kids that only wanted to listen to certain bands. Now, we literally listen to everything.
I think all of our influences went into this new record, writing it and recording it—anything from Johnny Cash to Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers to some pop that’s on Top 40 radio right now. We took everything we listen to as a band and made songs like that. Kids are going to see that when they hear it. They’re going to be like, “This makes sense. I always see them tweeting about this band or tweeting about what they think of this kind of music.”
How did recording in Nashville influence the album?
It was very influential. Our producer—his name is Mark Bright—is a big time Nashville country producer. He’s done every Carrie Underwood record and song—anything she needs done, he is her man. [He also did] the early Rascal Flatts records, Scotty McCreery, the other American Idol winner, and a lot of country. For us being country fans, we were like, “We want to have that.”
There’s something about the country world—and I can’t really figure it out—but they’re on their own planet with stuff. Everything in Nashville revolves around music, and that’s the only city you’ll find that in. There’s guys that just work for the music union down there, and you just call up that union and you’re like, “Hey, I need somebody to play fiddle and slide guitar in a song,” and the guys come in. They play it and then they get paid from their union. It’s just their job. It’s insane. You can’t find that anywhere else. It was cool to see that stuff come together, because it’s all new to all of us.
Our producer, like I said, is a country producer, and we like the idea of going down to Nashville and doing it with a country producer, because they do their records so well and they put their records together so well. It kind of worked out great for us, because Mark was looking for a pop/rock band [to work with]. He was like, “I’ve been doing country forever. For years I’ve been doing country records. I kind of want to do something different.” And we were like, “Weird, because we’re a rock band and we kind of want to go with a country producer,” so it works out perfect. Somehow the stars aligned, and a couple phone calls and meetings later, we locked down Mark and both him and us. We couldn’t be happier with the result that we’ve come out with.
I think it’s cool for a band like us to go in with a producer like that, because I feel like everybody expects us to go with a cliché pop/rock band producer. When we announced we were going to go into the studio with Mark Bright, people were like, “Wait, he’s a country producer. He’s done only Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood. What is Rocket doing? Are Rocket becoming a country band?” It’s like, “No, it’s way beyond that. This dude is a genius.” Sitting in the room with him, it’s unreal. I don’t know how to explain it, but something about him just being in the room starts this fire in all of us, and we’re just so on fire to be there.
He has this way of doing things and you’re like, “That should be the only way people do things when it comes to recording a record. How can people do it differently?” It’s a very raw, natural way of recording, and we loved it. We loved every second of it. Playing every note, doing everything by ourselves and then sitting in the room listening to the song on the playback, we’d be like, “All right, well this should go here,” and he’d be like, “Okay,” and then he would just go up to his office where he has crazy amounts of instruments and he’s like, “Hey, play this instrument. We’re gonna put it on here.” We don’t even know what the instrument is. We’d play it on there and be like, “Yes. Holy crap. How did you know that’s what [we wanted]?” He just has a good ear for that stuff.
I was just going to ask you what the biggest difference has been working with a country producer, and you started answering that question already. Do you have anything else to add to that?
Mark works with singers. [When] he works with Carrie Underwood, he only focuses on her; his only concern is making sure Carrie sounds great. But they have their hired guns come in and play their guitar and drums all together, and they knock those tracks out in like a day. Then they get the music and they go and bring Carrie in.
Him working with a band that actually plays their own stuff is a treat for everybody. We’re all pretty good musicians, but we’re nowhere near the guys that he hires to come in and play on a Carrie Underwood track, so him going and seeing us play our own record was kind of inspiring for him. It was almost like he was going back to his early days of recording, where that’s how it was. It was kind of cool. It was very, very cool and new for both of us.
We learned off each other. He learned and a lot from us and we learned a lot from him.
Usually you don’t find that. You find producers who are directing and guiding bands—or bands go in and they know exactly what they want and they’re directing the producer. It’s very a rare to see that mutually beneficial relationship.
Yeah, he’s a big time, big name producer—he’s very well known in Nashville. When we would tell people like friends and bands and stuff who we were going with, they would be like, “So, does he even really do anything? Does he come to the studio? Does he have engineers and assistants [to record] and he’s out doing other stuff?” It may seem that since he does some big names like Carrie and stuff that he’ll step a foot in for five minutes and then leave it up to Todd, our engineer, to do everything, but there was not a second he was outside the studio unless we took a lunch break for 45 minutes. He was in the studio, like, 11 hours of the day with us.
We thought maybe there were going to be days where he’s busy and that he needs to go out of town to do his Carrie stuff, and we’re going to go record just with our engineer. [But Mark] had his time for the month for our band and that’s what he did for the entire month: He focused on our band and nothing else. It’s kind of cool to see that, like, “Hey, Carrie Underwood can wait for a second because we have A Rocket To The Moon in the studio.” It’s kind of awesome.