The Los Angeles-based pop band R5 had so much success with its major label debut, 2013’s Louder
, that the group’s initial tendency was to try to replicate the album’s sound and vision with its sophomore effort. It had completely recorded a follow-up album when it decided it made more sense to go a different route.
“We had the album cover and everything was done,” says drummer Ellington Ratliff via phone from a Memphis tour stop. “But it was the same situation as Louder, and we thought we shouldn’t do that again. We weren’t happy with it. It didn’t represent us well. We canned it but kept some of the songs and made them into bonus tracks. We had to go back to the studio.”
Ellington says the group, which also features four siblings — singer-guitarist Ross Lynch, singer-bassist Riker Lynch, singer-guitarist Rocky Lynch and singer-keyboardist Rydel Lynch — decided to literally keep things “in-house.” Band members rented a house in Southern California where they worked on writing the songs without any interference from the record label.
“We brought friends in instead of people that the label sets up where it can be awkward for a few days and you may or may not get a song out of it,” says Ellington. “We brought in people we liked and brought them to our garage. A lot the songs were written by the band and it was a much better experience. We could wake up, grab a cup of coffee and go to the studio and just write. It was the best experience recording we ever had.”
The album commences with the shimmering “All Night,” a song with call-and-response vocals and a percolating synthesizer riff. Songs such as the funky “Let’s Not Be Alone Tonight” and the hyperactive “Doctor, Doctor” follow a similar pattern. The songs sound more like something by the alternative act Imagine Dragons than, say, the boy band One Direction.
“We love alternative music,” says Ellington. “That’s my first love. We try to put in the classic rock influences too, even electronic influences. We drew from [hip-hop producer] Jiggy Hendrix when we were writing the song ‘F.E.E.L.G.O.O.D.,’ which as more of a house sound to it. Right now, we’re listening to Chris Stapleton so maybe we’ll do a country song. I doubt it but you don’t know what’s going to come up in your brain when you’re writing music. That’s ultimately what you do. You put these things in your blender and shoot it out and that’s what the music is.”
Originally slated to be on the album that was scrapped, “Lightning Strikes” enables Rydel Lynch to take lead vocals. She adds a certain sass to the tune.
“It originally had Ross’s vocals on it,” says Ellington when asked about the tune. “She liked that song and that would have been on the previous album, but with Ross singing. That would have been on the scrapped album. We had to transpose it and I had to do backing vocals in one day. Her vocals are more piercing than his. I loved that song because the solos are tight and we don’t normally have kickass solos like that.”
For Ellington, who grew up in what he calls the “the clichéd Los Angeles scene,” acting seemed more like a possible career than playing in a band, even though he played in garage rock bands since he was in middle school. When he met the Lynches in high school, he ditched his previous bands to play exclusively with them.
“I was friends with them for about a year before they asked me to play in the group,” he says. “Me and Ross and Rocky and Ryker jammed out to some classic rock like ‘Smoke on the Water’ and AC/DC — the classics. We started playing shows from there. We booked shows every weekend. I ditched my other band because the Lynches were more fun to be around. I just went with my gut and realized I didn’t have time for the other guys. We got more recognition and got on TV shows and got signed and have been touring ever since. It’s been pretty wild.”
When it comes to drumming, he says he learned to tap dance at a young age and that gave him a good sense of rhythm.
“I had a more natural tendency to figure out rhythm than to figure out what chords were and what scales were,” he says. “My mom played me Zeppelin when I was little, so I was naturally into them. Any drummer Jack White has, I’m a big fan of. I like Daru Jones. I also like gospel drummers. They’re insane. You should check out Aaron Spears and Thomas Pridgen. They’re the craziest. You go on a drummers’ blog and they’re the ones that people are talking about. There’s also this German guy Benny Greb. He always comes up with this crazy stuff and does some African drumming.”
Ellington says the band intends to take a bit of a break after the current tour, the second outing in support for Sometime Last Night
“When we’re done with the tour, we’ll start on some other project,” he says. “This will be the last tour we’re doing for a while. We’ll maybe write some songs for other people. We want to take a little break without making it a real break, if that makes sense.”
R5, 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 8, State Theatre, 1519 Euclid Ave., 216-771-4444. Tickets: $29.50-$201, playhousesquare.org.