It’s been a great year for newer long-haired, guitar-driven rock bands. Greta Van Fleet is one of the most promising up-and-coming bands in the rock world and along the way they’ve introduced their sold-out audiences to other like-minded bands like The Glorious Sons and Goodbye June. Now, you might be excused for thinking Goodbye June leans towards the country side of things – I may have even thought that for a minute or two when I saw that the band is based in Nashville and is coming to The Bluestone in Columbus to open for country-rockers Whiskey Myers on Thursday night. But their debut full-length, Magic Valley, is a rollicking rock affair with blistering guitar riffs that brings to mind classic rockers like Guns N’ Roses and Led Zeppelin and if we were rolling into 1990 (or 1968 or 1974) instead of 2018, Goodbye June would be gearing up for an arena tour this winter.
If you dig around deep enough, you’ll discover that cousins Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Tyler Baker (lead guitar) and Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar) have been playing under the Goodbye June name since 2009 and have at least one now-out-of-print album (Nor the Wild Music Flow) out there though it’s virtually impossible to find. And, you’ll probably also discover that the band has played a few Columbus shows – opening for ZZ Top in 2015 and were one of the first bands to perform on day 1 of Rock on the Range this year.
Before heading to Columbus, I had a chance to call Landon and Tyler and talk about some of their best memories of 2017, about playing the Paper City Music Festival in Chillicothe in 2015 and how big sounding rock is making a comeback. Hopefully I attributed the right answers to the person who said it but, Landon and Tyler, if I mixed the two of your voices up when transcribing the call, I’m sorry about that!
2017 has been a pretty crazy year for Goodbye June – new album, multiple festival experiences, tours with Badflower, Whiskey Myers, Greta Van Fleet. I don’t need the exact day but tell me the 3 most memorable days of the year that, if you could bottle up and save forever, you would.
Landon: One of them was definitely ZZ Top at the Ryman on February 17. That’s one that I wish I could definitely relive that day, a couple times actually. One of my dreams has always been to play the Ryman and I think everybody who lives in Nashville and is in the industry and is a musician, the Ryman is the mother church. It’s kind of everybody’s bucket list to play. We got to open for ZZ Top which was incredible. It was just a wonderful night and a lot of our family came down and everybody got good seats. It was so much fun, the crowd loved us, it was very special.
Tyler: Probably two others would be Live on the Green here in Nashville, a free outdoor festival they do every year. They bring a lot of different, bigger artists in and it’s kind of a diverse music festival for free. We also played Rock on the Range this year. It was kind of a sad somber day because it was the next gig that Chris Cornell was supposed to play, Soundgarden was headlining and we opened up the same stage that morning that he was closing out that night and, of course, he obviously wasn’t there. It was kind of a sad day but a very memorable day. Those are probably the three dates from this year.
With the internet, people can just plug the name Goodbye June into Google and learn that you’ve been doing this seriously for quite a while and yet if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that while info is at your fingertips, a lot of people don’t do that research. How many people come up to you after shows and think you’re a brand new band?
Landon: Everybody! Before our major label debut, we had an indie album out that we toured on our own. There’s a group of people, we toured mostly the southeast and Europe on that record. There’s a group of people out there that have known Goodbye June when it was just us in a van and we had not much backing and were touring around everywhere. Those are some of my fondest memories, those days. It was awesome. A lot of people, to answer that question, think we’re a brand new band. But there is a group of people out there that know we’ve been at it for a little while.
My introduction to your music came when I was trying to find a small, off the beaten path festival that was within a few hours drive of Columbus. I stumbled upon a listing for the Paper City Music Festival in the summer of 2015 but it was taking place while my family was on summer vacation. But, that’s where I first learned about Anderson East and Goodbye June and have been a fan of both ever since. Do you have any memories of that festival or do shows sort of blur into each other?
Landon: That was Chillicothe, right? We were driving out to the location and we were passing a ton of prisons! I was like, “Where are we going?” For a mile, it was like all these prison yards and different Women’s facilities and Men’s facilities. Then we get past all that and we keep driving forever out there. I guess the paper mill in their big thing, it was out in the middle of nowhere, they had a pretty cool set up from what I can remember. There were good bands. A lot of bands weren’t really at their peak, I guess you could say. It was just a lot of no names for the most part.
Tyler: There was another band there that we know … was it Chrome Pony? Was it us, The Wans, Chrome Pony and Anderson East? We know all those guys. Pretty much all those bands are all on labels doing pretty well right now. That was actually a really good line up if you think about it.
‘60s and ‘70s rock is obviously a big influence on what you do and in the past I would have given you a pass and said, “Yeah, they just don’t make music like that anymore” but there seems to be a resurgence of guitar rock by younger bands like The Rival Sons, Greta Van Fleet, Glorious Sons, Goodbye June, you might even be able to throw Blackberry Smoke in there. Maybe it’s not so much a resurgence as it is that music fans actually care more now than they did 5 or 10 years ago. In your humble opinion, do you think we’ll ever get back to new classic rock-style bands headlining and selling out arenas or do you think those days are gone forever?
Tyler: That’s a great question. Obviously the only rock bands that that headline arenas are like the Stones and GN’R and bands that have done it a thousand times. It’s definitely a different age in music, we’re all for progression and whether that means types of sounds that people create or how progressive they take it with computers and stuff, but I don’t know how to answer that. I hope that that happens. You definitely have seen a resurgence come up the last few years with some of the bands like you mentioned. A lot of the shows here lately, especially this year, there’s a lot of young kids coming to these rock shows. I remember specifically this one show, I’ll never forget until the day I die, we played in Salt Lake City with us and a band called Badflower and the whole crowd was mainly – it was a 16-and-up show, the only one we did forever that I can remember – and it was just packed full of teenagers. That was really to me. That was really cool seeing that because they were hungry for rock and roll and it spoke to them. They went nuts. So I hope that happens, I don’t know the right answer but hopefully we can be part of that to make it happen.
Landon: I think there’s still room for a rock band. I just think different ages, different times, there’s room for … sometimes it’s 3 or 4 rock bands, sometimes it’s 12 rock bands to be in the public eye. It just depends on the flavors and the ebb and flow of what’s popular. In the early 2000s, there was room for 12. When I say room, I mean like radio time on pop radio. There was Creed and Nickelback on pop radio. Now, it’s transitioned away from that and I think it’s just a matter of time before it transitions back into that. People just get tired of listening to the same old stuff. I think us, Greta Van Fleet, Highly Suspect, Glorious Sons, I think a lot of us – there’s other bands – I think it’s all an ebb and flow and I’m just hoping it flows back into rock being front and center again. That’s what we’re trying to do, make great music and music people can relate to and sing to and dance to and cry to and …
Tyler: Drink to, make love to.
It’s so easy to stream music these days that admittedly, that’s primarily how I listen to music. So, I haven’t actually held a vinyl copy of Magic Valley in my hands but I’m wondering if you can tell me about the artwork and the inner sleeve and whether or not you had the vinyl release in mind when designing everything?
Landon: We definitely wanted something really trippy and cool to go with the name Magic Valley. We had found this awesome graphic artist/designer out of New York City and she had sent us this artwork she did of like this bird for a single release, I think it was for our single “Good Side”. So, we knew we wanted some sort of theme with the album and we kind of just took her idea – we loved her colors and the way she did it so much – we were like, “What if we just create this scene and within the scene there’s all these different symbolisms and each symbolism represents a track on the album. So what you’re look at – every symbolism on that album cover is each track on the album. The willow tree is “Darlin'”, the church is “Fear of Jesus”, there’s a broken wine glass that is “You Don’t Love Me Like Before”. Everything has a correlation to each song. We did put some time and thought into that but it did come later on in the process.
I interviewed Sam from Greta Van Fleet a few months ago and I told him when I was a kid, I could spend hours studying an album cover and liner notes. Did you guys include a “Thank You” list on your album?
Tyler: I think it’s pretty concise. I think it’s literally just a couple of friends and family that have helped us along the way, our label, our management.
If the internet had been around when I was a kid, I would have loved to have started a blog where I ask band members to pick out somebody from their “Thank You” list in the credits – maybe somebody that nobody outside the band knows – and tell me why that person earned a spot in the credits. Is there somebody you thanked that maybe isn’t in the industry that has a good story?
Tyler: Probably a better answer to that would be the album that you can’t really get of ours anymore, our first indie release. We put like a good chunk of people, like you could do a whole 12-part series on that one. That’s why, on this record, we kept it very concise. If you were to have the old album, those liner notes have all kind of stuff in them.
Landon: I think there’s Kevin and Matt Russell. We specifically thanked them. To try to answer your question, on this record we thank Kevin and Matt Russell. A long time ago, when we first got started in town, they owned a country label and management company. They had an employ who really liked us and they had brought us in and this was really one of our first experiences on the business side of the music. Until that point, we had just been playing in bars and that’s as far as we had gotten. These guys taught us a lot about publishing and about everything and we ended up developing a pretty good relationship with them. And we ended up, a year or two later, signing our first management agreement and then we did our first publishing deal with them. And the relationship has continued on. Those are two guys – and they are from Texas – we didn’t know them from nothing and they didn’t know us from nothing, but we connected and they liked our music and they helped us out in the very beginning phases.
I didn’t dive deep into Goodbye June interviews so I don’t know if this is a common question but everything I watched or read focuses on the 3 cousins but you have a rhythm section that rarely, if ever, gets talked about. Have you had a consistent rhythm section over the years or have you gone through different members?
Tyler: When we record, even demos for the next album, whenever we start officially working on that, we have a drummer here in town that is really close with us who actually moved to town to be in the band but at the time we were just getting our legs under us and he ended up taking another gig. He’s remained our recording drummer but as far as live, we have the same drummer who has been with us for 5 years now, his name is Kevin Smith. And then bass players, we have a rotating cast of about 3 different people. One of them plays for a big country artist, Sam Hunt, another one is a solo artist and then another one plays for other artists as well so we kind of rotate those 3 guys. For the most part, we have a pretty solid rhythm section. That’s kind of the story really.
As we’re running out of time, it feels to me like Goodbye June are road dogs. Having an album out to support is great but you’d be on the road regardless of whether or not you put out an album this year. Do you have concrete touring plans into 2018 or are you just trying to finish out the year and see where you land?
Landon: There’s some things in the works but mainly it’s getting into the studio and writing, so there’s nothing in the foreseeable future.
Tyler: We don’t have anything booked yet, we’ve submitted for a few tours and kind of planning our own thing right now and rumors of going to Europe. I’m sure we’ll be back, we’ve played Columbus a couple of times so we might be ready to come back and do our headlining show there. Columbus has always been good to us.