by: Hannah Alley
Family is the exact foundation of The Lions Club, a Phoenix-grown rock and roll band that draws inspiration from a collection of genres: folk, blues, rock and roll, surf and Christian. I first heard this group while at Last Exit Live — a music venue hidden in a pocket neighborhood of downtown Phoenix — and was intrigued by not only their diversity in appearance on stage, but also how hard they jammed.
It’s difficult to pinpoint a specific category to throw these guys in because the lead singer, Bryan James, strutted the stage like Sid Vicious, while maintaining southern blues and folk-like vocals. While the bass player, Aaron Pickering, was in a basic t-shirt and jeans with a cool, collected demeanor. The drummer, Jason Williams, was thrashing his long curly locks while staying true to a simplistic style of percussion – almost as though he was purposely imitating the combined styles of Meg White of the White Stripes and former drummer of Nirvana, Dave Grohl (hard to imagine, isn’t it)? Then you have the keyboardist, Aaron Smith, who looks like the fifth member of Alt-J. They are all over the place. But man, does it sound good.
I got the chance to sit down with the band at their post-rehearsal watering hole, Uncle Sam’s, on 83rd Avenue and Union Hills to swap stories, talk music and at happy hour – throw back a few beers. Despite being in their early twenties, their philosophy on music and general outlook on life is wise beyond their years.
These guys are as genuinely humble as they get and with their single, “Dog in the Sun,” releasing at the end of this summer, they have a clear thirst for their craft and hunger for evolving the music scene. An interview with this quartet is much like a family dinner: full of inside jokes, a lot of talking over one another, finishing each other’s sentences, and a side-dish of smack-talking. But underneath the chatter, there’s an abundance of love and a deep rooted respect for one another.
Undiscovered (and willing to stay there) this band of provocatively sweet characters are supplying the Phoenix scene with exactly what it needs. Good old-fashioned rock and roll – with a splash of folk, peppered with funk, and a heap of soul. Stay updated with these hooligans on Facebook and be sure you check out a show. They dress to impress – and come ready to rock. Here’s what they had to say.
AFM -Guys – tell Az your name, age, what you do for the band, and your favorite beer.
Bryan James – 21 – Guitar + Lead Vocal – Pabst Blue Ribbon
Aaron Pickering – 22 – Bass – a Kilt Lifter (just one…)
Aaron Smith – 21 – Piano (and try to play guitar) – loves everything
Jason Williams – 21 – Drums – Any IPA
AFM – The Lions Club – Where did you come up with the name?
Bryan James – We were stickin’ around with Bryan James and the Crooked Teeth, then dropped it down to just The Crooked teeth to make it more of a band collaborative thing. Then we all just felt like it was still something that I had created rather than something we had all created. We were looking for something that kind of symbolically represented a group of people or a family of people. The Lions Club, which actually comes back to bite us in the ass a lot, is an actual organization of a bunch of old dudes that get together and do community service. Both of the Aaron’s, at separate times, had driven by a sign for the club a few times. It was actually Aaron Smith who brought it to the table, like “hey guys, what do you think about this” and everything thought it was hilarious because of what it was.
As soon as he said it, I thought this is exactly what we need to do. We gave ourselves until the end of practice to think of something better but it doesn’t matter what we’re called as long as we’re all still playing together.
AFM – How’d you guys come together?
Bryan: Aaron (Pickering) met at church in the third grade. Jason and Aaron (Smith) met in high school Aaron Smith was invited to play for the church band, so we met there. In early formation of a band, Aaron Smith quickly became the shoe-in choice for piano.
Jason: We would skateboard together and play music together in my room.
Bryan: I didn’t know it at the time, but when we first all got together we found out Jason and Aaron (Pickering) are cousins.
Aaron Smith: It was really funny because when we sat down for our first practice,
Jason looked at me and was like…that’s my cousin!
Jason: I was kind of far away but was like, “I think that might be my cousin.” I was like, “no way!”
Bryan: Music means family. And for us, that’s in the literal sense.
AFM – How would you describe the vibe of The Lions Club?
Bryan: The scripted answer to the question, “what kind of music do you play” is Good old fashioned American Rock and Roll. Playing music for us is not about making it big. We’re not making music for a paycheck.
Aaron Smith: Like last time we played at Last Exit Live, we each got five one dollar bills.
Bryan: Music is a source of sustenance for us and if we’re not doing it, it’s like our lives go to hell in a hand basket. having a good time, having a couple beers and playing music is what.
Aaron Smith: It sucks not playing music. When you practice twice a week and practice the same set over and over again – it’s like, dude… I want to rip my eyes out.
AFM – Complete the sentence “ People would say that we sound most like _____.”
Bryan: If you could mix the blues of The Black Keys, the punk of The White Stripes, and throw some surfer rock in there…
Aaron Smith: I wouldn’t say that… I would just say that we sound like Alicia Keys.
Jason: Sprinkle a little Alicia Keys on top the The Black Keys
Aaron Smith: I don’t want to say black keys… that’s just hard to say we sound like Black Keys.
AFM – Seems pretty diverse, would you say you all bring something unique to the table?
Aaron Smith: Bryan will write songs that are completely different from what I write. I’ll write more messy, garage-punk stuff. I’m more provocative with my style. With music, you can use it to scoff at the audience. Make them question if you’re serious or not.
Bryan: And what I write is a little more old-school – Buddy Holly inspired.
Aaron Smith: Much more proper, very proper and clean
Bryan: And on the opposite spectrum, towards the end of our set are really grungy and just play very dirty, gritty songs that we have all written together.
Bryan: There’s not only diversity in who we are but also in the songs that we play.
Jason: Bryan brings a lot of the blues out, but Aaron actually has a jazzier sound.
Aaron Smith: I actually grew up playing Jazz.
Jason: He (Aaron) kills all the blue scales.
Bryan: It’s an explosion. I try to get him to do more keyboard solos!
Bryan: Aaron and I met at church and grew up playing church music – I actually did it for seven years.
Aaron Smith: We are all politically and religiously different. I want to make a point to not make Christian music. I’d rather just make music and have it be about whatever you think it’s about.
Bryan: The way we think about it is that these are gifts given to us by God so we don’t have to sing about it, as long as we’re using it. it’s one of those things that when someone gives you a gift and you return it, that’s the ultimate slap in the face.
AFM – Everyone has their influences though, what/who is The Lions Club influenced by?
Bryan: We were all heavily influenced by old acoustic blues and folk. The Band is group from Canada, except for one who was from the south and their drummer, Levon Helm, is actually my favorite musician there ever was.
Jason: Surfer rock, garage stuff
Aaron Smith: My favorite bands, right now, are The Growlers, Hindu Pirates, and Fidlar – which is another Los Angeles Band.
Jason: The Vines, White Stripes, The (Black) Keys
AFM – So is it safe to say you guys are in an experimental stage?
Aaron Smith: But honestly, I hope we never leave that stage because then we’re not growing and it’s almost like we’re stuck in purgatory state.
Bryan: I hope we never find out who are are. If we exit from the stage of progression and experimentation – then we fall into a set and kind of a tight niche… and I don’t want that. If we fall into a niche, we’ll be playing with the same bands and the same songs over and over…
Aaron Smith: We’ll be stuck with Mumford’s kid brother and… the kids with the muscle tees, wearing Rock Revival, just talking to girls… ugh
Bryan: If you’re not growing… you’re dying.
That’s deep. Lets talk your single. What’s cooking with that?
Bryan: Dog in the Sun is the title. When I started this group, I kind of looked at it as my band. But now that it’s grown into our band – and that’s the way it’s supposed to be – our main single isn’t even a song that I wrote, it’s Aaron’s song. But we don’t think of it as Aaron’s song – it’s our song.
Aaron – I just have so much stuff in my brain that I have to get out – otherwise I won’t feel comfortable with myself. Whether we use it or not, I have to share it. Bryan will always be the front-man but if someone else sings the song – it doesn’t keep him from being the frontman.
Bryan: If The Lion’s Club ever breaks up, it’s going to be because one of us died in a plane crash, not because we fought over creative control.
Aaron Smith: But yeah, I wrote Dog of the Sun a long time ago. I was really into the band Deer Tick at the time and they’re still one of my favorites. This guy John McCauley, he’s just completely tormented – he graduated high school and just started touring America playing at birthday parties and shows. I went to see him and thought this guy was brilliant. He is easily one of my idols just because he takes everything as a joke – nothing to him is ever serious. That’s what I love about music – it doesn’t have to be.. you know, too serious. Anyway, I wrote the song based off of his style. I think I tried to be like him.
Jason: Everyone has that – people who are super influential to how we do things.
Bryan: I remember seeing a video of him singing that song and I just loved it. I knew we had to use it.
AFM – So what’s the goal here, guys. Career-wise, that is.
Bryan: I think we would all very much enjoy is to be able to make enough money playing music to support our families to be able to do this for our livelihood. But I don’t think this needs to turn into a job. That’s not what we’re playing music for. Music never has to be too serious.
Aaron Smith: I’m a firm believer in that.
Jason: If it ever gets too serious, it loses its magic. I get the chills doing this. I always want to get chills.When you first start playing, the last thing you think of is making it big. You’re just so stoked to get gigs and whatever happens, happens. Stay happy with it as long as it keeps you happy.
Aaron: Bryan is the whole business side, the one who schedules shows and stuff. Without him, we’d be just a bunch of slime.
AFM – Speaking of scheduling, where are your favorite places to play?
Bryan: Last Exit Live. We love the dive bar scene.
Jason: Their sound system is really good
Aaron Smith: You just feel really comfortable because they’re no tension. It’s not so much a professional persona – and they sometimes buy you beer
AFM – What’s the Phoenix music Scene?
Jason: I don’t want to say that it’s weak but…
Aaron Smith: It’s weak
Bryan: I’m glad it’s not like a Seattle or L.A….out here there’s not as many bands saturating the market. So there’s less of us, but it’s more of a family.
Aaron Smith: I want to see Scottsdale become more receptive because it’s like, you run into people who are almost the jocks of the music scene.
Bryan: I would like all of Phoenix and metropolitan area to be like it is downtown. If you go downtown on a first friday and you bump into somebody and knock their drink out of their hand, the first thing both people do is apologize. It’s like there’s the jocks and the geeks of the music scene in Scottsdale, but we’re not in high school anymore. What’s the point of music if it’s not like family.
AFM – What do you want Arizona readers to know about you guys?
Jason: We like to play music live for our friends and whoever is down to have fun and drink some beers and listen to some rock and roll
Aaron Pickering: We’re creative and don’t like to play the same stuff…
Aaron Smith: God, I love you. I don’t want people to fall in love with us – I just want people to fall in love with music.
Bryan: We’re trying to expand the music scene here in Phoenix. And if any band is going to bum you a cigarette or buy you a beer, it’s going to be The Lions Club. If you want to come have a beer, forget about your life and listen to some good Rock and Roll music – come see us.
AFM – If you could schedule your dream concert, collectively as a group – with an opening act, middle act, and closer. Dead or alive. Who would it be.
Jason: The ultimate music festival on lake pleasant with everyone drinking their beers on their boats.
(After bouncing around a dozen artists they came up with):
Beatles with Frank Sinatra as special guest would open
Nico from Velvet Underground and Jimmy Hendrix duet
Led Zeppelin to close
Biggie Smalls, NWA, Run DMC and TuPac all come together to do a mashup and play their after party
Jason: all getting along and sharing verses together.
Aaron Smith: And the Spice Girls.
Follow Hannah on Twitter @Hannah_Lynette