Interviewed by Maddison Hamil
“In 6,000 miles we were only flashed once,” Will Cath says. “But I did discover you can lie in the back of a truck bed and not get wet when it rains. We would be driving down the highway at 75 miles per hour and it would be pouring down rain and I wouldn’t feel a drop.”
“Yeah, 6,000 miles…in a truck,” says John Sibbitt, conjuring up a mental image of the small quarters. “It was a four-door. We brought five guys on tour. Our guys and a merch man.”
“Merchandise man,” Cath clarifies, tilting his brown curly haired head to the side. “He was worthless and didn’t sell anything, but we love him anyway.”
In June and July of 2006, with Cher’s “Life After Love” as their theme song, Cath and Sibbitt, together with fellow TGL band members Quinn Fenlon and Zach Stewart, crammed in Sibbitt’s dad’s truck and traveled 6,000 all over the Midwest and parts of the upper East coast. Although three of the four Greencastle, Indiana, natives have been together as a band for five years—Quinn joined the group last summer before the tour replacing one of their guitarists—last summer marked their first tour and major national exposure.
“It’s the most unhealthy thing you can do—to go on tour,” Cath says as he rubs a hand across his chin, his palm grazing a few days of stubble and sounding like sandpaper as he does.
“McDonald’s dollar menu is essential,” Sibbitt adds.
“Essentially, you are a skeleton with a beer belly,” says Stewart, “And tan. Will mostly worked on his tan and laid out in the back of the truck. He was pretty bronzed up by the end of summer.”
Cath, TGL’s drummer, smiles and shrugs at this comment, not denying his fondness for absorbing rays from the back of the metal truck bed while speeding down the highway. The three friends (Fenlon, who plays guitar, was not able to make the interview) interact with the kind of ease that comes with having spent many hours together on the road.
“The world’s largest frying pan was the highlight of the trip. It was big enough to park a car in it,” jokes Stewart, TGL’s bassist. “Oh, but there’s this dude in the toll booth near Chicago. He’s famous for his boils.”
“You didn’t even see him,” Sibbitt, guitarist and the lead singer of the group, shakes his head at Stewart and takes over the telling the story. “I look over and this guy scares the shit out of me. I’m not talking little warts, but boils. All over his body. He probably gets the same look every time, I felt bad.”
Cath, Sibbitt and Stewart first met in high school, but, as they were only beginning their musical careers, the initial results were rocky.
“Back then, it was just Will and I playing “music” together. It’s still really funny to even think about how shitty we were,” Stewart recollects.
“Zach and I have been friends a long time. John was a biker [in high school], we were skaters—that was a problem,” Cath says, explaining Sibbitt’s absence from the genesis of the band.
“John was magic. He was big,” Stewart says referring to John’s biking skills as he raises his eyebrows and shakes his head with exaggerated reminiscence.
“Was,” Sibbitt emphasizes, “past tense.”
The letters T, G, and L, which originally stood for “The Good Life,” don’t have real significance anymore.
“Three Gay Llamas, Two Good Lookers, Theta Girls Lie,” Sibbitt lists some of the names fans have assigned to the band.
“Saddle Creek Records has the other band “The Goodlife.” Our name had three words, theirs only has two. But they said if we didn’t change it we would be in legal trouble. So, now we just go by TGL. It’s easier than trying to come up with a new name altogether,” Stewart explains.
While the 2006 TGL tour was highlighted by quirky tourist attractions and long overnight drives, TGL exponentially increased their name recognition and fan base by playing at a variety of venues during their two months on the road. The band admits their first tour was poorly mapped out—Mapquest took them on some winding and inefficient routes—but this upcoming July they will go a second tour, “The Hype Invasion Tour,” which will cover much of the same area only in a more economical manner. Sponsored by Hype, a European based energy drink, TGL will tour with Asteria, a band signed by Broken English Records. Cath, Fenlon, Sibbitt, and Stewart, who think Hype is “the best energy drink ever,” are the first American band to be sponsored by the company.
In the weeks and months ahead, TGL plans to do some serious writing and recording to prepare for the Hype tour.
“We’re not going to Acapulco this year,” Cath says with mock disappointment. “We’ll be doing a lot of work over spring break and hope to shoot one or more videos still this spring.”
With all four band members still in college—Cath and Sibbitt attend DePauw University, Stewart attends Capri College and Fenlon, sometimes referred to as “Ivy” by the group, attends Brown University—recording new material can be a challenge. Aside from the times when the three different school’s breaks coincide and the four can come home and work together, the guys stay in touch via email and cell phones, visiting one another when they can.
“A lot people don’t think about the consequences after the band. Every record label gets rid of its bands at some point. That’s what’s keeping us in school,” Stewart says. Cath and Sibbitt nod in agreement, revealing the unexpected wisdom and foresight the TGL guys share.
Although they exchange ideas while they’re away at their respective schools, TGL prefers to write as a cohesive group. Back when they were in high school in Greencastle, Indiana, Cath’s basement was considered “home court,” functioning as both a place to rehearse and compose new songs.
“We've practiced in Will's basement since we started playing music,” says Stewart, “His parents have always been amazing about letting us practice and making their walls shake until the wee hours of the morning. I can't really see us successfully writing music in any other atmosphere other than the basement...unless we were on the beach, surrounded by women and beer,” he adds, smirking as he readjusts the sunglasses still perched atop his head even though it’s nearly ten o’clock at night. He sits with one skinny jeaned leg over the edge of the arm of his chair. The twenty-year old bassist has messy dark hair which points wildly in all directions. He answers questions with a chill kind of effortlessness, his tone nonchalant but confident. Although the four TGL guys talk about their band and their music with eagerness, Stewart seems to be the unofficial spokesman.
“We’re always brainstorming lyrical concepts—all day, every day. Even when we’re not around each other,” Stewart says.
“Usually, we all try to collaborate and add our own style. We don't write as individuals,” adds Sibbitt, the only one of the group who sports close cropped blonde hair.
Perhaps that’s why TGL’s songs resonate with such genuineness: they aren’t about one band member’s individual experiences, but are a patchwork of emotions and stories shared by the entire group. They don’t sing about sappy young love gone wrong or crazy college parties. Instead, they bring to life experiences they’ve had in a way that’s real and sometimes a little raw.
In one of the verses of their song, “My Routine Failed,” the band sings: “It’s not that simple, it’s
not that we haven’t had our problems/A dream so true has become mine, mine and your enlightenment/A time to reflect on our past mistakes, sufficient enough to ruin our latest trends in love is getting louder and louder, louder and louder…”
“We typically write about women, love, friendship. And just being in a band. We write about whatever feels right. We've never written about an experience we've never actually had. I think that plays a huge role in how we carry ourselves on stage because we're singing our hearts out about what we've felt and what we’ve been through. That makes the whole experience m ore humble,” says Stewart. “The four of us are so alike, but at the same time we're not. We all have our own separate battles that none of the other guys will have to experience. I go to school six hours away from home at a cosmetology school with 300 girls, and no guys. It's absolute hell. John, Will, and Quinn will never have to experience that battle. But, we all have similar struggles like women and social life. It makes each of us more and more unique. You see a lot of bands with guys in it that seem like they're all the same person—they act the same, dress the same, and complain about the same things. And the four of us are so different from each other in that sense.”
With such a distinct blend of personalities fueling their lyrics, it’s not surprising that TGL’s sound is somewhat difficult to label.
“Even on iTunes there are about a hundred choices you can call music. We’re probably pop rock,” Sibbitt says.
“Our music is getting more complex,” Cath says.
“We’re older and wiser,” Stewart counters.
“Sandal core. We’re adding a new genre because we always wear sandals,” Sibbitt says looking down at his sandaled feet. Stewart and Cath laugh and roll their eyes before Stewart gets back to giving a serious answer to the question.
“We’ve sucked in all this music going around—whatever is popular or whatever we’re listening to at the time. I don’t think our music is something new that is going to take the world by storm. We know what we're doing has, in a sense, “been done before.” And that’s fine. It's almost impossible not to associate the music you listen to, to what you’re playing. If people hear our music they might say, “They sound like Fall Out Boy.” But to us, we're just the four kids that have been stuck in Will's basement for six years, writing what comes from the heart,” Stewart says, his vocal inflection exposing his sincerity. “We're not out trying to write the next big hit, or write something that fits into the genre that is popular at the time. Whatever you hear on disc is what came out when we wrote it. There's really no bull shit behind it,” he finishes his explanation and leaves no doubt as to how much he has invested in TGL and the guys sitting beside him.
TGL, as Stewart points out, incorporates the sounds of old bands they’ve grown up with—Blink182, The Get Up Kids, Saves The Day—with the sounds of newer bands they’re into now—Asteria, The Marquette Weekend, Lupe Fiasco, Young Love and Sufjan Stevens. Some might agree with Sibbitt and say they’re pop rock, others might hear more of a punk quality in their guitar dominated melodies and edgy choruses. Regardless, TGL has found a niche among fans and is enjoying ever increasing popularity on a larger, national scale.
After opening for Jack’s Mannequin in early April of 2006, both a huge honor and great opportunity for the band, TGL produced a video for “Blue Star Highway,” the first single off their summer 2006 EP. “Blue Star Highway” was filmed on DePauw University’s campus and later in November of that same year received Honorable Mention in a YouTube.com music-video contest.
“It was a long two sweaty days,” Sibbitt says recalling the making of the video.
“We had already shot one video, but it was low budget equipment wise. So, we re-shot the first one using the same concept only—” Cath is interrupted by Stewart.
“Different chicks, different camera. And a bigger elevator in that one scene,” Stewart finishes.
“Most of the awards we’ve won have been because of the video. We wouldn’t have had nearly the exposure otherwise. It gives people a visual concept which you can’t get from just listening to a song,” Cath explains.
TGL was named Artist of the Week in mtvU’s “Best Music on Campus” competition earlier in the fall of this year. A 24-hour college network available at most larger universities, mtvU features college bands and artists and runs on both mtvu.com and bestmusiconcampus.com. The head of programming at mtvU, Ross Martin, gave TGL enthusiastic reviews saying, “TGL’s sound is unique and feels authentic and compelling. Their music is really fun to listen to, and they have a great energy. Though I’ve never seen them live, I’m dying to.” Maybe Martin will be lucky enough to catch TGL as they tour this summer. Most recently, TGL moved up to the top fifteen in the MTVu contest which puts them in the semi-finals. The semi-final round ends April 27th when the top five bands are picked.
“The winner gets a 1.5 million dollar contract, will appear on Conan O’Brian, gets a reality show on MTV, and gets to tour with MTV. It’s a big ass prize package,” Stewart says, looking hopeful. “There are some bigger unsigned bands in the top 15, and there's a band that has played on the Warped Tour two years in a row in the top 15. The only thing we have going for ourselves is our fans who vote and the fact that we're for sure top 5 when it comes to the most marketable bands.”
With two EP's, a live CD, a handful of random recordings, and another EP and video due this spring, TGL is well on their way to becoming the band they always wanted to become.
“We're four college guys tryin’ to live the dream. Everyone is trying to live some dream. Sometimes it takes people their whole lives to figure out what they are passionate about and what they aspire to be. We have answers to all of those questions. TGL is our dream. We've come a long way. Now we're just on a mission to prove everyone wrong. We have the heart. There isn't a day that goes by that we don't sit in our classes at school wondering when we are going to get our chance,” Stewart says.
“I heard “Life After Love” yesterday. I sang the whole thing,” Cath says breaking into a very Cher-sounding falsetto.
“It makes me want to throw up. I hate that song,” Sibbitt wrinkles his eyebrows in disgust.