Back in September a friend invited me to see a show at the well-known venue Hotel Cafe. As I looked up from the front row I noticed a familiar face sing out to the crowd. I listened to them play while sifting through the good looking faces I’ve catalogued in my memory throughout the years. Eventually I came to realize the front man, Johnny Gates, was a kindred Abercrombie spirit and had (embarrassingly enough) worked at the kids store with me during my college years in Providence, RI. The other two incredibly talented members, drummer Matt Scanlon and bassist Jamie Jarbeau, make up the three man Rhode Island bred band, Runaway Saints.
Hailing from the Northeast, the trio grew up together in a small town and met through classes in high school. Scanlon and Jarbeau discovered their love of music early on and bonded quickly, discussing their favorite genres while becoming close friends. Gates came in a little later, after “not doing so well” in a class and having to make up his missed credits, he took theater. There, he met Jarbeau and they eventually overlapped friendships and formed a band, originally named, Eyes Once Promised. “We were so emo, [in our] American Eagle girls jeans. Jamie loved the white belt - the white studded belts. Always had to wear them sideways. [Those jeans] were like a rite of passage.” We all laughed discussing our sad, but prominent fashion choices during the emo phase of life.
Their music was heavily influenced by emo and pop-punk bands from the early 2000s. “I envied those bands. It came from extreme admiration for that [pop-punk/emo] genre,” said Gates when he expressed how his initial connection with music formed. Reminiscing about some of his first experiences at shows, Gates compares it to the recent generation and how the live sound of music has evolved. “I miss when I was their age going to shows, maybe the singer was a little off or the guitar was a little out of tune, but it was live, it was beautiful.” Bands like Dashboard Confessional, Brand New, Saves the Day and Taking Back Sunday were the musical acts you would catch Gates fighting through mosh pits to get to the front of the stage. Scanlon and Jarbeau alike were surrounded by music from a very young age and grew up with family members who passed down their passion to them.
2003 hit and the trio started to take on the music industry. “I feel like just getting together and just playing together you’re like, ‘you suck, you suck, you suck’ for a long time, and then all of sudden, one day, it sounds really good,” Scanlon said of their start. “The first shows were rough.” But with perseverance comes reward, and their journey from Rhode Island to Nashville was ignited by the offer of being signed to a record label. Comparing it to the minor leagues, they go on to explain the highs and lows of being on a label. Exposure is made much easier, but only on the label’s terms. “You get signed based off one thing you do that starts out being your plan, then it slowly warps into their plan,” explains Jarbeau.
After facing many moments where they felt they lost a bit of themselves to the unfortunate system this industry has built, they made a decision to fearlessly exit the label and start to record on their own. Though it was a hard experience, they felt they came out on top, having learned so much about themselves. All three agreed to have been fortunate to be exposed to such talent that pushed each of them individually as musicians. “We had to realize who we are and we had to realize who we aren’t,” said Gates in regards to his bittersweet goodbye to Nashville.
They decided to head further west and landed in Los Angeles, where they all felt an instant connection with the city. “You always hear about L.A.; my first trip I had was a crazy experience. I came to sing on a soundtrack and the dude from the movie studio took me out. Some limos picked me up, drove me around [to go out]. I even had to have them stop on the side of the road the next morning on the way to the airport. It was bad. [But] I instantly became obsessed with L.A.” He goes on to explain the motivation for this album, “We want to make a record that really showed our love and admiration for L.A.” And that they did. Their soon to be latest release, Blvds., was a true labor of love. Treated almost as a mix tape, they recorded at different spots throughout Los Angeles only to cement the authenticity of the album and its inspiration.
I was lucky enough to have a first listen to two of the singles off the album. The first, “Saddest Girl in LA,” was composed of all of the elements they explained. A touch of pop, a bit of rock and the emo based lyrics us true 2000s kids have learned to love. And with all of those musical worlds combined I felt a quick connection to the song. The second, “Weekend,” has an element of electro-pop dance music that is perfectly mashed up (remember mash-ups?) with the familiar sound of an acoustic backing. Two very well created songs that innately peaked my interest for the full album to come.
Coming off of their SXSW shows, Runaway Saints will be playing locally in L.A., specifically the Hotel Cafe on March 26, 2015 at 10 p.m., with hopes for national touring following that.
Article + Photo by Amelia Williams