The Brothers Chrome

In this article we talk to Nashville-based Chrome Pony.

PERSPECTIVE. What is it? How do you acquire it? And more importantly, why am I starting a piece about Chrome Pony, one of Nashville’s burgeoning indie rock outfits, talking about it? The word kept rattling around in my head as I chatted with the guys on a warm, gray morning in March. The band consists of brothers Tyler and Kyle Davis and bassist Jota Ese, three exceptional musicians in their own right. The symbiosis between the Davis brothers (the guys were born on the same day, in 1987 and 1989, respectively) along with Jota’s chugging bass riffs creates the unique indie-rock sound so elusive to many three-piece units.

Chrome Pony has existed in name since 2011; Chrome Pony, the idea, has been around since Kyle and Tyler, both amiable guys with shocks of blond and red hair, were twelve and fourteen years old. All three members of Chrome Pony hail from the Midwest—the Davis brothers from Indiana, Ese from Illinois (“Mark Twain Country,” as he calls it)—and all three possess the meat-and-potatoes, aw-shucks attitude associated with the region.

“Tyler got into music first,” Kyle, the youngest Davis sibling, says. “Growing up in the Midwest, you’re into sports, you know? And then he transitioned out of sports and into music and I was like, you know, damn. Music’s cool. I want to play music.” In other words, typical little brother stuff. But this is the only time that Kyle and Tyler exhibit any form of older/younger sibling mentality. They are very much equals in their vision for their band and are well spoken as they describe how it’s all gone down.

Kyle continues: “I remember the exact day that we were jamming in his room. The exact day. He looked at me and was like, ‘When did this happen?!’”

 

 

“We’ve always played music together,” Tyler says. “We’ve pretty much been traveling and playing since I was like fourteen.”

Kyle interjects, “We love each other. Maybe that’s unlike a lot of brothers . . .”

“It’s not hard to work together,” Tyler says, finishing the thought.

“No,” his younger brother says. “I think we work better together.”

The ease with which Kyle and Tyler allow each other to speak, without talking over each other, makes it clear how the communication most likely translates to their jam sessions.

About two years ago, Jota Ese joined the brothers Davis at a ware- house party and became a member of Chrome Pony. Jota is quiet, softspoken, and harder to draw out. He doesn’t give off the vibe that he’s too cool or uninterested. He’s just the kind of dude that prefers to get on and play music rather than talk about himself. The brothers, cognizant of this or not, leap in with enthusiasm when I start asking Jota about himself. For instance, did I know I was in the presence of Nashville Scene’s 2012 Best Experimental Hip-Hop Producer? I did not, I tell them. The write-up heralded Jota’s “deep, twisted take on hip-hop tropes and bizarre but beautiful sense of melody.”

Or, you know, as Jota puts it, “I make beats.”

The brothers created their first two recordings, Illegal Smiles and Lazy Bones, as a duo, bringing in various other musicians who would play for a while and move on (their current organist, Ric Alessio, falls into that category).

“Once Jota came along, the whole thing got heightened,” says Tyler. “It was a whole new level and just like, ‘Oh shit, okay, these songs could be something more than us trying to be some party band.’”

“Instead of us being just looked at like a garage rock band,” Kyle says, looking at the floor and then at his two bandmates.

 

Kyle chooses his words carefully when he speaks, especially when the conversation shifts toward any commentary where a declaration of genre could specify their music. And for good reason, because Chrome Pony is not a garage rock band. They are a rock band thick with fuzz, heavy on bluesy bass riffs, and accented by stoner-rock guitar licks—and it’s all driven by Kyle’s nearly possessed drumming. I caught the guys’ set at Soulshine Pizza when they were Lightning 100’s Band of the Week and watched the room nod in tandem as Kyle hit the skins so hard, at times I could feel the beat in my throat. I say that in the absolute best way possible, by the way (sidenote: during the set, my buddy pulled up a picture of Animal from the Muppets and gave me the thumbs-up sign. I think Kyle would appreciate that).

Tyler, the guitarist and lead vocalist, is just as thoughtful as his younger brother. And that is how I ended up talking to this young band from East Nashville about the concept of perspective.

“When it’s just us two,” says Tyler, “I mean, we’ve been playing together for so long that we needed another person. We needed someone to shake it up and bring us more music and different music. We needed perspective.”

Kyle agrees, “I feel like Tyler and I were still writing things that made us feel good about it, but it wasn’t what I wanted to listen to all the time. You know what I mean? There was this disconnect between what I was play- ing and what I was really digging, and I’m beginning to feel like that has totally shifted.”

The Davis brothers earnestly dis- cuss this idea of continuous reach. Of allowing outside perspective— whether from their bandmate or producers or fans or the bands on the bill with them—to help get the sound that is in their heads onto the proverbial tape. To help dictate what the shows are going to feel like. What they’ll play. To whom. They’re smart guys that make longevity seem palpable.

The past few months have been the crazy kind of whirlwind that few bands experience; it’s that period of time when you’re stoked about what you’re doing and everyone else starts to pay attention too. The band’s vic- tory at 2015’s Road to Roo led directly to stage time at Bonnaroo. Then came a relationship with BMI, a slot during New York’s CMJ festival, and their recent selection as Lightning 100’s Band of the Week.

Aside from the music, what sets Chrome Pony apart is that they know they don’t know it all. Instead, Kyle, Tyler, and Jota seem to strive to hear more, know more, create more.

Says Tyler: “We listen to a lot of music and try to allow our writing to be shaped from what we’re listening to. We just wrote a song that has a little bit of a country vibe to it.”

That’s a little surprising to hear, considering the boys just rocked sold-out crowds across Europe in the coveted opening spot for Cage the Elephant, one of rock’s wildest live shows on the road right now. I then wonder out loud whether the resurgence of Americana (Jason Isbell) and the story of our hometown underdog taking the spotlight (Chris Stapleton) has anything to do with the infusion of a little country in Chrome Pony’s rock cuts.

Nope. The guys like what they like, and what’s spinning on the record player or coming through the Bluetooth speakers—currently African Scream Contest (a Jota introduction)—has more of an impact on their writing than pop culture trends.

“I like John Prine and Waylon Jennings and like, I would say Sturgill [Simpson] did a nice job in sort of blending that modern and classic sound,” says Tyler. “But I don’t think [our songs] are a matter of what’s happening right now.”

Illegal Smiles is actually named after that John Prine song [off Prine’s 1971 self-titled album],” Kyle points out. 

Tyler nods in acknowledgment and continues, “I’ve always tried to be able to write any kind of song. Like, for example, Modest Mouse is a really great band. They could write any song and do things that you really think nobody should really attempt and still you think, Ah, that’s Modest Mouse. They’re still in there. That’s still really cool.”

We talk about being tapped to go on tour with Cage the Elephant and the support the more established band gave their relatively young openers as they snaked their way from sold-out venue to sold-out venue (CTE often pushed their set back as long as they could so that Chrome Pony only walked out to a half-empty venue once. That level of congeniality deserves a mention. As Jota puts it, “They were really cool [to us].”

The tour marked a huge moment for Chrome Pony: they are no longer the hometown boys pulling in huge crowds of headbanging, head-nodding, air guitaring fans in East Nashville. They aren’t just the darlings of the indie rock scene, gaining nods from big licensing firms like BMI and local station Lightning 100. The tour with Cage the Elephant put them in front of crowds of thousands of Europeans, many of whom had never heard of Chrome Pony. A reviewer for A Music Blog, Yea? caught the show in Copenhagen: “[I was] quite pleased to hear a set of catchy songs served with solid live play and watch the band fill the stage with charismatic energy.”

The group shot a ton of video to document the experience, which Jota then took and edited for the “There He Goes” video. In the footage—all tongue-and-cheek and exactly the look and feel I want from a young, fun band letting loose on their first major tour—we gain a little perspective from Jota Ese. We see the guys drunkenly navigating the Tube, singing their songs in front of historic fountains, and strumming along to their lyrics in their hotel lobby. Jota directs and edits most of their videos, providing a keen eye for some fairly hilarious social commentary (more on that in a bit).

As I write this, I can’t help but think how rare it is to get a glimpse into the direct influence each band member has on both the music and the everything else that goes into really being a band. Tyler is the creator (sorry for the pun), the one that often brings the ideas to the table. Kyle speaks the most about the in-studio process and often references capturing the sound on tape and translating it the way he and the band hear it onstage. “I can hear it in my head,” he says, “we’re working on getting it right for the EPs. There’s a lot to learn, but we can all hear the difference as we just play more and get more time to make these records. Instead of laying everything down in a week, we’re taking maybe a month or more to get it right.”

 

Jota provides the subtle influence necessary to push the boundaries of the band as a whole, finding new influence in underground hip-hop and world music, adding beats and meaty riffs and capturing imagery as the band winds their way around the world. As I watched the video he produced for “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah,” I couldn’t help but mentally high-five him for using images of Black Friday fights for social commentary on how inane society can be. “You could have used something like war,” I tell him. He nods and laughs and says, “But that wouldn’t be as funny as watching people fight over a $200 TV at 3 a.m.”

Chrome Pony recently put out their third EP, Past Lives. Many of their fans have heard the songs, and the guys are excited about the release—not only because they love this collection of songs, but also because it gives them the chance to capitalize on their current mojo and keep releasing music that captures where they are and have been.

“Some of these songs are two years old, and sometimes it feels like damn, I’m not the same person I was then,” says Tyler (all of us respond with an “amen” to that). “This music feels like looking back on another life or something.”

In fact, the guys chose the name Past Lives because they feel that musically they have surpassed the moment when those tracks were recorded. Jota is now in the writing sessions, and life has con- tinued into everyone’s later 20s. They have a better understanding of their music and their onstage show. I hate to be cliché, but Chrome Pony is hitting its stride.

“The ball’s rolling, and we needed to get Past Lives out and bridge the gap between what is already out and what is coming. This is the update. This is us saying, ‘Here’s how it’s goin’ and get excited for what’s coming.’”

“Who knows what we’re going to do,” says Kyle. “No limits.”

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