For outsiders of the music community, it would be easy to assume that most bands aspire to be the headliner at a concert, showcasing their music for a room full of their fans. For Earl Greyhound, being an opening band is the better option for them at this point in their career. They've opened for Chris Cornell, Portugal. The Man, Coheed and Cambria and are currently on tour in support of OK Go.
They wouldn't have it any other way.
"We essentially always play the same set and it generally goes over pretty well," singer/guitarist Matt Whyte says from the road while on his way to a show in Massachusetts recently. "We try and stay true to who we are and grab whoever it resonates with from all the fans that are there. I think that people these days are probably more open-minded as the result of having been exposed to different blends of music. They see a big stack of amplifiers and a big bass drum, they won't have made up their mind before they've heard it."
Earl Greyhound's power trio creates a fusion of different styles that make them feel right at home regardless of who the headliner is. At one moment they have a Pink Floyd vibe, the next it's more Soundgarden or Led Zeppelin, followed by something in the vein of Lenny Kravitz.
"This is definitely the best way to get out there, I think," Whyte says. "I think that if you get a good degree of exposure via press or a blog, it can be a great shot in the arm, but it's not always sustaining. It's not that I think press or music blogs are fickle, but they move so quickly that it's hard to really grab people's attention. We're pretty aggressive about being out there and connecting with people and getting our music out there."
Whyte says the band meets as many people as they can, collecting e-mail addresses in the process. They will then send out a free track and try to stay connected and keep fans engaged.
"It's such an open frontier right now with the ways an independent band can get new fans," he says. "We released this album [Suspicious Package] independently and we aren't even selling it through iTunes at this point and it's working well."
The band's debut album, Soft Targets, was released on a small indie label that closed its doors shortly after shipping 500 copies. Shortly after, their drummer, Christopher Bear, left to form the band Grizzly Bear and Whyte and bassist Kamara Thomas found a new drummer in Ricc Sheridan.
With Sheridan on board, the band went on tour and hit the road hard, garnering praise from press and winning over fans. Unfortunately, there was no label or people behind them to help them take advantage. Instead, Earl Greyhound decided the best idea was to start their own label, Hawk Race Records, build their own infrastructure and take matters into their own hands.
The band decided that as much money as they would have to give a label, they're not sure the trade-off was worth it. Instead they learned from those they went on tour with. "We were on the road with Portugal. The Man, but before they offered us the tour, we had no idea who they were," Whyte says. "We went out and every single night the houses were packed and their fans knew all the lyrics to their songs. We were wondering, 'How the fuck do we not know about these guys?' They've been doing their own thing for a few years and they put out a record a year or so. They are able to keep their fans satisfied with product. We started working with their manager who has really tapped into how a band can work on a DIY, independent level."
On the recent tour with Coheed and Cambria, they learned more about how to engage their fans and keep them interested. "Their fans are so dedicated and rabid," Whyte says. "We'd be playing to a full house when we got on stage. It was so cool to see how loyal their fan base is and the relationship they have with them. I think it's the conversations you have with your fans, how much you reveal about who you are as individuals and what you sell for your merchandise and how varied it is -- it's about engaging your fans in new ways."
While some bands might be discouraged by an opening slot, Earl Greyhound tries to make the most of its 45-minute sets. They assume that people in the crowd have probably never heard their music and try to just give them a taste of what they're all about.
Now that Sheridan has been in the band, the group feels whole. Whyte says Bear was just a drummer and left to have more of an opportunity to express himself -- Sheridan is a full member of the band and the songwriting has become more of a collaborative process.
"With Suspicious Package, we really wanted to maintain as live of a feeling as we could," Whyte says. "That's what separates us from a lot of records being made. At its core, it's very organic rock music."
As for being a trio, Whyte is also happy with the current setup and doesn't see it changing anytime soon. "It's so nice, at the end of the night, to only split the money up three ways," he says with a laugh. "I have no idea how some of these bands do it. I don't know how they have a string section or guys with laptops and possibly get everyone around and feed them ... but obviously they make it work. So, what do I know?"
Earl Greyhound will open for OK Go at the Visulite Theatre on May 12. Robert Francis also opens. Tickets are $14 in advance and $16 on the day of the show.