The Unlikely Candidates

As the song goes: It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock & roll. In the case of The Unlikely Candidates–one of the most energetic alt-rock bands to ever take a stage–their long journey includes  years of crisscrossing the U.S. on tour; record label fiascos; bones broken on stage; and tour bus disasters. So the success of 2019’s impossibly catchy single “Novocaine” (#1 on the alternative charts; 17 million YouTube views; close to 15  million Spotify streams) is more than well deserved. And the singles “Oh My Dear Lord” (2018) and 2017’s “Your Love Could Start a War” are modern rock master-strokes, not far behind “Novocaine” on the success scale.

Following those gems comes the May 29, 2020 release of  the single “High Low,” an instantly memorable ditty. Thanks to the pandemic shutdown, it was recorded in the closet of Kyle Morris’ Texas apartment. Producer Derek Furhmann chimed in via iPhone, and the band members recorded their parts remotely. Written right before the pandemic, the lyrics to the poignant, pertinent tune address returning home from a long tour only to find that friends have moved on in their lives. And in a case of art imitating life, it ended up being tracked “alone in my apartment, missing my friends” laughs Morris. “Like you’re on top of the world with your success, but you’re kind of pining for the days when you had more people around. It’s that old story all about growing up a little bit.”

Of course, TUC were planning to stay on the road throughout 2020 to build on the success of “Novocaine,” the release of “High Low,” and the triumphs of the last couple years. But they’ve had experience dealing with disappointment. “We’ve had a lot of pretty significant ups and downs,” says Morris. “We’ve hit every pratfall in the industry. But at the start of 2020, we felt like we finally caught a break, doing so well at radio on the road.”   

But The Unlikely Candidates are weathering the latest as they’ve done previously; hunkering down creatively, writing songs on their own as well as with outside writer and producers, and expanding the vision, depth and breadth of TUC’s smart, melodic songs. Formed in Fort Worth, Texas in 2008, the band has released three EP’s since 2013, and  are grateful that years of hardship and hard work finally yielded rabid fans and rave reviews. “Literally all the weird good karma that we’ve earned as a band over the years finally connected,” Morris says. “We hung in there and worked. It’s like luck meets timing, and everyone saw how hard we worked, and for how long.”

“Novocaine”’s huge success (it beat out Billie Eilish for the #1 spot on the Alternative Radio Chart), landed the track on Vevo’s “Most Watched Alternative Video List.” It was also featured in the Season 4 trailer of HULU’s Veronica Mars, and on Now That’s What I Call Music. Additionally, TUC tunes have been featured on Ray Donovan, ABC’s American Idol, FOX’s The Four, NFL’s Super Bowl 2018 playoffs, ESPN’s 2018 Indy 500 programming, Fox Sports and more.  Along the way, on tours with Sublime, With Rome, The Offspring, the Dirty Heads and Fall Out Boy, the band earned acclaim from the The New York Times, Nylon, and Esquire.

If the state of live music in the Covid-19 era is a question mark, the band remains cautiously optimistic, thanks in part to their prolificacy. Morris gives much credit to guitarist Carney. ‘When Brent joined the band and we hit the road, he couldn’t even drink in the bars because he was so young,” the front man recalls. “At that time, I didn’t know that he could produce. But I listened to some of his tracks, and out of nowhere he ended up being like an unbelievably good producer, and his vibe completely managed to sync up with mine. So me and this 20-year-old kid wrote hundreds of songs. It was like I started a new band with somebody and it just happened to be perfect.”

Constantly evolving is how The Unlikely Candidates roll, and, Morris explains, “in a weird way it helps us that we’ve never been a band that’s stuck to one sound. We can experiment with directions that feel right. It’s been the best and worst thing about us since the very beginning; people can’t pigeonhole us, but sometimes it makes it harder to market the band because we don’t have just one sound. But,” he adds, “it always sounds like us. We love Blur, we love the Beatles, we love the Gorillaz, and they hop genres song-to-song while always staying themselves. I mean, last album I had a power rock anthem and a Neo-soul song. It manages to  all fit together and sound like The Unlikely Candidates, and thankfully people like it.”

They met a lot of those fans in 2019; The Unlikely Candidates did more than 200 shows last year, Morris calling the opportunity to stay on the road “a do-or-die moment. We just toured non-stop. Even in the opening slots, we were seeing more and more people singing our songs back to us. Things were lining up, and we knew we had to make the most of it.” The band killed it onstage nightly: “If I’m not completely in it, it feels like a complete waste,”’ Morris explains. “I’ve torn ligaments on both ankles. I’ve broken my foot, I’ve cracked ribs; that’s how I like to perform, 110 percent even if I’m in front of five or six people. Yeah, it’s about the show, but it’s also the sense of catharsis for me,” he says. “I have to feel super-connected to what I’m doing; that’s always my mentality.”  

Morris takes the same approach when writing music, and a full-length album, featuring recent singles and a half-dozen or so new songs, is tentatively slated for the end of 2020. If The Unlikely Candidates “Novocaine” victory lap was cut short due to the pandemic, the group’s foundation is firm. “Whatever I’m doing, touring, or writing sessions where I’m able to do 16 hours a day,” Morris concludes, “it’s because I know when it counts, and when we have an opportunity, I’m going to make the most of it.”