Ryan Shupe and the RubberBand are a breathtaking blast of manic musical virtuosity. Sheer joy seems to pour out of the speakers when they start playing, and it may be that they sound that way because the five members of the band - Roger Archibald (guitar, vocals), Colin Botts (bass, vocals), Craig Miner (banjo, bouzouki, guitar, mandolin and vocals), Bart Olson (drums) and Ryan Shupe (lead vocals, fiddle, mandolin and guitar) are not only extremely talented, they're having a great time. This same spirit also infuses their first yet to be titled project for Capitol Records Nashville; it's an album that aptly captures their passion to perform.
"There's something magical about a band," says Shupe. "I really like how it morphs and grows and ebbs and flows like one entity." Drummer Olson notes, "A lot of times it's kind of an adventure to figure out how each song will end up, because nobody really knows when we start out." Guitarist Archibald adds, "We're like a really tight family, and that's important to have in a band because it's just much more fun that way. We love to play music, and we love who we're playing music with."
The five musicians share a ravenous appetite for all types of music, with the band's influences including such diverse performers as Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, The Police, AC/DC and Bela Fleck. Most have dabbled with a number of different instruments, all have been playing since they were kids. Shupe, a generous frontman, writes the songs, but doesn't demand ownership of them. "I always have something in my mind that I think a song's going to be, but when I bring it to the band I try not to hold on to that too much. I love to get everybody's input because I think that the guys in the band are so amazing. The song might take a different turn than I'd originally thought, but it always turns out the way it's supposed to be."
That ego-less give and take among the band members serves to strengthen each song on the album musically, vocally and lyrically. For example, "Simplify," a syncopated rumination about getting away from the rat race, includes an instrumental section that is both unified and individual. "We all play the same thing," Shupe explains, "But we decided to break it down into four parts. We just came up with a melody line, went off to figure out our own takes on it, then came back and worked out a way to bring it all together." Multi-instrumentalist Miner points out the band's vocals in "Even Superman," a love story that emphasizes vulnerability: "The chords have real energy in that song, and the harmonies are great to sing because they are all really high. I think it's the harmonies that make that song."
Goofy fun and fast-flying fingers make "Banjo Boy" a high-flying hoot of song, but instrumental prowess takes a back seat to lyrics in the album's first single, "Dream Big." Bassist Botts calls it the band's theme song. "All of us have been playing music since we were quite young," he says. "We just believed in what we were doing and as hard as it was, we kept forging ahead, believing in our music. We did dream big, so to speak." But the message is universal, and the song is fast becoming a fan-favorite: "We heard from a woman who had driven about five hours to one of our shows, and wanted to hear "Dream Big," because she was struggling with kicking her alcohol habit. We've also heard from people who were in the hospital that our music helped them through, or a couple who used our music to help them deal with the loss of a baby. When you hear that your music helps people, that's a great thing - probably the biggest thing."
A fiddle player since the age of five, Shupe first worked as part of a group at ten years old, when his dad brought together a bunch of talented kids to play in a band. He joined various types of bands in his teens and in college, only to be disappointed to see them break up just as they seemed to be in a groove. "I decided that I was going to make a band that didn't break up," he recalls. And so the RubberBand was born.
Initially, the idea of the RubberBand was that it would be elastic. Shupe brought in the players he needed when he needed them - there might be just one other guy sharing the stage with him, there might be four others. The lineup changed constantly until, without even trying to make it happen, the membership jelled.
"At one point, I was talking to Craig about the band, trying to figure out how to describe who we are as a band, what is our agenda," Shupe recalls. "I realized that our songs are a celebration of life. I'm a positive person. I believe in humanity that mostly there is good out in the world, and our songs represent what I believe in life. That's why a lot of our songs are hopeful, overall. There are some sad songs, but you come away from them seeing the positive side. That's the spirit of the RubberBand."