Without hearing Nashville band Hot Chelle Rae, who play Wellington tonight, one would be quick to lump them in with acts that seem designed to appeal exclusively to females in their tweens to early teens. They are as good looking as British boy band One Direction. They have toured with tween audience sensation Demi Lovato and opened for Taylor Swift.
But when you listen to Hot Chelle Rae's music it isn't frothy saccharine pop. This is pop - and rock - with grit and a surprising edge. It's also reinforced in the band's videos, including the one for the hit I Like It Like That.
It shows Hot Chelle Rae behind the scenes, signing autographs for adoring fans, who are wearing homemade band T-shirts, while Ryan Follese, brother drummer Jamie, lead guitarist Nash Overstreet and bass player Ian Keaggy clearly are having a great time on the road.
As I put to lead singer Follese, the video makes you think: ''I wish I was in that band.''
''That's the only video of ours that I watch, to this day,'' says Follese. ''We shot it impromptu. Most of the footage is from the night we got the very first mix back of I Like It Like That. We were actually in New York in a parking lot on a day off and we were so excited about it. [The video's director] was, like, 'You guys keep doing what you're doing and I'll just film you'.
''He filmed us and we were like, 'Wow! Holy crap - he's got all this footage. Let's make this a video. Let's make people see how we actually are'.''
The involvement of hip-hop act New Boyz in the song wasn't an afterthought or a record company suggestion, says Follese, 25. Before writing I Like It Like That, they had met New Boyz when they were playing at a radio event together.
''We ended up hanging out with them super-late one night at this local bar. We just clicked with those guys. And when we wrote I Like It Like That we were like, 'Oh, my gosh - they are perfect for this song. They're young. They're like the rap version of us'. We sent them the song and they texted us back: 'The song bangs'. We didn't know what it meant at the time, but they meant it was basically on fire.
''We wanted that collaboration to be very organic. We didn't want it to sound like a record label guy sat around and said [Follese deliberately deepens his voice] 'Hey, I think this rapper would be great for this song'. We wanted it to be friends of ours.''
A clue to the band being determined to fashion its own sound and image is its pedigree.
The Folleses are the sons of Grammy-nominated songwriter and record label founder Keith Follese. Follese has written for the likes of popular country singer Faith Hill. In 2001 he was named the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Songwriter of the Year. Overstreet is the son of country singer and songwriter Paul Overstreet, who has written No 1 songs for several artists including Randy Travis. Nash Overstreet's brother, Chord, has a successful acting career, propelled by playing the character Sam Evans on Glee.
Keaggy's father is musician Phil Keaggy, who has a had a long career and, while best known in Christian rock circles, has been held in high regard throughout the music industry as a virtuoso guitarist.
So did that mean a music career was a foregone conclusion for Hot Chelle Rae's members? ''People do assume that, but they are not unjust in their assumption,'' says Follese.
''I was in the room when my dad wrote several of the hits that he wrote. I remember when he wrote [in 1999] Something Like That for Tim McGraw [which became a No 1 country hit]. I remember walking in and he said, 'Hey - listen to this song I just wrote' and he played it for me. Even at that age I thought, 'This song is a little bit different from the other ones. This one's a little bit special'. That is an education that you cannot go to school for.
''But we were never pushed into music. It's just in our blood. Our mom is a singer and my dad a songwriter and he wasn't successful until he was 42 years old. So as far as the work ethic goes, it kind of made sense. It's not like I wanted it that way, it's just ... here we are.''
The band was founded in 2005 after Follese met Overstreet - who had been friends with Keaggy since childhood. But it took until I Like It Like That last year for the band to really hit the big time.
''We started playing together and writing together and then thought 'You know what, let's start a band'. The one thing I will never understand, no matter how far we get in this band, is why no-one ever asks why we weren't making it in the beginning. We were mindlessly perservering and every time somebody said it wasn't right or we weren't good enough we kind of disregarded it or just continued on.
''Obviously it takes the right song at the right moment and timing is everything. But diligence and dedication is just as important.''
Hot Chelle Rae play Wellington Town Hall tonight with support from British pop star Cher Lloyd.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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