The kids are fine: backseat driver – The Cavalier Daily
As they relax on the lawn on a particularly sunny day in Charlottesville, three members of the college band Rear seat driver sat down with the Cavalier Daily to dive into their experiences as longtime players in the Charlottesville music scene.
Backseat Driver has a long and complicated history. Andrew Robinson, vocalist and lead guitarist and fourth-year business student, and Ladson Ellis, vocalist and rhythm guitarist and Class of 2022 alumnus, were members of several different bands before choosing their current band. John Leo Luecke, bassist and fourth year student, was the last member to join.
“We had the same four people in two separate groups, but they had two different styles,” Robinson said. “We ultimately decided to just form one band and stick with the backseat pilot name and have some combined influences.”
The band also features two other members, Peter Wellman and Jonathan Danis, drummer and keyboardist respectively, who were unavailable for an interview.
Due to their long-term involvement in a number of different college bands, Ellis and Robinson are very familiar with the Charlottesville music scene. They believe this has contributed significantly to the success of their group.
“There are so many bands here,” Ellis said. “It almost creates a level of competition where we constantly push ourselves to be better.”
The incredibly different musical interests of the band members allow Backseat Driver to float outside of genre categorization. Robinson loves “everything from classic ’60s and ’70s rock,” while Ellis cites The Pixies and Weezer as major influences on his music.
“[The Pixies] don’t focus so much on perfection and the whole thing,” Ellis said. “It’s just more like what works.”
Luecke loves classic artists like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Wonder, as well as new musicians like Steve Lacy and Frank Ocean because “their writing styles are so unique and groundbreaking.”
Ellis and Robinson write the majority of the band’s original songs. According to Ellis, Robinson’s specialty is “complicated chord structures – the more musically theoretical kind of stuff”, while Ellis is more influenced by the fast-paced nature of punk music. He also claims that the best songs come out when they work together, and they are often helped by Luecke and Wellman during jam sessions.
“I think the best writing we get is when Andrew comes to me with something and then I change it up and we change it together,” Ellis said.
Right now, Backseat Driver has half a dozen original songs in their back pocket. One of the band’s favorite songs is called “Alone Tonight”.
“It’s about jealousy and freaking out and following horrible circular thoughts in your head,” Ellis said. “It’s like when you’re with a girl in a bar and she’s talking to another guy and the whole point of the song is to feed off crazy thoughts of jealousy.”
When it comes to their covers, the members of Backseat Driver like to put their own spin on more classic rock songs. Robinson cites their cover of the Beatles song “While my Guitar Gently Weeps” as an example of this.
“I love this song the way we do it because it’s so much better than the original,” Robinson said. “It’s almost like a hard rock song.”
Although the band sometimes prefers to play their original songs exclusively, they have received advice from local band AFTM on the importance of covering crowd favorites.
“We’ve been playing ‘Free Bird’ since we started,” Ellis said. “One of the AFTM guys was talking to me after the set and he said, ‘There are bands that play ‘Free Bird’, and there are bands that don’t play ‘Free Bird’. But you have to play “Free Bird” until you get to the point where you can stop playing “Free Bird”.
The members of Backseat Driver are currently working on a demo of three original songs which will be released on Spotify. Robinson thinks the band has “a lot of promise” and all the members agree they want to keep playing together for years to come.
“Our goal right now is to release something. I’d love to do everything, get the record deal, tour…we’re kind of all into it,” Ellis said.
The members of Backseat Driver look forward to a future of lively concerts and growing audiences, even after they quit playing “Free Bird.”