An interview with Tobin and Brandon of Flatfoot 56 before a show at the Firebird in St. Louis. Filmed and edited by Emily Kathryn Hedlund. (Contains live clips of “We Grow Stronger,” “The Hourglass,” “Smoke Blower,” and more.)
JOSH: You guys have been a five piece for a little while now. What’s different about the band dynamic with Brandon and Eric on board?
TOBIN: It’s different, definitely. We have a lot more options with two guys – two guys who both sing very well – and they’re also very hyper, which is really nice. Keeps the stage antics fun, gives more opportunities to be creative with stuff. I dig it, I think it’s great. When they came into the band, they also had a new vigor for touring, being on the road. They loved it – excited to be out there and playing. That kind of put new life into us, too. We had been touring for years and were kinda tired, so when they came in and were excited about it, it was kinda like, Alright, let’s do this again! And now we’re gonna take some time off, which was much needed after this year – we did a lot of stuff.
JOSH: Do you keep up with Josh [Robieson]? How’s he doing?
TOBIN: He’s doing good. He’s actually gonna be coming back and doing a reunion with us next Friday… He misses playing, he definitely does. We love him, he’s always part of the family no matter if he’s playing with us or not.
JOSH: Now he left to kinda support his family and spend time with them?
TOBIN: His wife, yeah, he had just gotten married, and was like, I need to be able to support her.
JOSH: Now how many of you guys are married yourselves?
TOBIN: Justin and I are married. Brandon’s getting married in July, so he’s stoked about that. We’re all happy for him, she’s a cool girl. We actually just saw her the other day, she’s in Michigan. Yeah, it’s a hard thing to do to be married and be on the road and be playing, but it’s a whole different element. I’ve been telling my wife to write all of her feelings down and put a book out, you know, the annals of a touring merch girl who’s married to the band, so she’s thinking about that. It might be kinda cool.
JOSH: Is it a challenge to support families financially with where your band is at right now?
TOBIN: Yeah, it is. God kinda always has provided, though. It’s been interesting to see how things have been taken care of. In Brandon’s case, he’s getting ready to get married, so it’s kind of, what am I gonna do? But he’s…
BRANDON: You just find things to do… Some of us do things when we’re home. Toby’s a teacher, and I’m starting a web store. Justin fixes cars, and does other stuff like that. Kyle will do, really whatever he can find. You just be creative. You can find a way to make it work if you really wanna do it, so, yes and no. You have the ability to plan for it, you do things to better your “quality of life.”
TOBIN: Which, as a band you keep your quality of life “good,” but a lot less than the American standard. And I’m fine with that, I think all of us are.
BRANDON: You realize that you don’t need a lot of things, that they’re not necessities. So you live minimalistic…
BRANDON: Yeah, simply. Not minimalistic but simply.
JOSH: It seems like you guys are getting bigger. Black Thorn, your last album, charted on Billboard, and you’ve been doing a lot of touring. I’ve been learning about bands that you might have a conception that they’re doing pretty good but have a lot of expenses people don’t realize.
TOBIN: Yeah, I think ASCAP, which is kind of a musician’s organization that kinda takes care of people, they put an article out recently about what the actual costs of a regular, independent band are. Yeah, it’s pretty difficult. You have a manager, publicist, booking agent, and then you have to split everything with the label, in some ways. Sometimes the labels take part of your merch, which, bands, if you’re a band, never do that – it’s the worst thing in the world. We’ve never done it, and I think it’s the biggest ripoff in the world. Just my little soapbox. It’s hard, but at the same time it’s a growing process, and if your band’s growing, it gets better. And being creative, we’ve had a lot of conversations over the last few days about how we can be more efficient with gas. We spent a lot of money on gas last year, and that was insane, so it’s a big pie that gets split up, and it depends on how big the pie is. Our pie is like this right now.
BRANDON: Here’s the pie… Here’s our piece.
JOSH: What’s the best way for fans to support you guys as far as buying T-shirts or buying CDs, what helps you pay the bills the best?
TOBIN: Comin out to our shows, definitely, is the biggest thing. Buying stuff at shows. You can order it online, that always helps too, from our site, but coming to our shows and buying it from our merch table is always a thing that helps us a lot.
BRANDON: Yeah, honestly, bands live off of merchandise sales. What we do for shows pays for gas and stuff like that, but, yeah, and if you pray, just pray a lot for us. We definitely use that.
JOSH: You guys were working with Old Shoe Records. How is that different from, say, Flicker back in the day?
TOBIN: It’s a lot more independent, it’s a lot more personal. Flicker was a whole staff of people that were great, were awesome, but they were part of a big company. Some of the people at Flicker, we would go over to their house and have dinner, which was really cool back in the day, but Flicker was a company that as soon as we got signed to it got sold to a major company, so they had a lot of changes going on and we kinda got lost in the shuffle in some ways. Nothing really bad to say about them. Old Shoe is a little different, it’s independently run and independently owned. I think they have two guys that work on it, so it’s a lot smaller and there were a lot less things that were developed and working efficiently with Old Shoe, so we had to work with them and they worked with us and grew together, and it’s been good. We were only planning to do one record with Old Shoe, but we still have a good relationship with the guy who runs it, and we love him, he loves us. It’s been fun.
JOSH: I guess it hasn’t even quite been a year since that album. Do you have things on the horizon for the future?
BRANDON: That’s why we’re taking some time off. We’re gonna write a new record and hopefully record later this year. We’re gonna take some time, we wanna produce something that’s just as good if not better. We wanna keep taking it levels up, and keep it so people are happy, and just enjoy the music, and continue to captivate people with the sound, so I think it’s gonna be good.
TOBIN: We’re gonna be going back in with Johnny Rioux again, to do the next record. We felt like since the last record was recorded with Josh, the “old Flatfoot,” the “new Flatfoot” we need to continue where we were going with Black Thorn, and both Johnny and us have a good vision for where we felt Black Thorn could have been a little bit better in certain areas, and where we can step up for the next time, and one of those areas is moving to a studio that’s a real well-known good quality studio. So we’re still working on that, making sure we can get the time booked, so we’re gonna rock it out. We’re not sure what labels or if we’re gonna do it independently or with a label, but we gotta write it first.
JOSH: You’ve toured both with bands that share your faith and bands that don’t. What are some of the differences in that, some of the things you like or some of the challenges?
TOBIN: We love both, honestly, we haven’t done a whole lot of long tours with bands that do share our faith, so we’re kinda used to being, when it comes to our faith, not on the same level or wavelength with most of the bands we tour with, which is a challenge at times, but it’s just kind of another tour, you know, so when we get a chance to tour with bands that are Christians and that do share our faith, we enjoy it. Spending Warped Tour with Haste the Day was cool, talking about God with them on a daily basis and encouraging each other, that was really neat.
BRANDON: We’ve never been – even before I was part of Flatfoot – it’s never been a band I’ve seen with too many other Christian bands, other than like at Cornerstone, and it was cool to go out with Project 86 and Wavorly, and it was really encouraging, and it was cool to see how they work as well, and then go to the other side of it, with people who don’t necessarily believe or have different views. It totally gives you a whole new perspective on life. It’s really cool when you get into conversations, just to see other people’s perspectives and then you kinda find out what you’re made of as well, which is cool. It calls you to think for yourself, and not just because, well this is the way I was…
TOBIN: I think, loving people is something you have to learn how to do, especially when they don’t agree with what you believe, and I always felt like when Jesus went out he spent a lot of time with people that weren’t necessarily the “perfect believers” of the time. He showed what loving people was like, and we all love putting ourselves in a position where we can love people that are the opposite from us, and just hang out and show them the love of Christ the way that he would have.
EMILY: Could you describe your writing process a little? Is it random or do you each write your own musical parts, because you’ve got a lot of instruments going on, how do you write it musically and how do you write it lyrically?
TOBIN: We’re still feeling that out with the new guys. In the past, Flatfoot has kinda worked – it’s seeming like we’re all working the same way. Brandon will come and say, hey guys what do you think about this riff, and we’re like, cool, Justin beats a beat out with it… We’ve been having a good time creating riffs. Lyrically lately it’s been a little rougher because you need time to meditate and focus, and we’ve been in the van – well, 47 days last year were spent driving, like, total hours we literally spent 47 days in the car, and that’s hard because you have a guy that’s trying to drive and keep his focus, and he usually has music going, and it’s hard to write. I have a hard time writing with other music there. But it comes in all different forms honestly.
BRANDON: Multi-dimensional writing, that’s what I call it.
EMILY: One of our favorite shows to see you guys at is Cornerstone, and I’m just curious, you always make such an event of it. What inspires the themes, or did you go to musical festivals when you were younger…
BRANDON: We sit in the van, and come up with the most absurd ideas possible that make us laugh until we fall over, and then we come up with one big thing that we think will clinch it, and then we run with it. We’ve got like seven different ideas floating around right now.
TOBIN: I think the biggest thing for a festival, if an idea for a theme is going to take root it needs to have a crowd participation aspect to it that we can tie in with the theme, so if there’s no way to tie that in the theme will never happen with us. We have some interesting ideas for this year, we’ll see what happens, I don’t even know. I think that whole idea started with, the root of the idea, with what Five Iron [Frenzy] used to do years ago, they were kinda a big influence on the whole, “make an event” of your show, make it a fun time. Blaster the Rocket Man would do the same thing, create this huge theme and stage plot and everything, and that’s what made it an event that people wanted to come and see.
BRANDON: They like getting weird water stuff thrown on them and see people dressed up in costumes and jumping around like fools. If you can captivate someone’s imagination and they create a memory out of that, that will last forever.
TOBIN: We’ve tried it at some other festivals a little bit, but it’s so much work just to put on Cornerstone that we can’t possibly do every festival we play, cuz it’s so time consuming. We have a full week of just building things in our backyard in preparation and the funds that go into that are pretty extensive too in some cases… The kids at Cornerstone always come through. They make the show, we just give them the ideas. It’s fun.
EMILY: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the world?
BRANDON: Support local music.
TOBIN: Keep coming to shows, honestly. One other thing about helping bands out. When you go to their shows it helps their numbers for the show which means they get to come back to that town cuz the venue will let them. One of the reasons we come to St. Louis all the time is because, the venue, we’ve built a great relationship with them, and kids come out when we play, which is a really nice thing. It took a lot of time. I remember playing at the Creepy Crawl and having two people there… Just keep supporting local music. Always love the music that you play, and never play it for…
BRANDON: Never play it for money.
TOBIN: Yeah, cuz chances are you’re not gonna make much. You gotta do it because you love to do it and because you feel called to do it, and we all definitely do.