By Sean Stroh
If the name Bristol to Memory doesn’t ring a bell, there’s still a chance that you’ve probably heard them before.
You just don’t know it.
Formed nearly a decade ago, Bristol to Memory is composed of Rory O’Connell (lead vocals, guitar), Alex Buster (drums), Kealan O’Connell (bass) and Ken Aquino (guitar). The band’s songs have been licensed and featured on several major television networks ranging from MTV to Fox Sports West. Their cover of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” has been used by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for the past few years as part of its promotional campaign. In addition to their TV success, the Orange County punk-rockers have played Van’s Warped Tour, SXSW, House of Blues, The Roxy and The Whiskey. Last week, Bristol to Memory were part of a group of ten bands selected to play at the annual LocalPalooza in Riverside.
Coming Up Magazine talked to Rory O’Connell about being voted Best Punk Band in the OC Weekly for a second year in a row, the freedom of not being signed to a record label and memories of the early years of the band.
My first question relates to your performance yesterday in Riverside at LocalPalooza. What was that whole experience like?
It was a blast. A lot of great bands and great support. It was a fun night but like we always do, we just treated it like it was another show. Any opportunity to get out there and rock out is a good one to have.
You guys were recently voted Best Punk Band as part of OC Weekly’s “Best of 2015 Readers Choice Awards” for the second year in a row. What was your reaction to the news?
I was actually with my mom. I think I got an email from my brother asking if I had checked the OC Weekly yet and I hadn’t. So he and I went to go find some copies of the magazine but we couldn’t find any. We kind of hunted around for a bit and eventually found some.
It’s funny, we get so caught up in playing music since we’re in the studio pretty much every day. When we get awards like that it definitely pushes us forward and continues us to do what we want to do.
There’s been a number of Punk Rock bands from Orange County. What would you say distinguishes you guys as a band from the others?
One thing we always make sure we do is have an absolute blast every time we’re out. We are fortunate to be able to play music and all musicians are. It’s our passion…it’s all we do…and who we are.
We leave behind any personal issues when it comes to the music so there’s nothing holding us back. We are a group of brothers. I’ve known all these guys since I was 13. We’re basically a family. So I would say that’s one thing–we’ve known each other forever.
Can you recall where the band’s very first show was and how it went?
The band we have right now has been together for a long time but it was originally different members. Our band used to play shows at coffee shops and what not. Anyway, our friends from the area were in a band called “Last Place Trophy” and they broke up the same week that we did.
Alex, our current drummer, was in that band and wrote me on Myspace and said he had heard we were going through some issues. He suggested we get together and play so we just started jamming together shortly after that.
But our first show with our current lineup got its start when we received an email from a booking agent at Chain Reaction. We were offered a chance to open up for a national tour for a handful of bands on Drive Thru Records. I remember that night we sold more merch than ever before. There was this crazy long line and we were signing autographs and taking photos with the new lineup. I just remember sitting back and thinking that this is what we got to do.
There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with being a front man of a rock band, especially during the live shows. Are there any specific vocal exercises or routines you follow when you know you have a show coming up?
Absolutely. I was joking with one of my good friends recently after a show about how there’s so much less pressure when you’re not the lead singer because I’ve played in a bunch of groups where I’m not the front man and its completely different. Your voice isn’t like a guitar or a drum where it’s not going to go out…it does and it will.
The week of a show I make sure to hydrate so I drink a lot of water. That’s my main thing. I also try to eat well so I load up on fruits and vegetables. I get a lot of sleep too. I usually do this for three days. And then on the day of the show, I don’t have any dairy or put cream in my coffee. It’s the one day where I don’t have it the way I like it.
When we get to the venue I stay focused and do a lot of vocal warm ups about an hour before we’re set to go on stage. I definitely stay away from the smoking area too. When I sing shows like yesterday, I always try to push it to the limit, as you can probably already tell by the sound of my voice (laughs).
And I noticed you guys pretty much record and release all your music on your own. At this point, do you feel getting signed to a record label is pretty much irrelevant or unnecessary?
Well that has been our goal the whole time. When we started this band, I wanted us to perform and act as the label ourselves. We don’t necessarily have to be signed because we have our own studio now, a great team and a lot of support. We work with a lot of great people when it comes to promotions and PR, so we are set.
I will say that we’re always open for opportunities. If something true came our way and it would help us get to a bigger place, we would definitely think about it and keep it open as an option. But it’s really nice having our own studio, being able to write, record and constantly put out new material on our terms.
I read in a previous interview you guys did a few years ago where you mentioned building a new home studio for you guys to record in. Before you guys built the studio, where would you record your music? Was there a specific recording studio in the area that would you rely on?
We have been very fortunate to have different friends and acquaintances who opened up studios for us. Our record For the Kings was actually recorded with an engineer that was a friend of ours.
So we’ve always had great opportunities to record with some really good engineers in their studios. We would originally just do demos in our parents’ garage. We would learn as much as we could from different engineers during our sessions. It got to the point where about two to three years ago, we had all the knowledge and know how to do it on our own. When it came time to record Animus we were going to go up to LA to get it produced and pay a lot of money for it. We all stat around and looked at ourselves and figured with this amount of money we were about to pay, we could just build our own studio and do it ourselves. So that’s exactly what we did.
Why did you guys choose to re-release “Animus” a few months ago?
We had “Animus” come out in January 2014 and we sold all the records. So we ended up doing a re-release where we added a new song with a great hip hop MC called Feekee.
I feel confident that it might be one of the better ones we’ve put out. It’s definitely different and more mature. We were looking for a more full, well rounded sound. Some of the records in the past have been more pop-funk or a little bit more alternative. We were just looking for a good combination of everything. It’s just a solid rock and roll record.
Last month you released the music video for “It’s OK.” What’s the creative process for your music videos? Are the concepts all from the band’s or do you collaborate with a particular director?
Well, we write a lot which is another thing that we have a passion for and love. We write scripts all the time. We all kind of sit around and conglomerate different script ideas so our music videos are just part of that. Usually we’ll be sitting in the studio after recording for about 10 hours when all of a sudden we’ll go ‘this is a really cool idea for a music video.’
For just about every music video we have a strange, different idea. Every once in a while one of them fits. It’s always so amazing when we get into the shooting process and go on set with all the different people and costumes. It’s crazy to see an idea we just dreamed up finally becoming a reality.
Are the people in your videos friends or professional actors?
It’s a combination of both. We will reach out to a few professional actors and then of course the fans always want to get involved and be a part of what we do.
You’ve said the name of the band comes from the cross streets of Bristol and Memory Lane in Santa Ana. What would you are some of your favorite memories of those early years of the band?
Gosh, I’d say just playing. We played so much music together. We would get together every day for years. That’s all we did.
I can remember playing at my parents’ house garage. We would go home after school and play all day and night. It was us hanging out, eating pizza, talking about girls…just a bunch of young guys growing up with your good friends doing what you love most.
Not that we’re out of school, all we do is sit around and play music all day. It’s pretty amazing.
Are there any upcoming or relatively unknown bands you are currently listening to that you would like to give a little shout out to?
Yeah we have lot of great friends in amazing bands.
Feekee, who is on our last record, is an amazing MC from St. Louis. He is definitely someone to check out. He’s coming out with a new record this year and has been signing a lot of licensing deals so he’ll probably be on some tv shows you watch.
In Urgency is another band. We toured with them all summer long and we played with them at LocalPalooza.
There is a promotion company in Santa Ana called OC Music League and they have a lot of great underground artists that we play and work with. We’re just so fortunate to be surrounded by so many gifted musicians. It’s unbelievable.