"You know what?" Ross Lynch questions. "I feel like our main existence within the music industry has been touring, actually," he contemplates. "We've always been road warriors." It's been over a year since they last played a live show in front of an audience, and – like the rest of us – Ross and Rocky Lynch are missing the sense of escape and connection that concerts can provide. "Always stoked to see familiar faces in the crowd, and all the fans that follow us around on tour," the pair enthuse. "Always stoked for all those stories and new places that we get to go see." They're tied to one place for the time being, but The Driver Era refuse to let anything slow them down.
"We've been really trying to activate The Driver Era since I got back from Vancouver," Ross details. The sun is shining in LA, and as they drive down the road from their house for better phone signal, the brothers are in contagiously high spirits. "These last two years we've been splitting up our time – or I've been splitting up my time – favouring acting," Ross explains. "I was doing this show called The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina" - [Never heard of it – Ed] - "It took up a lot of time, and it sort of slowed our production on the music side of things. So upon me getting home and the show getting cancelled, we really wanted to take the initiative and the time to initiate The Driver Era."
So that's exactly what they've been doing, with a shift in focus from a world of spell-casting on camera to working together to craft magic with melodies on record. Sadly, their initial plans for this year – namely a world tour – have had to be put on hold due to the current global pandemic. Instead, the brothers are immersing themselves in their creativity and the constant pursuit of creating something fresh, new, and exciting. The result? A steady stream of singles with no sign of stopping any time soon. "Normally Ross comes back from Sabrina, and we'll be trying to finish an album, and rehearse, and tour, all within a couple of weeks," Rocky describes. What the future holds might seem more uncertain than ever right now, but the duo are determined that their future will be one of their own making. "It's allowed us to not rush," he continues, "to have the songs exist how they are."
And there are plenty of songs: this year alone has seen The Driver Era release an EP of remixes, the appropriately-socially-distanced-entitled 'OMG Plz Don't Come Around' and its flipside 'Flashdrive', yearning single 'Take Me Away', and spirited summer bop 'Places'. As the brothers energetically discuss what their next single might be, it quickly becomes apparent that what we've heard so far is just a drop in the ocean. "There's R&B songs, there's rock songs, there's pop songs, there's hip hop songs," Ross enthuses. "You can even say there's folk songs coming."
If there's anything The Driver Era have been consistent in, it's their inability to be pinned down to one genre. It's something the duo pride themselves on, writing music that feels fresh and exciting for them to create – whatever stylistic direction that takes them in. "I think it's a thing that you see more with newer artists," Rocky contemplates. "They're not necessarily like, 'oh, let me go and make this country album or this rap album', but 'oh, I like the feeling and sound of this'."
Concerned only with writing what feels right to them, The Driver Era have established a reputation for songs that feel just as classic as they do exhilarating and new. "It's a more natural way of creating because then you're not giving yourself restrictions," Ross agrees. "Sometimes restrictions are good," he counters. "Sometimes, restrictions help the creative process." He pauses, thinking over his words. "But sometimes it's nice to not have any too." "I'm making music, and this is what it sounds like," Rocky summarises with a shrug. And it's as simple as that.
Letting their instincts guide them, the songs they write might take the form of polished soundscapes, but the emotions that fuel them are as raw and real as they come. Balancing between escapism and introspection, The Driver Era pride themselves on, above all things, making music with feeling. "I think that's probably the number one thing, actually," Rocky asserts. "I think that's the main thing, whether you know it or not, you as a listener react to: the most honest form," he expresses. "This song came out of me. I made it." It's a sentiment his brother is quick to agree with. "It wasn't crafted for commercial reasons," Ross states. "Yeah," Rocky agrees, "it's straight-up like 'this was a situation of mine, and here it is,'" he offers. "I definitely think that's what most people respond to."
The brothers' candid approach to songwriting has never been more apparent than with their recent releases. Latest single 'Places' saw them take their emotions to brand new heights. Written about "finding new territory and new emotions and not necessarily knowing how to navigate them" in a relationship, the song showcases The Driver Era at their most candid. "A lot of times I'll write a song about a situation or relationship or a girl after the fact," Rocky describes. "Maybe I won't see that person ever again," he shrugs. "This was a situation where I was driving in my car to go see this girl, playing the song and driving through the neighbourhood and writing it as I'm experiencing these things."
This honesty in their lyrics is something the duo consider crucial, not only to their creativity, but to who they are as a band. 'Take Me Away', released earlier this summer, saw them at perhaps their most quintessentially themselves, reflecting on how quickly life can pass you by. "I think, recently, the overall message of The Driver Era is to appreciate the preciousness of life," Ross describes. "Too fast, it's always going too fast," Rocky agrees. "It's so precious" Ross emphasises. "There's so many wonderful things about everyone's individual experience," he enthuses. "We really want to encourage more love into the world. We want to add to the light in the world."
How do they go about doing that? By making music they enjoy making, with the simple hope that you might enjoy hearing it too. "There's something that's liberating," Rocky expresses. "It feels good that the songs we've released have truth in them. There's lyrics said in some of our songs, and you're not necessarily stating these things in your daily conversations. It almost feels like you're letting some weight off your shoulders." The passion the brothers have for their craft, the value they place on it, and the sheer enjoyment they get out of it is inescapably contagious.
As they continue to talk, it's not just their shared passion for their creativity that makes itself instantly known, but their bond with each other. "Honestly, I think what makes The Driver Era..." Ross starts, turning to his brother when he loses his sense of conversational direction. "What's the word I'm looking for?" "Cohesive," Rocky offers without missing a beat, a knee-jerk reaction more than an actual suggestion. "Cohesive!" Ross exclaims. He bids his sibling a "thank you," and continues on his train of thought, while Rocky utters a soft "wow" at having somehow tuned into his brother's wavelength. "I think what makes The Driver Era cohesive," Ross portrays, "is us."
That's what it's always been about for them: two brothers working together to create something that comes from the heart. "When it comes to making music together, I definitely, definitely think our preference on style and what we're down to listen to is very similar," Rocky portrays. "So usually we like each other's ideas," he laughs. "Let me put it this way," Ross interjects. "There's no other person I want to do this with." It's a bond that could only be formed by growing up together, by learning to play instruments together, by playing their first shows and signing their first record deal together. "There's no doubt there's probably going to be times where we're working with other people at certain points in our lives," Ross states, "but as far as the majority of my time spent in the music industry goes? I would like to be with Rocky."
It is as it always has been: since their early days in R5 with their brother Riker, sister Rydel, and close friend Ellington Ratliff – or even before then – creativity has always been a part of Ross and Rocky's relationship with each other. "We were always around music growing up," Ross recalls. "When we decided to actually pick up the guitar, there was this Fall Out Boy DVD that Riker, our oldest brother, fell in love with." The recording of the iconic emo band Live In Phoenix was what inspired the siblings to first turn to music as a creative endeavour.
Signing their first record deal when Ross and Rocky were only 15 and 16 respectively, the pair spent a lot of their formative years working in music, both in the studio and on the road. "We learned all sorts of lessons about ourselves and about life and all sorts of things," Ross expresses. "We learned a lot about the music industry in general," Rocky specifies. "Yeah, and how we wanted to navigate it," Ross agrees. While they reflect on that time with fondness, it's clear that The Driver Era is the creative form they were always certain to find.
"Honestly, when it came down to it, we just wanted to be more involved in our own art," Ross explains of their decision to strike out on their own. "We can be way richer," Rocky deadpans, not missing a beat. "We could be hugely rich!" Ross exclaims, laughing. They scheme about ways to get rich quick, but it's a love of creativity and expression that drives them, as it always has been, and it seems like this is how it was always destined to be. "We were working with this writer/producer combo – Emanuel Kiriakou and Evan Bogart – who did our first record as R5," Ross recalls. "They looked at me, and they said something like, 'you're gonna do an alternative record one day, huh?'" he chuckles. "We were in the studio, and they were like, 'oh, this isn't for you for very long.'"
Like a phoenix from the ashes, The Driver Era was the natural next step in Ross and Rocky's musical evolution. "We like making music," Rocky states. "That honestly is why we ended up getting to this point. We enjoy writing and making music, and making video. We like creating." R5 might be a thing of the past, but the energy that comes from working creatively with family is very much a part of who The Driver Era are today – albeit in a different way. "Everything on the creative side of The Driver Era is all in-house now," Rocky states, "music, music production, recording, engineering, visuals, directing, merch... It's all one big team, and it makes it feel very cohesive."
They might collaborate with the same family members on videos and merchandise, but The Driver Era have always been set to carve out their own path. "In our early days as R5 we were always on the road, always touring," Ross recalls. "And we didn't actually release a lot of music," he laughs. "We were more of a live band." Live shows – in the traditional sense – are off the table for now, but the duo refuse to let that hold them back. "It's nice to actually get some extra time to be doing the groundwork before the touring happens," Ross expresses.
"I think – specifically me, I'm sure Ross as well – we tend to enjoy things a lot more when we don't do them as often," Rocky agrees. It's undoubtedly a positive, given the current climate we're in. "When the enjoyment and the enthusiasm and the fun and the love and that energy exists," he enthuses "specifically in the studio," he clarifies, "then you're making really good music." It seems there's some truth in the old saying after all: absence really can make the heart grow fonder. "The time away really does create that spark."
"There is something special to purposefully going cool, not thinking about music for however long you choose - even if it's a day or two," Rocky expresses. "Then you allow it to just overwhelm you and usually you're like, 'oh, this is amazing'," he grins. "That's always a nice feeling." With an aim of "one [single] a month," the band's plans to hit the road might be in limbo, but The Driver Era are well and truly in their stride. "We feel like we've been just a little bit behind of where we want to be," Ross admits, "just because of acting schedules and things like that."
Getting back up to speed one song at a time might not have been how they planned to see in this decade, but the Lynch brothers are making the most of every opportunity they have – bringing older ideas to fruition and letting new seeds of inspiration take root. "We're always wanting to create something that doesn't exist yet on our hard drive or in our minds," Rocky enthuses. "We could release a 30-song album right now," he teases, "but the problem is in the process of making this album – because we're in our house, we make our own schedules – we'd quickly just keep wanting that fresh, new idea."
Admitting "we're suckers for the new song, we really are," Ross and Rocky are already immersed in what comes next. Predicting 'Number One Fan' as their next single ("it's actually really, really good," Ross laughs) and enthusing about behind the scenes videos, video blogs, acoustic renditions of songs, livestreams, and more besides, what we've seen so far is just the start of what the band have to offer. "In a perfect world, there's maybe ten different experiences that somebody can have with The Driver Era that month," Rocky enthuses, "video, music, whatever, whatever we feel like doing," he lists. "We're just going to keep cranking away and keep creating," Ross agrees. Whatever lies on the horizon might not be what we hoped for when this year started, but with The Driver Era at the wheel you know one thing for sure: the soundtrack is sure to be spectacular. "It's such a special place to be."
Taken from the September issue of Dork.
Featuring The Driver Era, Wallows, Dominic Fike and loads more.