There’s a whirlwind of rock and roll activity in Los Angeles these days, and Billy Tibbals is among a handful of talented young musicians at the heart of the action.
“It was kind of a teenage dream of mine to start and be a part of a thriving music scene,” Tibbals told me in the interview below. “I think it’s getting there, definitely come a long way. There’s more people coming to the shows, so many cool people. That’s the main thing. But we need more bands! Come out, come out wherever you are!”
His debut single, Onwards and Upwards/Lucy (Curation Records)—co-produced by Reza Matin of rising LA stars Uni Boys, who also played drums—created a stir with its catchy power pop A-side and psych-tinged B-side. Tibbals and his band followed that up with the epic glam of “Hollywood Baby,” the first Chris Robinson -produced single from the forthcoming Stay Teenage EP (Silver Arrow Records).
Only three songs deep and Tibbals is already proving himself a well-studied pop rock chameleon. (I got to hear the six-song EP and this proves true for the rest of the tracks as well.) An English ex-pat who moved from London to LA as a teen in 2014, Tibbals’ emerging sound seems to channel the ancient musical energy of both cities, spanning decade and genres.
The result is a sort of rock and roll alchemy that deftly combines elements of the British Invasion, Hunky Dory -era Bowie and the best Bomp! power pop with the more experimental aspects of bands like Sparks and The Lemon Twigs.
“I’d like to think that my influences are pretty eclectic and I hope that comes through in the recordings. I don’t like the idea of sounding like one thing or getting stuck in one place stylistically. Then again I don’t want to be too all over the place. It’s trying to find that balance, I think…I do like albums that feel like hot messes though!”
Your excellent debut single made quite a splash. How did those songs and recordings come together? Were you surprised by the reaction?
Billy Tibbals: It was a very pleasant surprise to see that people seemed to enjoy the single. It’s taken me quite a long time to release any of my music, I’ve been recording at home for a few years now.
I met Brent Rademaker at Curation through my friends the Uni Boys. I ended up going over to the Curation HQ for a meeting and played him some of my demos. We got along really well and he brought up the possibility of putting out a 7-inch single. I was all for it!
Reza from the Uni Boys recorded the two songs with me in my little garage home studio at my parents house in the Valley on a dusty old eight track tape machine. It really felt like the right moment and opportunity for me to put out my music.
A lot has been said about the vinyl resurgence, but not many young bands are releasing 7-inches these days. Why was that a good format for your debut single?
Billy Tibbals: I got really into collecting records in sophomore year of high school. I befriended a group of kids who were older than me and they turned me onto to a lot of stuff that really blew my mind! Most days we’d go hang out in Hollywood after school and shop at Amoeba Records.
That was the same time I started taking writing and recording music more seriously too—so the record collecting and songwriting really went hand in hand I guess. I think that’s why I held off from just putting anything out online. It was always the dream for me to have my music on wax.
Is the band that plays on that single the same as on your new 6-song EP?
Billy Tibbals: It’s pretty much the same band on the Stay Teenage EP, yeah. Well, when we did the 7-inch it wasn’t really a band, we multi-tracked it from the drums up. I now definitely don’t think that’s my preferred way of recording.
The Stay Teenage EP was recorded live as a three piece and then built on from there. I think doing takes live just gives the recordings more energy or aliveness or something. Stay Teenage has a much bigger sound than the single. I got very lucky meeting Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. He gave me the opportunity to go into proper legendary recording studio and cut a record, a dream! Thanks Chris!
How did you get connected with Chris Robinson and Silver Arrow Records?
Billy Tibbals: We actually met at a bar! I don’t think there was a show that night or anything… or maybe there was, I can’t remember. Brent introduced me to him. We were all hanging outside and joking around. I remember Chris was passing around an impressively large joint! At some point in the conversation we started talking about music and I ended up sending Chris some of my demos. Much to my surprise he really dug them and we ended up cutting the Stay Teenage EP!
The lead single from Stay Teenage is “Hollywood Baby,” a piano-driven glam rock epic. Can you tell us a little about the story behind that song?
Billy Tibbals: I remember writing that song lying on my bed on a lovely sunny afternoon in the San Fernando Valley! It was around the start of COVID-19 lockdown and I was just finishing my senior year of high school. It’s funny, I think I was quite a different person back then. When I listen to the song I can really tell that I was younger or more innocent when I wrote it. That’s kind of what the whole EP is all about.
All the songs were written during that time of going from being a teenager to more of a grown up, I guess. Or figuring out what being ‘grown up’ is. “Hollywood Baby” is the oldest song on the EP and still probably the one I’m most partial too.
I remember going to Orange County to meet some of Reza’s friends (the two of us met working at a record shop in LA). There was a hangout in the park and everyone was playing their songs for each other. I played “Hollywood Baby” and got a very warm reception. It’s a song about living in a fantasy dream movie world rather than a real one. That’s what I like.
“Foreverland” from Stay Teenage is a beautiful piece of ’60s-influenced orchestral pop. Does your approach to recording change as you shift stylistic modes?
Billy Tibbals: Thanks! That one was really cool to record as I was able to get a great string section to play on it. I remember demoing it long before I even knew I’d be recording the record in a big studio or with a sting section. It had my mate Brian on sax in the place of the strings.
Songs like “Lucy” and “Hurt So Bad” are more in the vein of Sparks and Lemon Twigs. Do you consider those acts among your influences?
Billy Tibbals: Sparks are one of my favorite bands ever! I remember the first time I saw them on YouTube, it was a TV performance of their song “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us.” It just clicked, I thought it was the best thing I’d ever seen.
I’d like to think that my influences are pretty eclectic and I hope that comes through in the recordings. I don’t like the idea of sounding like one thing or getting stuck in one place stylistically. Then again I don’t want to be too all over the place. It’s trying to find that balance, I think… I do like albums that feel like hot messes though!
I love The Clash, they were very good at bringing in lots of different sounds and influences into what they’re sound already was. I hope to do more of that in the future! Of course The Lemon Twigs are fabulous also, lovely blokes too!
You and Uni Boys are kindred spirits on the LA music scene. Who would you consider some of your other musical contemporaries?
Billy Tibbals: I really do think that there’s more of a scene coming about in LA. A scene that’s populated with the music we like. I think that Dagger Polyester is really great, they put on one of the best live shows in LA.
I’m always looking out for new bands. It was kind of a teenage dream of mine to start and be a part of a thriving music scene. I think it’s getting there, definitely come a long way. There’s more people coming to the shows, so many cool people. That’s the main thing. But we need more bands! Come out, come out wherever you are!
You’re currently on a U.S. tour with Mac Saturn. How does your live show differ from your recorded material?
Billy Tibbals: I’m actually answering these questions on my way to the very first show of tour! I’m not much of a jammer or an improviser. I like the live set to sound pretty close to the recordings I would say. That being said, it’s a very high energy show! It will be interesting to see how the set changes by the time we finish the tour!
What’s next for you and the band?
Billy Tibbals: Well, the next two months are on the road. After the tour I’m hoping to get another record done ASAP and continue to tour later in the year!