Cobalt & the Hired Guns is a boot-stompin', tambourine-shakin', irresistibly genuine good time. Seamlessly blending upbeat genres from Americana to PopPunk, this dynamic four piece puts on a rambunctious show filled with emotion and sharp musicianship. This band is about love and guts, energy and enthusiasm - refusing to pretend they aren't having fun. The group is comprised of Jesse Alexander (drums, vocals, percussion), Matt Hart (vocals, guitar, bass), Mike Roth (bass, guitar, vocals), and Tomlinson Fort (vocals, guitar, bass).
Tell me about how you originally got into your craft, Tom.
We all came to music differently, but it starts with love. We loved what we were hearing and then as we learned to play we loved making it new.
I started playing as a very young child, in a house full of music and guitars and gear and songs. Matt and I met in high school and he has recently taken up guitar, and together we began sharing our songs with each other.
What is your favorite thing to do in the whole wide world?
Bikes. We all love bikes and being kind to the earth. We ride our bikes all over the place, and we're pretty fast. We're in the middle of a big "saving" project.
We like self-powered transportation and have played many benefit shows for various green initiatives, like the Green Fest at Navy Pier in May 2008, and Climate Cycle in May of 2009.
Our last full length, Jump the Fence, was completely Carbon Neutral. We did a life cycle analysis with everything from the CD itself to the gas we used to drive our gear to the studio. We purchased offsets in wind energy. Mike did a research project on a wind feasibility study at Oberlin College and is now in grad school at Duke University for a degree in Environmental Management.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to running your business?
There are two sides that are always in competition within the music business: the music and the business. Finding the balance between those two is really hard. We all want to quit our jobs and live on a tour bus, but we can't do that without making money in the band. But the money is secondary for us; none of us started this because our ultimate goal was to get rich. We want to make music that connects with other people and allows them to share something beautiful. And dance.
It's hard to find time to do everything that needs to be done, but without the music and without the shows, there's nothing else to work for.
When you were a kid, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
Honestly, there are pictures of me over my whole life growing up playing guitar. This is the only things I've ever REALLY wanted. I could never apply myself all the way to anything else. I would flirt with other ideas, but never follow through like this. And that's the difference- I'm willing to work harder for this than anything else in the world. I could get a job that goes from 9-5 or 8-6 every day. I clean up pretty nice- shirt, tie, nice shoes- that sort of thing. And I'd find a way to be happy.
There's no shame in sacrificing some part of a dream to live out a really cool reality, like having a family. But since I don't have kids yet, I'm gonna ride this dream till it throws me.
Besides, who says I'm grown. I'm still trying to always be a little boy and have fun. I'm pretty sure we have a battle with captain hook and smee scheduled for one of those days off in July this summer.
In what way has your community impacted your development as a musician?
Of course. Being from the Midwest and being a Midwest band has been huge. There's a working-class ethic there that involves a lot of sacrifice and hard work. It's reflected in our songs- from the fact that we rehearse many many times a week down to the way the songs are written and what they are about.
Mike grew up in Pittsburgh, and it's certainly influenced his sound and his tastes, and Jesse from DC brings in some of that East Coast vibe, where my dad grew up. Those things make their way into the music too. We love Chicago. We love it. It's home, it courses through our blood and I can tell you how it smells here any time of year. Any kid that grows up in the city proper has the rattle of the el train in their bones. And I grew up 3 blocks south of Wrigley so I know hope and cheers and disappointment and "next year".
But you have to find the universal in the unique. That's how you connect with a broader audience. Because the songs we write are about more than Chicago (which, don't get me wrong, I love with a burning, fiery passion) or the Midwest. Or even America really. They are ultimately about the things that bind us together in this common human experience. Doubt, loss, redemption, passion, guilt, hope, laughter. That's what our songs are about. And we're doing it with love, and loving doing it.
What other artists out there do you love?
Oh man. So many. And it changes day to day. For all for members of the band, we bring different influences to the basement. (We rehearse in a basement. It's called the bait shop. It was a bait shop 100 years ago, apparently.)
The Hold Steady has a vibe that we really enjoy. Josh Ritter is an inspiration. State Radio has been in heavy rotation in Seabiscuit (that's the name of our van...) and so has Say Anything. We've been listening to Frightened Rabbit and the Fratellisa bunch too lately.
Jesse grew up with ska and punk and Less Than Jake. Matt grew up with Simon And Garfunkel and Cat Stevens. Mike cut his teeth with Sublime and his hometown heros, The Clarks. I grew up listening to Hendrix and the Stones, The Clash and Elvis Costello. Then I got into that whole grunge/alternative/punk scene for a bit too. One of our favorite parts is mixing those things together. Finding the balance, creating the synthesis of those sounds and influences is part of why we like each other so much.
What does your future hold?
Lucky you. I'm psychic. Kinda.
But on a larger scale- we're gonna keep playing more shows to more fans that want to come out and party with us, maybe share some Jameson, maybe eat some popcorn. Maybe offer us your hottub while we're on tour? (Thank you, Akron)
We're gonna get in a few fights on the road, we're gonna love each other right through them. We'll bring our mits, a ball, and a bat and start pickup softball games. There will be shows most nights, and some stories we tell forever. There will be some stories we only share with each other. Knowing glances exchanged whenever someone mentions "Providence, Rhode Island". That sort of thing.
We'll miss home and our beds and our significant others and our families. We'll play bigger shows and still spend all the money on that new t-shirt idea. We're gonna have more pictures of us having the time of our lives in the Redeye here in Chicago. We're gonna work really hard at maintaining some balance and not losing our minds.
We're going to see a lot of old friends and make new ones. We're gonna hug a lot of people and not get enough sleep. We'll probably be on the internet a lot, if you're up late and feeling chatty.
You can catch Cobalt & the Hired Guns at one of the shows below, cobaltandthehiredguns.com, CDBaby, MySpace, and Amazon.
August 12 - Chicago, IL - Schubas (18+)
August 13 - Des Moines, IA - Vaudeville Mews (All Ages)
August 14 - Kansas City, MO - The Brick
August 15 - Urbana, IL - Red Herring (All Ages)
August 17 - Off Broadway - St. Louis, MO (All Ages)
August 18 - Indianapolis, IN - Locals Only
August 19 - Cincinnati, OH - Blue Rock Tavern
August 20 - Nashville, TN - The Basement
August 21 - Asheville, NC or Atlanta, GA - TBA
August 22 - Durham, NC - The Pinhook
August 30 - Madison, WI - High Noon Saloon