Appalachia to Grand Rapids – Unveiling Progress
STORY AND PHOTOS BY: RAEANNA ANGLEN
“We needed a bigger campus along with the open freedom to express ourselves and our ideas. Moving up to Grand Rapids, Michigan has given us much more than we expected,” Riley explains why his community moved to GR in 2012. “For me,” Travis adds, “I know it’s important to be involved in a creativity based culture. We needed to be surrounded by people who truly supported the arts like we do. We’ve discovered this city is fueled by creativity, so it’s worked out pretty well.”
Riley Anglen, lead role in one of this summer’s short films, Devil’s Damned To Try, and Travis Bailey, writer of the film’s title track, “Skin Walker”, have been friends and bandmates for over a decade. Both grew up in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, finding themselves submerged in a culture focused on conducting simplistic lifestyles, religion, and being outdoors. East Tennessee is home to some of the most beautiful mountains, lakes and streams, along with their close friends and family. However, the vision being casted needed a larger platform.
“We saw a need to grow and learn in our individual crafts and live the progressive lifestyle that our family has worked hard to maintain. We saw an opportunity to embark in a completely different journey and we all took it,” Riley describes the motivation this community experienced during the relocation process. “For Travis and me, this was a huge step in regards to our music.”
Touring on the road together, working several manual labor jobs, stomping around the foothills of the mountains and creating music has been the majority of Riley and Travis’ history together. A friendship founded on a mutual taste of tunes, great food and the constant quest of good time is how this story begins.
“Our musical partnership began developing when we built cabins together in East Tennessee back in the early 2000‘s. We found that we enjoyed listening to the same jams while working,” Riley said as he began discussing their musical influences. “We listened to everything from ACDC to The Band, The Black Crowes or Grateful Dead, then we’d take a left and listen to Johnny Cash, Merl Haggard or Waylon Jennings”, they laughed as they recalled memories of these jobs. “We both come from a long line of Appalachian Musicians, each played in several bands growing up, but we realized there was a freedom found by playing music together, so we began writing music that moved us. Part of that chemistry was found because of Travis’ ability to write riffs that result in the ‘inevitable boot stomp’.”
“When writing in the studio,” Travis expounds, “We would work on the tunes until we exhausted all of our energy into it, then we’d pick it back up the next day right where we left off. We feed off of each other and over the years, that has developed our music into a completely different sound. We refer to our style as ‘Appalachian Swamp Music.’”
Since moving to Grand Rapids, opportunities have surfaced to work with several local businesses. Travis and Riley currently partner with John Evans, Founder of Storytelling Pictures, writing scores for film projects and Riley is a part of Founder’s Brewing Company.
“Our hands are in several projects right now,” Travis explains. “In addition to our local involvement, we are also currently in the pre-production stage of our next album. We’ve been writing and working with Paul Ebersold, Nashville-based Producer and Songwriter. He’s worked with many talented artist over the years such as 3 Doors Down and Sister Hazel. We are really excited to be working with him on this.”
“One of the other projects we are involved in right now is with our good friend, Marshall Burnette, who is a Film Director and Writer in Nashville,” Riley added. “Travis and I have been good buddies with Marshall for years. I had worked with him on a previous film, so I was excited to return to the set with him when he asked me to take the lead role in his short film, Devil’s Damned To Try.” In 2011, Riley was cast for the lead role in the music video “Mind Control” by the band, The Kernal. The video was directed by Marshall Burnette and won “Best Comedy” at the Los Angeles Music Video Awards in 2012.
Devil’s Damned To Try is based around an Appalachian man’s struggle to overcome life altering events that resulted from reckless decisions he had made. “When Marshall was writing this film, he knew he wanted to use me as this character that was caught in some of the same situations we had all observed growing up in the Appalachian Mountains.” Riley continues, “This character is very broken, struggling with self-inflicted issues. He is surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, the incredible scenery, but there is a darker side to all of it. What you’ll see in the film is how this character deals with his daily life, the issues that living in poverty bring about and the constant struggle of never seeing much progress. A lot of people rip the blood from their hands and sweat from their brows to survive in the Appalachians. It’s is NOT easy. I’m hoping there is a sense of compassion and respect towards this character’s story.”
The film’s title track, “Skin Walker”, was written by Travis more than 6 years ago. Encompassed within this song is a recreated feeling that portrays the heavier experiences in the Appalachian culture. While filming, a vivid correlation between the message of this film and the story behind this song become apparent. Riley presented the track to Marshall, who has been a supporter of their creativity and style for years. “Towards the end of filming, Marshall was searching for a title that would represent this film well.” Riley continues, “He was set back when he realized the compatibility that the film and song have together. There is a line in the song, ‘The angels dare to touch, but the devil’s damned to try’. When he heard those lyrics, he sat back in his chair, asked me to replay that line and the title of the film was brought to fruition.”
“Riley, Marshall and I all grew up in the same town and have been friends for some time now”, Travis explains, “but it is interesting to see that our perspectives are so much alike in how we translate our upbringings. I never thought this song would resurface. I wrote it for myself and really did not intend on people ever hearing it. However, I am pleased with how it works with the film and we all look forward to seeing the final product.”
Devil’s Damned To Try is currently in the post-production phase and the trailer is available for viewing. For more information on this film and opportunities to get involved, visit the KickStarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1804284251/devils-damned-to-try-short-film?ref=live” http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1804284251/devils-damned-to-try-short-film?ref=live
Relationships have been formed over time with several musicians and engineers that have come on board with Riley and Travis’ projects rather consistently. In the past year, Ethan Henley, Assistant Director of Technical Services at Milligan College in Johnson City, Tennessee has become heavily involved in the vision. Having a hand in the post-production of “Skin Walker,” Travis and Riley describe Ethan as an extremely sharp musician who is well educated in his craft of being a “Sound Doctor.” They went on to say that he is vital part of what they do and he is quite immersed in their musical career.
“There are so many people who help this ‘machine’ run and without this group we have around us, it would be much harder to accomplish any of our goals. We are very thankful to Stellafly Social Media, Founders Brewing Company, Storytelling Pictures and Paul Ebersold for not only supporting who our community is, but also for the drive to see our vision come to life.” –Riley Anglen and Travis Bailey