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Interview with Greeley Estates frontman Ryan Zimmerman and drummer Brian Champ

A wise man once told me, “You shouldn’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.” So, maybe it was Ryan Reynolds in Van Wilder, and maybe he was telling Tara Reid, not me… but the man has a point. Having started out as a joke and naming themselves after a town that smells like fecal matter, Greeley Estates is a perfect example of how Van Wilder’s theory on life can lead you down the road to success. But don’t be fooled. Despite…



A wise man once told me, “You shouldn’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.” So, maybe it was Ryan Reynolds in Van Wilder, and maybe he was telling Tara Reid, not me… but the man has a point. Having started out as a joke and naming themselves after a town that smells like fecal matter, Greeley Estates is a perfect example of how Van Wilder’s theory on life can lead you down the road to success. But don’t be fooled. Despite their unique beginnings, these guys have worked hard to get where they are today, and they’re loving every second of it. It’s also great for any interviewer to be able to talk to people who are just plain “gnarly.” And I tell you what; frontman Ryan Zimmerman and Drummer Brian Champ are two of the coolest people that I have yet to encounter in the rock world. Here is what we had to say on a beautiful, sunny “Taste of Chaos” afternoon.

Do me a favour and just introduce yourselves.
Ryan: I’m Ryan from Greeley Estates.

Brian: I’m Brian from Greeley Estates.

Alright, Greeley Estates is a fairly new group. Tell me briefly about the birth of the band and the origins of its name.
Ryan: We actually started about three years ago, and it was kind of a joke. Our guitarist was learning how to play guitar, teaching our other guitarist how to play guitar, and I just wanted to randomly try vocals as a joke. We just wanted to play a couple shows for friends, and it kind of went from there.

Ryan: Yeah. And our name was actually… we needed a name for our first show, and it was a road sign in Colorado that we had driven by, and we just used it. We were just going to use it for a show or two, until we found something better, but kids that were showing up to the show kind of latched onto that and it’s been our name since.

Brian: Ironically, the town smells like cow crap. Just like us.

Ryan: Yes. Cow manure. It’s pretty much… I don’t know. I don’t even know what kind of town it is. It’s really dirty though; it’s kind of funny.

Brian: They have a stampede every year or something.

Ryan: Yeah, they have a big rodeo every year that they’re famous for. And we’re not even from Colorado, so… pretty much our band’s a joke is what I’m saying. Yeah.

That’s how it starts. You guys are extremely work-oriented, for example you self-released your first full-length, as well as a full-length DVD. Where does this drive come from?
Ryan: From the start, everything as the band’s progressed has just been so exciting to us, just because it’s all new and we never expected any of this… we’re having such a good time that it’s worth putting the extra work in. We know that we have so little experience compared to these other bands; we know we have to work that much harder and stuff like that. Putting stuff out on your own and doing all that work, and starting out touring on your own and all that, without label support and all that, it’s just part of being in a band. If you really want it, that’s the sacrifice you put in, y’know? That’s been our thing from the start. Even though things are starting to progress, we’re trying to stick with that same attitude to see what happens.

What was the experience like recording and self-releasing both the aforementioned CD and DVD?
Ryan: Well, the first CD we actually recorded in our living room with a friend.

No way!
Ryan: Yeah. It’s so funny that that’s the CD people know us by. We’ve come a long way since then, but I think it’s cool just to see that that’s where we’ve gotten our fan base, those are the songs kids love and stuff like that. Working on this new album that we’re releasing in June, obviously we had a bigger budget. We worked with some producers who are some pretty famous producers – Dave Sardy and Lou Giordano. We had time to write. Josh and Brian were working on this one tune with us, so now we have this group of guys that are… I mean, this is the band that we’ve been waiting for, y’know? Stuff like that. It was an awesome opportunity. But like I said, the DVD and the first CD, it was just fun, you know what I mean? We had some people who believed in us at Phoenix who were willing to invest in us and take risks with that, and I think it’s helped. It’s gotten us a fan base.

Speaking of those two releases, both of them have come to reach a Top 5 spot on Smart Punk’s website for overall sales rankings. Did you actually anticipate this level of success, and how does it make you feel?
Ryan: We don’t really pay attention to that stuff that much.

So then it’s news to you?
Brian: Yeah. “What? Woohoo!” [laughing]

Ryan: No, but with Smart Punk and all that online stuff… when you’re starting out as a band, especially before we were signed, websites like Smart Punk and MySpace and Pure Volume for bands that really promote and bands that are just starting off – that site really helped us a lot. I think some of the stuff too is like, when kids can’t get your CD in the store, they know the name and that’s where they’re going to go. We really appreciate what Smart Punk’s done for us. I don’t think that any of us knew that it was in that spot. We don’t care. But we’re stoked that people are buying it.

That’s what counts, right?
Ryan: Yeah.

Alright, although your musical career is essentially just now beginning – or at least it’s very fresh – you’ve already achieved far more than a lot of your peers. For example, three national tours already done, right? How did all this come to happen so quickly for you guys?
Brian: I would say probably right now the biggest deal is that we have an amazing manager that’s been totally pushing us to just stick out on the road 90% of the year, and the other 10% we’re at home recording or whatever. That’s pretty much it. We didn’t know what we were doing and people were just kind of leading us in the right direction.

Ryan: We’ve had some awesome support from our manager and people from our hometown, and they don’t give us a choice. It’s like, if you want to do this, then you need to be on the road. If you’re broke, whatever. If you’ve gotta quit your job, quit school… that’s pretty much what everyone did. If you really want something, you’re going to sacrifice for it. We have the right people that’ve given us the right advice, so it’s paying off now. We’re having a good time.

Good. Last year you guys signed to the label Record Collection. How and why did you choose to go with this label in particular?
Ryan: We spent a year just touring, and we decided we wouldn’t sign a record deal for a year, just to kind of feel out labels. At the time we didn’t need it. We were paying our bills on the road and stuff like that. We just found a group of people on the label that really believe in the band and believe in what we’re doing and are willing to be part of this dream. They’re the first people in the industry that we’ve really felt comfortable with, you know what I mean?

Brian: The thing that’s cool about Record Collection is that they’re all younger dudes, too. They can all totally relate to us, and they actually like our music. You know how, when there’s bigger record labels, they just see dollar signs and stuff? It’s more corporate or whatever. That’s what’s so sweet about the Record Collection – they’re really into it. It’s sweet. It’s a couple surfer dudes, guys that come from really cool backgrounds that we’re all about and stuff, so we can all really relate and actually hang out with these guys and stuff. It’s really cool.

Ryan: Yeah, we’re not hanging out with suits. We’re hanging out with peers, you know what I mean? They’re stoked on the music, not stoked on… well, obviously they’re businessmen, but they’re not in it for the dollars.

Brian: They support a career.

Ryan: …and not just a one-hit thing.

That’s definitely key. Shortly after they signed, you guys released your second EP, an album called – I can’t even pronounce it – Caveat Emptor?
Ryan: Caveat Emptor. Yeah.

Caveat Emptor. Why’d you go with an EP, and what has the reaction to this disc been?
Ryan: It had been a year and a half since our first album came out, and we knew it was going to be another year ’til the full-length came out.

Brian: We just didn’t have enough time to release a full-blown album yet.

Ryan: We had just signed. It was our idea actually to do it. We knew we were going to be on the road, we wanted to get an EP out – especially for our fans that had been listening to us for a while, so they wouldn’t forget about us. We had some songs that we were proud of, and we went with the guy we had worked with on our first album and just kind of threw something together. We recorded it in like, four days. The reaction’s been good. We had some problems with distribution at the beginning… some mess-ups, and the album wasn’t able to get out in stores like we wanted right away. I think it was frustrating for some of the fans because it was harder to get, but it’s starting to work out. It’s in the stores now, it’s in Canada now – two weeks ago it came out in Canada. It’s just a good little preview for the full-length, you know what I mean?

Brian: Yeah, some ear-candy.

Ryan: If anything, we’re playing most of that stuff live now because we’re stoked on those songs, so it’s good cause we want kids singing, so it’s good that they’ve got the disc.

It’s like a tie-over to the full-length.
Ryan: Definitely. That’s what we’re going for. The full-length puts the first two to shame, though. It really does. We’re stoked on it. …I’ve got to quit saying “stoked”.

Say “stoked” as much as you want. I love the word. I’m trying to bring back the old-school terminology. Radical and stuff like that.
Ryan: Gnarly!

Ryan: Gnarly’s good.

Brian: We actually do talk like that all the time.

Ryan: There’s too many surfer people working with us.

It’s all good. Alright, in January of this year, you guys were scheduled to return to the studio and record this full-length that’s coming out. Can you give me any details on the actual record and its release date?
Ryan: It’s actually coming out June 6, right before Warped Tour. We’re pretty confident about it because we feel like it’s a step ahead, but it’s nothing different. It’s us, y’know? Anyone that has our first CD I think is going to be really into it. It’s got the melodic moments, it’s got the heavy moments… it just kinda covers all the bases, just like our first album. We’re not just stuck with one sound. We pretty much just play what we like, you know what I mean?

Brian: I bring the funk.

Ryan: Brian brings the funk at times. [laughing] No, but we’re really stoked on it. It’s the first time we’ve ever really had the chance to spend time writing and recording instead of just throwing something together. It was a learning experience, and something that we’ll never forget. We feel like it’s our first real experience to record, so we’re excited about it.

Just a few more – I know you guys are busy.
Brian: Nah.

Good. [laughing] So you guys claimed a 2006 spot on the Taste of Chaos tour. How did this tour come to be for you guys, and how has it been so far?
Ryan: We were able to get on it cause our label, once again, is just awesome. Everyone in production on this tour… we did Warped Tour last year, and they’ve been really kind to us. Kevin and John and all them – the guys who are running it – have just been totally nice to us at Warped Tour, gave us this opportunity to play… It’s been a dream. I mean, we’ve never done an arena tour before, and we’re so stoked on these bands. Some of these bands, like Thursday, Thrice… they’ve influenced us as a band…

Brian: And now we’re becoming friends with them.

Ryan: Yeah.

Brian: It’s just unbelievable man.

Ryan: It’s really cool, there’s no egos on the tour… it’s like a big family. It doesn’t matter how many records you’ve sold, everyone’s a family. It’s been a good opportunity to get our name out and just kind of grow as a band. It’s given us some more confidence playing in front of people. Even being able to watch these bands that’ve been doing it for a long time, you learn a lot just watching them, y’know? It’s the most exciting thing we’ve ever done as a band.

Brian: Oh, absolutely.

Ryan: I won’t lie, though. We’re ready to get back into the clubs, the intimate setting. I don’t like being 10 feet from the crowd.

Brian: I don’t like not being able to jump into the crowd.

Ryan: Yeah. I’ve been ripping lots of jeans on this tour, just cause I have to run out and straddle the barrier and stuff like that. We feed off the crowd as a band, and so arenas aren’t quite as….

Brian: Except in Canada, dude.

Ryan: Yeah, Canada is sick though.

Brian: Gnarly, gnarly fans.

Brian: Gnarly crowds that tear each other apart out here. Kids don’t take things for granted out here, and we’re stoked on that cause they appreciate music – even more than in the States. I mean, I love the kids in the States, but kids out here appreciate it, so we’re always down to play Canada.

Speaking of this particular tour, has there been any particularly memorable moments or shows? Any crazy stuff happen?
Ryan: There has been, man… I’m just trying to think. Pretty much every day in Canada has been crazy so far. It’s always an adventure.

Brian: We could tell him about last night….

Ryan: Yeah.

Brian: My tour manager probably won’t appreciate this, but last night he was trying to back up our RV and he ran into a bus. [laughing] What happened was it exploded the window in my bunk, and he’s trying to get out of it and he pulls backwards and he explodes the window in the front. He just couldn’t get out of it. I had nowhere to sleep, I just jumped onto a production bus or whatever for the night, but that was pretty funny. Another story – there’s actually a girl that works with the sponsors on this tour, and she has long hair and she’s a really gnarly chick, and this little girl – some fan at a show or something – ran up to her and she was like, “Oh my God, are you Ryan from Greeley Estates?!” She’s like, “Dude, I have boobs.” She totally thought this chick was Ryan, it was so sweet!

Ryan: I don’t know if that’s an insult to her or me… I need some tits, is what it is.

Brian: That was pretty funny.

Ryan: And then there’s always good crowd stories.

Brian: I got to draw on some kid’s face last night. I gave him a moustache, unibrow, sunglasses… It was really cool. With a permanent marker, that is. I don’t think his mom’s going to be very happy, but he’s definitely making it on the DVD – the next DVD, part two.

Alright, I’ll give you a couple of serious ones here. Your music seems to be very honest. I listened to your music before the interview as I was prepping – I was reading the lyrics and stuff, too – and it essentially seems to come straight from your heart. This is evident in your records as well as your live performances; I’ve seen some clips. Can you elaborate on the passion behind your music?
Ryan: From the start we decided… I mean, we know how much music’s influenced us growing up, and just the way you treat your fans – we all had experiences with bands we respected that treated us bad at shows and we’ve always wanted to do that for our fans. Same with the lyrics. I’ve always wanted… not every song to be a happy song or anything, cause that’s not life, but songs that give people hope and that they can take something from, either my experience or… on the new album, it’s not just my experience but stuff I see throughout our whole band, and hopefully people can relate to it. We definitely try to be honest in that way, and not portray dark, weird lyrical content, but more like us. I’m not super-wordy with lyrics. I don’t have good grammar, and it’s obvious if you listen to my lyrics, but I’m definitely saying what I feel, and I feel like the new record’s more honest, too. It has a lot more to do with our band and stuff that we’ve been through, and not just my own personal thing like maybe the first albums were. But we’re trying to do something positive with it for sure.

What has been the single most important element in helping the band get to where it is today in such short time?
Ryan: Our fans. It’s kind of funny, I was just saying this in our other interview. We still remember our first five fans, all their names, everything. I remember back when they were the only five. We didn’t even know them, they were just random kids who were showing up to every show and I remember being in a show and waiting and wondering if those five kids would show up, and if they showed up it was good enough for me, y’know? And now as it’s grown and grown we just see that the kids who come to your shows are the reason that you do this, and when you forget that, there’s no point, you know what I mean? We put in some work, obviously, and this is what we really want to do so we’re willing to work for it, but we know that the people who support us are the reason we’re here, so we don’t take it for granted. I think just having that support and taking care of your fans… taking your job seriously, that’s probably the most important thing.

Alright, cool. What lies ahead in the near future for you guys?
Ryan: We got the album coming out. We got Warped Tour. We pretty much have tours as long as we can see. That’s our life now.

Brian: I would say we’ll probably be in every major city in North America at least five times in the next year.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s going to be non-stop. We don’t have big dreams, I don’t think, because right now we’re happy. As long as we can pay our bills and play music, we’re stoked on it. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that we wanted to get our music out to as many people as possible as long as we’re not compromising ourselves, you know what I mean? I think this year’s going to be a good year. We’re proud of the album, I know the label’s going to be getting it out there, so we’re excited to see what could happen, you know what I mean?

Ryan: It’s always an adventure on the road, so who knows? We’ll be back to Canada plenty, though. Toronto’s… what is it? The El Mocambo?

Brian: Oh yeah!

Ryan: That place is sick. We hit that one up. I think we’ll be back in a month there. That place is always sick!  [ END ]

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