At the age of 25, guitarist Brooks Betts already has more hands-on rock 'n' roll experience under his belt than most of his peers. He's conducted international tours, spent month-long sessions in studios, hobnobbed with media folks, and toiled alongside bandmates without losing his cool. As one of the founding members of Tallahassee's hard-working Mayday Parade, Betts looks like a shaggy, rookie emo-rocker, but he speaks with an air of wisdom and confidence beyond his years — especially when it comes to assessing his artistic decisions.
"With every album release, things will be different," Betts says. "When we worked on Anywhere But Here [in 2009], that was our first major label experience. There was a lot of pressure from the label to come out with more of a pop record that we could go to radio with. Honestly, we came into it wanting to follow those tracks as well, and become a bigger band, and have some more radio-friendly stuff. But there was so much overbearing pressure, and it became one of those things that I hated. It's a good album, but I can't say I'm very proud of that record. It wasn't the best representation."
Mayday Parade's current tour kicks off in Charleston and heads to the massive Bamboozle Festival at the New Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, N.J. The mini-tour celebrates the release of their new EP Valdosta, a mostly acoustic six-song collection.
"It's where we started recording early on," Betts says of the title's reference to the south-Georgia town near the Florida state line. "Even before this band, we were recording there at a place called Earthsound. We did our first self-released record there, and we go back frequently to record demos and B-sides."
Valdosta features two new hits — "Terrible Things" and "Amber Lynn" (Betts says he'd never heard of the 1980s porn actress by the same name until after they'd released the song). It's the band's first original studio material since the slick Anywhere But Here.
So far, the reaction to the new EP from fans and critics has been mostly positive, but Betts has heard a few grumbles from old-school fans who inevitably balk at the new sound.
"At this point, it's tedious. I couldn't care less about what people think of the music when they compare it to the earlier stuff," he says. "Everybody has that one record that they really love by their favorite band, but it's hard to recreate a record that was extremely successful. At the end of the day, you can't worry about it. People get over it. Things change. I think these new tracks are great and I hope people like it."
Mayday Parade formed in 2005 from the ashes of two Tallahassee indie bands, Kid Named Chicago and Defining Moment. Betts' current bandmates include lead singer Derek Sanders, bassist/vocalist Jeremy Lenzo, drummer Jake Bundrick, and guitarist Alex Garcia. Co-founding member Jason Lancaster left the band in 2007.
"We're all from the same scene," says Betts. "Even with the different personalities involved, you learn to live and work together really well instead of being at each others' throats or not knowing what to expect from each other. You get the hang of it after five years. Moving from doing van tours to doing bus tours with a small crew makes things a little bit easier. But I've been good friends with most of the guys in this band from before we actually formed."
Of course, Mayday Parade isn't swapping their well-established pop/punk/alt-rock hybrid for some sort of mellowed-out, acoustic-based musical detour. Betts vows that their most rockin' tunes are on the horizon. The band recently finished a two-month session in Atlanta at Zack Odom-Kenneth Mount Productions Studio. The new tunes should be out later this year.
"The main difference between this new record and Anywhere But Here is the label still has yet to hear a single track," he says. "We completely reversed the technique to, 'We don't care what you think. We're doing only what we wanted to do.' We asked for complete control, and, luckily, there wasn't too much fighting about it. I'm 10 times more stoked about it than the last one."