Drummer Chris Littlejohn talks about the upcoming album, the band's new sound, and being a young musician in New Orleans.

Photo of Gold and the Rush
Gold and the Rush

It’s tough enough for a young band trying to make it in a new city, but add college, work, and the challenge of getting one’s foot in the door and the stresses will test even the most optimistic and strong-willed. Still, indie Americana up-and-comers, Gold and the Rush, are making moves. Friday night, the band celebrates the release of its new album, It Is So You, at One Eyed Jacks. The album reveals an evolution and maturity in the group’s music. According to drummer Chris Littlejohn, “We have definitely been progressing towards a modern, indie rock sound. Jake, the lead singer, and I started off recording a bunch of country tunes, moved into more Americana, roots stuff, and now we’re breaking out a little bit. I love the term 'pop.' People misuse it a lot, but if the song’s catchy, it’s pop music. So we’ve moved on to creating kind of catchy, indie rock music that’s poppy.”

Littlejohn says that it’s been a liberating process to find and develop a sound that’s true to the band. “We were always huge fans of bands like Delta Spirit, but I feel like we were stuck trying to do the stuff they do. Now, we’re doing more of what we feel is our own thing, as opposed to trying to sound like somebody else.”

The new sound is obvious on the group’s latest music video for the single, “Los Angeles Athletes,” which Littlejohn claims is his favorite on the record. The video tells the story of a loser, played by bassist Sam Ferguson, who gains self-confidence by becoming a better runner. It also features most of the band crossdressing in multiple scenes. “I feel like the song is a lot about Jake’s insecurities. It’s also about him just running in Los Angeles.”

Lead singer Jake McGregor does most of the group’s songwriting, but making a final product is a group effort. “It starts off with Jake,” says Littlejohn. “He lays out the basic framework for a song, or at least writes some chords and says ‘This is the verse,’ and ‘This will be the chorus.’ From there, as the drummer, I try to help shape the feel of the song, adding stops and starts, I try to layer it and make it more unique.” Littlejohn says that most of the songs’ lyrics are based on McGregor’s personal experiences. “One song in particular is all about his girlfriend. I think she’s teaching abroad in Spain right now, but it’s about his relationship with her, being so far away and how he feels about it. The songs are more personal now than they have ever been and I really appreciate that in a songwriter. As a drummer, I’m almost just as much an audience member as somebody out there, so I appreciate it.”

The band's name comes from Littlejohn’s days playing in a Neil Young cover band, and Gold and the Rush started as a two-piece before organically growing into the current line-up. “Jake used to be a member of Coyotes, and he wanted to do his own thing and moved on. In Coyotes, he was more of the lead guitar player, but he wanted his own group and quit. In the quitting process, he started recording in the back of my house in Dallas with my little brother and me. I didn’t have a band in New Orleans yet, so we decided to start something and made some demos with my little brother filling in on other instruments. Eventually, we got Mark Strella who used to play in The 1608. Last, we needed a bass player so we added Sam Ferguson who was a good friend I met early on as a freshman. This is his first rock band. He’s used to playing jazz music but he’s really come into his own.”

The group soon dipped its toes in the New Orleans club circuit. Littlejohn describes the city as the perfect place for a young band to make its start, especially in the indie scene. “As I see it, in New Orleans, there are at least two very separate musical spheres,” says Littlejohn. “There’s the whole big band, jazz and funk scene that’s been going on for years. Then there’s the younger scene which is popular for a lot of guys in their 20s - Loyola and Tulane students. That’s more the indie rock scene. They’re very different.” The makeup is also quite different from the dominant rock scene in Littlejohn’s native Dallas. “In Dallas, you can be in your late 30s and be in a relatively popular local rock band, which is totally normal. In New Orleans, it’s a lot of younger people, more of like 'our scene' so to speak. It’s your demographic, which makes it feel more natural for us.”

After touring in other states, he finds the city much more welcoming, particularly because of the number of young people who are actually excited to hear live music. “They don’t want to go to a club and hear just rap music and trip-hop and all that stuff. They want to go hear real live music. New Orleans is the best city for that. On tour, we played this bar in Tuscaloosa, and there were a whole bunch of people there who weren’t trying to listen to the music; they were just trying to get wasted. New Orleans is different because people are actually here to listen to the music. They want to hear what the band has to say and play.”

So far, the band has embarked on two multi-state tours, driving as far as Pittsburgh stuffed in the cab of McGregor’s truck, frequently stopping to retune Littlejohn’s drums in the freezing weather after “they’d gone to shit.” Although finding time to tour can be difficult, the group always has a good time when they do make it on the road, often befriending some unique characters. “We met this guy Steve through another band in this small town in Mississippi and we became great friends. His wife is a doctor but he does his hobbies professionally. He’s a sushi chef, he has this massive deep fryer and makes us chicken and waffles in the morning. There’s always a lot of fireworks involved too. Last time we decided to have a baseball game using Roman candles, trying to hit the fireworks with a bat. Looking back, that was probably a terrible idea, but no one got burned or died or anything.” One trip in particular stands out among the others, when Gold and the Rush were invited to drive to Illinois to record at Daytrotter Studio. “I’ve grown up listening to Daytrotter Sessions and I’ve always wanted to do one so it was really exciting. It gives you an amount of credibility. A friend gave someone who works there our CD. They sat on it for a couple months until finally they said, ‘Yeah, we want to have these guys.’”

With more credibility, the pressure to improve has led the band to adopt a new member, Hunter Coleman, a friend of Littlejohn’s from Dallas who will play acoustic guitar, keyboards, and contribute to the group’s three-part harmonies. His debut with the band will be this Friday. “I feel like we don’t have as much room anymore to not play a great show,” says Littlejohn. “We’ve been around so long, we don’t really have an excuse to play a bad show. It happens every once in a while but now it’s happening a lot less. We’re just trying to get better and better and make every show the best we’ve ever played.”