Q&A: Cleveland Heroes Welshly Arms Talk SNL, Influences, & Headline Tour

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Welshly Arms is on fire. With breakout single "Legendary" gaining massive popularity in mid-2017, the six-member group has been on a whirlwind ever since. Festival slots, commercial campaigns, and even a song placement in a Quentin Tarantino trailer are just some of the many achievements this humble band from Cleveland has on their resume. Boasting such impressive accolades, it's hard to believe they came together only five years ago. But Welshly Arms show no signs of slowing down.

Following up their explosive success with full-length album No Place Is Home and a slot supporting 30 Seconds to Mars, Welshly Arms is on the road again on a nationwide headlining tour this fall. Their signature sound is fitting for live venues, incorporating thumping beats with soulful, bluesy melodies that are as emotionally evocative as they are experientially seismic. With a larger fan base than ever before, the group is eager to take their show across the country, and we're right there with them.

Lead vocalist Sam Getz and drummer Mikey Gould sat down with Ones to Watch ahead of their opening set at the Shoreline Amphitheatre. We talked basement jam sessions, the creative intricacies of a six-member band, and got insight on just how they came to choose a Will Ferrell sketch as their namesake.

OTW: For someone unfamiliar with your music, how would you guys describe yourselves? Who is Welshly Arms?

Sam: We’re a diehard Cleveland band; we are all from Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland’s kind of a blue collar town, a little bit of a Midwestern sort of vibe, and I think a lot of good blues and rock & roll comes out of that area. Not specifically Cleveland, but that region-Detroit, Akron-and I think that that has a lot to do with the way that we sound. I personally don’t know a lot of bands that do what we do, as far as blending blues with soul and gospel, but then still having an alternative-pop sort of thing, so it’s really hard. It’s really hard to say exactly what it is, but I call it Cleveland rock & roll sometimes. 

OTW: With a six member band, I can imagine it can be challenging to blend all the different musical backgrounds and aesthetics. What is songwriting and producing look like? How do you bring that vision together? 

Sam: Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s always a little different from song to song or album to album, but there are certain parts of our process that stay the same, and one thing that we’ve always done is self-produce. Our bass player, Jimmy [Weaver] has always been the producer of the songs. He mixes them, he engineers the recordings, so that’s always a solid. He’s kind of the final word of the production side. So no matter where the song comes from, maybe it came from jamming or maybe it came from an idea I had in the shower-the songs all kind of happened in different ways-they all end the same. There is sort of a process that we use. Usually we lay down some scratch tracks, Mikey comes in and puts down some drums and gets his thoughts down, and then the songs sort of evolve from there. We add vocals, which is where a lot of our sound comes from. Once we get all the different voices on there-Jon and Bri, their beautiful voices-that’s where it kind of all happens. But each song has been written really in a different way.

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Mikey: And I don’t really think it is a hard process because from the get go, once we really get going on a song, it starts to take off. Once the drums are there, it’s like "okay this is the groove, this is the feeling." When Brett sprinkles in the piano, it starts to open up. And I think that’s always been an easier thing of the writing process for us. 

Sam: But in what you were hitting on too, is it harder with six people? I would say yes, except that I think because there’s six, we all kind of know to just listen to each other a little more and not hammer in our own agenda and trust each other. And when someone has a passionate idea, I’ve never seen one of us say no. If someone comes in with conviction of like, "this is how the drum line should go," Mikey’s generally very cool about [saying] "oh, okay, that’s cool, I didn’t think of that." Or you know, maybe it’s a guitar line for me, and someone gives me an idea. If you come in with some passion behind it, we’re going to all go with it. And so we move well together, and respect each other. 

OTW: You mentioned a jam session. I read that you guys got together after an "impromptu barbecue jam session." I would like more details on that. 

Sam: There’s a long history between us, especially Mikey and myself, and then Jimmy. We were all in a band together in high school and Mikey and I had played with Brett, the keyboard player. And then I had ended up on the road with Brett for a while. All of us ended up back in our hometown of Cleveland around the same time. We all were settling down and finding ourselves a little bored of our current musical situations, and so I called them each up and it wasn’t that I had a set idea of what was gonna happen, but I knew we would have some fun making music. And so I invited them over for a barbecue, we had some beers. We go down, I had a little basement jam room set up. The nice thing too is we could record it in my basement, so we happen to record some of these jam sessions and we would listen back later and hear songs. And so that’s how our first EP came together–it was just these collection of jams and then we decided we would give it a go as a real band, and give it a name.

OTW: Speaking of the name, the band is named after a pretty iconic-fairly absurd-SNL skit. I’m so curious what made you guys think, "Yeah, that’s what we wanna do." 

Mikey: Me and Sam, like he was saying earlier, we go back a ways. When we were teenagers we were always obsessed with watching SNL and then we always would go back to this one DVD [that] he or I had, I don’t remember who had it. 

Mikey: [Laughs] We always watched The Best of Will Ferrell, volumes one and two, and we would watch that all the time. So at one of these barbecues we kept trying to come up with a band name and we just couldn’t come up with anything and then somebody was like, "Oh, call it Welshly Arms!" And I think eventually we were plotting to probably change it, but we were about to have a gig soon. So it was like, well, once you do one with that name, I think you’re kind of stuck with it. 

OTW: That’s incredible! Yeah, I watched those two DVDs growing up so I recognized it immediately.

Sam: That’s amazing that you knew that. I’d say it’s 50/50. 

I would say the one thing that I really have come to love about having that as our name is we take our music pretty seriously, and we do put a lot of hard work and effort in, and it’s easy to forget that you’re supposed to just be having fun. You know, that’s what this is about. We make music for people to enjoy and we should enjoy it as well, and we shouldn’t take ourselves that seriously all the time. So I think it’s been a reminder that like, holy hell, you can’t take that seriously-you cannot take that name seriously. 

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OTW: So “Legendary” has garnered incredible success. I’m curious, was there a specific moment or time when you guys realized, "Oh, something’s happening?"

Mikey: Yeah, actually speaking of being overseas, the first time I ever heard it on the radio was pretty early on to when they were playing it on the radio over there. It was our first trip to Germany, so we were staying in this really, really small village in a really old school hotel. I came down[stairs] because my key wasn’t working and I was trying to get in my room, and the concierge guy had a radio, like a little transistor radio, behind him and it had [“Legendary”] on the station. That was the first moment I was like, "Holy shit, I’m in a different country and I just heard my song on the radio." That was kind of a wow moment.

Sam: Yeah, it kind of happened over there first. So we saw it pop up onto a Spotify Viral 50 playlist. We’re like, "Wait, how did anyone know that song existed?" This was before we were touring or doing anything like that. And so that was kind of confusing. But I do remember what that song, the first time we played it live, it was in a sound check kind of thing for this video shoot. It was the first time we were playing it in front of people and it felt a little different than some of our previous songs. I remember hitting the last note and just being like, "Oh, that felt really good." People’s reactions were just a little different. So I think that’s what I knew that maybe the song had a little something special. 

OTW: So you were talking about how you don’t really hear bands that have a very clear blues, soul, gospel influence. Who do you guys cite as your biggest influences or inspirations? 

Sam: Again, going back to having six different people, we have six different influences. So for me, there’s still a part of me that always wants rock and roll drums and guitar and that comes from a lot of the early 60s, that blues invasion of British rock and roll. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, those were all really bluesy rock bands. Cream, Eric Clapton, and then Jimi Hendrix was probably my ultimate influence to just getting started. But then as the music progressed, there’s a lot of R&B artists that I think we all really love. We all really love Stevie Wonder. There’s a lot of people in that world. 

Mikey: I was a punk rocker growing up, so I always really loved loud drums, loud guitars and screaming and all that. So I was growing up with Green Day and The Ramones and The Clash, and just the classics. And then when I met Sam, he kind of turned me onto like soul and funk and R&B. I got into Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Who, and The Beatles. So now I’m all over the place.
Sam: Then for the rest of our band, Brett, the piano player, grew up in a family of piano instructors and is really into classical and jazz. And then Jimmy, our bass player, was a classical nerd. He played oboe and was in the orchestra. That’s right, nerd. Sorry Jimmy! 

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OTW: You’re heading on a headlining tour around the US. What are you most excited about when it comes to headlining and getting to craft and design your own full set? 

Sam: Yeah, that is the most exciting part about getting to go out and do our show the length that we want to do, playing to people that might have some songs that they really want to hear, and then we can change some things up, do something new. Whereas when you’re supporting, you just want to put your best foot forward, play the songs and try to expose the music to new people. So I’m most excited about being able to be creative with the way that we play some of the songs and maybe surprise people with some different twists and turns.

Mikey: Yeah. And we just put out a new record. Being a supporting band, you don’t get to play as long as you like to, so it’ll be really fun this fall to try out some of the new stuff from the record. I’m looking most forward to that. 

OTW: Are there particular songs from the new album that you haven’t had a chance to play live yet that you’re excited for?

Sam: There’s a ballad on the record called “Unspoken” and we worked out a live version, and we played it a couple times, but we’ve mostly been doing these opening sets that are a little short for a long winded ballad. It has a moment where Bree gets to really sing and open up, and it’s got a nice dynamic so I’m looking forward to a longer set where we can put that in a nice spot in the arc. That’ll be really nice. 

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OTW: I want to bring it back to SNL for a second. If you could have one SNL cast member join the band for one song, which cast member would you pick? 

Sam: Mine would have to be Will Ferrell. 

Mikey: I feel like with us naming the band after him, I can’t imagine like Eddie Murphy coming out. So it would probably have to be Will Ferrell. Or Jimmy Fallon! 

Sam: Jimmy Fallon was in the sketch too. I still feel like that’s Will’s sketch.

Mikey: Yeah. Although Rachel Dratch would be pretty fun. [laughs] Yeah, that’d be pretty amazing. 

Sam: Well, then you’d have to be her love-ah. 

Mikey: That’d be all right. 

Sam: You kind of have a beard going on now. It think it could work. Yeah, that’s funny! I like the thought of that.

OTW: What artists are on your radar right now? Who are your Ones to Watch?

Sam: Not that this is really one that’s not on people’s radar already, but I’ve been super blown away by Walk the Moon every night too. I’m really familiar with their singles and stuff and now I’m getting to see more of the catalog and the way that they present their show, I’m been blown away by it. So that’s been cool. But there are definitely some younger bands that I’ve seen lately that I really have dug. Glorious Sons is a great rock band out of Canada that are going to be on the road with us in the fall. And that was a pretty amazing to get to partner with them because we’ve been fans of their record and really excited to get to see them play every night.

Mikey: K Flay! Honestly it’s kind of funny that we’re on tour with them, because I remember a year ago we were over driving in Germany and we were with one of our label reps. He’s like, "Hey, you gotta check out this girl K Flay, she’s awesome, she’s starting to come up." Right after that conversation I listened to her, like the next day, and I’ve been listening to her record for like a year. And now we’re on the road with them. So I just think it’s kismet and kind of funny how that worked out. 

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