You would expect a band treading dangerously close to infringing on the copyright for a notorious biker gang to be such a loving band of troubadours, but Banditos are just that. They think of each other more as a family than bandmates, as bassist Stephen Pierce made clear in our conversation. In my recent deep-dive with the bass player, I had the chance to talk music with Pierce, exploring Banditos’ world from the perspective of its bass-thumping heartbeat. Pierce shed some light on the band’s evolution, from the acoustic duo of Cory Parsons and Pierce, to the full lineup we know today.
“Originally it was just [guitarist Corey Parsons] and me,” Pierce recounts. “It started out that we were just drinking buddies being young and bored. As we started finding gigs for a full band, we would find friends to join us. Before we knew it, we had our lineup.” The band, he explains, has remained almost unchanged for four years, with the only significant switch being when Pierce took over the bass after their previous bass player left in 2019.
The members of Banditos share a history that extends well before their music career, growing up together in the same area of Alabama. Their childhood friendships have proven instrumental in their songwriting.
“It [knowing each other since their teens] influenced everything. It really helps us communicate. I’m sure if we were to pull in someone else and try to explain feelings and stuff about songs, it would take too long,” muses Pierce. “It really helps everyone to understand the different levels of ego and maybe just being just personal to a song and how to approach it. It also keeps us all in check when that’s happening. Like, ‘Hey, maybe you’re too attached to this and this is just a thing’, and ‘changing this part isn’t that big’. Because we’re all brothers and sisters, we’re able to listen to that and take it without any harshness. If we do get bent out of shape about it, it’s really easy to talk about it. I think it sets us up for longevity, as we just kind of don’t really want to be apart from each other, you know?”
The camaraderie within the band is a significant part of their songwriting process. “We lean on each other. Each of us has been proven to be better at certain tasks and we split that up in songwriting,” Pierce explains.
A significant contributor to the Banditos’ sound is lead guitarist Jeff Salter, whose background in jazz, classical guitar, and custom guitar building lends a unique flavor to their music. “Jeff is our little mad scientist. He’s, he’s a big-time influencer on our sound. For sure,” Pierce affirmed. But all members play their part.
“Regarding songwriting, I liken it to factory work. There are different roles that we play,” explains Pierce. “Each job is a custom order, but there are tasks that each of us has been proven to be better at or, enjoy more. We split that up in songwriting. I enjoy writing lyrics a lot and a verse or chorus; a very simple blueprint for it. I know Jeff is incredible at music theory, so he’s going to handle a bridge or riff or reorganize that verse or chorus into a more complete form. Then Mary [Beth Richardson, lead vocalist] will be able to handle all the melody issues when it comes to singing. The final wash is one Randy’s good at. Cory is the same way. He may bring to the table a more complete song. He’s definitely excelled in the past three to four years of amping up his production of full songs, and we’re really proud of them.”
Pierce explained how they balance their influences. “We just try to all utilize that aspect of knowing each other so well. Each one of us is a little more into a different aspect of music than the other and we try to keep each other in check of when something’s starting to sound a little too much like Megadeth or, something’s trying to sound a little too much like Bootsy Collins,” Pierce laughs.
The band eventually left Birmingham like so many other young bands, and moved to Nashville. The Music City had a profound impact on the Banditos. “It helped us broaden our sights on what’s happening now,” says Pierce. He describes the move as a chance to immerse themselves in the diverse live music scene. However, he also acknowledges the financial challenges that come with living in Nashville, where many musicians resort to side jobs to make ends meet.
“We play out of town a lot,” says Pierce. “It’s really hard to make a buck here in this city with music. You have to find some type of side hustle.” These side hustles include historical carpentry (Pierce) and studio work (guitarist Jeff Salter). “Jeff also makes pedals for Mythos, and is constantly experimenting with our sound,” added Pierce.
Pierce talked about his other passion: historical carpentry. He is part of a crew that restores old windows and doors, including projects for historical commissions. “It’s a really great trade,” Pierce gushes. “I just enjoy being with my crew because it’s all like-minded folks.” As it turns out, his carpentry work also contributes to his creative process. “I write more than ever when I’m on a ladder scraping some paint off something,” he reveals.
But despite the financial challenges, the move to Nashville has its rewards. “The social life for sure,” enthuses Pierce. “If you’re into music, there’s nary a day that you don’t have the opportunity to go do something that makes you happy. The quality of life is very nice here.”
They’ve never received anything remotely like a cease and desist letter, but the band’s name is dangerously close to the motorcycle club, The Bandidos. I asked Pierce about the time several club members showed up at a gig.
“That was wild. I believe it was in Laredo, Texas. We were all excited to get down there and see somewhere else,” said Pierce, brimming with enthusiasm. “When we got to the bar it actually started to feel like a different country.”
The night unfurled with dancing, drinking, and socializing with the bikers. After the show, the Bandidos members wanted a Banditos sticker because they liked the Budweiser logo take on it. “Next thing I know they were just hanging out and drinking and talking about bikes out front for hours,” Pierce said.
Their story about being signed by Bloodshot Records after a South by Southwest performance is an inspiring tale of perseverance. Their journey with Bloodshot Records, an independent record label in Chicago, started in the most unexpected of circumstances: playing an almost-empty bar during South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. Two guys from Bloodshot happened to walk in and saw the Banditos playing like it was a packed house, and their aggressive performance paid off. “They talked to one of the guys in the band, and next thing you know, we’re going to the office a few weeks later,” remembers Pierce.
Despite tough times during the pandemic, the band pulled through, with Pierce attributing the resilience to his bandmates. He hinted at upcoming European tours, particularly in Sweden, where they’ve had successful tours before. This determination and passion for their craft underline Banditos’ continued relevance in the music industry. Even as the Banditos face the hurdles of the music industry, their bond with each other and love for music remain unwavering. Their story is a testament to the power of friendship, shared dreams, and the love for music that transcends challenges and geographical boundaries.
“This is our life, and we’re going to do this till the wheels fall off and until the wall finally breaks.”
Banditos w/Rebekah Songer Band
Rose Bowl Tavern
106 N Race St
Tu July 11th, 7:30 p.m.