The Criticals: A New Voice in Alt-Rock [Interview]

The Nashville-based alt-rock band The Criticals have been making waves in the music scene with their inescapably catchy songs and energetic live performances. Their latest EP, Front Door Confrontations, is a collection of four songs that span across the subgenres of Rock and showcase the band’s continued growth and maturity as songwriters and musicians.

Following a sold-out show at the iconic Nashville music venue Basement East, EARMILK had the chance to catch up with childhood friends and founders of the band, Cole Shugart (guitar) and Parker Forbes (vocals). As the passionate young musicians continue to hone their sound for a highly-anticipated album, they shared some insight into their recording and songwriting process.

“For this EP, we went up to New York to see this guy, David Kahn, who is like a wizard,” says Shugart. “We’ve just knocked on his studio, showed him a bunch of the songs and he kind of helped us with a lot of compositional things. He would put a little touch on certain tracks and gives us some good advice. And after a couple of days of David just listening to the music letting us know ‘Hey, maybe you guys should do this or have you considered this’ we just went to our recording shed and pumped them out. We tracked everything in like six days and then they just went straight to mix.”

It’s clear that working with Kahn was a valuable experience for The Criticals and they look to refine their songwriting and production. The end result was definitely a polished EP but what has made them such an exciting band to follow right now, is each track contains these magical little sparks of various rock sounds that intuitively rebels against limiting them to a single genre.

“Some of the heavier tracks in this new EP like ‘Good Lookin’ start out right off the jump feeling like a live track you know because that’s how the song was spawned when we were writing it,” says Forbes. “But then some are acoustically driven or they start out with vocals and piano. Those are always a little bit trickier when we were first writing them because we’re heavily focused on getting it to sound like us and trimming the fat away.”

The Criticals are not afraid to experiment with different styles of music. The EP features a mix of heavy rock songs, acoustic ballads, and even a piano-driven melody. This diversity is one of the things that makes The Criticals so unique and why so many eyes are on this Nashville group ahead of their first major North American tour. They are far from being a one-trick pony, and they are always looking to push the boundaries of their sound.

“Yeah, one thing we definitely try to do with new tracks is throw it in the set for the next show, and just see how people react to it,” says Shugart. “Nothing sucks worse than having a song that does well on radio that you haven’t played live and it just doesn’t feel the same. We definitely try to play all the songs live at least once just to see how people react to them before we record it.”

“I agree,” adds Forbes. “It’s important to connect with the songs live, that’s how we know if we need to make some changes before we record them.”

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Tracks like, “Belmont” are more of a fast-paced rock song but with a catchy melody and a powerful chorus that stays with you all day. The lyrics are about the feeling of being lost and alone in a big city. Then tracks like, “Burn With Me” are more a hard-rock song with a driving beat that extends the versatility of their sound in the far-reaching opposite direction. But it all works! Whether it’s a falsetto or baritone on the vocals, a crunchy guitar, or funky bassline, there’s a constant cohesive underlying energy in their songwriting that makes the band so wonderfully unique.

The Criticals’ willingness to take risks and experiment with new sounds is what’s been missing from the current rock scene. With such a young band, and already with a wealth of talent, their passion and energy are making them one of the most exciting alt-rock bands everyone should be keeping on their radar this year.

The Criticals / Tour Dates:

Aug 2 – The Basement East – Nashville, TN

Sept 5 – Uptown Theatre Encore Room – Kansas City, MO

Sept 7 – Vultures – Colorado Springs, CO

Sept 8 – Lost Lake – Denver, CO

Sept 10 – Kilby Court – Salt Lake City, UT

Sept 12 – Barboza – Seattle, WA

Sept 13 – Polaris Hall – Portland, OR

Sept 15 – Brick & Mortar – San Francisco, CA

Sept 17 – Goldfield Trading Post – Sacramento, CA

Sept 18 – The Echo – Los Angeles, CA

Sept 20 – House of Blues Voodoo Room – San Diego, CA

Sept 21 – Valley Bar – Phoenix, AZ

Connect with The Criticals: Official Site | Instagram 

*Photo credit: Hannah Hall