Interview: Random Hero’s Aaron Watkins

Jason Bullinger for Alternative Revolt

Tension has taken over the land and it seems to be just the beginning literally and figuratively. Hard rock act, Random Hero dropped its latest record, “Tension” late 2019 as well as the lead-off single by the same title. To say that (tension) has taken over the land might be a gross understatement to say the least. “Tension” the single is now hot off the heels of eight straight weeks in the #1 spot on active CHR rock radio. It’s just the beginning for this record that is arguably the most dynamic, best-produced and strongest group of songs ever assembled by this quartet (and that is saying something). Read on as Random Hero front man Aaron Watkins opened the book for Alt Revolt on all things Random Hero and what this (tension) is all about.

Alt Revolt: Aaron, thank you for taking the time to speak with us here at Alternative Revolt Magazine. We are looking forward to getting caught up on all the exciting developments and recent milestones in the Random Hero camp.

Aaron: Definitely, thank you for having me. There is a lot going on right now for sure and we have a lot that we can talk about (laughs).

Alt Revolt: Your current single and album title track “Tension” has truly resonated with the fans having reached eight weeks as a #1 modern rock radio single. First, congratulations and secondly when you released the single did you have any idea it would have that type of impact on fans?

Aaron: Thank you. Yes, eight weeks is a blessing first of all and for us one week would have been awesome. It’s just awesome to see something that you are so passionate about and you love so much just thrive and to have it happen so organically is just amazing.

Alt Revolt: As you were writing the song and then recording it, did you have any idea or feeling it would have that type of impact on any gut instinct level?

Aaron: When we were doing the co-writing for “Tension” with Josiah Prince from Disciple, he was like “here’s the deal, just come to me with one word.” We had a couple of words and were like “what are we feeling” and were wanting to write something along those lines. I don’t remember what the word was at first, but it wasn’t tension. But what happened was when it became tension it was magic. I remember as we were going through the motions of the song in general and when we get to the chorus it was “I feel the tension” (Aaron sings it). The explosive gang vocals in the back in the chorus and again it felt like magic, it was awesome. Honestly, I thought we might be working on something special as every artist might as they are working on an album, it just then depends on how it will be perceived by the public. We were just so excited about it and I’ve never been prouder of a project that we’ve put together. Especially the song “Tension” as it came about in such a unique fashion. Kellen McGregor (Memphis May Fire) produced the record and he just killed it. To get a #1 single and for eight weeks is pretty great. So, to answer your question (laughs), I had an idea “maybe”, but you never really know.

Alt Revolt: For me personally, the song speaks to me in everyday life struggles. Also what sometimes feels like an up-hill battle to stay calm in faith and not let small inconveniences, challenges, disagreements with family/friends/co-workers create those tensions that eventually boil over and cause us to outburst and lose our convictions.

Aaron: I think you nailed it on the head. It was just such a great and wonderful experience all together. Even before we were writing the record, I was writing down little lyrics here and there, or singing melodies into my phone. Specifically, the lyrics with “Tension” I love “I let my mouth run wild, flashing artificial smiles, all my convictions begging me to listen”. That right there was something I was going through, but it wasn’t just me going through it or experiencing it, pretty much everybody in their life experiences at some point and you look back and question why you said that or thought that. Sometimes we get in that moment and let our emotions take over so much and ends up causing more of a fire then what something should have. That song still speaks to me, even right now with the state of the world, I’m feeling that tension still so it’s an all-encompassing lyric. It’s all over, it can be at home, all over social media, the government, you name it. Even beyond that, there is just so much happening it feels very relevant and was a great start to where we were headed with the entire record.

Alt Revolt: Looking at the music side of the song “Tension”, it touches on modern rock for sure, it has the huge chorus/gang vocals, it’s commercially accessible, and even has some throwback to a bit of nu-metal in it.

Aaron: Yeah, it was really important to us to show growth with this record and we were challenged by our label (Rockfest Records) and the people working with us. Also, the guys and I are pretty competitive when it comes to people throwing challenges at us. We are like, “here we go and we are going to do this.” We know we can do it and we wanted to do it right. With this record we wanted to be able to take something to our record label that was easily cross many genres, not just Christian Rock, but also into alternative rock, pop rock, CHR song or whatever. We wanted something that could open the highway for them to do whatever they wanted to do and be successful. It wasn’t like we were going to stick to this or that, we were so open minded to everything and we wanted to capture the best and do the best we could so we could say it was the best record we worked on. We ended up finding a very unique sound for us and I think the sound we’ve been trying to find for years and we finally found it. Now, it’s time to harness it and take that into our next record, evolve it, and grow it even more.

Alt Revolt: Some of the other killer tracks including “Desperate Measurers”, “Weight of the World” and “Set it Free” flow very well also with that theme. Was that a conscious effort or just come together as such?

Aaron: I think a lot of it was time and place. Actually, our producer, co-writes etc. were very conscious and very mindful about taking mental notes to make sure we weren’t just putting out the same song constantly. We loved the idea of the gang vocals as it brings such a different element, especially with songs like “So Close.” It’s got this 90’s rock, throwback kind of sound. That’s right up my alley as I love 90’s rock/metal as it’s stuff we grew up on. There was a conscious effort to stay in the same “air-space”, but to be able to create and take it to different places.

Alt Revolt: Speaking of different places, on the record there are the more “moody” and slower tempo type songs such as “So Close” as you just mentioned as well as “Outgrown” as examples of being on the other end of the spectrum from the remaining songs on the record. Is that something different you like to do as an artist to flex that creativity or getting into more mainstream airspace?

Aaron: We put together the first eight songs that were the “go, fly by the seat of your pants” bringing in those different elements of rock and so on. When it came time, we were writing “Outgrown” and “So Close” I wanted to write a song that was more about my love to my kids, my wife and there is something so rad about a timeless song. I feel like “Outgrown” for me is timeless because of that and other people can relate to it as fathers and mothers easily. It was more of me just wanting to put my heart out there and let it just go. I also wanted to show some diversity with vocal ranges as again we don’t want to be just cookie-cutter. So, as you say, we can “flex” that kind of dynamics, but at the same time not have it come across as odd. Again, we had a great producer who knew what he was looking for, so when we brought that kind of pop element to it, I was like, “yes, that’s cool.” We’ve never done something like that, but I’ve always wanted to. Even with one of our songs “The Sound” he was like, “have you ever worked with hip/hop elements”? I was like, “no never, but I’d love to.” I’m not a rapper and I couldn’t rap to save my life, but we tried it and added melody to it and then it started popping. It’s cool to flex those dynamics, but at the same time not over do it and have it come across as cheesy.

Alt Revolt: With a song like “The Sound” as you mentioned has a ton of melody and that huge chorus to it as well.

Aaron: It does yeah. That is something we love. A lot of us are big fans of bands like Shinedown, Imagine Dragons, and some of those larger-scale bands. I love that they push the envelope and not being held back. They create music that they enjoy and I really wanted to put out a record that I could put on and I’d be stoked to listen to it even though it’s us. We really wanted to create something that “we” wanted to listen to.

Alt Revolt: The album is your first effort since you’ve signed with the Joseph Rojas’ Nashville, Tennessee based Rockfest Records. Talk about how that deal came about and what impact it had for this release compared to your previous independent efforts?

Aaron: When we signed with Rockfest Records, we had done the City Rockfest Tour a couple of times and we’ve been friends with Joe for a while. It had kind of been talked about with him when he mentioned wanting to start a label. We were like, when you do and if you can do it right, “lets talk.” A lot of artists and touring musicians have been on crappy label contracts or they might not be set up right to truly support the artist’s best interest at heart. What I love about Joe is he has the band’s best interest at heart. He wants everyone to be successful. That doesn’t necessarily mean on grand-scales, but he wants everyone to create and pursue and that encouragement from him is awesome. So, when he called me when he pulled the trigger I was like “it’s awesome, let’s have a call with everybody.” We got the contract, had our people look at it, do the negotiations stuff and everything was in there to protect everyone involved. It did have a great impact on this record as the label has grabbed some good attention as has our record being on there. Especially on the three Billboard Charts and having our record on there as it released on the first week was amazing. I didn’t expect our record would hit Billboard for sales. I think the label and us both pushing it as well as having the backing of Capitol and Universal Music Group was very helpful. They have been a great label and a great family to be a part of. Joe also really did push us with the record to be better and that’s a big thing for a label to do that and for their artists to be able to hear that. We took that push as he loves us and wants to see us go get it. We couldn’t thank him more.

Alt Revolt: One of the things that stood out to me upon first listen was how solid the overall production of the album was. I’m no expert by any means, but to my ears it feels big and during my first listen when I bought the CD when it first came out, I heard a huge leap forward in the songs also.

Aaron: That’s awesome as we were hearing the same thing as we were writing it. We’ve been so used to being a “progressive-y” metal band and some of our good friends are in the band Red and when they heard the record before it was released when we were with them in Germany. Anthony from the band said he was getting chills listening to it and was the best stuff he had ever heard from us and it was our game-changer as a band which meant a lot. To hear them say that with how critical they can be because they know good music and they write great music also was awesome. They also said it was great, that we got straight to the point quickly, and there is no longer an intro the listener has to go through and wait to get to what we are trying to say. He also said it was a huge step forward for us, this is it and we had something. It was again so cool to hear, as an artist you get in one zone, sometimes get stuck in that zone and have a hard time creating outside of that. I mean, it could be multiple factors causing that. To also have a producer like Kellen come along and Josiah, those two guys, I was just blown away by the literal intelligence they had with every single beat, melody, word, they just knew it. We would bring these little ideas in and it felt like they could hear the entire song before it was even done. On that production side, I completely agree with you and it still blows my mind sometimes when I listen to the record.

Alt Revolt: There was a member update also with this new release. Guitarist Micah Labrosse joined up with you, along with longtime members Rob “LOS” McDonough (bass) and Patrick Madsen (drums). Talk about having Micah in the band and what impact he has had so far.

Aaron: Micah came in after the record was released. We had been talking to him and we’ve known Micah for years. To have him come in to the band was awesome. I’m really excited for the next record, even if we do it the same way with him, we could create even more magic. He will bring his incredible talent; he is also a great songwriter and throws out some amazing riffs. The influences for this record were a lot of the influences Rob, Patrick, and I were working with and were working on. Not even months ahead, we just literally went to Nashville and we just wanted to go create and let it organically happen. We didn’t worry about writing a dozen songs before we went in. A lot of artists write a lot of songs and when they go in, there producer might not want to use any of it. So, we went in and did it that way and God just blessed the entire project, beyond anything I could have even fathomed. We would just go walk on some of our days off and just were thinking about ideas and we’d hear melodies, guitar riffs in our heads and I’d hum them on the phone and then we’d take our ideas in and it just felt anointed. It was just such a blessing.

Alt Revolt: Will there be more singles released off the record in the near future? There seems to be so much to choose from.

Aaron: Yes, with the single “Tension” doing so well it pushed it some. We just got a text from the label actually a couple of days ago saying the record has so much life in it, even though times might be slow right now to remember they were still working and things would be moving and we’d be putting out more singles. For us, as much as we believe in it, why wouldn’t we put our money on it is our belief. So, a lot more singles, videos, and fun to be had.

Alt Revolt: Random Hero has done extensive touring the past few years going out on the City Rockfest packages (which I actually promoted a show at Maryland International Raceway in ’18) as well as in support of Red just to name a few. As a musician, do you create the art to go on the road or go on the road to support the music or maybe a little of both?

Aaron: That’s a two-fold question. Touring at times you can wonder why you are actually doing it and it can be stressful like any job can be. Creating the music is where you get to fall in love with it, but to be able to go play it live is where we get to go show everybody the love we have for the music and in turn we get to have this incredible connection with people. It’s crazy to also hear the stories about the music and how it might have impacted someone’s life through the different songs. For me, that’s worth so much. They both are our passion and why we do it.

Alt Revolt: This next question comes to me as a husband and father of two daughters (and recently first-time grandfather). Being in an active recording and touring rock band can be a full-time handful to manage even as a musician who is single person.

Aaron: I think a lot of musicians go through that similar struggle with missing a significant other, family and so on. For me personally, I do miss my family so much and its hard to leave every time. I know though where I’m going is where I’m supposed to be and the beautiful thing is, we all have families that support us and what we do. It is a tough balance and we’ve done the whole road warrior thing and go and go until we can’t. With this record, time is precious and with the state of the world, things are crazy and everyone’s tours have gotten canceled and the music industry is in a holding pattern right now which is scary, yet it’s not. With stuff being online it’s at least easily accessible. We had actually already chosen for this record cycle we wanted to do quality verses quantity. We wanted to bring the show, do the best we can with it and as many people as we could, but not over do it to where we were so oversaturated. We didn’t want people to think if they missed it, they could just catch us next month. We’ve grown in that mentality where it’s not just taking everything we could get, but take what we feel like we need to take and go from there. Well, that could change next week if our manager calls and says we need to tour for the rest of our lives here forward (laughs). There does need to be a healthy balance so you can foster your relationships with your family and spend true quality time when you are home with them. I’ve gotten in those ruts where I feel like I’m working too much, just need to find that balance.

Alt Revolt: Well Aaron, we’ve covered a ton ground and a lot of great stuff here. I feel like we could talk forever. Thank you again for your time and the great release you have blessed us with. Best of luck the remainder of 2020 and rolling forward.

Aaron: Thanks so much. I love the conversations, it’s so much fun to connect and talk. I loved these questions and I’m an open book my friend so if you want to know anything else, I’m ready. Thanks again, it means a lot to us for this great support.

Stay connected with Random Hero at:

Interview by Rick Lindner for Alternative Revolt

Random Hero Are:

Aaron Watkins (Vocals)
Rob “LOS” McDonough (Bass)
Patrick Madsen (Drums)
Micah Labrosse (Guitar)

Jason Bullinger for Alternative Revolt
Jason Bullinger for Alternative Revolt
Jason Bullinger for Alternative Revolt
Jason Bullinger for Alternative Revolt