When your career has revolved around performing other artists’ songs for 13 years, songwriting seems like a far stretch. For soft rock, cover crooners Yacht Rock Revue, it’s exactly what they did on their first album of original material, HOT DADS in TIGHT JEANS, out Feb 21.
Produced by Ben Allen (Kaiser Chiefs, Animal Collective), HOT DADS fuses everything YRR is in disco-rock funk beats and typical cheeky humor, all wrapped in old-school, radio countdown tracks like first single “Step” through swooning ballad “The Big Bang,” to comical “Another Song About California,” and opener “The Doobie Bounce,” never missing a beat in their innate cheesiness with I used to sleep on couches / Now I sleep on nicer couches.
Matthew Wilder (Mulan soundtrack, No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom), who co-wrote several of the tracks with the band, gave them advice on how to approach songs: go big. “He wanted us to go for a big, simple, unabashed pop anthem, which sounds easy on the face of it, but it can be hard to sit down and write something new that’s just three chords and the truth,” co-singer Nicholas Niespodziani tells American Songwriter. “It was three chords until we started working on it with the band and got a bit more complex for the sax solo.”
Second single “Bad Tequila,” taps into the “when life gives you lemons” concept—but with tequila—in lyrics Some people run from what’s coming / But it’s coming ready or not / People say it’s magic / But it’s just working with what you’ve got an chorus.
In many ways, “Bad Tequila” is a story about the band—specifically taking the leap into songwriting. [It’s] a lemons to lemonade story, with extra sugar,” says Niespodziani. “As a songwriter and artist, at first I felt caged by our accidental career as a tribute band. But over the years I’ve found my peace with it, and now with this new album I feel inspired and empowered by it. We make people happy for a living and that joy is wrapped up into this pop nugget.”
Niespodziani wrote the track in a Chicago hotel, in between his in-room, mobile studio setup and the treadmill. John Mayer had a little something to do with it, too. “I had gotten the demo started—just the beat and the chords—and I went downstairs to the gym,” he says. “On the treadmill, I was thinking about something John Mayer said about songwriting, about trying to fail and that’s when he wrote his best stuff. At the same time I thought to myself, what kind of song would Jimmy Buffett or Zac Brown try to write?”
Then, the chorus When life gives you tequila popped into his head, he jumped off the treadmill, ran back to the room and completed the song in 10 minutes—including chorus ending, You make a good margarita.
Challenging at first for Niespodziani, in the end YRR had 30 songs, which Allen helped them filter down to 10. “How do you write songs that stay true to a 40-year-old genre and still feel fresh?,” says Niespodziani. “Sometimes that kind of framework can be suffocating creatively, and other times it can be inspiring. Luckily for us, it was the latter.”
HOT DADS in TIGHT JEANS is quintessential Yacht Rock Revue. It’s the same pop, jingle-jangle, cool, easy listening always encapsulated by the band. It’s a new era of Yacht Rock Revue, a renaissance of a band that’s not covered up anymore. Fans needn’t worry since they have no plans to stop playing their beloved tribute songs live. They’re still tied to their “yacht rock” roots and even trademarked the term—U.S. Registration Number 3834195. The band also has a documentary, Steal Away: A Yachtumentary, in the works.
“Some bands try to make new yacht rock albums and they end up sounding like carbon copies of Steely Dan,” says Niespodziani. “In that case, I would rather just listen to Steely Dan. We didn’t want to make a record like that. Ben really helped us find that middle ground between staying true to our band’s style and forging our own more updated sound.”