For about six years, Kansas based band Sweet Ascent has evolved and grown. Comprised of Jordan Rebman (vocals), Bobby Louden (guitar) , Allex Wilson (guitar), and Jacob Dorn (drums) the current quartet is living by the motto “if it ain’t loud, it ain’t right” and putting out honest, emotional rock music. We talked to vocalist, Jordan Rebman, about video content, the struggles of being a musician, and big fluffy dogs. Sweet Ascent’s latest release The Reach Sessions is out now!
Rare Candy: How has being based in Kansas shaped your band? What is the Kansas music scene like?
Jordan Rebman: Kansas can have its ups and downs. It’s nice that there aren’t as many bands. At the same time,the lack of bands can be a negative, because everyone thinks you’re just wasting your time. If you’re on one of the coasts, it’s likely that you know somebody that’s in a band that “made it,” but around here no one knows anybody like that. Sometimes that can make the support system a little lacking around here, but overall living in Kansas is pretty cool. Whenever we’re on tour people are like, “Woah, Kansas!” I’ve had people, where when I’ve said Lawrence, Kansas on stage, they thought I said “Canada.” So they’re like, “What part of Canada are you from?!” and I have to say, “Sadly, no part of Canada.”
RC: Lately, we’ve been talking with a lot of artists that aren’t from popular music hubs like LA or NYC, and it’s always interesting to hear a different experience.
JR: I think that more actually pop up from smaller areas, because, in all reality, I think LA and New York is getting oversaturated. Oversaturation is actually starting to drive some people out. You may know everybody and have all the connections in the world, but I think some people are starting to notice that in the present state of the music industry they aren’t quite as useful as they used to be.
RC: Tell me a little bit about the start of Sweet Ascent.
JR: I started the first inkling of Sweet Ascent when I was 18, and I am now 25, so it’s been a long time. I made some songs with a buddy of mine and thought it was cool. We were never trying to start a band, we just liked making music. We made a few rock songs and got some really positive feedback, so we were like, “What if we made an EP? And put it out for fun?”
At the time I was going to college in Wichita, and over my second semester of school I was traveling back and forth to Lawrence to record the EP. Then, we had an EP but it needed a name and we didn’t want to call it just “Jordan and Jon.” We landed on the name Sweet Ascent.
We found Bobby (and a few other guys) and started playing some local shows. Our first show was in November of 2012, so that’s coming up on six years ago. We played two shows that first year and then started playing more actively. By 2014, we were touring. We had some members leave, and then in 2015 it was down to just Bobby and I, and we really had to stop and decide if we wanted to keep the band going.
Bobby and I decided to keep at it, so we went and recorded another EP, which was War (2015) and then we slowly started putting pieces together and there were multiple times where we thought we had it all back together and it wasn’t really until the last year that we really did. Even though Sweet Ascent has been a band for technically 6 years, this unit of Sweet Ascent, that has been doing most of the stuff that sweet ascent has done in recent years has only been together for 2 years. The Jake, Allex, Jordan, Bobby - Sweet Ascent now - we’ve been running for about 2 years. You kind of just find people. Both Jake and Alex were in other bands that we’d played with and we were like, “Hey! Do you want to come play with us?” and they were like, “Yeah, sure!” and it’s kinda weird but you just do it and it happens.
RC: I was curious about the shift between your EP War (2015) and your latest release Take It Or Leave It (2018) and how your motivations or inspirations have changed. How do you think your approach changed? How did the band grow?
JR: Honestly the biggest change between War and Take It Or Leave It was that we were healthy. War was an extraordinarily unhealthy band. A band that was so unhealthy that it was hardly even a band. We were just trying to get by and see if we could even keep things going. Take It Or Leave It was the opposite, within our small universe of band life, we were thriving. We just got off Warped, and we had one of the biggest years of our playing lives. It was a small-scale thriving, for our world we were thriving and that creates a very, very different kind of songwriting. War was all about fighting to see if this band could even stay alive.
Take It Or Leave It was more like, “Hey what do we want to write?” “Something like this!” “That sounds cool” and it was weird. I wrote some, but I didn’t write the music - Bobby and Allex did - and that was a major shift. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies and things like that. It was written very, very differently. I picked the topics I wanted to write about and just wrote about them. I had all my song titles figured out and I didn’t have any lyrics yet, but I knew what each song was going to be about, so then I waited until Bobby or Allex texted me a scrap track that sounded like whatever I thought each song should sound like. It was very freeing, and it was fun. It was much more of a collective, collaborative effort rather than me trying to see if I could keep my rock and roll dreams alive. Right off the bat, that dramatically changes how we did this record. Being able to write with Bobby and Allex, who are substantially more talented musicians than I’ll ever be, and being able to really let the music side free, and just let them do their thing, created a better product.
RC: Do you have a favorite song that you’ve written off of Take It Or Leave It or War? In general?
JR: It kinda depends on the day. Generally speaking, my favorite Sweet Ascent songs are “What I’m Missing”, “Bigger & Better”, and “Watch It Burn”, so two off the new album, one off the old. Those three are probably my constants. There are some that I may love the song but I hate playing it live, and then there are some where I don’t necessarily love the song, but I love playing it live. I really don’t love “Overwhelmed” that much, but it’s a blast to play live. I love “What I’m Missing”, but it’s kind of boring to play live. You’ll have the favorites you enjoy listening to, and then start getting out and playing them and the favorites will change pretty quickly.
RC: Every band has that one song that is the fan favorite that they have to play until the day they die (like All Time Low with “Dear Maria” or Fall Out Boy with “Sugar We’re Going Down”). You have to do it. Speaking of All Time Low and Warped Tour… Do you have any strong feelings about the end of Warped? What was playing Warped Tour like?
JR: It is an extremely tiring tour, but it is super cool. After playing it, its demise was not surprising. Last year was a down year and I had heard some rustlings. It’s kind of a rite of passage thing. You can’t really say you’ve done anything if you haven’t done Warped. You have to have done it once to really say you’re a band. It was very cool for us because we had played one date of Warped the year before and last year we played about two weeks worth of the tour. It would have been cool to play the whole thing. There’s no lying that the harder scene - “The Scene” - is in a pretty bad spot and I don’t know exactly what will fix it. I’m not sure what will come of Warped ending, but we’ll all adapt. I don’t know what small level bands are going to aspire to now. As much as everyone wanted to point fingers as to why it’s ending and everyone wants to be upset about it, it’s also like, “When was the last time you went? You did this.” or “I haven’t been to warped in eight years but why is it ending?”
The sad part is we did it. People stopped going, and live music as a whole is kind of suffering right now. Maybe Warped ending will be a wake up call.
RC: On a completely different note... Something I’ve noticed about your band is that y’all have a bunch of really cool music videos and each of them tells a story or sends a message. Do you have a favorite music video that you’ve made?
JR: “Safe To Say”. That song and that video at least content wise are my babies. When I was writing the lyrics for that song, the music video was being planned in my head. It was one where the most complete vision in your head happens perfectly. Zach [Mayfield] and I had so much fun putting that one together. We were on the same page for everything and it came together so easily.
RC: Did each video have a similar process, or were the creative processes different? You music videos are cohesive in that they convey your band’s mission, emotions and messages well, but they all stand alone.
JR: That is simply because I am the son of a director. I grew up on film sets my entire life, so I’ve been around it a lot. The planning aspect of music videos is one of my favorite parts of even being in a band. I usually hit up the guys with an idea and we all talk about little nuances, but generally speaking music videos tend to kind of be my babies because I’m the one that knows the process behind them. There have been a couple time where people were like, “I don’t know about this…” and I was like, “Guys, just trust me. Trust me.” and generally speaking I’ve usually done alright. I’ve admitted when I’ve messed up though. I’m always trying to think of new ideas. I’ve got a bunch of ideas for Take It Or Leave It, it’s just been a process to try and do them. We’ve got a lot of other projects going on so music videos kind of have to take the back burner for a bit. You just try to think of an idea that goes with your band, but most importantly goes with the song and enhances the song. I hate when a music video is just a band standing around playing, even if it looks cool. It doesn’t enhance the song. What really is the point? “Safe to Say” was very easy because we just lined the song up with the lyrics. We put their lyrics to their literal extent and make it a video. “My Life” was like that too, where we took a happy song and make a sappy music video and call it a day.
RC: I think the “My Life” video might be my favorite…
JR: One of my absolute best friends, Jared, played the douchey record executive and it’s always funny whenever we watch it. We just called him up and were like, “You want to be in a music video in a couple of days?” and he was like, “Yeah sure.” so we told him about it and I wish, sadly it’s not very kid appropriate, but maybe someday we’ll release the audio of what Jared is saying to us. It’s awful but it’s hilarious. He came ready to go in a suit and he was just so ready. He became the douchey record guy easily. There are so many takes of us just busting up laughing.
RC: You recently started putting out more video content, like playthroughs of your songs, and the video where you explain “Dear Mom”. In the current music age, video content is a way to supplement your music and connect with people. What motivated you to start experimenting with video?
JR: That’s something we’ve been working really hard on this year, is trying to have a lot of cool content on YouTube. The story behind “Dear Mom” was another video we planned from the instant we made that song. I wish it had caught on more. It did well, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t do staggeringly well considering that we put it out on Mother’s Day. Can’t complain, though!
From the perspective of being an independent band, YouTube is a great resource for us. Passive income, no matter how big or small is a big impact, no matter if it’s from Spotify or YouTube or whatever. Those small numbers add up into a chunk of change. It’s also just fun. It’s enjoyable for us and for our fanbase, and it’s something that a lot of bands aren’t doing.
RC: You’re more willing to explore things like mental health, anxiety, negative emotions that most people would push away. “Overwhelmed” and “Safe To Say” both do a good job of exploring those topics. Was it difficult to make the choice to delve into those darker emotions and be more vulnerable?
JR: I can’t answer for the other guys, but for me, I’d say no. It’s the kind of songwriter I am. I’m a firm believer that you can’t only write sad songs. You also can’t write only happy songs or only angry songs, to do that is just lying. Nobody no matter how depressed, and I’m not trying to take away from anyone’s experience, but nobody is truly unhappy all the time but also no one is truly happy all the time. Emotions are more complex than that.
As an artist I feel like that is something that some artists really just BS to make themselves sound more artsy. It wears down on me when I listen to some bands. I’ll be like, “good lord, every single song is so sad.” We try to not be that way. I feel like Sweet Ascent is the least artsy band ever. Everybody else talks about their art but we’re just like, “I don’t know we just like loud guitars.” Sweet Ascent is about being real. Frequently our real is much simpler than that. We’re pretty simple guys, and frankly sometime it’s as simple as, “If it ain’t loud, it ain’t right”. Other times it’s more complicated than that and that’s okay. Musically, lyrically, we always want there to be something for everybody. You could hate me and hate my band, but I want anybody to be able to say, “Oh I dig that one song.” or “Oh I hate that band and Jordan’s voice but he sounds really cool on that one song.” That’s what I want. No one is going to ever like everything 100% and that’s not a bad thing. Different styles of songs appeal to different people.
I want everything we were feeling to be reflected. I personally don’t have many problems putting vulnerability into anything we do. I’m also not going to apologize for when we’re not. If we’re allowed to be vulnerable, I’m not going to apologize for the songs that are a little more in your face. I hope that I never put something together that dramatically offends someone, but I’m not going to apologize for being who we are. I will apologize if who I am is drastically negative to someone, because that is never the intention.
RC: You’re a band that has toured quite a bit, how do you best handle the challenges of touring?
JR: Sometimes it’s liquor. Sometimes it’s just alone time. It depends. Stuff is going to happen and things won’t always go right. We are very lucky that we all really do love each other in Sweet Ascent. We frequently are able to really bring each other up when times get hard. We usually just laugh about it and keep going. We had to cancel this last tour due to mechanical issues with our van and that was definitely one of the hardest chunks of time, if not the hardest I’ve ever had touring. All of us were defeated and that was rough, but you know you’ve got to put two feet on the ground and get the job done either way. To get the job done we had to NOT get the job done. I had my guys, they were there for me. I hope they can say the same of me for them. That’s definitely one thing that helps, being able to rely on each other for both hard times and good times. Bobby and Allex, I don’t think there are two human beings that make me laugh harder on the face of this earth. Even when things are not so fun, being around those guys makes it more fun. It helps a lot. It’s gonna suck and you have to figure out what your coping mechanisms are as a band and what your coping mechanisms are as an individual and they’re not going to be the same for any two people. It takes some trial and error to figure it out.
RC: On the flipside, you put out a pretty funny “What We Actually Do When We’re Not On Tour Video”, so what do you actually do when you’re not on tour?
JR: I work at a restaurant! I love cooking. I cook a ton when I’m at home for my friends and for everybody. I’ve been working in restaurants for like six years, and it’s not just for the money it’s because I legitimately enjoy it. It’s not too soul sucking for me to keep that job. I play a lot of golf, I’m not good but I play a lot of golf. We all have our little real things that we do.
RC: Do you have a favorite type of food to cook?
JR: Right now I’m working at a barbeque restaurant. I do a lot of stuff out on smokers and stuff like that and that’s a lot of fun. I also really like Italian food. That’s very fun to make and it’s kind of freestyle. It’s impossible for me to follow recipes. I look at something and I get a base for how I want to go about making it but then I’m swap out a bunch of things. I never truly follow a recipe 100% when I’m at home.
RC: If you could take a time machine and see what the future of Sweet Ascent would be like, what would you see? What do you hope for? Where would you like your music to take you?
JR:I think what I would see could be pretty grim. I just hope we could keep the ball rolling. It’s really hard out there right now. It’s hard to get noticed, and then it’s hard for that noticing to do any good. I hope that in the future we’ll still be doing the damn thing and we’ll be doing it the right way, whether that be the way we’re doing it right now or a new way. Still making music, still making rock and roll. I don’t want to dive too far in to where I think we’ll be in the future, because I just don’t know. In some ways I thought we’d be farther after this amount of time and in some ways I never even thought we’d get this far. It’s hard to say.
RC: Are there any places you’d like to travel? Dream venues?
JR: To sell out Wembley. That’s the goal. Every band says, “I just want to play Warped.”, and like yeah, we did too… but my goal is to sell out Wembley stadium. Warped Tour is cool but it’s not Wembley.
RC: Alright, we’ve got some fun ones to ask... Do you have a favorite kind of dog?
JR: All. I’m a big corgi fan. I really, really want a Great Pyrenees and I also really, really want a Samoyed, which is basically a Great Pyrenees. I really like huskies too. Basically? I love all dogs. I would love a giant floofer at some point to get an army of corgis. I would like to live somewhere where I have some land or a good sized fenced in yard and just have the dogs and a mud room and just open the door and just have an army of corgis come out and maybe one elderly Great Pyrenees that slowly lumbers out. I’m a big dog fan. They’re all perfect. I was just at the Humane Society and there was a 6 year old Great Pyrenees named Polar Bear and I was like, “You need my love.” Biiiiig dog fan.
RC: If you could give everyone in Sweet Ascent a High School Superlative, what would they be? Why?
JR: I feel like Bobby might have been his Homecoming King. He’s a pretty likable guy. Either Bobby or Allex would be Prom King or Class Clown. I could also be Class Clown. I’d probably be voted “Most Likely to be Dead in Five Years” or something. I can without a doubt say Allex and Bobby would be the last two finalists for “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Prom King” because they’re such likable human beings. Jake is a quiet workhorse… that’s his thing. I don’t know what that would be. It’s tough to say.
RC: Since you are very passionate of film, I have to ask… Favorite movie?
JR: Interstellar. I watch that probably about once a month. I watch it on tour all the time. I have it on my phone. Breaking Bad is the greatest television show to ever exist, and if you say otherwise I have nothing nice to say to you. You can fully acknowledge that you like another show more than Breaking Bad and I will accept that, but it is the most flawless piece of television ever made.
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