You’ve probably heard about The Unlikely Candidates and didn’t even know it.
Music by the Fort Worth, Texas rock band recently soundtracked trailers for several television dramas, including Ray Donovan and Veronica Mars as well as Monday Night Football segments.
“That’s a new thing for us. We never really got a lot of music syncs before, and now they’re coming in more often, which is awesome,” says singer Kyle Morris while en route to band practice. The result was an entirely different audience.
Another new crowd was exposed to the group through a featured spot on Dirty Heads’ hit “Celebrate.” The 2017 song was actually written by TUC and Heavy (production/songwriting duo Jason Bell and Jordan Miller).
“Heavy worked with the Dirty Heads on their album and showed them some stuff they were working on,” Morris explains. “The Dirty Heads heard ‘Celebrate’ and said, ‘This totally relates to the artist’s life that we all live. We’d love to rap on it and make it our single.’ Our version was much more jaded and introspective. They made it about family and the things you miss. It was cool to have both takes on it. I think they did a good job.”
Morris and guitarist Cole Male attended the same high school together. At a party, the pair performed together as a joke and discovered they liked it. Later, after Morris did a brief stint at Texas A&M University, he reconnected with Male and started The Unlikely Candidates in 2008. The guys didn’t possess much songwriting talent, hence the band moniker.
“We were so bad we didn’t even know what a tempo was,” recalls Morris. “We wrote songs that had three different tempos and seven parts to them. There was no structure or sense. We were literally just starting from what we thought a song was and working from the ground up.
“There was obviously skill and talent, otherwise, we wouldn’t have kept going,” he continues. “From the beginning, I definitely thought we had something. I think I’ve grown tremendously as a songwriter over the progression of the band’s career.”
Being from a huge metropolis didn’t necessarily make landing early gigs a breeze.
“It was weird,” Morris admits. “The city’s music scene is a little disjointed, so you really have to fight your way in. We’ve played different kinds of scenes. When we started out, we were doing the younger scene, and it would overlap with the Warped Tour crowd. Then we outgrew that and started trying to book shows at bars in Fort Worth playing a lot of open mic nights.”
Eventually the band found its place. He continues, “We found a residency in Deep Ellum, which is the Dallas scene. I’ve literally played every venue across Greater Fort Worth. It was tooth and nail, and we had to earn our dues. We’ve probably played a thousand shows or more in the city, so it definitely took time.”
Debut EP Follow My Feet arrived via Atlantic Records in 2013 and spawned the Top 10 Triple A radio hit “Follow My Feet.” A second EP, Bed of Liars, appeared four years later and contained the standout “Your Love Could Start a War.” Although the Heavy collaboration is reminiscent of a certain popular British band, Morris says it was unintentional.
“After the fact, I kind of identified Kasabian as a genetic partner to that song. I love them, so it’s a huge compliment when people think we were inspired by them.”
The Danger to Myself EP quickly followed. Now TUC is riding high with “Novocaine,” its biggest alternative radio hit to date. A watering hole in Fort Worth that lead guitarist Brent Carney’s father owns was used for the lyric video location.
“We all work there or have worked there at one point, and that’s where we all go,” explains Morris. “The Chat Room Pub is our dive bar. We’ve lived the whole ‘working paycheck-to-paycheck’ aesthetic of the video and song in the bar, so it made sense to shoot the video there. I’m glad that we got to show off the bar to the world.”
The confessional song about indulging in a slacker lifestyle finds Morris singing “I’ll let you down if you let me too close” and “I ain’t ever gonna change.” He tends to take a personal approach when it comes to penning lyrics, but still gets surprised at how close to the bone the words can cut in retrospect.
“Honestly, I just think it’s easy to write about what you know,” he admits. “Showing different sides of yourself is definitely vulnerable because sometimes you want to have that artist mystique and do something more poetic. The easiest song to write is usually the one that’s sitting on the tip of your tongue. There are songs I’ve written in the past that I didn’t really understand at the time that turned out to be really great advice.”
Despite an upbeat, folk/rock vibe, “Follow My Feet,” with the lyrics “The high road’s steady and steep/the low road’s easy and deep,” fell along a similar path.
“I’ve sung it so many times,” Morris says, “but whenever I think about the lyrics, sometimes it’s still pretty relevant to my life.”
“Follow My Feet” is also among a handful of TUC songs that have been given an electronic dance music-styled remix.
Morris is “a fan of melody and there’s some amazing melodies in EDM. I think Elefante did a really good remix. It’s really awesome at any time to hear people reinterpret your song and find new ways to piece it together. I’d love more remixes.”
When it comes to live shows, TUC is known to deliver energetic concert performances.
“I’m moving around and singing at full capacity the entire time. It’s pretty dramatic,” says Morris. Once in awhile he will get a little too carried away though. “I definitely put my body on the line for the show and get borderline reckless a lot. I’ve had to tone it back a little bit because I’ve torn ligaments on stage and broken my foot.”
If the band happens to play Colorado on tour, it usually tries to get a Rocky Mountain high.
“We definitely indulge whenever we go to Denver. It’s really latched on, so we always get cannabis when we go there. Our favorite place is the Healing House.”
Morris gravitates toward edibles because “smoke kind of agitates my lungs. The rest of the dudes prefer bud and the oil.”
Apparently the guys have a real penchant for pizza, too. The food is displayed in the artwork for “Novocaine” and an accompanying music video, and a mascot is used on band merchandise.
“The pizza thing came from the slovenly ‘Novocaine’ video. The character in that song is a guy that just can’t get it together. He’s drinking with his friends and eating pizza, passing out on a La-Z-Boy.” Bassist Jared Hornbeck’s cousin, a San Diego tattoo artist, patterned the “pizza guy” design after Sailor Jerry images.
Morris says the band has some fresh material and plans to put something new out in 2020. With any luck, producer Gregg Wattenberg (Goo Goo Dolls, Eve 6) will return to produce TUC again.
“I look forward to writing with Gregg and his team. We’ve worked with him for years because he brings an incredible amount of power and skill to a song.”
George A. Paul is a Southern California-based writer. Follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeAPaul.