‘Let the Road’ takes its title from a soulful, harmony-powered a capella song that the band wrote in its earliest days. “We came up with ‘Let the Road’ years ago in a caravan in Danny’s back garden, when we were trying to make something happen with our music and nothing was working out,” says vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jake Roche, who formed Rixton with Charley Bagnall (vocals, lead guitar), Danny Wilkin (vocals, bass, keys), and Lewi Morgan (vocals, drums) in 2012. “It’s perfect to have that be the title track and the first song on this album,” Jake continues, “because it shows that you really never know where you’re going in life.”
Produced by Benny Blanco (Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, Katy Perry, Rihanna, OneRepublic) and released via School Boy/Giant Little Man/Mad Love/Interscope via Polydor Records, Let the Road serves as a prime showcase for the melody-fuelled fusion of pop, rock, and R&B that’s propelled Rixton out of that backyard caravan and into the international spotlight. Along with ‘Me and My Broken Heart’ and ‘Wait On Me’ (Rixton’s second single, a reggae-tinged summer smash that landed on Billboard’s Mainstream Top 40 chart soon after its July 2014 release), the album features both new material and songs revamped from dozens of demos the band’s assembled over the years. Those newer tracks include their haunting third single ‘Hotel Ceiling,’ penned by Ed Sheeran to reveal a darker, moodier, more intense side of Rixton. Further proof of the group’s magnetic versatility, Rixton weave their breath-taking four-part harmonies and high-energy, live-instrument-based brand of pop into tracks as diverse as the stripped-back party song ‘I Like Girls,’ the aching piano ballad ‘Whole,’ and the breezy but bittersweet breakup number ‘Beautiful Excuses.’ “Our sound’s changed slightly over the years,” notes Lewi, “but one thing that’s stayed consistent is writing big songs that take the listener on an emotional journey.”
To record ‘Let the Road’, Rixton headed to New York City and spent several months holed up in the studio with Blanco. “Benny’s an absolute genius,” says Charley. “Working with him puts you in a completely different head space, and he does all these crazy things to get you in the zone.” In making the album, that craziness included urging Jake to watch “hours and hours of Soul Train and Prince videos” before laying down the vocals for the disco-pop stomper ‘We All Want the Same Thing.’ “After all that, when I finally got into the vocal booth, I found this part of my voice I’d never sung in before,” Jake says. “Benny just has a way of drawing out these things you didn’t even know you had in you.” And during the recording of ‘Make Out’—a supremely catchy track whose video earned serious attention for its sweet-natured spoofing, including a trash-bag-clad Charley posing as Lady Gaga—Rixton made the most of that day’s dead-of-summer weather. “It was about 105 degrees out and there was no way to get away from the heat,” says Danny. “There was one part where we had to do gang vocals and we were all just in a terrible mood, so we decided to take our clothes off and sing the whole part pretty much totally naked.”
The brother-like kinship that carried Rixton through Let the Road’s recording first began to form more than a half-decade ago, when Jake dropped out of school at 16 to dedicate his life to music and quickly joined forces with Danny (who’d recently quit college for the same reason). After three years of collaborating on songwriting and playing covers in pubs around Manchester—and living in that caravan in Danny’s family’s back garden to make ends meet—the duo crossed paths with Charley and recruited him as their lead guitarist. With Charley’s years of experience in pop-punk group Rio instilling an edgier vibe into their pop/R&B-influenced sound, the trio spent a year writing together before rounding out their line-up with the addition of Lewi (who’d devoted the past seven years to sharpening his drum skills by playing in a series of rock bands).
By the end of 2012, Rixton were steadily gaining a following both locally (due to frequent gigs at nearby hole-in-the-wall venues) and beyond (thanks to a growing presence on YouTube). While those YouTube videos mainly featured the band’s harmony-driven covers of R&B artists like R. Kelly and Usher, it was a cheeky rendition of ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’—complete with elf hats and barbershop-quartet styling—that earned Rixton their first big break by catching the ear of Scooter Braun (the talent manager known for his work with Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ariana Grande). After flying to London to meet Rixton within 24 hours of tracking them down, Braun found himself struck by their refined songwriting skills (evidenced on early songs like ‘Speakerphone,’ a strangely poignant drunk-dialing ode featured on Let the Road). Braun then connected the band with Blanco, who—just days later—asked to produce Rixton’s entire debut album. In the whirlwind year that followed, Rixton not only signed to School Boy/Giant Little Man/Mad Love/Interscope Records and set to work on Let the Road, but also established themselves as an unstoppable live act by playing major venues like Brooklyn’s Barclays Center (where they opened for Justin Bieber, performing for a crowd of 19,000 on just 24 hours’ notice).
With their live experience now including a summer 2014 headlining tour, a June 2014 performance at Wembley Stadium and a North American and European tour with Ariana Grande and supporting Ed Sheeran on his North American tour. “It’s a huge honor to open for Ed,” says Jake. “We’ve been big fans since day one, and we’ve become fairly close with him since ‘Hotel Ceiling’ came about”. As their growing popularity takes them to bigger and bigger stages around the world, Rixton make a point of keeping it all in perspective. “It’s crazy that we started out being so excited to play for about 30 people in some pub in Manchester, but now we try to bring that same energy wherever we go,” notes Jake. And with the release of Let the Road, Rixton’s members all share a similar mission of keeping tied to their roots while following their musical passion into the band’s future. “One of the things we’re most proud of is that we’ve managed to take these songs that have meant a lot to us for so long, and finally get them onto an album,” says Danny. “Even though we’ve performed them so many times over the past years, the meaning is still as strong as ever for us, and we’re just really happy to put them out into the world.”