The Ries Brothers: Bypassing the teen scene for bigger stages
(Welcome to tbt*’s 2015 Ultimate Local Music Guide! All week we’re spotlighting 10 of our favorite local artists of the past year. Up next: Teenage pop-rock sensations the Ries Brothers.)
Charlie and Kevin Ries’ living room looks like a mini Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here’s a guitar signed by the Rolling Stones; there’s a drum head autographed by Aerosmith. Inside the glass-topped coffee table is a guitar autographed by Paul McCartney.
But the most impressive memorabilia might be a thicket of lanyards and credentials dangling from a wall-mounted saxophone — tours with Chicago, gigs with Daughtry, an opening-night slot at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. Those are the tchotchkes that reveal just how much the Ries Brothers have accomplished in their short career.
“This is our fourth year playing, and we’ve done about 300 shows,” said Charlie, 19. “Because that’s the only thing we knew when we started this. We didn’t know anybody in the business, so the only way to get out there was to play. So we got as many shows as we could, kept playing and playing. People see us from these shows, and it leads to other shows. A hundred small shows will lead to a huge show.”
The Ries Brothers have had plenty of them, all before turning 20. Credit goes not only to their humble and hardworking nature, but a talent and sound that’s far beyond their years, blending elements of pop, jazz, blues, classic and alternative rock into a sonic stew that’s palatable for all ages. (Seriously, can’t you just see those Chicago fans pinching their cheeks at the merch booth?)
What sets the brothers apart from other young bands is their unique onstage dynamic — Kevin, 16, plays guitar; and Charlie sings lead vocals while drumming and playing a bass line on the keyboard. If that setup sounds hard to imagine, it’s probably because no one else really does it. Charlie’s technique, inspired by the Doors’ Ray Manzarek, is self-taught, and even more impressive when you see the band jamming away for minutes at a time during gigs.
“I’ve never seen anyone do it,” he said. “Just taking the idea from Ray, and applying it to what I had to work with, I just really wanted to try it. I didn’t get it from anybody. I just came up with the idea to put it with drums.”
Charlie and Kevin started out playing mostly covers for a smattering of listeners at Crabby Bill’s on the beach — “some classic rock, a lot of blues stuff, Hendrix, Doors, Stevie Ray,” Charlie said. This was the music played for them by their parents, Kevin and Jennifer, huge music fans who come from families who play and love music (hence the family’s decked-out den).
In 2013, both participated in the Grammy Museum Revolution Project, a prestigious songwriting and mentoring workshop at Ruth Eckerd Hall. That helped lead to a gig at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, where they played the same stage as Chicago.
Their connection to that group deepened when a band employee caught one of their gigs at Crabby Bill’s, and enough people heard and liked their music that Chicago invited the band on tour. Last year, the Ries Brothers opened for Chicago before crowds of thousands at venues as prestigious as the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.
Opening for Chicago isn’t exactly the break you’d expect for a rising teenage band. But an audience is an audience, and to the Ries Brothers, who already loved classic rock, it’s thrilling. “We love the idea that it’s the last thing you’d think of,” Charlie said. “We like to do things that aren’t conventional.”
The brothers and their parents still coordinate almost all of their own booking and publicity, but are considering management options. That can be fraught with pitfalls — during talks with one potential manager in Nashville, the boys were horrified to hear their original songs chopped up and re-edited into what their dad calls “Disney-cized” versions. “I didn’t play a single note on it,” Kevin said.
As they age, more of their own (still developing) musical tastes are coming out in their music. Charlie is getting more and more into raucous blues acts like the Black Keys; Kevin digs reggae-rock groups like Sublime and Rebelution. Those influences are more pronounced on songs earmarked for a new album, which they hope will see the light of day as early as this spring, when they’ll be back on the road for another short tour with Chicago.
Between now and then, they’ve got plenty of gigs planned en route to a long career in music.
“We don’t care how long it takes,” Charlie said. “We just want it to happen.”
Members: Charlie Ries, drums, lead vocals, keyboards; Kevin Ries, guitar
Recommended if you like: John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Ed Sheeran, latter-day Hanson
See them: 7 p.m. April 11 at Crowbar, 1812 N 17th St. in Ybor City; noon April 12 at the Posh Tot, 7232 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg; April 18 at the Hideaway Cafe, 1756 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*