A Conversation with A Rocket To The Moon's Nick Santino
Mike Ragogna: Nick, before we get into your new album, Wild & Free, let me ask you how much did your first hit, "Like We Used To," from your debut album On Your Side change everything for you?
Nick Santino: It was interesting because we were just a band that toured all the time off the same eight songs. Then, one summer, we just decided to take a song to radio because we saw that it was coming off a little better than the rest of our show. It was really good for us. You know, for a band of our size to turn on the radio station and hear our song was kind of cool. So, hopefully, we get to do that again sometime soon. I think it definitely helped reach out to that crowd of people who listen to the radio and helped them find us.
MR: Did it change things up for the group overall?
NS: Yeah, it definitely opened the door to being more of a radio band, I guess. We got to play a bunch of radio shows that we wouldn't have gotten to play if we weren't on the radio. It also opened the door to go back to those stations and meeting the same people that played our songs last time. You definitely build a relationship with those people and it doesn't hurt to meet all those kind of people. It just kind of helped us all around. It was kind of a different thing, but different in a good way.
MR: In addition to the single being a radio hit, it was featured on MTV Hits, Teen Mom and Jersey Shore. Now, everybody has their own opinion about those shows. What was the reaction from that, especially after the The Jersey Shore exposure?
NS: The sales for the song went up pretty good right after the episodes aired. I think after Jersey Shore they went up like ten thousand in one week because of the show. I think we gained a lot of new fans from it, which is really cool. I think people liked it--I don't remember people saying anything like, "Eew, your song's on Jersey Shore."
MR: Do you think that show gets more of a bad rap than it deserves?
NS: Yeah, people forget that TV shows are TV shows for entertainment purposes. I think shows like Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo are purely for entertainment--they're serving their purpose. People want to look at these people's backgrounds and history, and I'm like, "Just look at it as a TV show."
MR: Good point, yeah. Why "A Rocket To The Moon," oh by the way?
NS: I don't know. I wish I could have asked myself the same question back then, but I honestly don't know. When I was making music by myself, it was more electronica kind of stuff, and I guess I just stopped being very futuristic and different from everything else. I'm kind of like a space nerd--I believe in aliens and all that fun stuff--so, I think it was just me being weird and then it stuck.
MR: [laughs] I'm a space nerd too. But A Rocket To The Moon started as more of a side project way back when, didn't it?
NS: Yeah. I've been playing in bands since I was in middle school. I was in high school, in a band, but I was kind of getting bored with it, so I wrote some songs on my own. Then, I ended up putting those songs up online, and people kind of reacted to them better than they reacted to my band. That was kind of cool because I was getting international exposure. So, I got out there even more, and like a year after I started it, I ended up signing my first and only record contract with Fueled By Ramen, which was incredible.
MR: How did that come about?
NS: Our A&R guy found me while just doing his job. I was on a DIY tour with my guitar player now, Justin, who used to be in this band called Brighten, and we had the same manager at the time. I would just ride in their van, and we played places like the outskirts of Chicago--not even the outskirts, we were like three hours away. Johnny (Minardi), the A&R from Fueled By Ramen, was from Chicago, so he came out to see the show. I was playing acoustic, by myself to like thirty kids at the show, and Johnny was there. He told me how much he really liked my music, and a couple of months later, he must have told the label about me, and then a few months later, I had a deal sent over to sign.
MR: Now that you're on your second album, what is your routine now? I guess you're gearing up to support the new album and its single releases?
NS: Yeah--I mean, it's been a while. We've only really put out one full length album. We've put out little EPs and stuff throughout the years, but we've only done the one full length album. The four of us in the band kind of forget what it's like to release and album, and kind of forget what it's like to be on a relevant record cycle again. It's really exciting, I can't wait to put it out, get new music out there, and get everybody really stoked on it. The four of us are really excited about this album. We're planning a tour, which will probably go all year long if we can--that's what we want to do. We'll go international again if we can. We're just ready to work again. It's been four years since we put something full out, and we're just ready to start working full time again.
MR: Now, the new album is called Wild & Free. Would you say the music on there is wild and free?
NS: I think so. I mean, it's not wild and free like Lynyrd Skynyrd are wild and free, but I think it's emotionally wild and free. I think we all really let go on this one and that's why that title kind of stuck. There are subjects that we've never written about before that we put on this album, and I think it's really cool. We've written about life, love, death, regret, reassurance--kind of everything. It was really freeing to write, so I think that's a lot of what Wild & Free means to us.
MR: Your new single is "Ever Enough." Could you go into the story behind that song?
NS: There's this band called Green River Ordinance, and their lead singer, Josh Jenkins, is a friend of ours. One day, Justin and I were in Nashville and we met Josh at his house and ended up playing around with some stuff on the acoustic. He was showing us this little idea he had and it ended up being "Ever Enough." It's a song that we wrote about reassurance--reassuring the person that you're with that you're going to love that person until the day you die, through everything. It's kind of just telling that person that no matter what happens, I'm going to be by your side. I think it has kind of a cool meaning to crack into because a lot of people can relate to it.
MR: Its video features Debby Ryan from the Disney universe. How did you get her?
NS: Debby has been one of my close friends for a few years now. Honestly, she and I have conversations on the phone all the time about what's going on in each other's lives. She was in New York City one day, and I told her she should swing by the Fueled By Ramen offices because she would really like some of the people there. She went by the office and they said, "You should be in the 'Ever Enough' video." They were just joking around, but Debby was like. "Yeah. Totally. I'll definitely do it." So she ended up jumping on board and I think it turned out really great. It was fun to do because she and I are such close friends. It was very comfortable to run around and laugh with her. It was a really cool video.
MR: Let's talk about some of the guests you had on Wild & Free. You've already mentioned Josh Jenkins from Green River Ordinance, but you've also got Steven Barker Liles from Love and Theft...
NS: ...yeah, Stephen Barker Liles helped write on the album as well.
MR: And there's Elizabeth Hewitt...
NS: ...who used to sing backup for Taylor Swift, and she came and sang on a couple songs for us.
MR: I also want to ask about your collaboration with producer Mark Bright. What was it like?
NS: You know, it was one of those situations that people always talk about--a "When you know, you know" kind of thing. We were looking at producers for a bit when we started to write the album. We knew we wanted to do this thing in Nashville, so we thought we'd just find someone down there. We wrote that song with Stephen from Love and Theft, and the demo was an iPhone recording that he sent to his friend. His friend just so happened to work for Mark, and we honestly didn't really know who Mark was at the time. Then, the next day, we got a call saying, "I heard this song from this band and I'm really interested in hearing more." Johnny went down to Nashville and interrupted a session that Mark was in. Mark came out of the session saying, "I know who you are. I love that band, and I want to do their record." Johnny was like. "Hi, I'm Johnny. I haven't even gotten to meet you yet." Once Johnny called us to tell us about this producer who had done all the Rascal Flatts records and a couple of Carrie Underwood records, right away, we were like, "This is awesome." We were really excited about his roster, the stuff he had done, and the way his recordings sounded. The first Rascal Flatts record he did is one of my favorite albums of all time, so it's kind of cool to have gotten a call from him. Justin and I went on a trip to Nashville and had dinner with Mark where we talked for like four hours straight. After leaving that dinner, we were like, "This is our guy. One hundred percent, this is our guy." Like I said, it was kind of one of those things. When you know, you know.
MR: Even though you may not be considered a big Nashville act, you're now kind of in that crew of young Nashville. What is your perception of that?
NS: I kind of love it. In Nashville, people see you as a songwriter instead of just a face of a band, and that's what I want to be. I want to make music and I don't really care what I look like. People in Nashville and that whole scene seem to just appreciate music for what it is. We definitely have a name in our producer to throw around town too, because we can meet people and say, "Yeah, we're doing an album with Mark Bright."
MR: Bragging rights! It's also an awesome marriage--Fueled By Ramen and Nashville.
NS: Yeah, Fueled By Ramen as always been very diverse in their music.
MR: What is your advice for new artists?
NS: Man, I just say keep going. You can't really give up. There are a lot of times--whether we play a crappy show or nobody comes--where I can't help but be bummed out and think, "Why am I even doing this anymore?" Then I go and open Twitter and see all these people saying things like, "This song that you wrote helped me through this time in my life." A lot of people give up before they even get a shot, and I think you've just got to push through that and make yourself get better. You'll eventually get somewhere. I've got a long way to go, but I think I made the right move by making music in the first place, and then, luckily, getting signed by an amazing label like this.
MR: And what is the best advice that you've ever gotten?
NS: Oh man, I don't know. Just from touring with a bunch of bands you kind of learn from them. In 2010, when we went out on tour with Hanson, they would talk to us and hang out with us every single day. I don't think they ever gave us a single word of advice, but just hearing their stories... They started playing music when they were practically babies, and they still do it, still love it, and they still make amazing music. So, being on tour with a band like that, and seeing that you can get passed trivial things I think is very inspiring. Just being on the road, you learn a lot of new stuff, and you might get advice that someone doesn't even know they're giving you.
MR: What are some bands that you really enjoy?
NS: When I go to shows now, I don't even go to just enjoy the show. I kind of go for homework, in a way. We just did this thing called The Rock Boat last week--it was this cruise that went to The Bahamas. There were like twenty different bands on it, and a lot of them I'd never even heard of, but one of the bands was called needtobreathe. I remember watching them the three nights they played and enjoying them like crazy, but pretty much just taking mental notes the whole time. Everything they would do on stage, I would be like, "This band is amazing! How can I be more like them?" I'm always kind of taking inspiration from music and live shows.
MR: Nick, all the best with this. It seems like A Rocket To The Moon is on a pretty good trajectory right now.
NS: Yeah, hopefully it works out.
MR: Thanks for talking with me today, and we'll have to catch up again in the future.
NS: Definitely. Thank you very much.
1. Going Out
2. First Kiss
3. Whole Lotta You
4. Ever Enough
5. If I'm Gonna Fall In Love
6. I Do
7. Another Set Of Wings
8. Wild & Free
9. Wherever You Go
10. Nothing At All
11. Somebody Out There
12. You're My Song
13. Lost And Found
Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney