Mallory Graham and Scott Tyler wrote and performed together for several years before it just made sense to form The Rough & Tumble in 2011. But it wasn’t until one warm evening in April a few years later as they left most of their worldly possessions behind and stepped into a rickety 16’ camper that things really started rolling…
We’re producing several blog articles based on the theme of personal breakthroughs, progress or sudden success. Do you have a breakthrough story that you’re interested in sharing?
Scott: The story that we’re telling today is about us becoming full time musicians.
Mallory: Yeah. And how clunky it was.
Scott: We started this band in 2011. We were living in Nashville.
Mallory: When we started this band it wasn’t like, “This is it. This is the right thing.” It was more like, we were both doing something different, and we started writing songs that didn’t match our current projects. So we thought, Oh, we’ll just finish each other’s songs, and that’ll be just sort of a fun thing. And when Scott said, We should really name the band, I was like, Sure, name it whatever you want, this isn’t going anywhere. But it also felt very, very natural.
Scott: Yeah, and it was a good opportunity to write together, to write with somebody else and just get some new ideas. It was fun, you know, we were pals.
Mallory: And then it was so much fun that we were like, We shouldn’t do anything BUT this. And so that’s when we started. Our first year as a band, we decided that we were going to do 75 shows in a year. That was our goal. And we did. And then the next year we decided we were going to do 100 shows that year. And then we did. And then we just kind of kept setting these writing and touring goals for ourselves to the point where we were both working jobs – I say jobs like this isn’t also a job, but you know – Scott was working at a coffee shop, I was nannying and cleaning houses and we were doing as much of that as possible so that we could hit the road for two weeks at a time and tour and do this thing we loved.
Scott: And all the money from our jobs was going to pay rent on this house that we didn’t really get to stay in because we were always trying to be on tour.
Mallory: Yeah, which I think is a common thing in Nashville, but also anywhere. I think that everybody is just working their day job so that they can do the thing that they like to do.
Scott: So, it got to be 2015. We were living in this house with a roommate, and it was February and we had one of those Nashville ice storms where everything shuts down. I remember this big old tree limb got so heavy with ice and fell on the back of my car and ruined it. And then our heat went out and our landlord did not get it fixed for 12 days.
Mallory: She said to just put on an extra blanket. It was like 20 degrees!
Scott: That was the point that we said, we can’t keep doing this, and decided to buy a camper. So we went to the place where you buy campers and we saw the cheapest camper there and said, that’s the one for us. And the salesman was like, You probably shouldn’t get that camper if you’re going to be living in there full time.
Mallory: He said, That’s for two weekends a year. That’s not a full-time camper.
Scott: And we said, What could possibly go wrong? And we bought that camper and hit the road, never having camped with an RV before and that was almost eight years ago. At this point, we’ve replaced the axle five times. We’ve had multiple busted tires. We replaced the roof. The sides at one point were like (makes a round shape with hands); we were the blowfish of the highway. It just was a mess.
Sometimes a breakthrough is a few different breakdowns
Mallory: It was a mess. It was our mess, though.
Scott: We went from doing this music thing as a side job, as a hobby that we were trying to pursue, to having to rely on it to keep body and soul together.
Mallory: And as much as that’s like a dramatic story of the ice storm and the rent and all these other things, it also didn’t feel like we were going to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, in much the same way that this band didn’t necessarily feel like, this is it. It just felt like, of course, this is a natural next step. The camper, or being full time was like, well, nothing else makes sense. Of course it made sense that we would buy this terrible camper and live on the road full time. I think there’s something to be said for pursuing those big dreams. And we did. But I think we did it in a way that it didn’t overextend who we already were. I think we naturally gravitated toward that together. And it really helps to have somebody who is of like mind to do it with.
Mallory: I think we’re just very lucky. So it’s not so much a breakthrough as a punch through. (Laughs)
Scott: (Laughs) Yeah. Sometimes a breakthrough is a few different breakdowns, you know. We got in the camper and in that first year we had some bad luck. We weren’t anticipating having to replace an axle with a brand-new camper. There were times where we regretted it and we’re like, is this really what we thought?
Mallory: I think regret’s a really strong word.
Scott: Yeah, maybe not regret.
Mallory: It wasn’t the point that we ever wanted to go back. Oh, you did.
Scott: Speak for yourself. (Laughs)
Mallory: No, that’s true. (Laughs)
Scott: I don’t think it’s the smartest thing to rely on your dream to pay the bills. I think Elizabeth Gilbert talked about that in a book she wrote. But we’ve been fortunate to kind of find ways to do that.
Mallory: Because we didn’t know any better at the time. And I’m glad that we were kind of stupid and could just sort of put one big dumb foot in front of the other.
Would you say that the decision to buy the van was the catalyst? Like everything happened naturally, but you went from working in coffee shops and nannying to becoming full-time musicians.
Mallory: It was a very abrupt 30-day period that we quit our jobs, gave our notice at our house and bought the camper, got rid of our cars, got a truck and then left. It was quite a rush, sitting in our yard at a yard sale and watching all our worldly possessions go to our friends and neighbors. It was a big moment. I guess when I say naturally, I mean it seemed like we didn’t have any other choice, but it was definitely this big momentum of pushing out into the world. And then we played nonstop. That first year, we were playing it like six, seven days a week and just trying to make sure that we could do it.
Scott: You know, every musician, especially young musicians, you get into it because you like to play and you like to play live shows. And sometimes you think, I could do this every night of the week.
Mallory: And then you do it every night of the week.
Scott: And you realize it gets tiring and it takes a toll on your body. So we’ve learned not to overextend ourselves. And we’ve learned to just be better to ourselves in order to be able to play that many shows.
Mallory: Yeah, if you’re not taking care of yourself, you can’t give everything you have to an audience because then what you have is nothing. And you’re not able to offer ‘nothing’ to an audience.
Can you tell us a little bit about the pets?
Scott: Magpie is about 120 lbs., and she sings along to all our music, so she’s never invited onto the stage ever when we perform.
Mallory: Mud Puddle will stay on stage and she will be our silent partner. And it’s wonderful and everybody loves that. But Magpie is a terrible singer.
Scott: Terrible singer.
Mallory: But she’s got a lot of heart.
Scott: And then last year, we found what we thought was a mouse in a glue trap in Tallahassee. We took her home and got her unstuck.
Mallory: We thought it was a rare mouse. Turns out she’s a hamster.
Scott: So now we have a pet hamster, too. Her name is Goo.
Have you found that being on the road has changed your music?
Mallory: Definitely. A lot of our songs started shifting from these very aching, early twenties songs… I don’t want to say they got happier, but there was a more bitter sweetness that unfolded as we were seeing new places. So we were writing about these places and that feeling of not fitting in or not belonging somewhere, which is a feeling that persisted long before we ever hit the road. And I think being on the road allowed us to explore that part of ourselves a little bit better, because now we really didn’t belong anywhere.
Scott: Yeah. Not being able to just settle into your sense of home but also being able to recognize that your home is everywhere – that was a weird experience. I think we just kind of embrace that dichotomy now. It’s good to have two passports and to be able to say, my home’s wherever we’re all together.
We will forever split our life into pre-camper and post-camper because of the effect it had on us and our songwriting.
Mallory: Yeah, it is. And I think we started writing a little more honestly about each other and our relationship, and we shifted the focus less. A lot of our earlier songs were about us but as young writers, I think we were often looking at other people’s stories and trying to really make those into this song. I think we got a better sense of self. Knowing yourself a little bit better allows you to write from a more honest place. I don’t think we weren’t honest before; I just think that we didn’t know ourselves very well. And being in the camper definitely expedited the process of growing up and getting to know ourselves.
Scott: We grew up real fast. As soon as we got in the camper.
Mallory: You got gray hair like that. (Snapping fingers and laughing)
Scott: Yeah, I did.
Mallory: But yeah, I think for having only wheels beneath us, I feel like we are much more grounded than we were before.
Scott: Yeah, I think that’s true.
You’re on wheels, but you’re more grounded than ever… You should make a song about that! So where do you go from here?
Mallory: That’s a great question. Well, we’re talking about actually getting a home somewhere. Eight years in a camper is super fun, but this is weird to say… Now that we feel like we have a better handle on what it is to be full-time musicians, we’re wanting to explore other ways to do it. And in the same way that it was necessity that put us on the road to become this, I think it might be a necessity for us to get off the road to see how to sustain it differently. We’re still enjoying the heck out of it and I think we will regardless of if we get a house or not – I think we’re going to continue to tour out of the camper most of the year because we love it. But it would be good to be able to store our extra dog food somewhere.
Scott: It does feel like after seven and a half years of doing this, we’re ready to make some changes. I think what’s next is exploring those things that excite us. Actually, getting that Yamaha guitar from you all has gotten me a lot more interested in writing instrumental acoustic music. That’s been so much fun. It’s a fun instrument to play. It’s being noodled on all the time. So, I think the next breakthrough is just working on the things that interest us. We have a new album that we’re going to be recording in about two weeks with our friend and producer, Dave Coleman, in Nashville.
Mallory: The album will be called Only This Far. It’s very much about accepting being in transition, accepting that things have to come to an end at some point, accepting where you’re at and taking stock of what’s around you as opposed to just barreling forward. It’s a record that’s bringing a lot of peace to us right now, but I think it still has its quirks.
Scott: I think a lot of people have been taking stock of their lives and looking for that next breakthrough, especially post-pandemic. We’re also kind of doing that. We’re also just keeping our eye on the next thing. And I think the best way to know what the next thing is, is just to follow what interests you and what you get excited about.
Mallory: You’re saying, follow your heart.
Scott: I’m saying, follow your heart.
Mallory: (Laughs) You’re just trying every way not to say follow your…
Scott: Heart. Yeah. (Laughs)
The Rough & Tumble may be rolling into a town near you. Check their website for tour dates: https://www.theroughandtumble.com/