The Rough & Tumble have been devoted to a life on the road for several years now, playing their unique brand of Americana music to audiences across the country. They’re just as dedicated, though, to the experience of a traveling life as they are to a life in music. The duo, featuring Mallory Graham and Scott Tyler, uses an array of instruments to create engaging and compelling songs for a variety of projects - many of which are fulfilling on more than just a creative level.
The duo has released a number of projects, including an album of songs written for overlooked and overshadowed holidays as well as a soundtrack album to a short film that deals with PTSD among women exiting the military.
Ahead of their show at the Sentient Bean on Feb. 2, we spoke to Graham and Tyler about their life on the road, how they got started, and their musical journey.
How did this band get started?
Tyler: We were both living in Nashville back in 2011 and had this case of not being able to finish our songs on our own. I took a song to Mallory and she took a song to me, and we started writing together. It was this fictional project that we just did for fun. We didn't see it going anywhere, and we were just trying to finish songs.
Graham: We’d been friends for years at that point, and were doing other projects that we were taking more seriously - which is probably why they didn’t do as well [laughs].
Tyler: This project just got to be more fun than the others, so we pursued that and started touring. Eight years later we’re married and living in a camper with two big dogs, playing shows all over the country.
So were you doing similar things musically before this project started? How did you end up doing what you do?
Graham: I grew up with country music and gospel music and that sort of thing. But I was experimenting with my Joan Jett side at the time, and was kind of trying to do the rock and roll thing. It was fun, but kind of like how going to a costume party is fun. It didn't quite suit me as well as I wanted to believe that it did. So when we started doing this project, it was almost like I got to take the costume off and be myself.
Tyler: [I was doing] the sad singer/songwriter, crying into his beer thing [laughs]. I think what this project did for me was allow me to have a little more fun, and not only write about sad things and heartbreak. More about the human experience.
Graham: I think it allowed us both to write more from what we knew, rather than what we should know.
Was there a blueprint in your mind for this project?
Graham: It kind of just happened naturally - we both love what we love, and we just started sharing what we love with each other. Also, when we started writing we sort of just shut off the outside a little bit and spent a lot of time just locking the door and writing songs together.
And then only listening to those songs and working on them pretty steadfastly for a while. Then we’d come up for air and start listening to other things, and then go back in again.
I can’t say that there was a mold cast that we felt like we were going to settle into very well. I don’t always feel like we fit in to the folk world, but we play in it a lot.
And I don’t think we fit into a pop world either, or a country world. But we love all of those things, so we’re kind of unabashedly incorporating them as well. We want it all [laughs].
Tyler: When we started this band, it was a lot different than it is now. Mallory didn’t play any instruments on stage.
Graham: I was too scared to play in front of people. I didn’t have the confidence and I didn’t have the skill. So Scott said, “How do you feel about just making sound effects? I’ll play and we’ll both sing, and you can make these sound effects.” It sounded fun, so he brought home a toy piano and we made shakers out of wine bottles. It was just this fun process.
Tyler: And now, you come to a show of ours and Mallory has, like, 25 different instruments on stage. Accordion, the banjolele, she’s playing drums.
Graham: A jack of all trades, but a master of none [laughs]. It’s fun! I do have a fort of instruments, and it’s almost like a security blanket at this point for me. This fortress of instruments kind of keeps me safe - it’s very different from when we started.
You’ve done a lot of unique and thematic projects. What do you find yourselves most interested in writing about.
Graham: I guess it varies - we did the holiday campaign, which was really fun. But we also did a project that started because a friend of ours was working on a short film about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder among women exiting the military. She asked us to write a soundtrack for it, and that was an incredible experience for us.
We had the responsibility of speaking for someone else, but we found that the more we were writing it we realized that human pain is human pain.
As different as that can look, it’s also very much the same and very relatable. So we ended up writing a lot about ourselves and working our own traumas out through that.
Any time you try and sympathize with someone else, you find out how similar you are. When you sit down to write a song, you bridge the gap between you and someone else in the world. That’s incredibly valuable to us as writers.