After leading the Willowz for eight years, Richie Follin needed a break. Not from playing music, but from everything that goes along with running a band. He had started playing in his sister Madeline’s project Cults, and having less on his plate felt great at first. “Cults wasn’t really my band, I was just the guitar player and there to support my little sister and friends. So that was a great release, just to have time away from having to be focused on running everything.”
But after a while he couldn’t help himself. Follin and Loren Humphrey, who drummed in both Willowz and Cults, demoed some songs for possible inclusion on the next Cults record. He was “gonna wait and see if they want to use them first, but the process of them making an album was a year and a half. It was a long, long thing. So I was sitting on them and ended up singing on them.”
Happy with the results, Follin posted his collaborations with Madeline and Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek. “They both Tweeted about it after I put up the page, so it was all over the internet. It just started building, but I didn’t have a band. It was me who played everything on it, recorded it, produced it, and so we started getting offers to play shows and people were calling and labels and all that stuff just from the internet. So we got asked to play a show at CMJ. That was the first show I put a band together for.”
Direct and punchy but sprinkled with hints of folky British psychedelia and California sunshine, Follin knew the songs he and Humphrey made were different than anything he had done before. Their friend Kaylie Church joined in, and the trio got to work on making their first album as Guards. “I had never stopped recording music the entire time since that EP came out, so we had four albums worth of songs and it really just came down to picking the best songs and it happened to be the most current songs that we ended up with.”
Follin pulled from the shimmer and shine of ‘70’s power pop groups, the big guitar choruses of Grunge, some psych rock, the straight ahead drive of ‘60’s rock and soul, and a little bit of early ‘80’s New Wave while making In Guards We Trust, but he and mixer Shane Stoneback were intent on making certain the album sounded like more than the sum of its influences. “If you treat a song a certain way, no matter how modern the style of song, it could sound like it’s from 1968,” he says. “I want to have that feeling there, but I want it to sound modern and of its time. So if you go back 30 years you’ll know that’s from 2013.”
Making it sound of its time took some time. Follin spent months finding the right approach for In Guards We Trust, a process that saw him rethink all the tricks he had grown to rely on. “The way I was writing stuff kind of changed. I was writing less on the guitar and some of the songs were just built around a drum loop,” he says, “Some were written on the piano and I’m not really a piano player. And some of them were just built around the atmosphere of this guitar pedal effect, which I had never really done that way before.” Recording was then delayed when he accidentally broke his jaw, but things finally snapped in to place when he unintentionally wrote the album’s single “Ready To Go.”
“I was pretty much thinking the album was done. I started playing this song, just started messing around, doing random chord changes, sitting in my room, pretending I was playing this gigantic festival to a sea of people in the summer, and it just slowly kind of developed from that,” he says. “I started rewriting it and it guided the rest of the album, I think.
“The verse is just about when Kaylie and I first met. We were in San Francisco and those hills are super steep and we had my van full of people but everyone was afraid to pull my car out of the parking space, and Kaylie did it, so I kind of drew from that. The chorus was about being ‘up and ready to go’ in more ways than one which is something I think a lot of people can relate to.”