With everything going on in the world at the moment, the the Internet is vital for helping us to keep in touch with people, stay entertained and continue being creative. Indeed, one of the best things about the Internet (which may well be a bold claim) is the power of digital music and the ability for musicians to collaborate no matter where they are.
We’ve featured a couple of ‘Internet bands’ in the past, but Beyond The Badlands is definitely one of the most interesting. The band was founded in January by guitarist and songwriter Cuda Smith, who’s currently stationed in Germany and spends six months of the year deployed with the military, leaving him another six months to hone his brand of southern rock.
To complete the project he added the engaging vocals of Los Angeles-based frontman Rudiger, then -based bassist Harley Duggan who’s also in LA, Missouri-based organist Bart Colliver, and perfected the lineup with standout blues drummer Go-Go Ray, who’s previously played with singer/songwriter Samantha Fish.
Together they’ve honed a delicious southern rock sound that embraces elements of the blues, post grunge, modern rock and even a smattering of country rock. To give us a taste for it they sent us Soldier, which was released in August and is, unsurprisingly given Cuda’s job, pretty personal.
It opens up with the sound of helicopters then a plodding guitar under Rudiger’s vocals “I am a soldier, Been gone for way too long, Yesterday’s just a clouded memory, Another day in a foreign land, Riding out with a gun in my hand, Embrace the darkness surrounding me.” It suddenly kicks into life with heavier guitars and drum roll that feed into a big chorus of “I hope my family never sees the monster that lives inside of me, The things I’ve had to do where the nightmares they all come true, Will they ever go away?” over a funky guitar lick and little trickles of organ.
A little guitar lick takes over and drops into a moving second verse of “Keep calm, soldier on, Crosshairs steady, another notch in my gun, But I lost my friend the other day, Another year has passed me by, Another chance to make it out alive, Wrote a letter said I’m coming home,” which feeds into another chorus. That gives way to a cool laid-back guitar solo, which gives way to a final verse and chorus supported by a twisting guitar lick. Give it a listen here:
That’s been followed by a few more tracks, of which the most recent is the more bluesy Secrets. It features delicious noodling guitar and cool organ bursts under Rudiger’s engaging crooning vocals. Give it a listen here:
Then there’s the superb Gimme Shelter, which has more than a little Rolling Stones vibe about it with its catchy vocals, prominent organs, funky riffs and driving rhythms. Check it out here:
We had a chat with guitarist Cuda Smith to find out more about the band and how they all came together.
GR: Who are Beyond the Badlands?
CS: “We’re a bit unique. We’re scattered all around the globe and we create our music virtually. The idea of Beyond the Badlands was conceived back in January, when I decided to start work on a new CD. Being in the military, my wife and I had just moved to Germany. I didn’t know any of the local musicians and hadn’t tapped into the music scene yet, so I had a clean slate to work from.
“I had heard some of Rudiger’s recordings out of LA, and it was exactly what I was looking for. We talked for a few weeks and went over ideas. Eventually, he introduced me to Harley Duggan, an incredible bass player (also from LA) and before I knew it, we were 4 songs into it. At this point, it was time to put some Hammond B-3 action in the mix, so I reached out to an old friend, Bart Colliver who lives in Missouri. Bart and I played hundreds of gigs over the years and I always liked his style. As for the drums, Go-Go Ray was at the top of my list. I knew Go-Go years ago from my time playing the blues scene in clubs around Kansas City and he was the final piece of the project.”
GR: You sent us Soldier. What should people be expecting from the song?
CS: “Yeah Soldier‘s a pretty special song for me. It’s very personal and is one I originally wasn’t going to release, but my wife convinced me that I should. I know it affects people differently when they hear it and I’ve received a lot of feedback from Combat Vets who have been there and continue to deal with the effects of war long after they get home.
“I remember when I wrote Soldier. I was in the studio, finishing up a few tracks for Black Hills and was just messing around. Out of nowhere came the melody for Soldier. Next thing I know, I had the first two verses written and a flood of other lyrics just trying to get out. I couldn’t write it fast enough. The song came very natural and unexpected. For some veterans, I think Soldier says what they’re unable to and it’s created a bond for those who can relate to it.”
GR: How would you describe the Beyond the Badlands sound to people that haven’t listened to you yet?
CS: “Our sound has a rock/southern rock vibe that pushes the boundaries of blues, post grunge, modern rock and even country rock. Our styles are all over the place and each of us brings a different influence to the table. That’s what I love about this project, we fit very nicely outside of the box. I would describe Rudiger’s voice as Chris Cornell meets Skynyrd. Harley carries the low end like nobody’s business and Bart’s B-3 brings a tidal wave of emotion which has become another trademark of our sound.
“Then there’s Go-Go (some may remember him when he was with Samantha Fish). Go-Go first came on board with the Badlands when we released “Secrets”. You know, I’ve played with a lot of great drummers over the years and anyone of them would have been great for the project, but Go-Go was my first choice for a reason. His rhythm’s always on point, he’s intuitive and he always brings an element of surprise that no matter what it is, you know you’re gonna like it!”
GR: What influences you to write music? Any key themes or topics that you write about?
CS: “So yeah, I love writing music. I started recording when I was 18 and it’s been a major part of my life ever since. For me, it starts with a rhythm; either in my head or even out of a dream, I’ll wake up and record/mumble the idea on my phone, then later I’ll try to recreate that rhythm and feel on the guitar.
“As artists, we’re always creating. I love to ride motorcycles and many of our songs are about riding and the experience of the open road while others support the military. I love creating music people can relate to. Songs about good times, bad times, love, heartbreak and songs that inspire. If I can dream it, I’ve written about it!”
GR: Which bands/musicians are/have been your strongest musical influences?
CS: “The world has so many musical inspirations, there’s no way to have an all-inclusive list. I cut my teeth on 80s hard rock. Bands like Maiden and Priest, GnR, Old Def Leppard and of course Van Halen. Then there was the southern rock of Skynard, Hatchett, and ZZ. I love the vibe of Shinedown, Stereoside, and Black Stone Cherry, but my musical influences cross so many genres. Guys like Chris Stapleton and the late Charlie Daniels to Thin Lizzy, AC/DC, Hagar, Bonamassa and of course the late Eddie Van Halen. They’ve all played part in how my style and guitar playing has evolved over the years.
“I’ve had curators approach me and suggested we be more ‘modern’ or ‘fresh,’ or maybe if we did some ‘rap’ or be a little less ‘American Rock.’ At the end of the day, you have to be true to who you are and embrace it! This is the Badlands.”
GR: What have you got coming up through the rest of the year and into 2021?
CS: “We have lots of stuff coming up. Go-Go will be in the Studio on the 4th to lay the drum tracks for the next three songs (Switching Gears, Rock Hard and Unbroken), then I have a few others including Good Time and Friends, Make Your Move, and Cry to the Wind. Those should be ready for release mid-December and into January, which will finish out the current CD. As far as gigs, nothing’s planned for ’21. I’ll deploy about six months next year and the other six months will be dedicated to working on our follow-up CD. But in ’22… look out!”
GR: Anything else you’d like people to know about you/your music?
CS: “Yeah, Beyond the Badlands is undoubtedly one of the coolest projects I’ve been on. And working with these guys from the other side of the world has been such an amazing experience. There’s so much talent! Every time I get to hear the latest raw tracks, it’s like Christmas – I can’t wait to open and listen. Everybody adds their own influence to it, and I’m absolutely blown away.
“Rudiger (who’s also producing the CD) and I will sometimes spend weeks going over a song, working out ideas and experimenting with the mix. He’s such a great guy to work with and a good friend. I can’t wait to see how the Badlands continue to evolve. It’s been such an incredible journey and our next chapters just around the corner.”