Spokane's the Nixon Rodeo celebrates 10-plus years of hard rocking the scene

click to enlarge Spokane's the Nixon Rodeo celebrates 10-plus years of hard rocking the scene
Erick Doxey photo
FROM LEFT: Ethan Harrison, Brent Forsyth, Shawn Fortney and Gary Gwinn of the Nixon Rodeo.

Bands often get labeled "workmanlike" when they're seasoned professionals. It's a term to describe those groups that live on the road and keep things simple and to the point. No nonsense. No frills. Nose-to-the-grindstone stuff.

That's not the Nixon Rodeo. The Spokane hard rock band isn't fighting it out on the road, and its shows are energetic parties thanks to the group's upbeat blurring of metalcore, pop punk and screamo. Since the group's formation 12 years ago — and the release of its first album, Made to Bleed, 10 years ago — they've been all about having a good time sort of set away from the industry grind.

But the Nixon Rodeo is in fact workmanlike in a much more literal sense. Like, they have to go to work, man.

"We knew that we wanted to have a band that was successful, we just didn't have unrealistic dreams or expectations from the band," says lead singer and rhythm guitarist Brent Forsyth. "We wanted it to be as big as we could, within a realistic grip. We definitely knew what we were in for. We weren't looking to be famous; we were looking to promote a band locally and expand, but within a reach that was capable on an independent level, so we could still do our jobs, and have the life that we had prior to doing the band."

The Nixon Rodeo isn't anyone's day job. Forsyth works as a manager at Travis Pattern and Foundry. Drummer Ethan Harrison runs a custom apparel and promotion business, Dynamite Enterprises. Lead guitarist Shawn Fortney works in HVAC. Bassist Gary Gwinn has a job at Kaiser Permanente.

That's not to say that the band is some casual hobby. The group has toured throughout the Northwest, landed spots on the Warped Tour and Uproar Festival, and built a very substantial regional fanbase because when they're in music mode, the guys take it seriously. It's rare for independent bands on their level to have this sort of longevity, especially in Spokane.

"At this stage in our lives, as we're getting older and have families and careers, there's no real expectations of success for the band," says Harrison. "Just enjoy it. There's no financial game, there never really has been anyway. So what do we do to invest in a way that it connects to as many people while we're still able to do it?"

With that outlook in mind, the band decided to do something to celebrate the fans who have been there since the beginning. To mark the decade anniversary of Made to Bleed's release, the Nixon Rodeo heads to the Big Dipper on Oct. 21 to play the debut album in its entirety.

Made to Bleed still offers a distilled taste of the Nixon Rodeo's sound. Distorted metal riffs merge with catchy, melodic choruses and are peppered with throat-fraying screams. It's not so harsh that it feels like it's pummeling, but it certainly makes a great soundtrack for an evening slamming into bodies in the mosh pit. The LP also boasts a very big, professional, polished production sound, making hooky tracks seem more anthemic.

When Harrison brought the idea of the anniversary show to the table, Forsyth was initially hesitant. The band doesn't like to look back to the past too often, instead focusing on whatever the next album will be. But once they started playing around with the old tunes — including having to relearn over half of the record, per Forsyth — it was clear the results would make for a very fun celebratory night for the Nixon Rodeo and fans alike. The group even roped in some former members of the band to hop on stage to play a few tunes.

"At this stage in our lives, as we're getting older and have families and careers, there's no real expectations of success for the band. Just enjoy it."

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The key to the Nixon Rodeo's longevity can be tied to the relationship between Forsyth and Harrison. Initially the band was formed by Forsyth with some guys from his high school band, and at one point early on the group played a show with Harrison's band at the time, Fallen Regiment.

"I remember watching them playing a song that's on [the] first record. It's called 'Watergate,'" says Harrison. "And I was singing along to it in the crowd, and I had never heard it before. I was like, 'Man, this band's really, really good and catchy.'"

When eventually there was a drummer opening in the Nixon Rodeo, Harrison excitedly took over the spot. And while the band's on-stage chemistry clearly clicked, the off-stage dynamics between the guys might've been more crucial long term.

"From my standpoint, the Nixon Rodeo wouldn't be what it is without Ethan's drive, and his business ethic and his determination. And I could tell that right when I met the guy," says Forsyth. "And for me personally, as a singer, you have to put in extra work, because I feel like singers sometimes care a lot more than other members. And Ethan had more drive than I did. So I knew that not only would it alleviate a lot of the headaches that I had to deal with, but he would take on responsibilities and roles that I didn't even know how to do: merchandise, advertisement, internet — a lot of things that I was in the dark on."

Even when they're songwriting, the moments when the pair disagree usually end up as rewarding moments of creation rather than points of internal band tension.

"We both have similar views on [the band's] direction and the sound that we like. We're not afraid to call each other out and say, 'You sound really bad on this. You shouldn't do that,'" says Forsyth. "And because of that, Ethan pushes me further. We're able to listen, communicate and get to the next stage by not releasing stuff that we both don't feel is good."

The fruits of that process will be on full display soon, as the Nixon Rodeo just wrapped up recording its fourth album a few weeks ago. They've been working on the new record for six years now and are anxious to get it out to the public, hopefully sometime in the first few months of 2023.

Before turning the page on that new chapter, the guys have been reflecting on the past decade-plus in anticipation of the Made to Bleed concert. More than anything, they appreciate how much of a loyal fan base they've built up in the Northwest.

The band eschews any pretentiousness live, making the Nixon Rodeo concerts feel like a big group hang. The band's relatable, but not hyper-specific lyricism is also key.

"We try to write songs that tell a story," says Forsyth. "Every single song that we write is something that's happened to us that was so important that a song was worth writing. ... We try not to be a Debbie Downer band. People take the music serious. So we try to make sure that when we're writing it, we're not writing stuff that is B.S. ... We're not necessarily a band that focuses on technical music, we want our music to be technical enough to challenge a casual listener, but we don't write music for musicians, we write them for people that listen to music."

To put it simply, Harrison points out the real core reason the Nixon Rodeo has stuck around so long.

"People feel like they're our friends when we're performing." ♦

The Nixon Rodeo, Bitter Row, Nothing Shameful • Fri, Oct. 21 at 7:30 pm • $15 • All ages • The Big Dipper • 171 S. Washington St. • bigdipperevents.com

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Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...