What You Leave Behind is an apt title for Ricochet’s third album for Columbia Records. Since releasing its last project, 1997′s Blink of an Eye, the country band has survived lineup changes, producer switches and a tough battle at country radio.
“When we started working on this album we were in a more traditional mode at the time,” lead singer Heath Wright tells country.com. “We were cutting songs that were very heavily steel — and fiddle — influenced, and country radio just went a completely different direction on us. We took a look at the project we were about to release and realized it wasn’t as radio-friendly as we hoped it would be, so we took a ‘back to the drawing board’ approach.”
That approach sent them back into the studio with longtime producer Ron Chancey and his son, Sony Music executive and producer Blake Chancey (Dixie Chicks). Ron produced the band’s first two albums with Ed Seay. After cutting more sides with the Chanceys, Ricochet switched gears a bit and recorded four tunes with producer David Malloy (Billy Gilman, Mindy McCready).
“David brought a whole different bag of tricks,” says keyboardist Eddie Kilgallon. “Not necessarily better, just a different approach. I hate to say that you have to follow trends, that’s not what we did, but there’s certain things changing in Nashville and we wanted to be a part of it.”
In all, the band cut 21 sides during that three-year period. The finished product is a mixed bag, with three Malloy-produced tunes and seven Chancey-produced sides. In addition to changing producers midstream, the band lost and added two members. Founding drummer Jeff Bryant left in August 1999 due to carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that affects the arms and hands. He was replaced by Tim Chewning, a veteran percussionist who has toured with John Michael Montgomery. Next, steel guitarist Teddy Carr retired from the band in June to spend more time with his family and open his own business. Ricochet hired Shan Farmer, who has played with Doug Stone and Neal McCoy, to take his place.
“I had some reservations, as far as ‘How am I going to walk in and actually be a part of this?’” Farmer says. “From the first meeting they put everything into making me feel like I’ve been part of this for the last six years. These guys are the greatest musicians on the road, and I’ll put that up against anybody.”
The new members have revitalized the band and given it a new musical focus, according to bassist Greg Cook.
“For the first time for as long as I can remember, we’ve got six guys whose top priority is our show,” he explains. “I think we all feel like we’ve got a new start, it’s a fresh start, and we’re just going to capitalize on that.”
With roots in Texas, Oklahoma and New York, an early version of the band came together in Missouri before moving to Nashville. When Ricochet broke in 1996, their first single, “What Do I Know,” went to No. 5 on the Billboard country singles chart. The guys followed it up with the No. 1 hit “Daddy’s Money,” a sassy song written by prolific Nashville writers Bob DiPiero, Mark D. Sanders and Steve Seskin. On the strength of that tune, Ricochet’s self-titled debut album was certified gold. The band was named the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Vocal Group/Duet for 1996.
Since that early success, the band has struggled to re-connect with country radio. Blink of an Eye, the group’s second album, produced the No. 18 hit “He Left a Lot to Be Desired” and sold 75,000 copies, according to SoundScan figures. The band already has released five singles in preparation for What You Leave Behind, but none of them cracked the country Top 40. Among those was a cover version of the Eagles’ hit “Seven Bridges Road,” a fan favorite in Ricochet’s live show.
“It’s just one of those tunes people expect to hear from us,” Wright says. “We thought about saving it for an all a cappella project, but the [fan] demand was so high for this song, we decided to include it on this album.”
In the past, the band has relied on songs from successful Music Row writers, with Cook being the only member to contribute a tune to a Ricochet project (“The Girl Formerly Known as Mine” from Blink of an Eye). Kilgallon co-wrote the No. 1 George Strait hit “One Night at a Time.” On What You Leave Behind, Cook and Kilgallon each co-wrote separate songs, and Wright collaborated with Neil Thrasher and Michael Dulaney for the title cut. The tune was inspired by a true story.
“We were in the middle of a West Coast tour, and I had the TV on one night in my motel room and heard the story about a local police officer who was killed in a gang shooting,” Wright says. “The moral of the story is that the material things we leave behind to the ones we love don’t really matter as much as the love itself.”
“Every night we play it, somebody from law enforcement comes up and says, ‘Thank you very much for doing that song,’” Cook says.
Despite having no new product in stores for so long, Ricochet has kept up a hectic road schedule complete with a Wrangler tour sponsorship.
“One thing this band has more than anything is morale,” Kilgallon says. “We haven’t slowed down performing at all, regardless of album sales or radio success. We’ve been busy, and that proves that our fans are our biggest asset.”
Ricochet is also sponsoring a NASCAR qualifying day Friday (Oct. 13) at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway, where the guys will perform the National Anthem and a full concert with a special “secret” guest. Radio winners are being flown in for the event, making it a perfect promotional vehicle for the new album.
“Country is basically a shared audience. They’re the same fans basically,” Wright says. “We just thought it was time we take advantage of that shared audience and sponsor an event at a NASCAR race.”
While the band has struggled for growth professionally, their families have been growing by leaps and bounds. Kilgallon and his wife are expecting their second child in November. Fiddler Jr. Bryant and his wife, Trish, welcomed their second, daughter Emma Grace, on Labor Day. The band was on the bus on its way back to Nashville when Trish went to the hospital.
“We were about 100 miles outside Nashville when we got the call, and I told the bus driver,” Kilgallon says. “I said, ‘Get us there quick, but be safe.’ He said, ‘OK, just tell Jr. I’m going to stop just outside of town and top off the fuel tanks.’ I said, ‘Uh, you tell him.’”
Fortunately, Bryant made it to the hospital with 30 minutes to spare.
As for Wright, who has made a long-running joke of being the only single guy in the band, he’s no longer the lone bachelor, thanks to Chewning.
“I’m still alone,” Wright says, “I’m just not the only bachelor.”