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At the start of 2013, UK-based foursome Rixton were making the rounds at local hole-in-the-wall venues to drum up attention for their soulful blend of harmony-soaked pop music. In the meantime, the band were slowly growing their fanbase by posting covers on YouTube, including a semi-acoustic take on Chris Brown’s Don’t Wake Me Up that racked up a quarter of a million views.
Such covers eventually caught the ear of talent manager Scooter Braun (best known for his work with Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, PSY and Ariana Grande), who paved the way for Rixton’s signing to School Boy/Giant Little Man/Interscope Records. And now, working with producer Benny Blanco (Maroon 5, Katy Perry), Rixton are set to deliver a debut album that shows off their soaring four-part harmonies, arena-sized hooks and tightly-honed musical skills.
Hailing from Manchester, Rixton offer up a wealth of addictive pop that’s built on their own brand of songwriting, instrumentation and pure vocal talent. Lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist Jake Roche, lead guitarist/vocalist Charley Bagnell, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Danny Wilkin, and drummer/vocalist Lewi Morgan create super-danceable songs with irresistible pop appeal, including Make Out, a guitar-driven, hook-laced party anthem whose video climbed to no. 2 on the iTunes music video chart soon after its release last October.
“We knew what we wanted - huge pop songs with soul,” says Jake of the band’s vision for the sound and vibe of Rixton. “We are all big fans of R&B, from the oldies right up to Usher. R&B is what we have in common. That and the fact that we all sing, so every song had to have harmonies. We also all love the kind of pop that Maroon 5 and Bruno Mars do, so that inspired us too.”
Although Rixton formed just a year and a half before landing their record deal, all four members come from a lengthy background of playing in bands. The group’s origins lie in Jake’s decision, at age 16, to drop out of school and pursue his ambition of dedicating his life to making music. He teamed up with Danny (who had recently quit university for the same reason) and the two began playing covers in pubs around Manchester spending every spare moment songwriting together, even living in a caravan in Danny’s parents’ garden to make ends meet as they refined their craft.
Three years into writing and gigging, Jake and Danny crossed paths with Essex-born Charley and quickly recruited him as their lead guitarist. Newly departed from the burgeoning pop-punk band Rio, Charley infused an edgier energy into Jake and Danny’s pop/R&B-influenced songwriting and playing. The trio spent a year writing together, then asked Lewi to join as their drummer. Introduced to the group by Jake’s then-girlfriend - and originally inspired to learn drums after seeing the video for System Of A Down’s mind-blowingly complex “Chop Suey” - Lewi had spent the last seven years building his drum skills by playing in a succession of bands.
With the Rixton lineup finally complete, the band soon penned “Speakerphone,” a bittersweet and harmony-powered ode to drunk-dialing that marked their mastery of a sound all their own.
As Rixton continued to write and develop their own songs, the band posted covers of tracks by artists like R. Kelly, Sisqo, and Usher on YouTube to showcase their goosebump-worthy knack for harmony. But it was a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - complete with elf hats and barbershop-quartet styling - that prompted Scooter Braun to track down Rixton and fly to London to meet the band within 24 hours of making contact. Struck by Rixton’s songwriting ability, Braun decided to connect the band with Benny Blanco (whose credits include such mega-hits as Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger and Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream). Days later, Rixton received a Skype call from Blanco, who not only agreed to produce a few songs, but instead wanted to produce the band’s entire debut album by the time the call was through, making the album Blanco’s first full length executive production.
Joining Blanco in New York last summer to begin work on the album, Rixton held to their vision of favoring live drumming over programmed beats and letting their natural gift for infectious melody and beautiful harmony serve as the centerpiece of each song. Fusing that dynamic with Rixton’s limitless versatility as songwriters and musicians, the debut shifts from the pop perfection of Make Out to the a capella old-school soul of Let The Road to the huge-hearted piano balladry of Whole and the sultry sway of Me And My Broken Heart.
On Leave Me Lonely (written for Rixton by Grammy-nominated songwriter Ed Sheeran), meanwhile, the band delivers a devastating breakup song that starts out hauntingly spare then unfolds into a sweeping, shimmering epic. The album also features several standouts co-written in the studio with Blanco and his team, including the harmony-drenched, acoustic-guitar-accompanied Appreciated and the falsetto-sung disco-pop stomper We All Want The Same Thing.
In the midst of bringing their debut album to life, Rixton proved their power as a live act by playing major venues like Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, where they served as the supporting act for Justin Bieber, performing for a crowd of 19,000 on just 24 hours’ notice.
“That was insane,” says Danny. “We were used to standing on stage and seeing our parents. Suddenly, we were walking out in front of 20,000 screaming girls. We hadn’t even played a gig in the seven months since we’d been signed. That was our first one back – after one evening’s rehearsal.”
The band further charmed audiences in the US and worldwide with the release of the video for Make Out, whose razor-sharp but sweethearted spoofing of major pop stars included Jake swinging naked on a Miley Cyrus-style wrecking ball, Danny channeling Rihanna in a bath of raw onions, Lewi in a loin cloth doing his best Katy Perry impression, and Charley posing as Lady Gaga clad in billowing trash bags.
Along with opening for Ariana Grande in L.A., Rixton have also begun playing “pop-up gigs” in unexpected places. “We go out in the street and play a mix of our own songs and covers to anyone who’ll turn up,” explains Lewi. “I play a box, the guys have acoustics and we all harmonize. The first time we did it was in New York, performing from three stories up on a fire escape. We thought no one would turn up, but 60 kids came. Then it got crazy. The whole street stopped and the police had to intervene.”
While the reaction took Rixton by surprise, the band’s straight-from-the-heart sound makes it no wonder they’ve come so far since early 2013. And with their audience continuing to widen, Rixton are sure to find themselves stirring up even more of a frenzy in the year to come.