Russ Brown is ready to party.
The frontman for local red dirt country band Southern Fryed wants to put all the canceled shows and other disappointments of 2020 behind him and focus on the group’s latest endeavors: a new album and a return to live shows in Cheyenne.
“It was such an amazing feeling,” he recalled of being back onstage for some summer shows. “We were so amped up, partying along with the crowd, we couldn’t settle down onstage. Even when we played our ballads and slower songs, you could tell the energy was so high. … It was the most fun I’ve had playing in a while.”
On Jan. 16, Southern Fryed will play its first show at Terry Bison Ranch since opening for Jerrod Nieman on Feb. 21, 2020 – right before a global pandemic upended the entire entertainment industry.
“This show is going to be electric,” Brown said. “We’ve got two great bands opening up for us – Barstool Brothers have a great country music sound, and DARKHORSE opened for us at the Outlaw Saloon in August, and they bring the ’80s rock classics and are very high energy. We are very excited.”
The musicians of Southern Fryed have been adapting to a changing musical landscape since the spring, when they played a series of livestream shows at local businesses to bring awareness to said businesses’ services that remained available (takeout, curbside, etc.). These virtual events were a win-win for all involved, Brown told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle in March, because a virtual tip jar helped the musicians make up for some (not a lot, but some) lost income from canceled shows, businesses could promote themselves, and fans could get their live music fix in the safest way possible.
When the bandmates weren’t doing livestreams, they were focusing on Southern Fryed’s new album, which will be recorded this May in Nashville with Grammy Award-winning producer Mills Logan (who also produced the band’s last EP, “Dive Bar”). Logan has worked with everyone from Toby Keith to Taylor Swift, and Brown said it was important to continue working with him because he brings a level of professionalism that’s hard to find when recording in studios out West.
“We determined that’s where we’ll record any and all of our music because of the quality of the studios that he gets us into and his work and his craftsmanship on the albums,” Brown said. “How he mixes and produces and masters them is top notch, and that’s our new standard, to make sure we have the best producer and studio and sound equipment we can use.”
After more than 20 of their shows were canceled, the musicians decided to use their newfound downtime to write songs, practice and fine tune their new material. Not being on tour allowed them ample time to polish lyrics, progressions and everyone’s individual part, which Brown said is hard to hone in on when you’re preparing an album on the road like they did in 2018.
Some songs that will end up on the new album were written before the COVID-19 pandemic, and some were even performed for limited audiences in 2020, so Brown said the tumultuous year didn’t necessarily affect the subject matter of the record. However, he told fans to expect a fresh sound.
“Since our last album, we’ve gotten two new members of the band, and with our new lead guitarist and keyboard player and what they bring to the table, I think they’re going to hear a different sound out of us – something that is going to progress as our sound continues to evolve,” he said of the album, which fans won’t get a taste of until the first single is released around July.
By summer 2020, Southern Fryed members started balancing writing with the few shows they were able to play in states with fewer restrictions, including Wyoming and Nebraska – gaining large crowds at events such as The Legend of Rawhide in Lusk – but they couldn’t put together a full tour like in pre-pandemic times.
But even though crowd size was restricted and everyone was told to spread out, Brown said the band maxed out the new capacity of nearly every venue he and his bandmates played, proving that fans were itching to get out and enjoy live music again.
“You can only see it live on Facebook or Instagram so much, and you don’t get the same energy or effect that you get at a live show,” he said. “I think people are just craving that now. … people are tired of being locked down, being told, ‘You can’t do this, can’t do that.’ I think when restrictions lift and the floodgates open, artists are going to see crowds like they’ve never seen before, and the fans and concertgoers are going to see shows like they’ve never seen before. Artists are so ready to get back out there on the road and perform for them.”