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The Sound

R5: from YouTube to Disney to a town near you

3/9/2016

R5 offers perhaps the clearest look into the construction of pop music in the modern age. Virtually nothing about the band conforms to the preconceived notions most of us have about how bands are made, grown or marketed.

R5 plays at the Des Moines Civic Center on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m.

R5 plays at the Des Moines Civic Center on Saturday, March 12 at 7 p.m.

Consisting of siblings Riker, Rocky, Ross and Rydel Lynch, along with family friend Ellington Ratliff, R5 got its start when then-18-year-old Riker wanted to move to L.A. to pursue acting. The Lynch parents moved the family to California from Colorado where they met Ratliff. While pursing individual acting careers, the kids began learning instruments on the side. Then, while the five members came together as a band, posting videos and music to YouTube and amassing more thatn 4 million views, the Lynch siblings were appearing in commercials and various Disney Channel shows.

Even now, as the band embarks on world tours and has two albums and four EPs under its belt, acting continues to be more than just a hobby, and it can be difficult to tell if R5 is a collection of actors who happen to play music, or musicians who sometimes act.

“We all grew up in the acting game,” Ellington Ratliff said in an interview. “That was our first thing. Being a musician was something we’d always just done for fun. It wasn’t anything to be taken seriously.

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“But our love was always there. I never thought that I’d get the chance to play music (professionally). Acting was always the more realistic option. So the fact that the band took off has been great. I never thought that was even possible.”

With so many of the members appearing in Disney shows like “Austin & Ally” and “Teen Beach,” the company has done its best to assist in furthering the band’s career through cross-promotion and signing the act to Disney’s Hollywood label. At the same time, the company has allowed R5 to work toward finding its own way and has not tried to dictate the direction for the band’s evolving sound.

“Back in the beginning, (Disney) used to support us and put our songs on the Channel, which was great exposure for us,” Ratliff explained. “But going forward, we’ve decided to kind of move away from that.”

Moving away from the Disney influence has been a learning process for a group of five young people who admittedly came to music as a secondary profession. The most notable place for growth is in songwriting, where the act is slowly taking off the training wheels. R5’s last album boasts a list of nearly three dozen writers and producers, but Ratliff said the group has been taking a more active hand in its sound.

“When you’re writing with an array of writers, sometimes you have to say, ‘You know what, this isn’t going to work,’ ” he said. “But we went through several sessions, and sometimes you just have to put your foot down. It’s all just experimenting.

“Me, Rocky and Ross have these lists on our phones called ‘future album ideas.’ We’re always kind of looking back to that and sharing ideas. Writing on the road is almost impossible, because you need the time, and that’s hard when you’re touring and doing soundcheck and press and all that. But Rocky will go into the studio and work up a track. He gets it 90 percent done, then Ross or I will come in, listen to it, and we’ll start writing from there. We’re always learning.” CV

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