I’m not sure I could write a bio of LA-based Tornado Rider’s frontman that is better than the one on the group’s website: “Frontman Rushad Eggleston (cello panther) was nominated for a Grammy, attended Berklee School of Music on full scholarship, invented bluegrass cello, started a worldwide folk cello revolution, cast sound-tornadoes all over the world, and is half goblin.”
The weirdest part of this little intro to Eggleston is that the majority of it is true. I’ve never met his parents so I can’t really verify the goblin thing, but I can confirm that the group has been blowing audiences away with their electric cello-fueled energy and costume-intensive live shows. Eggleston was kind enough to agree to put down the cello and sit still long enough to answer some questions for LA Music Blog’s readers.
How did you get your start in music?
When I was a real young kid, before I was 3, my mom was always playing me records, and I would get up on shelves and start conducting. She said that I could identify which one was Beethoven. She could see that I had an interest in music from the way that I liked to listen to records. I put on a record when both my younger brothers were born. I remember putting on Mother Goose and bringing them toast and shit. When she saw that, her and my dad decided that I should start playing violin when I was 3, so pretty much when I was old enough to hold a violin, they got me a violin.
They started me on Suzuki method violin, which I did until I was 8, and then a series of things encouraged me to go towards the cello. There was a kid that was older than me that was pretty cool and played the cello, and my mom was like, “How about the cello? It’s less squeaky.” My younger brother played the cello, and I thought that I need to do what my younger brother is able to do. So I started playing the cello and played that for a few years. I was pretty good, I guess, but I didn’t really like it. It was fun and kind of cool, but it wasn’t fun like baseball. My mom would make me practice an hour every day. If I wanted to go play baseball and basketball with my friends, I had to go practice an hour with my mom and go over what my lesson was about with my teacher. It was intense, for sure. I also was in an orchestra and went to summer music camp for 3 weeks at a time each summer. I’m not exactly sure if I had any say in that because I remember it being kind of difficult and it was hard work being in the orchestra. I liked it because there were girls there and I would get crushes on girls, and there’s a joy in that when you’re young.
I didn’t fall in love with music until I was maybe 12. Someone brought over Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and I was like “Holy cow!” Then my friend turned me on to AC/DC, and then I got into Metallica, Guns ‘N Roses, and all the bands that were right about that time. Pretty soon I had to start playing guitar. Also, my younger brothers started playing guitar, and I needed to be able to do what they could do. I got one lesson where I learned how to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” then after that I was on my own. I made up a song about being a cat that had jumper cables hanging off its back. I was trying to play metal, but I had no idea what I was doing. It was funny. I had a couple small bands.
One big thing that was encouraging for me was that I won the talent show in sixth grade playing the cello and in seventh grade playing the cello. Eighth grade the competition was a lot stiffer, and there were dudes doing flips, and people playing guitar, playing Pearl Jam covers and Metallica. These hot chicks dressed up in tight pants and did this Jackson 5 thing. I was going to play something like “Under the Bridge” or a Metallica song. I got bit by a dog and couldn’t play until two months before, and by that time I didn’t have time to learn anybody else’s songs. So I played this cool cello thing and put the cello down, picked up my pick, and showed the audience. Then I turned on the distortion and played this wild guitar thing, which was probably total crap, but at least I made it up. Then I won the talent show. This kid was like, “Dude, let’s start a band!” I went from being kind of a dork to someone people respected. And that’s how I fell in love with music anyhow.
How did Tornado Rider come about, and how did that project really get its start?
It’s kind of a result of riding a really wild, destructive, and unpredictable tornado that went through my musical career and devastated everything in its path. I ended up landing in this place when suddenly I lived in Oakland and I had this band called Tornado Rider, and how I got there was kind of interesting.
Basically I was in the folk music circuit, in the folk music world, traveling the world playing a bunch of festivals, originally with Darrell Darander, an older famous fiddle player who was my mentor for a few years. I got a call to play with him when I was 20 years old and was going to college at Berklee in Boston. I was playing with him, and then I had this band with my girlfriend at the time and a couple of other kids from Boston. The band was bass, cello, and vocals, and we were called Crooked Still. We had a booking agent and were playing at all these festivals and touring all over. I was making a lot of money and doing real good. I wasn’t satisfied, though, because I wasn’t doing my own thing. I was doing traditional music, sitting down with the cello, and at that point I didn’t know about standing up with a cello. I knew that something was missing, and I wanted to rock out more and wanted to really express myself.
I had a band called the Wild Band of Snee at the time. It had piano, bass, cello, drums, and vocals, but it was still kind of mellow. So basically I got this crazy girlfriend that was cool, but crazy. She lives in California, and I eventually moved out to California from the east coast and gradually was inspired to quit Crooked Still. It was like biting the hand that still feeds you because after that I had no money. Especially all the money I spent on the plane tickets flying out to see this chick.
So I started this band called the Butt Wizards with a couple friends from New York when I still lived there, and we played my own music that was kind of like rock ‘n roll for the first time with cello. Then the keyboardist quit, then the drummer took over on keyboard and drums. We rushed to make a record, then the drummer/keyboardist quit and moved back to France, so right after that album was ready to go, I had to put it on the back burner. I didn’t know what to do at that point and things were getting crazy. I did a solo tour in Denmark for a week, and it was miserable to play without a band.
When I came back I asked my friend Scott, who plays the banjo and who got me into bluegrass, if he wanted to play drums, and said let’s find someone to play bass. He had a friend, Gram, who played guitar. Scott didn’t really play drums, and Gram didn’t really play bass at the time, but I needed a band and these guys were cool, believed in the vision, and liked the music. They helped me out with a lot of the ideas and inspired me to stand up with the cello and be crazy and free. We wore all kinds of costumes, and the drummer Scott put on a pirate costume, Gram had a fires costume, and I was a caveman. In the process of these songs it used to be mellow and weird, but it became faster, and louder, and kind of became punk rock. I started using distortion on my cello. Suddenly me and that girl broke up, and I moved to Oakland and was in a band called Tornado Rider. Now it’s like the coolest thing I’ve ever done.
Being a guitarist and cello player, it sounds like you’re an all-around musician. Who would you say some of your influences are?
I’ll always be influenced primarily by rock, hard rock, metal, and stuff that I heard while I was growing up, like old Metallica for one. There’s just that sound that’s burned in my brain forever. AC/DC and Nirvana, where it’s heavy hitting, powerful music like that just gets me stoked. Angus Young, the guitarist from AC/DC is definitely one of my main heroes. He’s just so rad and he plays really cool shit. Every time you see him play he’s just so electric. He’s like a fireball or firecracker up on stage all the time, and I totally want to be like that.
Then I got into bluegrass and listen to a lot of fiddle players like Stewart Dunkin, Mark O’Conner, and Darrell Anger, who I ended up playing with. Those guys are my heroes for sure. I met this kid named Casey Dreson in college who’s a really good fiddle player, and I kind of wanted to be like him for couple years. I learned a lot of shit from him. I’m also very heavily influenced by a lot of classical composers. I’ve also been into Romanian folk music, and folk music of the world. I love little folk melodies. I love old-time fiddle music.
What other current projects are you working on? Are you writing any new music or going on any tours?
Right now all my energy is funneled into Tornado Rider. I’ve been involved with many projects for a long time, and I found out that if I’m going to do something and be what I want it to be, I’m a put-all-your-eggs-in-one-basket kind of person. So this is the basket that I’m putting my eggs in right now. We just bought a van and got a booking agent, so we’re working on that and trying to get a bunch of tours booked. When I have time I write some songs. Right now I have a list of things that I want to write songs about. I just finished this song about hyenas and have wanted to sing about hyenas forever. So last night for the first time I sang a song about hyenas, and people just get it because everybody wants to know about hyenas. They might not want to admit it, but they want to know about hyenas.
What would you say that some of the highlights have been this past year in music?
Well, definitely when Tornado Rider first played at the Whiskey. Just because of the legendary history that goes on with that stage. To be up there to a house when it’s that full, and everyone’s charged up and on fire, it makes me really feel super, triple on fire, and was ready to just jump around. I was able to do some crowd surfing there, and whenever it’s packed enough to crowd surf with a cello, it’s a pretty memorable experience. Our last set at Suwannee Springfest last April or March, there was a field full of people. It was raining, but everyone stayed and it was one of the last shows on Saturday night. It started to thunder and lightning, and people stayed, and I felt such power from the audience and us. It was really amazing. I crowd surfed twice, and they took me almost to the sound booth and back. Then we were dancing around in the rain and had six people up there with us. Definitely a highlight.
Tell us a little bit more about the management team and the people that you work with on the business side.
Right now we got Brandon Peterson, who’s my friend of ten years. He’s done art for a lot of bands. He really wants to be involved in the music business, and he’s just a really awesome, nice dude. He really believes in this whole situation and does a lot of work for us all the time. He takes a lot of weight off our shoulders, like advertising shows, calling people up, and all kinds of stuff. He has these ways of finding out all kinds of weird stuff. He got us in touch with Jodie Wilson, who used to manage Rob Zombie, and it turns out that she also has red dreadlocks. How cool is that? So with them working together, we have someone who is really experienced and has tons of connections, and we have a dude that has his head in the best place and not going to f*** us over or make us sell out. At this day and age with music everyone is making up their own rules on how to make it to the top or how to get noticed, and I like that we’re coming to a totally different place with it. There’s a booking agent in play right now too.
What advice do you have for other musicians who are starting out?
My whole life my parents would tell me that I could do anything that I set my mind to. They let me drop out of high school, and they let me dedicate my full undivided attention to music and practicing my cello and go to music college. I was going to be a musician or I was going to die trying. I believe in 100% dedication. You have to figure out how bad that you really want it. Do you want your whole life to be about music and never do anything else? Even risk having a hard time with relationships? There’s all kinds of ways that you can choose to be a musician. I just think that you have to be really dedicated and really, really want it. You have to look within yourself and see if you really want it because if you don’t really, really want it, you’re going to get yourself in some tough situations.
What do you currently have on rotation on your iPod or listening to on a regular basis?
Nirvana compilation, which is cool. I’ve just tried getting into Slayer a little bit. They were too heavy for me when I was younger. I could handle Metallica, Megedeth, AC/DC, and Pantera then. I’ve been listening to Pantera a lot, and I’m kind of stoked about that. I like to listen to all kinds of stuff. I’ve been alternating Pantera and Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto, Piano Concerto #5” and it’s amazing. Oh, and some Romanian/Turkish belly-dancing music.
When can we see you again in LA?
We will actually be at the Whisky again this Friday (Oct. 16th). Make sure you come check it out!
We have included a copy of the show flier. Make sure you come out this Friday. This is definitely a show you do not want to miss!
For more info on Tornado Rider check out: