Bandits on the Run was formed by chance in New York City subway stations when cello player Sydney Torin Shepherd found Adrian Blake Enscoe (star of AppleTV’s Dickinson) busking on the L-train platform. Everything ultimately came together when Shepherd’s longtime music collaborator Regina Strayhorn moved to NYC and Enscoe invited the two to try their hand at busking together.
Bandits on the Run’s newest single “We Battle Giants” showcases their chilling harmonies with a whimsical music video to accompany the release.
The trio is slated to release their new EP, Now Is the Time produced by Ryan Hadlock (Brandi Carlile, Vance Joy, The Lumineers) on May 7.
EUPHORIA. had the opportunity to chat with the group about the new single, music video, and much more.
“We Battle Giants” is such a catchy song. What’s the story behind it?
Regina: Originally it was written in 2019 as a surprise birthday present for Sydney. Adrian and I drunkenly serenaded her wearing party hats in a Bushwick apartment overstuffed with friends. This joy from the party infused itself into the bones of the song. We later developed it further all together. The song has many colors, and different meanings emerge over time. Originally it was written to express the love between best friends, and the particular joys of growing up and pushing boundaries and taking on the world together. But as the madness and severity of 2020 unfolded, we began to see new colors in the song. “We Battle Giants” is also an ode to resolve. To combating the negative powers that be with your community. It’s about the never-ending task of making the world better alongside the people who make you feel like change is possible.
The “We Battle Giants” video is so colorful and fun. I absolutely love it! What was the concept or idea behind the visual for the track?
Sydney: It all started with a suit. Truly. I’m really influenced by clothes, all of us are. For any show we play we always plan ahead what our outfits are going to be. Sometimes we go by color palette, sometimes a theme, like “’50s glam” or “psychedelic circus.” We spend a lot of time together, so while we were trying to think of concepts for the video, I was racking my brain about what’s in everyone’s closet. I remembered this amazing pink blazer that Regina has, and something clicked.
We had just watched American Utopia on HBO, and something about these people making music, making magic, in these uniform suits was so striking and cool. Folks have actually told us “We Battle Giants” has a David Byrne vibe, so we decided to run with that seed of inspiration and do it in our own way. Adrian and I found colorful suits ourselves and we were off to the races. What do people in suits carry? Briefcases! So we were thinking of doing some sort of dance with briefcases, then Adrian had the stroke of genius to turn them into little TVs, so we ourselves were the “Giants,” carrying miniature versions of ourselves. It’s funny how an image can conjure up meaning, we thought it was a great visual but then we realized just how meaningful it was: as adults we are all carrying miniature versions of ourselves with us, our child selves, who never fully leave us but we have to keep under wraps to survive in the big bad serious world. The story of the music video is a celebration of that inner child and the beautiful things that happen when we embrace them and let them live (and dance!) in tandem with our outside selves.
You guys have an EP coming out May 7, what can you say about it?
Sydney: The story of the EP is pretty wild. When SXSW got cancelled, a producer who had been planning to see us there dropped us a line and told us he was interested in working together. The producer was none other than Ryan Hadlock, who’s produced a bunch of albums by artists we’ve loved for years — The Lumineers, Brandi Carlile, Johnny Flynn, Vance Joy, the list goes on. So of course we hopped in our campervan (named Rip Van Winkle) armed with our instruments and masks and hand sanitizer and travelled across the country to Bear Creek Studios in Washington State. The music we created there is absolutely our favorite collection of songs we’ve ever made. And it runs the gamut in so many ways: there are some songs we’ve played at our live shows for years and some songs that are brand-new, inspired by major events of 2020. There’s a song with a big George Martin-y Beatles fever dream ending, a song that sounds like an Avett Brothers love song if the Avett Brothers were lovesick sailors, a song that conjures the spirit of drunken mischievous ghosts in a haunted mansion, etc. The EP still has our signature Bandits playfulness, but it’s deeper, lusher, more sophisticated, spanning this crazy wide range of influences and genres. We think we’ve made something really special that speaks to our evolution as a band. Ryan was a huge part of bringing that sound to life, but that sound wouldn’t have been achievable had it not been for the years and years spent as a band together, truly figuring out who we are and the kind of art we want to make. We think this EP represents that.
This question is for Adrian, Dickinson is such a hot show right now. What has the experience been like working with a star-studded cast and for those who haven’t watched yet what can viewers expect? What can you tease about season 3? Congrats by the way!
Adrian: Oh gwarsh, you don’t say! Well you know, it’s been pretty wild. Dickinson is my first real big acting role — although I went to a big fancy acting conservatory, a few years out I had all but shifted my focus to writing and performing and world-building with the Bandits because it felt like our work with was so much more vital and life-affirming than auditioning for roles on the CW. The summer before I was cast in Dickinson, we barnstormed across Europe on a tour we booked ourselves, DIY style, during which I went on exactly zero auditions, and when I returned my old acting agency almost dropped me, saying I seemed to care more about the band than booking roles… And then I got this marvelous script — a period piece that was a half hour comedy, about Emily Dickinson through a 21st century lens of feminism and justice, where my first line was “What up, sis?”… And I was like, “Wow. I know how to do this.” It was actually a perfect fit — we’d been genre bending as Bandits and playing these weird anachronistic stick-up games in the subway for years, and somehow the spirit of the show fit right in line with that energy. Regina actually coached me for the audition — we worked on getting the loveable douchebag bro energy just right — and when I went in something really clicked between me and Alena Smith, the writer / show runner / auteur of Dickinson, who has become a major artistic inspiration to me — she unabashedly sticks to her creative guns no matter what.
Getting to work on Dickinson has truly been a dream, mainly because it is a show I would LOVE watching if I weren’t in it. Our creator / showrunner Alena Smith is a FORCE OF NATURE and she is so smart about highlighting the rhymes in our history, alternating darkness and whimsy to eke out the direct line from the issues we face as a generation today to the structural oppression that forced Emily Dickinson to keep her genius in the closet for most of her life … and she does it while keeping us laughing the whole time. Right along with Jane Krakowski (best known as Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock) who I could barely make it through a scene with, without losing my shit. The whole cast is just a bunch of loveable nuts, we’re all kind of misfits in our own ways and like every iconic family we all bring something a little different to the table. Hailee is such a powerhouse — her performances knock my socks off every time I share a scene with her. Anna Baryshnikov is an extremely conscientious wielder of subtle — and razor sharp — wit. And I have a real soft spot in my heart for Ella Hunt, who is a musician in her own right and who I’ve jammed on set with on numerous occasions.
It’s been really exciting since Season 1 dropped late in 2019 to see so many different folks from so many odd-ball niches find something to latch onto and love in the world we’ve crafted, and we’re in the midst of rolling out Season 2 — the first three episodes came out Jan 8th and we’ll be dropping the rest one by one every week — so I don’t want to get to ahead of myself going into Season 3 (which we start shooting in March). Suffice to say, the characters and the world get steadily weirder, wider, and deeper, and the Civil War looms large as the story goes on… so I’ll leave it up to your imagination to guess how the Dickinsons are affected by that.
The three of you basically found each other by chance in an NYC subway station, do you ever reflect on your days to now actually playing in venues? What does that feel like?
Regina: All the time. I’m really proud. We get to experience something really rare in life. When we busk, we offer a piece of ourselves to whoever happens to see us. And what’s amazing is people offer a piece of themselves back. We’ve made so many friends and had incredible experiences through this very old school exchange of energy. I remember we were busking in Lyon, France in a town square and a large crowd started to gather to listen to us. People were hanging out of windows and clapping after each song. I thought to myself “This is incredible. How many artists have been in this spot before us? Was there a musician 500 years ago doing the exact same thing right here?” You feel like you’re a part of a tradition, and sharing art the way it’s meant to be shared: in a community. So as we progress and play in bigger and bigger venues, and take on different creative projects, we’re always tapped into that feeling that we’re lucky to be a part of an important lineage of artists bringing people together.
What’s one thing you want listeners to take away from your music?
Sydney: We all have a very strong connection to each other, and we hope our music inspires connection in other people. Whether it’s love or heartbreak. Whether it’s action or comfort. Whether it’s the deepening of a lifelong friendship or mustering the courage to talk to a stranger. Whether it’s a relationship to another or to oneself. If there’s anything this past year of turmoil has taught us, it’s that connection is everything. Our bonds to each other and to our own hearts are absolutely essential. We hope our music helps create and strengthen those beautiful and lasting connections.
Adrian: Everything Sydney said — and: that there is real, tangible magic in the world and that all of us can find ways to steal it from reality, or at least, what people say is real. There is so much more in the world than any one of us can ever dream of; and everyone can make out like a bandit with a bit of that magic in their own way. We really just want to help people to find those vibes in and among themselves and roll with it, wherever it takes them.
What inspires you professionally and personally?
Adrian: Any time I see people doing something wild and unexpected it makes my heart and my brain go simultaneously in two different directions and I worship that feeling. It could be someone using found fall leaves to create brilliant otherworldly swatches of color in the woods (like Andy Goldsworthy) or tying themselves to a balloon and floating into the stratosphere (thank you, David Blaine, for that 2020 gem) or hearing a Japanese folk artist using pedal steel in a totally authentic way (Shugo Tokumaru, I hope to meet you someday) or strolling from the top of one twin tower to the other via tightrope (Phillipe Petit, god love ya, you feisty fellow). I don’t really think there should be solid boundaries between different kinds of artistic pursuits (i.e. painting and writing songs) and I am endlessly fascinated by the artists that live in the in-between.
Regina: So in 2018 Beyonce headlined Coachella. She was the first black woman to do so. Now, if you were as popular as Beyonce, you could rest on your laurels, phone in a performance singing your greatest hits the same as you always have, take your money, and go home. But instead what she did was deliver an insanely thoughtful performance inspired by HBCUs. The show was like a retrospective of her decades long career and practically a thesis statement on black excellence. We’re talking levels on levels of raising the bar here. It was a historic performance (if you haven’t already, please watch Homecoming on Netflix). This is the sort of act that inspires me professionally and personally. When people find ways to elevate themselves and the people around them. My bandmates do this all the time, and they inspire me! (Cheesy, I know! Forgive me!)
Have there been any memorable moments from your career so far? What’s on your bucket list?
Adrian: Tons. Honestly our tenure as Bandits has been built brick by memorable brick — from the random commuter who asked if he could jam with us only to take three recorder flutes out of his pocket and play them all at the same time in harmony to our song which he had never heard before (his name is Martin Shamoonpour and he is a genius)… to the late night recording caper we pulled off wherein we snuck in to track a live EP in Studio A of the Power Station (the hallowed recording studio where Springsteen laid down Born in the USA and David Bowie made Let’s Dance)… to the custom song we wrote for Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom’s newborn child at the request of one of their close personals… to the moment where a church group saw us recording a video at Arches National Park and asked us to accompany them in the beautiful acoustics of the Arches’ famous Windows formation. The longer we play together, the more strange and wonderful adventures we go on, most of them stranger than fiction and thus impossible to anticipate. But if we had to pick a few items, maybe: First band to tour Antarctica? Recording an album in space? Playing a show at the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Writing and shooting a musical on the transiberian railroad? And, very seriously, finding a way to take our friends and fans on these adventures with us, because everyone should get to feel magic like this.
Regina: My parents recently were looking for a new apartment. While they were touring a place they really liked, they were chatting with the landlady about family. They mentioned that their daughter was in a band called Bandits on the Run. The landlady said “ Oh I know them! I found them on NPR!” Well, my parents got the apartment, and I felt like we helped.
Sydney: 1. Memorable moment: Every bloomin’ second has been memorable. 2. Bucket List: A biopic of the story of Bandits on the Run that comes out when we are really old; Timothee Chalamet and Florence Pugh and Zendaya’s grandkids will play us and we play the really old versions of ourselves. I think we’ll still be kickin’.
Besides the EP, what can fans expect from you this year?
Sydney: Quite a few things!
We got to score our very first feature film in collaboration with another composer, so it will be really exciting when that comes out. We don’t know when exactly it’ll hit screens, but it should be some time this year and we are very excited for the world to see it.
We’d love to say we’ll be touring, because playing live is our absolute favorite thing, but of course there are forces way beyond our control that will determine when that will happen again. Fingers crossed for everyone being able to enjoy live music safely together again soon. We’re experimenting with some outdoor performance ideas — so hopefully some of that will come to fruition!
We’ve been doing an ongoing campaign on our website to keep ourselves afloat by making Singing Telegrams — in exchange for a donation to our ongoing pursuits of Banditry we write folks customized songs for friends/loved ones/pets/you name it. They’re so much fun and we’ve honestly written some bops. We’ve shared quite a few of them on our Instagram. They bring people so much joy and it’s such a cool unique way to connect with our fans and give them something one-of-a-kind. We’ll be keeping the Telegrams going strong in 2021!
In 2020 Adrian was set to star in the hotly anticipated Swept Away, a musical featuring the songs of the Avett Brothers. Like most other live performance, 2020 swept that one right off the calendar. But there are plans brewing for it to come back once live performance is safe again, and we look forward to seeing him perform in such a wonderfully exciting project! (And hopefully meeting those Avett Brothers of course!)
We’ll be dropping some more music videos in relation to the EP, but we also want to explore more narrative storytelling musical concepts — Last year, an off-Broadway theatre company approached us to create and perform in a mini-musical film. It was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done: a way to make something like “theatre” in the midst of the global pandemic. We ended up with The Band at the End of the World, a 20 minute post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller musical that we are very much proud of. We’d love to do something like this again, so if you’re a producer reading this give us a shout! 😉
“We Battle Giants” is available to stream/purchase here.