[With] that fusion of minds…you can come out with some really beautiful concepts,” he says proudly. The newest addition, drummer Jackson Blankenship, closes out the four-piece lineup.
I first encountered Unlikely Heroes in the spring of 2017 at Bottom of the Hill. Gaines and Martinez were down the front all night jumping, dancing, and supporting the two opening bands, Life Size Models and First in Flight. When Unlikely Heroes came on stage, their performance was full of bravado. Halfway through the set, Gaines threw off his top in a display of exuberance and then continued to party on stage more vociferously than before.
“When the music’s playing, and it’s time to perform, I just can’t help it,” says Gaines. “The music we make pushes me to that…I just completely lose myself when we perform.”
This energetic performance style is in stark contrast to how Gaines can be on the morning of a gig. “On show days, I’m super nervous [and] don’t really eat too much,” he reveals. “I just don’t have an appetite for anything…[I am] internalizing everything for the show and it’s like, [there is] these wound-up emotions and they’re just spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning…until I finally I just want to perform.
“I’m excited to perform, but I just want to get it out of the way because it’s like this nervous weight that’s on me. And so, as this ball of energy inside me builds…it just pops out and I can’t control myself and it’s just wild. And we’re going to be as wild as we want to be.”
While the band has been around for a few years now, the music they make still feels new to the East Bay musician. “A big part of 2017 was finding who we are; really honing in on Unlikely Heroes and what our sound is and what it means to us to make this music,” he says. Gaines shares that he is still learning how to express himself within the Unlikely Heroes’ concoction of hip-hop fused with rock music. “I come from just a pure hip-hop background. So, learning to adjust and write songs with rock choruses or punk choruses and all these different changes are kind of unique to me,” explains Gaines, who released an album, Physicool, under his rap moniker phenomENON in 2013.
Gaines thinks deeply about the music and what it means during our conversation. He becomes studious when talking about the finer details of the band’s music. It is as if he has this clear picture of how the music should be in his head, and he will not stop until he finds the correct composition to recreate it. Each word he says out loud on the topic appears to trigger a new idea for how he can refine and mold Unlikely Heroes’ future music: singing styles, writing styles, and instrumentation. This dedication to detail has also influenced his writing, which he feels is more “deeply personal.”
“Coming from hip-hop, I value bars. I value storytelling,” he says. Gaines discusses how he deals with forms of depression, and how songs can serve as a form of therapy. “It’s almost like me against me, and I’m fighting my demons, and I’m writing about that,” he shares solemnly while also crediting his bandmates for creating riffs and melodies he could “flow over, and that gave the music depth.” Unlikely Heroes’ music reflects Gaines’ own dynamism: It’s a rush of emotions, raw, energetic, and free.
Unlikely Heroes have a busy schedule for 2018: a new EP recorded, a music video released, and a partnership with Airbnb which produced “Neon Jungle” — the band seem to be constantly moving. Gaines brims with excitement as he talks about finally being able to realise the years of hard work Unlikely Heroes has put in. “No one is going to fuel your dreams and drive that,” he says poignantly.
From creating designs and submitting songs, “people will never hear about you if you don’t submit it.” To planning music videos and social media, Gaines plans to keep grinding for the music he believes in. “I just love it! I don’t want to do anything else…I feel like I grind like no other, and I know it’s going to pay off.”
Unlikely Heroes, supporting Sole
April 20, 2018