If you watch HBO, you’ve probably already heard The Rigs’ music. You might just not know it yet. Their unique, swampy, southern rock has appeared on a variety of gritty dramas, including True Blood and Sons of Anarchy, as well as on primetime series like Nashville, Parenthood, and Pretty Little Liars.
The Los Angeles duo, consisting of Caitlin Parrott and TJ Stafford, never had any intention of licensing their music to television shows, but it wasn’t long before they realized they had found a potential goldmine in the licensing market.
“My producer and I got hooked up with this licensing company and started doing work for them,” TJ details. “I brought Caitlin on, and we hoped to write some stuff that we could get on TV. We had a placement on True Blood’s final season before we even had a band name or a website,” he adds.
Once you check them out, it’s hard not to notice how unlike other California artists The Rigs are. There is no trace of the typical West Hollywood flashiness or arrogance about them. Their aesthetic is so devoutly ‘deep south’ that you could be forgiven for assuming that they got their start on Music Row.
On the contrary, Caitlin is a native Angeleno, although she does embrace her country roots honestly. Growing up in a musical household, her father, a Texan country musician, encouraged her to take piano lessons and absorb the local music culture. “My childhood consisted of going to all his gigs, and hanging out while he was in the studio when I was four or five,” she recalls.
Around the same time but a thousand miles away, TJ grew up in Kansas, where his involvement in music didn’t really come instinctively. “My mother stuck a guitar in my hand and forced me to learn how to play,” he muses. Although his family moved to southern California during his adolescence, TJ believes that the band’s aesthetic is at least partially rooted in his Midwestern upbringing.
On the West Coast, TJ attended college near his home, and, soon after, he became appointed as the worship leader at a local church, where he ended up crossing paths with Caitlin. “That was probably in 2004, 2005,” Caitlin shares. Back then, she was seeking opportunities to sing in the church band, and her friendship with TJ offered her the chance to perform in front of their congregation and build her stage presence.
Throughout the years, they both made several attempts at pursuing solo careers, but TJ specifically recounts a period of time when his authentic desires and pressures from the music industry conflicted, leaving him feeling apathetic. Is his anti-Hollywood style a result of this burnout?
“I’ve tried being other things to fit a niche… Writing music to fit a certain demographic. It either failed miserably, or people were just indifferent,” he admits.
Similarly, Caitlin struggled to be true to herself while trying to appease her audience. “I’d always felt like that wasn’t really my voice. I think when TJ and I got together, he helped me find my voice and what was organically ‘mine,’” she discloses.
For ten years, the pair maintained a close friendship but did not professionally collaborate until The Rigs came about organically in 2014. The longevity of their acquaintance, and their familiarity with one another’s musical capabilities, is evident in the way they discuss songwriting and how they feed off of one another. Caitlin explains, “Initially when we started writing, one of us would have a hook or a lyric idea and we’d sit down with the guitar and finish writing it together. It’s always been kind of collaborative. Every once in awhile, we get together with nothing, a totally blank slate, and he messes around on the guitar.”
Since coming together, the duo has embraced any and all opportunities with open arms. Just recently, The Rigs were granted the chance to perform at the iconic Troubadour, a venue rich in history, and this experience left an impact on them.
“It’s humbling to be on a stage like that, where you’re sharing that space with so many amazing artists,” Caitlin marvels. “TJ and I have played tiny rooms around LA for years and years,” she adds, remembering one solo show at an Irish pub where she played to an empty room.
Putting in the thousands of hours has seemingly paid off. But TJ is quick to point out that, in spite of the Troubadour’s iconic legacy, it’s also still LA. “LA is a tough crowd, because they’re used to being entertained,” he adds. With a bar around every corner offering live music, it’s difficult to mark yourself as the new act worth seeing.
One small but deeply significant way The Rigs have chosen to set themselves apart, however, is through their album art. Each album is either white, black, or grey, and the toned-down colour scheme is intriguing amongst a sea of saturated colors. Was this purely an aesthetic choice, or was there a deeper meaning behind the decision?
“We were going to release an album,” TJ remembers, “and we started trimming our catalogue down to ten songs. We just liked all our songs and didn’t want to shelve them all.”
Each song felt important, and their reluctance to kill their darlings led them to an interesting discovery: “We started playing around with it and found that some [songs] were really hopeful, some were really dark, and others were more neutral.” Thematically, their songs fit into a black, white, and grey pattern.
Although there’s a good chance you might come across some of those tracks while watching your favorite shows, it’s very likely you won’t hear them live anytime soon. Both self-proclaimed homebodies, Caitlin and TJ haven’t been too keen on relentless touring during their three years as a band. Preferring to put their focus towards licensing and intimate engagement with LA-based fans, they are quietly revolutionizing the way bands can make a living without hitting the road for months at a time.
By living their truth and expressing it the way they want to, The Rigs have already set themselves on a progressive path that is sure to inspire young artists who feel overwhelmed with the expectations placed upon them. Together, they have proven that you don’t need to sacrifice your values to make it, that you can survive in the ruthless world of the Los Angeles music industry, and that you can still find time to relax in the sun amongst all the craziness.
INTERVIEW + WORDS: CARLY BUSH