In the early morning of the second day of Lollapalooza, Shaun White learned that his band, Bad Things, had been moved from the small Kidsapalooza stage to the much-larger Grove stage; the change came as a result of shock-rappers Death Grips' now-infamous no-show at the Chicago festival. "Right place, right time," White hypothesized to Rolling Stone backstage shortly before his band's performance, still making no effort to hide his nervousness. "I'm glad I didn't know yesterday," he admitted.
Yes, the uncertain rocker is that Shaun White: the same curly-haired redhead dubbed "the Flying Tomato" for his out-of-this-world abilities on the snowboard and skateboard. Sure, he's best known for his athletic accomplishments – namely, two Olympic gold medals and the most hardware in X-Games history – and is a member of the elite group of athletes to twice grace the cover of Rolling Stone (a point of pride he shared with this reporter). With those athletic victories in his pocket, though, White has turned his focus completely on being a musician.
"I drop everything for these guys," he said of the synth-rock crew Bad Things, who draw sonic inspiration from harmony-drenched groups like the Beach Boys and Britpop acts like Oasis. The group also includes singer Davis LeDuke, bassist and former Augustana member Jared Palomar, guitarist Anthony Sanudo and drummer-vocalist Lena Zawaideh. "Shoots, practice, anything I need to do. Because it's a very serious thing for us."
White – whose hair is now noticeably more tame than in his sports origins – said transitioning from sports to music is not unlike when he moves between sports. "That's what I normally do," he notes. "I stop snowboarding and I completely dive into skating. I forget everything about snowboarding – my competitors and what I've gotta do in the upcoming season – and I focus completely on skateboarding. And that's how it's been for music."
The 26-year-old began playing guitar as a teenager after winning a yellow Fender Stratocaster at a snowboarding competition. "It was like a trophy – you weren't even supposed to play it," he recalled. "And I just fell in love with it." He soon linked up with fellow musician and neighbor Sanudo; later, through White's girlfriend, the two met with eventual Bad Things drummer Zawaideh.
"People are like 'Oh, [Shaun's] just a snowboarder. It's a hobby band,'" LeDuke said. He staunchly refutes that perception. "Not only does [Shaun] have musical input, he also lights that fire under our ass." However, LeDuke admitted that he was very skeptical when he found out that he had been recruited to join the group. "I was just kind of being an asshole about it," he admitted of his initial reaction to learning White was in the band. "Then I got in a room with the guys and the chemistry was just undeniable. I've never experienced that and I've been playing in a band since I was 12 years old. I sort of knew right when I met everybody and right when we wrote that first song that this was what I wanted to do."
Signed to Warner Brothers earlier this summer, Bad Things drop their self-titled debut album on October 8th. Produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith), the LP was recorded over 10 weeks earlier this year in New York; it is highlighted by the lead single "Anybody," a chugging rock anthem heavy with choirboy backing harmonies. Another standout is "Caught Inside," a sprightly, mid-tempo pop track that features call-and-response vocals between LeDuke and Zawaideh.
The band just wrapped up a nationwide tour of small clubs and will hit the road again this fall to tour behind their new album. "We set the budget for the tour and we're like, 'That's what we're going to make on tour,'" White recalled, adding with a laugh, "and it's not a whole lot. But we're just trying to jump in and do whatever we can."
"People are gonna listen but they're going to listen extra hard," he said nonchalantly. "They're waiting for mistakes."