Kendall Schmidt of Big Time Rush Dishes on Side Project Heffron Drive, ‘White Kid’ Rapping + More
While Kendall Schmidt might be famous for being one quarter of Big Time Rush, there's a lot more to this boy bander than meets the eye. We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Kendall in person, and the super charming singer got to dish on his one true love -- his Heffron Drive side project with Big Time Rush guitarist and longtime pal, Dustin Belt.
Schmidt shared details about how Heffron Drive came into being, why the songs mean so much to him, his recent string of live Heffron Drive shows in Germany (although our interview was prior to these concerts), and how it's hard balancing his time between BTR and Heffron, but how he makes it work. And in case you aren't sure who Dustin Belt is, here's a little intro. The dude is hilarious on Vine, as is Kendall (Kudos, fellas. Vinin' ain't easy).
So when did you actually start Heffron Drive?
Well, I can tell you the chain of events started with me learning a song on guitar when I was 15, ‘New American Classic ‘ by Taking Back Sunday, and Dustin lived down the street from me on Heffron Drive, which is where the [band] name came from. He started teaching me some of the basics of guitar. I learned just with numbers and tabs and stuff – I didn’t learn how to read music or anything, I kind of just picked it up. We just kept making music together, and we ended up doing a ‘New American Classic’ cover on YouTube, and a Third Eye Blind cover one time... So us doing music together started by us playing our favorite songs and putting them on YouTube.
Then my brother gave me his old computer and for my birthday he bought me Logic, and I kind of just figured it out and started making music. I bought a little mini keyboard and stuff, and once it kind of came together we were like, ‘OK, that’s four songs.’ Not to mention the 150 ideas that were half, quarter ideas where we’d be like, ‘OK, that would be a smash if we just finished it.’ They’re still there, I have them on a hard drive in my safe. Those are the awesome Heffron Drive ideas for when I get to do all that again after Big Time Rush.
But we’ve always wanted to do it. Dustin plays guitar in Big Time Rush, and he has since the beginning. I’ve traveled the whole world with him there, so we have a lot of experience together. It just doesn’t seem like there’s ever really a good time. Big Time Rush isn’t the type of band that just breaks up -- it’s a brand, it doesn’t just fall apart. But I’ve been coming up on some free time now, and after tour I’m gonna have more time.
It’s also been four years, so I'd imagine fans that have been waiting for Heffron Drive are tired of it at this point. So, I want to go play some shows and see what the people think. I mean, it’s just acoustic. We’re doing stuff with a loop pedal like Ed Sheeran – he’s amazing, he’s one of a kind. I saw him twice in a row within a week and I was like, ‘I gotta get a loop pedal.’ I’m still trying to figure out that really deep bass, but I’m getting there.
Watch Heffron Drive Perform 'The A-Team' by Ed Sheeran
What were some of your influences for Heffron Drive?
One of the major influences, and I actually got to see them at Coachella this year, was the Postal Service. At the time [when we started Heffron Drive], my buddy Mason was the lead singer of Metro Station, and I still love Metro Station for the music that they did. It was pop-rock at its best, and I wanted to start making music like that, except I think mine went a little more electronic, just because I didn’t record as much guitars as they did.
Vocally, too, Brandon Boyd is a huge influence of mine, and Taking Back Sunday. There are tons of influences in there, and it’s a multi genre – like rock, pop, electro, alt. That’s cool though, because there will be one song that’s all dance, and one song that’s an acoustic love song.
You know, I listen back to the music [we were making] now and I’m like ‘Wow,’ because I didn’t realize how cool it was at the time, ‘cause I was just in my bedroom using my mattress as a sound booth. I’d lean my mattress up against the wall and go in the corner with my guitar and microphone. I had a cockatoo at the time, so if you listen closely to the tracks, you might hear some *SQUAWK* in the background.
Do you and Dustin write your Heffron Drive lyrics together?
Lyrically, yeah, we kind of had this really cool team thing. We wrote a song recently and it worked out the exact same way again, which was by the time I create the music – he’ll contribute and stuff, but once I get on a tangent, I can’t [stop] because I’ll forget my idea and I kind of turn into a little bit of a crazy person. So, I’ll make [the music] and say I have the chorus written, I'll tell him, ‘This is a cool melody,’ and then I’ll start thinking of words and stuff. And by the time I’ve done that, he’s already thinking of verses.
Dustin tends to go a bit faster on the melodies. He does sort of like rap stuff, it’s really cool. So, I’m always doing the choruses and he works on the verses. I help out and tweak little things here and there, and then we work on the pre and the bridge together. We kind of have this formula. He just lets me make the music because he knows if he gives me 10 minutes, I can get one thing and then he can add to it. It’s definitely team work.
Yeah, we actually noticed on that there's some rapping on your song ‘Love Letter.'
Yeah! That’s Dustin doing that rap.... It was just one take, so he did his rap and then he told me, ‘Do some hype stuff.’ So, he’s like, ‘Nine point nine-nine!’ and then I was like [yelling], ‘NINE POINT NINE-NINE!!!’ It was a white kid rap. Total white kid rap. I actually wrote a song for Big Time Rush called ‘Featuring You’ recently -- it didn’t make it on the album, but it got leaked so people have it -- and I did a white boy rap in the bridge of that song. It’s funny, because it almost took me right back to Heffron Drive.
Watch Heffron Drive Perform 'Love Letter'
How would you describe the differences between a Heffron Drive show and a Big Time Rush concert? And what made you decide to focus your mini Heffron Drive tour in Germany?
Well, the Heffron Drive shows now are going to be even more different from the Heffron Drive in the future, because we don’t have a band. Nobody knows the music besides me and Dustin, so it’s just us doing acoustic, with the addition of me putting a beat with the drum and with the guitar on the loop pedal. It’s going to be really stripped-down, but it’s appropriate because it’s only a few hundred people per show [Ed. note - Kendall did a small tour in Germany a couple weeks back]. They’re intimate settings, and the people who wanted to go, really wanted to go.
And I’m mostly German… you know, Schmidt. And I just adore Germany. Every time I’ve traveled there with Big Time Rush, it was amazing. And the German fans have always been so supportive … If they sing Heffron Drive songs in Germany, I’m gonna freak out. It’s one thing hearing Big Time Rush songs, but hearing something that I penned, just me and Dustin, that’s gonna be a big deal.
Is there a Heffron Drive song that you particularly enjoy performing live?
The ones where I use the loop pedal are really fun. ‘Better Get the Movin'’ is a really fun one, and another one without the loop pedal is ‘Stand Forever,’ because right when it comes in it’s just full-blown guitar. And it’s also pretty, like when I’m strumming a straight chord and Dustin is going up the scale, it just has this really cool sound.
Yeah, it kind of has an EDM sound to it.
Oh yeah, definitely. It’s funny, because that genre wasn’t around when I was making that. I hadn’t even heard of EDM, I hadn’t heard any of form of dance music at all ... But I listen back now, and it’s like, was I touching on electronic music before I had even known what that was?
I’m also going to do ‘A-Team’ by Ed Sheeran, so I’m excited for that one too. Just because I’m using the loop pedal, so I’m going to be like, ‘Well, this is how I’m doing this, and it’s an honor of this guy because he’s the one who inspired me to do it.’ I’m also gonna play some Taking Back Sunday.
Watch Heffron Drive Perform 'Stand Forever'
Have you met Ed yet?
I have not met Ed, but I got to have a beer with Taking Back Sunday. I was standing next to Adam [Lazzara] and was like, ‘Yeah, so, uh, I play music too…’ [Laughs] It was so cool though. I’m playing their song ‘So Last Summer,’ and I’m not even playing guitar on it, I’m just rocking out singing. That stuff is so hard to sing, it’s so high.
Is it difficult trying to balance your time between Big Time Rush and Heffron Drive?
It’s difficult trying to balance the planning, but the boys don’t have a problem with it. They’re like, ‘Dude, go for it.’ They know, I’ve never changed my Twitter handle -- it’s been @heffrondrive since day one. So, they know that I’ve had a vision of doing that after [Big Time Rush].
By the time Big Time Rush slows down, [I'll] be 24, and I’m 22 now. And it’s probably going to keep going until I’m 24, so I’m pretty much dead-on as far as the timing goes. But it’s been hard. Ultimately, I’m young, and I don’t need tons of sleep. I have to work hard to make the things that I want to see happen. You can make your own destiny if you just do what you want to do and work hard at it. If I didn’t [have] go to Germany – I mean, this is technically my time off right now. And this is a vacation for me, because I get to promote something that’s just me.
It’s all coming to fruition now. I don’t know the path [for Heffron Drive], I don’t know how it’s gonna end up, but we’ll see. It can’t hurt!
Watch Heffron Drive Perform 'Better Get to Movin''