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20 Questions: Nyles Robakiewicz of Shaker Hymns

In this edition of 20 Questions discover the wide range of influences that Nyles enjoys, why his dream collaborator is Justin Timberlake, hear tales of wild nights in Lubbock and San Angelo, why dark haired women and Jaeger just don't mix and everything you've ever wanted to know about what makes Shaker Hymns a phenomenal live act. All that and more in these 20 Questions.

1. Tell us what’s new and exciting in the world of Shaker Hymns?

Just the new album really. We've done a lot of digging into ourselves as a group. Really trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. We love all styles of music, and we want to keep doing that, so really trying to hone that in has been our mindset lately.

2. There is such a variety of influences pop up in your music. Country, grunge, soul. To what do you attribute that? And if you had to pinpoint your five biggest musical influences, who are they?

I think that’s how we all grew up. I remember being in love with and moved by music as early as I was aware of the world around me. I grew up with goosebumps listening to certain songs at church or hearing Etta James for the first time. There were so many musical moments that I became obsessed with that kind of led me to digging deeper into those artists or genres.

Every conversation I’ve had with our band members has been similar in terms of childhood. Whether it be early memories of watching their dad’s dancehall band, and rebelling against that to start a pop punk band. Or growing up watching every Metallica show within a 200 mile radius. Our whole band has a passion for what music did for us, and I think that’s why we are so committed to it. Not to mention, we’ve been a road band for the better part of 6-7 years now. We’ve learned the ins and outs of each other’s musical taste, and have been lucky enough to continuously learn from each other. Eight hour van rides are good for lots of things...other than sleep and nursing hangovers.

My five biggest have influences have probably been: Jason Isbell, Merle Haggard, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and Slash from Guns N' Roses.

I would not have started writing songs or taking it as seriously if I didn’t hear Isbell's Southeastern. The sheer volume of work Haggard produced, and he actually lived every bit of the life. He’s the background on my phone for whenever I start to think too hard about things and feel sorry for myself. With Zeppelin, I don’t know every single word to every song, but they were a band I didn’t understand for a while. Everyone loved them and I didn’t get it. Until I started playing in a band. One of my favorite things in music is harmony and that's where The Eagles come in. I started playing guitar when I was 9 years old, and as far as I was concerned there was no greater player than Slash. I obsessed over his playing for years and still do.

3. Stories behind the following songs:

-Hotel Key Card - I started writing this song almost 7 years ago. We were just starting to travel out of our little home base. At this point I was pretty nervous about traveling, being a young songwriter who didn’t know what the road had in store for us. We ended up getting into a pretty bad wreck in which I was driving. I was lucky enough to hit the brakes in time to pretty much save mine and our drummers' lives. When I got home I thought about everything I loved at home that I would give up by pursuing the road, and legitimately had a questioning moment if it was for me. But it wasn’t long before we were back out there. Some might say it has a chokehold on me now.

-Love in a Bottle -It's on our album that's dropping in July. It’s a concept record about pursuing a career in the entertainment industry. Without giving too much away. It’s a lot about the relationships that are involved in this pursuit. Oftentimes this industry has a way of introducing already unstable people to a plethora of substances. In many ways it's about people I know who don’t seem capable of love. Somehow the bottle brings out that side of them, but in the end that’s never good. It’s partly autobiographical as well.

-Rain in Fort Worth - A dark haired girl from fort worth...and Jagermeister.

-How to Love - I wrote this going through a hard time in a relationship I really believed in. Growing up sucks and it’s easy to let the world get the best of you. If you don’t put effort into your relationships they can wither away pretty easily. However, it only works if both parties try. Sometimes you have nothing left, and you need someone to show you how to love again.

-Medicine Man - My grandma is the toughest cookie I know. There’s an old story in my family about how we ended up where we ended up. Other than that, the names and identities have been changed to protect those involved.

-Honey - A rather suggestive song. I was involved with a girl who was pretty tan at this time. I remember noticing the little spots on her skin where her tan was fading and they were little white specs. It reminded me of honey. She also had a way of moving about her.

-As I Am - I lived in a storage shed for a little bit. I was in the process of a pretty nasty break up. I was just starting to figure out who I was as an adult and how different that was from what I thought I would be. Also dealing with all kinds of pressure from people to be what they wanted me to be. Decided all I could do was be who I am. It’s other people's choice to take it or leave it.

-Christmas Eve - I grew up as an only child, so my cousins were my siblings. This was written as a conversation I would’ve had with them now that we’re older. My mom still swears this isn’t how I was raised…(laughs)

-Dodging Bullets -A different dark haired girl and Jagermeister. This was the angry one (laughs). After that nasty break up I had some weird weird times. Whether it was in some town I wasn’t familiar with or with my closest friends and our favorite ranch house. I still had this never ending sense of doom and anger. I was mad at everything. Turned out I was mad at myself. It’s half me talking to my ex saying I dodged a bullet by not ending up with her. Half talking to myself for not knowing how to deal with things. That album was a breakup album for more than just my ex.

-The Weight of the World -Went through a period of time on the road where we couldn’t catch a break. Seemed we just got hit one after the other after the other. I found myself getting stuck in this rain cloud loop where it seemed my world was always cloudy. Realized I was doing it to myself. There were also a couple of instances where I ran into people doing the same thing. I realized how silly it looked. We all have problems. Sometimes you have to pick yourself up.

-Not Alone - I wrote this with my good friend Juliet McConkey. We had been kicking it around San Marcos attempting to gain a music career but mostly drinking tequila and talking shit. I had been leading a few girls on at this time, and was having my fair share of fun, but it never helped that pending sense of doom. I’d leave one girl's house to go to the next girl's house and never stop thinking about the girl I actually wanted to call who wouldn’t answer. We decided to make it a song about knowing what's on the other end of the line, and it’s not what you want to hear.

4. You chose to cover Everclear’s “Thrift Store Chair”. What went into that decision? Why that song? Do you know if Art Alexakis has heard it? We certainly tried to get him to notice it!

I heard that song during the peak of Covid. I played a live stream song swap that we set up with a couple of my buddies. It was the day after John Prine had passed away, so we all took turns doing a John Prine song. My buddy Logun Timberlake ,who is a great songwriter in his own right, played "Thrift Store Chair". He mentioned how badass it was that Everclear mentioned John Prine because who would ever think that. I took an interest in it immediately and started listening to it here and there in my car. Until it became an actual obsession. I forced the band to learn it so we could start covering it, and then while writing the album it started to make more and more sense that it was going to fit with the story. Finally I had a conversation with Larry Joe Taylor and asked him for some advice. We had never thought about doing a song we hadn’t written. I asked him when that became a possibility. He simply said “If you can’t live without the song, just record it” I don’t know if Art has heard it, but if he has I hope it didn’t piss him off.

5. Lots of musicians talk about their hard times and dues paying. You actually lived in a storage building for a time. What was that experience like?

(laughs) Well, it was actually like a shed you would buy at Lowes. I built it myself. No running water, heat or AC, nothing like that. To make a very long story short, I did it to prove a point. We were a spudding band who had just graduated college and it was really time for us to test our waters touring. When I got kicked out of my ex’s place I knew if I moved back home that would be the end of my band. Everyone most likely would’ve gotten jobs or moved out of San Marcos, and at that time I felt like I had to stay in the area to keep this thing going. I also knew if I tried to get a better paying job or work more hours it wouldn’t be possible for me to tour like we were and write as often as I was. So I saw it as a necessary evil. Don’t regret it at all, because man it really was a time and a place.

6. What’s your favorite place to eat in San Marcos? What’s your favorite bar?

Hungover: Mana’s; Breakfast and a cup of coffee: Cafe on the Square; Dinner or Lunch: Taproom; Bar: Chances any given moment you can probably find at least one of us in there.

7. Favorite touring memory of the following towns:

-Lubbock- Lubbock is wild. I was attacked by a big ass cowboy dude once. Everything ended up alright, and hindsight it was pretty funny. But my favorite memory was drinking whiskey while watching the sunrise at Will Green's CottonFest on top of the stage.

-College Station -We’ve played Hurricane Harry’s twice. We’ve played a couple bars in and around the area. But nothing compares to the New Year's eve shows we’ve played at a ranch house just outside of town. Shooting bottle rockets at each other and playing with frozen fingers as snow is falling. That kinda stuff is what builds bands.

-Amarillo -Opened for Reckless Kelly out there. Growing up listening to them and looking up to a band that has never stopped grinding. It was a treat to be around those guys and try to learn anything we could.

-OKC - We haven't done OKC a ton, but we've played Stillwater quite a bit. Some of the coolest shows with the worst drives home.

-Houston -Our drummer and bass player grew up there. We always end up at someone's house till 6 am partying when we play Houston.

-Midland - I’m sure Midland is great, but man that place is absolutely the wild west. Every time we’re up there we see at least three trucks flipped over at the end of the night. Two stories stick out. One time we played a company party for an oilfield. They got so drunk and wanted us to keep playing they started throwing 100 dollar bills all over our pedal boards and drums. So we kept playing and they dropped a guy on his head while he was doing a keg stand. The party was over shortly after.

The other time that stands out was when we played a show, and ended up at someone's cousin's camper with all 7 of us band and crew shoved into this camper with no heat. It was about 28 degrees outside and maybe 40 degrees in the camper. We got so drunk we were able to fall asleep only to wake up to our bass player trying to use a hand towel as a blanket.

-San Angelo - (laughs) Well, I can’t say much more than this...we were definitely propositioned and offered to please someone's wife, while he watched. We politely declined the offer. (laughs)

-Dallas -One of our best friends in the world is a guitar player who doesn’t play with us anymore. We played in Corpus Christi the night before, then played Adair's in Deep Ellum. Someone got in an argument defending a family member's honor. Shirts were ripped.

-Fort Worth -Too many to count, but what sticks out is Filthy McNasty’s. We used to play three hour sets. We brought one of our other friends who is a phenomenal guitar player in another band, to sit in with us for the weekend. Our band was pretty seasoned at this time and we would take upwards of 6-8 shots per set. Before we went on for our last set, the sit-in guitar player tried to go on stage and ended up falling off. He called it a night at that point, and had it been anyone else we would have been pissed. But it was so out of character and he’s such a good buddy we all just gave him shit for it and laugh about it till this day.

-Stephenville - If I remembered any of them I would be doing it wrong and I would tell you. But, LJT fest is undefeated...and you can’t say no to Larry Joe.

-Nashville - I woke up on Will Green's bus in Nashville after passing out somewhere in Atlanta. Our band had to drive the van from Atlanta but I got up and started taking Guinness and Jameson shots at 11 am. Ended up convincing some of Will's guys to drink with me. Long story short, the show was electric. We stayed up till about 6 am playing songs with one of my college friends.

8. What musician or person has been the biggest help in your career to this point?

Two jump to mind immediately: Larry Joe Taylor and William Clark Green. They’ve both been paramount in giving advice or throwing us on shows we had no business being on. Can’t thank them enough.

9. You’ve had the opportunity to go out on some big regional and even national runs with other artists. Your band is very entertaining. Do you change your setlist or plans for the live show when you’re in unfamiliar territory? Or do you just stick with what you normally try to do?

We mostly do what we do. We used to change our set list as a headliner when we’d go into a more country demographic or a more rock demographic. As we got into bigger shows we learned a lot. People want to see why you are you. So now we kind of let it all hang out. If they like it cool, if not, at least we do.

10. If you were forced at gunpoint to try out one of the television singing competitions…what would your song choice be and why?

"El Rey" by Vicente Fernández. I don’t know a lick of Spanish but I've been known to cover that song every now and then. Let your imagination figure that out.

11. What’s the worst gig you’ve ever played? Not necessarily just with regard to pay or crowd, but just the overall vibe, venue, show, stories that came out of it etc.

We've been asked this question a lot and it’s always hard. We have legitimately played to only a bartender. We’ve also unfortunately played too far under the influence. Bad shows are like wildfire, if you let it happen they’ll just get away from you. There’s a few that stick out. One that was real early on was a show we played in San Antonio. We were still taking 3-4 trucks to every gig. We had played in College Station the night before for a frat party. Woke up hurting but our “tour manager” at the time convinced us we had plenty of time before we had to get to SA so we could stop at a bar in Bryan to kill some time. So...we did (laughs).

One of the trucks we were driving had no radiator fluid so we pulled over. The hose had busted and the truck was overheated. We got a new hose and some distilled water and somehow made it to San Antonio only to break down 6 miles from the venue. We took one truck with our acoustic guitars and PA to the venue to set up and get an acoustic show started. The broken down truck finally arrived two hours late to a 4 hour show. Since we started so late the bar didn’t pay us. One of our members was potentially romantically involved with an older woman at that time, When the family found out about that all hellfire broke loose and the older woman might have been scared out of the bar.

Another girlfriend got so drunk she took off running from us as we were trying to leave so we went after her. She ended up running in front of one of the cars we were in and acted like she got hit by the car. But, she had jumped on the car. To put the icing on the cake, our tour manager and I left that show about 3am and drove straight to Arlington to go see the Cowboys play on Sunday. That kind of stuff just follows us around I swear.

12. Name association; first thing that comes to mind when you hear these names:

-William Clark Green - good buddy

-Koe Wetzel -rock star

-Dalton Domino - songs

-Cleto Cordero -Poet, one of a kind. Kindred spirit.

-Cody Canada -Hero, Time traveler, visionary.

-Kaitlin Butts - The all around the package. Songs, voice, brand. She's got it all.

-Mike Harmeier -Another kindred spirit. It’s always tequila and good times.

-Austin Meade - rocker

-Graycie York - Young baller. Slightly intimidating.

13. Is it true that, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make?

Love is a burning thing. You either make it or you fake it.

14. What’s the percentage of times that someone actually pronounces your name correctly on the first try?

It is very low. But a very high percentage for how similar all the wrong guesses are. We love consistency.

15. Circling back to your massive influences. Who is someone you’d like to work with that you haven’t gotten to yet? Or in a perfect world with no restrictions, who would you seek out to collaborate with?

Oddly enough it would probably be someone like Justin Timberlake. With absolutely no restrictions like alive or dead, it would be Merle Haggard hands down. But I’m fascinated by great pop music and JT definitely has that.

16. You like to golf a lot. Are you good? What’s your handicap? What’s your favorite course?

I’ve gotten a lot better over the last year. I’m shooting consistently between 88-92. I believe my golf app says my handicap is 16. But I definitely still shoot a 102 every now and then. My favorite course is Landa Park in New Braunfels. But the Quarry in San Antonio might take the cake if I play it one more time.

17. Have you ever had any formal vocal training? Your range and styles can go all over the place from belting out a soul song to screaming a metal tune. Is that all DIY or did someone give you some pointers along the way?

None at all. I’ve kind of always been told I don’t have a great voice. From growing up until around 18-19. Pretty much until I started actually going out to sing in front of people I was told it’s not something I should do. So when I started I decided I was just going to push myself as hard as I could to do things that I liked. It’s definitely helped mold my voice. I still don't love hearing it back, but I've learned enough tricks to kind of make it work for people.

18. Rapid fire:

-Favorite wrestler? Stone Cold Steve Austin. “More beer…”

-Seth Rogen or Jonah Hill? Jonah Hill

-The little HEB at 200 Hopkins or the bigger one at 641? Little HEB represent! Worked there for 7 years.

-The Guadalupe, Comal, Frio or San Marcos? San Marcos

19. Favorite George Strait song and why?

"I Can still Make Cheyenne". I’ve always related to it being who I am as a chaser. It always resonated with me the idea and feeling of losing something that’s important to you and having that hurt, but not being able to dwell too long on it. There’s always another town to get to.

20. What do you feel sets the music of Shaker Hymns apart from all the other music out there?

We’re honest to a fault. We’ve never tried being anything other than what we truly are. We’ve set it from the beginning to play every style we love and try to do it justice. Aside from all that we’ve grown but we’ve never changed. We are very aware that the fads that are coming and going every day, would be within our wheelhouse to tap into and try to generate some success from it. However, dedication to what we want to do is unwavering. If anyone hears it we’re happy, but we’ve dug enough dirt to create our own hill, and we’re ready to die on it.

Come see Nyles and the rest of Shaker Hymns in action at Galleywinter River Jam 23. Fri July 7 at Cheatham Street in San Marcos. Get your tickets HERE!

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