Local sounds • Two-man band came about by happenstance.
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Ryan Eastlyn and Braxton Brandenburg never intended to form a band or cut a record, let alone play live shows. In fact, Brandenburg didn't play a musical instrument when the two met six years ago.
But Eastlyn, 39, and Brandenburg, 33, who at times look as if they just stepped out of an old photo, are the Ugly Valley Boys. They perform regularly at Utah watering holes such as Devil's Daughter and The Garage in Salt Lake City, High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City and Owl Bar at Sundance Resort.
The band plays festivals and shows throughout the region, doing covers and original songs from 2011 debut album "Double Down." The musicians even hoofed it up to Wyoming four times to be the après ski band at Grand Targhee Resort's Trap Bar.
"This was never supposed to happen," Eastlyn said recently over cheap beers and a few shots of whiskey and pizza. "This was not something we planned at all."
But a second career of sorts evolved out of a mutual love of music and a desire to create a unique sound.
Brandenburg keeps time on his upright bass while Eastlyn strums an acoustic, pounds a kick drum and hi-hat and barks and growls out soulful lyrics in his signature gravelly voice.
Their recorded songs sound tight and schooled, despite employing only natural-born talents for music that does not have any written notation. Musicians Brad Wheeler and Mike Sasich helped on some songs on "Double Down," recorded at a studio in Salt Lake City.
It all started with Brandenburg's affinity for antiques. About eight years ago he purchased a cheap upright bass, old but not an antique, which he had no intention of playing, at least not right away.
"I didn't know what I was doing," Brandenburg said. "I thought the aesthetics of it was cool."
His only musical experience at the time was being forced to sing in the church choir as a child and then later as an adult admiring the musicians he was promoting with his business.
"I said, 'I have an upright bass,' " Brandenburg recalled telling Eastlyn. "He said, 'Cool. Want to play?' "
So, Eastlyn borrowed the bass, fiddled with it and showed his friend what to do.
"He taught me G, C and A, the basics," Brandenburg said. "And I took over from there."
Eastlyn also had purchased an upright bass, which he later sold to Brandenburg for about $800.
"Braxton picked it up quick," said Eastlyn, who saw talent in Brandenburg. "You never know what you're good at until you try."
It was just for fun in the beginning, continuing to work at their day jobs.
Eastlyn bends glass for neon signs the same way they have at Brimley Brothers Neon for three generations, using an open flame and air from his own lungs as he works out the kinks in each piece of tubing. Brandenburg owns Braxton's Barber Shop & Shaving Parlor and has a long list of clients who appreciate barbering the way it was done 100 years ago, complete with the hot towels, straight-razor shave and antique barber chair.
Eastlyn noodled throughout his youth on guitar and drums, dabbling for a time in a band that never recorded anything. He graduated from the University of Utah with a fine arts degree, but he fell in with David Brimley, married one of Brimley's daughters and began a career in re-creating and restoring old neon signs. Years passed, two children came along, and then Eastlyn met Brandenburg and they started talking music.
Talk turned to action as Brandenburg learned to play along to melodies Eastlyn dreamed up. They played a lot until one day their fist gig came along a friend's birthday party which meant they had to come up with a band name.
"Braxton just said the name out loud and I said, 'That's perfect,' " Eastlyn said. "And it wasn't taken." The name is also a poke at all of the other bands out there with "Valley" and "Boys" in their nomenclature – and there are plenty.
Eastlyn saved money and amassed about 35 original songs before finally deciding to hit the recording studio.
The result was "Double Down."
Sage Guyton, lead singer for The Lucky Stars based in California, said Eastlyn's vocals on the album help "convey emotion and intelligence, without ever sounding pretentious or melodramatic. I'm a big fan of this band, and 'Double Down' is one of the most impressive new CDs I've heard in ages."
Music critic Kyle Coroneos, who goes by "Trigger" on the Web-based Saving Country Music, said in a 2011 review Ugly Valley Boys' songs are "wickedly engaging and smartly crafted" and that they "evoke the lonesome sound of the desert … and the open space of the West."
Comparisons run the gamut, from Mumford & Sons to Johnny Cash, with hints of Bob Dylan to Buddy Holly.
"We try not to re-create anything," Brandenburg said. "I can't think of a band who we'd compare ourselves to."
Laurie Cornia, manager of Sundance's Owl Bar, said people have responded well to the band, its music and look, which she said fits the musical style. Oh, and word has it these boys are not so "ugly" after all.
Cornia recalled one particular gig from a few years back when it had snowed a lot and Eastlyn was the only one able to make it up the steep, socked-in canyon for the show.
"He played alone for 3 1/2 hours without a break," Cornia said. "I've been impressed with him ever since."
Hear the boys
P Ryan Eastlyn and Braxton Brandenburg are the Ugly Valley Boys. Find their music at iTunes, Amazon, ReverbNation and CD Baby. Or listen to them live on one of these nights:
June 22 • Owl Bar at Sundance Resort
June 25-26 • Farmageddon Music Festival
July 20 and Aug. 10 • The Garage
Online • uglyvalleyboys.com