If Jeff Gutt so desired, he could be a solo artist, putting his name out front and riding the notoriety of being a finalist on THE X FACTOR who dazzled audiences and judges alike with his commanding voice and electrifying physical presence. The path, it seemed, was plowed and clear.
But that’s not really Gutt’s style.
So say hello to Rival City Heights, the new group that Gutt formed in the wake of his success because, at heart, he’s been a band guy during the vast majority of his 20 years of pounding the musical rock.
“Yeah, I’d rather it be that way,” explains the Michigan singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. “I’m not too into the solo artist thing. Even though there was a big following and lot of exposure from the TV show, what I like more than anything is being in a band where everyone brings in ideas and contributes and collaborates. I think this new project is something the people who supported me on ‘The X Factor’ will still like, because it’s me singing and my music, but I think having it be a band makes it even better.”
Rival City Heights calls Gutt’s Detroit base home, but its members come from a variety of backgrounds. Guitarist Gary Pittel also hails from the Motor City and worked with Gutt on his last release, Humanity. Likewise, drummer Brandon Brown has been alongside Gutt for most of his musical projects, including the band Dry Cell. Fellow axeman Cyamak Ashtiani has played all manners of music in Detroit, Nashville and Los Angeles, where he currently resides, while bassist KC Jenkins is also an accomplished guitarist and vocalist from San Diego.
On its debut self-titled album, Rival City Heights shows all the virtues of its members’ familiarity with each other and with each other’s music. The eclectic album tracks — from the amped up, anthemic first single “Take It Back” to spikey “Burn with Me” and the haunting power ballad “Fading Out” — are filled with instantly memorable hooks and head-snapping dynamics, a seamless blend of timeless technique and inventiveness. The melodies are strong and the performances assured, and Rival City Heights plays throughout with the authority of a band that’s been together for decades.
“We went in and made a diverse record, a little taste of everything,” Gutt explains. “But it also has a common line. There are a lot of harmonies, very Eagles-esque in some places. Big melodies, huge hooks and all that stuff. It rocks but it delves into pop, too. That’s the vein we want to be in.”
In that regard, Rival City Heights is a kind of culmination for Gutt in his long and dedicated musical adventure.
Hailing from a Detroit suburb near Mount Clemens, Michigan — stomping ground of colleagues Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker — Gutt caught the music bug early. He specifically recalls falling asleep with headphones on one night and being ready to rock when he woke up. “That music just took me somewhere,” Gutt recalls. “When I woke up, I wanted to play guitar, and I wanted to write songs. Something just clicked. To me music is being able to take people on a journey into this imaginary land. That’s where I like to live.”
Gutt staked his claim over years of playing in bands, including Dragonfly, Acrylic, Band With No Name and Innerfaith. He went west to Los Angeles circa 2000 when Dry Cell signed a short-lived record deal and also spent time in New York. He moved back to Michigan to be closer to his young son Talon. Gutt didn’t hang up his guitar, if anything, being home only connected him more to his music and his early ambitions which made Gutt all the more determined to bring his music to the world.
He got his chance in the most unlikely of ways. Gutt made his first appearance on THE X FACTOR in 2012 and was dismissed after making it to the Top 12. He apparently made enough of an impression to be called back the following year. Even X Factor creator and judge Simon Cowell, publicly admitted that eliminating Gutt so early the previous season was a mistake. But the second time proved to be the charm as Gutt’s renditions of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Radiohead’s “Creep” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” won him fans the world over.
“It was great because I was originally not a big fan of the talent shows and all of that; but it was a chance for me to go into that forum and show people what I love about music and, to me, what real music is. For me it’s more about the making of the music as much as the presentation of it. I just tried to come from a real place.”
THE X FACTOR success gave Gutt plenty of opportunity to do more of that. The Middle East, Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand, Finland, and Australia became places all over the globe where Gutt has been embraced as a bona fide star. He also got busy writing new material as Rival City Heights assembled. Most of the songs on their self-titled album were written between January and May of 2015 before the group took them into studios in North Hollywood and in producer Matt Squire’s (All Time Low, Panic! at the Disco, Hollywood Undead, Skindred) studio in Calabasas, California. “We went in with an open mind,” Gutt says of the sessions. “We didn’t walk into it with preconceived ideas or notions or to steer it in any certain kind of direction. We just wanted to see what happened.”
The songs have as many topics as they have feels. “Most of them are relationship-based, because that’s something everyone can relate to,” Gutt explains. Tracks such as “All We Are” and “Take It Back” are what Gutt calls “sports anthems, about getting to the peak of a mountain or achieving something that everybody’s trying to get to.”
The group wrote and recorded 11 songs on this album at Squire’s LA studios and for some reason Jeff decided to hold back the 12th song of the album. On a visit to the beautiful country Jordan, Jeff realized why he held back this track. He felt a need to collaborate with a local Jordanian singer and record it in Jordan. Inspired by Sting’s Desert Rose with Cheb Mami, they were introduced to singer Hana Malhas and the result was an amazing rendition of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” – with Arabic Flair.
As Rival City Heights unleashes their debut album on the world, Gutt and company are ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the music is heard. “We’re going to tour constantly, play everywhere, every single venue we can,” Gutt says. “I hate waiting to get things done — especially if I know something’s going to happen. It’s not like I’m ever going to give up. But, really, I just want to put out the record I want to make with the vision I have and not stress about things that are out of my control. I’m going to try to worry about things that I CAN control and let the rest of it happen on its own.”
And shortly after the X Factor, the rest began to happen on its own. Unknown to Gutt at the time, he had a Royal fan on the other side of the world. The Princess of Jordan (daughter of the late King Hussein and sister to HRH King Abdullah – present King of Jordan) happened to be watching the X Factor in Amman, Jordan when she heard Jeff’s voice. She was intrigued and according to her, felt a calling to reach out to him. She invited Jeff to visit her country and asked if he would mind singing a few songs for the Princess Alia Foundation, her charitable organization promoting compassion and respect for all Creation, using a holistic approach and bringing all stakeholders together to work as a united front. Over the course of the next 90 days, this chance invitation evolved into a full-blown tour.
Rival City Heights recently embarked on a European/Middle Eastern Tour, performing 15 shows in 5 countries. They are planning a US Tour to coincide with the release of their new album slated for early 2016.
Jeff Gutt – Lead Vocals
Jeff Gutt (pronounced like “boot”) is an internationally recognized vocalist, musician and songwriter. Born and bred in the Detroit area, Jeff first made a name for himself in the music world as frontman for the bands “Dry Cell” and “Band With No Name (BWNN)”. Jeff captured the attention of fans and critics alike with memorable performances on two seasons of American reality TV series “The X Factor” including a heartfelt and unique rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in 2012 and came back for the 2013 season, getting four standing ovations and unanimous four “yes” votes from the judges Simon Cowell, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and L.A. Reid. Jeff made it all the way to the top three and took runner-up finish in a razor-thin margin of votes.
Jeff’s performances on “The X Factor” were hailed as “authentic” by Simon Cowell. Critics described him as “a rocker worth listening to” and “One of the most ‘influential’ X Factor contestants of all time…”.
In January 2014, Jeff launched a successful fundraising campaign on crowdfunding site Indiegogo to support his upcoming EP, managing to raise almost double the amount of money needed for production costs. With the success of this campaign, Jeff has been in the studio writing and recording with multi-platinum music producer and song writer Matt Squire. Matt has agreed to work with Jeff to cut this first EP! Matt has produced, engineered, or written tracks for Kesha, Demi Lovato, One Direction, Ariana Grande, Good Charlotte, Selena Gomez, Panic! at the Disco, 3OH!3 and New Boyz to name a few.
Over the course of his career, Jeff has played countless gigs, including headline slots in major venues such as Detroit’s landmark venue, The Masonic Temple and at the 2014 Detroit Music Awards.
Jeff will once again find himself in the musical spotlight in 2015, as he releases his EP, introduces his new band and embarks on a World Tour to support the launch of his new music.
Gary Pittel – Guitar / Backup Vocals
Gary Pittel started playing guitar and taking lessons at a local music store at the age of 10. At age 16 he was hired at “Music Box Studios” as a full time guitar instructor. He grew up in the metro Detroit area. Influenced by blues and rock music, his main influences are Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Perry, Joe Satriani, and of course … Slash.
Cyamak Ashtiani – Guitar
Guitarist/songwriter/performer, enjoys playing and writing all different genres of music, from pop to rock and even country music. He studied at Central Michigan University and spent most of his years playing with bands in Detroit and Nashville before finally moving to Los Angeles, where he currently resides.
KC Jenkins – Bass
Casey’s love for music started very early on in life, thanks to his Mother who placed him in the St. Paul’s boys’ Choir at the age of 7 and got him his first guitar even before that … By age 13 Casey formed his first band “Spoiled Child” which morphed into “Exit 21”, which evolved into his first official band “Grandview”. In 2004, as a sophomore in high school, the band’s first single “Better Off” gained the attention of Richard Reines of Drive Thru records. This song was placed on the labels compilation alongside the likes of New Found Glory, Finch and Something Corporate. This Compilation was sold in stores nationwide. The band earned a loyal solid following in the SoCal pop-punk scene and then tragedy struck when Casey’s drummer and best friend almost died in his arms in a horrific state board accident. The pop punk scene seemed to die overnight while the metal/hardcore scene was on the rise. At that time, all the bands in town seemed to be looking for bass players. Within a month of really pursuing the bass, he landed his gig with the power house metal band SicArus in 2007. The band was a giant leap forward in technicality/musical ability and songwriting, which paved the path for Casey’s acceptance to the Musicians Institute. After some regional touring, SicArus failed to make its mark on the ever changing scene. The industry seemingly lost interest in the melodic and musical content of a song and instead, preferred screaming over 5 minute breakdowns … which was not what the SicArus was about. After the breakup of SicArus in 2011 Casey packed his bags and headed to Nashville, where he attended writer’s nights and immersed himself in the music community. He soon landed a spot as the lead guitarist of the country trio “Brass field Aly” (produced and put together by the Legendary Kenny Beard). Casey split from the band not long after joining, as he felt he wasn’t right for the group. In 2012 while at a writer’s night Casey overheard soon to be X Factor star Jeff Gutt, rehearsing. Casey and Jeff hit it off, stayed in contact and soon after the X Factor ended Jeff offered Casey the gig to play bass for Jeff’s new band – Rival City Heights!