SixFoxWhiskey: The Name on the Chopper

Fresh off playing Levitate Music Festival, SixFoxWhiskey rocks out on Boston rooftop bars thriving in the live music scene. SixFox for short, this group of five friends with deep ties started a rock band in Boston and haven't looked back. Taking the name off of a helicopter in Alaska, SixFox embraces the music making process as "an exercise in thought."  

Brad Moreno, Dan Felix, Chris Ballerini, Tommy Yannopolous (left to right), Tyler Davis (back)

Brad Moreno, Dan Felix, Chris Ballerini, Tommy Yannopolous (left to right), Tyler Davis (back)

“The first one was definitely a shit show,” says Tommy. A few cars full of friends packed the dive bar in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Tall boys cracked as the band took the stage for the first time. The rough sounds from the set crashed over the crowd. An ugly performance couldn’t stop the friendly faces from rocking out in the audience. Despite the support, the group’s first show flopped. “It was a blast,” says Tommy. Amidst a train wreck, SixFoxWhiskey was born. The rock band from Boston, Six Fox for short, built a dive bar chemistry into a unique, polished sound with a strong following.

As a kid, Tommy Yannopolous, the bass guitarist and backup vocalist of Six Fox, first grasped music beyond the surface when his dad played The Who on the caravan radio. Soon after, he became aware of the bass in the opening line of “All Around the World” by Red Hot Chili Peppers. “It was the coolest sound I’d ever heard,” says Tommy. Brad Moreno, the band’s lead guitarist, grew up with Tommy in Simsbury, Connecticut. When he was young, Brad played The Beatles and 90’s pop records. His tastes evolved into jazz-rock fusion, Motown, and other styles. “I got into all sorts of weird shit,” says Brad. He and Tommy idolized similar artists and jammed out in basements back in the day. The two have played more music with each other than anyone else. “Brad has in all honestly been my greatest teacher,” says Tommy.

Chris Ballerini, rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist, was roommates with Tommy at Boston College. Before university, Chris grew up immersed in his Dad’s cassette tapes stashed in an old shoebox. “I can clearly remember jumping around on my bed to ‘Carry On My Wayward Son,” he says. Chris branched out as a teenager, listening to bands outside the shoebox like Modest Mouse and Rage Against the Machines. He formed an indie group with friend Teddy Maguire that fizzled out a couple years before college. By chance, Teddy formed the band Brontosaur with current Six Fox drummer Tyler Davis. Both from nearby Kingston, Massachusetts, Chris and Tyler grew up playing music together. After Brontosaur dissolved, Tyler played locally until Chris asked him to join Six Fox.

Before Six Fox, Tyler watched his cousin play the drum set as a kid. “I’ll never forget listening to him for the first time. I was blown away, and from that day I knew I wanted to become a drummer,” he says. Outside of family, Travis Barker of Blink-182 and Alan Evans of Soulive inspired him early on. Tyler would pick up the Ludwig rocker snare in fourth grade. He played in jazz and concert band through high school before enjoying moderate success with Brontosaur.

Like Tyler, Dan Felix, saxophonist for Six Fox, also picked up his instrument in fourth grade. Dan played any music he could get his hands on. “I remember listening to the Beach Boys ‘Greatest Hits’ and learning the entire album by ear,” he says. In high school, he played guitar in a rock group while sticking to saxophone in concert band. Dan’s sax skills took off once he honed in on jazz music at Ithaca College.

As Tommy, Tyler, Brad, and Dan carved their paths closer to home, Chris moved to Alaska. Starting to sing in college, Chris continued to make music while working at a remote fly fishing outpost on the Aleutian Peninsula. He returned home with song ideas and in need of a band. The pieces fell in line, with Chris, Tommy, Tyler, and Brad having past connections. Dan would play sax at a random show in a Kingston bar and easily morphed into Six Fox’s sound. Dan was home on Thanksgiving break and had seen Facebook videos of the band. A fan of Six Fox, he messaged Chris asking if they needed a sax player. “I showed up to this gig with my horn, and it’s been history ever since,” says Dan.

As a group, styles shift often. Funk, jam rock, alternative, and other genres compose the band’s identity. The first time all five members witnessed the true power of their sound was at Brighton Music Hall. Six Fox opened and the crowd erupted for an ovation. “Brighton was special because it’s an amazing venue and the audience was into what we were playing. It was also one of our first times hearing Brad and Dan come together in their soloing, which is something to behold,” tells Chris.

Set apart from other bands, the unique guitar and sax medley opens up harmonized melodies and solo tradeoffs. Songwriting demands complete collaboration with five minds. The band’s newest song ‘Sun I’d Seen’ puts that process on display. Tommy wrote the opening line after hearing Brad messing around on keyboard, which sparked a melody on bass. Brad jammed out to the melody on guitar, and then wrote the verse, chorus, and bridge. “We initially had the chorus as a verse, but Dan heard it and thought we should switch the two,” says Tommy. Tyler then incorporated bridge hits and rhythm, while Tommy and Chris wrote lyrics. “We do tons of experimentation with most components of our music, but everyone has a voice,” says Tommy. The components build upon five streams of ideas. “Rarely does someone not write their own part,” says Brad.

With new ideas, all five artists thrive in different areas. Chris comes in with a blueprint. Brad organizes and constructs vocal and instrumental harmonies. Tommy and Tyler transform simple folk tunes into dynamic, emotional jams. Dan maps melodies and harmonies to mesh the moving parts. As five voices fly through the room, collaboration doesn’t always run smoothly. The tight chemistry ends conflicts quickly. “All of our thoughts are freely expressed during the song writing process,” says Tyler.

This sea of thoughts fosters a personality dynamic. “If we were a car, Chris would be our engine,” says Tommy. Chris leads the group and constantly looks for new shows. Brad expands the music. He dives into a deeper level of writing with chord voicings and harmony. Tommy, sometimes aggressively, stresses the need for the band to stay on track. Less aggressive than Tommy, Tyler challenges the norm from a laidback angle. “Most shows, Tyler leaves behind some piece of equipment,” says Tommy. “But he brings a great deal of exploration to the band. He might be the first to question how a part is structured or offer alternatives.” Dan speaks the least, but brings a creative spark and an expert theory insight. He lights up the stage with the sax between his teeth and helps expand the music. “Our personalities mesh well,” says Chris. “We argue plenty and disagree often, but we share pride in the fact that we’re honest.”

The free-flowing, honest music making process has been cultivated by parental support over the years. All five musicians grew up with unconditional backing from their parents. “In general, I grew up in a house where I was never told to turn my amp down, play the drums quieter, or stop singing,” says Tommy. Involved in the band’s day-to-day needs, Chris’ Dad works as honorary sound engineer, and helps with business decisions, merchandise, and promotion. For Brad, his parents are the reason he had the chance to seriously pursue music. “I would (maybe) still be playing sublime covers on the streets for singles and coins if it weren’t for them, “ he says. The emotional value of unwavering family support shines through in the song writing process.

The Original "SixFoxWhiskey" helicopter on the Alaskan Peninsula

The Original "SixFoxWhiskey" helicopter on the Alaskan Peninsula

Even in an open, creative atmosphere, writing songs is not easy. Each part takes hours. A fresh idea one day can sound awful the next. “It can be exceptionally frustrating, but it’s what makes writing a good song so rewarding,” tells Tommy. Rewards don’t always come in the form of a paycheck. At this level, the band often loses money on recording and travel. To make it back, all five artists work jobs outside the group. Chris plays solo acoustic gigs and works as a caretaker. Tommy and Brad both clock in at ad firms. With limited free time, each artist unwinds uniquely. Tyler fresh water fishes, and Chris suits up for ice hockey once a week. When Dan catches a break, he mimics the human voice with his saxophone. Creator of the YouTube channel “Saxophonetix,” he learns the idiosyncrasies of a person’s voice and translates that sound to the sax. “It seems to make a lot of people laugh, which motivates me,” says Dan.

As a group, the band’s motivation doesn’t lie in money and exposure. When Chris formed SixFoxWhiskey, he brought together a few friends to jam out. The name spawned from his job in Alaska. “The tag numbers of the helicopter used to transport clients and supplies to and from camp was ‘N306FW,’ and they called it ‘SixFoxWhiskey’ for short, using the military alphabet,” says Chris. A name, a group of friends, and a few song ideas launched a connection with fans. When the focus becomes “making it” versus “not making it,” the traditional definition of success seems foreign. “We want to play to huge crowds and share our art, but reality can be sobering,” says Tommy. “It’s best to think of music as an exercise in thought.”

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