About My Favorite Highway
Newly signed to Virgin Records, up-and-coming pop quartet My Favorite Highway are riding high as they release their melody-minded debut album, How To Call A Bluff. But the future didn’t always look so rosy for the Fairfax, VA-based band. Frontman and keyboardist David Cook recalls a key moment when they almost threw in the towel:
“When we were on tour last year, we played at a bar in this deserted town near Lake Erie, which the bartender told us was pretty much famous for meth labs,” David says. “Twelve kids showed up. There wasn’t even enough money for the venue to pay us. The promoter sent his brother to give us $100 out of his own pocket. We didn't even want to play. We were sitting there feeling so down and depressed, like, ‘Are we ever going to get a break?’ We’d been at it for years and were still eating peanut butter out of a cooler in the back of the van in the parking lot. We were ready to give up.”
But sometimes adversity can be just the thing that fuels the fire. In September 2007, the guys decided to channel their frustration into a new batch of songs, all of which appear on How To Call A Bluff. David, the band’s chief songwriter, began writing furiously, crafting a series of hook-filled power-pop anthems anchored by keenly felt lyrics about what they were going through, including “Getaway Car” (about searching for your purpose in life and the frustration that goes along with the process), “Simple Life,” (about not being satisfied with your daily routine and wanting more for yourself), and “What Are You Waiting For” (about doing everything to overcome obstacles and not waiting to get what you want out of life). They were the kind of songs that can only come from digging deep and tapping into a very honest place.
In March 2008, the members of My Favorite Highway, which also includes David’s cousin Will Cook on bass, Pat Jenkins on guitar, and Bobby Morgentaler on drums, took the money they’d earned from selling more than 18,000 digital and physical copies of their 2006 EP Anywhere But Here (more than 75,000 of its tracks have been downloaded from iTunes) and used it to record How to Call A Bluff with their friend and producer Paul Barber and mixing engineer Jeff Juliano (John Mayer, Dave Matthews, Jason Mraz). The result is a compelling showcase for David’s uplifting melodies and expressive vocals, Pat and David’s dynamic guitar and piano textures, and Will and Bobby’s rock-solid rhythm section.
“We decided to stop writing songs that we thought the labels would like and write a record with songs that we loved,” David recalls. “We all love pop songs, we all love listening to the radio, so we wanted to make something radio-ready and filled with great songs that could stand up next to albums by artists we love, like Coldplay, John Mayer, and Maroon 5.” Not surprisingly, How To Call A Bluff is about “chasing who you are and what you want out of life, not giving up, and letting the pursuit shape you to your very core,” David says.
The band’s master plan worked. How to Call A Bluff was released independently in July 2008 and has sold nearly 135,000 individual tracks. Two of its tracks, “Bittersweet Life” and “Bigger Than Love,” were featured on popular MTV show The Hills, while “What Are You Waiting For” popped up on The City. In February 2008, Alternative Press declared My Favorite Highway one of its “4 More to Watch,” praising them for “the type of polished sound you’d expect to hear after the opening bands.” In March, the magazine included them in its “100 Bands to Watch in ’09” list. But none of the exposure or accolades could compare to the thrill of signing with Virgin Records in November of last year after more than four years together. Virgin will re-release a new re-mixed and re-mastered edition of How to Call a Bluff with two new songs, "Go" and "Dreamer" in May 2009.
It’s the realization of a dream for the members of this band, who all grew up playing worship music in church, an experience David credits with influencing their uplifting, positive sensibility and giving them the ability to improvise and think fast on their feet onstage. The son of a church worship minister, David remembers his father playing guitar and singing to him each night. David got his first guitar at age three and took piano lessons from ages seven to ten, but “my piano teachers hated me because I played by ear,” he says. “I wouldn’t pay attention to what was written on the sheet music, I’d just copy everything they did. When I got to a certain level, they were like, ‘We just can’t teach you anymore.’” At age 10, David taught himself to play guitar. At age 12, he received a subscription to the Columbia House Record Club and became obsessed with albums by Third Eye Blind, Semisonic, Matchbox 20, Wallflowers, Oasis, Everclear, and Natalie Imbruglia — “all these great pop albums from the late ‘90s that really influenced me and made me want to play music,” he says.
After playing in bands throughout middle and high school, David followed a girl to a college in Western Pennsylvania where he studied marketing management and advertising, but boredom and depression set in due to being at a small school in a freezing place and he decided to leave after three semesters. Back home in Vienna, his cousin Will suggested starting their own band in November 2004. After a few members came and went, David and Will finalized My Favorite Highway’s line-up with the addition of Pat and Bobby. “Pat has a great ear and brings so much to a song,” David says. “He can play so many different styles on the guitar, plus he can play any instrument so he’s a real asset to the band. Bobby is an excellent drummer, he’s super-focused, extremely consistent, and has a great pocket. Both these guys take what we do to a whole new level.”
Overall, David stresses the spirit of friendship and camaraderie in My Favorite Highway, something that is strongly reflected on How To Call A Bluff. “The album really captures all of our personalities,” he says. “It’s a fun record because we have a great time when we’re together. We’re like a band of brothers. It definitely sums up our beliefs and what we want out of life. The record is positive and uplifting and that's who we are as people.”