Family tragedy and Sunday mornings inform Nashville cousins' raucous rock 'n' roll

Growing up, the first cousins who make up Nashville rock act Goodbye June — Tyler Baker, Landon Milbourn and Brandon Qualkenbush — played music together at church functions.

“We all grew up in Pentecostal churches. My dad still is the music director at a church,” singer Milbourn said by phone recently. “He made me really uncomfortable a lot. He'd make me sing solos on Sunday and do things I didn't want to do. He pushed me. But overall, the whole musical experience was fun, because it was very blues [and] black gospel-based. That's how I started learning how to play. I loved rock 'n' roll, but I wasn't supposed to listen to rock 'n' roll.”

You won't see the members of Goodbye June in a Sunday morning service or hear their alcohol-infused, Zeppelin-indebted tunes at a tent revival any time soon. But, years removed from those formative experiences in the church, Milbourn is grateful for the way his father pushed him musically.

Those early lessons helped to inform Goodbye June's new album, Magic Valley, particularly closing track “Fear of Jesus.” “I miss those old church seats, bringing me down to my knees … Tell me why I need a substance to sleep?” Milbourn sings in a classic-rock howl that's equal parts Axl Rose and Black Crowes.

Though church formed the band's foundation, tragedy brought the cousins together in June of 2005, when lead guitarist Tyler Baker's brother, Shane Baker, died in a car accident. The three musicians began writing and playing music together while processing their grief (“Goodbye June” is a reference to the loss), and in 2009 they moved to Nashville to pursue their rock 'n' roll dreams. On Friday, May 19, the band will play the very first fest slot (11:45 a.m.) at Rock on the Range, held at Mapfre Stadium.

The songs on Magic Valley are a tribute to the past not just in the band's throwback sound, but also in the way they evoke those early years as a band. “Some songs feel a little nostalgic because we were writing about a time that had already passed,” Baker said. “I think part of the reason why it sounds so youthful and raw is that's how we felt back then.”

“When we got to Nashville there was not a lot of [rock] going on at all,” Milbourn said. “We were definitely the weirdos.”

Whether in studio sessions with producer Paul Moak or onstage, headbanging and crashing into each other, the cousins said their family ties help bind them together. “There's an unspoken trust,” Baker said. “You can depend on that person to carry it even if you're messing up.”