March 17, 2023 Interview – Bronson Arroyo
In all walks of life music is often something we can all connect with. It heals, inspires, and provides a release no matter our situation. That in mind, for former Major League Baseball starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, music has always been a beacon of light. An accomplished athlete, Arroyo spent seventeen years in the major leagues, winning a World Series in ’04 with the Boston Red Sox, making an all-star team as a member of the Cincinnati Reds on ’06, winning a Gold Glove Award in ’10, and recently finding himself on the 2023 Hall of Fame ballot. With tremendous accomplishments in hand, amidst most of his professional playing career, Arroyo also was hard at work as an aspiring musician.
Picking up a guitar, he would hone his skills, releasing a cover album in 2005, and now in 2023 finds himself putting out his first ever original album entitled Some Might Say. An album of all original music, it is a long time coming, and yet another proud moment for Arroyo. Excited about the music, Bronson Arroyo sat down to chat about turning to music, how it helped him while he was playing baseball, his inspirations, fondest MLB memories, plus more.
Cryptic Rock – You have a very interesting story to tell. One a very select few, you were a successful major league baseball starting pitcher for seventeen years. In that time, you won a World Series in 2004, won a gold glove, made an all-star team, recently were on the Hall of Fame ballot… and on top of it all, you are also a musician! How would you describe this incredible journey?
Bronson Arroyo – Baseball was my life’s work. When you are a seven-year-old kid, take a tennis ball off a concrete wall for an hour and a half dreaming of making that last out at shortstop, or striking out the last guy to win a World Series… it’s hard to really find something secondary in your life. I was able to do that for thirty something years, turned forty years old, my shoulder gave out on me, and it was the end of my career. We all must swallow that at some point to realize that old man time is just going to catch up with us.
Musically, you feel you can go on much longer. It was kind of a hobby throughout playing baseball; it got me through long bus rides, some boredom in hotel rooms, and also got me to playing shows at small coffee shops, around the campfire, or an open mic night. Slowly I then had a cover band. This was just the next step in the transition of becoming a musician, coming out of being a baseball player and athlete, putting out my own stories, and now trying to have an original album for the first time.
Cryptic Rock – That is quite interesting to hear. During your career in baseball, it was well-known that you were a musician. At what point did the itch for music hit you where you said, I want to start playing.
Bronson Arroyo – It took a long time. I had a kind of strange childhood where I was in the weight room with my father at a very young age. I was a six-year-old kid playing t-ball and he was lifting really heavy weights with his friends; squat lifting and deadlifting. I would be in the weight room watching these guys, and he figured, “I think I can get him a free education in college if I put him in the weight room.” I have videos of me being an eight-year-old kid squatting 255 lbs., deadlifting 235 lbs., benching 130 lbs., and weighing 60 lbs. as an eight-year-old kid. In that time that we were working out to achieve that type of ridiculous weight, there was always a radio on playing. My father was always singing in the weight room; we were listening to the Mamas and the Papas, the Beatles, Elton John, Billy Joel, and John Lennon.
I loved the music, it always sounded good to me, but it didn’t give me goosebumps. Then when I was in high school around 1992, hearing Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana for the first time, it really changed the landscape for me musically. That made me think that I wanted to maybe play an instrument someday. That was when I was around fifteen at that time, and it took me all the way until I was twenty-two years old (in the minor leagues with the Pittsburgh Pirates) for someone to hand me an acoustic guitar, and for me to take my first crack to see if I could make music with my own hands and my own voice.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, so you started playing relatively late; most kids start in their teens. It is obvious the seed was planted within you of the love of music early on though. You released a cover record in 2005, Covering the Bases. It has some cool covers tracks, including ones of Alice in Chains, Goo Goo Dolls, etc. What was it like putting that record together?
Bronson Arroyo – It was a blast! Playing with guys like Kenny Aronoff, Michael Landau, and Leland Sklar… it’s like having Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth in your outfield, who wouldn’t enjoy that! It was my first crack of putting something down vocally on a record too. The music sounded so good, it was songs I loved as a kid, so everything about that experience was fantastic. It got me thinking about playing music live in front of people too. It got me thinking, ok, I need to be able to perform this stuff with a band, with some friends, or with an acoustic guitar. It got me out of being the guy who just played around the campfire, to getting out to playing some shows in New England. That is the slow evolution to get me where I am now.
Cryptic Rock – And where you are now is recently releasing your first ever solo album of original tunes. Entitled Some Might Say, the album is enjoyable to listen to. What inspired the artistic direction of this album?
Bronson Arroyo – You know the real beginnings of it was just trying to finish songs lyrically. I had never really written a lot of original stuff. You can write a quick jingle for an elementary school where you are talking to kids about eating your fruits and vegetables and going to bed at night. However, I never had really taken a crack at trying to write songs that would play on the radio, and that I would enjoy listening to. I had to come up with a formula.
It was a matter of me getting some riffs that I had written, and some from the guys in the band. I would go to Cincinnati with my buddy, Eliot Sloan from Blessid Union of Souls, and I would try to find a way to finish these songs where I felt good about the story from front to back, and it didn’t feel like too many clichés. After I got through the first couple of songs, and I realized, this is going to work… then it became kind of addicting to finish a couple of dozen songs.
I really didn’t have an idea of where the songs would go, what they would sound like, or if this collection of songs would fit together. It was more about just doing one after another, and seeing what we had at the end of the day. Once we went into the studio to try and make the album, then we started sifting through these songs. We came up with thirteen of them that were cut, then ten made the album.
Cryptic Rock – Seems like it was a good approach. After listening to this album, you can hear the ‘90s Alternative Rock/Grunge influence. Was that something that you felt too?
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, I had been listening to those albums for such a long time. I had been singing in cover bands and playing all those songs from the ‘90s… there was no way that influence wasn’t going to come out, especially in the vocal performance.
Now, on the guitar sounds, the band brought their flavor to it. I didn’t have a lot of direction when it came to that, I let them do their thing. You can hear hints of some ‘80s sounds in “Higher Ground” and “Nights Alive” a little bit. There’s some little flavors in there that weren’t mine; they came from Clint Walsh and Jamie Arentzen. That was infused into the record, but mixing that with the ‘90s sound of my vocal. I really enjoyed it because it felt like a bit of a push/pull and not kind of just a one trick pony.
Cryptic Rock – Right, it all sounds very organic. Many modern recordings sound very overproduced, and this record does not sound like that, it sounds real.
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, I was intent on saying, I wanted it to sound like a Tom Petty record and like there were five guys in a room who were actually playing. I listen to the record and it sounds like it’s my first take on the vocal mic sometimes; it doesn’t sound like things are perfect and slick, as you said.
On “Guerilla Warfare” it is the scratch vocal off the floor from the first time we played it in the studio; that is the only one that made it to the record from scratch. I wanted it to feel organic. I wanted it to feel like people could be in the room and kind of touch, taste, and smell what was going on with the music.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely, and “Guerilla Warfare” is a real good track. So, will you be doing any touring for this album?
Bronson Arroyo – We recently did a show on Sunday, February 26th where we played Innings Fest, out in Tempe, Arizona; it was headlined by Eddie Vedder, Green Day, plus Weezer and The Black Crowes were on the bill. Then on March 19th in Tampa, Florida is another Innings Fest we will be playing; that one is headlined by Imagine Dragons and Dave Matthews.
We are doing these shows, and it is kind of a perfect fit during Spring Training; it’s part baseball, it’s part festival. Then once we get through these, we are going to see the landscape and find if there is some time if I can get the guys all together. We will see if there is a small numer of tours that make sense, or it’s just about going out and playing festivals.
Right now, with my guitarist, Jamie Arentzen, who plays with Miley Cyrus, and my Drummer, Eric Gardner, who plays with Melissa Etheridge about a hundred days a year… I’m going to have to find spots inside the calendar to be able to tour with these guys.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully it will all come together. You are also playing on stage with some fantastic bands as a part of Innings Festival.
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, to look up and see Third Eye Blind on the bill, and Markus Mumford, it’s pretty amazing! I’ve been listening to these guys for such a long time. It’s nice to go out there. We will play on one of the smaller stages in the middle of the afternoon, but just to feel like I have a product that is good enough to put out there and stick my neck on a stage and feel good and comfortable about it… it’s been fun.
Cryptic Rock – That is great to hear. Every starting pitcher has a different way to prepare for a game. Would you say music was your way of relaxing before a start?
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, the day you start in a big-league game, from the time you open your eyes, it’s pretty angst ridden. You only get to do this 32-35 times a year, and immediately from the time you wake up, your adrenaline is kind of pulsing in your blood. Having the ability to take a nap or just relax for that day is very difficult. Music does help that process.
Also, after games when you have adrenaline, whether you pitched good, bad, or indifferent, it doesn’t matter… you are so geeked up from the start. A lot of times I would just play the guitar in the room, or go across the street from the hotel in Chicago and find a stairwell that is all concrete (where you get a good reverb). I would go down and play for a couple hours at least once.
Music has been something that has been hard – it’s hard to play the guitar, it’s hard to sing, and it’s hard to keep your voice in shape. To have something to grind and lean into, after all these years taking care of my body as a baseball player, it fits my personality… because I’ve programmed myself in that way for so long.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, you can tell you put the work in just by looking at your career stats and the number of innings you pitched. There is no question that music is therapy. It can help you through a lot.
Bronson Arroyo – Absolutely. It’s been fun to listen back to these songs I’ve written and these stories. As I listen to them more and more, they almost evolve for me. I wrote most them in one way on an acoustic guitar, then you take them to the band, they come to life, and I’m listening to them now driving down the road on Spotify hearing little subtleties in the background of guitar parts that the guys put down; I didn’t even realize them in the beginning as they were done.
There so much that goes into making a record/mixing it, and my ears aren’t that great… I’m not a guy who is talented who can sing harmony off the top of my head. I’m learning on the fly as well. It’s been really cool to break my own songs down to myself and start learning them back on the acoustic guitar after the recordings and see what that feels like. Like you said, a lot of times I will find myself in my basement at 2 AM singing this stuff, and it is like therapy.
Cryptic Rock – That is what makes music so great. It is testament to your hard work that you are where you are now musically. This goes back to your playing career. You came up with The Pirates, and you were put on waivers, and picked up by The Red Sox. You look at a starting pitcher picked up off waivers, and you never know what could happen. You excelled and made a great career for yourself. Plus, a year after being waived you were in the World Series… that is really inspiring! What was that like for you?
Bronson Arroyo – When I think back upon those times, I was walking on a razor’s edge there. It was 2003, I got taken off the 40-man roster by The Pittsburgh Pirates, claimed by The Boston Red Sox and sent back to AAA to start that season. When that happens to a guy who is around twenty-six to twenty-seven years old, who has had success at the AAA level and all through the minor leagues, a lot of times you get stamped as a guy who is a minor leaguer forever.
If I got off to a bad start in ’03, and let’s say went 8-12 that season with a 4.50 ERA, I would probably get a year or two in the big leagues at best. I had a great season in ’03, I parlayed that to making the playoff roster on the Red Sox roster in ’03 when we lost to the Yankees and Aaron Boone hit that home run in game 7 of the ALCS. Then I became a starting pitcher for the next twelve to thirteen years in the major leagues and never went back to the minor leagues again. It was a real pivotal point in my career. It could have gone another way, but you try and keep your nose to grind, and sometimes opportunities work out. That’s about the best you can really do.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and you did great things. You mention that ’03 ALCS, but you paid the Yankees back big time in ’04. What you and the Red Sox did in 2004 was truly unbelievable. The Yankees were up 3-0 in the series, The Red Sox were demolished in game 3, then you guys came back, won 4 games in a row, went to the world series, and won it all. You may never see anything like that ever again. What was that emotional roller coaster like?
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, it was magic. Watching the documentary on HBO called Four Days in October, it almost feels like I’m watching a movie… and I was there, part of it, and it still feels like someone scripted the whole thing. It started back in ’03 when Aaron Boone hit that homerun, because the anxiety from that season was still present all through the ’04 season. We picked up Curt Schilling, we were wearing t-shirts that said ‘this is the year,’ and it really felt like we had a chance to win the whole thing in ’03, and we didn’t. So, in ’04, it felt like it was our turn.
Then we got popped in the mouth the first two games against the Yankees in the ALCS in ’04, then we got beat 19-8 in game 3, and it felt like the series was over… nobody has ever come back from beginning down 3 games. We just took it one game at a time as you have to, and we just got lucky; Dave Roberts stole second base, Bill Mueller got a hit off Mariano (Rivera), and we tied the game. We just started building momentum, and by the time it was 3-2 games and went back to Yankee Stadium, it really felt like the score was already even.
Thinking about Curt Schilling pitching on a really messed up ankle that had already been surgically repaired in the locker room a couple of days earlier, then you had Derek Lowe pitching Game 7 wearing a pair of shoes bought from a Sports Authority thirty minutes before the game (because someone stole one of his shoes so he wouldn’t have his game shoes at Yankee Stadium), etc. It was just story after story of just being a season that was unbelievable.
Cryptic Rock – It really is amazing. You not only had that dramatic, historic comeback, but you went on to win the World Series in 2004. You did not want to be overconfident, but after that comeback, did you feel like you had to complete it?
Bronson Arroyo – Yea, game one against The Cardinals in Fenway Park we made two or three errors, gave them opportunities to win the game, and we still wound up coming out on top in that game. After that we really felt like there was no stopping the machine. We had won four games in a row against the Yankees, then we won game 1 against the Cardinals, and they were a really good ball club. But, when you play in the Yankee-Red Sox rivalry nineteen times a year, you feel like you are at the center of the universe. You really don’t pay attention to the National League a whole lot; at least that is the way it was back then.
We knew The Cardinals had a good club, but we didn’t fear anyone in the game. Once we won game 1 we felt like we’ve got this in hand. We still had Pedro (Martinez) coming down the pipe, we were just feeling good clicking on all cycles, won game 2, went back to St Louis, and I don’t think there was any way anyone could have turned that series around at that point.
Cryptic Rock – And the rest is history. You were a part of a team that changed Red Sox history forever. Looking back on game 7 in the ’03 ALCS against the Yankees, you guys were leading most of that game. That was an emotional roller coaster for fans too.
Bronson Arroyo – Oh, it was insane! I was warming up in the bullpen, I was going to be the next guy after Tim Wakefield; he was going to eat up two innings, and I was probably going to get the next two.
I’ve never had such a contrast when I think about Yankee Stadium between ’03 and ’04. In ’03 I was warming up to be the next guy in the game, and I had to walk across the field to watch these guys celebrate while “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra was playing. Then the next year I’m warming up in the bullpen to be the next guy in the game after Alan Embree doesn’t get the left-left match-up out. Then we won the series, and I got to dog pile it on and watch A-Rod and Derek Jeter sit in the dugout and watch us celebrate, finally, and on their own turf! What a 180 and what a two-year roller coaster ride.
Cryptic Rock – Those are great, historic times. Let’s shift back to music. So, who are some of your favorite artists?
Bronson Arroyo – Growing up in the early ‘90s the Pearl Jam Ten (1991) record hit me so heavy. I wound up listening to it almost every single day when I was in the weight room as a professional athlete. It was the fuel that kept me squatting at age thirty-seven when my back and knees hurt.
The angst that was in songs like “Even Flow,” “Alive,” “Porch,” and “Why Go” were just amazing to me. I would also say Nirvana’s Nevermind (1991) was a huge influence too. Also, Stone Temple Pilots and that first Core (1992) record. I also loved Matchbox 20, Bush, Live, and Hootie & the Blowfish. A lot of the songs from that time put you in a headspace of remembering riding on buses in the minor leagues and trying to get to the big leagues. It reminds you of good times you had with your first girlfriends, etc. It stuck with me.
As Rock has kind of evaporated out of the music scene for the better part of the last fifteen years, I’m still stuck on the Foo Fighters’ “Everlong” and songs like that. I’m just not finding music like that out there these days.
Cryptic Rock – Very true. That time in the ‘90s was a time after the Glam Metal scene faded out because it became cookie cutter, so the new sound was fresh and exciting. You had bands like Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc. Then in 1997, you had Creed’s first album My Own Prison, which is also extremely memorable.
Bronson Arroyo – Absolutely loved My Own Prison. I’ve hung out with Mark Tremonti a few times and seen Alter Bridge play. That whole record is great, there isn’t a bad song on there – “One,” “Pity for a Dime,” etc. It feels like the soundtrack to my childhood when you are an adolescent and turning into a man. Traveling on buses for thirteen hours across the country, pitching the next day… without the music, I honestly feel like I wouldn’t have survived in the game of baseball.
Cryptic Rock – Again, music has that effect, and it is cool to hear how much it means to you. Last question. What are some of your favorite movies?
Bronson Arroyo – I am not a huge movie watcher, I never have been. My aunt used to call me Captain Boing Boing when I was a kid. I have a hard time sitting still, I am kind of a go-getter. When I was a kid, instead of watching TV, I would be climbing a tree or riding my bike around town. I would say my top four movies of all-time would have to be Goonies (1985), Scarface (1983), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and Good Will Hunting (1997). I have a hard time staying awake watching a movie, I always fall asleep. I know if I am dialed in watching a movie for three hours, and it has me on the edge of my seat, then I know it’s a good one; Shawshank Redemption did that for me.
Being a Boston guy, it was cool to have Matt Damon and Ben Affleck come to the stadium every once in a blue moon. Even the story of ’75 is so tied to me, because the Red Sox are playing the Red in the World Series in Good Will Hunting; Robin Williams’ character turns away from the game so he can go meet a girl. I’m going into the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame this year, and with winning a World Series with the Red Sox, I feel connected to both of those two teams in a way that Good Will Hunting feels like it is a part of me.