Step Right Up: Promised Land Sound
Interview with Promised Land Sound.
“It reminded me of Eggs Over Easy, the Link Wray albums on Polydor. A version of country rock that wasn’t too glossy, that still had gravel stuck in the boot toes so to speak.”
―William Tyler (on listening to Promised Land Sound for the first time)
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
The self-titled debut album by Promised Land Sound (named after a Chuck Berry jam) is destined to become one of the year’s most talked about albums. The Nashville-based band shot to the attention of many when Jack White (also a Nashville native) released a live 7″ recording of the band on his Third Man Records Label. The band’s hugely impressive sonic palette recalls a wide array of artists including Link Wray, The Band, The Stones, Gene Clark and Gram Parsons. The self titled debut was co-produced by Nashville guitarist (and Lambchop, Hiss Golden Messenger and Silver Jews contributor) William Tyler and Jem Cohen of the Ettes and the Parting Gifts. “Promised Land Sound” was released by the North Carolina-based label Paradise Of Bachelors last September.
The rich musical heritage of Nashville lies rooted to the band’s debut record – displaying a varied sonic palette of country, rock ‘n’ roll, folk/americana and soulful pop music – whose peerless musicianship and masterful songcraft defies the band member’s young years. Promised Land Sound consists of brothers Joey Scala (bass and vocals), Evan Scala (drums) – forming the damn fine rhythm section for guitar prodigy and singer Sean Thompson and classically trained keys man Ricardo Alessio and not least, Luke Schneider on rhythm guitar. The spirit of Creedance Clearwater Revival’s bayou sound is immersed in ‘Promised Land Sound’ (check out the rock rhythms of ‘Empty Vase’) that evokes a timeless sense of place, particularly that of the deep south: a powerful, raw-edged sound. Elsewhere, The Band’s club roots sound (‘Understand’), early Stones shuffling rhythm and blues (‘Money Man’), songwriting prowess of Gene Clark (‘Wandering Habits’), Flying Burrito Brothers and Gram Parsons (the deeply touching country gem ‘For His Soul’) are just some of the lineages carved out on this highly impressive debut by Promised Land Sound. But these are mere reference points that cannot justify (or come close to) the band’s artistic achievements and blend of energetic rock ‘n’ roll and sprawling country sound.
The band emerged from the fertile Nashville garage scene where members have played with PUJOL, Denney and the Jets, and members of JEFF The Brotherhood and Those Darlins, among others. Early on, Third Man Records (co-run by Jack White) came on board as their attention was quickly transfixed on the young, talented ensemble of musicians, describing them as follows: “They’re all youthful scruff and bluff, and they crank out tunes that would be right at home in Link Wray’s 3 Track Shack or hanging with the specters of long lost 45s that haunt Nashville’s overflowing legend-filled cemeteries.” The man in question who opened up the doorways for Promised Land Sound was Third Man Records’ Ben Swank, and the rest as they say, is history. The description by album co-producer William Tyler of Promised Land Sound is pitch-perfect:
“A version of country rock that wasn’t too glossy, that still had gravel stuck in the boot toes so to speak.”
The killer guitar riff of ‘River No More’ – a song that forms the backbone of the record’s side B – conjures up a beguiling atmosphere of “death and destruction”. A stone-cold classic is born here. The killer riff belongs as much to Jimmy Page as it does John Lee Hooker and the Delta Blues. Thompson’s vocal delivery is mesmerising as a foreboding mood is painted on the opening verse: “There’s blood on the shore / It’s as dark as the devil”. Frenzied guitar solos form the interlude, before the tempo shifts to chaotic jams on the song’s close. We’re told to “walk downstream and see how the river flows” that forms a bridge back to the Delta Blues of the 30’s – another long-lost age – where the awaiting devil stands at the crossroads and soul-bearing truths are about to go down.
‘Make It Through The Fall’ is a heart-worn country gem. The song could belong to a Rick Danko-led melody of The Band’s sacred repertoire (‘It Makes No Difference’, for example). The clean guitar tones and pedal steel creates a timeless country-tinged sound that aches of a heart’s absence and a sense of moving on: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen your face / And I’m alone and I know that you are too.” A vivid sense of contemplative longing is forged on the highways ahead as Thompson sings “I have found a way to fill my days”. The song’s sheer depth and masterful songcraft has gorgeous shades of Gene Clark ‘White Light’ record and ‘Grevious Angel’ by Gram Parsons. The country of ‘Make It Through The Fall’ indeed has got soul.
‘For His Soul’ represents another soul-searching ballad and gleaming treasure on the debut album. Glorious harmonies form subtle layers to the song’s structure, where beautiful guitar melodies a la George Harrison effortlessly meanders like a river-flow into the approaching deep blue seas. The bright tones and shape shifting keys (as well as the seductive bass groove) of opener ‘At The Storm’ immediately stops you in your tracks. The keys evoke the cosmic spirit of Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson, forming the ideal introduction to Promised Land Sound’s richly absorbing work. ‘Empty Vase’ is utterly seductive, complete with the raw energy of The Velvet Underground. ‘Understand’ transports me to The Band’s Last Waltz farewell concert on Thanksgiving Day of ’76 and the irresistible funk groove of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Don’t Do It’.
Undeniably, the music scene of Nashville is alive and kicking right now (as it has always been since the dawn of time). You are invited to come along and kick out the jams with one the city’s finest bands, Promised Land Sound. The debut’s haven of country rock sound is bustling at its seams, and is waiting for your demanded attention.
Interview with Promised Land Sound.
[Promised Land Sound are: Joey Scala (bass, vocals); Sean Thompson (lead guitar, vocals); Evan Scala (drums); Ricardo Alessio (keyboards, piano); Luke Schneider (rhythm guitar, pedal steel)].
Congratulations on the absolutely stunning debut album. “Promised Land Sound” is such a great album. Firstly, I would love to know the history of the band, how you met and the circumstances which lead to the formation of Promised Land Sound?
ES: Joey and I met when I was 16 and he taught my drivers education class. I met Sean at Joey’s house when I was 17, and he didn’t like me (still doesn’t). That was the first time we had all 3 been in a room together. A few years later we decided to make a band.
I would love if you could recount the moment Jack White invited you to release a live recording for a 7″ release on his wonderful Third Man Records label. It is obviously such a huge tribute to you as a band, and something you must have been really excited about?
ES: It was actually Ben Swank, who runs the day-to-day at Third Man, who passed along our sole recording at the time and hooked us up with the show/seven inch. We did meet Jack at the show and he was incredibly nice though, everybody at Third Man is super awesome and we’re really really thankful for throwing us that chance. It was a great time.
Fellow-Nashville native William Tyler co-produced and played on your album. It must be such a great privilege to be in William’s company as he has such an incredible wealth of musical experience not only as a solo artist but as a collaborator and touring musician. It must have been wonderful having William on board for your album?
ST: Yeah man, William is a 1st class dude. We’ve all been buds with Willie for a while, so it felt great to have those good vibes in the studio. He’s no doubt one of my favourite guitar players ever. Definitely the most shred of our generation, so having a dude like that working in the studio is incredibly inspiring. Plus we all dig a lot of the same tunes. A big part of recording for us is being able to hang and nerd out about songs/riffs/mixes.
As musicians, Nashville must be such an inspiring place to grow up and be based in as you must be always surrounded not only by its rich heritage and past but also indeed by the many varied artists making music there these days. What is it about Nashville that makes it a special place for you all? Which bands and musicians do you like the most making music there at the moment?
ES: I think this is the question we get most in interviews. Most of our friends play in bands and there’s just a lot of good music. Some of our favorites I guess are Clear Plastic Masks, The Paperhead, D. Watusi, Weekend Babes, Banditos…there’s a bunch more, just too many to name.
So many bands and sounds (rock ‘n’ roll, folk, country, British R’n’B, blues) come to mind when listening to your debut album. Bands like The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Band and Link Wray come to mind to name only a few. I would love to find out which bands – and indeed which albums – inspired you the most to make music?
ES: My favorite drummers are Kenny Buttrey, Mitch Mitchell and Ringo Starr, so I guess i wanted to sound like them. All the albums they played on in 1967 are incredible too. Best year for music.
JS: We definitely dig all those bands, in addition, Billie Joe Shaver, Joe South, Willie Nelson, and Lou Reed are just some of my favourite songwriters, and Donald “Duck” Dunn, Rick Danko, Doug Yule, and James Jamerson are just some of my favourite bass players.
ST: Nick Drake, Michael Hurley, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, and Sixto Rodriguez are some of my favourite songwriters (that I can think of right now). As far as guitar players go…Richard Thompson is one of my all-time favourites, so is George Harrison, and John Fahey. Clarence White and Jerry Garcia get honourable mentions.
My current favourite song is the irresistible “Make It Through the Fall”, the combination of lead guitar and slide guitar – together with the wonderful harmonies which recall Robertson/Danko/Helm – makes for such a great song. Lyrically, it is also so wonderful; “I’m alone and I know that you are too” is one of my favourite parts on the album. Could you recount this song’s construction and what inspired it?
ST: Thanks man. I wrote the riff after work one night and then didn’t really do anything with it for a while. At the time when I wrote the lyrics and structure, I was thinking a lot about relationships that are starting to fade away or had long since passed. Sometimes its necessary to move on even though it doesn’t feel good to. I was trying to convey some kind of contemplative longing vibe, with the lyrics and the riffage/chord structure. My buddy Richard helped me write some of the chorus and the second verse. The phaser pedal steel was Luke’s idea and it totally fills out the song.
Interview with William Tyler.
Recount your first time hearing Promised Land Sound and the impressions it conjured up for you?
WT: I was at the Promised Land’s first gig. About a year and a half ago we were doing a benefit concert for the nascent Stone Fox, (a bar/venue that my sister and I opened here in Nashville) and the guys were all there with their gear and asked if they could hop on the bill at the last minute. So they did. I think they probably only had a few original songs but they cooked. It reminded me of Eggs Over Easy, the Link Wray albums on Polydor. A version of country rock that wasn’t too glossy, that still had gravel stuck in the boot toes so to speak.
Tell me about the production of the album, what direction did you go with it and what influenced you in the production methods?
WT: In all honesty, there were three people producing. Jem Cohen, Andrija Tokic, who also engineered, and then I was there, but probably a bit more in the background. My main goal was for the guys to feel comfortable and laid back. They are a relatively young band but have a remarkable amount of self-discipline. The kind of stuff they are into, Jesse Ed Davis, The Band, early Beatles, I mean they want to be super tight, they are really good players.
What’s so immediately apparent is the sheer talent of musicianship on display by each Promised Land Sound member. You also added guitar playing on album, this must have been a lot fun for you?
WT: That’s kind of what I was just intimating. Yes, I did play guitar on a few tracks. I think it was more of a way of tracking live with two guitars so that Sean could have a rhythm player (in this case me) to feel a little more relaxed, at least on those songs I played on. But I think the overdubs were very tasteful, the slide guitar and Luke’s pedal steel. And Jem was great with helping arrange the backing vocals.
Could you name some other bands you’d recommend making music in the Nashville scene?
WT: So many, I mean, this town has a pretty ridiculous amount of great bands. Natural Child, Los Colognes, Fox Fun, Tristen, Lylas, the JP5, those are a few that come to mind immediately. Honestly we are pretty spoiled for good music down here, I think if anything people are a bit oversaturated.
The self-titled debut album by Promised Land Sound is available now on Paradise Of Bachelors.