MEB staffer Rebecca Kravetz recently talked to bassist John Shermyen, vocalist Christina Holder and drummer Alex Klausner of the Gainesville, FL band The Savants of Soul. They discussed how three indie-punk musicians got into soul music, the band’s new relationship with Swamp Records, and an upcoming album to be recorded at Goldentone Studios.
MEB: So you are a 12-piece soul band. Do you all live in Gainesville? I can imagine that figuring out band practice times that work for all of you would be difficult.
Christina: Yes we do.
John: Yes, we’re actually not 12 now.
Christina: Compared to most bands we are actually pretty good at getting everybody together. We’ve got a set date that everybody gets together to practice so it’s mostly organized.
I read online that the original three members of your band were actually indie-punk musicians. What made all of you get into soul music?
Alex: My love of soul music actually started when I moved in with this guy (points to John), and on his shelf he has this 25-song vinyl compilation of Motown #1s. I threw that down on the table and it was like hearing music for the first time again. I was just like, “man, I love all of this stuff.” There was just a magic in the air when I heard it. That, along with a burgeoning love for Sam Cooke records. So while I was listening to all that stuff, I thought man I really want to play in a band like that, it would be so much fun. Lo and behold, it is.
Did you meet each other as students at the University of Florida?
Alex: No, we actually met at a party.
John: We were both from the punk scene back in the day, so we were both in bands. I knew who Alex was because, when he was in Victory Blvd, I saw a couple of his shows. And we had some mutual acquaintances. He sort of became friends with me through my roommate.
Alex: And Final Fantasy 7! That was a major bonding point.
John: It was beautiful. And I’ve grown up with Motown my whole life, that’s like all my parents put on. My mom would be like, “clean the kitchen. Here’s some Aretha Franklin.” I’d be dancing around the kitchen at age 7 singing “Chain Gang” or whatever. Motown has always been in my blood and as soon as Alex said, “Dude we should do this,” I was like finally! Finally! Someone is on my level with this. But we’re just white kids from punk backgrounds.
Christina: I’m not a white kid from a punk background.
John: But at that time, we were! So we tried our best to do it and wrote some songs, brought in Justin [McKenzie, vocalist] who legitimized us a little bit. At that point we were like, “alright, let’s not try to be an indie soul band punk thing, let’s just be a soul band.”
Christina, how did you get involved?
Christina: I used to date the trumpet player in the band so I used to come to all of the shows and then his (John’s) girlfriend asked me to audition as a back-up vocalist almost a year ago.
Alex: She walks in and she sings “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner. Out of all the auditions, she blew us away. It was love at first sight.
John: She’s been killing it.
What is the scene for this genre like today? Are you able to obtain a younger fan base?
John: I’d say the majority of our fan base is under 25. What’s great about this band, and I’ve never been in a band like this before, is that we can go out and a bunch of kids that are our age and younger will come to the show and have an awesome time and their parents will probably like us too. Or we could go play at a private gig for like 50-year-olds and they would probably like us as well. There’s no one that hates us which is nice.
Alex: Well maybe there are.
John: Yeah someone probably hates us.
Alex: But I’ve seen people that are like 80 years old dancing to our music in the crowd and I’ve seen kids that are as young as 5 dancing to our stuff in the crowd. It’s really a universal genre.
Christina: I don’t even know if it’s so much the genre or just our energy, because we could be a really terrible soul band and people would not want to listen to us, but we get the crowd really involved.
What made you decide to call yourselves The Savants of Soul?
Alex: We were trying to think of a The “blanks” name and I was playing around with words one day and said, “Oh, what about the name, The Savants? That would be cool.” And so we were The Savants. Then I was Googling it one day and I saw that there is already a band called The Savants and was like, “Aw shit!”
John: And they never really did anything and are probably now disbanded. They had like 50 likes on Facebook or something.
Alex: The thing is, John had made an email account for us when we started calling ourselves The Savants. It was firstname.lastname@example.org, he just tacked on the “of soul” for whatever reason.
John: Because The Savants was taken!
Alex: So when it came time for us to be like, “oh we’re getting a little more serious about this, maybe we should consider not being The Savants because there is already one,” the email was already made.
John: Boom, there’s the name.
In 2012, you released your first single, “Darkness”, recorded in Gainesville’s Medusa Studios. How do you think the single was received?
Alex: I will say we’re actually re-recording that.
John: That will be on our full-length that will probably be coming out sometime this spring.
Alex: Our full length, we’re targeting a March or April release. It depends on how long pressing it would take.
John: But at that time, locally we had very good reviews. Some people bought it.
Alex: The one thing we were doing was playing around with a digital 45 format. Just putting it up online, throwing it out there, not really doing much to promote it. We didn’t really build up a lot of hype around it. It was just kind of an experiment, I guess, in the way that we released it. In hindsight, it probably would have been better to press it on a 7″ and sell it at our shows, but the next album we’re going to press as a vinyl record.
How did you originally hear about Swamp Records? What kind of goals do you hope to achieve with this new label? Is there any talk of a future record?
John: Alex told me about Swamp Records because they started following us on Twitter. They sought us out.
Alex: I remember being at my mom’s place sitting there and reading Swamp Records is now following you on Twitter. It just turned out that they were interested in our band. They’re not at the point where they can sign an artist, but they invited us to preform and it’s a great honor. It was really flattering that they believe that we are among the top artists in Gainesville.
John: We hope it’s the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship.
Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming record?
John: Yeah absolutely. We’re recording it with Rob McGregor at Goldentone Studios. We’ve had a great time with him so far with the tracks we’ve done. He’s very big into capturing your band’s sound. He’s a pretty minimalist producer and our strength, I think, is really our live show so he’s all about trying to get that live energy onto the record. We can’t do it on analogue, I’d love to do it on analogue, but we’re doing sections together so you get some mic bleed and some warmth to make it sound a little bit more vintage.
Why did you decide to produce it on vinyl?
John: Basically no one buys CDs anymore. CDs are dead, for all intents and purposes. People either buy digital or if you’re a real collector on audio file you buy vinyl. So we’re going to release it digitally and then we’re going to press it on vinyl for people that want to have a physical copy.
Alex: We’ll have download cards in there as well. I don’t think it’s necessarily accurate to say people don’t buy CDs anymore, but when we see our friends purchasing music physically, it’s on vinyl records.
John: Also, we’re a frickin Soul band.
Where can fans go to check out your music and find out more about your band?
On Facebook, under your band interests, you state the words, “Having soul and not hurrying love.” Is this in reference to The Supremes song, “You can’t Hurry Love”?
Alex: Yes it is.
Why do you choose to put this there?
Alex: The song was like big-time stuck in our heads when we wrote that.
John: I don’t know, I just thought it was funny.
Christina: We just wanted to see if people would get it.
Alex: She got it!
I got it!
Alex: A win for us, two years later.
John: I thought I was being way more clever than I probably was.
Is there anything else you would like to add or say to the readers of Mind Equals Blown?
Christina: We bring the funk.
Alex: 100 percent of the time.