Interview: On ‘Anybody Out There?’, Sadler Vaden Creates Music for Himself
“I’ve never tried anything else, and I’m okay with that.”
Sadler Vaden reflects on his life, acknowledging the reality that he’s been playing music since he was 10 years old. However, he confesses, "I had a moment last year where I had to ask, ‘Is this even what I’m supposed to be doing?
"I think that’s what you start thinking about when you’re in your 30s," Vaden adds. "But I know the answer to that question."
Without missing a beat, the 34-year-old says, “This is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I live and breathe it. And I think I’m pretty good at it. I just love rock 'n' roll music.”
That love saturates Vaden's latest solo effort, Anybody Out There?, a record that stands as a testament to Vaden's lifelong commitment to rock 'n' roll. That commitment manifests itself not only in Vaden’s solo work, but also in his time as the guitarist in Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit and as a producer for other artists.
“This is where it started,” he told The Boot when the song "Golden Child" premiered. “I was fronting my own bands ever since high school. I’m used to putting my stuff out there and have it ripped to shreds or enjoyed or whatever. That doesn’t bother me. It’s just part of me. It’s hard to be in a band with someone like Jason who is such a great songwriter and musician, and then call myself a songwriter.”
“They both have taught me so much,” Vaden says of Isbell and Kinney. “They’ve showed me the potential of what you can do with words and music, and I believe I’m doing something different. I think we’re all doing different things.”
Though he’s comfortable being the frontman, Vaden has spent most of his time in recent years as a sideman and guitarist. As he celebrates the release of Anybody Out There?, he admits that playing solo is a muscle he isn’t always working on. But, he continues, "It’s always a little scary, before I have a solo show or before a song comes out, but as soon as I start playing, it’s fine. It feels like I’ve never skipped a beat. I’m always working on music.”
Beyond his own personal comfort level with going from being the shredder for the 400 Unit to promoting and playing his own music, Vaden also says there are some practical differences, too: “I go from playing with in-ear monitors and lights and having our own crew and all this stuff, to going to my shows where we’re on [wedge monitors], where the sound guy isn’t my sound guy, all of that,” he says with a laugh. “But I have so much experience coming from that world. I think some guys start out with in-ear monitors now. They don’t know what to do with on-the-floor monitors!”
Vaden surrounds himself with like-minded musicians who have an appreciation for making authentic, real music. That fact is, in particular, evident on “Peace + Harmony,” a track co-written with Aaron Lee Tasjan.
“Everybody’s screaming, everybody’s fighting / Gotta give it up and love it up,” he sings on the chorus. “Everybody’s drawing a line, you gotta cross it / Gotta shake it up and love it up / Don’t you wanna try a little peace and harmony?”
As is obvious from the chorus, the song is a nod to the musical and lyrical style of George Harrison, in particular the track “Awaiting on You All” from 1970’s All Things Must Pass. “I was trying to put my George Harrison hat on and write how he maybe would have written a message today,” Vaden explains.
“I first met Aaron back when he was living in New York City. Now we're both in Nashville," he continues. "I had a portion of this song already in mind. I called him and asked if he wanted to come over and write. He helped me finish it in an hour and a half. He gave the second verse idea, and it all just came together so quickly. It was fun and easy; he’s a great writer and a great musician.”
"The feeling of playing live or creating something that didn’t exist, that’s what keeps me in this and keeps me excited about doing this."
For Vaden, living and operating in the history of rock 'n' roll — paying homage to the legends before him while looking ahead as he crafts his own sound — is a constant focus. “I’m such a nerdy rock 'n' roll fan, and the feeling of playing live or creating something that didn’t exist, that’s what keeps me in this and keeps me excited about doing this,” he says.
“There’s a song on my first record called “Get You High.” That ain’t a song that’s going to change the world. But when I wrote it, I was like, ‘Man, an hour ago this didn’t exist in the universe and now it does,'" Vaden adds. "I just think that’s cool.”
For fans of Vaden’s self-titled debut, which hit the streets in 2016, Anybody Out There? will feel like a proper follow-up, maintaining the genuineness of his love for rock while forging a record that is distinctively and inimitably his.
“The record has some different flavors and surprises in it,” he says. “It’s been four years since the last one. I’ve been producing bands and artists for awhile, so I felt like I was stronger in the studio. It felt like the right time to make this one.”
Vaden admits that friends and critics often admire him for the “authenticity” of his music, and while he appreciates the recognition, he also knows that kind of praise is not what drives him to do what he does.
“They all say it sounds like me, it sounds real, it sounds authentic,” he confides. “But listen, I don’t make records and say, ‘Man, I want this to sound authentic.’”
Vaden takes a moment to think about that statement, and considers what drove the 10-year-old version of himself into this deep love of music, and what continues to drive him today.
“I try to create rock 'n' roll music that I like. That’s all I’m trying to do," he says. "I just do things that move me.”
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