Shane Smith and the Saints’ ‘Hail Mary’ Reflects Their Musical Evolution + Live Show
It's no easy task for band to capture their live sound in the studio, but that's exactly what Shane Smith and the Saints set out to do on their third album, Hail Mary, out in full on Friday (June 28). Bandmate Shane Smith says the group had been "pounding the pavement" and growing their live presence during the three and a half years between Hail Mary and their previous studio album, 2015's Geronimo, and it made sense that the new project should reflect the way they sound in concert.
"As you develop as a live band, naturally, it adjusts different things about your sound, and different things you wanna incorporate into your live show," he explains, "and then all of a sudden, you have new music there."
To accomplish the goal of reflecting their live show in their studio album, the band turned to prominent LA producer Mark Needham, who has worked with everyone from Chris Isaak and Fleetwood Mac to newer indie rock mainstays such as Imagine Dragons, and pop icons including Elton John and Pink. Smith thinks the band's emphasis on their live show might have been what attracted Needham to the idea of working with them.
"We were a totally live band going into the studio, and I think he liked that, in a world where a lot of people walk into a studio and put out some super-polished recording, without necessarily going out and playing so many live shows that they can do a lot of that stuff live," he continues. "I think that might have been something that he was a little bit drawn to with our sound: the live performances, and being able to try to replicate that on an album."
It was the first time the group had worked with such a high-profile producer. Though they'd met with a couple of other people, Shane Smith and the Saints settled on making their new album with Needham in part because he was willing to depart from metronomes and click tracks when necessary.
"I asked him, 'How do you feel about recording everything to a metronome?' ... 'Does it have to be on a grid,' pretty much," Smith recalls. "Without any question, he was like, 'Absolutely not. In fact, your tempos ebb and flow so much, and that's kind of what brings a lot of the emotion out of these songs, and the lyrical content that's there. I'd almost discourage it.'"
The decision of whether or not to use some sort of click track had been a source of contention with other producers. "It was almost like it was too difficult for them, editing in the back end and stuff. It was almost like an inconvenience," Smith remembers. That being said, the group did ultimately end up using a click track or metronome to record much of the album -- but having the freedom to depart from that structure was critical.
Despite all the attention paid to the musical structure of Hail Mary, lyrics are at the heart of Shane Smith and the Saints' music, perhaps more on this album than ever before. The record takes listeners through the difficult path of living life on tour while simultaneously juggling families and trying to avoid putting too great a strain on the band. Structuring the album around their live sound served to document those sentiments more clearly and honestly.
"I think a lot of that comes down to the writing. Echoing a lot of those years, and the time we spent out. The places we've seen, and the people we've met," Smith relates. "The content of this album is singing about our pursuit of this career path up to this point."
Documenting that in a honest way isn't easy, but Smith says that Hail Mary is more revealing in that respect than any of their projects to date. "We've come closer on this one than we ever have before on replicating that live sound," he adds.
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