Interview: Shane Smith & the Saints Deliver Genre-Bending Songs and Sound on ‘Geronimo’ [Exclusive Video]
Take the Americana- and folk-esque instrumentation of a band such as the Avett Brothers and the harmonies of the Zac Brown Band, put them together with a Bruce Springsteen-like voice and the lyrical sensibilities of Bob Dylan, and then throw in a bit of Celtic rock a la the Dropkick Murphys, and you'll wind up with something along the lines of Shane Smith & the Saints' newest album, Gironimo. The 15-track record, which was released in September, is a stylistic departure from the band's 2013 debut disc, Coast, as well as from the sounds of their Texas country counterparts -- and, really, that's the point.
"It's very much across the board ...," lead singer Shane Smith tells The Boot, naming off everyone and everything from Mumford and Sons, the ZBB, bluegrass, folk and old-school country music to Springsteen and Local Natives to Third Eye Blind and '90s rock as influences. "I think that's honestly what makes us have a very unique sound: We listen to so many different types of music."
Smith himself is a Kaufman County, Texas, native, and the five-man group -- Smith on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and harmonica; Chase Satterwhite on bass and upright bass; Bryan McGrath on drums and percussion; Tim Allen on electric guitar, mandolin and dobro; and Bennett Brown on fiddle -- makes its home in the Texas country music scene, but they want their sound and style to make them stand out from the crowd.
"... We try to take influence from as many random sources as we can and try to put that influence toward a sound that sets us apart from most people," Smith continues. "That's the goal at the end of the day: to create our own sound the best that we can."
On paper, combining all of those musical genres and styles may sound like the makings of a jumbled-up mess, but in practice, it works; in fact, Smith and his band transition from one sound to another on Gironimo in a way that will remind listeners that all of the musical genres out there today did, in fact, begin at some point from the same roots.
Shane Smith & the Saints recorded their newest project mostly while on the road, which Smith says gives it "a lot of character." After spending about 10 days off, they had "the bones" of each song down, but "were nowhere close to being finished with it," so, during their tour, the guys spent their free time in studios in Austin, Dallas and Nashville.
"I hear these songs, and I'm thinking of the different studios and the different cities and the different engineers and people we were working with throughout the process," Smith recalls. "... But I do think there's a sense of character that the record has to it that makes it really special."
Geronimo opens with "The Mountain" and ends with its title track, both sonically lush and stylistically rich songs that show off Smith's storytelling abilities. Bookending the album with those two tracks was a conscious and "very important" decision by the band, Smith notes.
"We wanted, off the bat, when people listen to the record, for them to say, 'Whoa -- who are these dudes?!'" the singer explains. "... We wanted it to immediately be a very unique thing to us, and, at both the introduction and the conclusion of the album, you hear that and you're reminded about that sound."
"The Mountain," which opens with an incredible a cappella harmony before launching into its fiddle-heavy, driving beat, was inspired by the still-burning coal mines in Centralia, Pa., as well as stories from a friend about his great-grandfather's time working in and death in a coal mine. "Geronimo," meanwhile, began as something more historical, about the Apache Indian leader, before morphing into its recorded version, which combines that original idea with Smith's own feelings about what he and his band are doing in the music industry.
"I have a really hard time writing about historcal events," Smith says of the decision to re-write parts of the song. "I thoroughly enjoy writing about historical events ... but it bothers me that I could potentially have something wrong."
Other standout tracks on Geronimo include the exceptionally Springsteen-esque "Oil Town;" "Born & Raised," a duet with Haley Cole that was written by Smith and his wife; and "All I See Is You," the album's first single, for which The Boot is premiering a live video, shot at the group's album pre-release show at the Parish in Austin (watch below).
"We've been a lot of different places together ... and it's just a song about, no matter where you are or where you're going, I'm thinking about you, and that's kind of my main focus," Smith shares of the inspiration for the tune, which was a Valentine's Day gift to his wife. "Despite all the cool moments and opportunities and cities and places we've gotten to see, that's what's going through my head in those moments.
"It was a love song, and it became a much more high-energy, barn-burning machine once the band got to lay down their parts on it," he adds with a laugh. "The band kind of transformed that song."
However, Smith's wife isn't exactly "crazy happy" that the song wound up on the album and as the lead single -- not mad, per se, but a little weirded out to see it catching on.
"In a lot of ways, [as a musician], you have to decide how personal you get and how exposed your life is to other people," Smith muses. "That was intended on being a very personal song for her, and when we started performing it live, it's a little bit odd when there's other girls in the audience and other people singing all the words to it and making Facebook posts and using the lyrics on their photos ...
"Not everyone would agree with me on this ... but for me, I wrote the song for her," he continues, "and so I definitely can see where that becomes a strange thing when other people are singing the lyrics at shows and you're there and aware that the song is written for you."
Watch Shane Smith & the Saints' "All I See Is You" Live Video:
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