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Gainesville’s The Savants of Soul are bringing their ninepiece band to headline a show with Yeah, Probably and Black Mouth Cur at The Merry Widow Aug. 3.
Band: The Savants of Soul, Yeah, Probably, Black Mouth Cur
Date: Friday, Aug. 3, with doors at 8 p.m.
Venue: The Merry Widow, 51 S. Conception St., www.themerrywidow.net
Tickets: $8 in advance/$10 day of show; available through Ticketfly
The Southeast boasts several music scenes with worldwide reputations, notably Nashville, Muscle Shoals and Athens, Georgia. Yet Gainesville’s contribution to music tends to be overlooked, even though this college town has been home to many iconic musical acts, including punk outfits Against Me!, Less Than Jake and Hot Water Music, as well as the late rock legend Tom Petty.
The voice of the “Screaming Eagle of Soul” Charles Bradley also echoed through Gainesville’s streets until his recent passing. But one group of Gainesville musicians are picking up where Bradley left off. The Savants of Soul will be giving the Azalea City a live show filled with retro soul sounds inspired by Bradley, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and a cavalcade of classic soul legends.
Currently The Savants of Soul boast nine members, with some performing in a variety of capacities within the band. According to drummer Alex Klausner, both the band’s lineup and its sound result from an extensive period of evolution. When The Savants of Soul first began, the group featured a three-member lineup from an indie rock/punk background. Even though the band had a foundation in the underground, Klausner says the trio shared a love of soul music, leading the members to experiment with a hybrid of punk and soul. As the founding members began to tinker with this hybrid, they began recruiting other members, which took them into more traditional territories.
“Once we started making this soul/punk music, we said, ‘You know, it doesn’t sound quite right. Let’s add a keyboard player,’” Klausner explained. “So, we added a keyboard player and another singer. Then, it was like, ‘Why don’t we have some horn players?’ Once we had the horn players, we were like, ‘Screw it! Let’s try to make real soul music instead of this hybrid. Let’s do it and see how it sounds.’”
When the band decided to lean more toward a traditional soul sound, Klausner said, Sam Cooke’s album “Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963” served as a guiding light. Klausner and his bandmates recognized the contrast between Cooke’s studio work and his live performances.
They noted his studio recordings maintained a heartfelt vibe filled with “lush string arrangements” and the soul singer’s warm, emotional vocal work. The album gave the group a different musical persona to study. Klausner says Cooke’s raw vocal work and his backing bands’ “heavy, upbeat arrangements” in a live setting resonated with The Savants of Soul on a spiritual and musical level that fit their creative goals.
“We said, ‘OK, we can’t do these songs with these lush string arrangements and stuff, but we can do that.’ We were a bunch of punk rockers. We could make those sounds. That really created a connection that gave us our ‘in’ to figuring out a sound for ourselves. We’ve always tried to model ourselves after that record,” Klausner said.
Once they had a focus, the members of The Savants of Soul began facing the challenges of realizing their dream. First, the band had to establish a reliable and capable lineup. At one time, Klausner says the lineup had 13 members. With multiple backup singers and a five-member horn section, he said it was more of an orchestra. Klausner says the band’s current nine-member lineup is enough to meet their sound’s requirements.
“We’ve got a male singer and a female singer who plays trumpet,” Klausner said. “This lineup is two lead singers, the four horns, keys, guitar, drums and bass. That’s us now. We’ve settled on that being our thing.”
The band’s size has also created challenges in the studio. Klausner admits creating a song can be a long process. He adds the band’s size forces them to write songs in a different manner than in a smaller group. He says the songwriting process is not one where a member can come in with an idea and the rest of the band joins in with spontaneous, respective parts. The Savants of Soul put more thought into a song than a typical band does. If a member comes in with an idea, the band has much to consider before the song is complete.
“It’s not just, ‘Hey, I got this new song. Let’s go,’” Klausner explained. “It’s like, ‘I’ve got this song written on guitar. What’s the keyboard going to do? What are we gonna have to account for two vocalists? What are the horns going to be on this song? Are we going to have horns on these songs? Is it just a rhythm section song?’ There are so many different considerations to think about when you’re arranging for such a band that are less common to other bands. Songwriting for this tends to be a little slower of a process.”
The Savants of Soul’s Azalea City crowd might get a taste of the band’s upcoming single “Dead Man Running.” However, the studio version of this song might provide this song with a different context when considering the album’s production. The Savants of Soul united with bassist Vince Chiarito (Charles Bradley & the Extraordinaires) at his Hive Mind Studios to lay down tracks. Klausner says the band’s experience at Hive Mind gave this song the vintage ambiance the band has craved. The Savants of Soul opted for an analog recording as well as vintage equipment and instruments to record “Dead Man Running.”
“One of our own critiques about our own music lately is that our stuff sounds too modern,” said Klausner. “Whenever we set up to record, we wanted to sound like the ‘60s and ‘70s. We feel like the way we recorded and with whom we recorded … it’s helping us achieve that sound that we wanted from the get-go. It’s that 1960s/1970s funk soul.”
Klausner promises the band’s set at The Merry Widow will be a memorable one. While he is proud of the band’s sound, Klausner says the live environment gives them a chance to add one more aspect to their sound. He says their goal in the live setting is to be as entertaining as possible. In addition to retro soul music, the crowd can expect a theatrical aspect to the band’s live show that should complement the band’s classic sound.