"Black and Blue Saliva" from the album Blue Skies for Fools
No member of Gaslight Street has ever smoked salvia divinorum. None claim to be influenced by the music of Widespread Panic.
Give a listen to "Black and Blue Salvia" on their brand-new full-length album, Blue Skies for Fools, and you might wonder otherwise. It kicks off with the same sort of heavy-hitting intensity that "Chilly Water" drops in the opening seconds of Panic's first release, Space Wrangler. And despite the salvia reference, bassist Frank Nelson says it's just an analogy to an out-of-control lifestyle.
"It's one part hurricane, 10 parts speed," says Nelson. "That song's about some loves that I've had, and some people I know cramming into the wall real slowly. This chick I was living with, she comes home with just black and blue eyes one night. She broke a bottle of wine in the grocery store and comes back wanting to sue the store — absolute chaos."
"And I can't see the stop sign from the booze," says one lyric in that song. Abrupt tempo shifts from slow harmonies to driving rock are also representative of its meaning. "It's just this rocky thing clearing into beautifulness in the verse," says drummer Brooks DuBose, who hears a touch of surf rock in the song — "Dick Dale crossed with a little bit of Slash here and there."
Although Nelson and keyboardist Jason Stokes contribute, singer/guitarist Campbell Brown handles the lion's share of songwriting. He often leaves himself voicemails with melodies and lyrics, later translating them into musical works. "Constantly Runnin'," which features Cary Ann Hearst in the harmonies, began as a voice message, and is among the album's strongest tracks.
Brown, a Chattanooga-native, is an apt Southern songwriter, weaving geographical references and a sense of drunken rambling through Dixie into his lyrics.
"A lot of songs mention places I've been, but I'm writing fictional stuff," he says. "I had a house down on Perdido Bay [Alabama] and kind of sputtered around Mobile. '98 Blues' is a song about a trip from here down to Texas. I use a lot of places I've been, then I make it a better story than it was."
For years, Brown fronted the Charleston-based band Live Oak, a project that's taken a backseat to Gaslight Street over the last two years. Stokes and Brown had long talked about creating a stripped down blues and roots rock outfit that focused on Brown's strengths as a vocalist, and when drummer DuBose returned from living in California, they brought Nelson in and materialized into a band.
That collaboration is culminating now with the release of Blue Skies, recorded at Ocean Industries Studios on Folly Road. The album release party at the Music Farm will feature Hearst on vocals and organist Jon Hager (a veteran local multi-instrumentalist who also plays on the album), as well as Sol Driven Train's Ward Buckheister and Russell Clark on trombone and saxophone.
An additional release party in Asheville will include vocalist phenom Laura Reed, and they've got shows booked in Athens and Chattanooga as well to celebrate.
Gaslight Street's favorite shows are the ones that turn into parties. They speak fondly of gigs at Rafters in Saint Simons, Ga. "The last one was just thick, with people dancing on the tables," says keyboardist Stokes. "People just go there and get hammered, and they stick around after they quit serving alcohol, just loving our shit."
The band has also built its name through opening gigs for touring acts. When British funk band the New Mastersounds came though the Southeast this winter, they joined them at both the Pour House and in Asheville. "We literally drove four hours each way for a 45 minute gig, and inhaled four beers and 97 cups of coffee," says bassist Nelson.
Brown and Stokes ended up being invited to sit in with the Mastersounds for a few tunes. Despite the drives and short sets, they're aware that those gigs can break a band, exposing them to new and receptive audiences.
So, what currently touring band would Gaslight Street love to open up for? "The Raconteurs — Jack White," says Nelson.
"It'd be the Aquarium Rescue Unit," says DuBose. "Technically, that line-up is just the best guys, and they've influenced every jam band out there."
"Somebody we could blow off the stage. Britney Spears?" jokes Stokes, then amends his choice to Derek Trucks. "I think we're right in line with that style of music."
"I opened for him [Trucks] with a fusion band in Columbia when he was 12," interjects Nelson. "He blew us off the stage."
Brown hesitates. "Is Molly Hatchet still playing?" he asks. "Or the Neville Brothers. That's a good one."
Although any of those would make fine collaborations, this Saturday, the stage belongs to Gaslight Street.