No More Tears to Cry from The Rebel Souls EP
There they were, a little groggy from lack of sleep, tall paper cups of black coffee in hand: each longhaired member of Leslie climbed the stairwell at City Paper central last week to congregate in the conference room and fill us in on their latest adventures, van woes, and recording projects. It was just a day before they embarked on a brief but distant trip to Austin, Texas for three showcase gigs at the annual South By Southwest conference. They were one of the few truly independent acts on the SXSW roster.
A few staffers breezed past singer/guitarist Sadler Vaden, drummer Jonathan Carmen, and bassist Jason Fox as they nursed their joe, taking a quick glimpse at what must have looked like a backstage scene from The Song Remains the Same, Let There Be Rock ... or a deleted scene from That '70s Show. Little did they know they were in the presence of a perpetual motion machine, ready to revolutionize the sound of Charleston rock ... a young and determined group, poised to become the topmost power trio of the Carolinas.
Leslie celebrates the release of an EP titled The Rebel Souls with a gig at the Music Farm on Saturday. Local stations the Bridge at 105.5 and 98X co-present the event.
Vaden, Carmen, and Fox recorded the four songs on the EP during recent sessions in Memphis, following the guidance of acclaimed studio producer Paul Ebersold — an engineer and musician best known for his work with such bands as Space Hog, 3 Doors Down, Saliva, and Sister Hazel.
"There were some moments where we were actually going to stick to our guns, but there were many moments where we were like, 'Okay, we trust your judgement,'" says Carmen of the session. "He respected our decisions, and most of the time, his ideas were awesome. Since we've done this recording session, Jason and I have locked in tighter and filled things out."
Leslie actually recorded enough material in Memphis for a full-length album. The Rebel Souls is sort of like a preliminary sampler of riffy things to come.
"That's the whole thing with this band — we've always just wanted to take our time," says Vaden. "It's like, 'We'll get there, we'll get there.' We're going to keep practicing and working hard.
"We've always been a rock 'n' roll band, but we've been wanting somebody to put us in a tunnel," he adds. "The band has gone through some minor changes. There are three different sides of the band, really. There's this Beatles-y/Big Star/Cheap Trick power-pop thing. Then, we went into this really heavy riff-rock, AC/DC and Zeppelin kind of thing. Plus, we're embracing our Southern-ness a little more ... we're not so much like traditional Southern rock, but all that stuff has come into one thing. We've honed into our sound. That's where Paul was the biggest help, teaching the band about groove, and space, and taking some more time with the lyrical subject matter."
Like their relatively lo-fi studio stints over the last three years (many of which sounded perfectly cool, gritty, and raw), the latest tunes — "Nor More Tears," "Freak Flag," "Devil Ain't Ready," and "End of the Road" — retain the band's familiar punchy drums/bass/guitar dynamic.
For such a concise collection, there are plenty of valiant choruses, power chords, Who-like build-ups, tasteful overdubs, and industrial-strength bass lines. Vaden's vocals seem a little more prominent in the mix, too, his delivery a bit more animated and spirited. His vibrato and annunciation sometimes resembles that of Head East singer John Schlitt.
"When someone can't easily peg your band, I think that's the best position to be in," Fox says of the blend of musical styles. "If they can't really say what kind of band you are, that's good."
For the spare studio production embellishments, the guitar riffs and rhythmic grooves still rock with vigor. There's more confidence and heart in the song lyrics, as well.
"All three of us are in a unique situation as far as our personal lives go," says Carmen. "I think it has come out in making our lyrics a little more serious and genuine and with a little more depth."
Vaden recently dealt with the passing of his parents. He agrees with his drummer about the autobiographical nature of the new collection.
"The songs on this EP reflect what we've been through and what I've been through," says Vaden. "The song 'No More Tears' is about just feeling that I had to move on from those experiences and not give up. 'Freak Flag' is about getting out there and playing rock 'n' roll while rough things were going on. 'The Devil Ain't Ready' is about a bad relationship; everyone knows about that. 'End of the Road' is like a 'Jack & Diane,' and tells the story of my mom and dad in an elegant way."
The title of the EP is pulled from lyrics in the verses of "End of the Road." The rebellious theme is inconspicuous in the music, however. While the disc's cover art could easily work as a Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels Band, or Allmans reissue, the lyrics dig much deeper than any typical redneck sentiments or good ol' boy clichés.
"I think it reflects us ... and anyone who's living their dream, as opposed to meeting the status quo," says Vaden. "I tell anybody to do what you want to do — whatever it takes. You may not know how it's going to go, but don't waste any time doing something that won't make you happy."