The Greenville, S.C. trio the Long Canes may feature the time-tested guitar-bass-drums rock lineup, but this isn't a Cream-style power trio or a Rush-type combo obsessed with squeezing in one more dazzling solo. They boast a little gritty Southern rock muscle to be sure, especially in singer/guitarist Jeffrey Riding's twangy, fuzz-coated riffs and hoarse, honky-tonk shout, but their songs are a lot more about mood and atmosphere than bombast. And the band is happier to insinuate than insist.
"Evoking a mood is what we're going for," Ridings says. "We're not really worried about showing off on our instruments or writing songs that show off how clever we are. We're focused on creating a feeling with the music. Instead of thinking, 'Oh, that's a cool guitar part,' we're thinking, 'This makes us feel something.'"
The Long Canes take a minimalist approach that lends a particularly melancholy feel to their material, and that minimalism stems from their initial lineup of only two members: Ridings and drummer Johnny Dorman. "It was just me and Johnny when we started off, and we played like that for about a year and a half," says Ridings. "But then our songwriting started to expand, and it required us to spread out our sound a little more. That's when we brought in Devin, Johnny's brother, on bass."
That one additional piece immediately opened up the Long Canes' sound, mostly because the duo was running out of ways to use their original format. "Playing as a two-piece really dictated what we were going to do with the songs," Ridings says. "Because there was a point where our approach was, 'Let's see how much we can do with less.' It forced us to approach the songs differently than we would have, because the format was so stripped down. We were deconstructing everything we had. We'd start out with an idea and instead of adding to it, we'd have to take away from it. So every song was the minimum of what it could be."
But the less-is-more ethic stayed with the band even after they became a trio. "When Devin came in, we still kept everything minimalistic and stripped-down," Ridings says. "It was about presenting the core idea."
Though it was a step forward for the Long Canes' songwriting when Devin Dorman came on board, Ridings says that the trio format is still spacious enough for the band to stretch out onstage. "When we play live, we'll move parts around," he says. "If we're at the end of a song and the crowd's really into it, we can kind of look at each other and say, 'OK, let's go one more time through the chorus or add another solo to keep it going.' It's still pretty loose. We move stuff around and play with the songs quite a bit, actually. It's like we're rewriting them onstage all the time."
The band's live approach might be loose-limbed, but their songwriting approach is much more disciplined. "Typically, what we'll do is come up with an idea," Ridings says. "A chord progression, a verse, or a chorus, and then the three of us will get together and listen to it and interpret it. We'll start with drums, and then we build on that and get the mood and the vibe down. We'll take a section of the song and play it over and over and over again and jam on it until we have a good idea of what it is musically, and then we move on to a different section."
The phrase "piece-by-piece" comes to mind when Ridings discusses how the Long Canes create their songs, and it's an idea he expands on when explaining the group's chemistry. "Piece-by-piece to me means each member of the band putting his piece into the song," he says. "My piece would be the guitar and vocals, and then Johnny will play a drum part that makes me think about doing something different on guitar, or Devin will say, 'We've got this lyric here, but let's rearrange it or rephrase this line,' and that adds to the song even more."
Though the band certainly works elements of traditional Southern rock into their sound (the guitar muscle of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the expansiveness of the Allman Bros., the airiness of Marshall Tucker), Ridings thinks of something different when he hears the phrase "Southern music."
"I'd say that we're 'Southern,' not just geographically, but in the sense that we draw from so many different types of music that are Southern," Ridings says. "Blues, country, rock 'n' roll — they were all born here in the South. We're not reinventing the wheel with anything that we're doing, we're just doing what blues-based or rock-based bands have done forever, which is combining elements from what has come before in a way that sounds fresh and new."