Since their formation, the Savants of Soul have risen to be one of the most talked-about bands in Gainesville’s music scene and beyond. They’ve gained traction in music circles that extend across the southeast United States with a style that encompasses the best of soul, motown, funk, and jazz with a kick of punk and rock, and they continue to impress us with their quality and musical ambition. They’re currently working to “double-down” on their sound and improve their live shows.
Now with 9 members, the band has been pretty busy, just returning from a pretty expansive tour that included stops at big-name festivals like Red Gorilla & SXSW. Right now they’re working on new material for what’s set to be their newest release since 2016’s “Sunday Best” EP, and we were lucky enough to steal 30 minutes out of their busy schedules to talk a little bit about what they’ve been up to and how they’re preparing for one of their biggest shows this year: Swamp Record’s Showcase 2017.
You guys did SXSW and Red Gorilla Festival, how was that experience?
Justin (Vocals): Well first and foremost, the tacos in Texas are incredible…
Alex (Drums): So is the brisket on the tacos, that was big part of my Texas experience.
Justin: The most lit show for sure was our 2 shows in Austin. At the bars we played we spent a lot of our time when we weren’t promoting our shows. All the other bands were great, but when we hit the stage the place got packed. Everything was awesome, the room, the energy — it was crazy cool. We even had people from Gainesville in there!
Alex: If I were to say there was a defining experience for this band last year, that was it. To us that really affirmed something… It shows that the potential for this project is there.
After traveling and playing in several places around the country, how does it feel to be back to your roots in Gainesville, and play venues here?
Justin: I can’t wait, honestly, because when you play in other places you don’t know what to expect. Shows like Austin were great, but there were other shows that of course weren’t that special. But here you know what to expect, you know who is going to be there, and it has been so long since we’ve partied with them. I can’t wait.
Alex: As Justin said, we haven’t played here for like 5 months, that is a long time for our hometown, but the feeling is like “Cool, we back at home base, lets hit the workshop and go do more.” And for me the only way to do it is by starting with the energy of the people here at home.
You guys went on a break to focus on new material, how did that come out?
John (Bass guitar): Definitely didn’t write as much as we wanted, but we are happy with what we wrote, and we are really excited to see the reception of this new material, cuz’ we’ve been playing permutations of the same songs up until now, so it’s going to be great to see these new songs performed and how people react to them.
Alex: What I wanted to follow up was that it is really hard for us as a 9 piece band to get together (all of us) and work on the material. We really only had 1 month off before the tours started. But the process continues, we have all these ideas cooked up. But I have to say, what we are writing right now is the most solid work we have done in terms of Soul music and the sound we want to achieve.
How does this new material compare to what you’ve presented us in Downtown Sound, and “Sunday Best?”
Alex: Well, the sound definitely carries through, I would say. For me, this stuff is a little bit more in the realm of what we want to do.
John: I agree with Alex, we are definitely better students of the genre now, we have better instincts for songwriting, but the sound carries, with more edge… We don’t sound as “white” frankly…
Justin: -Personally I’ve never had that problem myself-, but the sound is there, definitely listening back to back it is noticeable that we have matured as a band together, I like the direction.
How do you feel about playing Showcase for the fourth year in a row?
Alex: Why I love Swamp’s Showcase is because it is a celebration of everything that is happening in the local music scene. I think it was last year I heard “Just Neighbors” for the first time, and they are freaking awesome! So different from what we are doing. We are just lucky to be a part of this event.
Justin: I agree, we’ve all been fans of concerts since we were younger, and there are not so many shows here during the week or weekends, but when you bring all this acts together in one place, it feels good. It’s the musical dream of Gainesville.
What’s it like know your sort of christening such a new venue like Heartwood Sound Stage?
Justin: I am really excited.
Alex: Yeah, we’re extremely excited.
John: We know Dave Melosh, and we recorded a couple singles early on with him. So we are pretty excited.
Alex: The one thing I know, is that, if Dave Melosh is involved in the festival, the sound and the production is going to be “A+”
You guys are all musicians of course, but you are also part of the audience. Is there any artist you are excited to see on Showcase 2017?
Alex: I am just excited to be there and listen as much as I can. There’s a lot I am going to be exposed for the first time. I was really impressed last year by “Just Neighbors” so I want to listen to the bands I’ve never heard, and be prepared to be blown away again.
If you had to pick the 3 main most important influences that molded the sound of the Savants of Soul, who would they be?
John: Sam Cooke
Alex: Yeah, I would definitely say Sam Cook, not only his music but his life and his performances. When he’s live and playing and you consider the racial division back then — he would appeal to a large group of people. When he recorded he would appeal to a lot of white audiences, but when he was live he wasn’t afraid to show the black cultural side of the music. And he wasn’t trying to be polite, he was really raw and organic. If I had to pick another one I would say Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. What they did really informs what we are trying to do, it’s like a guide for us on how to be modern but still capture the essence of the Soul music back then.
Justin: Oh man, that’s tough, you’re a real asshole for asking this one. I want to say the front man aspect of Little Richard, I like to have that energy, seeing videos of him in the piano. His presence on stage is what really gets me, I really love seeing that and I kind of shape my craft out of that.
Pineapple in Pizza, yes or nah?
Alex: ALL FOR IT! There’s a lot of people saying that should not be allowed, but to them I have to say: This is America, and as long as what you are doing doesn’t hurt anyone, you should be able to do it! There’s so many people who are Pro on equal rights and same sex marriage, yet they don’t think pineapple on pizza should be allowed?! WHO ARE YOU TO SAY THAT?!
Justin: Personally I think cheese pizza is the best, I think toppings are kind of… Superfluous, but pineapple in pizza tastes great!
John: I don’t like pineapple on pizza…
Alex: I am a fighter for topping equality and I will not back down from my stance! If John wants a 100 olives in pizza, he has his right as an American to put them there.
- Manuel Robles