Truth & Salvage Co. plays the length of California this week – Sacramento (8/21), Mill Valley (8/22), San Francisco (8/23), Los Angeles (8/24) and San Diego (8/25) – before heading to Arizona and beyond. Check out choice cuts from the band’s new album at the bottom of this feature, and find the full tour itinerary and venue details HERE
“With a smile on your face and a pistol in your pocket, don’t let the bad times get you down. When all the world’s a stage and you’re stuck standing center, don’t let the bad times get you down.”
There’s music one enjoys as a distraction, amusement, etc. and there’s music that’s critical to our survival, the sounds we pack in our bindle when it’s time to hoof it out of town and start over again. We do not so much choose this latter sort of music as it chooses us, speaking truths that resonate with how we see the world, or perhaps more importantly, speaking truths we need to hear, honesty wrapped in melodies that send us shuffling even as they make us muse, our thoughts tumbling outwards as we sing the words as if they were our own. These bindle songs tend to be approachable with their treasures hidden in plain view, companionable and relatable in ways that make one want to buy the musicians a beer and talk about life for a spell. Truth & Salvage Co. is this sort of workingman’s friend, specialists in stories most folks can relate to delivered with as much heart-filled gusto, beautifully intertwined voices, natural talent, and anxious-to-please energy as one could want from a rock band.
Scott Kinnebrew (vocals, lead guitar), Tim Jones (vocals, guitar), Bill “Smitty” Smith (vocals, drums), Walker Young (vocals, piano), Dean Moore (bass) and Adam Grace (vocals, keyboards) share traits in common with The Jayhawks, early Eagles, and yes, the oft-cited The Band, predecessors whose strong handle on all the fundamentals and ability to deliver both in the studio and live Truth & Salvage Co. honor well, something increasingly rare in this age of production smoke and mirrors and label-stoked cult of personality celebrity. These guys are the real deal interested in tussling with reality in ways one can hum and hold close as it pours from the speakers. After years of heavy touring following their eponymous 2010 debut (produced by Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes, who also took the band out as openers for an extended period in 2010), Truth & Salvage Co. has distilled their sound – not the echoes of influences or some industry idea of what they should be – on the crazy enjoyable sophomore follow-up Pick Me Up (released July 23).
“We had a conference call recently where we discussed whether we’re Triple A or Country or Indie, and I honestly think we can stretch out through all of those [categories],” says Smitty. “I think [Pick Me Up] really represents the growth of our performances and our songwriting, especially since it was mostly cut live.”
“I’ve always thought that the Truth [in our name] is the songs and the messages about moving forward and speaking honestly. Salvage is what we choose to grab from the past and keep attached to as we move forward with our future truths. And Company is just the six guys committed to this project and each other as best friends,” says Walker. “We really do enjoy each other’s company and thank God for that! I don’t know if I’d be able to do what we do if there were five guys in the band I didn’t like [laughs]. We have our differences but every time we come back together and say, ‘I love you, man, and let’s work this out.’ It’s incredible to me that we found each other. I don’t know if I could have done this without being surrounded by people I really like and who inspire me to be a better musician, songwriter and person.”
“We try to follow pure inspiration and just let the songs speak and let the judgment come later,” says Scott. “With all of us at the writing table for awhile we’ve been able to find the middle ground of what’s really out there musically and what harmonizes with the ears of many listeners. We don’t compromise a song to consciously court the ears of more listeners, but we’ve found a balance between saying what we want and making it appealing to a listener. Some folks are so obsessed with their own expression only they can understand it – every artist, including me, is guilty of that. So, it’s encouraging to hear from listeners that what you do relates to them and impacts them and touches them. People telling you they love what you do fuel the fire to continue the search for songs that harmonize with everybody.”
“It’s like all those books you get into when you’re a teenager and first experimenting with drugs or whatever. You start reading about other religions and the ego and letting go, and a lot of that bubbles under the songs in this band. When you bring in a tune you have some idea of how it will sound and that’s just not how it’s gonna end up,” chuckles Adam. “You have to throw it against the wall and see what sticks to it before it hits the floor. It’s gonna come in one way and come out another way, and that’s how it sounds in Truth and Salvage Co’s shared identity. We’re always really conscious of this collective entity. I’ll say, ‘I wonder what the band will think of this,’ not recognizing that I’m talking to the whole band!”
“We’re definitely not saying, ‘Let’s make a sound like country radio,’ or, ‘Let’s make a sound that’s gonna be like Americana.’ It’s the last thing in our minds. We bring songs to the table and the ones that everybody’s vibing on stick,” says Walker. “The success of Mumford and Sons, The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers show that people are hungry for bands that just sing songs and deliver them well. Who’d have ever thought ‘Ho Hey’ would be on Top 40 pop radio and the biggest song of 2012. It says something about what listeners want and crave when a song like that becomes a super big hit.”
“We didn’t set out to be any sort of band; it just kind of happened. Every songwriter has different influences, and the fact that all those influences flow together so well is just amazing to me. I’ve always been a fan of Bob Dylan and The Band, but those aren’t my primary influences,” says Smitty. “We all write from our experiences, and that’s very important. There are a couple of us that sit down and try to write a song as a way of crafting your art, and there are a couple of us that just write a song as it comes to us. I think there’s a big difference to those approaches, and it creates a good balance in the band. The guys that write songs as they come to us might not have the skills to finish the song, and the guys working from the more craftsman perspective can pinpoint where it’s not a strong chorus or other elements that need work. As a drummer and a songwriter, I’m not as savvy about what’s needed on keyboards or guitar in a song, so Adam and Scott or any of the guys help me out by adding some musical movement to my songs. That’s a good balance to my songs, which might be three or four chords. They’ll add a cool guitar riff or segue going into a bridge I wouldn’t have thought of and I dig that. We all love music in the broadest sense and write music because of the tension and release it gives us.”
There’s a reaching out with Truth and Salvage Co., a welcoming vibe that emerges from music that’s not trying to be obscure or overly clever, strong, open arms extended from their melodies and come-hither singing that skirt any obviousness the mainstream industry might like them to proffer. But if people just hear these songs and the indelibly true way they’re delivered then it’s hard to imagine them not being taken with them – there’s SO much to like about this band.
“I think Chris [Robinson] is partially responsible for that. We were put together at the exact time we needed it. It was so cosmic in a lot of ways. He was going through so much in his life at the time, and he wanted to be a part of something like what we were doing and be a mentor to some up-and-coming guys who had an idea of what we wanted to do but no idea of how to do it,” says Adam. “Just getting to go out on the road with him, to see how he views life and music, how he treats his fans, reveals just how much of a genius that guy is. He was a big teacher for us. I’ve never said that to his face and I don’t know if he’d smile or say, ‘Ah, come on!’ The world just has to make room for geniuses. We just have to embrace them and give them space to expand and do their thing while we watch. We needed to learn how to live in rock ‘n’ roll and he gave us a big six month lesson that taught us all how to do it. He hands torches to people all the time. Some people carry them, some drop ‘em, and some put ‘em out. I’m proud to say we’re doing our best to carry it on.”
“We’d all moved to Los Angeles around 2005 with the intention of doing our own projects, and through the love of each other’s songs and music it all came together in a very organic way,” says Walker. “It took somebody outside of ourselves, a friend of ours, that pointed out what a really cool relationship we had when we got together to sing. It was kind of beyond our scope of comprehension. We’d just get together, drink beers, smoke a little reefer, and sing songs. I think that happens in California just because it’s sunny and warm and people are hanging out. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what makes that happen but it definitely happens.”
“We all want to make it REALLY bad in music, which is why we all ended up in Los Angeles around the same time,” says Tim. “We all moved there to make music for a living. We didn’t want to do other things. We’d done other things and had been playing music for most of our lives and felt a drive to make it our main thing.”
The band has since relocated to Tennessee, where a number of them share a band house near Nashville.
“Our management pointed out that 20 of the 30 best markets where we were most popular were east of the Mississippi. We’d be out for four months at a time, where we’d play Davenport, Iowa on a Tuesday just so we could get to St. Louis by that Thursday and Indianapolis or Chicago on the weekend. It was really grueling and didn’t seem to make a lot of sense,” says Tim. “I hated leaving Los Angeles, in a way, but financially it was just ridiculous for each of us to be paying rent for houses we didn’t live in. So, we eventually took our management’s advice [laughs]. It’s been great living back here, seeing our families more, and doing things like taking a Megabus to Chicago. We gave up the view of the ocean but gained the trees, the hills, and the sound of frogs croaking in the night.”
The value of gigging all the time is apparent on the new album, which crackles with the sound of a band that plays together a lot and vibes with the gypsy life.
“I’ve had the same suitcase packed for almost a year. I can literally be ready to go in two minutes,” says Tim. “I’ve got a separate bag for the C.I.A. part of my life, too [laughs].
“I read in that Malcolm Gladwell book [The Tipping Point] that once you do something for 10,000 hours or so you start to get a new perspective on it. I think we’ve all hit that individually having done 10-15 years in bands before this one, and we’re getting close to it collectively as a band, too,” says Adam. “Our experience is one of the most important experiences in life. When I meet people who don’t experience live music on a regular basis, don’t make it a key part of their lives, I look into their eyes and wonder, ‘Where are they getting their love from? Where are they getting their soul juice from? What’s feeding them? How does that person live?’ I know they must be getting it from somewhere or they’re not living a fulfilled life. I think music has the answers and if you don’t embrace it you’ll freeze a lot of stuff out.”
“Watching Chris Robinson perform is always instructive,” continues Adam. “You go into a show expecting one thing and he offers you another. He’s such a badass that you leave inspired to make better music! The Brotherhood is not The Black Crowes, and that’s not all he has up his sleeve. He’s not only a monster musician but he knows how to leave room for the other people onstage. There are not a lot of leaders that know when to get out of the way and let other things merge.”
Truth & Salvage Co. always seems to be having a good time together, and that feeling emanates strongly from the stage, permeating and visibly uplifting audiences.
“Well, we’re only doing ourselves harm if we don’t get up there and do it like that,” says Scott. “I’m gonna spend 23 hours of my working to get to this stage and do what I love most on earth AND I’m gonna be bummed about it because of something someone in the band said to me at a truck stop? Nope! You gotta let that shit go before you get onstage and have a good time. I’m not gonna say we’ve always been able to shed all the worries and grudges before we’ve gotten onstage but we all make a conscious decision to say, ‘Here’s the moment to be in love what I do.’ Having fun for us is very important.”
Pick Me Up – a sentiment the album ably lives up to – was recorded at Echo Mountain Recording in Asheville, TN, a studio with a growing reputation for triggering great work from a broad swath of musicians.
“I don’t want to say we made this album in a dark moment but we were seriously wondering how we were going to make it happen,” says Scott. “We called Echo Mountain and talked to the manager, and they opened up the doors and we were there for two weeks with the engineers doing 12 hour days every day. Step by step, it came together so effortlessly and it was good but we had a sense it could be more. So, we reached out to my buddy Bill Reynolds (Band of Horses) and asked him to try and put some extra life into one song. He sent it back a day later and it just floored everyone’s speakers. We sent it to the label and they agreed we really needed him to remix the whole record. To have his involvement is so personal to me as well as returning to Asheville just made my whole journey come full circle.”
“Echo Mountain was a very special place to record. Lots of great albums like the Avett Brothers’ Emotionalism were made there,” says Scott. “A recorder catches a lot more than just sound. I’m pretty sure about that. When you press record it’s not just the sound of the guitar but also the air in the room and the energy of that air. We just wanna get in there and make sure it sounds right. Our intention is to make good music. Period.”
One of the nice surprises on Pick Me Up is a just-so-fuckin-simpatico cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play.”
“I love that song so much, and it fits us so well! You know who suggested it? It was Chris [Robinson] during the recording of the first record. He said, ‘You guys should do this Joe South cover,’ and it took us about two years to get around to learning it. Once we learned it, it just clicked and made so much sense. He was right! So, we owe him for that one,” says Smitty. “I didn’t know anything about Joe South before that. It’s just amazing how deep the music world can be. You’ve been playing all your life and every day I’m amazed at how much I learn. I try to stay in a striving mind at all times.”
One element that ties Truth & Salvage Co. to their rock ancestors is their reliance on piano and organ instead of synthesizers.
“Recording this new record, there were multiple times we pulled out the Moog just to try a little something because it’s cool but we never found a way to make it work,” chuckles Walker. “Three of us used to live in Asheville. I was a farmer there – organic vegetables and fresh eggs – and I used to sell eggs to Bob Moog and his wife Elena. I didn’t know who they were, and she asked me to do some landscaping at their house. So, I came and kept looking in the basement and there were all these keyboards just torn apart. I said, ‘Elena, whose keyboards are those?’ She said, ‘My husband’s.’ ‘Oh, what does he do?’ ‘He’s a tinkerer.’ But she never told me he was Bob Moog until a year into our relationship.”
Another aspect of this band that jumps out at one in the modern era is the harmonies and their unmistakable feel of flesh ‘n’ blood humans working together in real time. The fact that it isn’t machine-perfect only accentuates the positives of the interplay of singers in Truth & Salvage Co. Here’s where the comparisons to The Band really fit because like Hudson, Robertson, Danko, Helm and Manuel, Truth and Salvage Co. similarly offer an earthy mixture of trained and unschooled dedicated to delivering songs well and together – conversational, interesting voices that dovetail most effectively.
”What we do vocally is different from most folks. Whoever isn’t singing lead will start singing harmony and the others have to build their harmonies around that,” says Tim. “We’ve found a comfortable place with that approach, but it’s something you feel your way into more than explain in technical terms. There are people that are musically trained in this band, but I’m not one of those people [laughs]. I just know we don’t rely on that. If it sounds good that’s where we go to. That’s where we play.”
“Living in a world of Gagas, Spears and Auto-Tune, our voices aren’t perfect by any means,” chuckles Smitty. “We just look for where our voice fits the best. Sometimes it’s just a certain timbre that works.”
Even though he’s not one of lead singers, Adam Grace works closely with everybody in shaping the tunes.
“People in this band often refer to me as ‘The Glue,’ and in ways that describes me really well,” says Adam. “I was one of the original members but not an original songwriter or singer. As my participation in the songwriting grew, people found that as issues arose with a song they could turn to me and ask my opinion on it. I never intended that to be the way it is. I just wanted to be the keyboard player and hang out with these guys who are great songwriters and singers, but as the level of trust grew my name eventually got in there on the songwriting. I guess whenever you put a bunch of guys together in a room the ceiling eventually gets a bit of everyone’s flavor [laughs]. I come from a very different musical background that anybody else in this band – though that’s true of everybody, which brings together so many different elements and styles in one place. It’s hard to trust people in music and when you do it means a lot.”
One thing the years together hasn’t dulled is a healthy sense of competition amongst the songwriters.
“When we make a record everybody wants their songs to be on it, but it only makes us better to try and build on our best work again and again. When somebody writes a great song you’re inspired to get down on the piano or guitar to try and piece together different parts into a great song of your own. It’s fun,” says Walker. “[Pick Me Up] is all songs we’ve written since our first record and there’s a lot more writing collaboration. I didn’t have any part in writing ‘Silver Lining,’ but it was decided that I sounded best singing it. We’re becoming less attached to singing the songs we wrote if someone is a better choice. Letting go of that ego part is good because we can all be very controlling. We all have a vision of how things should go but we’ve realized it’s never going to be just that way no matter how much you try and control it. Now, we’re in a place where we can let go a little bit and not stifle that collaborative urge.”
“What’s super cool about this is I write a song and bring it to the band to work it out and it goes through the filter of five or six different sets of ears,” says Scott. “By the end, it’s truly a group collaboration. I really dig that, including them telling me what doesn’t work. We work hard to help someone to express themselves as best they can while shaping the songs into the best they can be.”
For the Impound, the name Truth & Salvage Co. and the music they make conjures up a traveling show trundling into town to serve up a satisfying rag ‘n’ bone buffet, a rock ‘n’ roll stone soup where tiny bits and chunks of many things go into the pot and what comes out is nourishing, warming, and filled with the spirit of camaraderie.
“We show up with some water and start pulling things out of our pockets. I didn’t realize I had some carrots on me, Walker has some cilantro, and soon we’re rockin’,” enthuses Scott. “Really, it’s not about you. It’s not about the songwriter. I really wonder if it’s about any of the songs at all or if it’s just about that frequency of sound blasting out into the universe and keeping us from falling off our axis or something [chuckles cosmically].”
“The [band] name means so much to me personally now because I’ve been inside of it for so long. This band has been a source of inspiration and so much trouble at the same time that I have bittersweet feelings about it,” says Adam, who acknowledges they’ve really grown into their name. “Widespread Panic is another band that really became their name. So many times at their shows you’ll end up in a literal panic usually from what’s going on around you but something in the music is breaking it out on a psychic level too. The audience is right there with the band and the band is right there with the audience and it’s really weird. It’s a trippy thing to experience, but they surely embrace their name.”
Spend even a few minutes with any of these guys and one’s left with zero doubt that they are driven by a NEED to make music, something potent and gravitationally irresistible that whips them onward. Music is a cause for Truth & Salvage Co. and one they inspire others to join with fervor and sometimes great joy.
“The older I get the more I feel this need, especially as things pull me away from music,” says Adam. “Daily life – needing to get insurance, kids, or whatever – pulls you back into adult responsibilities that real adults with jobs have to take care of. No matter how much of that stuff happens, there’s always a part of me that brings me back to the realization that I have to do this. This is what makes me happy, and it always goes back to the people out there counting on us to keep going. I always have a deep concern for our fans. I often think of the guy who got a tattoo on his arm the first year we began, and anytime I’ve thought about bailing on this band or worried it wasn’t gonna work or wasn’t meant to be I think of not letting that guy down.”