Monday, 06 June 2016 14:32

Stripped Down: Soil and the Sun Scale Back to Four-Piece Unit

Written by  Eric Mitts
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For Grand Rapids-based indie outfit The Soil & The Sun, the end of 2015 and the start of this year has been about deconstruction and rebuilding.  

Surrounding the release of their last LP, 2014’s Meridian, the then seven-piece ensemble hit the road harder than ever before. They played all across the country, hitting such festivals as SXSW in Austin and the CMJ Music Showcase in New York, while bonding together like family in their converted tour bus.

When the band finally came home nearly a year and a half later, they started asking themselves some basic but serious questions about their future and happiness.

“It hit that point where the band was pretty much taking up all of our time,” vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Alex McGrath told REVUE. “Which, for some, is great.  For others, it’s not so great. I don’t want to speak for the others, but I think we’re all just getting older and our lives are being pulled in different directions.  The desire to have a personal life and pursue dreams outside of the band doesn’t always lend itself very well to relentless touring and constant collaboration with six other people. ... I’m pretty proud of us for making it work for as long as we did.”

The Soil and the Sun
wsg. Keeps, Caleb Groh
Founders Taproom
235 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
June 11, 9:30 p.m., $5, 21+, (616) 776-1195

Bell’s Eccentric Café
355 E. Kalamazoo Ave.
June 16, 8 p.m. doors/9 p.m. show
$8 advance, $10 day of show, 21 and older, (269) 382-2332

The result of those life-searching conversations led the large ensemble to strip things back to the ground in order to keep growing. 

McGrath and his wife, keyboardist/vocalist Ashley McGrath, along with drummer Benjamin Baker-Jackson and guitarist Kellen Kerwin decided to begin anew as a four-piece. 

Currently, they all live together in a house in East Town along with Baker-Jackson’s wife and family.

Meanwhile, keyboardist/vocalist Jacqueline Warren, violinist Joanna Perry and bassist Michael Newsted decided to part ways, with Warren having started a new project called Major Murphy.

“Being at home in Michigan for the past year has sort of created this environment where we’re really inside our heads, I think. Like an incubation period,” Alex McGrath said. “There has been a lot of reflection, reminiscing, and self-introspection this past year. I’m sure that has spilled over into these new songs we’re working on.”

After nearly eight years and three LPs together, the group finally gave themselves some time and space to figure out things. They stayed away from touring for the better part of the past year, and allowed themselves to naturally settle into a new sound that McGrath calls, “tighter, darker, more spacious and deliberate.”

The band plans to play five or six new songs on their current tour, which is something they’ve never done before. As for their older songs, originally filled with massive multi-part harmonies and lush layers of orchestral sounds crashing together with pedal-driven post-rock, the band plans to strip everything unnecessary away, and come at them from a more simplified, intentional angle.

“I’ve realized that a four-piece can be just as powerful as a seven-piece — you just have to own it a bit more,” McGrath said.

Lately, The Soil & The Sun has been “eating up everything Radiohead,” from the band’s latest LP to Thom Yorke’s solo album Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and Johnny Greenwood’s orchestral work. Bands like Here We Go Magic and Bibio are also on heavy rotation at the house.

Their tentative plan heading forward is to tour as much as possible this spring, summer and early fall, before working on a new record in the late fall and winter.

“It feels like a new beginning in almost every way,” Alex McGrath said of The Soil & The Sun now. “We’ve been simultaneously reworking older material and writing a lot of new stuff lately. It’s all pretty different than what we’ve done in the past. Very new, very fresh. I’m really looking forward to getting these new songs out in front of people.” 


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