Shane Smith & The Saints are riding the success of a great sophomore album and a relentless touring schedule. They’ve hit up 21 states since last July in support of Geronimo, their September 2015 release that’s winning over critics and fans alike.
Their first single off the record, “All I See Is You”, is climbing the Texas radio charts while their brand of harmony-drive country folk rock is winning over new folks at shows all across the country.
Frontman Shane Smith’s musical metamorphosis went from Motown to Blink 182 and Third Eye Blind to Ray Wylie Hubbard, Hayes Carll and Adam Carroll. He took some time to talk with Wide Open Country about the band’s matured sound on Geronimo, being a part of the eclectic Texas country scene and his pet peeve.
WOC: Geronimo feels like a distinctly more mature release than your debut, Coast. What were the years like between the records, and what led you in the new direction for your sophomore effort?
Shane Smith: To be honest with you, it was playing a bunch of shows. That was the goal at the end of the day for the new record — to really try and strengthen a sound we’d started developing during all those shows. The four-part harmonies seemed to be a really cool trait we hadn’t seen any other people try to pick up and run with. We started really trying to work on that and brand it as our own, so that went hand in hand with making Geronimo a really unique sounding record and taking a big step forward with having a sound that is our own.
So did you sit down and put the record together, or did it come together over time?
We had a 10-day session off the bat in December 2014 in Orb Studio in Austin to get all of the drums and bass and the bones of the songs laid down, and then once we had that, we didn’t take any other time off on the road. We booked studio time completely around our road schedule. Sometimes it would be down in San Marcos or New Braunfels or DFW. One or two days or a few hours. We’d just travel around with out external hard drive and drop it into Pro Tools and let ‘er rip.
Good thing you didn’t lose the hard drive!
(Laughs) Yeah, we had a back up but I’m sure we didn’t back it up the right way. If we’d had a manager at the time I’m sure they would’ve been having a heart attack the whole time.
Did you go into writing knowing you wanted to capture the antique vibe?
It kind of worked itself out in a cool way. These songs had been written and as we started working on each of them song by song in the studio is when it started to become more of a branded album with a thought out theme to it. By the end it was definitely something that was kind of coming together, like how it bookends. The harmonies start and end it. It’s got a story to it and it’s like a movement with the lyrics throughout the whole album. There’s a lot of storytelling, like with “Crocket’s Prayer”. It’s a theme that wasn’t intended.
Yeah, definitely a lot of stories with a historical influence. Are you a history buff?
I wouldn’t call myself a history buff by any means but I’m very interested in it. I like story songs to be something that actually took place, and it’s a pet peeve of mine when a true story isn’t told accurately. As a songwriter I feel responsible for that if it doesn’t come out accurate, so I have to make sure it is (laughs).
The Texas country scene has grown increasingly diverse, just like the rest of the country world. Did you always want to be a part of that scene?
We didn’t have this goal all along to be a successful Texas country band, but we feel fortunate to be a part of it and we wouldn’t have it any other way. We were honestly just trying to work to be able to open for people like Charlie Robison, who we love. Whether you want to be or not, that kind of brings you into that scene. It’s an extremely cool scene to be a part of and a very loyal fan base, but it’s something you don’t see very often in other markets outside of Texas. We see it spreading to Missouri, Kansas and all those places out there.
Were you ever worried your sound wouldn’t fit in?
Right off the bat I was concerned what we do wouldn’t translate. Coast was a much different album than Geronimo and I think it was way closer to that Texas country vein that didn’t set it apart. It fit right in there and was easy for people to accept and get on board with. With this one being a departure and a more strange sounding record, — hopefully strange in a good way — there was absolutely that feeling that we finally got some momentum off Coast and I hope we’re not tossing a curve ball that is going to throw everything off.
It’s a lot of pressure with the job and we’re just so grateful that the response has been good. College Station is a good example. They’re more prone to the Texas Country sound and the Coast type of sound, so that’s one of those places in particular that I was thinking, “How are they going to take this record; is it too weird or off the beaten path?” We played there last night, and it’s pretty amazing to see how well they accepted it just based off our last show there.
For a lot of bands, fiddle can be kind of an accessory. But it’s such an integral part of y’all’s sound. How do those arrangements get worked out?
That’s definitely true, and I don’t even think it’s a planned out thing but you’re right in saying that for sure. There are some songs that are like that without even intending for it to be like that because Bennett and I started playing together in 2010. We played a lot of shows together so I think I instinctively write a lot of songs that are intended for him to be able to let ‘er rip. We wrote “Lord Bury Me in Texas” in Colorado and the entire time I was writing it, that fiddle riff was in my head.
Are there moments on the CD you’re particularly proud of?
Whiskey and Water was one of the first songs I got mixes back on and I remember being so stressed about how it was going to sound. I remember listening to it and going, “Thank God, if all else fails this one sounds pretty good” (laughs). “Right Side of the Ground” is one of those songs that I think I’ll be really thankful I wrote even when I’m an old man. “Suzanna” is a little different, though. I just feel like we never quite recorded it the way I wanted to. When I listen to it, it’s one of those songs we’ve played as a band 10,000 times and I feel like it sounded so much better at some shows than it does on the album. I think it’s one of those songs that is meant to be a live song.
So obviously that means there will be a live album, right?
We’ve talked about it a bunch. I can’t say if we’re going to in the very near future, but I would not be shocked to see something like that come out in the next few years.
It’s been such a grind for y’all — 21 states since last July — do you ever get tired of all the promotional efforts, like visiting radio, that go along with a music career?
The music industry is so different now — you don’t have to have all the things you used to in order to be successful, like a label. I see the promotion side of it as our way of giving back. The radio DJs are the gatekeeper and they’re such a huge support of us, and if they’re willing to give us support I’m more than willing to give them 30 minutes of my day, have some coffee and conversation and play a couple of songs. I know artists get annoyed with interviews and stuff but in my mind, the fact that we’re able to do this as a living, that’s the least that we can do. Give back and say thank you to the fans over the radio waves and keep the train moving.