It was quite the Nashville morning when I showed up to the home of Terry Rickards, the wonderful man who makes the 5 Spot shows happen. I was welcomed into the home of the Northerner with a very keen sense of Southern hospitality, and a few minutes later Sadler Vaden joins us with his kind smile, only to be followed by an entrance from Patrick Sweany, who also just so happens to live across the street. And to further the scene of the East Nashville home filled with a couple of musicians, a booker and a music journalist comes Allen Thompson from upstairs, offering to make fresh brewed coffee (and even breakfast) for us not-so-early risers. If it didn’t feel so good to start a morning off with such good company and energy, I would call it a town cliché. But these men are far from that, with their brilliant senses of humor about the industry and their candidness about the journeys that crafted them into indisputable talents. For whether you catch them on stage at the Ryman or just down the block at a bar, Vaden and Sweany are authentic real-deals. Oh, and in case you were wondering about which drinking hangout to find them at, you’ll locate them tonight, tomorrow, and the same days next week as they rock a residency at the 5 Spot.
“Did you honestly just ask what year it was? That was the most rock-and-roll-esque question you can ask,” joked Sweany, teasing Vaden about his challenge recalling the chronology of his career. Having left his South Carolina home in 2011 as the frontman of Leslie, a three-piece garage rock band, Vaden joined drivin’ n cryin’ for a couple of years before Jason Isbell approached him about the lead guitarist spot in the 400 Unit in March of 2013. And in between his transition from one band to the next, he managed to debut a seven-track album, Radio Road, in 2012. Described as a very “DIY project,” Vaden played almost every instrument featured on the album. “I’m proud of it; there’s a fun rock-n-roll energy to it. It’s a band full of me’s,” he commented. And since the debut, he’s been on the road with Isbell and will be entering the studio with that collective next March but has shared a new single from his anticipated 2015 EP. “Yesteryear,” a track available on Vaden’s exclusive deal with Soundcloud, a running joke from our morning conversation, is a prime example of his ability on guitar with a classic and effortless voice to mirror his notoriety as a player. And even though the next release will not be a band of Vaden’s, it will feature some pretty fine players that may or may not be popping up at his residency tonight.
When asked about how he would describe his style, Vaden quickly answered, “I think you’re asking the wrong guy.” Even upon reflection such a line emphasizes his go-with-the-flow nature and mellow disposition, qualities that find themselves in his music. “I mean…it’s like power pop inspired hooks with, you know, a blender of great rock-n-roll guitar stuff…yeah, it’s like what I said.” Just don’t ask him to repeat the description back to you. But that’s a pretty accurate way to describe the rhythm driven, guitar guided sound with simplistic and connective lyricism, refreshingly uncomplicated in a world of mixed metaphors and fluff.
Speaking of the absence of audible glitz and glam, the Ohio native with a lively personality sitting next to Vaden was never interested in something clean and collected, and who would be after listening to the blues? “I really just wanted to be Lightnin’ Hopkins,” said Sweany. He was practically born a “nerd of the blues, immersing himself in 20s and 30s acoustic blues,” and his early twenties were spent being the observing student of Robert Lockwood and his weekly Wednesday night Cleveland gigs. He would drive an hour each week to see Lockwood, and after hanging out enough, the two struck up a friendship. “I played the best Robert Lockwood imitation I could for him. He smiled, and when I was done he looked at me and said, ‘you know, they already got one Robert.’ This guy who is the architect for all of these great blues records basically told me that playing this stuff is fine, but you got to do your own thing. And I was totally bummed. But that was the nicest thing you could say to a young cat.”
After that humbling experience, Sweany went on to make a sound that most certainly has a fair share of influences combined with a distinct and dedicated talent. His first record, I Wanna Tell You, released in 1999, was written in Eureka Springs, AR, and after exhausting his time there and in Ohio, he finally moved to Nashville in 2009. “All the best dudes in your town, when they move, they move here,” he said. “Yeah, I hate it,” echoed Vaden. “I thought I had this career going on, and I was touring and had all these records. And I got here, and no one gave a shit,” Sweany confessed with a half-laugh. But with another musician by his side to say, “that’s the best thing for your career,” they happily agreed on the daily reality of the Nashville scene. With Sweany’s first album being “written about the transition of a young man,” his later albums “have a few more miles on them.” He’s created six studio albums in total, the last four on Nine Mile Records, and after exploring the realms of being a solo artist and the frontman of his own band, he’s established what he would call “very blues and soul based, Midwestern bummer rock,” another apt description of the wire-fuzzed, condition expressing sound.
“It may turn into guitar-mageddon,” explained Vaden. Then he played coy. “You know, we may have a special guest come up,” on one of these Wednesday nights. And with Sweany on the next couple of Thursdays you’ll experience a box stomping and soul rocking set. Even though he went through a phase of imagined rebellion against the electric guitar, admitted with a tone of angst, Sweany might surprise us with these shows. “I’ve always liked doing both (acoustic and electric); the ability to impact an audience with a band and to make people dance. It’s irresistible. The solo thing is a lot more subtle, though I tend to engage the audience in similar ways.” So expect…nothing but what they are: two top-notch musicians with a two-hour time slot available to fill with music that will revive your wilting, oversaturated Music City spirit.
See you there. Shows start at 6pm.