Hailing from the Bay Area, The Gold Souls brought the funk and blues to the Talent Club on Friday night. With a mixture of covers and originals the group had the crowd out on the floor blowing off their full week steam.
Beginning in 2017, The Gold Souls have been touring across the US and have released one album, Good To Feel. The Gold Souls are bringing back an older generation of music, but what sets them apart is their groovy bass lines, wailing guitar solos and deeper lyrics.
The Siskiyou caught up with lead singer Juniper Waller and drummer Billy D. Thompson earlier this week to talk about their tour, upcoming album, and how they maintain inner balance with their busy lives.
The Siskiyou: Can you tell me a bit about how The Gold Souls started making music together?
Juniper Waller: We originally met through the local music scene in Sacramento and surrounding towns. We really bonded over an affinity for the kinds of music that we love. We’re a funk, soul, blues band and it’s not everyday you find other musicians who are interested in those genres. It was really fun to come together with a group of people that’s all songwriters and to make that really collaborative.
Billy D. Thompson: The all writing songs thing was kind of a necessity too because when the band started we really wanted to hit the ground running and we got invited to do a benefit thing down in San Diego after we’d only existed for like two months. We were scrambling to write music and we booked a whole tour around it. So, it was all hands on deck, everybody write some songs or we don’t have enough music to play a show. Then all of a sudden we had an EP’s worth of music, we recorded it and went on tour with it. We all fostered that songwriting energy really early on and it became immediately collaboratively which was really cool.
JW: We’ve always worked well under pressure as a group. We’re all a bunch of procrastinators. [laughs] Give us a specific deadline, make it soon and it will happen. Give us like all the time and resources in the world and we will just screw around.
S: Are you working on an album right now?
JW: We are in that it’s fully written and we’ve recorded demos of every song. We released a single in August that will be on the album. The issue is that we’re recording it at home in Billy’s studio in his garage. Which is amazing because we aren’t paying hourly and the creative process is allowed to flow and doesn’t have a money side attached to it. At the same time, it’s making it so we can be like, “Well we were going to record today, but we really need to do this other thing, so we’ll record tomorrow.” It’s definitely happening, but it’s a lot slower. At the same time we’re fine tuning things that we weren’t able to do on our previous album.
BT: It is nice to let the songs develop and kind of sit on some of them for a while and be able to push the songs to their full potential. We might have to come up with some kind of deadline soon enough so that we actually get it done. [laughs]
S: Do you prefer working towards a hard deadline with the stress or do you prefer the more relaxed approach?
JW: It’s funny because we feel like our process thrives on stress, but then at the same time my nervous system and mental health don’t. I think we’re trying to learn how to do it differently. It’s just about the balance.
BT: It’s nice not to operate under stress because it’s not always the best catalyst for good music. It’s good for getting projects completed, but it’s tough to look back and feel like something was almost there and we didn’t have time to make it right. We are really hoping to avoid that on this project because we worked really hard learning the songs and arranging them and making them interesting. It’d be a shame to get into the studio and lose some of the special qualities these songs have the potential for because we have to get it done by November or whatever. So, striking that balance is the name of the game right now.
S: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned while trying to find that balance?
BT: With our newest single, Strongman, the recording turned out pretty different and we went over it with a fine-tooth comb. I found I was so much happier with having more time with it, and being able to really developed it and come up with new ideas. I really came to appreciate taking a slower and more careful approach with putting a recording out. I think it’s just giving the music the respect it deserves and putting the time into it.
S: Can you tell me more about what the process was for writing Strongman? Who came up with it or was it a collaborative one?
BT: I’d been reading a lot of things on the internet and having a lot of conversations with people and I was getting the sense that a lot of people (men and women and everyone in between) had a really warped perspective of what strength was, and how you can convey strength to other people. In particular with romance and loving relationships, and the need to prove yourself as strong or capable in a sense. To me the strongest people are the ones who remain vulnerable and open and connected to what they’re feeling and what their partner, friends and people around them are feeling. I wanted to create a song that celebrated that a little bit, but a lot of times with that sort of subject matter it can get very like preachy. Instead of saying those things out right, I wanted to tell little parables in the lyrics that weren’t really necessarily the exact situation at hand but displayed the concept a little bit.
[In the song] it’s a logger who cuts down a big beautiful tree he discovers instead of just appreciating it for what it is. He has an accident and messes his back up and stuff. [laughs] We end up hurting ourselves when we find something beautiful and want to control it. [Keeping it as as a metaphor allowed] the listener to find the conclusion through the content of the story versus me telling them, “Hey respect folks”.
S: Can you tell me more about the darker underlying themes in your music?
JW: It is important to all of us to make music that you can dance to and have fun with. At the same time, it’s important to us that it gets to another level and that it’s about something that people can relate to in their own lives. That speaks to the name of our album, Good To Feel. One of the lines in the song is “it feels too good to feel.” We’ve dealt with a lot of different subject matters in our music. We have a song that talks about being an activist and burning out. We have a song about depression and sometimes nothing helps it and you just have to feel it. We have a song about sexuality and about not being straight or gay.
BT: I think of all the conversations we’ve had about how to make sure the music has depth is bringing a lot of times you hear modern funk music the blues music and stuff and it’s either about partying or like get funky and the lyrical content doesn’t go very far. We wanted to expand the narratives that these genres were able to convey. Not that it was up to us to expand them, when these types of music began that was their function, was to give a voice to the people who didn’t have one before. Like James Brown, I was just listening to Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud) the other day and listening to the lyrics, “working my hands to the bone/working myself away for somebody else’s profit.” I didn’t realize that song had so much about worker’s rights and living your life for yourself and not your job.
JW: The idea of having fun and getting funky was resistance in itself. And with the bluesy style, talking about how poorly someone treated you was a metaphor for how poorly a boss treated you or going back to slavey. A lot of those songs are veiled protest music. Then here we are in a position of privilege where we can sing about what’s really going on without being oppressed as a result.
BT: Kind of bringing back some of the ability to tell stories and relay human experiences and have there be more than partying or being sad alone. But really being able to reach deeper into the subject matter, especially for the funk stuff. That music was created at a time when there was lots of suffering in the communities that were the pioneers of that stuff. There’s a lot of suffering in communities right now, and to us it’s a responsibility to the artists to offer relief and acknowledgement. Music has healing powers especially when it’s intentionally directed that way and I believe it can be amplified. It’s a careful path and we’ve been trying to strike that balance so there’s palatable music that people can enjoy, and for those people looking for something more, they’ll find it.
S: Do you guys have any things that you do to keep yourselves healthy physically and mentally while you’re on the road?
JW: Well, I’m doing a horrible job with that right now. [laughs] I find that’s the biggest challenge for me, just being on tour. I deal with a lot of mental health things and the only thing keeps me ok is my routine and the ability to be alone. I haven’t figured out how to manage that while we’re on tour. A lot of us meditate, that’s one thing we do.
BT: When you’re in the RV or van for 12 hours driving somewhere, not that we hate interfacing with each other, but it’s hard to spend that amount of time with the same group of people, especially when it’s on the road and all you can do is pull off the road to stop at gas stations and buy crappy snacks. I think the big thing for me is how to have a few days where we don’t have a show. I’ve seen that have big results for us, having a chance to refresh. I think that’s good infrastructure for getting along a little better.
S: When you aren’t making music what do you like to do for fun?
JW: I like to hang out with my dog, go to the gym. We go and see a lot of live music, and I find that really inspiring. We’ve got a couple of good venues in Sacramento that bands come through. I like reading. I’m reading Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates right now.
S: What can we expect from your live shows?
JW: We bring a lot of sass and we get kind of weird. It gets unexpectedly rock’n roll sometimes.
BT: A couple of us in the band have studied jazz, so one of the elements that I like is improv and kind of having unexpected things happen with the music. We try to incorporate that into the music and keep it exciting to play. And because it’s more exciting for us to play we have more fun with it which is communicated to the audience and they dance and enjoy themselves. It creates this circuit of energy between the audience and the band. We try to tailor the night to the audience, especially if we’ve played there before. We do a unique setlist for every show and organize the energy to match what what we think is happening. We usually do a pretty good job of matching and sometimes it doesn’t work out. But just being perceptive to what the audience is experiencing when we perform.
JW: Also the outfits are on point. We coordinate around my outfit unless someone has a really fun piece that needs to be coordinated around.
[End of Interview]
The Gold Souls brought the Talent Club to its feet with a set list that included originals and some old classics like Stevie Wonder’s Superstition. The group sported black and gold colors making them subtly sparkle throughout the night. Their relaxed yet synchronized improv was a joy to watch!
Listeners can find The Gold Souls on Spotify and Apple Music as well as most social media sites. Head over to their website to sign up for their mailing list so you’ll know where they’re heading next.