Nashville duo The Saint Johns (Louis Johnson + Jordan Meredith) have had a jam-packed March; their much-anticipated debut full-length Dead of Night dropped on March 4th via Kemosabe Records, and now they’re in the midst of a US tour that’s set to roll through NYC tomorrow night at the Gramercy Theatre, as well as DC’s Hamilton on Saturday April 2nd.
I caught up with the band while they were in Cleveland for a show last night, and we talked about the process of creating a debut LP after eight years as bandmates, as well as about the Nashville scene and MORE! Internet-eavesdrop on all of that below, grab a copy of Dead of Night HERE, check the band out live, and be sure to follow The Saint Johns on Facebook and Twitter to stay on top of all the latest updates:
So this has been a pretty big month for you guys! Congratulations on the record coming out!
Louis: Thanks, we’re pumped that it’s finally out!
What was the process like of shaping a debut record after having been working together for about eight years now? I imagine you had plenty of material that was already in existence, so what was the vibe or the strategy going into the whole process?
Louis: We’ve definitely been writing for a really long time; we thought we were going to make our full-length three and a half / four years ago, but then we ended up with our five-song EP called Open Water. After that, we toured off that EP for a little while, and then went back in to start writing some more. Initially, I think we were just going to add five more songs to that EP, but then decided we wanted to write twelve and do a full-length that had nothing to do with the EP. So we ended up writing forty or fifty songs over the next year and a half, and just tried to write songs and beat those songs and just try to figure out what to strive towards to achieve a cohesive-feeling record. So it took us that long to just kind of get a handle on what we wanted to do, and then another six months to figure out the production of the record. It was a process for sure, but looking back, it all feels like everything was meant to be.
So when you had that many songs to work with (because you said you had forty or fifty to choose from), what was it like to pare that catalog down to just twelve? Was it difficult, or was it fairly obvious to you which ones worked well together?
Jordan: It was really hard. I think there were some songs that were obvious, but there were some that we definitely had to fight for that were really important to us; we’re on a label now, so there’s obviously some more red tape to go through. I think there were a few that didn’t make the record that we still kind of feel sad about and hope that they maybe find their home in some way someday [laughs], but yeah, it was really difficult. It’s like choosing between your children, you know?
Right. And did you think about what the overall sonic vibe was going to be on the record? Or were you thinking more narratively in terms of how the songs fit together? Obviously some of the tracks are more downbeat and kind of “heavier” than others, but I noticed you guys did maintain a very danceable feel throughout the record (regardless of the mood of individual tracks), which is really cool!
Louis: Yeah, I think what’s interesting is that we wrote a ton of songs, and there are songs that we probably thought were going to be on the record, but we went in to produce with David Kahne, and he had such a hand in picking the songs from an outsider’s perspective; he was not involved in the writing process at all, so he was able to listen to all the songs we had and say, “Okay I know you like this one, but is it too similar to this one that we’re sure is going to be on the record? Could it be that we’re putting too much of the same thing in here?” So he had a really intricate hand in helping us build the track listing, and build cohesion, build a story in the record. It was very much building the record to where the tracks weren’t the same thematically, emotionally, lyrically, but they took you on a journey, you know? And I think thematically, a lot of the songs do deal with the same concepts, and musically they’re definitely all our songs; they’re similar in that we write melodies and harmonies in a certain way. So I think we really tried to just build an emotional progression through tracks; it wasn’t necessarily taking them and saying which song needed to go on the record and which didn’t, but more taking everyone’s ideas who was involved and making them work together to make the record.
Totally. And do you guys still live together?
Jordan: No. I got married about a year and a half ago, and my husband and I were living in the same house as Louis and his girlfriend, and we have since gotten our own place. [Laughs]
So has that changed the work dynamic? I don’t know how exactly you were doing it before, but I would imagine you’d have to strike a pretty careful balance to avoid smothering each other in the previous situation!
Jordan: It was actually pretty fun, honestly; we’d wake up and have our coffee and our breakfast, and we had a studio room upstairs, and it didn’t matter if you were in your pajamas or what, but we showed up to work. When my husband and I moved out, we only moved a block away, so we kind of still fell into that routine, but had more privacy. I feel like it was a lot of fun before, we got a lot done, but I think moving out maybe made us like each other a little more? [Laughs] I’m kidding.
Louis: Kidding! But not really! [Laughs] No, but I think we spend so much time together when we’re on the road and are obviously attached at the hip, and it’s like any friends (guys, girls, whatever); it’s taxing to be with someone that much, so it’s nice to go home and have a little space so that when we do go on the road together or write together or do whatever we’re doing in town, we kind of are happy to be back in that landscape again and to be able to say, “How are you?” instead of “I KNOW EVERYTHING.” [Laughs]
Oh, absolutely! Now, when you are home in Nashville, what’s that scene like? I know I’ve spoken to people over the last few years who’ve said the growth rate is insane, and that’s kind of changed the overall vibe a bit. Would you agree with that?
Louis: Yeah, I think so. We love Nashville, and it’s definitely always been our “spot”; ever since we moved there, things have just been easier musically, and we’ve been able to meet the industry people that we wanted to, so that’s been great. I think the last couple of years have definitely seen an influx of people (mostly from LA and New York) trying to save money who’ve heard about how great Nashville is. It’s definitely made it busier (like the restaurants we used to go to are always too crowded now, and there’s a ton of new places opening up all the time), but it’s like any city going through that period of growth. It’s great, it’s really exciting to see. We moved there about five and a half years ago, so we’ve definitely seen a huge growth in that time, and I know that even the people who were there before us say the same thing about the five years before we arrived. So it’s a constant growth, and I’m really glad to be there to see that.
And it’s obviously a big music town, and I know that The Saint Johns is top priority for the both of you, but are either of you involved in any side projects down there? (Eight years is a long time to be focused on one creative channel, and sometimes not everything that comes out of you will necessarily be right for that one main project!)
Louis: That’s a very good question.
Jordan: Yeah, it is. We don’t have any official side projects, but we write for other artists, and we write for film and TV; that helps us get out of the normal routine of writing for The Saint Johns, and we’re able to spread our wings and stretch our legs a little bit. If we want to do something super poppy for somebody we can, and that’s been a really nice outlet to have. No official side projects, though. (Even though we’ve joked around about a side project with my husband; it has a name and everything, but it’s super secret.) [Laughs]
Louis: That’s the cool thing about Nashville, though; even if you’re not meaning to, you’re meeting people whose music you love so much, and then you get to write with those people, you know? You go out and get drinks, go back to their studio and mess around with some music, and then all of a sudden it’s like, “Here, we have six songs…what are we going to do with these? Let’s release them!” We haven’t gotten to that point yet because we’ve been pretty busy with our own stuff, but there’s definitely some songs sitting around that feature us and some really cool other people we admire that I’m excited to see whether or not they ever see the light of day. It’s always a possibility to have music coming out, but we’ve been so focused on releasing this full-length that we haven’t even had a chance to think realistically about how that looks, you know? But it is exciting for sure.
And now that you HAVE put out the full-length at long last, has it opened the creative floodgates? Are you chomping at the bit to release more stuff? I mean, clearly you want this one to breathe and have its moment in the sun, but has it felt like, “Yeah, let’s keep it up!”
Jordan: I think we’ve definitely been invested in pushing this album out into the world, but I don’t think it’s going to be long before we’re ready to start working on the next thing. I kind of think that’s what you do to keep your sanity as an artist; you constantly are wanting to make something new and share something new. So I think it’s only a matter of time before we start getting that itch, but for right now it’s really fun to be in this moment and pushing the record, because we’re super proud of it. It’s fun.
Louis: Yeah, we’re also still learning how to perform these songs, you know? Even before the record came out we were starting that process of playing some of the songs on the road, but you know, we haven’t been able to play the entire record with a full band on a tour yet, so we’re really excited; right now we’re traveling as a three-piece and are doing stripped-down versions of the songs, and they still drive that high energy, but it’d be great to parlay that into having even more members as part of the band. It’s going to be a lot of fun to take the time to put the live show together. I’m not bored yet. Or, “bored” might be the wrong word, but the idea of needing new music because, “Oh, these songs are old to me,”…these songs aren’t quite there yet for me; we have so many more incarnations of these songs, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to learn a new way to play them.