by Ziggy Merritt
Since their debut in 2013, Nashville transplants Jordan Meredith and Louis Johnson, the inspiring songwriters behind The Saint Johns have worked tirelessly to hone a sound all of their own. Borrowing bits and pieces from Americana, alt-country, and folk, their most recent efforts have seen them expand upon their earliest offerings, which often prescribed to the quiet yet intimate touch of that same Americana influence. Now with just the better part of three years behind them, Meredith and Johnson have gained the momentum and confidence to pursue their passions on their own terms, all coming to fruition with their latest album, Dead of Night. Alongside friends in Judah & The Lion, a tour supporting this album recently found it’s way here toward Philly at World Cafe Live. With this recent return I was able to send over a few questions to the band with hopes to gain more insight into the making of their first full-length.
Part of my curiosity honed in on one of the singles off of Dead Of Night, “Shadowplay.” Opening with a vibe not all that dissimilar from their promising 2013 debut EP, Open Water, the track’s quiet beginnings belie a surprising embrace of electric guitar and percussion. “Shadowplay is one of our favorite tracks on Dead Of Night partly because it happened so naturally,” writes Johnson in his reply. “It came together in our living room while sitting around the kitchen table with our good friend, Jake Etheridge.” For the curious, Etheridge himself is an accomplished talent in his own right, contributing his songwriting chops to the album while also being one of the moving parts behind Dutch bluegrass outfit, The Common Linnets.
“There wasn’t any preconception of what we would write together, where it would go or even if it was going to be a song for our record at all,” continues Johnson on their collaboration and the forging of a new and bold direction for The Saint Johns. “It wasn’t until we recorded “Shadowplay” that it ended up being the song that would bridge the gap between our soft, brooding sound and more upbeat feel. For that we can thank our amazing producer, David Kahne. Who’s never afraid to punch you in the face with a kick drum.”
The same David Kahne is the Grammy award-winning producer who has worked with the likes of Paul McCartney, Regina Spektor, and Stevie Nicks, the latter of whom had some influence on the direction of the title track. “We are hugely inspired by Fleetwood Mac!” Johnson says. “The fact that David Kahne has worked with Buckingham and Nicks is just an awesome coincidence. Interestingly enough while writing for the record we took many different approaches. We wrote the title track “Dead Of Night” with Jordan’s husband, JT Daly. JT came into our session with a couple drum grooves from iconic songs laid out. We were blind to what song the groove came from and just wrote.”
It turned out the groove was picked up from “Go Your Own Way”, as Johnson admits. The track has since been altered of course, but picking up on this kernel of knowledge it’s hard not to hear the impact this had on the final product as well as their almost effortless vocal harmonies, which carry over to great effect in one of the darker tracks from the album, “Lost the Feeling”.
This would end up being translated into the equally moody storyboard for track’s music video. “We made this video with Tyler Evans. He brought us a really cool mood board and story line and we were sold immediately,” says Meredith before remarking on the genuine down-and-out atmosphere that the video portrayed. “We filmed the majority of the video in a very dirty and very sketchy motel in Lebanon, Tennessee. It was something that we had only seen in movies. Bugs were crawling out of the faucets, drug deals were going on… we all took really long showers once the day was over.”
Yet having toured consistently for the three years they’ve been together as The Saint Johns, you would be forgiven for thinking that grimy motels would be the least of their worries. As Johnson would attest it has all been for the best. “Touring has been an amazing learning experience for us as a band,” he says. “We have the unique ability to tour in many different configurations. Thus far we’ve only toured as a duo and trio (adding an electric guitar player) but we’re excited to add a rhythm section at some point this year as well.”
Apart from the ongoing experimentation via their live performances, much of their confidence can be attributed to some of the more established acts that they’ve had the luck to tour alongside. “The Lone Bellow, and Drew Holcomb in particular were really inspiring to us,” says Johnson. “Not only in the energy they bring to every set but also to the way that they seem to live off stage. Touring life isn’t always the easiest and it’s so refreshing to be with great people who can share their life hacks with us.”
Stay tuned for The Saint Johns next stop in the Philly area. Meanwhile check out the video for “Lost the Feeling” below!