Truth & Salvage Co. recorded new album Pick Me Up at Echo Mountain Studios this past March. The band calls it “super-live,” it captures their on-stage performance. Photo by Steve Condon
Depending on how you tally the discography of roots-rockers Truth & Salvage Co., Pick Me Up is either their second (counting LPs only) or third (counting 2012 EP Salvage Songs, Vol. 1) or fifth (counting ’09 Truth & Salvage Co. EP, with songs that appeared on the their 2010 self-titled debut, and an ’09 online-only Daytrotter release) effort. But it kind of doesn’t matter, because even if this is the dreaded sophomore album, when you total all the records made by the band’s members in previous bands (including Asheville-based Scrappy Hamilton and Old Pike from Indianapolis), they blew by the second album years ago.
Which is probably why Pick Me Up (released this July), straight out of the gates, brims with confidence and honed bombast from the multipart harmonies and earth-rattling percussion, to the an especially hooky cover of Joe South’s “Games People Play.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Pick Me Up — for all of its feel-good vintage-rock prowess — wasn’t an easy record to make. A first attempt, despite a great producer, “didn’t really capture the enthusiasm and the excitement that a lot of people associate with our live show,” says keyboardist Walker Young. Band members were split over the end result, but the group’s label, Megaforce, sent them back into the studio. The producer in charge of the second take had complications with the label, so that recording was discarded, too. “At that point, our budget had dwindled down. Luckily, the folks at Echo Mountain opened their doors to us, and that was why we had to make the records really quickly,” says Young.
“Jon Ashley and Evan Bradford co-engineered the record. And put in monster 12 hour days for a two-week stretch,” says by guitarist Scott Kinnebrew, who adds that studio manager Jessica Tomasin went so far as to offer to put the band up. “We owe this killer record to them.”
Kinnebrew adds that the “icing on the cake was having Bill Reynolds from Band of Horses mix the record. He had produced two Scrappy records in the past, so he really knew us, and it shows in the record.”
The project, completed in a week, is “super-live,” according to Young. It crackles with charged momentum. Some tracks feel familiar, like “Silver Lining,” written by Kinnebrew and described, by the band, as a jammer they’d been playing live for at least five years. Drummer William “Smitty” Smith started writing “Appalachian Hilltop,” a track obviously influenced by WNC. The rest of the band helped work out the chorus.
In fact, a number of the album’s offerings, like intro track “Bad Times,” are truly co-written, which explains how Truth & Salvage Co.’s four songwriters (including Young and guitarist Tim Jones) have managed, two or three or five albums in, to remain consistent. Instead of fighting for artistic control, the writers have moved in a more collaborative direction. “We realized, what’s the point of holding on to a song and not putting it out there for interpretation and embellishment from the other people we play music with,” says Kinnebrew. “It would be a crime to the song.”
What’s not on the new album: Any discernible influence from Nashville, though the group (except for Kinnebrew) all left L.A. for Music City a year and a half ago. “The songs were already written before we moved,” Smith points out. And the group has been on tour for much of the time they’ve been based in Tennessee.
On a personal note, Young does think that the new location (plus a country setting after city digs in California) has affected his songwriting. The Nashville sound will be revealed on future recordings.
Of that slow return, the time span between when a song is written and when it’s released to fans, Kinnebrew says, “The cool thing about music is that once you put it out there, it no longer belongs to you. You might be singing the same song for four years, but the listener has an experience that’s uniquely theirs.”
The experience of their listeners matters a lot to the band: When it comes to touring (which they do a lot), “We feel community with our fans,” says Smith. A new fan, perhaps, is a certain Grateful Dead guitarist, who turned up at a recent show. “Full circle alert — Bob Weir came to see me play last night,” Kinnebrew posted on Facebook.
Another full circle: Asheville’s Blue Rags, who were at the height of their fame in the ‘90s, will support Truth & Salvage Co. when they play the final Downtown After 5 street party of the season. “They were a major inspiration on the Scrappy Hamilton ensemble,” says Kinnebrew of ragtime-roots outfit, the Blue Rags (Reynolds was once a member). “My first show at Be Here Now was in winter in ’97, and they just blew my mind.”
— Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
who: Truth & Salvage Co. with The Blue Rags
where: Downtown After 5
when: Friday, Sept. 20 (5-9 p.m., free. http://www.ashevilledowntown.org)