Today, we’re offering up a blast of groovy hard rock that unashamedly draws on the greats of rock, grunge, ska and rap-rock from the last few decades with self-monikered “degenerate rock band” Souls Extolled.
The Austin, Texas, trio of Zach Black (vocals and lead guitar), JP Ortiz (bass) and Joe Valadez (drums) offer up a nostalgic sound that’s big on energy and grit, the obligatory awesome guitar solo and debaucherous lyrics. Sounds pretty damn good right?
The band have released two singles this year, with the latest being the intriguing – both musically and thematically – Garden of Eden, but more on the theme from Zach later. The track opens up with light guitars then drops into a laid-back, psych-rocky opening verse with a funky little bassline supporting Zach’s edgy vocals.
The pace picks up after the second verse with ska-like stabbing guitars then delves into rapped vocals over a cool little synth line. That gives way to a more upbeat rhythm section as the rolling guitars return, drop back down into another laid-back verse, which leads into another more intense rapped section. This time a cool guitar solo takes over, starting slowly but soon picking up pace and dropping into a chilled outro.
We had a chat with Zach to find out a bit more – and it turned into a bit of an epic interview. Read on below…
GR: Who are Souls Extolled?
ZB: I’m Zach Black and I’m a singer, songwriter, and guitarist from Aiea, Hawaii. I moved to Austin, Texas in 2012 to attend the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and I fell in love with the city, its culture, and especially its thriving music scene. I came up with the idea for Souls Extolled when I wrote the song Follow the Ghosts in 2013 while attending UT.
“The song is about Moses in the desert, meeting God and the burning bush and all that, but a more agnostic take on the situation. It’s an expression of frustration with my draw towards spirituality and the contradictions between my feelings and beliefs on the subject. Sonically the song came out reminiscent of my favourite classic rock bands, like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, but with a modern twist, incorporating some grunge and reggae-rock elements. I realized that I didn’t know any modern bands doing that type of aggressive, existential rock, that I’m in love with. So I decided to try and start my first rock band.”
GR: Sounds like interesting band beginnings! So how did you go about putting the band together?
ZB: “I formed a band with some of my friends and we broke into the scene together for maybe 6 months. Local rapper Greg Maneikis of Black Sheep Optimists, who I met at an open mic, was a huge part of it. For whatever reason, he took an interest in us and was acting as an unofficial manager at the time. He booked all of our shows in those days, and today still throws us plenty of bones! Being the poet that he is, he suggested the name for the band which I was immediately in love with.
“It was a lot of fun, but we had some issues. First, the band wasn’t very dedicated, and I hadn’t learned how to run a band yet and find the right people. Also, some of the members were not okay with me using any kind of religious symbolism in the music. Finally, we had some alcohol and drug problems among the members to varying degrees. We never officially disbanded, but basically fizzled out as we all got busy with other projects and things, and I got tired of trying to keep the band going without any support.
“Fast forward to February of this year. Now having played in a ton of different projects and gained a lot of experience, I found myself focusing on what was originally meant to be my acoustic-pop side project. It was picking up some steam, and I had recruited Austin music scene veteran JP Ortiz on the bass, and Fair City Fire’s Joe Valadez on the drums to accompany me. Out at a rock show one night I had a sort of epiphany that that project wasn’t how I wanted to spend my primary musical energy, nor where I wished to have success if that was going to happen.
“I’m a rock n’ roller at heart and I want to make badass music and play loud, high energy shows to big crowds. I also had great chemistry with JP and Joe both musically and personally and knew that if they were down, we had all the pieces to be an incredible rock band. I showed up at one of our jam sessions one day with my electric guitar and started showing them a series of rock songs that I had written over the years, along with a few of the original Souls Extolled songs.
“When I saw they were into it, I expressed to them my realisation and asked if they were down to pivot with me to a revamped Souls Extolled. They were down, and a few weeks later we made our debut together at a house party in central Austin. Since then we have been taking off, playing a bunch of awesome shows, making a great record, and it’s been the ride of my life. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done so far, and completely ecstatic for the future with these guys!”
GR: You just released Garden of Eden. What should people be expecting from the song? What inspired you to write it?
ZB: “Garden of Eden was written spontaneously and is really a great conglomeration of my musical influences, as well as an excellent representation of what the band is about. The song is basically a celebration of free will and debauchery! It plays on the biblical story of the Garden of Eden and the introduction of sin, knowledge, free will, or however you want to look at it into creation.
“Musically, it’s kind of like if you smashed together a groovy Pink Floyd song like Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2 and the ska side of Sublime’s Same in the End with Jim Morrison-esque vocals on top. So although the song is aggressive, it’s also very psychedelic and groovy, summing up to the perfect combination of meaning and sound. Altogether the song is designed to get you dancing and jumping around!”
GR: The song has a pretty cool video to accompany it too – tell us a bit more about that?
ZB: “We worked with CJ Bills and his partner John Smith of Under Siege Productions, and they were absolutely amazing! I came to them with this crazy idea to have naked babes in the woods, all painted different colours, snakes, drone shots, etc… and I was shocked when they told me it would be no problem. They were no joke! Super professional and pulled off everything that we wanted and more. Check it out we’re super stoked about it!”
GR: How would you describe your sound to people that haven’t listened to you yet?
ZB: “It’s a difficult question for us, but altogether the key influence is classic rock. I would say it’s psych-rock, with hints of ska, grunge, reggae, and even a little bit of rock-rap. So it’s pretty eclectic, but we think if you like rock in general, you will like it!
GR: What influences you to write music? Any key themes or topics that you write about?
ZB: “I am first and foremost a songwriter, so my love of songwriting in itself is a huge motivation. I started writing songs when I was maybe 13, and it’s always been interesting to me what makes songs good, from the tone and song structure to lyrics, melodies, and harmonies. The key thing that I noticed is that the songs that hit me the hardest are those that I feel the artist is honestly expressing themselves. So at a certain point, it became my goal to write songs that were true expressions of myself and my experiences.
“The songs for Souls Extolled are expressions of existential anxiety, duality, and vice. I am hopelessly drawn to the supernatural, and more specifically the idea of a God. But the feelings evoked from that concept are very contradictory, from being comforting to being damning. The songs are riddled with this duality. Are these feelings that I have from God, or is it just in my head? If God is real, am I even on his side? Do I want to be? You get the idea…
“For example, one of the songs on the upcoming album Hear My Call is basically about having a broken relationship with God, and frustration in the possibility that there is a God, but it seems he does not answer prayers nor keep bad from happening in the world. Another song Mutations Sake is about contemplating suicide and death. The chorus goes: “Embrace the sunshine, it’s keeping me alive. Let the radiation sink in, for mutation’s sake, It’s keepin’ me awake, And I’m falling back to sleep.” Ultimately the sun is a metaphor for God. While being the source of all life it can also give you cancer and kill you.
“The other side of these songs is a celebration of vice as a means of relieving or at least distracting from the existential crisis, like in Garden of Eden.”
GR: Fascinating stuff! Which bands/musicians are/have been your strongest musical influences?
ZB: They are wide-ranging, but I would have to start with Black Sabbath, Nirvana, Sublime, The Strokes, Arctic Monkeys, and Modest Mouse! We’re also big Led Zeppelin and The Doors fans. And there’s a lot of influence from outside our genre as well, like Aesop Rock, Damien Marley, and Matisyahu.”
GR: What have you got coming up through the rest of 2019?
ZB: “So far this year we have dropped two singles, Release and Garden of Eden. Our next show is with our buddy Randall Conrad Olinger on 29 July at his Hole in the Wall residency. In August, we’re dropping our third single The Restless Kind; we have a show with Greg Maneikis’ new project Black Sheep Optimists at Swan Dive on 17 August, and we’re planning an awesome boat party show for 21 August on Lake Travis.
“Then in September, we’re dropping our full record Follow the Ghosts with a show at Empire Control Room. After that, we’re trying to do our first tour, and begin recording again by the end of the year. So it’s definitely going to be busy! We’re super thankful to have so many great opportunities to play, and we’re going to make sure we bring the fuckin’ house down for every one!”
GR: Exciting times then! Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you/your music?
ZB: “With social media and everything it seems like there is a lot of pressure to project positivity and to keep negative emotions to yourself. But that’s bullshit! I’m sure that a lot of people feel like I do: frustrated, disconnected, confused, and out of place in the world that we live in. And those feelings need a healthy outlet.
“Rock n’ roll has always been that outlet but has increasingly been dominated by sterile and emasculated pop-rock, a lot of times going under the genre of ‘alternative or ‘indie’ rock. And that’s fine, I like a lot of that music! But when I ask myself why I find myself going back in time so often to find music that relates to me, that’s why. There isn’t anyone doing that kind of stuff anymore, and so we’re going to do it!”