Rock/Pop Act Saint Motel Aims to Modernize A Classic Sound

click to enlarge Rock/Pop Act Saint Motel Aims to Modernize A Classic Sound
Atlantic Records/Jabari
Two years ago, the Los Angeles-based rock act Saint Motel made its label debut with the EP, My Type. The EP delivered a huge hit with the catchy, retro-leaning title track, which is also featured on the Paper Towns soundtrack.

The song has received over 46 million streams on Spotify and was a top 40 favorite overseas too. In addition, the music video directed by Saint Motel frontman A/J Jackson has drawn more than 12 million views at the band’s official YouTube channel. The album suggests band members have an interest in R&B and jazz. That’s true, to an extent.

“We all listen to a lot of different music,” says guitarist Aaron Sharp, whom we interviewed along with drummer Greg Erwin after the band delivered a high-energy set at this year's Lollapalooza festival in Chicago. “Greg and I really like dance music and [singer-guitarist] A/J [Jackson] does as well. We’re all into the history of music and the history of rock ’n’ roll. For us, it was a natural progression to start incorporating horns because it’s such a powerful element you can add, and we like to dance and horns are part of dance-y music.”

He acknowledges that people automatically think “retro” when they hear horns. But Sharp maintains the band aims to have a more “modern” sound.

“It doesn’t have to feel like it’s a soul or Motown or R&B thing,” he says. “The riffs in our music that are horn-based aren’t necessarily a throwback. They’re an integral part of the song. We’re always walking the fine line of the fence where you do one thing and it sounds modern and one thing and it sounds retro. You can’t put your finger on it. Is that soul? Is it Latin music? We don’t want to be pigeonholed as retro. Once you get into the retro realm, it becomes stale and boring. We’re not interested in that. We listen to a lot of electronic music. There’s so much happening in that realm and we really respect that. We want to incorporate those ideas into what we do and also have horns.”

Some critics describe the band’s sound as “dream-pop.” Erwin finds that to be more accurate.

“That’s been floating around for a while,” he says. “We kind of like that. There’s no question we’re influenced by pop music, whether it’s modern or really old. Pop music is an automatic negative for many people. But pop songs are catchy and they stick in your head and you can dance to them. That’s kind of our thing. There’s pop to our music, but it’s weird enough that 'dream pop' works.”

Sharp concurs.

“When you hear the word 'pop,' it has such a negative connotation, but the Beatles were pop, and the Stones and Sabbath were pop music,” he says. “When I think of pop, I think of the entire smorgasbord of music throughout history and what it means to write that three-minute-and-30-second set song that just hits you. It’s that moment when you hear that song, and you want to hear it again.”

The band’s new studio release, saintmotelevision, arrives later this month. It builds upon the dreamy grooves of the previous effort. The album opener, "Move," includes funky guitar riffs and electronic flourishes. Instantly infectious, the tune features the rabble-rousing refrain “gotta get up/gotta get up.”

“The process of making the record was more drawn out because we had more time and more resources than in the past,” says Sharp. “We had a good process of working with the label, and it came together. The cream really did rise. There were highs and lows. We were on the road most of the time, so the genesis of the songs happened on the road. We tried to come up with cool ideas at soundcheck, and it was difficult to make new music because we were so busy. Once we got back to L.A., we had time to decompress and get our wits about us and see what we had. We took the best stuff we had.”

Band members have described their albums as “mosaics,” and this effort lives up to the billing.

“I guess everything we do is a mosaic,” says Sharp. “We did go to Joshua Tree and record for a week, so we got that feeling of being isolated, but, for the most part, we were pushing the envelope of what we could do sonically. We wanted it to be fun, and we wanted other people to have fun. We took and borrowed from other people hopefully without making it like we were stealing their sounds.”

The current tour started last month and continues up through Halloween, when it concludes in New Orleans. Sharp says the band will take a breather and then hit the road again in December.

“It’s full gas — here we come again,” he says. “We like staying busy.”

Saint Motel, Hippo Campus, Weathers, 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17, House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., 216-523-2583. Tickets: $22 ADV, $25 DOS,

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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