Published on February 19th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Sol Driven Train Enhances the Positive Vibe on a New Album
Charleston rock band Sol Driven Train has been experimenting and tinkering with blends of Americana, reggae, soul, and funk for more than 10 years. On their new studio collection Underdog, a 10-song set recorded in Mt. Pleasant at Charleston Sound, it sounds like all of the previous the lab work has led the quintet to a sturdy roots-rock style with a more powerfully emotional punch than ever before.
“I think Underdog reflects a more mature band — a band that’s better in the studio,” says lead singer/guitarist/banjo player Joel Timmons. “We were better able to get our ideas down.”
Sol Driven Train first came together as a group of Wando High School friends in the mid 2000s. While attending the College of Charleston, Timmons, sax player/singer Russell Clarke, singer/guitarist/trombonist Ward Buckheister, and their rhythm section began gigging around town and recording original material. By 2007, with bassist Rusty Cole on board, they’d established themselves as one of the more solid jam bands in the Lowcountry. Drummer Wes Powers joined in 2010.
The quintet has stayed particularly busy over the last two years, touring around the U.S. and Caribbean, recording a handful of live and studio albums, headlining local benefit concerts, and rocking regional festivals stages.
Last summer, they issued a quirky mini-album titled Watermelon. “They were the lighter-themed songs, the super oddball track out of the 15,” Timmons says.
Their new studio album Underdog is a 10-song collection funded through fan support via a Kickstarter campaign.
“We did all of Watermelon and Underdog during the same session last year,” Timmons says. “We didn’t want to release a 15-song album, because we worried about some songs getting lost, but we didn’t want to lose any of these songs, either. We just went in with our best songs. We just wanted to put ’em down. At one point, we even considered making three EPs out of the bunch.”
The band tracked Underdog with engineers Joey Cox and Jeff Hodges (Charleston Sound’s proprietor) at the mixing board.
“It seems like a blur, thinking back to when and how we recorded this album,” Cole says of the Watermelon and Underdog sessions. “It wasn’t a log, drawn-out process where we spent extra time perfecting every individual track. We just blocked off that time and went in there and nailed it.
“Back when we made the album Lighthouse [in 2008], we did it all ourselves on our own gear,” Cole adds. “We were production crew and producers, making a rough album. Believe  was done in three different studios, whenever we could get it done. That was a drawn-out process. But this one was different. We were all in the same place at the same time — and we were all on the same page. Ward had stopped drinking, so his focus and sense of direction was right there, which quadrupled the energy level. Everything just made sense.”
Much of the subject matter on Underdog is focused on redemption, forgiveness, and renewal, especially Timmons’ heartfelt opening title track (in tribute to a bandmate) and Buckheister’s waltzy “Cherry Trees.” The set includes brassy ditties, soft-grooving anthems, and funky soul-rockers. There’s not as much of an Afro-Caribbean or reggae presence this time. Timmons sums it up as “Lowcountry roots-rock.”
Charleston-based singer Elise Testone (an American Idol finalist) makes a guest appearance on the album, as do singer Danielle Howle, organist/pianist Ross Bogan (of WADATA), trumpeter Cameron Harder-Handel (of the Jazz Artists of Charleston), tuba player Davis Buckheister (Ward’s brother), and ukulele player Noodle McDoodle (of the V-Tones).
“Everybody was involved in every step of production,” Timmons says. “It was a great team effort, between the band and Joey and Jeff at Charleston Sound.”
Cox engineered many of basic tracks and worked with Hodges on the basic production. Hodges and the band guided the final production of the album.
“Jeff was very observant of the dynamic within the band,” Timmons says. “We came in there with our tight arrangements and parts, and he was good about not trying to step into a process that was already 99 percent there, you know? It was in the mixing process where he really helped the most. Great ideas.”
“Wes on the drums is really fantastic and solid in the studio,” Timmons adds. “Everything else came together tastefully. We’re all more comfortable being us in the studio and on stage these days. Sometimes it gets silly, and sometimes it gets emotional, but there’s always supportive vibe there.”
Cole agrees with his bandmate that a stronger sense of mutual support has developed with in the group. “We were stoked about the songs, the sounds we were getting in the studio, and the freedom Jeff let us have,” Cole says. “Jeff knew what were looking for, so if something came up that we weren’t feeling. we’d move on with no problem. It’s funny for us to listen back to the album, because it documents where we were and who we were nearly two years ago. We’ve grown a ton since we cut these songs. The way we play them on stage is slightly different, too. A few years ago, it was like we were all reading the same book, but now it’s like we’re reading each page together.”
Last month, Sol Driven Train traveled to the British and U.S. Virgin Islands for their fourth annual 12-day residency (playing shows, hiking, surfing, etc.). In late February, they embark on a Southeastern “Underdog CD Release” tour that extends into mid April. It’s nearly a non-stop spring.
“We just take it one record at a time,” Timmons says. “We’re going to tour really hard behind this one. We’ve got a lot of things in place that we didn’t have before. Our Kickstarter campaign helped us get things together. We took time get our press stuff and promotional budget together. Usually, when we make an album, we dump everything we have into a studio, print the CDs, and go, ‘Well, here it is.’ This time, we’re better prepared.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time in the bus and on stages over the years, and we’ve been able to talk through different issue that have come up pretty well,” he adds. “We’re always trying to find that balance between the number of dates on the road and the time off. We try to take care of relationships, and we want to feel like we have a home here. We’re still getting better at it.”
Sol Driven Train hosts a CD release show at the Charleston Music Hall on Fri. Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. Advance tickets are available for $22 (the price includes a CD copy of Underdog). Student tickets are available for $10 at the box office. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Jerry Zucker Ride for Hope, an annual fundraiser for Charleston cancer charities.
The band will perform at the Spring Jam Music Fest in Charleston on Sun. March 24 as well.
See soldriventrain.com for more.
The video below for “One More Day” was shot, directed, and edited by David Keller at the Pour House, April 2012.
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