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The sweet sounds of Thee Sacred Souls

Gustavo Olivares

For decades, Southern California has been a hotbed for the genre of music known as sweet soul, and right now there is no better example of that sound than San Diego’s Thee Sacred Souls.

The group released their self-titled debut album on Daptone Records in the late summer of 2022 and since then have been building audiences all over the world.

The band — comprised of bassist Sal Samano, drummer Alex Garcia and singer Josh Lane — is currently on a sold-out East Coast tour, and WUNC Music’s Brian Burns caught up with them at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

WUNC Music: You're on tour right now. How has it been so far?

Sal: It's been good. It's been a lot of back-to-back gigs but most of the shows have been sold out. So it's feeling good, you know?

Josh: Yeah, it's always good to be on the East Coast.

WUNC Music: What has been your favorite song to play out each night?

Josh: It's been fun singing “For Now,” because that’s a song that we only just started performing on this tour. It's a slower joint so I wouldn't expect it to be a party starter, but it's a really relatable song. I've liked singing it and looking into the audience and seeing faces where it literally looks like people are playing back that scenario in their life in real time, which to me is amazing. It’s almost like a study of human emotions.

Alex: Agreed with that statement on “For Now.” I would say my favorite song is “Love Comes Easy,” especially if we have the full band with the horns. In Chicago we had a friend filling in on congas. There’s no congas on the record, but we played it live like that and it was really fun.

Sal: I’d say the same. “For Now” has been fun because we haven’t played it that much. It’s also a bit of a challenge because it’s slow and spaced out. I’d also say “Sorrow For Tomorrow” is my favorite other song to play because I try to figure out something new to play on bass every time.

Brian Burns
WUNC Music
Thee Sacred Souls enchanted a sold-out crowd at Durham's Motorco Music Hall on February 2, 2022.

WUNC Music: Let’s go back a bit to the early days. Tell us how the band started and where y'all met.

Alex: Sal and I met back in 2018. A little bit before we met Josh. And yeah, we kind of all met through our first single “Can I Call You Rose?” I feel like the creation of that song is when we truly started as a band.

WUNC Music: Did you have much recorded before that single?

Alex: Before “Can I Call You Rose?” and before we met Josh we had a few of the first 45s already in the works. Sal and I had the instrumentals for “It’s Our Love,” “Will I See You Again?” and “Weak For Your Love.”

WUNC Music: Your debut full length was released in 2022, when did you start working on that?

Alex: I guess I would say 2019, or 2020. There was a lot of writing going on then.

Josh: All the way up until 2022. The last song we wrote for the album was written last year, though it didn’t make the cut.

WUNC Music: Did the pandemic have any effect on recording?

Josh: It did. It affected everything, really. Even before we were writing the record, we were supposed to play a showcase, and it got halted because of COVID which inadvertently worked in our favor. During that time we ended up building a team … getting management, getting a booking agent, all the things we didn't have yet. So it really worked out for us. Then we had a lot of time for writing the record. In the heat of it we were doing distance recording, so going in to the studio but trying to pay attention to distancing, which was kind of difficult.

Alex: Yeah, I feel like we finished the record and had that whole time during the pandemic to sit with it and really listen. And then once the pandemic was over we already had shows lined up for us.

WUNC Music: Can you tell me a little bit about the soul scene in Southern California right now?

Alex: Soul music has always had a presence in Southern California music and culture. We’ve been in the mix with a lot of record collectors who have introduced us to a lot of rare 45s, and that whole culture is what kept soul music alive.

Sal: I would also say, we gotta give props to bands like Thee Sinseers because they’ve been doing it for a long time. There’s a whole soul scene from way before we started and also a reggae scene up in Los Angeles that has been strong since way before we started the group.

WUNC Music: What does the rest of 2023 look like for the band?

Josh: We’ve got a lot more touring to do, and simultaneously we’ve got a lot more writing to do. Record number two beckons. Speaking for myself, it’s going to be really challenging because I like to not be so stressed when it’s time to be creative. It muddies my creative process. But that’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

Alex: I'm looking forward to writing more and recording. But yeah, it's just tough because we have a lot of tours lined up.

WUNC Music: Reflecting back on the pandemic and specifically the lockdown, what was the music or art that brought you peace during that time?

Josh: For me personally, I started a newfound journey into yoga, which has been a good mind/body/spirit kind of practice. And I really got into my hobby of photography, key emphasis on “hobby.” I don’t think I’m doing it big or anything, but it’s been another way to meditate. Those two things along with friends and family, of course.

Sal: For me, I don’t think it was anything too specific. Music’s a huge part of my life, so when you have that much more time to just dig in and find new things to listen to, you find all types of new genres and styles of music to get into.

Alex: I think the thing that gave me peace was just writing music and recording. Having more time to play drums and sit with your instrument is a good way to meditate.

Brian Burns is the Music Director for WUNC Music, WUNC's AAA music discovery station. He has been working within the local music scene for over a decade. On the weekends you might see him DJing at various spots around the Triangle, or digging through boxes of records. He's also the host of Future Shock on WUNC Music and a contributor to NPR Music. He graduated from UNC’s School of Information and Library Science with an MSLS in 2015.
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