The band, Dead Soldiers,deliver a rich musical stew that draws on several American roots influences including rock, country, bluegrass, soul, and blues. Since 2011, the band has been playing energetic live shows and making high-quality recordings.. On March 31, they will release their highly anticipated second album, The Great Emptiness on American Grapefruit Records. The new album was recorded at Memphis’s own High Low Studios with the help of talented producers, Toby Vest and Pete Matthews. “The biggest difference this time around was that Toby worked with us a lot on pre-production, so we really had a game plan going into the studio,” Jasud remarked about the recording of the new album. So far, they have released a full-length debut, 2013’s All the Things You Lose and an EP, 2015’s High Anxiety. According to Jasud recording, usually involves a pound of coffee and a lot of anxiety. Drums, bass, and electric guitar are usually recorded first, and vocals and acoustic are laid down later. “After the recording, I listen back to my parts, and usually have another anxiety attack, question every decision I’ve made leading up to this point in my life, apologize to everyone around me for ruining everything, and a week or two later, boom. You’ve got yourself a record.”
The band members’ musical talents and backgrounds are just as diverse as their roots influences. Several of them have collaborated with one another before. Michael Jasud takes on most of the lead vocal duties and guitar. Previously, Jasud played in the bands Cremains and Galaxicon. Dead Soldier’s vocals harmonize perfectly with Jasud, Benjamin Aviotti, Krista Wooten-Combest, and Clay Qualls sharing the effort. Wooten-Combest, who honed her musical chops playing with Amy Lavere, Yazoo Shakes, and the Memphis Dolls, plays masterful violin and keyboards. Aviotti complements the performances with guitar and banjo. He also has experience playing with Lavere and the Memphis Dawls in addition to bands My Surrender, Serapis, The Unbeheld, and others. Qualls and Raad laid down the smooth and effortless mandolin and bass. Raab also lent his talents with guitar and keyboard. Qualls once played with Cremains alongside Jasud. Raab played with a diverse list of bands including Grandma, Purist, and with Aviotti in the Unbeheld. Paul Gillian’s drumming takes on its own life, complementing the various moods. He’s played in a wide variety of projects including the Memphis Dawls, Rushmore, Galaxicon, and Clay Otis. The horns provided by Victor Sawyer (trombone) and NaShon Benford (trumpet) are an essential piece of the musical puzzle.
Dead Soldiers’ one-of-a-kind sound is a unique blend of dance and dirge. Many of their songs begin with soft strumming only to rise to a raucous, danceable chorus that brings to mind the spirit of the Pogues or Gogol Bordello. “I like to think of songs as pieces of furniture, like cabinets. Hopefully each one is better than the next. If you build a really solid set, people will use them for a long time. The big difference being that in average, being a cabinetmaker is probably a lot more profitable,” Jasud says with regards to writing the songs for the new album.Michael Jasud’s melodic voice changes along with the music, often transforming into a rousing growl. The band’s aim is to build upon the melting pot of influences at the heart of the Mid South’s musical heritage. They also want to expose the seedy underbelly of the Jim Crow south through their lyrics, like the ones on the new track, “Old Time Religion,” where Jasud sings “I’ll cast the first stone, the second and the third one too. I’ll cast as many as it takes to cast the devil out of you.”
The new album combines technical clarity with the energy of their live show. The musicians indulge in several styles including bluegrass, rock and country, sometimes all within the same song. They open with an exercise in inspired resignation with “When I Die.” The lyrics, “Everything I was is now gone, all that is left is flesh and bone” may have a depressing feel, but set to Dead Soldier’s musicality it comes off as inspirational, as acoustic fingerpicking gives way to electric guitar and violin, complementing and harmonizing with each other.
Standout “Teddy Bears” captures the mood swings that Dead Soldiers are known for, as brooding electric guitar gives way to a huge chorus of vocals, guitars and trumpets. The lyrics capture the mood of a typical street in inner-city Memphis: “Why are there so many teddy bears hanging on those hard luck telephone poles? The same reason this whole city’s doing life without parole.”
The slow country dirge of “Old TimeReligion” changes the mood again, taking on religious hypocrisy. The piano and horn accompaniment of “A Love Song” bring to mind the song “Ophelia” by the Band. The song is a rumination that reminds us that nothing easy is worthwhile, even in matters of the heart. “Georgia Tann” and “Smartest Man in the World” are gorgeous country-tinged ballads.
The Great Emptiness will become available March 31 on American Grapefruit Records.
Dead Soldiers to release second album,
The Great Emptiness
Story by Russ Thompson