Soldier’s Heart releases first album

By Jessi Stone Guide editor | May 14, 2014

An almanac is an annual publication of important moments of the year, which is exactly what Soldier’s Heart has captured on its first album.

After a year of performing together, the Haywood county band will celebrate the release of its studio album “Almanac” beginning at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 17 with a show at Frog Level Brewing Company in Waynesville.

The six-piece band is made up of Caleb Burress, (lead vocals/acoustic guitar), Joey Fortner, (banjo), Zack Edwards (bass), Jeff Mendenhall (fiddle), Chris McElrath (guitar) and Rick Shore (drums).

They describe their music as “porch and soul” since that is where Burress and Fortner first started playing music together.

“Joey and I began playing together on my front porch a little over two years ago,” Burress said. “We put the rest of the band together, practiced and wrote over the next full year before we played our first show. This really helped to solidify our foundation together.”

With musical influences all over the board, somehow the members’ styles all flow together to create an upbeat, downhome Appalachian jam band.

“It’s kind of Americana, kind of rock and roll — we are a good country band too, but not so much funk,” Fortner joked. “Seriously though, we tend to have a sound similar to The Band or The Flying Burrito Brothers. It’s more twang than hard edged.”

Since starting out in May 2013, Soldier’s Heart has drummed up quite a following while playing at large festival and for packed venues in Asheville. After a year of performing together, it was time to try their luck at recording. The band spent several weeks at Solomon Mines Studios in Fletcher laying down 10 tracks.

“I feel that we wanted a snapshot of the past year for ‘Almanac.’ As time passes things change, songs are organic in nature and I feel like we needed to get them captured before they changed too much,” Fortner said. “The more you play a song the more it changes slightly and I feel that when we went in to record, the songs were ripe for picking. This change I’m talking about is a good thing but the songs were just ready to be captured forever. You just know when they are ready.”

Members of the band will tell you that recording is a hard, tedious and time-consuming process in which three minutes are analyzed over and over again. But finally hearing the songs come together was the most gratifying part of the process.

“After the final mixing, it was amazing hearing the album for the first time like that, I was so proud of all the guys and the tireless efforts they put in,” Fortner said.

It was important for the band to capture the same high energy that radiates during their live shows — something that can sometimes be hard to recreate in a studio setting. But from the first note of the album, it is easy to hear that they were able to pull it off.

“Some of the songs came out way faster than what we were rehearsing prior to the album,” Fortner said. “Overall it has a great energy that I think mirrors our live sound. I was also afraid of overproducing the album. Sometimes its easy when you have all this cool stuff at your disposal to try out, but the guys kept me grounded and wouldn’t let me run the banjo through the moog processors.”

Burress said he is still learning his writing process. He does the majority of the band’s songwriting, but they tend to arrange as a group.

“We've become good at talking ideas out and finding what works best for a particular song,” he said. “(Songwriting) is a difficult thing to do and honestly doesn't happen as often as I'd like. You've got to be ready and in the right state of mind when a song comes or you'll miss it.”

As for the band’s plans for the next year, Fortner said he hopes to play more shows while branching out to a few new places and meeting a few new friends.

While they want to stay true to their "porch and soul" sound, Burress said the band has grown and expanded their sound and will continue to do so.

“Our whole idea and the impetus behind the kind of music we were creating was to bring the front porch to the people,” he said. “Through our first year we've definitely moved past that a bit — not that we've abandoned our roots but rather allowed ourselves and the band to grow.”

“Almanac” will be available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon soon. Physical copies can be purchased at the CD release party, Earthworks, the Visitor Center on Main Street, or at www.soldiersheart.com.

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