Sadler Vaden gets the honor of becoming the first remote interview on Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast, appearing in an episode that was recorded at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaden, perhaps best known as the guitarist in Jason Isbell’s backing band the 400 Unit, released his new solo album Anybody Out There? in early March, making it a tricky thing to promote when he couldn’t be onstage playing shows.
After an initial interview during which Shiflett failed to press the record button, Vaden gamely came back for a second round and did it all again, covering his downtime activities and listening habits, his dad’s influence on him learning how to play guitar, and working with former Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed.
We’ve rounded up a few highlights from the conversation below.
A nimble, rock-influenced guitarist, Vaden has been hunkering down at home with the classic fretwork of Eric Clapton.
“I’ve been listening to Blind Faith, that one record. It’s just awesome. That’s such a great era of Clapton too. There’s a lot of Clapton lovers, there’s a lot of Clapton haters out there. But that to me is just one of his best things that he’s ever done, because he had Steve Winwood and Ginger Baker. And the record is just six songs!”
Vaden was forced to cancel all of the tour dates he had around the release of Anybody Out There? but he’s already thinking about how he might make them up when things return to normal. Then again, that kind of depends on his main gig.
“The 400 Unit and Jason, we have a new record coming out in May. So all of that has shifted. All those dates had to get moved,” he says. “I’m thinking I will [make up the dates]. We just went ahead and refunded people, because for me personally it’s hard to look at a rescheduled date when everything is shifting on Jason’s end. But I have to, I owe it to the people who wanted to come see me, and I owe it to the record. I worked really hard on the record. I’m proud of it, I think it’s a good album. I need to, it’s just when? I don’t know.”
Vaden likes to road test his new songs during the writing process.
“I did a lot of demos for this record, essentially that was my pre-production. I would program some drums, play some guitar, lay some bass down. I would take those in the car and listen to ’em. That’s usually my process with writing. I do a demo, ride around with it. When I’m riding around with it, I have to concentrate on driving so the music Is entering my brain and I’ll notice when a melody or a lyric rubs me the wrong way and I can go back in and fix it.”
The album’s riff-heavy title track was co-written with guitarist Audley Freed, a longtime hero and mentor to Vaden.
“I saw Audley play in the Black Crowes when I was like 12 years old, at the House of Blues in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I was blown away. They opened up with ‘Remedy’ and Audley, he just looks like such a rock star, ripping solos. That moment stuck with me for a long time. I got a chance to write with him when I was like 21 — I was in Nashville and somebody hooked me up with him… We hit it off, the song was, I dunno, it was probably shit. Years later I got the gig playing with Drivin N Cryin. I emailed Audley because I was moving to Nashville. He called me, and was like, ‘Man I’m so pumped you’re moving to Nashville — you’ve got a great opportunity here with Drivin N Cryin.’ He’s really been like my friendtor. He’s like my mentor but now we’re close.
He accidentally wrote one little bit of coronavirus-related ephemera that took root.
“On Instagram, I put this song and it was like ‘Wash your hands, keep it clean,’ just like a JJ Cale thing. It got picked up by this thing called Handwash Jukebox on Alexa. You can enable it, and say, ‘Alexa, play Handwash Jukebox.’ I’m like one of the 15 songs that’ll get rotated in there. I wrote a coronavirus anthem. I used my computer and I cut a little version in my room. They’re like, ‘It just has to be long enough to wash your hands.'”
Vaden’s father got him started playing guitar after they’d been to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Farm Aid.
“He taught me a big lesson, which was when you get frustrated, put it down. And come back to it,” he says, recalling when he learned to play the solo from AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” “It was in the back of a Guitar World magazine. I’d learned how to read the tab from a friend down the street. I couldn’t get it. I was so close to having it — it’s a very useful guitar solo for a guitar player if you’re learning. Major, minor, it’s all great stuff. Anyway, I put it down for about two hours, went and shot some hoops, came back in, picked up that thing and nailed it.”