Promised Land Sound: Nashville's Garage-Psych Heroes - Rolling Stone
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Promised Land Sound: Nashville’s Garage-Psych Heroes

Mesmerizing rockers talk musical evolution and the magic of Music City

Promised Land SoundPromised Land Sound

Courtesy Promised Land Sound

Their Sound: Loosely wandering but tightly composed forays into garage rock with a blurry, psychedelic edge. They may be from Tennessee, but their second LP, For Use and Delight, is more evocative of Dylan’s Infidels than Nashville Skyline, jetting off into lush and layered territory that pulls from Link Wray and the Band. Often sounding more Southern Californian than purely southern, Promised Land Sound, like the Chuck Berry song they’re named after, are all about the trip — physically, mentally or cosmically.

Big Break: The majority of the members of the Nashville four-piece — bassist/lead vocal Joe Scala, his brother drummer/vocalist Evan Scala, Sean Thompson on guitar/vocal and Peter Stringer-Hye on co-lead vocals and additional guitar — have known each other since they were teenagers, playing in the band of fellow local psych-punk rocker PUJOL. But they were only together for a few months when they found themselves onstage in the periwinkle glow of Jack White’s Blue Room, the performance space at the music preservationist’s Third Man Records. “We had only like fifteen minutes worth of stuff,” recalls Thompson. Still, it was enough fuel for White and his creative partner Ben Swank to record and press a special live seven-inch — before Promised Land Sound even released their debut album.

“Not a lot of labels do stuff like that,” Thompson says of the support they received from Third Man. “Stuff that nurtures and facilitates the natural growth of a band instead of telling them what to do. That’s using their name and notoriety to help other bands along, and that’s one of the most rock & roll things you can do.” They signed to North Carolina-based label Paradise of Bachelors (home of Steve Gunn and Hiss Golden Messenger) soon after, and have since opened for Alabama Shakes and Angel Olsen, with West Coast dates supporting Natalie Prass up next.

Why We’re Listening: “Our musical tastes have broadened,” says Thompson about Promised Land Sound’s evolution. “We like to think of ourselves as ever-changing. We don’t want to have just one sound and repeat it over and over again. All the fun is seeing where we go next, and this was a natural progression.”

Indeed, on their first self-titled LP, Promised Land Sound certainly didn’t sound like a country band, but they did focus their ace instrumentals and youthful sense of play into something resembling southern style. On For Use and Delight, however, they pay reverence to their Nashville hometown with a keener, bird’s-eye view but also possess the ability to tap into sonic ideas that lie outside the confines of Music City. “Otherworldly Pleasures” is a prime example, which pits harmonies and distortion against meandering folk riffs, resulting in a sound that’s part Lauren Canyon, part gauzy Brit-rock — all held together by firm Tennessee roots.

Favorite Nashville Venues: “We like the Basement East, and Fond Object is a really nice place to have a show,” says Thompson of the latest East Nashville club and venerable record store, respectively. But they reserve the softest spot for the Stone Fox, a west-side venue owned by guitar wizard William Tyler and his sister Elise. Tyler’s been a long-standing friend of Promised Land Sound, often lending a few licks to their recordings.

“The crew is essentially all bands,” Thompson says about the club and restaurant in Nashville’s the Nations neighborhood. “William Tyler is a great friend of ours, and his vibe is great and calming. People come out there, and it’s an experience. The stage isn’t high off the ground, and people can be close to you.”

Nashville Scoop: “It’s like there is something in the water here,” says Thompson about his hometown — he’s a rare native in a place composed of transplants eager to tap into that creative drip. “There is always something going on that you want to go to, and the crowds are open-minded and like music, and that’s nice to be around. You can feel it in the air.”

Aside from the vital musical scene, Thompson urges anyone new to the area or just visiting to stop by some of the city’s more classic establishments. “Eat at Arnold’s — everybody needs to experience that at least once in their lifetime,” he says. “Get a donut at Donut Den, go to Robert’s [Western World], go to Brown’s Diner.” As someone born and raised in Nashville, which right now boasts as many cranes as capos, he just hopes those places survive all the rapid expansion.

“I never thought anything like this would ever happen, especially since it was so not ‘cool’ for a long time,” Thompson laughs. “And now it’s really ‘cool,’ and that’s kind of weird. I just hope some of the old building are able to stick around.”

Hear for Yourself: For Use and Delight’s stunning opening track, “Push and Pull (All The Time),” which sounds like a mischievous, modern interpretation of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” that eschews lyrics altogether in its entire second half.

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