This Monday, August 13th, Sparta (led by At The Drive-In alum Jim Ward) are playing a surprisingly cozy show at Johnny Brenda’s (Sorry, it’s sold out), after taking quite the hiatus (They’ve released a couple of songs in the past year, but their last album remains Threes, released way back in 2006.) And while getting to see a band that we used to see headline the TLA back in college play our favorite 250-capacity watering hole, they’re not the only band worth getting excited about that night. Providing immediate support for Sparta are Nashville’s Sound&Shape, a trio that are still kicking out beautiful Rock’N’Roll jams, in a time when that designation has largely been either disregarded or commodified to the point of nausea. Although Sound&Shape usually find themselves on bills with the ultra-heavy (and they’re certainly not out of place amidst Sparta’s brand of post-hardcore), their sound is actually quite the complex amalgam of rock subgenres, most notably prog, but also psychedelic and ‘90s alt rock and, at times, even Americana. Yesterday I got a chance to chat with Sound&Shape’s Ryan Caudle, who told me all about his influences and the history of the band, which is already in its second decade.
Izzy Cihak: You’re just about to kick off a batch of dates with Sparta, in some really cool venues. How excited are you for that? Were you previously fans of the band?
Ryan Caudle: We are very, very excited, and extremely honored and humbled, to be touring with Sparta. I’ve been a fan since day one, so this is exciting in every sense of the word. I’ve only played one of the venues on this tour and there are some real bucket list ones on the itinerary.
Izzy: And what can be expected of the live experience when you play here at Johnny Brenda’s?
Ryan: That’s always a bit of a tough one to answer because I think everyone takes something different home with them when they see a band. On our end, we’re going to play our hearts out and play the songs to the best of our ability. The set for this tour is relatively short and to the point. Nice and loud and easy to latch onto I think.
Izzy: I realize this is a huge question, but what have been some of your personal highlights of Sound&Shape so far? You’ve been making and releasing music for over a decade now, which kind of seems like a crazy feat.
Ryan: Every little tiny milestone is a highlight really. I feel like we’re on a pretty good upward trajectory, finally [laughs], so each step up the ladder feels bigger than the last. Every time we get to record new music is a highlight, getting it out to people and getting their reactions. Getting an agent we adore was another one, then getting this tour. I’m very grateful for each incremental move forward no matter how big or small.
Izzy: Have you noticed any patterns in the kinds of people who most like, or best “get,” your music?
Ryan: Not necessarily. I’m actually surprised quite often by who gets into us. To me, I’m basically writing songs that I relate to. I’m a father to a very unique 5-year-old son and he’s actually been a huge inspiration for me. Becoming a dad totally changed how I look at things, especially in the long term, and that changed my writing more profoundly than I ever thought it would. I’m not sure if thinking about things on more of grand scale has led to me writing about more universally relatable things, but people of all ages, genders etc, etc come up to me and tend to like different things about our music.
Izzy: What would you consider to be your most significant influences, as of recently, whether musical or non-musical?
Ryan: Recently I’ve been listening to basically nothing but solo Peter Gabriel. He’s had a huge impact on my writing lately, but it’s still filtered through all my usual influences. I’m a Noel Gallagher fanatic and his new record, both the record itself and how he approached this one, has been really inspiring. I’m a really big Smashing Pumpkins fan as well and just got to see them here in Nashville and it was incredible. They were my first arena show without my parents back in 1996 and that was a life changing moment for me, so getting to see them now was great. Billy seemed really happy and Jimmy Chamberlin is probably my favorite drummer of all time, so getting to see them together with James Iha was just amazing. I always listen to a ton of Beatles as well. My son has become a big Beatles fan so whenever we listen to music together that’s what he wants to listen to.
Izzy: Do you have any significant influences that you think might surprise your fans?
Ryan: I think, because our stuff tends to be pretty loud and sometimes heavy, sometimes a bit frantic, most people aren’t really able to pick out my biggest influences and, to be honest, I like it that way. The songwriters that inspire me don’t necessarily shine through the songs unless you’re listening very closely. Like I said, I love the Beatles (I won’t say who my favorite is, as that’s impossible), Noel Gallagher, Billy Corgan, and Peter Gabriel, but I also love, and get huge amounts of inspiration from Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Sam Cooke, Neil Young, Prince, Bowie, Ray Davies, etc, etc. I also love the Dixie Chicks, but you’d be very hard pressed to find their influence anywhere in my writing [laughs].
Izzy: And how’s the Nashville music and arts scene at the moment? A lot of my favorite artists (Those Darlins, Tristen, Deer Tick, Nikki Lane, etc.) have made it their home in the past decade or so.
Ryan: I get asked this question a lot and I always do my best to be diplomatic. The short answer is: it’s good. I’d say the arts scene is healthier than the music scene right now. On the music side, there is no shortage of content, but there is a pretty large shortage of actual, real world support, especially for things that aren’t easily classifiable. There are a lot of great people here making great music, so in that sense it’s terrific.
Izzy: And, finally, how are Sound&Shape hoping and planning to spend the rest of 2018? What are you most excited about?
Ryan: I’ve got a mountain of new songs, so the plan right now is to probably play one-offs for the fall and just work on the new material. I’m always most excited about moving forward. The next song I write is going to be the best I’ve written, our next show will be the best we’ve played. Onward and upward always.