THE SAINT JOHNS
HAVE A BEER WITH THE SAINT JOHNS
Bandmates Louis Johnson and Jordan Meredith have been making music together since 2008, after they met at a mutual friend’s Taco Tuesday party, picked up a guitar and stayed up late trading songs. The duo currently resides in Nashville [no they’re not dating; yes, they’re both taken] where they moved last year after a two-year stint in New York City by way of Florida. The band name pays homage to The Saint John River running through their native town of St. Augustine, which the duo credits as a geographical reminder of their roots. And in the past five years, the music of The Saint Johns has definitely grown.
After their song “Your Head and Your Heart” appeared on the Independent Nashville music compilation Nashville Indie Spotlight, listeners took notice, and the band shot up the singer-songwriter charts on iTunes. The band took to Das Studios to record the chilling harmonies found in their free EP “Live Sessions,” and now, they’re touring with up-and-coming band The Lone Bellow, playing sold-out venues in their very first extended tour.
We had drinks with Louis and Jordan before their Chicago show at Evanston SPACE to talk about Nashville vs. New York City, why people always assume they’re dating and their plans for an upcoming full-length album.
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: We always start with drink of choice. So, what are both of yours?
Jordan from The Saint Johns: I would normally always say whiskey/ginger, which is what I’m drinking now, but as of late, I’m on a big Old Fashioned kick.
Louis from The Saint Johns: Great Lakes beer is my choice. My friend’s parents are the owners of that brewery, so when in Rome…I’m a big beer fan. I like a lot of craft beers, mostly IPAs, but I’ve also been getting on the bourbon kick. I feel like it’s touring. It makes you be like, “No, I need something stronger.”
Louis: We drink a lot of Bulleit at home. It just seems like a Southern tradition. I really don’t drink that much. I really want to be a badass but I’m not. I’m just not and I need to embrace it.
Jordan: It’s good for your insides to not drink as much. Now that it’s warming up though, I’ve been on a big tequila kick. My boyfriend likes to make drinks and he’s been really into making “Uncle Rons”— that’s what I’ve been calling them—they’re actually called “Captain Rons.” Fresh-squeezed orange juice, a little lime, tequila. So good.
Kristen: I think I like “Uncle Rons” better, so let’s just go with that. I first heard your music on the Nashville Indie Spotlight record released on iTunes in 2012. Your song “Your Head and Your Heart” was featured, and it was my favorite track [track 4] on the entire album.
Louis: Wow, thank you. We were stoked to be a part of that.
Kristen: How did it come about?
Jordan: Our producer, Bruce Bouton, is good friends with Shawn Fowler, who put together the compilation.
Louis: We had been working with Shawn a little bit previously, asking questions about how we should release our record and our EP.
Jordan: And by working with him we mean lunch dates, picking his brain. He liked the song and asked if we would put it on there. We thought it was a no-brainer. We had no idea what would happen though….We ended up selling the most singles for that compilation. It bumped us up to number 22 on the singer-songwriter charts for iTunes, which is not really any big feat, but for us, we were…
Louis: …So excited and kind of boggled. We like the song. We love the song. We wrote it…
Jordan: But we were like, “No one knows who we are!” We were so confused. I’m not trying to question it too much now, but at the time I did. So, thank you, Shawn Fowler.
Louis: That whole compilation was great because it introduced us to the Nashville scene, but also kind of to the world. That was our first release…ever. I guess it happened very soon after our “Live Sessions” release, which were basically just videos that go alongside a four-song EP. That EP was just meant to be free music for whoever was able to grab it. It was sort of like, “This is who we are.”
Jordan: And then from doing that Nashville Indie Spotlight, Shawn put together a showcase with Bruno Ybarra [Label/Artist Relations at iTunes]. He had never done an independent artist showcase before, nor had they done one outside of San Francisco.
Louis: Nor had Bruno ever been to Nashville.
Jordan: Yeah, it was a lot of firsts. We were one of the bands invited, we got to play and now Bruno is a fan. It was fun because we were able to play with a lot of friends. It was mainly artists who were on the compilation that came and played together.
Louis: It was a very small vibe and venue. And it was great to be in the presence of these musicians that we’ve been fans of for a really long time— Trent Dabbs, Matthew Perryman Jones, Paper Route—all of these bands and artists that have been writing incredible songs for a long time, just great songwriters and friends. We were able to get introduced to that group in a really natural way where we felt part of it.
Jordan: It’s fun with situations like that to see how one door opens another.
Kristen: How did you two originally meet?
Jordan: At a Taco Tuesday party that my friends threw.
Louis: We met in St. Augustine, Florida, which is pretty much where we call home.
Jordan: It’s where I grew up.
Louis: And I went to college there. I grew up in West Palm Beach. I love it there, a bunch of my friends are still there, but I moved to St. Augustine and went to school. At this Taco Tuesday party there was a guitar, and I was staring at it all night. It ended up being Jordan’s, and I said, “Hey, you think I could play that for a sec?” I was thinking, Oh, I’m gonna show off to this girl. It’s gonna be awesome. We’re gonna hit it off. And I played a song and then she was like, “Oh, that’s cool. Let me play one.” I was immediately thinking, Oh, damn it. That usually does not happen. Let’s be honest, you usually pick up a guitar and whoever’s guitar it is isn’t actually that good…
Jordan: I was waiting for him to play like a really shitty version of a Jack Johnson song…
Louis: Which I may have done.
Jordan: No, you played one of your songs. I didn’t say you weren’t good. You always say this story and make it sound like I wasn’t impressed. I was thoroughly impressed.
Louis: Of course you were impressed with me…
Louis: We were both just kind of vibing off of each other.
Jordan: And we were forced to hang out because all of our other friends had dispersed and were hooking up in different rooms of this house we were at.
Louis: So, as the night dwindled down it was just us hanging out there.
Jordan: And honestly, we don’t date. We’ve never dated. None of that shit.
Kristen: I bet you guys get that question a lot.
Jordan: All. The. Time. It goes in this order: Oh my gosh, are you guys married? No. Are you dating? No. Oh, so you’re related? Nooo. It blows people’s minds.
Kristen: Yeah, it’s probably because there are so many girl/guy duos right now that are either one or the other: related or in a relationship.
Jordan: It blows people’s minds that we can’t just be friends.
Kristen: You’re just starting on this tour with The Lone Bellow. How is it going so far?
Jordan: We’re trying to get in our groove. It’s been funny.
Kristen: Have you done an extended tour yet?
Jordan: Not exactly. Last month we went out for ten days with Delta Rae, and that was our first tour so to speak. Before that, Louis and I did a lot of college shows. We would be gone for an extended period of time but you fly, you get rental cars and you get put up in hotels…
Louis: Because it was just the two of us, not a band.
Jordan: But that’s not touring. That’s spoiled touring.
Kristen: You always think of touring as this glamorous experience with a tour bus and a new city every night and nice hotels. But I’m slowly learning through these interviews that it’s a lot of vans and shitty hotels and long car rides…
Louis: It’s like, we’re on the phone with our significant others in the corner of the van whispering, “I’m sorry I’m not home. I’m coming home soon.”
Jordan: Crying in the corner.
Louis: I’m just kidding. We’re totally not at the point where we want to go home yet. We’re loving playing every night. Because for us it’s like, We get to play every night.Are you kidding? It’s awesome.
Jordan: We haven’t had that before.
Louis: This year is going to be a lot of touring. We’re hoping this is the beginning of a long journey of touring.
Jordan: Right now it’s really exciting. We’re definitely not over it.
Kristen: I’ll check back with you in about four to six months.
Louis: Next time we come back through Chicago…
Jordan: We might be a little more worn out.
Louis: Might be like, “Give me a whiskey.”
Kristen: We’ll be taking shots next time around. Let’s talk about the “Live Sessions” you did. What was that recording process like?
Jordan: We got some of our friends together who are crazy talented musicians, and we flew one of our very good friends from New York out. He’s a photographer and he’s been playing around with video stuff, so we had a few practices and then just did it.
Louis: That was the first time we ever played together with that combination of people. Ever.
Kristen: That’s really hard to believe. I mean that in a great way. It sounded so polished.
Louis: Thank you.
Jordan: Everywhere you turn there are musicians in Nashville.
Louis: We just happened to turn the right way.
Jordan: We’ve just lucked out on being friends with really talented people. And Ben, who is our guitar player, his brother engineered the whole thing for us.
Jordan: So, we went into the studio super early one morning and went right to it. We did three takes of each song and that was that. Our friend went back to New York and edited the videos. Because we’re such a new band, the most important thing for us was just making sure there was music out there so people could see what we do.
Kristen: The videos have a ton of views on YouTube.
Jordan: We’ve gotten a really great response. It’s been fun to see.
Louis: Sometimes I’ll listen to the record for the first time and I can’t envision how many pieces there are or what’s going on. You normally hear the basics: the acoustic here, the drums there, the bass, but I want to visualize it. How many singers are there? How many people are in the room? Sometimes I just want to see a video of the actual recording being done. I want to see the setup and what they look like, so that when I see them live I have some sort of expectation. That’s where our heads were at. We want to see that from artists that we love. It was our way of introducing ourselves.
Kristen: The songs themselves are amazing. How do you work together to write and record your material?
Jordan: I think there’s been only one song that we didn’t write together fully.
Louis: Like with this new one “Ragdoll,” she’ll come to me and all I’ll do is help her arrange it, but I won’t actually help her write any of the parts. That kind of happened with this other song “Barricades,” too. I wrote it and then she came in and helped shape it. But the song was there, it was done. Most of the time, if I write a full song and bring it to Jordan, it’s like, “That’s cool, but that’s not really one for us. That’s for something else.”
Kristen: It’s nice that you can be honest with each other about that stuff.
Jordan: It definitely took some time.
Louis: Yeah, we’ve been playing together now for four-and-a-half or five years, and it’s been a definite process getting comfortable enough to be like, “That’s not right for us. You can record that for your own thing, but that’s not going to work for The Saint Johns.” Or we’ll say, “That’s great, let’s go here with it.” That’s a point that every band has to get to. It’s been easier with Jordan than I feel like it has been with me and other people.
Jordan: I feel like I’m better with him because we work differently. Louis loves arranging and finding cool ways to make a song unexpectedly exciting, and I love lyrics.
Kristen: It’s nice you complement each other. You live in Nashville. What neighborhood?
Jordan: We live in Germantown.
Louis: It’s just north of downtown Nashville.
Jordan: It’s up-and-coming. Lots of families.
Kristen: Is it hard being in Nashville with so many other people pursuing music?
Jordan: It pushes you to be better because you’re constantly seeing people working so hard doing the same thing that you’re doing. But at the same time, it’s not competitive. Everyone is friends. When you succeed, everyone succeeds.
Louis: Here’s the thing. We lived in New York for a year. One year. And we’ve lived in Nashville for two, and it felt like we lived in New York for a lot longer than we’ve lived in Nashville. I wouldn’t even say New York is competitive; it just felt like we were completely on our own. We played wherever we could. We would bust it trying to get as many shows as possible and it just wasn’t supported. Nobody would be able to come to the shows…
Jordan: No one was getting excited about live music there. In Nashville, people are seriously stoked.
Louis: When a new band comes on the scene in Nashville it’s like, “Alright, let’s see what you can do.” That first show people are going to be there saying, “Show us what you can do.” If you suck, they leave. If you’re good, they’re going to come to the next one. There’s support for the people that work for it. For us, it’s been an awesome experience being a new band and having people support us by saying, “Please, come back and play again.” Or just supporting us by being there. And at the end of the day, any band that’s really great from Nashville brings more cred to Nashville. Pretty much every show I go to there, I’m blown away.
Kristen: Do you have a favorite place to see a show in Nashville?
Jordan: I love The Basement.
Louis: We’ve played a couple of shows there.
Jordan: You can catch really wonderful bands in such an intimate setting. It’s also connected to one of our favorite record stores, Grimey’s. Mike Grimes is the co-owner of the venue and the record store. The sound is always good at The Basement.
Louis: You don’t worry about it at The Basement. You just go, it sounds great.
Kristen: What’s the most un-rock-‘n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past year?
Louis: I work valet. I actually just quit my job, but every time I would go into work I’d be like like, “Man, this is not rock-‘n’-roll.” It wasn’t a bad job, but working there, I felt like it was stalling what I actually wanted to be doing. I worked there for a year and three months, and it made me more motivated than ever to kick our shit into gear and get this record done. As soon as our EP is out and our record is coming out, we’ll be touring enough to where we can’t do anything else.
Jordan: And that’s rock-‘n’-roll. I’m having a hard time, but I do un-rock-‘n’-roll stuff every day.
Louis: She was just sitting at home watching Sex and the City ALL DAY the day before we left for this tour.
Jordan: I was stamping CDs and that was my entertainment. I’m also totally obsessed with my cat, Mila Kunis.
Jordan: Here’s the deal. She’s kind of our cat, but Louis doesn’t do shit. He’s a terrible baby daddy and kitty daddy. When we got her, I really wanted to name her Bon Kwi Kwi. He was like, “There’s no way in hell I’m calling her that.” I said, “Okay, you name her.” But he had no good ideas, and this was when he was in his Mila Kunis prime crush stage. So, her full name is Mila Kunis Bon Kwi Kwi.
Kristen: So, is she at your place when you’re touring?
Jordan: Yeah, but Louis’ girlfriend, my boyfriend and Louis and I all live together. It’s a love shack.
Kristen: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Jordan: Musically, Bruce, our producer, said, “Take care of the music and it will take care of you.” And I love that.
Kristen: What’s next for you guys?
Louis: Right now, we’re just trying to get our recording ready for an EP release. We’re hoping for sometime in August. We’ll be working our asses off until then, figuring out what songs are going to be on it, finishing those songs and then getting it ready. Once we do that, we’ll be touring, trying to get on as an opener for bands just like this. If we do better than we possibly imagine, we’d hope to headline very soon after that.
Jordan: It’s in our little dream bubble.
Louis: 2014 is gonna be our year. For right now, we’re so happy to be here, and we’re stoked to be touring with The Lone Bellow.