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Interview: Shane Smith & The Saints on Yellowstone, Their Stormy New Album, ‘Norther’ and More

February 29, 2024 5:25 pm GMT

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The infamous Texas Blue Norther, a fierce, ominous tempest that suddenly descends on the state with little warning, serves as the inspiration behind Shane Smith & The Saints’ new album. But in many ways, the Norther is also the perfect metaphor for the band itself.

After spending the best part of a decade establishing themselves as road warriors and earning a cult following, they experienced a cacophonous, seismic explosion in popularity after their fan-favourite song, ‘All I See Is You’, was featured on Season 4 of Yellowstone.

Since the Texas-based five-piece stormed onto the scene with their fiery, cinematic and cavernous sound, much like the Blue Norther, Shane Smith & The Saints’ presence in the country-rock landscape has burgeoned at an impressive rate.

Taylor Sheridan, the creator of Yellowstone, doubled-down on his love of Shane Smith & The Saints by recruiting them to make an on-screen appearance in the blockbuster final season of the Western-inspired show, performing three tracks at Governor Dutton's inauguration.

With a gravelly, weather-worn baritone that carries the same evocative, rugged weight of another Yellowstone staple, Colter Wall, Shane Smith and The Saints are poised to cement their position at the forefront of the traditional-leaning, alt-country wave of artists with the release of their highly anticipated 2024 project, Norther.

Their first record in five years, the majority of the track swirl in a visceral, dizzying squall of drama and might, epitomised on the likes of ‘Fire In The Sky’ and ‘Field Of Heather’. Then, as you approach the eye of the storm, everything is stripped away, leaving Shane Smith to deliver a touching, vulnerable ode to his wife, ‘All the Way’.

In his conversation with Holler, Shane underlines how he landed on the concept of the Blue Norther as the driving force behind the new record, describing the project's title as “a recognition of where we are at in this moment”, before paying tribute to how the band were able to pick themselves up after a terrifying bus crash in 2019.

Shane emphasises how this was a turning point, “We've been a band that toured our asses off for the better part of a decade. We're still functioning as a completely independent band. We worked really hard to get a fanbase, and it wasn't a big one, but it was a fanbase spread throughout the United States. Then we went through a really low point when we had a bus fire back in 2019. We lost our bus, we lost literally all of our equipment and everything while we were on the road”.

He stresses how the release of Norther feels like a fresh start, “We then managed to pick up from there, somehow remain as a band and find these opportunities that have kept us going. So now, even though we've been doing this for such a long time, it feels like this is our real moment to make a big impact”.

Although much of Norther is coloured by the darkness that arrives with the ferocious Texas storms, there's also an ethereal, almost spiritual quality to these phenomena.

Shane Smith highlights that, at least to him, there is a majesty that underlies the colossus of a Norther, “When it hits, it is like a brick wall. It'll be this massive, dark blue line of storm, and there's a real magic to those. They're scary, but they're amazing and incredible, and that's how I feel about where we're at as a band right now. There's a much bigger net that we're casting, which can be scary”.

Nonetheless, when listening to Shane speak about the project, you can tell there's a sense of unbridled excitement at what lays ahead. With a UK and European tour on the horizon - plus another Yellowstone season, which will hopefully bring with it new opportunities - it's safe to say the momentum behind Shane Smith & The Saints is far from dissipating. With Norther, their ascent is only just beginning.

In addition, Shane Smith touched on his experience of working with Taylor Sheridan, his upcoming set at Highways Festival, why the band remains independent and more:

On the decision to stay independent:

“I definitely think there was extra pressure to sign with a label, because of the amount of time we've spent without a studio album. It's our first studio album in five years, and we've seen a lot of changes throughout that period. But at the same time, there was an ideology of ‘We've done this for such a long time independently’. There's a little bit of pride that you take by getting to a certain point without that extra help, and there's also a freedom that comes with that as well, because I don't owe anybody half a million dollars coming out of this record, with promotion and a tour and all the expenses. Nobody owns us, either.

We very much value having the ability to say we're either going to work really, really hard over the next few months, or we've got a baby on the way, and we're gonna decide to live our lives and try to find more of a balance during the next few months”.

On using metaphors of weather throughout Norther:

“Every writer has htier staples they can't help but lean on, and weather has always been one of those for me. I've always been fascinated with it since I was a kid, and I'm naturally drawn to write about it. I don't even know that it was intentional. It's just something that's always moved me and it was no different on this record. Weather is one of those rare things that everyone on Earth can relate to”.

On the link between ‘Fire in the Sky’ and ‘Fire in the Ocean’:

“‘Fire in the Sky’ is intended to be a ‘going to war’ song, like a war cry. It's about two brothers going off together to fight, and essentially, the sentiment is the mother telling the oldest brother to look out for his brother and to get home safely. We didn't necessarily want to make it a really emotional or sad song, we wanted it to be something that will resonate with a lot of the veterans and service members we see at our shows. I was inspired by that, and my wife was inspired by that - we worked on that song together. It was also a nod back to ‘Fire in the Ocean’. They are about two polar opposite directions. But in a way, this is a cool play off of that title, even though they're about two completely separate things”.

On being featured regularly in Yellowstone:

“It's been incredible. We had done this for a really long time and, like I said, we had a very long series of unfortunate events, so it was perfect timing for this to happen. We had never been featured on a TV show or commercial. Taylor Sheridan, when he's writing, will often really reflect back on certain songs and drive through that song over and over again as part of his process. ‘All I See Is You’ was one of those songs while he was writing Yellowstone. He was a fan and he just wanted to showcase it. We're very appreciative of that, and we couldn't be more thankful of the timing. We really needed some help in that moment, and little did Taylor know, we had just gone through a really difficult time. It was incredible the way it rolled out, and we saw a massive impact from it”.

On working with Taylor Sheridan:

“If you pay attention to the artists that are featured in Yellowstone, a very large amount of them are completely independent musicians. That's very rare when you actually stop and pay attention to what songs do get featured all the time on TV shows - nine times out of ten, they will be featuring bands that are on a major label. I just think it's incredible that he's essentially like, ‘I don't care. If you're trying to pay me to put this song on instead of this song, I don't need your money. This is what I think is good’. It has changed multiple musicians’ careers”.

On his upcoming UK set at Highways Festival:

“I'm extremely excited. All the guys are very excited to come back over there. It'll be our first time ever getting to see the Royal Albert Hall. I've seen some photos of it, but I've heard it's just incredible. There are several other awesome musicians that are buddies of ours performing too - we're really looking forward to it. We played our first show in London at Bush Hall back in August, and it was completely sold out. It was a little room and it was just a sweaty rock show in that thing. Ever since that night, I've really been itching to come back and put on another show”.

On the artwork for Norther:

<p>Shane Smith & The Saints - Norther Album Cover</p>

2024 | Geronimo West / Thirty Tigers

“Teal Blake is a good buddy of mine, he's a painter out in Fort Worth, Texas, and he paints Western artwork. His work is incredible, and I had reached out to him when we headlined Red Rocks for the first time last May. I asked if he would do a painting for our poster, and sure enough, he did with the Red Rocks formation and these five wild mustangs standing on it. I reached out to him again for this album. I told him I wanted this big Blue Norther storm out in the middle of the desert. He sent me several sketch concepts of it, and we nailed down one of those and it was done within like a week or something. He did an amazing job”.

Written by Maxim Mower
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