Whilst many may relate Seattle’s music scene with alt-rock and grunge, it also has an interesting history in relation to upbeat music. The mid-century Seattle area was responsible for Ray Charles’ first recording, Loretta Lynn’s rise to fame, and even—for reasons completely unknown—some of the first surf guitar sounds à la The Ventures.
Birch Pereira is a well-loved artist in Seattle, working with The Theoretics, Prom Queen, and many more, happily jumping between genres constantly. But the Gin Joints is his focused project that looks to that lost period of period of American music from 1930 (end of the 78 era) to 1950 (just before the birth of rock’n’roll). It’s a heady blend of early jazz, jump blues, vintage soul, old school rock’n’roll and hillbilly boogie.
Building on the success of their first album Dream Man, which won the Earshot Jazz 2016 award, Birch Pereira reaches back in time to pull forward the elements that the Pacific Northwest has overlooked—the timber-darkened soul music, the Black & Tan underground jazz, the improbable surf music—and in his hands, they become WESTERN SOUL, a blend of west coast sounds and early Americana which is also the title of their new album (released March 9th). The album opens to “How Long (Until I See the Sun Again?)” which we have the pleasure of premiering the video for today.
Birch shared the following on the song and video: “I’ve spent a lot of time digging into old soul music from Sam Cooke to Otis Redding to Wilson Picket. When we’d cover music of that era, it came out with a surf/western flair, which gave me the idea for the name of my record, Western Soul. For my song How Long (Until I See the Sun Again?) I started with a basic 50s chord progression, drummer David Bush gave me a classic Motown feel, I got a Twin Peaks Roadhouse guitar sound from guitarists Jason Goessl & Dan Rainard, and I began to tweak the classic chord structure with some more modern melodic and chordal ideas. The lyrics are coming from a place many of us have been in where we know we have the potential to do bigger and better things, but don’t know how to take the reins to make change happen. When we filmed the album cover, my photographer Jesse Codling wanted to reference the 50s influence so I dressed in the classic James Dean/Marlon Brando white tee and jeans look. For the video, director Garrett Gibbons and I ran with that idea and went down to this great burger joint XXX Burger down in Issaquah, WA that has a serious 50s nostalgia thing going on (and great burgers and milkshakes too). Working along with the lyrical themes of the song, it starts with me closing up at the diner while imagining I’m the lead singer of a band (and doing a fair amount of improvised broom dances), then moves to me going out and busking as a solo artist, progressing until I finally have the chance to actually lead my own band (playing at the historic Columbia City Theatre in Seattle).”
Western Soul seems to be outside a definable genre. It is neither Western Swing nor Soul nor is it jazz, swing or rock ‘n’ roll. However, when it is understood as being part of the soul of the North West, it becomes clear that it is a product of its environment. It is sunshine where there is no sun, surf where there is no surf, and unity where there is expansive diversity.