Gimme a Break: Onward, Soldiers
You may have heard of Onward, Soldiers from their appearances on One Tree Hill and the show’s soundtrack or perhaps from their stint on PBS’s Sun Sessions, recorded in the legendary Sun Studios. Or, maybe from Vagrant Records’ compilation for victims of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, Gasoline Rainbows, where they appeared alongside the likes of The Black Keys and LCD Soundsystem. No matter why you’re here, you’re in for a treat. Their latest album, Monsters covers lots of ground, hitting rock, bluegrass, country and all roads in between. Sean Thomas Gerard songs are always melodic, crisply sung and truthfully written. Check out “Telling Nobody” following the interview below.
Hometown: Wilmington, NC
Members: Sean Thomas Gerard, Lincoln Morris, Jarett Dorman, Tripp Cox
Album/EP or Single Being Released: Monsters (2012) Ghosts in this Town (2010)
RIYL: Wilco, The Beatles, Dr. Dog
Onward, Soldiers is an indie rock band from Wilmington, NC. Known for their high energy live performances, the current line-up includes: Sean Thomas Gerard (vocals, guitar, piano), Lincoln Morris (lead guitar, vocals), Jarett Dorman (Drums, Vocals), and Tripp Cox (Bass, Vocals). Onward has steadily toured the country over the last three years and has released two full length albums on Winoca Records.
Critically celebrated, 2010's Ghosts In This Town is a compelling blend of unadulterated rock and haunting prose. Written and recorded throughout 2009, Ghosts includes performances by a bevy of local ILM musicians.
Their second album, Monsters, released in February 2012, is a more refined version of the same raw yet melodic spirit Onward, Soldiers posses, and delivers the unexpected twists and turns of cleverly-crafted musicianship mixed with devilish style and endearing lyricism.
What was the inspiration behind your album?
Monsters is the product of my musical upbringing. Throughout my life, I’ve always enjoyed albums that take you on a journey. That you can hear the ups and downs of the writer’s life from the changes in scenery in the music. This album was my attempt to document my life over the last few years, moving from up north to the Carolinas, and what I’ve seen and experienced thus far. So a lot of the record is about being on the road and the challenges that come with living far from home. It’s very different from our first record. I wrote about half the record on the piano, so I think it turned out more melodic than our first attempt. There’s also some pedal steel on a few songs that lends a little twang and a couple tracks with some horns. I hear the music people are making today, and a lot of it just sounds the same. I wanted to give the listener something different on Monsters. Have them be interested in the album as a whole rather than just the single.
Who or what inspires you? Why?
Life inspires art. The life I live inspires me to write about what I know. The places we go and the people we meet will always be inspirational. Sure, I make things up from time to time, but most of what I write about is based on my life and the people I meet. I’ve become much more observant over the last few years. There’s so much going on all the time everywhere. People are so busy looking at their iPhones, that we miss out on all the subtleties. You learn a lot from people watching; how impatient we are getting as a society. When everything you could ever need is in the palm of your hand, where do you go from there? Why buy my record when you could download it on your phone in 5 seconds? These are the kinds of things that intrigue me. Coping with the downfall of the music industry and looking for solutions. Where does music fit into society now? The digital age is upon us, and I just hope we don’t have empty shelves at home. I’m still trying to figure out how to make a living as an independent artist, and I think I’ll have a lot to write about in the process.
What have you been up to in the last six months? What are your plans for the next year?
We’ve been touring throughout the Southeast over the last 6 months. Playing as often as we can and promoting our last release Monsters. We’ve been playing with a new line-up over the last few months, our bass player Jarett now on drums and our newest member Tripp on bass. We’ve been working with some new songs and are discussing plans for an EP. We’re gearing up to get back on tour in the Spring, with stops up and down the East Coast. We’ve teamed up with Ampersand Booking, so you’ll see us playing bills with some of the bands off their roster. So the plan is to just keep moving onward. More shows, more songs, and hopefully more fans.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve actually followed?
Well, I would say the old cliche “Follow your dreams,” has to be the best advice I’ve ever followed. I can’t recall how many times I’ve heard it from how many different people, but since I’ve become a full time musician, I accomplished way more than I could’ve hoped for. For instance, we taped a live performance for Sun Sessions (PBS) in Sun Studio in Memphis only two years after I started the band. I’ve toured the country a couple times, and seen more cities in the last few years than I thought I’d see in a lifetime. So I’m going to keep following this silly dream as far as it will take me.
If you could travel anywhere in time past or future, where would you go and why?
Paris in the 20s. My favorite place in the world, in a simpler time where people knew how to have fun and be creative. It would be the ideal place and time to live and write.
What was the last piece of art (music, physical art, film, book, etc.) that really blew your mind? What effect did it have on you?
Jonathan Wilson’s Gentle Spirit has haunted me for the last year. It’s truly one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard. It’s perfection. All the instruments sound incredible, the mixing is very psychedelic, and the songs are beautiful. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a record I like this much. It’s the only album on my iPhone, so I’ve been through many travels with it. So the album itself reminds me of the train ride between London and Paris, my drive home from Wilmington to Pittsburgh, touring through the mountains of Colorado, or sleeping in a cold tour van in Santa Fe. When a single piece of art can connect your past, it’s something to truly appreciate.
You had the opportunity to record a Sun Studio Session can you tell us about the experience.
It was one of the bigger accomplishments I’ve had as a musician. I was very happy to see that they had kept Sun relatively the same since the 50s. The studio itself was just one small room and a control room. But the energy in that place was vibrant. We recorded maybe seven live songs for the PBS program Sun Sessions. The episode is still on TV almost two years later. This was one of the most fun playing experiences I’ve ever had. To sit down and play Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano was euphoric. Through that experience, we made friends with Matt Ross-Spang, the engineer, and he later flew to Wilmington to mix our last record. We also went back on our last tour and recorded a live take of a new song called “Wild”. So I can say that my experience at Sun is something I’ll never forget.
What are your thoughts on Sophia Bush being a big fan?
I mean... it’s awesome! She’s been a huge help in our success. When you have only 50 people following you on Twitter, and then someone who has... maybe 200,000 followers starts to tweet about you, it’s going to raise awareness about your band worldwide. We have fans all over the world because of her. Aside from getting us on One Tree Hill, she also got our track “Let the Time Roll By” on Vagrant Records’ Gasoline Rainbows ( a compilation for victims of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill). We were on an iTunes top ten album with bands like The Black Keys and LCD Soundsystem. So that was also a huge deal for us. It’s been really cool having her on the Onward bandwagon.
One Tree Hill has played host to many guest appearances, including Onward, Soldiers very own Sean Thomas Gerard. How do you feel about being a part of television syndication?
Again, it was great exposure for both myself and the band. You don’t realize it living in Wilmington, but that show is wildly popular all over the world. And fans of the show are very supportive of the music on it. We play shows all the time and people tell us they’re there because they saw or heard us on One Tree Hill. We reached a whole different market because of it. Also, I thought it was very cool that they let me perform live on the show, instead of singing to a backtrack.
How has the band’s style progressed from Ghost In This Town to Monsters.
Ghosts is an Americana record. I wrote it exclusively on acoustic guitar, so there are a lot of similar rhythms on the record. We had seven different guitar players on the record, so the guitar work is very different throughout. Monsters is more of a pop record. I think the songs are more hooky and melodic. And I think we definitely experimented more with arrangements. I also think my singing has progressed a lot. I sound like a more confident singer on the newest release. Monsters stylistically is all over the place, where Ghosts we kind of stayed in a box. Instrumentally, Monsters is much more diverse as well. Lots of pedal steel, 12 string guitar, trumpets, organs, pianos. Also, there are only two guitar players: Lincoln and myself, so the guitar work is more consistent track to track. I just think overall, Monsters is a better sounding and better written collection of songs.
If you could be any character from a book, who would you be? Why?
Jack Kerouac in On The Road. I’ve always been fascinated with hitchhiking and the ensuing circumstances and experiences that come from it. Unfortunately, the world is far too dangerous and unpredictable now to do so.
Which do you prefer, coffee or tea?
Because we're all about giving back, Green Light Go will feature one band or artist per month that's not on our roster and give them the break that they deserve. If you are a band interested in being considered for Gimme a Break, please contact Janelle Rogers at Janelle @glgpub.com.