Interview: Shane Smith and the Saints Find Growth in Fresh Lineup, Expanding Live Show
In the wake of a devastating bus fire that destroyed all their gear and on-tour possessions in late 2019, Shane Smith and the Saints were feeling understandably rattled, but still hopeful. The group explained to The Boot shortly after the fire that their latest album, Hail Mary, has helped launch their career to the next level, and they're feeling more in touch with who they are as performers than ever before.
"Obviously, our bus just got burned down, so we're working that part out -- but definitely, that [album] was a shift for us in terms of legitimacy, on a lot of levels," the group's Shane Smith explains. "There's a lot of stuff that we really wanna see come to pass, and a lot of plans that we have. It's just been a really positive change."
In the months surrounding the project's release, Smith admits that he was in "a little bit of a dark place." There were changes and turmoil going on within the group, including a lineup shift: The group's lead guitarist, Tim Allen, left the group during that time, and was replaced with Dustin Schaefer. When the band started releasing Hail Mary -- which came out in four distinct chapters, spread out over time -- Schaefer was actually a brand-new member.
"I believe I pretty much started [in the band] when Hail Mary was coming out," Schaefer explains. "Coming in as a role player and trying to make sure I'm doing justice to the recordings of these songs is challenging ... but anytime you're in a new situation, you're evolving."
For any new member walking into a group who's just released an album, it can be tricky to find the right balance between establishing your own identity and honoring the sound that the band's fans have already come to know and love. "He was very careful with making sure, like, 'I don't want the fans to come to a show and be like, 'This is different. This is weird,''" Smith recalls.
"He wanted to make sure he could respect what sound had already developed, but also slip his own style into that -- without stepping on any toes or anything," Smith adds. "And I think he did a great job of that."
Between finding his place in the band and respecting the group's already well-established style, Schaeffer also managed to bring a much-needed new dynamic to Shane Smith and the Saints. "The positivity he's brought into our camp has been unmatchable," Smith reveals.
"We were at a place where it was all the same guys together for a really long time, and when you get into that, a lot of times it can be great, and a lot of times it can be terrible ... You love each other like brothers, but a lot of times, you really do butt heads!" Smith continues. "So the positivity he's brought into our camp is just invaluable. That alone is such a cool foundation, in my opinion, to start in terms of songwriting and in terms of musicianship."
The release of Hail Mary also leveled up Shane Smith and the Saints' live show: a big step for a band that places a premium on delivering a magnetic, high-energy set. Having a new batch of music out was "a huge weight off their shoulders" from a live perspective, Smith explains, because it bridged the gap between who they are now as artists and who they were at the time of their prior release, 2015's Geronimo.
"We put out Geronimo and then we just toured our asses off for four years on it, and played all these festivals, played all these shows and truly developed our sound as a band more ... than what we ever had before," the singer notes. Part of that development meant expanding their live fanbase beyond the already-rigorous core of listeners they have in their home state of Texas.
"We had our first headlining shows in California, and it was sold out in Sacramento -- our first show ever, just totally packed out," Smith goes on to say. "That right there is really cool."
That expansion is still in progress, the band points out, and they've got goals to grow their nationwide fanbase even more in 2020. "I think that it's not like the album has what made it expand -- it's just years and years of us pounding the pavement," Smith reflects. "Going to those places where a lot of the other bands we played with weren't willing to go. Playing for not that many folks."
Putting out Hail Mary might not have been what enacted that change, but it was a way to put a stamp on all that growth and hard work. "It kind of connects the dots. All of the sudden it's something new, it's something relevant that people talk about. All of the sudden it's like, 'Oh yeah, I saw them in New York, and you gotta go out to a show,'" Smith adds.
"It's just the domino effect," he says. "It's been neat."
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