On The Road Again (Finally) With Collective Soul

After tying a large triumphant bow ending their 25th anniversary tour with three consecutive sold out shows at the Coca Cola Roxy in their hometown of Atlanta the weekend after Thanksgiving a little over two months later Collective Soul’s world came to a screeching halt, as well as the rest of the world thanks to the great pandemic of 2020.  Throughout the music industry all tours were shuttered and many a venue did not survive the lockdown that lasted 15 months.  Collective Soul kept themselves busy recoding a new EP entitled Half and Half, and like the title infers it consists of half new material and half covers.  Three core members have been there since day one: lead singer Ed Roland, his brother Dean on guitar and bassist Will Turpin, whose father owned the studio where the magic began and remains (Reel 2 Reel).  We decided to catch up with Will in anticipation of their first tour since the world came to an end in March of 2020.

The last time I saw you guys you were finishing up your 25th anniversary tour.  It wasn’t long after that, lo and behold the pandemic hit.  Did you guys have a hand in all that so you could finally have some down time? (both laugh)

Lo and behold it’s been a minute since we played (laughs)

What I’m saying is we have a pandemic hit, so I was wondering if this was a way for you guys to get some time off?  You guys are some of the hardest working bands in show business, really.

When it first happened I as like, oh this is cool. I’ll be home for a while.  In the middle of summer we’ll be out of this.  And that was like a year and a half ago.  (both laugh) I’ll say the first couple of months were okay.  It’s good to be with your family, reconnect and forced to have fun with your family and stuff.  That’s a good thing, but this thing has dragged on too long.  Even this summer’s not back to normal

It is kind of weird.  I’ve literally sat on my butt this last year and a half when I’m used to covering shows a couple times a week.

Yeah, outside of the winter.  Even in winter people tour.

Did the band use the time to regroup?

We did record another record.  We’ve technically have two records in the can, so we’ll have one out this summer.  We did get together and record some music.  And then of course with me as far as silver linings and what I did.  I had taken over ownership of my father’s studio in 2019.  And all of a sudden I was home.  I had done some renovations and started to update some stuff, but nothing bests being there five days a week.  I’ve been there a minimum of four days a week for a long time now and it’s feeling really good.  I had all my gear there and then I moved.  Reel 2 Reel Studios – I don’t know if know that’s where Collective Soul got its start.  We could do a whole ‘nother interview on that.  My father started the studio in ’76 and that was our hub.  My father passed away in late 2018.  I saw the studio there.  It was like 2019.  I was in there with a few buddies.  They were actually recording there and my dad’s partner was thinking about after the summer about selling the studio or whatever.  I decided I just can’t let this go.  Steve, which is my dad’s partner – he’s like ten years younger than my dad and about ten years older than me.  He said the only way he’d like to keep going this was if I took over my dad’s ownership.  So we decided to do that and he started to go with my ideas.  We made a really cool lounge, a place for musicians to feel really comfortable to hang out.  Studio A was always on point.  I cleaned it up a little bit – de-cluttered a little bit.  And Studio B, was operational, but never really was what I consider on point technically gear-wise.  I had recorded a lot of Serengeti Drivers and my first record, and done some stuff with some other artist friends of mine in the studio in my home.  So I took my home studio gear and took it to Studio B; upgraded everything in Studio B and now man, when I walk into Studio B, dude, it’s like jam.  It’s kicking so much ass, it’s pitiful.

Letting that studio go would be like letting Atlanta’s version of Sun Studios go.  Collective Soul remains one of the biggest names in alternative rock to this day.

Reel 2 Reel is in the major leagues, but there are a lot of big studios in Atlanta.  Southern Tracks was the one, especially during the ‘90s.  If you worked with Brendan O’Brien you’d come to his studio, Southern Tracks.  A guy named Mike Clark managed that studio from the beginning and was a great friend of my father’s.  In fact, the two-inch 24-track machine is still at Reel 2 Reel Studios now my dad bought from Mike Clark at Southern Tracks.   Mike had bought it from Muscle Shoals.  It’s supposedly a two-track machine a lot of Muscle Shoals guys got on that.  They said Lynyrd Skynyrd, the album that had “Sweet Home Alabama” was on that 24-track machine as well as some other stuff.  It’s all tied in together.  But like I said, Reel 2 Reel is on the level.   It’s a Les Duncan designed room.  A lot of producers like mixing in that room.  The main recording room in Studio A is perfectly big but not as monstrous as say, Southern Tracks or Tree Studios.  I don’t know if you know Tree Studios in Atlanta.  I tell everybody we’re kind of like the Kansas City Royals of the Major Leagues. (both laugh) We’ve got a smaller budget than some of the other massive studios, but it’s in the Major Leagues.  It is totally legit and I’m really proud of it.  It’s been around since ’76 and when Southern Tracks officially closed its doors three years ago, we are the oldest studio in Georgia as far as business licenses go.  Anybody from Wet Willie was there back in the day, 38 Special did a little work.  Other than Wet Willie, Atlanta Rhythm Section did a little work back in the day, Drivin’ N Dryin’, of course Collective Soul, and a lot of just randoms – you know how studios are – from Gospel bands, R&B bands.  I was so much stuff go through that studio, it was pitiful.

How did listening to all these bands record at the studio have any influence on your style?

There were some characters that would – let’s say in the ‘80s when I was becoming an adult and hanging out at the studio a decent amount.  There were some characters there a lot that I think influenced me.  I remember this one – Jim Adkins was his name and he had a smokin’ bluegrass band.  It kind of influenced me.  Now in this era when I think about my love of bluegrass I always think about Jim Adkins and that badass bluegrass band I would listen to.  And some of my dad’s better friends were just straight up musicians or people that were just in bands were of course influences on me.  Marty Witthoff would have been a drummer there.  He was my first drum teacher.  My dad’s partner for a long time, Steve Thomas who passed away from leukemia a decade ago; he was a big influence, too.  He was a great songwriter.  He and my dad were a good songwriting duo.  Yeah, of course a lot of that stuff influenced me and just seeing come through and understanding the differences in the styles of music had to influence me in some form or fashion.

I’ve been listening to the Half and Half EP and what I noticed, which is basically half covers and half new material is you guys have a signature sound that has not really changed. I can listen to a song and know immediately that’s Collective Soul; be it an original or Neil Young’s “Opera Star” off the EP.  I was wondering how long it took to develop the band’s signature sound?  I guess you’re aware of that.

Yeah, it’s definitely one of our strengths.  And as far as developing it, part of it is Ed’s vocal.  Ed’s seven years older than me.  We watched Ed in my father’s Reel 2 Reel.  We watched Ed work on his craft; work on his vocal style.  I would say part of it is Ed’s vocal style, but as far as the band we think it’s cool and how we approach things, I would say that’s just something.  We know it exists.  For me, I think I always say it’s one of those things where if you spend too much time trying to calculate – for me, I’m not that dude that tries to calculate things and none of us ever were.  We knew we had a signature sound.  That’s the way we felt.  We felt like that’s what sounded cool.  I think part of it might be because I am not a traditional bass player either.  I approach the instrument with my ears.  I playing what I think sounds cool.  I never had any traditional bass training and I think that kind of comes out a little bit in the style.

You definitely have a style of your own.  I can actually pick out your bass lines and know that’s Will if I haven’t heard the song before – and Dean’s guitar as well.  It’s like a great chemistry that you guys have.  I don’t mean to blow smoke or anything like that.

We know it’s one of our strengths.  You don’t realize it’s there, but you grow and “oh, that’s real – we found an actual thing”.  It’s 90 percent natural, 10 percent we analyze and think about, but we’re not necessarily going hey, we need to make sure we sound like ourselves.  It happens naturally.

You guys haven’t dated yourself.  A lot of bands you can hear from album to another have a totally different sound.  Listening to Blood and the band’s earlier albums it sounds more like an extension instead of trying to recreate the past or reinvent the wheel.

I appreciate it. [pause] Sorry, I stepped outside and my son’s backing out of the driveway with a golf cart.  We live in an area of Atlanta known for golf carts. (both laugh) Peachtree City.  Whenever you tell somebody you live in Peachtree City is like, “You own a golf cart?”  And they’re kind of laughing.  I mean literally – there are two high schools that are connected to all the golf cart trails.  The high school my kids go to there’s parking for about 250 golf carts. (both laugh) It’s just a bunch of trails they designed.  They designed this community in the late ‘70s?  It’s just below the airport.  It’s designed really for people who work at the airport – pilots and technicians and stuff like that.  All from the beginning the golf carts were part of the whole plan.  Man, you could literally golf cart like eight miles one way. (laughs)

It’s crazy, because I’m seeing a lot of that here as well.  I see one going up and down my street all the time.  When I was in college in a fraternity, when I tried that I got in trouble with the police.

(laughs) Did you steal them?  Are you the dude that would walk around and find one with a key and go? (laughs)

Well… if the battery had a charge… (both laugh) Of course I’m not the guy at Walmart that gets the cart and joyrides. (both laugh) Although that is tempting.

Steps right in the cart when he gets into Walmart. (both laugh)

I notice one of the covers on Half and Half was a cover of one of R.E.M.’s songs.  In the liner notes it states you guys had a special connection with the band.  Did you guys ever share the stage with R.E.M.?

Never have shared the stage with them, but Mike Mills, Peter Buck, we’ve seen them a number of times.  Mike Mills, socially, we’ve seen him hanging out with different people a lot.  And never really ever met Michael Stipe, but growing up in Georgia – especially we all grew up in the same town together.  We were into music – in the ‘80s was called alternative.  We were into the U2’s, INXS and then a band from Georgia.  Us growing up appreciated all the Southern rock bands, but almost like when you’re in Georgia we wanted to be different and so R.E.M. was different, so that was really special to us because they were different and they were from Georgia, so it felt like one of our own also.  We were always into R.E.M. and really proud of all their success.

Now that the shoe’s on the other foot, you guys are kind of like a standard-bearer for Georgia rock and roll.  How so you embrace working with younger bands.  I know you give a lot of younger band a shot opening for you guys. 

Yeah, especially in Georgia I love to see the next Collective Soul come out. I’d love to see them come out of Reel 2 Reel Studios.  We’re always trying to help out the younger talent and get them going.  I’m working with some younger guys in Atlanta right now that are really cool and talented and really into what they are doing.  So yeah, that’s one of those things that we never – even back in the day when we were younger when we would come across bands where it was a jealousy thing or let’s try to screw up their sound check and shorten their sound check.  That’s never been our mentality.  Our mentality has always to support the opening band or let’s give them as much time as they need to make sure they’ve got their stuff going on.  For us it’s always about support because the jealousy thing doesn’t work when it’s art anyway.  You know what I mean?  Somebody’s good but the art’s going to rise to the top no matter what.  We’ve always been more of a let’s be friends and support these guys.  Especially with that mentality we have is like we have a sound.  Nobody can really copy it.  And we only know how to do what we do – you know what I mean?  It’s not like I can hear some band and steal their style.  That’s just not going to happen.  We never had that mentality.  A lot of bands do.  It’s a competition. It’s constant competition.  I don’t feel like art should be like that.  Eventually we’re in the same industry.  We’ve never felt like a competition even with our own stuff.  We all thought it was better for us to be able to work on different things outside of Collective Soul and it made Collective Soul stronger.  A lot of bands would ask me even ask me when I was releasing a solo record or Ed was releasing a solo  project, “What’s happening with Collective Soul?”  “What do you mean?”  I’m surprised people even wonder that, you know?  Just because somebody is releasing something on the side.  Nothing.  We’re going to be better and stronger when we get back together because we’ll have already done some other stuff that we needed to get out as well.  Then we’ll be ready and recharged when we get back with Collective Soul.

You can tell it’s helped with the longevity of the band because you’re able to branch out without having any dire affect.

Yeah, I think so.  I think we would have stayed together no matter what. I think it helps our energy level.  I think it helps our creativity because we can then come back into Collective Soul and do that and not feel like, “Oh man, I’ve got to get some piano songs out on the Collective Soul record or I’m going to suffocate”.  Well shit, I did two records where I started every song on piano.  So when I get back to Collective Soul, it’s ready to play some rock tunes in the rhythm section.

You guys seem to embrace your hometown and your hometown has embraced you guys as well.  You always have a crowd at your shows in Atlanta and aren’t shy about being from Atlanta.  A lot of times you’ll see bands that can’t wait to get out of their town, yet you guys embrace your hometown.

Yeah, it’s strong here and there’s a lot of love here.  Sometimes when we’ve been on tour we’ve only had certain years where we played Atlanta only once.  Two years ago we did three in a row for Thanksgiving.  We just did three in a row here at The Roxy – social distance shows with Live Nation at The Roxy.  Those went well.  It all just depends.  I tell people this all the time we’re very lucky.  We’ve got some true, true family and people that have seen us from way back before Atlantic Records; so Atlanta is special.  Dang, we’re lucky in the fact that we’re consistent.  There’s nowhere in the United States, Canada, the overseas places we go to, we’re consistently fawned.  There’s no market that stands out or is weaker than the other. It doesn’t matter.  If we’re in St. Louis, New York, Portland, L.A.; we’re lucky in that regard.  We don’t really have standout or weak markets.  We’ve got a great set of fans and we try to do our best.

You guys are about to start touring again, which I’m sure you’re looking forward.  How did you guys get paired up with Styx?

We were going to do 30 shows with them last summer – eight in this summer.  Man, Tommy Shaw is one of those guys.  I don’t think people realize how good he is and belongs in the Halls of Rock and Roll.  Tommy called Ed years ago and wanted Ed to sing on a kind of Americana-Bluegrass record that he did.  And that’s kind of where the relationship started. I don’t know if you know this, he sang backing vocals and mandolin on the closer on Blood.  We’ve had this great appreciation for Tommy Shaw and Styx for a long time.  Styx is also managed by Red Light Management, which is where we are.  I think it’s a great bill.  I think it’s strong because you got kind of two bands from a little bit different generations, but yet both bands are really kind of – not necessarily eclectic; it’s got its own sounds.  Everybody knows what Styx sounds like with Tommy Shaw singing and the same thing when you hear Collective Soul.  We’re successful in our own right.  We both have our own sounds.  I think the fan bases will get off on it.  For me, it’s a little more cooler than sometimes.  I like going out and playing with other bands from our era.  I like that too, but sometimes this is even cooler.  And the same thing with Styx.  They are traditionally out with an REO Speedwagon or Chicago, or somebody like that and they’re going out with us.  I think it’s a win-win or both bands and the fans.

Since you getting to go out and tour again is there anyplace in particular you’re looking forward to getting out to?

Nah, just getting out there.  Every stage is my favorite stage at the moment.  I want to see 60 dates next summer – or more. (both laugh) I want to get out and really tour again.

  – Dave Weinthal

Collective Soul and Styx begin their tour 6/18 at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, GA.