London Souls is not from London. Tash Neal and Chris St. Hilaire are New Yorkers, touring the globe and making sweet, sweet jams. With a sound that stems from oldies such as The Beatles, and modern indie-rock like My Morning Jacket, this band has a sound you won’t want to miss. I caught up with Tash and talked about his inspiration, his experiences, and his life as a musician.
Smile Politely: How long have you two been making music together?
Tash Neal: Um, well I’ve known Chris… how many years. Ten years? Something like that.
SP: Wow, that’s a long time. Were you always making music together or were you just friends first, and then bandmates?
Neal: We kind of gravitated towards each other because there weren’t that many kids our age playing music. We kind of found each other through mutual friends and have been playing music ever since.
SP: What kind of sound did you start off with? Did it take a long time to grow into what you sound like today?
Neal: I would say it’s always an evolving process. We never said, “we’re going to sound like this,” or “we’re going to sound like that…” We were just instrumentalists and had a similar approach. Really it’s just about expression. We both approach art and songwriting as forms of expression, and the approach to that is to be as true to that as you possibly can. But it was never a question of “what” we wanted to sound like. It’s about songs and playing them the best we can play them.
SP: What’s your songwriting/collaboration process like?
Neal: Well, songwriting is kind of a personal thing for us. I’ll come in first with a song and then we arrange it. I’ll be like, OK, look, I’ve got this song, and we arrange it to really just try to make the best out of the best songs we have at the time no matter what. You know, if it requires whatever instrument or whatever arrangement, that’s how we approach it.
SP: As far as the content of your songs, do you pull a lot from your personal lives?
Neal: Subconsciously, yes. Not consciously. I think songs we’ve written, I guess I can only speak for myself actually, I’ll look back on them and understand what they’re about. It’s always personal, because you’re addressing the same place in your writing. I am, at least. It’s not a conscious thing. Only afterwards do you see how it specifically relates to your life, what it is in reference to. In the moment it’s just a “good song”, but you understand it later.
SP: Has New York influenced you as an artist or provided any inspiration for the two of you?
Neal: I was born there, it’s a part of who I am. You know, just being a New Yorker. Anybody, whether you’re a plumber or an electrician, a musician, if you’re a New Yorker you’re a New Yorker. It doesn’t really matter what you do. In terms of songwriting, though, it hasn’t really affected me personally. I don’t write like, Ode to the New Yorker or anything like that.
SP: Ode to the New Yorker — I would listen to that. Maybe that can be your next album.
Neal: [Laughs] Oh, definitely.
SP: How did you all break into the music scene? Does the city give you a good web of people to work with?
Neal: Actually, it’s hard to find the right people that you want to play with. I’ve never really been a “joiner”, I’ve never really been a part of communities like that. I didn’t go to open mics, I was just like at home, like “is the song good or not?”. I wanted to make sure the music was good first before I committed to it. I was never like, oh, I like music, I’m gonna go to this club and find people– I just made sure it was good enough and then we started playing shows.
SP: You guys have been on tour for a while, right? What’s a memorable story from your tour experiences?
Neal: We played the Great Wall of China — we were playing a festival there and it started raining. It was a good memory — all these people were scared of the acid rain in China because of the pollution. So we started playing and we’re all getting rained on, it’s like pummeling our faces… and people started to leave. But then a lot of them came back with their ponchos, and they start holding hands and dancing, running a circle kind of when we’re playing. And of course you have the Great Wall over there in the distance. That was one of the coolest parts of touring.
You can catch London Souls on Tuesday @ The Canopy Club in Urbana. Tickets are available on The Canopy Club’s website. Find out more at canopyclub.com or the event page.
Top photo by Josh Dehonney.