By Ben Olson
Rock is not dead, and neither is London Souls’ front man Tash Neal. But it could’ve gone much differently.
The rock duo, featuring Tash Neal on the vocals and guitar and Chris St. Hillaire on drums, has been a well-kept secret amongst rock aficionados in New York City where the duo is based. Their sound is a nod to the fundamentals of rock and roll, featuring solid lead lines, an amazing set of drums, and harmonies that scream with emotion.
I was able to talk with front man Tash Neal about life, death and the future of rock and roll.
You’ve managed to create an amazing amount of sound out of just two guys. It reminds me a lot of the White Stripes. How do you make that happen?
Chris is probably one of the greatest drummers I’ve ever seen. When he plays the drums, it’s not just a heavy rock beat … even though he has a huge kit, the sound you get out of him is because he’s aware of the subtleties. He brings something different than most drummers. Also, I like to be all over the neck. I like to go all out and be untethered. When I play live shows, it’s boring if there are no risks involved.
Who writes the songs?
We’re both songwriters. We’ll formulate ideas together. That’s kind of how the band started. Chris and I worked in small rooms and brought harmonies together. We recorded everything ourselves and arranged the basic ideas … Chris moved to the city in high school, I grew up on the upper west side. We had similar interests in music. That’s rare to find, people who are putting their hearts into something, going through that same discovery process. Hearing ‘American Beauty from the Grateful Dead for the first time, Hearing Wu Tang Clan for the first time. Really putting passion into what we play, we put our hearts into being the best we could with those instruments. We started writing together, harmonizing together. It’s been great.
You’ve managed to create a sound that is influenced by a lot of rock greats, but feels like it isn’t trying to be vintage or retro. It seems to belong in the time it was written.
I appreciate that. I think if you are writing from your own experience, it’s always going to be relevant. It’s honest to that place and time … I don’t necessarily think too deep about the sound, I don’t think “I have to make this sound vintage.” It just comes out how it comes out.
Rock and roll has ebbed and flowed in the past decades. What do you think the future will hold?
I think it will splinter even more. There will be more original, unique material out there, but also, it’s good and bad because the weird thing about this time is that everyone has access to everything. It’s great because you get influences from all over, but it can also dilute. I just want to see incredible musicians that I know are making it in the moment.
Tell me how you got started with musical influences, who moved you.
Even when I was a kid, before I even thought about being in a band, I heard what was happening on the radio like most people. I loved music and had records around my house. Stuff that will never be bad; Motown, Stevie Wonder, classical music, samba, just stuff that can be influential … I’ve been moved by music to the point of tears before. Nobody should waste that opportunity. I think people should … make that music that moves them. I know I will always fall short, but I will always try 150%. If something moves you, respect that and really work hard at it.
Have there ever been gigs in the past that stick out as a turning point for your band?
I kind of feel like every gig is like that. We have gigs now, and I think ‘I never would’ve forseen doing that.’ That hasn’t really stopped for us since we started. It keeps happening.
Are you still learning?
Absolutely. You evolve as a person. You’re always hearing new music inside. People talk and they say their things, and it all makes you try to get better as songwriters. I always feel like I could’ve been a little better.
Are you working on a new album now?
Yeah, that’s the next thing. I’m writing now and we’ve been touring all year. It’s been a really exciting summer touring with Billy Idol and Lenny Kravitz.
Not long after your second album was finished you were almost killed in a hit-and-run accident that left you in a coma. How has it been to come back from that?
It’s kind of like, the sweeter things are more sweet, the bitter things are more bitter. Once you come into a situation like that when you’re close to death, you’ve got to be thankful that you made it. For me, as a musician, I think it’s brought some energy for how I play. When I came back after the coma, nobody knew if I could play physically, or if I could remember the songs. I was in a coma for a week … I had to be kept under, because if they took me out early, I may not have come out of it at all. And then I woke up, thankfully. It’s something I’ll be recovering from the rest of my life.
Have you used this experience in your latest songwriting?
Yeah, when you face something like that, it’s going to come out in your music. I think that’s a good thing. It’s good ground to cover. I wouldn’t want to consciously exploit it, but once you have been that close to death, it’s hard not to think about everything being the last experience.
Catch the London Souls at the Hive on New Years’ Eve, Dec. 31. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are available at the box office. A portion of proceeds for the show will benefit the Angels Over Sandpoint.