There is a trick people do when they are struggling to describe a band. They go searching through their recent memory for a “box” to put them in that most reminds them of the sound. This “box” is formed by a mental sticky point, the singer’s tone of voice, or the particular crash of a cymbal, two chords out of a three-chord hook, along with a general alignment of genre which immediately calls to mind some other band’s hit song. Thus pathways in the brain are carved along like associations and the convenient linking of bands by stuffing them into pigeonholes continues for those looking to easily describe new music. For the blues and soul-heavy rock band Welshly Arms this process has linked them to the recent success of The Black Keys over and over. Not bad company, to be sure, but to say The Welshly Arms sounds “like” the hugely popular bluesy electro-pop duo The Black Keys (who sound like The White Stripes; there, I said it) is to ignore their entire catalog of deeply capable American soul and blues tunes which demonstrates a tacit acknowledgment of the band’s roots I haven’t seen since Lady Gaga sang a duet with Tony Bennett. This is certainly rare in an industry built on convincing music consumers that the current album being sold is the next new thing; everyone forgets they stand on the shoulders of giants.
The Welshly Arms’ music reaches back to the genesis of their art form plainly demonstrating they appreciate and acknowledge, dare I say worship at the altar of, their musical heroes: Jimi Hendrix, The Temptations, Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf. Principal songwriter Sam Getz, on lead guitar and vocals, collaborating with the entire band, builds the band’s tunes with the solid lumber of blues, country, gospel, and soul translating those influences into contemporary pop music instead of treating the foundational American genres as mere decoration to fill out glossy hits like Kanye dragging around Paul McCartney as a prop. Waxing poetic about the disappearing art form of rock, Getz recently spoke with Tim Amoroso of Red Light District, both lamenting the death of the once ubiquitous guitar solo as a device for expression and hooks for filling out the song.
Pressure from producers and radio edits often cast solos as self-indulgent noodling, but Getz admits it’s all about what the song needs, “It can be a powerful tool to give people’s brain a break from listening to lyrics…then bring them back and make what is being sung more powerful.” He continued, “Just because guitar solos worked for a while on the radio and now they don’t, doesn’t mean they won’t be back; it’s all about what is good for the song.” Such flexibility in understanding the genre of rock as alive and fluid, willing to embrace new sounds and to walk away from tired norms explains why the band has managed to make a name for itself by playing mostly straight-ahead rock in a field dominated by glitzier pop and hip-hop. Indicative of their willingness to change and grow, The Welshly Arms, a standard four-piece rock band for nearly a decade, added two vocalists, Bri and Jon Bryant, to their lineup in recently, which has boosted the band’s lyrical impact and underlaid every tune with a touch of soul. The band’s most recent single “Legendary” from their latest EP of the same name is the height of their mass appeal. It is pure ear candy, verging on a sports stadium anthem, draped over the solid bones of rock, bringing to bear every ounce of the band’s musical chops and also The Welshly Arms’ signature spare touch, letting Getz’s vocals sit on top of one instrument at a time, then bringing back the full force of every member of the band during the chorus, filled out by the Bryant’s harmonies.
It’s no wonder the tune has been getting lots of attention, topping numerous streaming charts, getting picked up in commercials, TV soundtracks and, seemingly the song’s destiny, being used in a national radio promotion for the band’s hometown baseball team, the Cleveland Indians. The Welshly Arms isn’t a retro band by any stretch, but much of its sound is from another time; their origin is of the same provenance. Most music groups operating at this level are a collection of veterans, assembled dream teams of professional musicians aiming to maximize every aspect of the creative process to achieve commercial success. This band, however, got made the old-fashioned way: four high school friends who drank beers and jammed together in a Cleveland garage, conquering their local scene, selling out hometown venues and going national on their own terms. Even the band’s name, an obscure reference to a Ferrell/Dratch Saturday Night Live sketch is the sort of in-joke that only appeals to old friends who pass the time reciting comedy sketches. In interviews, the band members are humble, focused on the music and having a good time while they have the opportunity to tour, write and perform, never forgetting their roots, in every sense of the word.