Over the past few years, Nashville’s country scene has seen an influx of artists from the Golden State launch radio hits, each with a unique style of California country—including Brett Young’s soulful R&B, Jon Pardi’s Bakersfield-drenched strains, and Cam’s soothing approach.
Of course, those artists only add to country’s deep California linage created by Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, Gary Allan and others.
Today, with the release of their EP Magic, new Sony Music Nashville trio Fairground Saints are intent on deepening the long line of country performers with California origins and influence, even as they offer a relaxed, smooth sound that drifts in on their feathery harmonies.
Though the trio’s music is informed by throwback sounds of groups like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, the Santa Barbara, California-grown trio formed in a very modern, organic fashion—social media.
The trio’s Mason Van Valin (a Santa Ynez, Calif. native) met Elijah Edwards (Santa Barbara) after posting an ad on Facebook seeking band members.
“I was the only person that answered it,” Elijah recalls with a laugh. “I played bass with him and we played around Southern California for a little while, but we wanted to expand our endeavors and so we went to the L.A. area.”
Searches on YouTube and Craigslist brought in California transplant and Michigan-raised Megan McAllister to the group.
“We saw a video of her singing background with another person on YouTube and we said to ourselves, ‘Who’s that in the background singing?’” says Edwards. “Then we found her on Facebook.”
The first day the trio wrote together, they also blended their voices on the track “Somethin’ From Nothin’.”
“It just fell into place and felt really natural,” Edwards says.
The group originally signed with Verve Music Group in 2014, but later exited the deal and moved to Nashville nearly three years ago, driven by a desire to deepen their songwriting. Fellow songwriters Chuck Cannon and the late Lari White opened their home to Van Valin, McAllister and Edwards, and began introducing them to others in Music City’s writer community.
Cannon and White also contributed to two tracks on the current EP, including the title track “Magic,” and “Somewhere Down The Line.” Old Dominion singer-songwriter Brad Tursi, along with Eric Arjes, contributed “How It Rolls.”
“All three of us were craving a community of songwriters, and there’s not really anywhere else like Nashville for that,” Edwards says. “It’s such a community of musicians and talented people and I think we wanted to try something new, and it was just calling our name.”
Word spread about the new trio in town with serious writing chops and ethereal harmonies. Within two weeks, they had inked a deal with Sony Music Nashville.
“Fairground Saints capture the breezy aesthetic of the California coastline grounded in the equally potent songwriting tradition of Nashville,” notes Taylor Lindsey, Vice President of A&R, Sony Music Nashville. “The combination, wrapped around their distinctive harmonies, is fresh, inspired, and attracting an enthusiastic audience.”
“That was sort of like a very solidifying moment,” Edwards says of the signing, “where we were sort of like, well, that’s awesome, we’re gonna stay here and chase that.”
Though their harmonies are unfettered, their devotion to the craft in the studio and the writing room is pronounced. Van Valin performs acoustic and electric guitar, while McAllister handles percussion. Multi-instrumentalist Edwards brings work on guitar, keys, mandolin, lap steel, dulcimer and more to the studio.
“We only used other musicians for bass and drums,” Edwards notes. “And Megan played some harmonica, and all the lap steel and mandolin and everything is us.”
Having the ability to craft music as a mostly self-contained unit offered ample opportunities for those harmonies to nestle in the natural grooves around the melodies. Edwards estimates they have penned more than 150 songs since making the move to Music City.
“We will generally take melodies that are, just by their nature, very easy to harmonize or lend themselves to harmony. I don’t think we’re ever thinking specifically about it, it just sort of develops that way because there are three singers in the room and we love harmonizing so much.”
The trio brought in producer Marshall Altman, known for his work with Frankie Ballard, Amy Grant, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, as the trio worked on the Magic at Nashville’s Sound Emporium.
“He’s very good at communicating with everyone as a whole and communicating with people individually and he knows exactly what he wants to hear, and he’s also very open to trying stuff, which I think is a very valuable asset in a producer,” Edwards notes.
Only a couple of tracks on the EP come from outside writers—one being the trio’s first single from the EP, the aptly titled “California,” which was penned by Altman, Dylan Altman, and Anna Vaus.
“As soon as we heard that first chorus, all three of our hands went up. It was pretty unanimous. It was very obvious that that was something we wanted to put on the record. It just felt natural and we knew we could make it our own to a certain degree.”
As they were creating the EP, the trio was also testing the songs in concert, which informed which would ultimately be chosen for the project.
“Playing the songs live really gives you an idea of what’s working and what’s not, because when you’re just in your room playing a song, that’s one thing, and you can think ‘this is great’ to yourself. I think that’s what really makes a great song is how many people like it and/or how people respond to it live, and so that’s definitely affected our decisions.”
Though the trio has a tight touring schedule for much of the year, they are also making time to get in the studio to finish up a full-length project.
“We actually just got out of the studio doing a couple more songs, and then as soon as we get back from this little tour we’re on, we’re gonna go back into the studio and track vocals and stuff like that. We can’t wait to continue with it.”
- CMA Honors Robert Deaton With Chairman’s Award - December 4, 2020
- Nashville Symphony, Nashville Musicians Association Reach Agreement - December 4, 2020
- Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” Is Most-Added On ‘MusicRow’ CountryBreakout Radio Chart - December 4, 2020