"Luella and the Sun deconstructs Gospel, distills its soulful essence and uses that to infuse raw, gritty garage rock with an unholy wildness that feels as righteous as it is dangerous." - Alli Marshall for Mountain Xpress 5.8.13
Luella and the Sun, one of Nashville, TN’s must see emerging acts defies any singular description. Regardless of how they are characterized, one certain thing is that their sound ignites a soulful blend of blues, gospel and rock, merging a fearless sense of abandon and equal parts restraint. The band deftly works as a unit and every note has purpose, combining minimalist attitude with raw emotion - and even in their most unguarded moments, there's a smoldering vulnerability that's unquestionably mesmerizing.
For any new band, finding a unique sound can be a daunting task. For Luella and the Sun it was their mission. Getting noticed was their challenge. After a year of writing and playing around Nashville the band recorded and self-released a two song 10" vinyl recording mixed by Tchad Blake (Black Keys, Tom Waits) in September of 2012. Word of thier compelling live show spread and the band earned new fans and critical praise every time they performed. NPR's Ann Powers weighed in after seeing them perform at SXSW stating "Nashville's Luella and the Sun approach the blues and gospel-soul as if these traditions were the food of the gods and they haven't eaten for a week. Luella herself has a ferocious, feminine voice, and performs with zero fear."
Ready to record their album; that job became more difficult when a tragic fire destroyed guitarist Joe McMahan's studio, and half of the home where he and singer Luella (aka Melissa Mathes) lived. The fire took place on June 8th, when McMahan and Luella returned to the studio following lunch to find fire trucks on the street blocking access to the house. "As I got closer I realized all of the commotion was happening at my house”, explains McMahan. “At that moment everything became surreal. There was a charred '67 Fender Coronado in the yard and a rack of old Ampex tape machines lying sideways on the porch. I wanted to vomit. When I was allowed to go inside it was an overwhelming feeling. My brain couldn't differentiate what to mourn - a $2500 compressor or the cables that I had hand soldered myself. It's such an extreme feeling that I was forced to just let go. You realize how important it is when people say, "Nobody got hurt".
Fortunately a little more than half the house was saved due to the quick action of a neighbor. However, the home, which housed the studio, was also the place where Luella and the Sun spent many hours developing a sound and identity that has become their trademark. It was the place where the band recorded their debut 10” vinyl release (mixed by Tchad Blake) and where they planned to record their debut album in July of this year. The rest of the house suffered massive smoke damage affecting many of Joe and Luella’s possessions. The cause of the fire is presumed to be electrical. McMahan has insurance, but how much of the damage will be covered is not known. What is certain is that it will be a long while before reconstruction can begin.
The response and support from the Nashville community and beyond has truly been a bright light for Luella and the Sun (McMahan, Luella, bassist Adam Bednarik and drummer Jon Radford). McMahan adds, “There has been an incredible wave of caring from friends and community here, as well as from complete strangers from afar. It has shown us that people really are good and will come out of the woodwork to help. Every call, text, email and every dollar donated has made a huge difference. Our whole band would like to say a thousand thank you’s. This has really been an unimaginable and moving experience for us all.“
Despite the challenges they've faced as a new band, their spirits are strong and they are determined to push forward. They are still hoping for an early 2014 album release and in the meantime the band continues to tour, and where their live show is concerned, this is a band you don't want to miss!
(Donations to help the band raise funds to record their album can be left here in the tip jar.)