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Thee Sacred Souls Carve Out a Groove

The young Chula Vista group prepare to release debut album via Daptone
Gustavo Olivares
Thee Sacred Souls

Thee Sacred Souls

Gustavo Olivares

The span of time that passed between Thee Sacred Souls’ formation and being invited into the studio from one of contemporary soul music’s most venerable labels was just slightly longer than the blink of an eye. In 2019, after playing just two shows, the Chula Vista band received an invitation from Gabe Roth, a.k.a. Bosco Mann of the legendary Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, to make some music with Daptone Records.

Only days thereafter, the young group found themselves at Daptone’s Penrose Studios in Riverside, laying down tracks with a funk-soul veteran, in the process getting a firsthand lesson in record production.

“That was a crash course for me, personally, seeing how a producer or engineer really puts their stamp and color on the sound,” says vocalist Josh Lane. “If we went to any other engineer or producer, I wonder if it would have a totally different color. But we were still the songwriters in the room. He didn’t completely rewrite anything, he’d just say ‘Why don’t we cut this out or that,’ it was an interesting learning experience, collaboratively. For me it was good practice on when to trust my own intuition and when to trust Gabe’s.”

In August, Thee Sacred Souls will release their self-titled debut album via Daptone, a set of warm and summery soul songs that nod to the analog grooves of the ‘60s and ‘70s. On a track like “Easier Said Than Done,” the group leans into a more airy and easy-going approach, allowing a strong showcase for Lane’s expressive, yet subtle, vocal style. And on “Weak for Your Love,” the group embraces a more psychedelic atmosphere, with organs and keyboards swirling beneath their reverb-laden strut. Even with a less-is-more approach, as theirs often is, Thee Sacred Souls’ sound is infectious.

Formed in Chula Vista in 2019 when drummer Alex Garcia and bassist Sal Samano began making demos together—the two of them having previously played music together in Fake Tides—Thee Sacred Souls finally came together when Lane, a native of Sacramento, joined the group after connecting with the other two via social media.

The sound they craft—which expands to an ensemble of up to seven people live—is reminiscent of an era of music that existed well before the members of the group were born, drawing inspiration from Southern California groups like Thee Midniters as well as the classic catalog of labels like Stax, one-time home to Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. It’s a sound that was inescapable for Garcia and Samano when they were growing up, and as a result one they’ve grown an immense affection for.

“Shout out to all the Chicano dads out there who keep soul music alive,” Garcia says. “That’s how Sal and I grew up, listening to old records.”

“We were always surrounded by it,” Samano adds. “Even if it’s not your dad, it’s your dad’s friend or uncle or cousin, somewhere that music is going to come find you.”

That love of soul music extends to the trio’s own record collections. Garcia, Samano and Lane are all pretty serious crate diggers, and shout out spots like Folk Arts Rare Records and Soul Shack as necessary haunts in San Diego. But because of the rarity of many of the items on their must-have lists, they admit that finding what they’re looking for sometimes takes a more coordinated hunt. Yet the collector aspect of buying vinyl isn’t necessarily the appeal for them, but rather the goal of curating a perfect at-home analog playlist.

“My goal is to have enough records of each of my favorite genres, enough to play only that for at least an hour,” Samano says. “Like I want to have enough rocksteady/reggae records to play all night long. Latin, all night long, or soul.”

Listeners will be able to add Thee Sacred Souls’ debut to that stack of all-night spins in a month’s time. And even before it’s out, they’ve already earned some high-profile endorsements from the likes of Black Pumas and Alicia Keys, as well as Belle and Sebastian, with whom the group recently toured. For how seemingly rapidly they got here, however, it all happened very casually—no signing on the dotted line, just a friendly invitation to record some songs.

“It didn’t start off like ‘We’re gonna sign you guys and start a career.’ He literally just said, ‘Y’all wanna cut some records?’ And we were like, ‘are we supposed to ask for something, what are we supposed to do?’” Lane says. “But it worked out, I mean, we’re here now.”

Thee Sacred Souls will play at Corazón Del Barrio on July 15

By Jeff Terich

Jeff Terich is the music critic behind the blog The Setlist. His writing has been published in Stereogum, Bandcamp Daily, American Songwriter, Fodor's and Vinyl Me Please.

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