The Sound&Shape of Things to Come

Sound&Shape

Years before anyone reading this article was born — unless you’re a member of the AARP, in which case, holla! — country-music mecca Nashville had already established its own original variety of music. “The Nashville sound” wasn’t exactly the most inventively named subgenre, but it didn’t matter: Record labels like Columbia and RCA Victor, along with teeming masses of musicians eager to embrace the next big thing, gave birth to a smoother, poppier take on country that endures to this day.

Problem is, when a city builds its reputation on a particular sound, it simultaneously confines itself. Musicians hoping to make it big are often constricted by the same phenomenon that lured them to the city in the first place. It’s worse than ever nowadays, with major labels having stripped the authenticity out of “The Nashville sound” in favor of a commercial strain that makes country music virtually indistinguishable from pop. Deforestation isn’t just happening literally; billionaires are cutting down creativity as well, in a metaphorical sense, with artists becoming an endangered species.

All of this is to say that, when a musician packs up all their belongings and heads to Nashville to make it big, they are often seduced into selling their soul so they can sell albums. It’s the nightmare depicted in Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive come to life.

But, of course, there is always hope. In recent years, Nashville has — refreshingly — welcomed R&B/country/Americana artist Yola, Jack White’s blues/garage-rock project the Dead Weather and bluegrass/folk collective Old Crow Medicine Show into its ranks. Sound&Shape, an exploratory rock trio whose members grew up on a diet of punk-rock, hardcore and grunge, could be the next band to break one of Nashville’s glass ceilings.

“Nashville is a very difficult place for us because it’s narrow-minded,” frontman/songwriter Ryan Caudle told The Bad Penny earlier this week. “There aren’t many rock bands that sound like us.”

Proof of Caudle’s claim can be found on his band’s new album, Disaster Medicine, which came out roughly a month ago. The record kicks off with “Filament and Spark,” a catchy, lite-punk tune; Sound&Shape then quickly reveal their penchant for unbridled rock with “Heirlooms” and “Someday Maybe.” 

“Gods,” “Sugar the Pill” and “Don’t Tell Momma (I’m a Sinner)” capture the loud/quiet/loud dynamic immortalized by the Pixies, after which “Quiet Wars” sees Sound&Shape dabbling in prog passages previously probed by Peter Gabriel and Rush. Caudle trots out his guitar virtuosity throughout “Four Pale Horses,” while “How the Light Gets In” closes the record on a note reminiscent of the Smashing Pumpkins.

That may be a considerable amount of name-dropping, but it’s fitting for a band that is getting notice thanks in large part to playing tours and dates with King’s X, Sparta, Jeremy Enigk, the Spill Canvas and Fishbone.

“It’s nice to deal with pros who’ve have done it for so long and play venues that are run so well-run,” drummer Ben Proctor said. He added: “I’ve been playing drums for 31 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever had any of my own music on vinyl.”

Having originated in the mid-aughts, with Proctor joining in 2017 and bassist Pat Lowry coming into the fold in March 2018, Sound&Shape deserve such treatment. Also at this stage in their lengthy career, the band members say they make the songs and records they want to make, without interference from anybody. The musicians played every lick on Disaster Medicine and produced it too.

Feeling a strong sense of control over their self-released record coaxed Caudle, a self-taught guitarist, to pull out some guitar tricks he’s had up his sleeve for a very long.

“In high school, the punk-rockers made fun of me for playing guitar solos,” he disclosed. “With this album, we decided to do what we wanted, so I broke out a few.”

Now many years removed from high school, Caudle has a 9-year-old son who partly inspired the underlying theme of Disaster Medicine: time.

“I didn’t choose that theme consciously, but about four to five songs into making the record, I realized that a long of the songs deal with that subject,” he said, noting that he wrote all the lyrics pre-COVID. “What am I going to leave my son materially? What am I going to leave him as a person? My legacy is my son.”

But Caudle, the lone remaining founder of Sound&Shape, insisted that Disaster Medicine encompasses a great deal more than his own personal life.

“The most important thing this record does is that represents who we are as a band,” he said.

Catch Sound&Shape on tour next month:

5.20: Chattanooga, TN @ HiFi Clyde’s
5.21: TBA
5.22: Greenville, SC @ Radio Room 
5.23: Charleston, SC @ Tin Roof 
5.24: Charlotte, NC @ The Milestone
5.25: Atlanta, GA @ Smith’s
5.26: Birmingham, AL @ The Nick 
5.27: Mobile, AL @ Alabama Music Boxa
5.28: Tuscaloosa, AL @ Druid City Brewing 

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