“Su-Car-Car” from recent demos
“We do this because we love to play music,” says tall, singer-guitarist Sadler Vaden, of local power-trio Leslie. “I’m appreciative of anybody who walks through the door and sticks around to see us. That’s what we do it for. I write the music, and hopefully, people can grab hold of it and relate to it and feel something from it.”
Vaden, drummer Jonathan Carman, and bassist Jason Fox are definitely one of the busiest up-and-coming rock bands in the Charleston scene — on the road and in the rehearsal space. They return to Charleston this weekend from a handful of shows in Tennessee and North Carolina to play their first-ever headlining gig at the Pour House — a performance that officially marks their third anniversary.
The trio formed in 2004 and quickly established themselves as one of Charleston’s most riff-heavy and boisterous underground rock bands. In 2005, they worked with studio engineer Jake Sinclair (of Charleston/N.Y.C. band The Films) in a home studio to record their debut disc, a self-titled, five-song EP full of melodic, noisy power-pop and jangly guitar.
They enjoyed an extremely busy 2006, touring the Southeast in support of their second EP, Bee St. Sessions. These days, they’re so busy playing small clubs and opening for various alternative and garage bands on lengthy tours, they’re rarely available to play in their hometown.
“We’ve really stayed busy doing a lot of writing and touring all year,” says Vaden. “It’s been pretty non-stop. We can’t really just stick around and play every few months or so. We decided to play out of town as much as we could, and to write music as much as we could. We spent the last year developing as a band — developing who we really are. The next step is to record a full album. We’ve had a few showcases in different towns, but nothing aimed at getting signed. It was more to play for new people, get connected, and develop a relationship.”
One of their last big in-town shows — The Scarlet Vaden Memorial Concert — took place at the Music Farm last March in memory of Vaden’s mother, who died from breast cancer. They recently played the City Paper‘s 10th Birthday Bash at the Windjammer, concluding a long night with a fiery set that impressed and surprised old fans and new recruits alike.
“We toured the U.S. with The Mooney Suzuki in July,” Vaden adds. “I loved it. I ended up playing guitar with those guys on that tour, because their guitarist split. Leslie opened, then another support band, and then I’d play with them. I got to know the lead singer Sammy James in the spring and it went from there.”
Vaden also got a bit of extra star treatment in Hawaii this summer as part of the production of the big-budget comedy Tropic Thunder, starring Hollywood heavyweights Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Robert Downey Jr., and Tom Cruise. “Since I had helped the Mooney Suzuki on the tour, they invited me to go with them to Hawaii and shoot a scene as a house band,” he says. “I got to meet Ben Stiller and the whole gang. It was pretty cool. We shot for three days. Tropic Thunder comes out next summer so be lookin’ for it.”
Leslie have enough new material for more than a double album’s worth of rock, but they’re taking their time making serious plans about studio time. On stage, they deliver certain rockisms without simply being derivative. It’s less jangle and more sleazy-fuzz … plenty of Zep, AC/DC, Who, and Skynyrd with of a bit of Nick Gilder, Thin Lizzy, T-Rex, and James Gang thrown in. There’s nothing sneaky about it, though. While they wear their influences openly and embrace the best classic rock clichés, they toss them around. Carman regularly Keith-Moons his drum kit around with joy while Fox does the Cliff Williams head bang at stage right.
“A big part of that was from touring with the Mooney Suzuki, really,” says Vaden, the most animated performer of the three. “I think we’ve always had a bit of that fist-raising, ‘Let’s rock ‘n’ roll and have a good time’ kind of thing. Getting out there with a rock band who sort of have the same goals as us, and seeing them do it every night — that made us step up our game on stage. It made them step up their game as well [laughs]. Listening to the rock music we like, watching the old rock videos, and the experience of touring with other bands has pushed us to where we are right now.
“I just kind of do it, you know?” he adds. “I’m just being me. I know there’s a group of people that we need to address. I’m gonna scream real loud and ask if they want us to play a bit of rock ‘n’ roll for them. Maybe there’s a bit of Southern charm in there in a way, I guess [laughs]. We’ve done over 200 shows in the last year, so I got used to going out there and seeing new faces and doing my thing. I’ve never thought much about what to say or whatever, but I always try to address the city and the crowd and make them feel like they’re a part of the show.”