Two years ago, Sadler Vaden had a difficult decision to make, one that involved his much beloved band Leslie. “It was a real crossroads where I was like I either keep going and do another five years and still be working at the pizza shop and living in Charleston or move to Nashville and try to get after it on my own,” Vaden says. Ultimately, the Leslie singer-guitarist decided to leave his band behind and head to Music City. Today, it seems like Vaden made the right call.
One month after his move to Nashville, Vaden was contacted by Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ about filling in on lead guitar. Eventually, Kevn Kinney and company invited him to join. Since then, Vaden has contributed to the Atlanta alt-rock band’s last three EPs.
And it gets better. Recently, former Drive-By Trucker guitarist and solo artist Jason Isbell invited Vaden to join him and his band on summer tour (See story page 66). “It turned out better than I could’ve realized. I was fully prepared to be working at the Food King,” he says from a tour stop in St. Louis. “I really enjoy it, and it’s actually allowing me more time as a songwriter.”
Case in point: last fall Vaden put out a solo album, Radio Road. “It was a labor of love really,” the singer-guitarist says. “There was no pressure. It allows me more time to write songs and not feel like I’m under some deadline, and it sort of expands my audience as well. Plus these guys are master songwriters and so getting to soak that in is really cool.”
Radio Road is much more of a jangly, power pop effort than the chunky bar rock-boogie of Leslie’s last album, Lord Have Mercy. The solo record recalls country-tinged rockers like the Old 97s, the Jayhawks, and the dBs, from the Byrds-like jangle and pedal steel of the folky “Come Back Home by Dear,” through the catchy, harmony-laden kiss-off “Someplace New,” and the heartbroken organ-laden paean “No Love.”
Vaden fashioned Radio Road out of leftover demos that he had recorded for Leslie in his home studio. Once Leslie was over, he felt he’d put in too much time to just throw them away —he could see their potential — and so he took those demos, obsessed over them, and ultimately polished them into an album.
“This was a leap of faith on my part. I self-produced it, engineered, and played everything on it but the pedal steel,” he says. “It’s kind of what I wanted Leslie to be. What you get when you hear Radio Road is you really get me, that’s really what I am — sort of power pop-ish and garage-rock too, it’s got a healthy dose. It’s kind of Big Star and a little Tom Petty because that’s natural for me.”
While it’s advisable to try anything once, Vaden’s not looking to exercise so much control next time. Instead he’ll be roping in some of his friends to fill out his next album, which he expects to begin recording later this year. And while he’s already got the songs ready, it’s just a matter of clearing some time.
In the interim, there’s plenty to keep him busy. In April Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ released Songs from the Psychedelic Time Clock, the third of four planned thematic EPs. Last year, they released the roots-rock Songs from the Laundromat and the garage-punk Songs about Cars, Space, and the Ramones.
“It’s a lot easier to focus when it isn’t as large an undertaking, and it’s cheaper to do EPs as well,” Vaden notes.
As the title suggests, Psychedelic Time Clock gets a little heady and hazy, but for all its acid-soaked atmosphere, it’s a pretty driving album. Among the highlights are “In the Sound Room” which sounds like a cross between the Buzzcocks’ “Something Goes Wrong Again” and the Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” and the delicious Nuggets-worthy “The Little Record Store Around the Corner.”
Though all the members of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ live in different towns, the band members were able to work on plenty of material in their own home studios, passing it between each other digitally. Vaden even points out that several of the album’s guitar overdubs were performed while he was sitting in his bed.
Sadler notes that some members of the Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ faithful have been a bit baffled by Psychedelic Time Clock‘s vibe. “The response has been pretty good overall. People dig it. Some of the hard-core fans don’t know what to do with it sometimes. They want Fly Me Courageous again and again,” Vaden says. “But [Kevn Kinney] has told me that had he not signed to Island Records, Psychedelic Time Clock would’ve been the next record he made. So I think the EPs are really a chance for Kevn to really do what he’s always wanted to do, and not have those pressures of a label.”
Vaden’s free from those pressures himself for the time being, though he probably would welcome the headache if it came with a sizable enough opportunity. Until then, he’s making his way.
“If I end up being the guitar-player guy for a lot of people, that’s still okay with me. My main goal is just to have a career,” Vaden says.