As I’ve written this column the last couple of years, I’ve interviewed dozens of people who make music. And there’s one thing I’ve heard from nearly every one of them: Music isn’t just a career; first, it’s a calling. And according to all of the people I’ve talked to—those who pack up for months at a time, living out of suitcases and on tour buses, living for gigs until gigs become concerts and they’re living the life they dreamed—it’s a calling akin to the siren song, one that can’t be denied.
It’s no different for Chad Staehly, who plays keyboard for the Hard Working Americans. “I think if you end up this far into a music career, it is a matter of music choosing you and not the other way around,” he says. “I remember it grabbing ahold as far back as I can remember. I (have) flirted with music my entire life, from making cardboard bands with my siblings (we would create instruments out of cardboard and perform for family and friends from a very young age), to playing in school bands, to playing pipe organ in church, to having bands in college. In my late 20s, I met the guys in Leftover Salmon and started hanging out around their scene and watching what they were doing. It was very inspiring to me and convinced me I could do that for a living. Only a few years later, I ended up in a band with Vince Herman from Leftover Salmon, and we started a band called Great American Taxi. That was the first time I was in a nationally touring band. I haven’t looked back since.”
Staehly is joined by band members Todd Snider (vocals), Dave Schools (bass), Neal Casal (guitar and vocals), Duane Trucks (drums), and Jesse Aycock (guitar). The band, which formed in 2013, just released their second album—their first of primarily original songs—called Rest in Chaos. “We discovered who we were as a band when we created Rest in Chaos,” Staehly says. “We knew there was something special about this group of characters when we first got together to record the first album, but what happened when we got into the studio after our very first tour to see if we could write together—that’s when we all took stock and had a collective ‘whoa.’ It seems no one had experienced the level of alchemy that started to happen.”
After their first album, Hard Working Americans—which comprises a set of cover songs ranging from Randy Newman to Drivin’ N Cryin’— was released in 2014, the band set out on a U.S. tour and then got back in the studio to capitalize on their synergy and create something brand new. The songs were written by Snider, who has a knack for poetry, but were brought to life by what Staehly calls the “dynamic and extremely creative and cohesive” energy of the band together. “We aimed for high art with Rest in Chaos, and that was the sole goal,” he says. “We didn’t want to worry about whether or not radio would play the album or whether or not the critics would like it. We wanted to be as creative as we could possibly be and support the lyrics Todd had been working on for years. We took that very seriously. We’re excited to release it into the world because it has all of our personalities included both individually and collectively.”
The Hard Working Americans’ sound is rock and roll through and through—you should catch them when they come to Iron City Aug. 19. It’s clear that they love what they do and take pride in what they create. And perhaps even more importantly, these guys know how to have fun, and they don’t keep that to themselves. “(The most challenging part of being a musician is) staying silly, not caring, not getting caught up in base thinking, not being one of those cats who grows up or knows it’s a business or takes it serious or behaves maturely,” Snider says. “It’s tempting to want to be someone a younger person could admire. Resisting that temptation takes up almost all of my time, but I do it.”•
- 8/19 & 8/20: Moon Taxi at Druid City Music Hall. For fans of Fitz and the Tantrums and Grouplove.
- 9/11: Sturgill Simpson at the Alabama Theatre. For fans of Jason Isbell and Ryan Bingham.
- 9/15: Rosanne Cash at the Lyric Theatre. For fans of Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton.