With a new self-released album out and a constantly growing fan base of dedicated listeners, 2019 has been another big year for Satsang. The brain child of Montana-based Drew McManus, Satsang delivers conscious, heart-felt music that is relatable, honest and uplifting. For many, the music of Satsang is best experienced live, where the energy exchange between band and audience lets all involved take a break from the daily grind and hit that spiritual reset button. If you haven’t had the chance to catch the band live, Rootfire is here to help make it happen by giving away a pair of tickets to Satsang’s “We Are Strong” fall tour.
Sometimes when we look around it seems like the world is overflowing with division, fear and negativity. But it is the message of bands like Satsang that help us to stay positive, stay grounded and stay connected. Rootfire sat down with McManus to hear from the source about what it takes to hit the road, being a part of a socially conscious music scene and what it’s like writing music in the era of Trump.
Rootfire: There was this quote that I would love to dive in a little deeper on with you. You’re talking about Kulture, your latest full-length that came out in March. You talk about how this was the first time you had an album that sounded 100% like you, and I was wondering if there’s anything that you can point to that explains that. Is it just that the band’s been together longer? What was different about making this album that made it so authentic to who you guys are musically?
Drew McManus: I like so much different kinds of music. Like, I’ll literally actually go from listening to Lou Reed to The Roots to Tom Petty to Tupac to The Clash. So one contributing factor to this album was like, I’m just going to get the hell out of the way. And if I feel like writing a Motown vibe song, that’s what I’m going to write. And if I feel like writing a hip hop song, then that’s what I’m going to write and I’m not gonna think about how it’s going to be received. I’m just going to make it.
RF: Which is hard to do. You’re getting a little deeper into the catalog and you have grown your fan base to a certain extent, you know, to just be able to sideline those expectations like that, I think that’s super righteous.
DM: Yeah. You know, another huge thing was being able to recreate guitar tones that I wanted to hear. I didn’t have any money until recently, so, you know, being able to be like, “yes, I want to play a Jaguar through at Princeton and that’s the sound that I want.”
RF: Is this a home recording studio situation, or are you actually getting studio time?
DM: How we did Kulture was we tracked all the guitars in one day and then Karl did bass. We just did everything to a click track and then we laid down vocals. And this was all remote. I mean, the gear that you can get now, you know, we can do most of it remote and then we always track drums in a studio.
RF: You recorded all the guitars and bass and vocals before you laid drums down?
DM: Yeah, that seems to be the way that works best for us ’cause I just have to get the song out and then Karl is like a harmony wizard, so, yup.
RF: Well that’s cool. I like it. Well, hey, I wanna I wanna chat with you a little bit about the tour kicking off. So Karl’s in the twin cities, you’re in Montana. Where are the other guys in the band?
DM: Our drummer lives in Brooklyn and then Stefan, our other guitar player, lives in Charlotte.
RF: Gotcha. So you guys are super spread out. What goes into prepping for tours? Do you meet up and have rehearsal days beforehand or is just like show up and go from there?
DM: So I’ll typically make a rough set list for a tour of just like, here’s what we are going to play. So everybody practices individually. And all of the guys are just super, super good musicians. I try to usually get one or two days of rehearsal in right before we start. But we’ve also gone out where the first show was rehearsal and shit has gone amazing. Just quality players, and we’re all homies, too. So there’s just kind of a like a groove there. You’re just playing music with your bros.
RF: Is it just about going and giving a great performance for the fans? Or do you have a specific goal or a message or anything like that you want to get across to the people on a tour?
DM: Yeah man. Self-Empowerment. I feel like that is just a huge thing that’s lacking in our culture. ‘Cause we kind of, as a culture, just kinda continue to downgrade to a pretty deep state of superficialness and with that comes a lot of doubt and shame and things that turn our shine down. And I genuinely believe that everybody has something to offer this world and that they just have to step into that power. And the things in life that seem really bad aren’t happening to us. They’re probably happening for us. To build the character that we need to move on and do good things. So that’s kind of the essence here with this fall tour. The set is super, super upbeat. There isn’t really any mellow turned down sections. We’re going hard the whole time.
RF: Do you feel like when people are coming out for live music these days that they’re coming to be turned on and that you can help shake things up for them to help them reach those stronger places as individuals?
DM: Yeah. I think especially this kind of new genre that seems to be being curated, you know, there’s like a lot of emphasis on lyrical content, but also just like how music makes you feel. And I think definitely with our fans there, they’re coming out not just to hear their tunes, but they wanna, you know, they want to get taken to a place.
RF: So you’re saying ‘this new genre of music,’ who are the other bands you’re referring to there?
DM: I would say Franti is probably like the O.G. of just making, you know, socially conscious tunes focusing on self-improvement. Obviously Nahko and Trevor [Hall] and there’s kind of this whole community that’s been built. I think everyone’s just kind of doing their own thing. But what keeps happening for us, at least, is the amount of people that come to our shows that are like, ‘oh, I was listening to Nahko’s Pandora station and you guys came on’ or ‘I was listening to Franti’s Pandora station and you guys came on.’
RF: It’s interesting, those artists that you just mentioned, a lot of those guys are becoming big players at a lot of the reggae-focused festivals going on these days. For you, did you just kind of organically get into the American reggae community, or was that something that you were like, ‘I think these are my people and I want to make sure they’re hearing my music.’
DM: Well, I would say a bit of both, because, you know, obviously that scene is like the vibe. I think just reggae has such a huge long history of being socially conscious. So to me it’s kind of a no-brainer link. But yeah, there’s definitely intention behind it. You know, we used to get labeled as a reggae band all the time and that’s kind of like, ‘Whoa, we’re not just that,’ you know? And now, the further we go, the more I want to be like, ‘man, it’d be so cool to do a huge tour with a reggae band’ because I think the fans are hungry for it.
RF: So I was listening to the folk singer/songwriter John Craigie, are you hip to him?
DM: Yeah, actually we just played something with him. I think it was Wanderlust or something.
RF: Yea, so I was listening and he’s got this live song, I think it’s called “Presidential Silver Lining,” and how, basically, beneath a Republican administrations that better music gets made because of the pressure on progressive values. Is there more to write about right now in the era of Trump?
DM: When I made Kulture, I knew I wanted it to be a concept album and I really just wanted it to wrap up where we’ve been for the past couple of years. You know? And I mean, those first four songs were written in the few days after Trump was elected. It was kind of the shock of it. I love America man. And if you see us play, I always have an American flag on my amp case displayed because of the values that I think of when I think of America. Like, you know, my grandfather coming here from Ireland with his folks with nothing to his name and being able to hustle and bustle and build a life for himself. So to see an entire campaign run on hate and fear and division and see that win was like, you know, it broke my heart in a serious way.
So a lot of Kulture, the first four songs especially, are me processing it. Like, “We’ll Stand,” the first track, is me just kinda lining out this utopia and then just being like, okay, well if we want this, we gotta smash this. So yeah man, I think he’s dead on. I think if you look at the ’60s, that’s why that music was so revolutionary. Because of the time, 100%.
RF: Well, hey man, before we cruise here, seeing as Pyramid(s) is one of the early records on the Rootfire Cooperative, I’d love to just hear from you about what the Cooperative meant for you and how that worked for getting Pyramid(s) released.
DM: Oh man, I can’t say enough about Rootfire. The record wouldn’t have been released without you guys. You know, I remember when we first heard about it, my manager, Matt, was reading your guys’ ethos statement, and he’s like, ‘I don’t think there’s a catch. I think the only catch is they just only work with who they want to work with.’ And I was like, there’s no fucking way, you know? So I must’ve read all the info on your guys’ website like seven times. And I was like, okay, so it’s a record label, but you guys don’t want to profit. You’re just like, ‘yeah man, we’re going to help you do this and just pay us back when you get the money.’ Just like, this is unreal, dude. This is not how the music industry works. And the thing that was crazy for me was we hadn’t even really begun. You know, the thing that kind of changed our career was going to open for Franti and Trevor for like a year straight. But that hadn’t even happened yet. So we were just sitting on these songs that I really believed in. And I had everyone that’s featured on that album committed to being on it and we got all the songs done and then it was like, okay, well how the fuck are we going to release this record now?
And you’re going over cost and it’s an unreal process. It’s not just like, okay, cool, we’ll pay to print these cds. But do you want people to hear your shit? You got to put some money behind it. And so when you guys reached back out and said, ‘yes, let’s do this,’ I balled that day. I was just like, I can’t even believe this is real. It changed our life, because we went into the biggest transition in our career. We went into that summer after it was released opening for Franti and Trevor and had like an actual team behind that release. And it put a whole new level of visibility on us.
RF: Well, hey man, is there any shout out for the fans or anything you want to say with the upcoming tour?
DM: Yeah, make sure you come see us cause we’re coming to a lot of new places, which is always really scary. ‘Cause we always go into that kind of blind, you know? So yeah, we’re coming to Charlottesville and a whole bunch of crazy places that we’ve never been. So yeah, if you love our music, share it with five people, and come see us.