"We had a friend who knew the cousin of the CEO of Gap," explains keys player/vocalist Walker Young. Before Young formed T&S Co. with his former Scrappy Hamilton band mates Bill "Smitty" Smith (vocals/drums), Scott Kinnebrew (vocals/guitar) and Joe Edel (bass), the quartet was performing in L.A. — where they relocated to from Asheville — as The Denim Family Band; a group that wrote (according to Young) "goofy songs about jeans and denim and such." It was one of those songs, "Them Jeans," that the friend mentioned to her Gap connection.
Says Young, "He was like, 'OK, where can I see them,' and she said, 'They're going to be in San Francisco opening for the [Black] Crowes,' and he said, 'I already have tickets.'"
So the band — which had become T&S Co., with the addition of vocalist/guitarist Tim Jones and keyboardist Adam Grace — recorded not just the song for the clothing company, but also a GAP 1969 jeans-clad video, set on a dusty California ranch. (See the video at www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=380524993526; it's also available on the Gap app for iPad.)
But what's really cool, to hear Young tell it, is that people pick up on "the essence of the band. I don't know how people really get a hold of that, just through songs, but somehow there's some other energy we're giving off." The video — complete with vintage tour bus, worn flannel, sun-faded blue jeans and oversized belt buckles — goes a long way to summing up the visage of T&S Co.: "very retro and denim and cowboy," says Young.
Anyone who caught the T&S Co. show at the Grey Eagle last August (the group's first triumphant return to its old stomping grounds, before following up in October as support for The Black Crowes' Thomas Wolfe performance) gets that aesthetic, from the battered western boots to The Band (as in, the Band, à la Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson)-reminiscent tracks. Not that T&S Co. is cribbing from that iconic group's playbook, but, beyond the obvious '70s-rock sound, there's also the fact that T&S Co. (like The Band) has multiple songwriters (Smith, Jones, Kinnebrew and Young) who take turns singing lead.
The result is a varied album, but one with a strong common theme throughout. The group's self-titled debut, set to drop on May 25 — the same day they play in Asheville — benefits from the strongest work of each writer, from Kinnebrew's raucous, anthemic numbers ("Hail Hail," "Jump the Ship") and Young's sentimental hooks ("Call Back," "Pure Mountain Angel") to Smith's narrative, guitar-drenched rocker, "Welcome to L.A.," and Jones' seamlessly gorgeous slow-burner, "Old Piano." There's also plenty of behind-the-scenes magic: contributions from the likes of Luther Dickinson and Katy Perry, and the guiding hand of producer Chris Robinson.
It was the Black Crowes' front man who signed T&S Co. to his Silver Arrow imprint of Megaforce Records and then tapped the group to open for the Crowes' 2009 dates. "We did like 90 shows in 110 days," says Young. "Playing in front of massive audiences helps you figure out what works and what doesn't work."
But more than their live show (which, according to Kinnebrew, "very well represents our studio effort, and vice versa"), T&S Co. has, in the last year, evolved as a unit. "Just learning how to travel together has been one of the biggest things," says Smith. "Truly coming to the table, being brothers and not sweating the small stuff."
Four of the guys toured together years ago as retro-swing group Scrappy Hamilton. The difference these days is that they have a team handling details like booking and publicity and, says Smitty, "In the Scrappy days everyone was not necessarily on the same page." Now, says Kinnebrew, "We're all at a place where we just want to have a good time."
And they're excited (a word that peppers their phone call from Kansas City, Mo.) about sharing their growth and success and new album with the Asheville audience. In fact, they decided to launch the record at Grey Eagle because, says Young, "The reality is, we consider Asheville our home. We spent the majority of our lives there, and it's the foundation to a lot of what we do, musically."
And no matter how far they travel, T&S Co., can't quite seem to escape Asheville — not that they want to. "Two days ago we were in Memphis and we shared the stage with Band of Horses — we know Bill Reynolds and Tyler Ramsey from Asheville," says Young. "We just did 10 days with the Avett Brothers, who we played with a bunch of times six years ago before we moved to L.A. To see the progression of all these bands and be a part of that is amazing, and Asheville is the beginning of all of that, so it makes sense to bring it back."
Alli Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the full interview here.
who: Truth & Salvage Co.
what: Los Angeles-by-way-of-Asheville indie rock. Paleface opens.
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Tuesday, May 25 (8:30 p.m., $10 advance/$15 day of show — advance ticket holders can buy the album for discount price of $9. thegreyeagle.com)