Hearts of gold
The Gold Souls bring back feel-good blues and jazz
Ella Fitzgerald is a hard woman to emulate, especially for a young, middle school girl. But that didn’t stop Juniper Waller, vocalist for the funky-soul blues band The Gold Souls. Her first memory performing live was when she covered the First Lady of Song’s “Lullaby of Birdland” during a school play.
“I was dressed up as a ’40s jazz singer, and it was like in a movie scene where everyone’s in a club, and there’s a cameo of a jazz singer for a second. That was my only part in the entire play … it was random,” Waller recalls. “I really remember just the feeling. I was just like, ’Whoa, that was the shit right there.’”
Since then, Waller’s devotion to jazz and blues inspired her to share those classic, old-time sounds with new audiences backed by her bandmates: Alex Severson on keys, Billy Thompson on drums, Jace Dorn on bass and Matt Hevesh on guitar. Together, The Gold Souls aspire not to reinvent the genres that they so admire, but to update the music they all grew up listening to.
“I’m realizing more and more that the kind of singing that I do and I aspire to do is an art form … and it takes a certain amount of ability and passion and performance,” Waller says. “I think it’s really important to keep that alive.”
The Gold Souls formed in March last year, and a few months later, the band wrote and recorded its first self-titled EP, a collection of songs that showcased the group’s salient blues backbone studded with soulful singing. Waller’s vocals creep in like a black cat on a grand piano, moving effortlessly between high to low octaves with a spirit-kindling depth of breath.
Afterward, the five musicmakers quickly hit the road on a tour down the California coast, where they lost a tire during the first 50 miles of their trek. Although they spent their first night in an O’Reilly’s parking lot, Severson says, the tour and its early moments ultimately brought the band closer together.
It also fueled the creative process behind the band’s new full-length album released in May, Good to Feel, which incorporates everyone’s songwriting, from lyrical content (including themes of love, heartbreak and even female empowerment) to its use of funkier genres and lush arrangements.
“Interestingly enough, this band really turned the key for me as far as songwriting,” says Thompson, who studied jazz percussion at the Sacramento State School of Music. “I think we’re in a unique time right now with women asserting a stronger voice. I grew up being inspired by strong women, and I think it’s really cool to write music that speaks to that larger context in society right now.”
Songs like “Nobody,” written by Thompson, or “Midnight,” written by Severson, and even “Hunger is the Best Spice,” penned by Waller, all touch on self-care, independence and not being defined or limited as an individual just because of a relationship.
By the end of the album, the takeaway is that The Gold Souls are about living, feel-good music and connecting with their listeners through funky bass lines that get crowds moving.
“There’s a really strong vibe right now where a lot of younger folks are playing bluesier stuff, funkier stuff, stuff that was not necessarily our parent’s music, but our take on it,” Severson says. “I think there is this real resurgence of just like good-feeling party music that’s happening.”