A living, breathing version of Calvin Johnson's short-lived Sons of the Soil project will almost certainly never exist again. But a new release is about to resurrect its sound. Four years ago, the Blow's Khaela Maricich and nomadic folk troubadour Jason Anderson—longtime friends and tourmates of the K Records founder and all-around Northwest indie legend—presented Johnson with an idea: Why not hand-pick a band, resurrect his dusty classics, take it on tour and re-record everything at the end?
The eternally laid-back, deep-drawling Johnson—something of a post-millennial beatnik who's been performing and recording solo for the past few years—didn't take much convincing. Anderson picked the band members from K Records' close-knit yet continuously migratory Portland- and Olympia-based family. He chose himself (naturally) and now-Portlanders Kyle Fields and Adam Forkner, of Little Wings and White Rainbow, respectively.
Initially, Maricich was to come along as a sort of proto-merch person—but there would be no T-shirts. Instead, the group would sell photographs of Johnson and his fans individually posed under Maricich's direction, every one as unique as the brief collaboration itself. But Maricich had to bail out at the last second, leaving fans with only memories of the '03 tour—until now. Calvin Johnson & the Sons of the Soil
is a grand collection of indie-rock reconsiderations, including tracks that span Johnson's solo career as well as his back-catalog—from songs by Dub Narcotic Sound System (“Booty Run”) and the Halo Benders (“Love Travels Faster”) to Go Team (“Sand”).
Maricich's absence may have been just as well (for her, at least): According to Johnson, no one bathed for the entire three-week tour, save for a couple of coastal swimming sessions. The Sons of the Soil occupied the same van that Johnson had just taken on tour with then-active Dub Narcotic Sound System—his dancefloor-bent project with Heather Dunn and Chris Sutton. Just before leaving, Johnson mentioned how empty the van looked sans the “three suitcases, four coats and five pairs of shoes” his Dub Narcotic colleagues insisted on filling it with. Looking at the ragged foursome, Dunn replied, “Well, yeah, do you want to play with people like that, or people that look good?”
Hence the name—if you ask Johnson to explain it now, that is. (He spoke with WW last week from Boise, where he's working on a new Halo Benders album with Built to Spill's Doug Martsch, a longtime collaborator.) During the tour, however, he explained it from the stage as a matter of Northwest music family: “Sons of the Soil is just a reminder that we are where we came from and where we are going. We cannot escape such fate or history.”
This statement is the reason the Sons of the Soil will almost certainly never exist again. Though 2003's Sons of the Soil players have all moved on, pursuing styles from free-form ambience to classic-rock-hued folk, Johnson leaves the possibility of a reunion open, saying simply, “There's lots of songs out there.” Likewise, there are lots more people in Calvin Johnson's K Records family for him to play them with.
Sons of the Soil comes out Tuesday, April 24.
Photo: by Krista Kay.