The Grand Rapids band The Soil and The Sun will finish out their tour Friday night at 9:30 p.m. at Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo. The band was one of NPR’s top picks at South by Southwest music festival last year in Austin, Texas, and recently played Common Ground Music Fest in Grand Rapids.
The origin of the band’s name is about as mystical as its harmonies. The idea of The Soil and the Sun actually comes from a fantastical book called The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace—the same author who wrote Big Fish, later turned into a movie by director Tim Burton.
"A sentence in that book that says ‘The soil and the sun are of course great partners in the mystery that is creating life, making things grow,’" says guitarist and vocalist Alex McGrath. "And that just kind of made sense for what we envisioned for the band—as far as wanting it to be a positive experience for listeners. Wanting it to be something that can be beneficial. Something that people can take away—something tangible maybe from the music and help them out in some way.”
The Soil and The Sun call their music “experiential, spiritual folk-rock” and “new Mexican space music.” McGrath says that’s mostly a way to get out of describing their sound. But part of it is true: a lot of the songs McGrath writes are about spiritual journeys. He says he grew up in a religious family which really shaped the way he views the world.
“Trying to explore and trying to find peace with a lot of things that are in the world that don’t seem like they should be that way,” says McGrath.
Right now, there are seven members in the band. In addition to guitar and vocals, there’s also oboe, violin, and accordion. But it started out as just McGrath and drummer Ben Jackson. In this video, the two of them play their regular instruments as well as what looks like a xylophone and a melodica—singing harmony all the while.
“We used to say that if we had one hand or one foot that wasn’t doing something or playing an instrument, then we weren’t doing enough,"McGrath says. "We were just trying to challenge ourselves, kind of fill out the songs as much as possible with just two people.”
When they moved to Michigan from Chicago, McGrath says they wanted to add a lot more to their sound. And that’s still the band’s goal today.
“A big sound I guess for dynamics. A dynamic sound with lots of orchestral elements," McGrath says. "And I think that’s kind of what we’re shooting for. Lots of vocals and lots of energy on stage.”
The Soil and The Sun is working on a new album this summer.