Photos by Daniel Cooper
Like the tides under the Gulf of Mexico moon, like a sea of bodies undulating under the strobing lights of some clandestine New York city disco, Will Stewart’s Faultline EP is in constant motion. It’s the sound of transition, persistent and occasionally chaotic, of inevitable change in the wake of charting bold new directions in life and music, past projects and pre-ordained centers of musical cool be damned.
Late last year, just as Stewart’s Nashville retro-soul outfit Willie and the Giant seemed poised for a breakthrough—having been named “New Band of the Week” by influential London newspaper The Guardian—the band broke up, unable to reconcile its creative differences. “Until recently, the idea of being in a band was always more appealing to me than being a solo artist—that feeling of camaraderie, of being brothers in arms,” Stewart says. “But these days, I feel more confident in my music and songwriting. I feel confident in being in complete creative control. It’s liberating.”
Striking out on his own also inspired Stewart to move from trendy Nashville back to his old hometown of Birmingham, Ala. “I don’t want to sound cynical,” he says, “but Nashville was just a sea of poseurs. The things I’d originally found charming about the city have been pilfered and castrated by every industry entity in town. All the coolness is being co-opted right out of it. I mean, there are still a lot great bands and people I love, but it’s honestly killing the vibe.”
As for Birmingham, Stewart feels much more connected to the scene down there, where he also plays with his friend Janet Simpson-Templin (of Wooden Wand) in dreamy indie-rock duo Timber. “Birmingham just feels like home,” Stewart says. “There’s so much amazing music going on under the radar, I’ve got a ton of friends here who are in bands—when I moved back, I fell right into the mix again.”
Before he departed Nashville, though, Stewart cut the three-song Faultline EP at Penny Sound with producer/engineer Mark Petaccia, drummer for powerhouse rock & roll trio The Wans, who’s also made a name for himself mixing and engineering records by artists such as Yo La Tengo, Dungen, Caitlin Rose, Jack White, Lambchop and Jason Isbell.
The first song they laid down for Faultline was spooky, acid-drenched Brit-invasion vamp “A Week Ago.” “With that song, I’d been listening to a lot of 13th Floor Elevators and Captain Beefheart,” Stewart says, “and I’d just purchased a Rhythm Ace, this old ‘70s drum machine, to help me with writing. It only has four or five settings, so it’s really primitive as far as the beats it can make. I think JJ Cale used it on a bunch of stuff—just a four-on-the-floor beat.”
Stewart handles all the vocals and guitar on the EP, plus some bass, while Pettacia plays drums and organ on “A Week Ago,” and Stewart’s old Willie and the Giant rhythm section Mac Kramer and Grant Prettyman tackle drums and bass, respectively, on garagey jangle-rock throwback “Keyhole” and the EP’s pulsing indie-disco-pop title track.
“The songs were all over the place, stylistically,“ Stewart says. “The fact that the EP sounds so cohesive is a testament to Mark’s ability. With his production style and skill as an engineer, he was able to glue everything together and help me realize my vision.”
Faultline—the debut solo release from Will Stewart—is out April 15 on iTunes, Apple Music and Spotify.