Written by Jessica Klausing
The first time I heard Brother Sal and the Devil May Care was on a night the band decided to play in the style of 1920's saloon music. You know, the kind of thing you hear walking through the Mainstreet USA part of Disney World. However, I was quite intrigued from what I heard that night. They certainly did stand out among the other Los Angeles bands.
I came back to see the band again and again. Each time witnessing a more unique setlist from the last. From the beautiful soft cover of Andrae Crouch’s “Take Me Back” to the soulful rockin' “Old Devil’s Whelm,” This piano centered band is the real deal. This is raw talent at its finest, folks.
Sal refers to his band’s genre as whorehouse gospel. If that phrase alone does not intrigue you then I don’t know what will in this world.
According to Sal, “It’s the same thing you hear in a dirty whorehouse and the same thing you hear at a church. It’s the good and bad that’s deep within all of us.”
Their music is filled with religious undertones that connect the beauty and struggles of everyday life.
Sal hails from Virginia, where his grandmother taught him the piano. She taught him how to play old gospel tunes. From her Sal learned to use the left hand. This would lead him to start playing in jazz ensembles and house parties for fun.
“Playing piano keeps me sane and from just going fucking crazy. At the time, I just sat down to play for myself, still continuing to do so to this day," says Sal.
Due to the encouragement of friends, Sal began his musical trek by playing at local jazz clubs. He received strong reception and was able to book gigs several times a week as a professional piano player.
“I started trying to write but to do that you need to have a voice. Going through fatherhood my voice changed. I had more to say. I tried to see life through my newborn son’s eyes. After divorce, my voice changed again. This time my writing became deeper and more meaningful.”
Sal stays motivated by reading and listening to music.
“The most important thing is understanding literature. Reading expands your mind to become a better person.”
He’s an avid record collector with influences that range from: Randy Newman, Hank Williams, The Band, and Bob Dylan. But it’s the American classics like Stephen Foster that hold a special place in his heart.
“These cowboy prairie songs are the ones that we never forget. The lyrics and melodies were perfect. It’s much more important to look back than forward. Back then people sung about what they knew about. That’s something that should never go away—that’s American music! America, for all that it is never takes away how good our music is— it’s something that has affected our world for a hundred and fifty years.”
Brother Sal does have an album currently available titled, Blood and Dust. The album teaches us to keep our faith even through the tough times. Sal writes as if his soul is reaching out to grab you and pull you in the story. He provides listeners with the use of imagery, metaphor, poetic allusion and irony. This is all of the musical brilliance without the autotune or other overrated industry filler.
One of my absolute favorites on the album would be “Scenes On Sunset.” The title is actually an acronym for the SOS distress signal, which foreshadows the tone of the stories. The song is based on a young prostitute and a homeless man that Sal encountered on Sunset Boulevard.
“I was coming out of the studio late one night and met this young woman. She was a twenty two year old college student that found out she could make fast money walking the street. She lived this life to help support her daughter. One year later, as I was driving down Sunset, I see this guy falling out of the bushes. I offer him a ride while listening to his outlandish stories about the Bible. He wanted to get back to his ex wife and kids that had abandoned him and didn't want him back.”
The crescendo along with the soft piano makes it such a hauntingly beautiful piece of work. This is the type of heartfelt song that makes you just listen closely and forget the world around.
Brother Sal’s newest album, The Other Side of Sin will be released soon. The album was recorded at Boulevard Recording. I was lucky enough to get to hear a sneak peek of the song, “Poison.” I have to say that I was not disappointed in what I got to hear. It sounds like this new album will feature more of the band’s electric side of the spectrum.
Below is "A Good Hearted Man," one of the songs that will be featured on the new album.
I want to take the time to introduce the rest of Sal’s band, The Devil May Care.
The band consists of a powerhouse of talented musicians: Eli Wulfmeier, Frederik Bokkenheuser, David Immerglück, and Jonathan Flaugher. These guys are simply amazing to watch live. The band has no rehearsals so listening to each other is quite crucial. There are times that Sal may step off stage for a minute leaving the band to improvise. I was lucky enough to get to chat with all of these incredible musicians.
Not only is he a talented guitarist but he has worked as an actor and producer. Right now he is currently working on a solo project under the name “Leroy From the North.”
What was your journey like venturing out becoming a professional playing gigs and releasing CDs? Do you feel like you've reached your goals?
I moved to LA from Detroit about eight years ago to pursue a career in music. At the time, I did not know anybody, so I just started playing with other bands and eventually ran into Sal. As far as reaching my goal that would be a no. My ultimate goal is to keep playing and recording as much as possible.
Is there a significance to the setup in terms of the sound or genre of music your currently making?
It’s more guitar driven similar to americana or psychedelic.
Do you have a particular approach to songwriting?
I keep a notebook with me everywhere I go to write down any inspiration I have. I do try to write at least five minutes everyday to keep going. Other times, I will sit around and just play guitar and then try to decipher the lyrics, sound, subject matter and melody.
Do you have any favorite LA venues?
The Troubadour, I used to go there about every day of the week. The Piano Bar is a big family there. Ryan, the manager takes care of us.
Is it hard to balance the guitar work with piano/vocals on an album?
The band has great chemistry. We have all played together so long that we have learned to listen to each other. The basic structure is Sal will play a verse and chorus and we all see where it goes. Sometimes, he calls out who is gonna do a solo. You just have to listen to know when to hang back.
What about your experiences working in film?
I recently got to help write a score for a film called The Widow Son. They needed a Neil Young type soundtrack. It’s different watching the footage and seeing how the characters react then trying to make the music fit the scene.
What can we expect from your solo project?
I am currently working on a solo record under a working title at the moment. The band is called "Leroy From the North." The music has similar elements to Brother Sal without the piano but much more in the style of Leon Russell.
Frederik "Freddy" Bokkenheuser
Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, he started playing drums at the age of seven and started playing professionally at fourteen. After gigging and recording for a decade around Europe, he continued his career in Los Angeles playing with Jay Nash, Joshua Radin, and Ryan Adams.
What's it like working with Sal?
The thing about working with Sal is it is such a fun gig-- like a musical playground. We never rehearse or have a setlist. Sal sends us a text that afternoon saying “Let’s play this song in the key of..” Between the covers and originals, we have over a hundred songs. We never know what we are gonna do but just go with the moment.
I have always heard that drummers were hypersensitive listeners. Is this true?
Always. There are times when you have to take lead over the song, so I'm always looking at Sal for cues. It is very important to have that connection with the other musicians.
What are your favorite originals to play?
"Poor Richard’s Almanac" has become Sal’s anthem. "Old Devil’s Whelm" is another favorite.
What are your thoughts on the natural ability vs the practiced player?
Hard work goes a long way. If you don’t have certain mechanics down it will be hard to play freely. You will be constricted.
Any updates on the new album?
We are hoping to get it mixed soon. David Immerglück produced it.
What was your inspiration to become a drummer?
I was a huge fan of The Police album, Zenyatta Mondatta. I remember looking at pictures of Stewart Copeland and tried to emulate his style. From then on, I would put on whatever rock N' roll album I could find.
This man right here needs no further introduction. He’s a multi instrumentalist who is best known for his work in Counting Crows, Camper Van Beethoven, John Hiatt, and Monks of Doom... just to name a few. He’s a versatile musician and producer with an insane record and CD collection that ranges in the thousands.
What are some of your favorite guitar riffs?
"Oh Well" part 1-Fleetwood Mac, "Dancing Days"-Led Zeppelin, “A Woman like You"-Bert Jansch, "Clear Spot"-Captain Beefheart, and "Smokestack Lightning"-Howlin’ Wolf.
Which of your gear can you not live without?
I have a 68' silver face Fender Vibrolux that has some cool mods in the caps. As for guitars that would be my 72' Les Paul Junior.
Do you have any producer influences?
I listen to a lot of records from the 70's. I especially like the Rolling Stones style so I try to produce in that direction. As for producers, Don Smith, he could identify the magic early in a song. I'm also a big fan of Dennis Herring and Jimmy Miller.
How was recording the new album?
Great! The process went by rather quickly. We managed to finish in three days at Boulevard Recording.
How did you become a part of the Devil May Care?
Sal was playing a gig at the Hotel Café. I was sitting on a bar stool next to Brian Wright. Sal just stuck out as the real deal among all of the other acts. I listened to his record and knew I had to be in the band! It was the kind of music that I grew up wanting to play.
What are you currently listening to at the moment?
Do you have a particular music routine?
I am constantly listening to music 24/7. Playing live is the musical gym for me. It's always great to exercise the musical muscle by playing new material.
Jonathan "Jonny" Flaugher
Jonny holds a masters at the Manhattan School of Music and has worked extensively in New York as a jazz bassist. Since then he has began his career working alongside: Ryan Adams, The Weepies, Shakira, and Vanessa Carlton. He's also composed for film and is currently producing various artists.
Sal was telling me that the bass has been the quintessential part of the band. Do you agree?
Every role is important. Music is our language. Sal and I have a very similar musical background. We've played jazz, ragtime, and gospel. All of that goes in Sal’s band.
How and why did you first pick up the bass?
I was inspired by my uncle, who is not blood related, he was a bass player. I played clarinet but wanted to play bass clarinet. I have always just been interested in that kind of stuff. In high school, I borrowed a friend’s bass. Soon after that I started playing the upright bass.
What are your types of musical influences?
Mostly rock N roll, jazz, country, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Paul McCartney.
Is there a unique significance to the band's set up?
Our rhythm section plays pretty actively. In the beginning, Sal was not sure of the setup. He had more people in the band than the audience. Now its much more stripped down.
How did you meet Sal?
I came to LA to record on different records. When I met Sal at Hotel Café, he had a gospel band. We both had a similar musical background. He wanted me to come play on Blood and Dust at Sunset Sound in 2008. After recording that album, I became a permanent member.
What are your long term goals?
To keep getting better and better. I have worked hard to get where I am. I just plan to keep improving and learning more.