Interview with Hustle Souls
Hustle Souls is an Asheville, NC based soul band who blend dust-covered-vinyl nostalgia with modern sensibility; recently named one of "Music Connections" Hot 100 Live Unsigned Artists & Bands. Driven by a lust for songwriting, the band’s fervid live performance is heightened by undeniable instrumental prowess, roaring B3 organ and electric guitar, trumpet, and 3 part vocal harmony. With relentless touring, sold out shows and major festival appearances the band has earned a reputation as one of the East Coast’s most promising acts. The band name Hustle Souls pays homage to the Muscle Shoals sound. While not at all a tribute act, the band did use Muscle Shoals as a beacon to point the band’s wide ranging influences toward a cohesive center where Southern twang, swamp, and gospel blend with soul funk and groove. After releasing a series of live in studio videos called Snaggy Mountain Sessions, the band was contacted by gold and platinum mixer and producer Eric “Mixerman” Sarafin (the Pharcyde, Ben Harper. The Brand New Heavies etc.) about making an album. Hustle Souls debut full length “Color” was released in 2018. In 2021 the band released a 6 song EP, titled Daydream Motel which has earned praise from American Blues Scene, Bluestown Music, Aldora Britain Records, Midwest Record, NC Music Mag among others. Lead single “Montana” recently charted on Roots Music Report’s Soul Blues Song chart. Hustle Souls band members are: Multi-instrumentalist Billy Litz Guitarist Chris Everett Bassist Jonathon Taylor Drummer Kevin Scott
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
Well, I wanted to be a professional rollerblader growing up so it's a good thing I found music. My Dad's Dad started a music lessons and retail store that my Dad, Tony took over early in his life. The store is called Victor Litz Music Center and because of it myself and my 3 brothers always had instruments sitting around the house and getting into and out of music lessons was easy. I also have to give a lot of credit to playing in a band in school because I would have quit many times over if I didn't have the consistency of a band program. I played trumpet so I was really into ska and punk music growing up. Later through skate videos I found indie rock and underground hip-hop which really formed my love for songwriting. I just really wanted to learn the magic trick of how these people could make me feel such strong things with music.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
I still love skating and do it even though the injuries are taking a toll on my body these days. The adrenaline and physical exercise is really important for my mental health and putting the stresses of the music industry out of my head in the morning. I fell in love with words, first with lyrics from artists like Bright Eyes, Wilco, Modest Mouse etc. growing up which eventually led me to reading. I always associated books with school and authority which I rebelled against but when I found Kerouac and the beats around the age of 19 I realized writing could be just as powerful as the music I loved and I still enjoy reading today and get as much inspiration from some exciting author as I do new music. I also made an intention to live in a beautiful place, western North Carolina, where I can escape to the woods and sit by a river for a bit. Those river sessions are where my most creative moments happen.
How long has music been your career?
I've been playing music professionally as a solo artist, a session player, and with Hustle Souls and different bands for over a decade.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
We live in Asheville, NC. I moved here because it was seen as a kind of bohemian escape in the mountains for the East Coast and had a reputable music scene. I think all these things are still true but it's a lot more expensive here than it used to be so some of that wild transient artist atmosphere has been replaced by hotels and bachelorette parties but there are still some amazing and creative people around here and the national forests and parks never cease to help keep me centered on what I find important, even when the hustle and grind gets intense.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
There are 3 real reasons to play a show; because it's fun, because it pays well or because it can further our career with a big opening spot or something. Usually a show at least meets one of these. sometimes we get all 3.... sometimes we get none. We've played shows to bartenders and empty rooms but the worst was probably this dive bar in a small college town. There were like 6 people there. They played cornhole in front of the stage the whole time and somehow got into a fist fight even though there was almost no one there. We got paid a total of $50 split 4 ways, which after gas expenses was about $25... but the worst was the microwave pizza that they gave us. I love pizza but this stuff was clearly not meant for human consumption. This was years ago. Lately we've been blessed to play some amazing shows supporting bands like Dumpstaphunk, Natalie Prass etc. and some pretty big festivals. I would say my favorite show I can remember was one we played outside at someone's mountain property. They hosted a decent size festival at the space when covid wasn't happening but had stopped because of lockdowns. We played when not a lot of music was happening. I'm not sure how we got the show because most of the people there didn't know us but we were all so excited to be around live music. We were set to play an hour long set but as we got started the crowd kept screaming for encore after encore. We eventually played literally every song we knew and 4 hours into the set we were out of music and had drunk way too much moonshine. I had written a new song which I didn't ever plan to bring to the band because it was so different from our normal high energy soul music but they wanted more so I picked up the guitar player's song and performed "Walking Off the Plank" to end the night. That led us to record an entire acoustic EP and has really shaped our current musical direction. In the end we've played the Toe Down festival for 2 years in a row since then and have become really close friends with many people up there.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
We love playing big festivals and small towns. There are some really cool small towns around the South East that not many people ever see, like Thomas, WV (the Purple Fiddle) Floyd, VA (Dogtown Roadhouse), Fayetteville WV (the Grove), Beaufort NC (the backstreet pub) South Kingston RI (pumphouse music works). Packing out a room that comfortably holds 50 people with 100+ heads is probably the most fun we can have. We love our local Asheville spots, the Grey Eagle, The Asheville Music Hall, One World West and Salvage Station. We loved playing bigger festivals like Bristol Rhythm and Roots this year but had to cancel our 2 sets at Floyd Fest because I got a bad case of covid right before the show. We really would like to get back to that one. Some other spots on our radar, Pourhouse Charleston, Pourhouse Raleigh, the 930 club DC, Southern Charlottesville etc. Just want to hit as many festivals and mid-size clubs as possible this year.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Tom Waits, California Honeydrops, Sierra Ferrel, Wilco, Trombone Shorty, Dr. Dog, Nathaniel Rateliff, Durand Jones and the Indications, Big Thief, Dumpstaphunk, Jon Baptiste
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
Never stop learning and loving. Make sure you stay a fan of music and constantly seek new inspiration. Accept that audiences don't care about you or your songs unless you make them feel something themselves.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Hold steady to your artistic vision and don't be afraid to ask people for help, advice and favors. Don't be too humble and shy to believe you have something of value to offer.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
Walking Off the Plank and Ladidada are the most meaningful songs to me. The first being a call to action to myself to not give up, not to settle, to always push myself to go against the grain. The latter being about loss, loneliness and sincerity, a reminder to myself to value the people I love and the friendships I have.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
I love playing songs like Montana, Ladder to the Sun, All In, and anything that hits that New Orleans second line groove. This is when the music feels the most alive and excited to me on stage. I also love when we can build up enough energy and captivate a big audience enough to break out a song like La Di Da Da that is serious and intimate. Singing acapella to a big room is unbeatable.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
I feel most inspired when I find a new (or old) artist that makes me feel something I've never felt before, a new sound or idea that makes me feel something as a fan. When I find this, a new song always comes. I usually start songs on the acoustic guitar with a melody and chord progression. I work with that until the outline of the musical song is done. I then take that structure with me to the river to sit alone and work on lyrics. Only about 10% of the songs I write are ever brought to the band to work out the groove and arrangement and see if we can bring it to life for the live show. We usually road test songs for a couple months before recording them to make sure the songs are really going to hold up the test of time.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I hope our music communicates the need for jubilation, for excitement, a rebellion against the sad nihilism of the times BUT we do not want to be JUST a party or an escape, we want a level of sincerity and weight to go with that jubilation. It's a difficult balance to hit but when it works I believe that's what most people are looking for in art.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Yes we often disagree about parts, arrangements, what direction to go and focus on but we communicate directly and the right answer usually shows up with time so in worst case scenarios we just step away and come back later.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
We have 3 songs being recorded with one producer, Eric Mixerman Sarafin and 2 more with my brother Austin Litz (crypto wave radio) producing. We will be releasing a music video for one and plan to have another pitched to Americana radio as soon as it is done. We will not be officially releasing anything until after November as we have some exciting opportunities that we are not talking about publicly yet... just waiting to see where a couple things land as we close out 2023.