Bells’ Toll: Let Independents Ring – Our Q&A with L.A. Edwards

We first discovered L.A. Edwards (the band, but also Luke Andrew, the lead singer, himself) via Instagram, when he liked one of our posts about our Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ vinyl collections. We had been on a #tompetty listening craze, but understandably so, since the two-year anniversary of his untimely death was approaching, and we weren’t surprised that we showed up in his feed, given how connected he is to Petty himself. After listening to “Further Along,” the first song from the band’s LP, True Blue, which was released in 2018 and produced by the Heartbreakers’ own Ron Blair, it was hard not to instantly fall for the band’s brand of Americana rock and Luke’s aptitude for “good for nothin’” vagabond blues.

Luke croons, “I was born to ramble,” in “Oh No,” one of our favorite tracks from True Blue, and the album is seemingly about just that; the life of a touring musician following his dreams on the road, and, subsequently, leaving his loved ones and Los Angeles, Carlsbad, and Nashville behind (for brief periods, anyway). Even though the band’s touring schedule has only increased over the years, with breaks here and there, Luke makes it clear that they’ll “always be a part of [him]” “from California to Calgary, and sea to shining sea,” in “Part of Me.” And, thankfully, touring has gotten much easier now that his children are older, and his family can join him on the road.

He has said his musical influences, including Laurel Canyon legends Jackson Browne and the Eagles, were actually inherited from his mother, who would make mixtapes for him and his brother to listen to on their long bus commutes to and from middle school. Since Luke and his brothers come from a military family, moving from place to place, and he and his older brother, Jay (Jesse Daniel Edwards), started touring at a very young age, we suppose they actually were born to ramble. They formed the Smart Brothers out of Nashville, when they first paired up with the Heartbreakers’ team, and eventually grew into the polished band of brothers (and friends) L.A. Edwards is now.

They’ve come a long way from their mostly country stylings on their first EP, Secrets We’ll Never Know, which is also hard not to love, due to changes in production – their sound just keeps “getting bigger,” according to Luke. Luke said he wrote many of the songs on True Blue at a time of both sadness and joy, and this is definitely reflected in the yearning in his voice, and in his band’s seamlessly soulful rhythm section (Jay Edwards, Jerry Edwards, and Alex Vo), largely consisting of slide guitar that just breaks our hearts, in the way it only can when it’s done right. And, besides the fact that L.A. Edwards has the Heartbreakers’ golden stamp of approval, the band also reminds us of them in several other ways, so much so that Petty’s voice seems to echo through some of their songs (e.g., in “Everywhere,” which was actually written by Blair, when Luke sings, “And all in all, he’s a lucky guy, to get to spend his days by your side”).

However, the likeness mostly stems from Luke’s ability to tell stories through song in the same vein as Petty himself, with just a touch of Southern magic and that everyman relatability. In fact, he has said most of his songs are “accidentally autobiographical,” which might be what makes his songwriting so heartfelt and relevant. It’s the reason why we can feel his “the ocean is my only company” blues while listening to True Blue. One thing is for certain, Luke can’t be the “good for nothin’” vagabond who doesn’t know “right from wrong,” which he describes himself to be in “Lovin’ You,” because he seemingly feels too much (maybe wearing his heart on the sleeve of one of those gorgeous stage jackets), and true vagrants just don’t give any fucks (or so we’ve heard).

The band has been hitting the road extensively during the True Blue tour, giving lots of meaning to their songs, we’re sure. They’ve been on the same bills as big name acts, such as the Beach Boys and Jefferson Starship, and performed at various festivals this year, including FloydFest, M3F Fest, Treefort Music Fest, Bristol Rhythm & Roots Festival, Wildflower Music and Arts Festival, Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival, Americanafest, and Bumbershoot, which Luke credited to Jerry, who doubles as the band’s manager. The single “Don’t Mean That Much to Me” even made it onto the 2018 Overboard remake soundtrack.

They’re continually reaching new heights (and places), most likely due to their unwavering work ethic (another Heartbreakers’ similarity), and will soon be releasing their newest single, “The Crow,” via a Buzzsession with The Wild Honey Pie in mid-October. All in all, we only have good things to say about L.A. Edwards, and have now made it our goal to delve deeper into their catalog, as new fans often do. Who knows, maybe we’ll even try to find a couple of those vintage wolf tees that they were giving away like candy during the shooting of one of their “Jam in the Van” performances back in 2017, too.

Well, we take that back. We can think of one bad thing to say, which is that the band’s new album won’t be released until sometime in 2020 – “Oh, no!” Fortunately, though, you can still catch them at their next show, which will find them back in Los Angeles. The band will play with Ron Blair for the Tom Petty All-Star Birthday celebration at the El Rey on October 18th. We’re sure Tom will be looking on with love.

Our Q&A with Luke follows, below:

Bells’ Toll (BT): What’s your story, or how did you get where you are today, musically? We read that you and your brother dropped out of school to play music at age 15. What contributed to this decision?

L.A. Edwards (LAE): Well, we have seven kids in the family and our dad was in the Navy. We didn’t have cable and weren’t allowed to listen to much secular music, because my parents were pretty religious. Me and Jay have always done everything together, so playing music was our way of having fun and expanding our imaginations, and most of our friends were into video games or sports or TV. I started on guitar and Jay bass. I was around 7, and Jay was 9 when we got that going. We always knew we wanted to do music and songwriting full-time, so high school was a waste of time for us. We got out as soon as we could, and started booking our own little tours across the country.

BT: Can you tell us about your band members (your days as the Smart Brothers to now)?

LAE: Jay is my older brother who was also in the Smart Bros. He’s a classically trained oboe player and excellent songwriter and solo artist (Jesse Daniel Edwards). We’ve had a yin-yang type relationship our whole life. He helps a lot with the musical direction in my band, and will sing, play keys, bass, or guitar, as needed.

Jerry is my little brother and drummer/singer. He’s also taken on a lot of manager duties for the band, including PR, booking, etc., and most of the big opportunities that come our way are his doing. He’s the youngest person in the band, but usually winds up looking after all of us.

Alex Vo is our lead guitar player. He’s an amazing multi-instrumentalist, and has taught me a lot about slide guitar, tone, and any lick I ever wanted to know how to play.  He likes to be called the “Vietnam Viper,” because of his affinity with snakes – he’s kind of like a guitar-playing parseltongue.

We also tour with a few different guitar players and bass players, depending on where and when: Mark Torromeo, Wes Burkhart, and Adam Ditt are all on call and always have a spot on the roster.

BT: We’ve seen different reports of where you’re based – Los Angeles, Nashville, Carlsbad, and the mountains of SoCal. Where are you from originally?

LAE: I was born in La Jolla at the Navy Hospital and moved around all over the world with the military. Julian, CA is where I spent most of my childhood years, but even that wasn’t very long. I’m currently between Nashville and Carlsbad. Most of our members are from LA.

BT: One of our favorite things about Tom Petty is that he was a natural storyteller, and we think you have this quality, too. Do you aim to tell stories? We read most of your lyrics are “accidentally autobiographical.” Can you elaborate on that?

LAE: Thank you! People are all going through their own lives, but at the end of the day we’re all pretty similar and go through a lot of the same things. I write about things that happen to me, or friends and family, or how I feel about something. I don’t realize it sometimes, until I listen to my records a few years later, that they pretty much sum-up exactly what was going on during that window of time when they were recorded.

BT: We’ve read that you’ve done some busking. Have you always made a full-time living as a musician or do you/did you have a day job that you gave up at some point? How would you say your touring life has changed since you first started out?

LAE: I’ve always written and recorded since I was 7. I took a few years off from touring when my wife and I started a family and our own hummus business (Bitchin’ Sauce). The hummus business has really taken off since it started, so I haven’t worked for anyone else for most of my adult life. I did a tour with Lucinda Williams, tuning her guitars, last year – I guess she was my boss. Fun times out there with her and her gang. The kids are getting big and the hummus biz is good and stable, so our touring schedule is ramping up a lot again. It’s been nice to be back out on the road. I took my time finding the right players and only [playing] tours that make sense. It’s been a fun year, and we’ll be on the road even more in 2020.

The Smart Brothers busked across the country a few times. It’s a great way to force yourself to be worth stopping for, especially when you’re counting on it for money.

BT: You sound so much like some of our favorite artists from the ‘70s. Where would you say your touch of Southern magic/Laurel Canyon/country rock sound stems from? We read that your mom used to make you and your brother mixtapes for your bus rides to school. Can you tell us about that?

LAE: Thanks! Our middle school bus driver was obsessed with really terrible music, which she would blast on our 45-minute ride twice daily, so Mom would make us mixes so we could listen on headphones and drown out the garbage. I was mainly allowed to listen to Christian music growing up, but my mom would bend the rules for a few secular artists (e.g., The Beatles, Willie Nelson, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beach Boys, among the most popular). Those guys, mixed with church hymnals and some rock ‘n’ roll, are a pretty good snapshot of what makes up a lot of my musical DNA.

I think being from Southern California has a lot to do with the Laurel Canyon sound, kind of the same way there’s a sound in Muscle Shoals or Chicago Jazz.

BT: How did you connect with Ron Blair? What has it been like to work with him during the production of True Blue and beyond?

LAE: I met Ron when the Smart Brothers were being developed by some managers in the Petty camp. They were trying to assemble a band for us, and one of the bass players they introduced was Chris Torres, who still plays with me and Ron all of the time and also lived in Carlsbad. We started cutting some cool full band tracks at Ron’s house as the Smart Brothers, but ultimately couldn’t get on the same page with management on the direction of the band.

Working with Ron in the studio was natural; he’s been such a mentor and friend ever since I met him. He’s helped with our sound in and out of the studio. He’s been about as far as a musician can go, and it’s a huge blessing to have his insights and wisdom.

BT: We love your cover of “Down South” with Ron Blair, and are big fans of Highway Companion, in general, viewing it as a road trip album, which seems to fit your troubadour lifestyle right now. Is that why you chose to cover the song, or is it just a favorite of yours/your band’s?

LAE: It’s one of my favorite songs and albums from TP. I’ve spent a lot of time down south, and with Ron being from Macon, it was an easy choice.

BT: Many of the songs on True Blue seem to speak about feelings of home sickness and loss (in terms of leaving your loved ones behind), which we imagine is very typical, but you’ve been touring for so long, so have you grown accustomed to this, or how do you deal with it?

LAE: The songs on True Blue are from a writing period of about five years. I lost my mom, had a daughter, and a big family falling-out in that time period. Those are the main emotions and themes on there.

BT: We really love your YouTube music videos, especially “Part of Me.” Are those home movies playing in the background?

LAE: Yup, that one was done by Jerry. Those are our old home videos; the opening scene is my dad coming home from a deployment tour and I’m the lil’ baby. I think we were living in England at the time.

BT: You’ve been playing festivals with some big acts. What’s that been like for you, and are there any other artists who you’d like to collaborate with in the future?

LAE: Festivals are fun. It’s inspiring seeing so many other artists in one place and [to] see what they’re doing live and how they’re evolving.

It’s always cool collaborating with people who have been in the game for a long time, just picking their brains and getting all of the knowledge that they bring to the table. Willie Nelson would be cool, ZZ Top, Jackson Brown. . .Beyonce.

BT: It seems that your sound has changed some since the release of your first EP, Secrets We’ll Never Know, in 2015, which is categorized under “country” on Apple Music, to the more Americana sound of True Blue. A lot of our favorite artists have the abilities to change their sound from one album to the next. Where do you think your sound is headed?

LAE: The sound has progressively gotten bigger and bigger, as we’re building a permanent roster and playing bigger gigs. I think the next album will be big and powerful, more in the rock direction.

BT: You were featured on the 2018 Overboard soundtrack, which is a great achievement. Can you tell us a little about that experience?

LAE: That was fun! I wrote that one with my friends Rick and Anton. They work a lot in the film world and a cue came up that fit the LAE sound. We sent it to the director, and he placed it. We wrote it and recorded it in the same day, and that’s the version that went into the movie. It was cool seeing how fast it happens in that world.

BT: We see that you have an upcoming show with Ron Blair (the Tom Petty All-Star Birthday Celebration) in October at the El Rey. What can we expect from that show?

LAE: It’s a surprise! I’m not actually sure, I should check.

BT: What’s next for you? Are you currently working on another album and/or will you continue to work with Ron Blair, or will it be self-produced?

LAE: We’ll put out a new album in 2020. I’m still in the writing process at the moment. I think it will have a few different producers on it, with Ron included. We’re going to track in Nashville.

BT: You released your newest single, “Reign Over Me,” in June, and will be premiering “The Crow” soon. Are these songs part of your next release? It’s hard to believe that you haven’t been offered a large record deal, or have you? (We feel there are big things in store for you, either way).

LAE: Thank you! I think both of those songs will be singles only. My goal is to owe as little as possible, and keep as much as possible, on any sort of deal that comes through ­­­– we’re still shopping. 😊

BT: Who have you been working with in Nashville, and what has this experience been like?

LAE: We cut “The Crow” at Robert Plant’s old studio in East Nashville, with Chad Brown engineering. Working in Nashville is amazing, there’s so much talent and energy in the air – it’s tangible.

BT: What are a few of your most memorable moments from the True Blue tour?

LAE: Playing with the Beach Boys was great.  It’s been cool having fans know our songs and coming out. There have been some pretty golden tour pranks on this run with the White Buffalo.

BT: Are you still selling True Blue and Secrets We’ll Never Know on vinyl? We’d definitely like to purchase copies of both, if so!

LAE: We’ll send some over, send your addresses!

BT: Is there any special meaning behind Ron Blair’s “Our Father” recital at the end of True Blue? It’s a good end to your album, and, to us, it kind of seems like a prayer and/or blessing for what’s to come from the Heartbreakers themselves.

LAE: That’s one of my favorite parts of the album. The time stamp of when it comes in matches the verse number in Psalms, so we thought that was pretty clever. We were drinking a lot of tequila that night, and it was Ron’s idea. I think it is a sort of blessing/go forth, but can’t quite remember…

BT: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions and for being a part of this series. We truly wish you "the best of everything," as Tom would say – and we expect that you’ll get it.

LAE: Thanks so much, peace and love y’all!

(Please note: this interview was proofread for grammar and clarity).

 

About the “Let Independents Ring” series:

When we first started writing for IE Weekly back in 2007, we wrote a few columns on mainstream artists before we began covering the local IE music scene, mainly discovering bands via MySpace. Around the same time, we started collecting records more obsessively. We met and fell for so many bands and have continued to support both independent artists and record stores. Through this series, we plan on highlighting bands and musicians that want to be “heard” amid the vast and competitive musical landscape, hopefully contributing to their growth. In her master’s project, Kady compared local bands to non-profits, as they typically put most of what they have into creating art, thereby providing a service to their communities. By sharing independent bands' stories through short Q&As, our goal is to inspire more listens, follows, likes, and, perhaps, success, to let them loudly ring. We hope you’ll also lend them your ears (and, us, your eyes).

 

If you're an independent artist or band and would like to be featured in this series, please contact us for consideration. We can be reached at jkbellstoll@gmail.com or via Instagram (@thebellstoll).