Satsang Puts Twang in Their Thang on March 12th at Lark Hall
Satsang’s debut in 2016, The Story of You, racked up roughly 15 million streams on Spotify. Their second album Pyramid(s) went to number one in 2017 on the Billboard Reggae chart and number two on iTunes. Kulture in 2019 found them on an endless touring schedule sharing stages with Michael Franti & Spearhead and Nahko and Medicine for the People as they worked their way up from bars and clubs to massive festivals playing their blend of hip hop, reggae, and world music.
Then Covid hit.
Two years later, Satsang will play a concert at Lark Hall in Albany with a new album All. Right. Now. featuring music that’s a lot more John Hartford and John Prine than it is Eminem.
“For me, the real blessing of Covid was reminding me of how much more there is to life than playing music,” says Drew McManus, the leader of the band. “As for the reason for the style shift, Covid just gave me some room to breathe and be back home for a while.
“I started going back to some of the stuff I grew up on just really getting into folk music and songwriting and going back to the old country stuff that I grew up on and revisiting music by John Hartford and John Prine. It just kind of pivoted the sounds I was hearing in my head.
“When I was writing a song, I wanted to hear a fiddle and a pedal steel on it. It felt like the same kind of songs coming from the same place. I just put some different instruments on them.”
One of the songs on the new album is “Answer Was Yes” about losing his sister. “She died real abruptly. She was an alcoholic. From what we understand, she was coming home from the bar and hit her head, and they found her outside. We were really, really close.
“She moved me to Chicago when I was 27, and we lived together. She was kind of like my mom more than a sister. So, when it happened, I didn’t really get a chance to process it. I was in the middle of a tour. So, I finished up the tour and came to the funeral and then went right back on the road, so I didn’t really let it hit me. I kinda just like powered through it.
“I was just thinking about her real heavy one night. I’d kinda been living like she wasn’t even gone. So, writing that song was just kind of summing up and wondering just the course of our relationship and how deep she was and in addition and wondering like would I revere her the same way I do right now if she was still here, and kind of just diving into that question.”
On “I’m The One,” he sings about his wife. “The thing that makes my wife and me work is that she’s not just in love with me. I think she’s in love with my process. I think if two people are going to stay together, you can’t just be I love with the person. You have to be in love with the process and, yeah, she provides me with a long, long leash to be me, and lets me do a lot of things that most wives don’t let their husbands do.”
They have four children, three by his wife’s first marriage. “Those are my kids. I never look at them as stepchildren. I just kinda took the agreement. Ok, this is God’s plan for me is to raise these kids. So, I’ll do that to the best of my ability, and then when we had Malacki, it just kind of sewed our family together. He’s kind of the thread between me and the other kids. It’s like, ‘Hey, this is your brother. I’m his dad.’ You know what I mean? It’s a really rad family.’”
It took a long time for Drew to get to where he is, and unlike so many musicians, it wasn’t just music that saved him. “There was just a lot of abuse in my house from my stepfather, and I wanted to rebel against everything. I was a pretty angry kid. So, just anything counter-culture I was into whether it was skateboarding, punk, or hip hop. The Grateful Dead, motorcycles, I just always had this thing that was drawing me into counter-culture.”
I asked him how hard it was getting off drugs and was music instrumental in that process? “Uh, no! That was what was kind of weird about that for when I got sober, I don’t think I touched a guitar for about five months. I kinda forgot it’s what I did. I had so much to relearn, I had to relearn how to damn near walk and talk. Yeah, it was such a different thing. I spent seven years intoxicated every day.
“I had to relearn how to live, let alone play music. Holy shit! I tried to kill myself a couple of times. That’s what landed me in rehab. I had been in intervention before, and I wasn’t really into it. And at that time, my arguments were pretty much null and void with the bandages on my wrist. I guess it’s pretty safe to say things had gotten away from me. (chuckle)
“At that point, man, my girl had left me. Most of my friends didn’t want to be around me. I didn’t have a place to stay. So, I said, ‘Ok, at minimum, this will give me a couple of months,’ and it ultimately ended up saving my life.”
The Covid helped Drew see his life as a balance between his music and his family. He sees the country music he’s writing now as part of the same counter-culture as his earlier work, but with fiddles and pedal steel. Satsang plays Lark Hall in Albany on Saturday night, March 12th.