(photo: Penni Gladstone)
Words by Carolyn McCoy
By now the story is commonplace: That of how our lives stopped, changed course, and went off on the wackiest path imaginable. One year later, many folks continue to do what they can to create normalcy in the face of complete uncertainty.
For Bay Area band The Well Known Strangers — drummer Mick Hellman, singer Amber Morris, keys player Austin DeLone, guitarists Rob Anderson & David Noble, and bassist Joshua Zucker — this scenario began to play out with the recording of their five-song EP release, King Tide, last year. “Just days before the pandemic shut everything down in the US, the band entered King Tide Studio in Sausalito to record the basic tracks for the album. It was also Super Tuesday, so the air was already politically charged. We utilized this energy to blast out these songs (for the most part) in one day. Very exciting!” says David Noble. “But despite the pandemic, and shelter in place obstacles, we were able to find ways to safely finish the album. Truly a labor of love.”
King Tide was released one year later, and the album is timely in its content, covering political themes with “American Man” and “I’m The President” as well as more uplifting subjects such as the joys of California in “Sun State,” all packaged with The Well Known Strangers down-home vibe. “The band sound happened pretty organically,” says Amber Morris. “I think the word amalgamation perfectly describes the uniqueness of our sound. It means forming a whole without the loss of individual identities. We really leaned into that and we called it California Country Soul, as it nods to our many influences of country, soul, and rock.”
The band also utilizes much collaboration with songwriting, each person contributing their ideas and parts to the greater whole. “I’d say for KingTide it’s been about 50% collaborative and 50% individual,” says Noble. “With ‘American Man’ written by Joshua and ‘I’m The President’ written by Austin. ‘Mountain Song’ and ‘Sun State’ were collaborations by David, Amber, Joshua, and David’s wife Mackenzie.”
King Tide not only gives voice to inspiring and well-crafted ideas, but it also shows just how resilient humans can be in times of uncertainty. We move through tough times with the hopes of becoming better than we ever imagined. “I personally feel very inspired by my bandmates, and am grateful every day to get to work with such talented, creative, kind, and hardworking folks,” says Morris. “Through technology we have been able to continue our rehearsing, writing, and creating together. We feel stronger than ever on so many levels, which is a silver lining that has come out of this pandemic. This band has kept my hopes and spirit lifted through this difficult time. We look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Carolyn McCoy is a Bay Area writer and photographer whose been covering the local music scene for 12 years. You can usually find her with a camera strapped to her body, and a big smile on her face.