Sadler Vaden is heavily known for, and knows well himself, what it means to be part of a team. The lead guitarist with Grammy-winning band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Vaden is accustomed to a role of prominent responsibility, notable visibility, and collaborative creativity. Still, while this multi-faceted foundation is a large part of Vaden’s musical life, the South Carolinian musician isn’t without a well-developed, complementary sense of solo musicianship, which made a first splash in 2016 with an eponymous LP and then again this year with follow up album, Anybody Out There.
Acknowledgement of Vaden’s eventual move to include solo writing isn’t distinctly new unto itself. However, through his latest single, “Best Days,” there is a solid display of what can come out of music by someone with a dual understanding of their individual artistry and an established awareness of others’ thoughts and feelings that’s been shaped by the expectations that come with the decision to be a key part of a group. A melodically gentle, mentally comforting, acoustically driven single, “Best Days” is musically appealing, narratively vulnerable, and emotionally sincere. The song presents Vaden’s matured musicality with his instrument, his unique sensitivity as a person, and an interest in embracing the delicacy of the world’s currently tenuous realities, rather than avoiding them.
Vaden spoke with American Songwriter ahead of “Best Days’” release, about the juxtaposition of his mentality as a human and a songwriter when writing the song, the logic and intention behind his sonic style decisions, and what transpired between the beginning and end of “Best Days’” creative process
American Songwriter: You share that a main catalyst for “Best Days” was the emotion and reaction that arose amid the George Floyd protests. Now that some time has passed since you finished working on the song, how would you describe your feelings at present, as compared with how and what you felt then?
Sadler Vaden: “My feelings aren’t really any different than they were at the time. As we’ve seen since the George Floyd murder and subsequent protests, there’s been a few more instances just like that one and Portland is still in unrest for over 100 nights.”
AS: What would you say is unique for you in writing as an individual — particularly a deeply personal and emotionally intimate song like this one?
SV: Well, I’m a serial optimist. I can’t help it. I tend to see the positive in almost everything. That doesn’t mean I ignore the negative or not empathize with what’s happening. I’ve noticed that almost all of my songs have a hopeful quality to them; I extract it from any situation. I tried to put a little bit of my own life in there – with the ‘baby boy’ line – but without it being an overarching theme. So there’s a bit of allegory at play.
This year brings us a baby boy
and the day he’s born is not his choice
but in his smile we shall rejoice
’cause he don’t know the world’s a mess
–Lyrics from “Best Days”
AS: The acoustic guitar in the song is made to sound quite sonically pristine but also billowing thanks to ample reverb. Why did you opt for this production approach? What made this style best suited for “Best Days’” message?
SV: “I didn’t overthink that bit too much. I knew I wanted the acoustic to sound really good, like 70’s good, since its the main accompaniment. I’m a huge fan of Neil Young so, that’s where the reverb came into play. In fact, I played the acoustic to a hip-hop loop while recording and later muted it. I actually have a version with drums played by Fred Eltringham, but it didn’t match the emotion of the song.”
AS: There’s a clear intention of optimism in “Best Days.” Which came first when you began working on the song? Slices of key lyrics for the song’s message or, simply the understanding that you wanted the song to instill feelings of hope for the future?
SV: “I wrote the music first. I came home after being out and about and just feeling the weight of my own problems and the world’s problems. Nothing was going right that day, for me personally. I sat at the kitchen counter and played the riff and started singing. The song came really fast! A lot of folks out there are having a hard time: jobless, isolated, lonely, etc. This song has a prayer-like sentiment to it.”
AS: Given that some folks believe musicians should just stick to making music, how would you describe where you think music fits in everyday life?
SV: “The ‘shut up and sing’ crowd is just ridiculous. Go to Chuck E. Cheese if you’re looking for that. We pay our taxes and vote and are everyday citizens of (the United States). Music is essential to everyday life. I can’t imagine my life, or the world for that matter, without music – especially in the year 2020.”