While making the new Satsang record, Drew McManus kept asking himself: what would Tom Petty do? “Well, he would turn his Telecaster up to seven and play it like an acoustic guitar,” the singer-songwriter muses, with a hearty chuckle. McManus wanted to make a rock ‘n roll record, in the vein of Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, but an attraction to fiddle and pedal steel took him down the Americana route, one drenched in self-work and deep inner reflection.
The lead single and title track, “All. Right. Now.,” premiering today courtesy of its accompanying music video, allows the band to swerve from making reggae-twinged music to a rootsier kind. “The path of least resistance is a suit that doesn’t fit / It’s a trap to you, a shackle, and a chain,” McManus sings with a palpable yearning. “But as you grind away your gears, your moments that turn into years / Will make a bed where you will feel no pain.”
McManus had just gotten back from a five-week tour when he was cuddled up on the couch with his wife ─ and the song struck him, fully formed, like a bolt of lightning. “I have this funny thing where I think of my creativity as a person, or a muse that lives inside of me or in the ether,” he tells American Songwriter over a recent phone call. “It’s pulled me out of poverty and given me this life. I’ve made this deal with it. Whenever it calls, I pick up.”
Lyrically, the album kick-off finds him turning over his life in a way he never quite imagined. “When you’re in the midst of living your life, it feels like everything is happening. You have your professional life, your personal life, and your romantic relationships. And it can feel like they’re all firing at one time. And it’s a lot,” confides McManus, who also had to deal with “haters” for the first time in his career.
“Then, you have people on the sidelines telling you what you’re doing right and wrong. It’s about shutting all that down and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, what a blessed life I have. It’s all beautiful and awesome,’” he continues. “This song flips the script on feeling super overwhelmed with everything that’s happening and being super grateful.”
The music video, filmed by Greyson Christian Plate, compiles a new approach to album-making. Typically, Satsang would step into a recording studio to lay down tracks, but McManus, who now lives deep within the Beartooth Mountains, felt expanses of wilderness might give the music a fuller, more immersive, quality. Montana’s “big soundscape” called out to him, so he rented out a house in Paradise Valley, flew out his band, and let the music take it from there.
As you’ll see below, the property’s nearby barn housed their makeshift studio, further elevating the record’s entire smokey aesthetic. “It seemed fitting to make the record in Montana rather than anywhere else,” he says. Plate largely took creative control over the video and captured nearly every moment of “us making the record.”
Having grown up surrounded by country music, thanks to his mother ─ who grew up on a ranch outside of Roundup and played artists like Garth Brooks and Randy Travis on the car stereo ─ it isn’t a leap that things would eventually come full circle.
Spending time on the river with his friend Nate soon proved equally instrumental in gearing McManus down this new path. “Nate had this little waterproof bluetooth speaker, and all he would play was Turnpike Troubadours, Steve Earle, Hank Williams Jr. and Merle Haggard. I forgot how awesome all [the greats were]. When I started writing again, it wasn’t on purpose. I’d write these songs and think, ‘This needs pedal steel or fiddle.’”
McManus began a musical exploration of his own, as well, zipping down the rabbit hole of the current Americana scene and gravitating towards the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Colter Wall, and Tyler Childers. “It all really blew me away,” he says.
As his muse called him to make Americana music of his own, McManus struggled with alienating the “scene around our band” and feeling like he had been “pigeonholed for a while” to a certain style. Make no mistake, McManus is “super grateful” for the fans who’ve bought tickets to their shows ─ but he “started having this self-imposed thing where I felt I had to write music for this specific niche. When I was thinking about a new record, I felt I had to keep it in a certain lane.” When he had all this time home, however, he threw his hands up and decided to be exactly who he was.
More than a decade into his recovery from addiction, McManus uses this musical shift to “pick away at myself and try to get rid of anything that doesn’t serve me and bad ways of thinking and living,” he says. He has undergone intense psychotherapy to shed toxic layers of himself, uncovering the man he was always fully capable of being, and funnels his “self-work and self-development” generously into the new music, echoed in the title song’s warm, inviting groove.
The forthcoming album even contains a certain spiritual undercurrent, as well. “There’s a level of that when you’re doing self-work, and there’s only so much you can dig into with your brain. There has to be an element of letting go and an ethereal understanding. Everything is going to be alright if you’re doing the right thing. How I’ve always felt really connected to spirit is by being outside,” he explains.
“That’s something I lost over the last few years. This year, you mix intense psychotherapy and spending all my time out in the mountains again. There was a deep reintroduction of spirituality into my life. It’s never intentional. By nature, I’ve always been into Eastern philosophy and grew up in one household very Irish Catholic and the other household very Evangelical Christian.”
With the new record, the follow-up to the band’s 2019 project Kulture, McManus wrangles with not only his ongoing spiritual journey but finding his identity in and through the art itself. “You’re pretty much only identifiable through your art. Everyone you meet is meeting you under the pretense of your art. They relate you to these songs you wrote. They relate you to your performance,” he says.
McManus stops for a moment, a sigh escaping his lips. Such a personal confrontation is one most artists have eventually, and with the global pandemic, it was now or never to figure all that out. And even before COVID-19, the Montana musician grappled with “who am I if I’m not onstage,” among a myriad of other existential queries. “What I found doing the work I did last summer in making this record is that I am just a guy from Montana, and I found a way to utilize this talent. I don’t have to pick one thing. I’m not just that song. I’m not just a dad. I’m not just a partner. I’m not just a fighter. I am all of these things. That’s really what this is all about. We don’t just have to be our job or a husband to our wife. We can be these multifaceted beings.”
As McManus continues doing necessary self-work, the new song’s chorus seems to capture how he’s feeling these days: “It’s all right now, everything is happening all right now / And I’m alright right now.”
Satsang’s All. Right. Now. is expected June 4 on SideOneDummy Records.