In February of 2020, before we knew the train wreck that the year would eventually become, The Cadillac Three released their album Country Fuzz. Infused within nearly every track of that album was the trio’s trademark free wheeling vibe and the undeniable electricity that the band has always been known for.
But there was also something else.
Held within cuts such as “The Jam” and “Blue El Camino,” there were hints of a new sound, a funkier sound, a sound that no one else was doing, a sound that the men of The Cadillac Three – Jaren Johnston, Neil Mason and Kelby Ray – weren’t quite ready to let go of yet.
And it’s that sound that dominates their new album Tabasco & Sweet Tea.
“We saw a path that still felt super unexplored…so we kept exploring,” says Mason in a revealing new interview with American Songwriter about the album which was actually finished during the first couple weeks of quarantine. “This record is a direct reaction to the end of the last record and where we thought we could still go.”
Where they went was a place they hadn’t visited in awhile, a place long ago before the band was even a band, a period of time when three teenagers from Tennessee had acts such as Beck and Midnight Vultures and The Meters blaring from their collective speakers.
Heck, they were even listening to The Eagles.
“There were certain elements of The Eagles that was just a bit funkier than their other stuff,” remembers The Cadillac Three drummer. “They had a song called ‘Those Shoes’ that was just so groove based and had such a funky element to it. We couldn’t get enough of it. With this record, we found ourselves in a place where we could go back and listen to some of that stuff and do some of this stuff we never had a chance to play.”
Written by Jaren Johnston, Alysa Vanderheym and Ben Burgess, the title track ‘Tabasco & Sweet Tea’ certainly set the band off into this new world of sound, a place in which a two-minute solo in the middle of the song was acceptable and the new groove on the common notion of ‘that girl is really pretty’ was tackled in a whole new, totally fresh way.
“Lyrically and musically, we had zero boundaries,” says Mason. “Anywhere we wanted to go, we went.”
Take for example the straight up stoner song “Devil’s Lettuce” which had writers Johnston and Mason leaning into ‘some of that 70’s thing’ that just isn’t out there much anymore.
“We didn’t want to overthink anything,” remembers Mason. “I mean, we would go to these places that had us connecting and channeling with these old movies like Almost Famous and Dazed and Confused and create these characters in our heads and really go off into our own world.”
“I mean, we were like, ‘its 2020 and sh**s weird…lets lean into that.”
And then there is the Mason and Johnston co-write “Road Soda,” which is essentially the drinking version of “Devil’s Lettuce.” And then there is the Johnston solo-write on “Crispy,” with the Chris Janson shout-out.
“I don’t know what’s going on there, but I think it’s the second time we have done a shout-out to Chris (Janson) in a song,” Mason laughs. “It might become a tradition.”
And throughout the entire album, along with an 80’s funk and hip hop vibe, there is also a travelling vibe, making listeners truly believe they are on the road to somewhere wild and crazy instead of stuck in the doldrums that come with the uncertainty of an ongoing pandemic.
“There is some really specific images within the lyrics, like a shoutout to our favorite gas station Bucky’s,’” Mason chuckles. “Sometimes its as simple as a good rhyme and sometimes it has a backstory to it.”
One cut sure to get some attention is “Turn the Radio On,” a song that Johnston came up in the back of the bus while the band was still on tour in Europe at the beginning of the year and a song that tackles the band’s somewhat constant battle to get their songs played on country radio.
“I remember walking to the back of the bus and asking if Jaren was mad about something,” Mason remembers. “I mean, we are just calling it how we see it on that one. If sh** had gone a different way, maybe we would be the biggest band on the radio. You can’t hear it if you don’t turn it up and if they don’t, well what are you going to do?”
Indeed, The Cadillac Three has never created anything for the programmers and the suits that make up the country music industry.
Everything…every note and every lyric and every gosh darn guitar lick has been for their fans.
“All we wanted to do is put out as much music as we could this year,” concludes Mason about the album which will be available for the crazy price of $3.99 during its first week out. “This album creates a fun place for people to go, even if for 40 minutes or so. And if you like it, you will push play again. And really, that’s all we have ever wanted.”