By Cady Kuzmich
Clifton Park — The Fairground Saints, an up and coming country pop trio from Los Angeles, will be opening for Carly Rae Jepsen at the Upstate Concert Hall in Clifton Park Tuesday, March 22. The band released its self-titled debut album in 2015 with The Verve Group/Universal Records and have since turned heads at NPR, Huffington Post, Rolling Stone magazine and other big names in the music world.
Forming the Fairground Saints
Singer Mason Van Valin, 23, and guitarist Elijah Edwards, 20, both hail from the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. When Van Valin wrote an ad in hopes of finding a bandmate five years ago, he didn’t exactly have 15 year old Edwards in mind. “He was so young that I didn’t really take him seriously,” said Van Valin.
Still, despite some apprehension, Van Valin sent Edwards a simple recording of Van Valin singing and playing his acoustic guitar. “A little while later he sent it back and he added drums, bass, mandolin, Dobro, all this crazy stuff — it sounded great, like he had recorded it in a professional studio. I was just, like, “Well, cool, man — you got the job!”’ Van Valin recalled.
The duo began playing shows around Santa Barbara and soon garnered the attention of producer Matthew Wilder. Van Valin’s sister was making a scrapbook for Wilder’s former road manager at the time. She told him, “Oh, you should listen to my brother’s band on Youtube!” and he just said “Everybody has a brother on Youtube,” but she insisted he take a listen.
Wilder thought the pair would benefit from a female voice. The voice Wilder had in mind was that of Midwesterner Megan McAllister, who also plays the guitar and the dulcimer.
Originally from Michigan, McAllister began writing songs at age six. Though she spent most her life in the midwest, she travelled the world leading songwriting workshops in 17 countries over the course of four years with the music education nonprofit, The Young Americans. Now, 26 years old, McAllister lives in North Hollywood.
When McAllister was three years old, her dad noticed she was harmonizing with the car radio — her parents soon began entering McAllister in singing competitions. “I was kind of a quiet little girl but whenever I would go on stage and sing I would feel comfortable for the first time,” she said. On stage, she said, she felt at home.
“Through a random sequence of events, they found me on Youtube,” she explained. “I hadn’t really submitted myself for the audition. Matthew [Wilder] actually found my dad’s restaurant online, since it was the only way he could contact me.” Wilder called McAllister’s father and they arranged for her to meet Van Valin and Edwards. “It was a match made in heaven,” she said.
The guitar that vocalist Mason Van Valin plays on the record was given to his father when Mason was born. He credits his family for his diverse musical education growing up.
Van Valin recalled a video game that allowed him to create music as a “magical experience,” and considers that part of the equation that led him to begin making his own music. The other part of the equation was listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” with his dad. He grew up listening to James Taylor and Simon Garfunkel but he remembers the moment he heard Elliott Smith for the first time, saying, “that changed everything.” These days, Van Valin is a fan of Jake Bugg.
McAllister draws inspiration from female country singers like Shania Twain, Martina Mcbride, Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. Also, she noted Hanson was the band that originally made her want to be in a band.
When Edwards was six years old, his uncle showed him how to play a song using only the black keys of a piano. “I remember desperately wanting to learn how to do that,” he said. The first song Edwards learned on guitar was Nickelodeon’s Drake and Josh theme song. “That is what has gotten me to where I am today,” he said with a laugh.
Edwards said his “catalyst for becoming kind of obsessive about music was John Mayer’s “Room for Squares.” I was always interested but when I first heard John Mayer I thought, ‘I need to get better and become everything I can be.’”
Edwards can be heard on the drums, bass, accordion, mandolin and guitar, though he said it’s not fun to list all the instruments in his repertoire. “Some instruments I play are kind of secret,” he said, adding, “You may hear an instrument on the record and wonder if it’s me. It’s me.”
One of their album’s biggest standouts is the song “Church,” which they describe as a “porch stomping” song with some political and religious undertones. Van Valin and Edwards were experimenting with different open tunings on the guitar when they happened upon the opening riff by accident. “We stopped and looked at each other and thought ‘Oh, that’s neat.’ We thought there might have been a ghost that came along to create the song,” said Van Valin.
He said the song “All for you” has a special place in his heart since it was the first song the band wrote together. “That was the point when we thought, “Yeah, this is really going to work.”’
While the band has gone on tour before, this is their first tour on a national scale. “It’s awesome,” said Van Valin, who noted how much of the tour he spends sleeping. “When I wake up to go to the bathroom I’ll look out the window and think ‘Oh, we’re driving through Texas.”
If the band could tour with anyone, all three members agreed it would be Kacey Musgraves.
The band members said they are eager to meet the people who come to their shows. “It’s a funny thing we’ve been noticing… people are nervous to meet someone they see on stage. We’re a bunch of nerds. If we could get rid of the stage, we would. It’s a necessary evil,” said Van Valin.
Edwards added, “the reason we do music in the first place is to connect to people and meet people.”
Van Valin explained the root of the the band’s name, Fairground Saints, saying, “It’s a way to pay homage to the everyday struggles people go through that make them saints in their own way. I don’t think you necessarily have to be divinely endowed to be a saint.”