After more than twenty years as a guitarist for several bands, Jeff Grossman took a leap of faith, yearning to play the music that he was feeling in his heart.
The opportunity was taken as his band, Saints Eleven, released their debut album I’ll Be Fine in 2013. The band doubled down with their sophomore effort “I Told You,” which features one of their signature songs “Turns to Rust.”
Grossman and Saints Eleven are taking another leap of faith with their upcoming fourth album, delivering a sound closer to Americana and showcasing a greater emphasis on steel guitars than fiddles.
Hear from Grossman about paying his dues in other bands, his melting pot of influences, the bizarre story behind Saints Eleven’s newest single “Strange ‘Round Here,” and more!
PC: Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
Jeff Grossman: I’d have to go with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Dwight Yoakam. I’m a big fan of pretty much all music. I don’t really care for classical or hard hip hop, but I like some pop music, and the 90s hair metal bands like Motley Crue in Tesla, but my parents listened to country music. I was around rock and country, and then got into the blues shortly after high school, just because I played guitar. I just thought it was a really cool sound. I had never really gotten into the blues because I wasn’t around it, but a high school friend of mine introduced me to Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I thought it was killer!
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to pursue music as a career?
JG: I started taking guitar lessons when I was 10 years old. Music has always been in my family. I didn’t really have a desire to do it, I just felt like it was something I was supposed to do since I was around it so much when I was growing up. When I was around 12 or 13, I started playing Opry houses. It was just always a part of my life. It wasn’t like I aspired to be a rockstar when I was a kid, it was just a part of my life that I was just always accustomed to.
PC: Can you talk a little bit about the formation of Saints Eleven and the influences you draw on collectively?
JG: The biggest reason I started Saints Eleven is that I had been playing guitar for other bands for the past 20 years or so, and I got tired of not playing the music that I wanted to play. I just wanted to start writing. I didn’t know I could write until I started, but I found out I was pretty decent at it and that people were liking the songs that I was writing. It’s the kind of music that I like in would listen to; it’s just as a melting pot of the different musical styles I grew up with, like the Stevie Ray Vaughan sound of the Bakersfield sound and the country sound and the rock sound. I think that’s the definition of Texas country: just a melting pot of all kinds of good music.
PC: The first two Saints Eleven releases deal a lot with loss. Was that done intentionally, or was that something that came out naturally?
JG: It wasn’t intentional, I just right from the heart. I write from what I know. I can make up stories [laughs], but it’s just easier to write from experiences, and I think that helps with the audience and allowing them to relate with it.We’ve had tons of people say that a certain song hits home with something they’ve been through something, so it’s just easier to write from experience.
PC: “Turns to Rust” has become one of your signature songs. What do you think it is about that song that has allowed it to connect with people the way that it has?
JG: It just happens to everybody [laughs]. It’s just life and human nature; everybody eventually goes through the same things.
PC: What did it mean to you to have Walk Wilkins producing the “Coming Back Around” album?
JG: It is probably the highlight of my career so far. To have somebody that I’ve looked up to and I’m a fan of for so many years agree to produce our record, it was pretty amazing. And then to get to know the guy and become friends with him, he’s just a great person, and now he’s a good friend, so that’s been really cool!
PC: “Coming Back Around” is one of the standout tracks on its album. Why did you decide to name the album after that song?
JG: It’s like coming back around to my roots. I think the last album was pretty rocking, and I just wanted to get down to the roots of more Americana stuff. I just wanted to try that sound, and I ended up liking it and we went with it.
PC: What went into the decision to make “Strange ‘Round Here” the next single from the “Coming Back Around” album?
JG: That’s a great question [laughs]. It’s just a good song, and it’s a really fun song to play live. That’s one of our favorite songs to play live, and we just said if it makes us this happy playing it live, let’s see what the masses think of it, and so far so good!
PC: Can you talk about the inspiration behind “Strange ‘Round Here”?
JG: That’s a true story. I was in construction for a long time, and it’s basically about a guy that we worked with that was from out of town. They put us up in apartments so we wouldn’t have to drive so far back home every night, and in a nutshell, this guy was married with kids, was working out of town, and found this girl at the local beer joint. They hooked up, he got her pregnant, and didn’t want to tell the wife about it. He ended up killing the girl that he got pregnant. It’s kind of a screwed up story, but it made for a good song [laughs].
PC: As a whole, what do you hope listeners take away from the “Coming Back Around” album after listening all the way through?
JG: Of course I hope they like it, but I think that I’ve grown as a songwriter. I just hope that other artists and songwriters would appreciate that ability. It’s something I’m really proud of, and I think the album really showcases it.
PC: You mentioned growing as a songwriter. Do you think that is the biggest area you’ve grown since Saints Eleven’s debut “I’ll Be Fine”?
JG: It’s pretty much a whole new band now. That’s exactly why as we’re working on our fourth record, it’s going to be a half studio in half live album. It’s got a little bit of a different sound. It’s more steel guitar than it is fiddle. I wanted to put a new perspective on the old stuff.
PC: What are your plans for the rest of 2019?
JG: We really pick up starting this weekend. We’re booked pretty much every weekend, and we have more out-of-state stuff coming. We’ll be in Colorado Springs and Nebraska, and our touring schedule is just picking up, and that’s our favorite thing. We don’t really care about where we are on the radio charts or any of that stuff, we just want to play. We’re a band likes to get out on the road to play, and that’s the most important thing to us.
*All images courtesy of Jeff Grossman and Saints Eleven Facebook Page*