Camden native Joal Rush has lived in Charleston for over three years now, but even as he heads back to the Midlands this week in support of a new album, Wares, he understands if there are still people who don’t know that he moved.
“I make it back pretty often to play Columbia; they kind of interweave since they’re not far away,” Rush says. “I like the beach here, though. I’m not a beach bum or anything, but I like to go out there in the spring and fall when there are less people.”
Rush returned to Columbia to record the songs that make up Wares over a three-year period, using his current band and its connections.
“We recorded at the USC School of Music using one of their rehearsal rooms and a recital hall,” Rush says. “I met my drummer Nathan Bocock through some mutual friends, and he knew Tommy Carnes, a USC audio engineering student who produced the songs for us.”
Add in former Madison Fair bassist Preston Hayden and versatile local keyboard player Brian Sansbury, and you have the core group that appears on Rush’s new disc.
“Brian did a lot on the record, and it was great having a real keyboard player to use instead of just filling in some keys myself in the studio,” Rush says. “He used a Hammond organ [and] some Rhodes piano; we tracked one song using a grand Steinway piano in the recital hall; and he even played accordion on another one.”
Sansbury’s presence might account for the sheer fullness of the tracks, for even though Rush has always been a sympathetic pop songwriter he’s outdone himself with the arrangements and immediacy of tunes like “Hard To Be (The Heartbreaker)” and “Burdened,” which features a string quartet arranged by Jay Clifford, formerly of Jump, Little Children. He’s careful to say that it was the extra time spent on the details by those involved that resulted in the layered, lavish final product.
“We spent about a year after it could have been done going back and spending a little more time to make things as good as we felt we could make them,” Rush says. “You’re always going to want to change things or do something different, but we came out pretty close, I think.”
Like any artist with a sense of vision about what they’re doing, Rush says he had a goal in mind when putting Wares together.
“This was a record that I went into knowing it was going to be really laid back,” He says. “ I’m a Ryan Adams fan and wanted something in that sort of ‘In the room listening to the band play these songs’ sort of feel.”
He got that, and a whole lot more. Consider songs such as “Blurred,” which sound like Rush is singing right in front of you, but the arrangements have the kind of depth that recalls the amphitheater-filling ‘90s rock of The Freddy Jones Band, Toad the Wet Sprocket or Big Head Todd and the Monsters. The coherence of the album is all the more amazing when one considers that the songs come from a 15-plus-year stretch of Rush’s life.
“All of these songs come from a long period of time, dating back in a couple cases to my high school days,” he says. “Just a whole array of songs that had fallen by the wayside and needed to be brought back.”
One of relatively recent vintage, “Ashamed,” sticks out mainly due to the heavy electronic production from Les Hall, who Rush brought in specifically for the song.
“I thought it would be cool to have Les involved and this seemed like a song he could bring something to,” Rush says. “It’s different than the rest, but it’s good to have on the album because some people will probably like it more than the others.”
No matter how densely packed his recorded arrangements get, Rush says he always works with one thing in mind.
“I always try to keep it to what you’re going to be able to hear live, and not put so much into it that I can’t recreate it in a concert setting,” Rush says. “I’m working on doing a full tour in November to really get out and play these songs for everybody.”