With more than seven years invested in their project, the members of Soap finally decided things were right – the stars were aligned – and that they should get their music on tape.
The key word for this band is evolution.
Soap plays a unique combination of silky–smooth R&B, funk and rock ‘n’ roll. The band’s long–gestating first album, Pour Le Corps, is released this week and available at thisissoap.com and through their Facebook page.
It was, they all agree, the arrival of singer and songwriter Antar Ellis in 2005 that really started things moving.
At that time, Ellis says, “They were definitely more of a rock band. They were covering a lot of Ween, and David Bowie – which kind of attracted me to it. And the originals that they were playing attracted me to the band, too.”
Ellis’ soulful voice has the pleasant poignancy of a Luther Vandross, and – on the less rhythm ‘n’ blues, more rock ‘n’ roll tunes (ballads, too) he sounds like the young Steve Winwood.
Soap started in 2003 with Eric Curl on guitar, and Rigel Crockett playing mandolin and bass. Singer Joachim Kelly joined up, followed by a revolving door of drummers, second guitarists and background vocalists.
Always, the sound evolved.
“We were really a garage band in the beginning that did rock ‘n’ roll music, mostly originals,” explains Crockett, a schoolteacher and the author of the non–fiction book Fair Wind and Plenty of It: A Modern Day Tall Ship Adventure.
“About five years later we added a great guitarist named Jake Brown, and he kind of steered us in more of an R&B and reggae direction. We started adding new covers. And when he left, he left us a different group.”
During that era, Kelly had invited his friend Ellis to sing background. “There were a few practices where if somebody was out, or if somebody couldn’t remember the lyrics, I’d jump in,” Ellis recalls. “With what I could remember!
“And the first time that happened, they were like ‘You sing lead on that song now.’ And after that it just kind of evolved into me taking over most of the lead duties.”
Curl, who’s a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, says that Ellis “has really jumped to the forefront over the last couple of years. He brought a lot to the band besides his voice. He writes a lot of the songs, too. He’s got great musical taste and he brings a lot of his influence into the band.”
Kelly, Curl and Ellis wrote the bulk of Pour Le Corps. The band’s onstage repertoire covers everything from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to U2 and Talking Heads. There’s an invitation–only CD release party and show this weekend; their next public performance will be at North Beach Grill July 2.
Along with drummer Micha Goodman and harmony vocalist Tennille Barrett, the 2011 Soap also includes something of a secret weapon: Lead guitarist Bill Smith, who moved to Savannah five years ago from Valdosta.
Smith is a veteran player – in fact, his main gig is still with a Waycross–based rock outfit called Rhythm Oil.
He’s also one of the busiest musicians in the Hostess City. He has a jazz/pop duo with singer Ellen Gross, does the classical balladeer thing at weddings, and plays Friday nights at Rancho Alegre restaurant, in a trio that includes Ricardo Ochoa on violin.
He also teaches guitar, and other stringed instruments. At the moment, he’s got 15 students.
The upshot is that he can’t always play Soap shows. But he’s all over Pour Le Corps, which was recorded at Savannah’s Elevated Basement Studios.
For Soap, Smith’s sinewy electric guitar added the intangible perfect ingredient. “We’re really lucky to have him playing with us,” says Curl. “He’s a full–on pro, and we’re all kind of in the developing stages.”
Smith, at 57, is far and away the oldest – and most experienced - member of the band. “Being from the classic rock world, this was totally new for me,” he explains. “I guess that’s what attracted me to it, doing something that I’m not used to. Having to work my skills into that kind of a band – if it was my band, we’d be playing Clapton and Hendrix.
“But luckily we’ve got this younger blood that’s kicking out new, good stuff.”