Spirit ROCK Meditation

Grand Rapids, Michigan’s the Soil & the Sun made one hell of an album with 2014’s Meridian. It has flown under the radar for the past two-plus years, but if you’re into well-arranged songs, layered harmonies, and instruments beyond just guitars, bass and drums (they have those, too) you may want to pick up/download a copy. Meridian, the band’s latest, is akin to Fleet Foxes or Sufjan Stevens, both musically — with melodic swells and calm energy (I made that term up) — and lyrically, with lyrics that celebrate the wonders of life and the mysticism/spirituality of the world and it’s inhabitants, past and present.

The band met in college — a Christian college, no less — so that surely plays a part in the lyrics and themes (“Are you in the sky/Are you in my mind/Could I look into your eyes” from “Are You?”). But the songs are not simply theses on celebration. They are rolling, rollicking and reserve judgment, instead asking more questions than providing answers.

Folio Weekly recently caught up with frontman Alex McGrath to discuss the best description of the band’s music, the state of our country, and the now-quartet’s last tour.

Folio Weekly: What’s going on? How are things with the band?
Alex McGrath: Right now, we are two shows into the tour and this is our last tour, so we are just kind of finishing up this trip and, I don’t know, trying to make the most of it.

Soil and sunlight are elemental to growth and life, right?
Yeah, I think so, definitely. The name came from a book [The Watermelon King by Daniel Wallace] that has resonated with us. That is what we want to be; positive in what goes on into our environment around us.

Your music has been described as ethereal, dreamy and spiritual. I guess the word I would use is “full.” How would you describe it?
Instead of placing it in some sort of genre, I would describe it in terms of exploration as artists and musicians. We didn’t set out to make a style or genre, or really even have a brand or image. It wasn’t ever calculated. Trying to put our music within a genre has never felt right for us. Even take Meridian: within Meridian, there’s a pretty wide range of influences and the songs can be very different from one song to the next. It was an experiment of spiritual expression.

A meridian is a constant longitude that passes through a point on the earth’s surface. It’s also the name of your album. What do they have in common?
Meridian came first as just a word. I was driving our bus down the highway and was brainstorming different words and I didn’t actually know what it meant at the time — I knew the definition — but there are multiple layers of meaning for the word. The album, like you said, is very full, and has multiple levels of sound and meanings, and so another one of the definitions of the word is “a star at its highest point of the day, passing through the poles.” Those kind of seemed fitting. At the time, we didn’t know it would be our last album. When you think about it in that context, with that meaning, it fits.

How much does spirituality play into your music? Some of the song titles on your album [“Samyaza,” “Sundar Singh”] suggest at least a working knowledge of religion.
Quite a bit for me personally since I am the lyricist, and so those concepts work their way in lyrically. I grew up going to church and that was my first exposure to music; learning drums and guitar so I could play in the church band. As an adult now, I’m drawn back to it and I want to reexamine all of that and what it used to mean to me. I think about those things a lot, that’s a big part of my life. When I write songs, I tend to lean in that direction.

Based on what has recently transpired — and making no assumptions about your political leanings — how does the election, and the current state of angst and passion in this country, inspire you and your music?
It will definitely influence me as an artist. I’m not sure how yet, it’s still so fresh. It’s hard to imagine being an artist in these times and not be influenced by what is happening in our country and in the world. I don’t know personally how that will look for me as I move forward musically. But songwriting has always been a personal outlet, and I guess it can be introspective for me, and a release of my personal conversations I have with myself. You just can’t ignore what’s going on right now. It will definitely be a part of my creative expression from here on in, I’m sure.

So why the break-up? Things seem to be going so well.
We have been doing this for seven or eight years now and it’s sort of been the driving factor behind every major life decision my wife and I have made. This isn’t a bad thing, but as we get older, some other things in life we want to pursue, we feel like it would be really difficult to keep giving 100 percent of our energy to the band and also go in the other directions we want to go with our music and in our personal lives. So we decided that it would be good to close things out on good terms while we are all still happy. We are happy with everything we have accomplished and the tours and albums we got to do. But I think within the band, we’re all getting pulled in different directions and so we are going to go our separate ways and not wait for it to happen against our wills. The future for me is always going to involve making new music.