The holy rise of Thee Sacred Souls
Soul trio reflects on drawing inspiration from obscure bands, committing to analog, and achieving success early on.
Usually, it takes a band years to earn things like sold-out shows and record deals. But San Diego-based soul trio Thee Sacred Souls accomplished all that in less than a year.
It all began with 23-year-olds Alex Garcia (drums) and Sal Samano (bass). They both grew up in Chula Vista, surrounded by Chicano Soul music, piles of records and lowrider culture.
In 2018, Samano and Garcia formed an oldies band and started writing instrumentals. But without a knack for lyrics, or a dedicated vocalist, they weren’t sure what to do with the half-finished material.
A few months later, Garcia stumbled upon Josh Lane — and his magical voice — on Instagram. Lane, a 29-year-old City Heights resident, moved from Sacramento in 2017 after studying music in college. The melody master had “been writing songs forever,” but was having trouble finding his place on the San Diego scene as a solo artist.
Garcia and Lane began messaging on Instagram, then eventually set up a date to jam at Garcia’s house with Samano. From Day 1, they knew it was a good match.
“When Josh came in, it made things a lot easier, because now there was a vision, you know, he wrote a song on the spot,” Garcia said, referencing the band’s first single, Can I Call You Rose.
The trio formally established Thee Sacred Souls in April 2019, and began performing small gigs in Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego. About a month in, Thee Sacred Souls was offered something most new bands only dream about: a record deal.
Producer Gabe Roth (aka Bosco Mann) caught one of Thee Sacred Souls’ first gigs up in Fullerton and liked what he saw, signing the group to Daptone Records. Now, the band regularly travels to Riverside to record a collection of original songs on vinyl.
Then in November 2019, Thee Sacred Souls was asked — a mere two days before the show — to open for Mac Ayres, a popular indie artist playing a sold-out show at Music Box.
“Honestly (it was) probably one of the best audiences I’ve experienced … It felt like we were playing to a crowd that wanted to see us,” Samano said.
In addition to the crowd’s positive response, Thee Sacred Souls received the Mac Ayres stamp of approval. The singer and his bass player told the group that Thee Sacred Souls was their favorite opener to date, and to keep them posted when the band releases its first single.
Despite its growing popularity, you can’t listen to Thee Sacred Souls on Spotify — or anywhere. Unlike many local bands independently releasing material online, Thee Sacred Souls is working on recording analog with its record label, which is a slower and more complicated process.
Though they understand the delay is frustrating for the fans — the band gets a lot of Instagram messages asking when the music will be available — debuting on vinyl first is important to the musicians. The band members have a long history with the analog format; they bond by listening to their favorite records together, and enjoy the ritualistic element it takes to listen to a vinyl.
Many of the band’s fans are “collectors,” music lovers deeply ingrained in the vinyl record culture, who appreciate that process and support Thee Sacred Souls’ decision. However, the soul trio understands that we live in a digital culture, and acknowledge the music will be available on streaming services eventually.
But for now, if you want to listen to Thee Sacred Souls, head to a show to hear it live. In 2020 alone, the band has already performed at the Casbah with The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble, as well as completed a Monday night January residency at Soda Bar. While there are no shows on the books for February yet, Samano said that many of the gigs are booked last minute, so follow the group on Instagram (@theesacredsouls) to stay in the loop.
Melting pot of music: The band’s original focus was on rare Chicano Soul music from lowrider culture. But once Lane joined the project, its sound was swayed by his own influences, including what he calls “the trinity of soul — Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Al Green,” as well as his love of alternative indie and traditional folk. The blend of backgrounds has resulted in a traditional Chicano Soul band with a modern twist.
Thee story behind the name: The “Thee” in the band’s catchy name actually pays homage to its inspirations: obscure soul acts of the 1960s — like rock band Thee Midniters — who they think didn’t really have the chance to share their music with a wider audience. As for Sacred Souls? Years back, Samano’s father had the idea for a 45s collectors group called Sacred Souls Club. But that project never came to fruition, so he gifted the new band with the name — and it stuck.
Home sweet home: When they aren’t recording in Riverside or performing on Southern California stages, you can find the band members practicing new songs at Garcia’s home studio in Chula Vista, which gives the trio a comfortable place to experiment without the stresses of reserving a room or paying for time. “Having this space really helps us write and throw ideas out,” Garcia said.
Take time to sing the roses: Remember that song Lane wrote on the spot in the band’s first session? Turns out the lyrics were inspired by a woven blanked with a rose hung up on the home studio wall, and it was meant to be a placeholder song until Lane could work out the melody. But it ended up becoming Thee Sacred Soul’s first official song, Can I Call You Rose, which is now one of the few audio snippets fans can listen to on Instagram.
6:01 AM, Jan. 30, 2020: