Every few years, musicians arrive on the scene with an undeniably fresh approach to a tried-and-true genre. Showcasing this with unparalleled proficiency is the acclaimed Los Angeles-based Americana band The Americans. Upon hearing Stand True — the band’s forthcoming 11-song, sophomore studio LP (out May 6 via Loose Music) — it’s evident why revered producer T Bone Burnett raved, calling them, “genius twenty-first century musicians that are reinventing American heritage music for this century. And it sounds even better this century.”
The title track and album opener, “Stand True,” showcases the group’s riveting grip on storytelling, dynamics and melodic hooks that leave listeners cemented to their speakers. Patrick Ferris (vocals/guitar), Jake Faulkner (bassist) and Zac Sokolow (guitarist) collide to deliver a moving collection that lands somewhere between Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and Nathaniel Rateliff.
Following their 2017 debut album, I’ll Be Yours, The Americans took a step back, regained focus, and went into Big Bad Sound studios in Los Angeles to carve out an album of material that “is more our own than ever before,” the band confirms.
The overall touchstone of Stand True, which the band self-produced, is devotion in the face of loss. And with that, the album’s sophomore single, “Born With A Broken Heart,” solidifies that concept as it showcases an edgier side to the band; a gritty ode to the way romantically wounded people sometimes find one another. “Driving home from gigs, Zac would tune into a Navajo AM radio station out of Window Rock, AZ,” recalls Patrick. “Parts of the song came from some of that music. It feels like driving through Los Angeles at night.”
It was sometime in the 1970s, a decade before front man Patrick Ferris and bassist Jake Faulkner were born, that their mothers met on a train to Woodstock. Patrick and Jake met as children, but they lived in different cities and saw very little of one another before reconnecting in high school.
They got along immediately through their joy for busking (street performing), and pre-war American country and blues. “Nobody I knew liked the same music,” recalls Patrick. Jake came to San Francisco from Los Angeles to visit, bringing his guitar and baskets of recording gear. They spent that summer recording homeless street musicians with a mobile unit they lugged around the city, making copies of the recordings for the performers to sell.
Guitarist Zac Sokolow had dropped out of high school and was busking on the streets while working construction in Los Angeles when Jake saw him playing guitar. Jake convinced him to move in and start a band. They spent years digging through obscure records and arcane field recordings, teaching themselves the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, and slide guitar.
Patrick calls this long immersion, during which he created and hosted a radio show, a “purist” phase. “We were suspicious of modern rock music,” he says. “When we got together and formed a band, we had to make everything from scratch. We had no template. There was no band we wanted to be like. We were curious if we could create something brand new, summoning the spirit of old blues and country through what we’d learned firsthand, leaving nostalgia behind.”
“We write our songs inside-out,” says Patrick. “We grab hold of something minuscule and primitive—a simple turn of phrase or an unusual beat—and try to build a song around it. It’s inefficient, and hard to write words over, but it’s magical when it works.”
The band’s distinctive, powerful works have captured the attention of a number of stars. They’ve backed Nick Cave, Lucinda Williams, Ashley Monroe, and Devendra Banhart, and twice joined Ryan Bingham on national tours. They worked closely with Jack White and T Bone Burnett, joining Nas, Elton John, and Alabama Shakes in the PBS primetime series American Epic.
Their live show, honed over many hundreds of performances, is something to behold. Ron Wray (No Depression) writes, “they’re led by lead singer, guitarist Patrick Ferris, looking like James Dean but even better…Jake Faulkner, with his dark black beard and jaunty hat, dances across stage, lifting his stand-up bass like a dancing partner.” Steve Wildsmith (Daily Times) admires their “anthemic guitar hooks and a heartland sense of urgency that’s tailor made for road trips and late-night parties beneath a field of brilliant stars.”
The band’s first tour was different from most. A friend who’d introduced them to Robert Frank—whose collection of photographs inspired the band’s name—was appointed drummer. He was allowed to play with only a plywood suitcase, which he beat with a soup spoon. The band set off on a meandering, quixotic odyssey that found them playing honky-tonks, rural bars, a Navajo radio station, and a wine cellar in an abandoned Coca-Cola bottling plant. Some of the venues hadn’t hosted a live band since the 1980s.
“We had a passport to the hidden heartland of our country,” recounts Jake. “What you learn exploring the nooks and crannies of any place, but especially this country, is that there’s no type of person.” Zac adds that “stereotypes break down at the individual level. What makes American music great is the same thing that makes America great—people who come from all over the world, each with a story, each with something to contribute.”