I first heard The Saint Johns while on a 2,500-mile whirlwind road trip to Prince Edward Island. They had just released their debut EP Open Water, and my friend and I listened through the EP probably fifteen times in the span of four days. It’s good.
The folk duo’s music is driven by their amazing vocal harmonies. Their voices blend together remarkably well and conjure immediate comparisons to The Civil Wars. Last year, The Saint Johns came out with their first full-length album, which highlights the strength of their voices in a more rock-y context. Keep your ears open—The Saint Johns are going places.
Emily Cardé: Last year, you released your first full-length album, Dead of Night, which has a lot more musical experimentation than your EP Open Water. Was there a specific direction you were looking to go with the album? How did the process of writing and recording that album differ from that of Open Water?
Jo Meredith: Open Water and Dead of Night are definitely different sounding albums, and I think the reason for that is we really pushed ourselves as songwriters with this new record. We wanted to pay respect to the artists we grew up listening to and really pull that into our own songwriting—Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Simon and Garfunkel. You know, the greats. It was also really important for us to make this record focused on the full band because we knew that was where we wanted to go with our live show.
Ethan Weitz: Your voices blend so well together, and the way you guys sing is reminiscent of The Civil Wars. How did you get started writing and performing together? Did the amazing vocal dynamic just happen magically?
Lou Johnson: First off, thank you! It was definitely not an overnight occurrence. Jordan and I have been writing and performing together for over 8 years, and in that time we’ve developed a blend. It’s important to us that we write songs based around both of our voices. We’ve been cultivating that dual lead vocal / harmony since we met in St. Augustine, Florida in 2008.
Emily: We discovered your music at the start of last fall and particularly fell in love with the song ‘Open Water.’ Can you tell us the story behind that song?
Jo: Thanks so much! That song is special to us. It was the first song we wrote for The Saint Johns. We were both in long distant relationships at the time. (Lou is now engaged to her . . . I ended up writing ‘Josephine’ after mine didn’t work out.) But we have had more people than we expected dance to that song at their weddings (we didn’t expect any). It’s a love song, and we don’t write many of those—so for that reason alone, it’s a special one.
Ethan: ‘Testifier’ has a very old-time country rock feel. Has being in Nashville added more country to your style? Also, what was it like writing a song with Trent Dabbs?
Lou: I wouldn’t say that living in Nashville has influenced our music in any particular direction but I will say that writing with so many different people has. We’ve written with a ton of country, pop, and folk writers who have been very rigid stylistically. It pushes you to a place you wouldn’t normally go. Sometimes that can be great, but other times we’re left with a song that doesn’t belong. It’s always amazing when a co-writer brings a perspective wildly different than our own yet seems to integrate into our style seamlessly. That’s how it feels writing with Trent.
Whenever one of us is broken, we seem to write great songs.
Emily: Who or what have been some of your biggest musical influences?
Jo: The artists I mentioned above, of course. But for this record we were heavily influenced by the classics. The National, Sharon Van Etten, First Aid Kit, Band of Skulls, and The Lone Bellow were some of the artists we were listening to while writing for this record.
Ethan: What experiences have most shaped your creativity?
Lou: Heartbreak. Whenever one of us is broken, we seem to write great songs. Unfortunately—or fortunately—we’re both in great relationships that seem to be steady (Jordan is married and I’m engaged). Hopefully we still have some songs in us.
Emily: Which of your songs holds the most meaning for you guys, and why?
Jo: Gosh. I feel like it’s always changing. Right now, for me, I would say it’s a new one that we just wrote with our bud Paul Moak. Hopefully you hear it in the near future. I always enjoy going back and listening to ‘Faded Love.’ That was a song that Lou and I were so proud of when we finished it.
Ethan: What has been the most rewarding aspect of making music?
Lou: For me, it’s playing to people who care. If there’s one person singing along to our music, I’m happy.
Emily: What’s coming up for you guys in the near future?
Jo: Hopefully a lot of music. More shows. Becoming an independent band again. Having fun—always gotta have fun!
Image taken from The Saint Johns’ Facebook page.