Saloon Dion talk us through their past, present and future in Austin, Texas.
Call us a bunch of old curmudgeons, but a punned band name is always something that’s guaranteed to get Live4ever off on the wrong foot with a new artist.
So imagine our relief then when, upon opening an introductory email about Saloon Dion with a customary roll of the eyes, we found lurking inside a track which remains one of our favourite singles of 2023. Urgent, catchy, full of energy, I Don’t Feel is everything you’d want for a first impression, a cry of self-assurance in being able to choose what to feel and when to feel it.
Imagine our relief too then when, as the band sat down with Live4ever at this year’s SXSW Media Lounge, we found them to be just as open about the…uniqueness of their name:
Our mate had a list of the worst band names he could think of, and we just picked it out of that! What was the other one we had? Simon Cowell’s Jeans was gonna be the other one…
Elephant in the room swiftly dealt with, just three days into their SXSW adventure Saloon Dion can move on to how they’d already had an unforgettable Texan experience.
“Southern hospitality was supposed to be a myth, but it’s definitely real,” they told Live4ever. “When we turned up we literally got off the flight and went to our Airbnb. We got there, it didn’t exist. It was a scam.”
“We’re in the middle of this street. It was getting late. The street had house numbers; there was 23 and then next door was 25, and the one we had booked was 24. It wasn’t across the street, it just wasn’t there!”
“And then this guy went past with his two dogs. He’s like, ‘Y’all lost?’, and we were like, ‘Yeah, man, we’ve been scammed. We don’t know where to go’. And he just took us into his house, gave us some whiskey, gave us some snacks, let us use the Wi-Fi, and he came to our gig last night. It was wicked!”
Let’s go back: sitting across from new artists at the Media Lounge, listening to adventures such as these, it can’t help but bring to mind the missed opportunities so many had during those locked down years, especially as the cancellation of South By Southwest 2020 seemed to be the harbinger of all the bad news which was to follow.
But the existence of Saloon Dion is a sign of the fresh start those dark times also unwittingly inspired. In three different bands, musicians such as these persevered in a community of determined, like-minded individuals who, in the face of being told to retrain, were out to prove their longevity well before they’d had chance to get up on stage.
“It was kind of COVID that killed it off,” they told us. “So these bands ended and then we got together this little group now – a Phoenix rising from the ashes. It just fizzled out, so naturally. All of this is so organic; our bands ended naturally, people started moving away, so we just just came together at the right time. Right place, right time.”
“We were playing together in Bristol. We’d just get pissed at gigs, go to each other’s gigs, and we’d be chatting after going, ‘We should start a band’.”
“We were all living in Bristol. Bristol’s culture – whether it be art, music, film – we’re all into the same stuff. There was a tight knit community in Bristol for a while, up-and-coming bands. Some of them some still around, some not. We just got on with each other, hanging around at the gigs and then it just seemed right to get this group together at the time.”
Back to the present: I Don’t Feel and SXSW led in to the spring release of their debut EP Muckers, revealing influences ranging Fugazi and Title Fight to 90’s staples such as Suede and Blur which the band like to loosely define as post-Britpop.
Now out of Bristol and dotted around various parts of the UK, time afforded to meet up and record is resulting in a storm of ideas and a variety of sounds which is fast becoming a staple of the band.
“It works in our favour because all this energy builds up around our lives,” they said. “As a group, we don’t really get to see each other and then when we do meet up, there’s so much creativity that pops out in the room. Every time we go to the practice room, we’ll make a new song.”
“It takes a while to find your sound. So for the first year-and-a-half maybe we were still trying to find our true sound that we want to make, but now we’ve really found that, we’re properly locked in to what we want to do now.”
“We’ve done a bit of punk, we’ve done a bit of new wave, we’ve done a bit of surf rock as well. Just trying to find each other and we have elements of that still, it all became a post-Britpop band – which could be the new genre.”
The more we play together, the more we know what each member wants. We will disagree on a lot of stuff, but we tend to vibe over the same tracks, they’re the ones that stick. It comes a lot easier for us these days. There’s no stress in this band, it’s nice to just be best mates with everyone, like nothing really matters in the room.
On to the future: they want to keep having fun, and more importantly for their audience to keep having fun. For them to get involved and to feed off the close friendship which is at the heart of this group.
And the future also brings us back to that name – it’s provided a tongue-in-cheek end goal which they can unquestionably call their own, and one which those Texan adventures unwittingly took them a step closer to:
“We played a competition to win a spot at a similar thing to this in Canada (Canadian Music Week). We saw this open mic, this Battle Of The Bands thing. So we were like, ‘Oh we’ll just play it, it’ll be funny’, and we ended up winning it so we’re going to Canada now!”
“We’re gonna get sued by Celine Dion. Celine Dion’s Canadian right, so the closer we get to Celine Dion…that’s basically our end goal, is to get sued, then the band just ends ‘cos she takes all of our money.”
Say what you want about being called ‘Saloon Dion’, but our chat at SXSW has only reaffirmed what I Don’t Feel showed right at the start of the year: that this is a band which could never be judged merely by its cover.
And at least it means their destiny isn’t at the mercy of Simon Cowell’s jeans.